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Mar 28, 2014 08:36 AM

san jose recommendations

Hi. I'll be in San Jose (Convention Center area). I'd appreciate any recommendations in that immediate area (within a mile or 2) or easy to get to off the rail (no car). I'm interested in great food with no restriction on type or formal/informal.


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  1. Pickins are very slim. Set your expectations on the lower side. All the interesting food is a drive - like the amazing Milpitas Square mall. There is actually a light rail near there, but it's an annoying dark walk (if you do go, check out Anjappar Chetinad, QQ Noodle)

    Let me tell you up-front that yelp is particularly useless in San Jose. The locals are an ill-bred lot, and vote highly for mediocre food.

    As you're from the DC area, you won't be impressed by our vietnamese. Vung Tau is the old standby.

    You might be impressed by a good taco, but I don't know where to send you downtown.

    For modern food, I will recommend First to Market even though I haven't been there yet (open 5 weeks). The restaurants in this space are usually good.

    Arcadia is the usual high end deal, a michael minna thing - I haven't bothered to go, I've been to MM places before. Same with Grill on the Square. A passable restaurant steak, nothing more. A "default" near the convention center is Il Forniao. The food is on the good side of edible, it's a sprawling place inside so there's always a seat, and it's right there.

    Back-a-yard (new outpost of a Menlo Park hole in the wall) is on the far side of "town" from you but worth a walk. I actually like the jerk salmon better than the chicken, the taste sinks in better.

    I have been going recently to Cafe Stritch. The burgers are very good (1/2 bacon ground in), the drinks are stiff and cheap (try the spiked horchata and the old fashioned), and the live music (mostly jazz) can be exceptional.

    San Pedro marketplace is a reasonable place to follow your nose. I haven't had any revelations there, but it's a hip little alcove.

    For fun atmosphere, drop in to the lounge at the Hotel DeAnza. The food is edible, the drinks are slightly better, but jazz in the 100 year old room is worth poking one's head in.

    Another old favorite is Original Joe's. It really is one of those Original places, always has liver on the menu, but I honestly haven't been there in 20 years so can't recommend it.

    If you want to make a journey, catch the light rail to Mountain View (end of the line). There's a very pleasant "train town" with lots of possible eats - everything from a michelin-star tasting menu at Chez TJ, passable modern food at Scratch, interesting Indian at Sakoon, great burgers and hyper german beer at Beirhaus, solid american and a very cutting edge beer list at Stein's, several solid ramen shops (most rave for maru ichi), a very good sushi joint at Sushi Tomi (friday night when the fish flown from Tsukiji is great), a kaiseki-ish japanese at Nami Nami, actual good coffee at Red Rock (hit the single origin bar). But it's a hike. I don't know if Caltrain's better, or the light rail, for both the station in MV is right at the beginning of the pleasant pedestrian area. (the light rail takes 40 minutes each way, if you get to the caltrain station it'll take 20 - but caltrain runs less frequently. Consider getting a CityBikeShare to transport yourself around the downtown core - like to the station).

    Let me add one more. If you get on the light rail going the other way, to Campbell, you'll get another (smaller) train town. My favorite eats (again, right near the station) are at Liquid Bread, you can search for comments. Across the street is a worthy german place (that I don't like but some do), and there's Blue Line Pizza, an outpost of Little Star in SF (which you can also search for). Campbell isn't quite as "happening" as MV, but it's closer (30 minutes ride) and still pretty pleasant.

    6 Replies
    1. re: bbulkow

      Thanks for the great summary! I really appreciate the time and detail!

      1. re: bbulkow

        I will add that while Vung Tau would not be something to detour/seek out if you are coming from D.C., it is very solid and satisfying Vietnamese food at a slightly higher price point. So, if you are at a loss of where to eat, I'd absolutely go to Vung Tau.

        1. re: goldangl95

          If you go, get the Banh Khot. Some of the best in the area.

        2. re: bbulkow

          "an ill-bred lot" -- I like that! :-)

          Additionally, many of those folks who do, indeed, endorse mediocre food (or otherwise display rank cluelessness) on yelp, are even less likely to be locals there (in the particular sense of longtime or native residents) than they are anyway on yelp in general. Downtown SJ gets a huge volume of transient visitors, for conventions, concerts, etc., plus silicon valley's modern demographic of recent transplants filling the job growth that leads the state and nation ("we've been here since 2011 -- we're practically natives!") -- those are who post on Yelp. As always on that site, identifying experienced, thoughtful individual commentators reveals a completely different dining picture.

          A good friend who grew up in SJ, decades ago, offers an unusual and even profound insight. Asked (around 1990) if downtown SJ was in a state of decline, he replied no: decline implies some sort of peak. Rather, a steady-state equilibrium of parallel growth and decay characterizes that downtown, he said.

          My experience since has tended to support that. There have been some quite worthy restaurants (before the existence of, and/or never mentioned on, this board) -- but when I look again, they're gone.

          1. re: eatzalot

            I've occasionally read on Chowhound that a place in that neighborhood was putting out good food but when I've had reason to eat there and checked they had closed or gone downhill due to a chef change or whatever.

            With a car I'd go to Habana Cuba, but Los Cubanos is a solid choice for the neighborhood.


            1. re: eatzalot

              I lived in downtown SJ in the 70s. When called a state of decline, well that is what happens to all cities, it is a business decision...costs a lot of money to tear down existing buildings and replace them, vs building on previously farm land. In the 80s, a new mayor was elected, his family owned a lot of downtown, his family may have not wanted to spend money to tear down their buildings just because they were old. The mayor started a downtown redevelopment (vs other mayors who promoted out of downtown development.....the previous mayors had investments in land outside of downtown, e.g., Hayes). McHenry was able to get state money to redevelop downtown, the money lasted for ~30 years.

              I went to college in San Jose and Santa Clara. I had classmates whose families owned downtown and also property in the Santa Clara County area. There are a lot of streets with my classmates/friends last names.

              When I knew people who owned propery downtown, they had plans to redevelop, just took some time. Thinking was: do they put money into buildings that were going to be raised, or do they stay patient and "hit the lottery". Well, after McHenry was elected, they hit the lottery.

              You mentioned 1990, by 1980 Washington Square/El Pasao was in redevelopment. I occasionally see Super Taqueria mentioned on this site, in the 70s it was on 3rd or 4th street, across from BofA, by 79 or 80 both had moved, soon several square blocks had been leveled. I was a customer of San Jose Camera in the 70s, they moved because the building they were in was demolished. Pac Bell's building, close to the bus station was completed in the early 80s. Pac Bell moved from SF to SJ to San Ramon, following building costs, I was involved with Chevron's move from SF in the late 70s (one of Rockefellers businesses from the 1800's) to Concord, many of their employees lived "there" and building costs in Concord were "free" compared to downtown SF.

              A key to downtown development was the Arena (formally a Datsun dealership) and the Convention Center, their planning started in the 80s. Your friend may have not been aware of those significant downtown developments. If you want to discuss the area north of SJSU (Santa Clara Street) between Japantown, I can, it is a case of the existing owners contents with their investments vs "selling out" and "hitting the lottery" vs taxes. A thought might be, my grandparents lived here, if I sell, after taxes, it doesn't pencil out. It may not pencil out to redevelop one house, but if the developer can get enough property to build mutiple units, it does. SJ recently had an arsonist, among other places, he torched an old Victorian, house was in need of repairs costing more than the owners could afford with out financing, but the land is very valuable. The property can hold 3 new units, but it isn't penciling out. I am familar with a property owner in the area, they own a condemmed Victorian and several commercial buildings on contingous property, their costs of owning the property are affordable, they own "half the block", all of the other properties are under lease, it doesn't pencil out to evict the commercial tentants to be able to sell to a developer, but in ~6 years, the leases will have expired, maybe they planned this with their lease terms (50 yrs), expect high density housing to replace the two restaurants and ~5 homes.

              My name is Alan, I am not trying to argue with you, but I have experiences that don't support yours.

          2. Lots and lots of existing recommendations on this board (besides what bbulkow posted here) available by search. I also agree strongly with bb that Yelp is _particularly_ useless and misleading in that neighborhood.

            As indicated, some good unique large restaurant clusters are available a few miles away in nearby towns. But since you specified "immediate area," the following are within, like, 5 minute walk:

            San Pedro "Square" is a very short walk from the Convention Center and has been the focus of independent restaurant developments in that part of town since the 90s. Some chains are now there, but the core restaurants are independent, like 71 St Peter.


            Its restaurant population has slowly evolved. Haven't dropped in recently, but had many pleasant meals for business or pleasure there in past years. Certainly a cut above the upscale chains like Grill on the Alley (in the Fairmont), a place with decent Americana food inconsistently executed in my experience, but fully as expensive as any restaurant in the area.

            In the other tall building adjacent to the Fairmont's, address 50 San Fernando IIRC, is a generally very solid restaurant on the top floor, many large and small dining rooms; but it's a private club, Silicon Valley Capital Club; accessible if you (or anyone with you) belong to another CCA or affiliated city or country club anywhere, with reciprocity. Current chef formerly ran a famously innovative South-Bay bistro.

            The local chain Il Fornaio has an above-average location in a hotel at 302 S. Market, specializing in regional Italian cuisines (the region of specialty rotates over time, and chefs from Italy visit).

            16 Replies
            1. re: eatzalot

              Most of my searches were overwhelmed with great bay area places not in San Jose. Many of the SJ specific posts were not recent so I was hoping to hear about experiences within the last 6 months or so. I really appreciate bbulkow's post.

              1. re: dacfood

                I've done the search for you for "downtown" and "san jose", limited to the last 12 months. this narrows things down a bit for you.

                1. re: dacfood

                  Here's an thread from 2012 specific to the Convention Center area that has more ideas.

                  Please do let us know where you wind up eating.

                2. re: eatzalot

                  Thanks to everyone for all the help and suggestions!
                  Here is a quick report on the places I made it to. All were decent and a couple were outstanding. I stayed at the Hilton by the convention center just for reference. I walked to all the places except for my excursion to Mountain View.

                  Dinner at Framers Union. We ended up there mainly because we were caught in the rain and there it was. My intention had been to walk a bit further and try either Firehouse1 or 71 Saint Peter. I never did make it to either. Both looked like they could be very good. Farmers Union, on that night at least, had a really peculiar - not pleasant - odor. It wasn't bad enough to leave though if it hadn't been raining... Anyway, they had a nice beer selection though they were out of my first choice. Still I give them a plus for offering a nice selection most of which were new to me. I had the King Salmon with "paella" like rice, sausage, and mussels. The rice was a bit gummy and didn't have any crunch like I would expect from paella. Not bad flavor but not great. The mussels were a bit over cooked but the sausage pieces were just right and had a nice spice kick to them. The salmon was placed on top of the rice skin side up. The skin was super crispy and I initially feared that the fish would be overcooked or cooked to medium plus. To my surprise it was a perfect medium rare and was awesome in contrast to the well seasoned and crispy skin. I'd recommend going there just for that piece of fish.

                  I had one lunch at the Hilton mainly because I was really hungry and didn't have time to walk elsewhere. I only mention it because I had the 1/2 salad 1/2 sandwich (caesar/club). It was a surprisingly decent deal considering SJ prices plus being in a hotel. The club was actually a full sandwich which was a very generous serving (I did ask the server and he confirmed that it was indeed the "1/2" sandwich). All for $11.

                  Dinner at Original Joes. This was not on my list to try as well, but the even heavier rain the next night made the decision to venture only the 1/2 block. The server we had would have been very comfortable fitting in on the wait staff at an old style NY steak house like Peter Lugers. I didn't mind the edgy gruffness though I can see how some people might have complained. Keeping with that spirit I ordered a NY strip and baked potato. The steak could have used a bit more seasoning but was cooked perfectly. One of the guys I was with also ordered a steak and his was cooked exactly as ordered as well. The potato was also very good though on the small side (i.e., what you'd normally find at the store not a typcial steak house potato whic tend to be grapefruit sized). They also gave us a nice sized loaf of sour dough. Overall it surpassed my expectations but I'll admit my expectations going in were very low.

                  The next night I was on my own and decided to go on a small adventure. I walked over to the CalTrain station (a little less than a mile away), and hopped on the train to Mountain View. It looked like there were lots of choices there as well as Palo Alto. I was debating with myself which town to go to even when I was on the train. I decided to get off at Mountain View and went to a Japanese place right near the station called Bushido. I started off with their steamed pork buns. These were off the charts good and not at all what I expected. They were two steamed pieces of dough (not really buns) folded over with melting strips of pork belly, sauce, cucumber and other crunchy vegetable. Really good. If I went back I might just order two orders of that. Then I had one of the specials for the night, a "pancake" with crab meat and onions. It is served on a host iron skillet, kind of like when you get fajitas, that gave it a nice crust. It also was very good. I finished the meal off with the "small" assortment of sashimi: salmon, hamachi, two kinds of tuna (2 to 3 pieces of each fish). Also very nice. This was worth the trip and super convenient to the train. (A bit OT, but coming back I had a choice of waiting 30 minutes for the CalTrain or immediately hopping on the VTA which I knew stops right outside the Hilton. I opted for the VTA which apparently stops every 100 yards. It took forever - probably a 20 minute longer train ride even counting the 30 minutes I would have waited - but I arrived back at the hotel about the same time since I didn't have to walk a mile. I'm not sure if the walk from the Diridon station is advisable at night; it may be, but during the day it looked like it might be a sketchy walk).

                  For my last day I ran up to the La Victoria tacqueria during the lunch break. I knew I didn't have much time so I chose the one off Almaden rather than the one near SJSU thinking Almaden would be less crowded). I don't know if it was less crowded but it had a line of about 15 people waiting to order. I passed a taco truck on the way there that smelled awesome but the legend of the orange sauce dictated my destination. I had two tachos with the braised pork. They were top notch. This place is definitely a high recommendation for downtown. Even without the orange sauce I'd recommend these, but the orange sauce lives up to its repuation as well.

                  For the last dinner I decided to try the Pizz'a Chicago, which I had passed by every day on my way to breakfast (see below). The main reason I wanted to try their pizza was because I had a cousin who lived in SF for a while and raved about the deep dish at Little Star and this sounded very similar. This was pretty good though not as good as Little Star.

                  The first morning I wanted to find some good coffee. Last year I went to Bijan Bakery which is really close to the convention center. Bijan had decent coffee and really good pastries. I noticed that there were a couple places scattered about that were rated highly. I decided to try some of them. The first one I tried was B2 which is a healthy 15 minute walk from the Hilton. The coffee there is superb. I cannot recommend it more highly. It is the kind of coffee that you do not put cream in (I usually take a little cream but not here) because you do not want to mute the flavor profile. I used to think "flavor profile" for coffee was a pretty pretentious thing to say but not after having coffee at B2 every morning. I had a pour over of a different type of coffee every morning and they were all great. The people there really know what they are doing and are very freindly. This has every right to be a snooty pretentious coffee bar but it is absolutely not. I tried the chocolate croissant which was good and the berry danish which was excellent. The coffee was really really good. I felt sadness for the people in Starbucks as I walked past. I like Starbucks, but we're talking a world of difference.


                  1. re: dacfood

                    Thanks for an outstanding report. I wish more visitors would follow up in such detail.

                    Looks like you scored at Bushido in MV (my town) -- there are now about 105 restaurant spaces in that short strip, and I know most of them well. Bushido is an Izakaya (small plates and drinks); you got the pork-belly bao (which have even been discounted during weekday "happy hour"), a favorite of mine there; and as an interesting-sounding special, one of the okonomiyaki [sp?] savory pancakes -- Japanese take on Korean pa jeon. Incidentally just up the street is a recent addition, Buffalo, specializing in baos and hamburgers, with more steamed-bun sandwich variations than Bushido; I still give Bushido's pork-belly bun the edge, after they improved it with new garnishes a year or so ago.

                    1. re: eatzalot

                      Okonomiyaki pancakes from Bushido

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        Mountain View looks like an amazing place for food. Just within a block of the train station there were tons of places that looked great. Now that I know how easy it is to get there I'll certainly look to return. Or maybe, if I have to go back to San Jose, I'll stay in Mountain View and commute. :)

                        Thanks again to everyone for their help!

                        1. re: dacfood

                          FYI dacfood, what you saw is a sample of the peninsula's "Train Towns." (I've even seen an advertising tabloid of that name.) Some background:

                          After rail service came in the 1850s, business and residential districts formed near the stations (in some cases, replacing earlier concentrations near the old stagecoach stops on El Camino Real, farther from the bay). Thriving small towns developed along the line. Some of them later declined, after WW2, when development shifted to a then-new suburban, car-dependent trend. Historians call the same Mountain View street you saw a "ghost town" by 1980, its retailers closed due to shopping-mall competiton. That street was remodeled 1989-90, after which restaurants particularly concentrated there, over 100 now. As people rediscover alternatives to automobile commutes, the Train Towns have had a renaissance of popularity.

                          With variations, such neighborhoods exist up and down the Caltrain line. Sunnyvale has a small but thriving one near its downtown station, as do San Carlos and with a little walking, Menlo Park; San Mateo, to the north, a large diverse downtown. Palo Alto and Burlingame each have two such districts, with unique restaurants, near two separate train stations. In another direction from downtown SJ is Campbell's very hip restaurant cluster, that one on VTA's light-rail line rather than Caltrain (one of the few places the Light Rail, which is notoriously lightly used, actually reaches.)

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Downtown Mountain View a ghost town in the 1980s? Those of us who worked at NASA Ames down the road knew it as the place to go for Chinese food!

                            (BTW, CalTrain only stops at one of the Burlingame stations except on weekends.)

                            1. re: tardigrade

                              Yes, Chinese and also Mexican, I remember.

                              "Ghost town" is a local historians' catch phrase for the pre-Revitalization era. "Castro St. appears quite desolate and bleak in this 1982 photograph of the 200 block. The only people on its narrow brick sidewalks are two souls waiting for a bus . . . most shoppers had abandoned downtown for the malls." (Perry, ISBN 0738531367 )

                              That contrasts with dacfood's recent impression. Other differences: now 2 traffic lanes, not 4; wider sidewalks; around three times as many restaurants.

                            2. re: eatzalot

                              I commuted on CalTrain for over 20 years and have been a rider since the 1970s.

                              Your post is interesting but incorrect. Trains in the 1850's, No. Train Towns, not really, many of the current stations have been in their locations for less than 50 years. Many of the old stations are gone. You mention Sunnyvale, I first remember Sunnyvale station was at Hendy Ironworks, the station moved about 20 years ago. The current Sunnyvale station location is relatively new. San Mateo has been there for ~15 years, the old San Mateo station used to be south of the current location, when a train was in the station it blocked 3rd Street, the station was moved north to avoid that. Bayshore is another new location, used to be farther south for Schlage Lock, when they closed, there was no reason for a train station. Bellermine used to have its own station, closed about 15 years ago. Campbell light rail is about 10 years old, the reason Campbell is a "hip" cluster is because the man who owned that area died. While he was alive, he saw no reason to let his property be developed, ever notice how the streets twist and turn in the area, it is because he didn't want traffic, his land: no roads.

                              There was a station between Palo Alto and Mountain View that was built as a condition for allowing the train to cross a landowners property. There was nothing there then and the stop was eliminated in the 70s.

                              Castro Street was "redeveloped", but it was thriving before and after.

                              Your story is nice, but not consistent with my experiences. I rode the train for so long, most of the conductors I knew have not only retired, but they have passed away. In the early 90s, trains were lightly used, the "dot com" boom in the late 90s changed things, then it continued with the increase in gas prices. The earthquake in 89 led to extending service to Gilroy, Highway 17 was closed for a few months, Santa Cruz commuters had to drive to Gilroy or Half Moon Bay to get "over the hill". The only old stations on the penisula I know of are; San Jose, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park. All of the other stations are in "new" locations. Stanford is still there but only used on game days.

                              Mountain View had a "tech" explosion in the 60s, supporting aerospace. The old 237 corridor was full of aerospace companies, in the 90s it became housing. I watched Castro Street "boom" in the 70s and it has been that way since. Castro Street had nothing to do with Caltrain, it was dependent on local businesses, the end of the cold war affected businesses in that area. Some companies survived because of the MCI lawsuit. In the old days, the commuter train was run by Southern Pacific. SP was losing money, the state took over the commuter railroad and was originally called Caltrans.

                              Central Pacific across the continent or Southern Pacific heading south through the central valley did indeed created "Train Towns", but I disagree trains made the towns on the penisula. It was the other way around; the towns were already there, train stations were opened to support agriculture then manufacturing.

                              1. re: Alan408

                                Thanks for all the recollections Alan.

                                You may have taken some unintended inferences from what I wrote above, but the words as stated reflect standard local history (including the _modern_ sense -- the only way I meant it -- of the phrase "Train Town," as illustrated by the off-and-on Peninsula advertising newspaper I mentioned, which uses the phrase as its title). I did write "1850s" for the Peninsula train line, relying on memory. Actually it arrived in the 1860s. 1850s were when the region's settlement accelerated, after the Gold Rush. Certainly, stations have come and gone since then. I too rode the line in the 1970s, when it wasn't Caltrain but Southern Pacific (Caltrain _per se_ arrived in the 1980s). An engineer friend, who attends the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board meetings and occasionally advises Caltrain's senior management, is an unofficial line historian, and has assembled interesting history beyond what's publicly available. However, I did cite one of Perry's photo-history books on a detail related to the OP's comments, and that source has more on that particular town.

                                Mountain View's current downtown business district, where the OP (dacfood) noticed so many restaurants, started in 1864 with the train's arrival. For a while, the district was "New Mountain View," contrasting to "Old MV," the original development near the stage stop on El Camino. Today the former "New MV" is known as the "Old MV" neighborhood, and many people are unaware of the 1850s city center on El Camino. The dramatic decline of _retailing_ around MV's Castro St through the 1980s, and the turnaround and restaurant boom that followed the 1989-90 Revitalization project, are extensively documented in print and I witnessed them myself.

                                "Train town" in the sense I use it is a modern catch phrase of demographers, realtors, company recruiters, and local boosters, for the scene of pedestrian-friendly Peninsula downtowns, several of which I cited upthread. It has become fashionable, especially among young workers, to live near one of the stations and commute, dine, bar-hop, etc. among the little towns by train. A hot MV real-estate trend in the past 10-15 years has been conversion of idle land near the train station to condominia or apartments, I've seen it consume many of the vacant lots downtown.

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  Hi, I am in a hospital, third time since Nov

                                  Hit by a red light runner, every time they say I may not be able to walk, I try to prove them wrong and end up in the hospital

                                  The meds they give me are mind altering

                                  At least this visit my posts haven't been deleted, maybe tomorrow

                                  Nice to remember with you

                        2. re: dacfood

                          Thanks for the writeup. I'm glad you tried the train to MV, and you did well to pick Bushedo - one great thing about MV is the generally high quality. You'll never forget your first okonomyaki!

                          B2 serves Verve, a local roast out of santa cruz. Verve does a solid blend, but, most importantly, offers a lot of training to the shops that brew it. Although I like a few other coffees better, FourBarrel, Barefoot, Verve is very nice, and it sounds like B2 is doing a good job.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            I believe B2/Bellano also serve Sightglass.

                      2. Plenty of good recommendations already but if you like good beer, I would add Original Gravity (OG) on 1st Street to the list. They typically have 2 dozen microbrews on tap. The food is a bit like Rosamunde -- different types of sausages and fries (these are cooked in duck fat).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: j mather

                          The owners of OG are opening a new place next door:

                          Officially opens on Monday.

                        2. Milpitas Square is about half a mile from a 901 streetcar stop and has great Indian and Chinese restaurants.


                          1. Some suggestions that haven't been mentioned: Nemea (First St.) and Zona Rosa (The Alameda). If you want to check out Willow Glen, then The Table is also an option.