San Carlos: Johnston’s Salt Box
Can't believe I'm the first on this one.
In San Carlos, on the south end of Laurel, life gets less traveled and more neighborhood-y, which is saying something for san carlos. The San Carlos scene always seemed a bit mixed, maybe not quite Troubled, with some fun stand-outs (I mentioned the Desi Chinese place, Limon is nice, Town is a bit boysterous, Speederia has its fans, Noelani's gets regular visits from us, Refuge is kind of great but noisy, there's now a Blue Line outpost to even things out, a french casual place the GF likes). Few real standouts, I rarely go there.
Among all of those, add a neighborhood place firing on all cylinders. A stylish place - Salt Box being the architecture, not the table-top artifact - the no-reservations place has a simple menu of about 5 mains (pasta, steak, burger, fish, chicken - LITERALLY), a few salads, and a rather impressive wine list. The place is designed as a "bring everyone" place, baby friendly, an upscale kids menu (mac & cheese, chicken fingers), dog friendly, but with solid food. Local, well cooked, "californian", casual-style.
I had a nice little plate of castrovalva olives. They were out of a Pey rose, showing some real local wine interest, most of the wines were regions like Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, Santa Cruz, sonoma, none of the old war-horses. Beer also, a mixed list but pleasant (Linden St, Speakeasy, something else bay-area-brewed).
The burger was very solid. House pickled toppings. Very juicy, made of non-chuck (short rib? something?), interesting taste to the meat.
Compared to the "casual meet a friend" places like Crepevine, which is a Sysco-ish operation, this is a real locally sourced place.
This place will not blow you away. It's not a destination. But if you're local and just overlooked it, or you need to meet a friend or have brunch, I would recommend this over anywhere north of RWC and south of San Mateo - and arguably nowhere even in those two is as causal & tasty. Closes at 9 except sunday dinner, open for brunch & lunch, likely does a killer lunch & brunch business.
The place has been running 3 months, and has had a very solid following already, according to the staff. It's not loud, and the food really is the new-standard-american. The food will make you smile and you'll walk out with a sense of quiet satisfaction.
In related news: about 4 storefronts south, same side of the street, is a BBQ joint that was always retro-stylishly appointed, but had weird hours (never tried it, stopped by 3 times). The bar-guy I talked to said The Office bought it, and it'll be opening this week. When I drove past, I saw it was called 3 Pigs. The Office is OK but nothing special, hopefully quality BBQ lights a fire under them. [ The office also did some remodelling, with the external fire pits now an enclosed space, and I think they did away with the bocce. Food is the same. It's on about 1% rotation.]