Many restaurants have closed since March 2020, when the Bay Area went into lockdown, and many more will shutter during these pandemic times. In order to lend a helping hand, we’ve been getting more takeout than we ever did before 2020. Perhaps some of you out there had the same idea. We had also planned to use our platform to help small restaurants in the Bay Area in 2020, but the lockdown made that rather difficult. Well, we are putting our 2020 plan into action by offering free promotion on our site’s prime real estate.
We’ll feature a couple of restaurants on this page and in the banner window above. Feel free to send us your nominations. If you are the owner of a restaurant and wish to nominate your own business, that’s fine. And if you are hiring, we’ll help you get the word out (click on the Deals tab below). Use our Contact form and rest assured we read every email and check the junk folder diligently. Pizza joints are a low priority because we heard they’ve been doing great since 2020. National and international chains probably don't need our help.
Restaurants are like the radio stations of the hospitality industry. Before the corporate takeover of the radio market, most listeners had strong feelings toward certain local stations. In a similar fashion, most diners are devoted to their favorite restaurants. If we removed all the restaurant reviews on social media, what are we left with? Reviews of contractors and products. Not everyone feels the need to talk about music and film. But we all have an opinion about restaurants.
Every crisis has a silver lining. Just as the pandemic has changed the way people work and the way students learn, it has also forced the restaurant industry to adapt. Places that didn’t offer takeout before had to rethink that policy. More restaurants started working with food-delivery services. And after 2020, most businesses have the takeout packaging down to a science—from cardboard-lined bag to double bagging and extra care when dealing with leak-prone items. We even saw a restaurant keeping takeout food warm in an oven-like appliance. Al fresco dining became a means to survival; parklets became more commonplace.
We’ve always said you can easily eat your way around the world in the Bay Area. So let’s begin.
Most large cities and metropolitan areas have at least one or two German restaurants—not surprising since there are at least 60 million German Americans (compare with more than 40 million Irish Americans). Named after Vienna’s most popular market, Naschmarkt is something less common, an Austrian restaurant. Austrian cuisine is similar to the food traditions in neighboring Bavaria. The food at Naschmarkt is hearty but not heavy. The flavor of the pork in jager schnitzel comes through loud the clear even though it’s topped with mushroom sauce. If you like stuffed vegetables, try kraut rouladen or stuffed cabbage. Seasonal crepe is light and not too sweet. Downtown Campbell is one of the best restaurant spots in the South Bay. Downtown Mountain View, Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue, downtown Los Gatos, and downtown Sunnyvale are also good choices.
Watch below as Leslie Sbrocco visits Vienna, Linz, and Durnstein. Coffee culture, Sacher torte, Linzer torte, schnapps, and kasekrainer are all fine. But the one item that really piqued our interest is bauern leberkase (farmer meatloaf), which tastes like “high-quality SPAM.” Since it’s not out of a can, it should be better than SPAM. No wonder Kommissar Rex loves leberkasesemmel/wurstsemmel so much. Mahlzeit.
Nearby options: Trattoria 360, Aqui, Opa!, Desi, A Bellagio, La Pizzeria, Spread, Water Tower Kitchen, Manresa Bread, Orchard Valley Coffee, Psycho Donuts, Snake & Butterfly, Campbell Creamery, AFKxp Tech & Game Center
Hardy’s Bavaria, Sunnyvale | What...no video?! :-(
Like San Jose’s Jubba, Hardy’s Bavaria is also near a train station. Established in the early 1990s, this German restaurant is now run by a couple of women: the owner who works the front of the house and the original chef in the kitchen (they may be the only employees left). If you fancy smoked meats and shank of any kind, try smoked ham shank. Note that this shank still has some chew to it and the meat inside looks and tastes a little like corned beef. Sauerbraten (sour pot roast) is Germany’s national dish. Most of the entrees come with plain but comforting potato salad; only one comes with what Americans call German potato salad. And you get a wonderful soup and bread with all the dinner entrees. For vegetarians there’s a meatless goulash.
Located in Murphy Square near what was once Sunnyvale’s Town & Country Village, this is the sort of place that you want to be around for another 20 years. Well, it survived one major redevelopment. When we visited Hardy’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2021—the things we do for this page—we had a nice chat with a gentleman whose wife is Bavarian (thanks for the tip regarding Esther’s German Bakery). Then 30 minutes later, we had an opportunity to tell two young ladies about Campbell’s Naschmarkt. Food is the thing that unites all Bay Area foodies.
Gerhard “Hardy” Steiner (1944-2020) and his wife opened their Bavarian restaurant after he lost his job at Palo Alto’s Dinah’s Shack when it closed in 1989. Dinah’s Shack was where William Shockley’s employees gathered to celebrate his winning the Nobel Prize in 1956 (more Silicon Valley history). When they retired in 2002, they sold Hardy’s to a waitress who’d worked here. Steiner was born in Bavaria; the new owner in Lower Saxony. Who knew Bavaria and Texas have so much in common? Watch the video below and you will be convinced. By the same token, other countries have their own Texas/Bavaria. Think of separatist regions such as Quebec and Catalonia, among others.
Kelly Does Her Thing [►]
Nearby options: Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, House of Kabobs, Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar
Past Featured Restaurants
♦♦♦ San Francisco
Our collective sweet tooth has never been the same since a Swiss chocolatier created milk chocolate in 1875. We’ve always thought how fortuitous that we have See’s Candies right here in California instead of those other national brands that you find at CVS and Walgreens. We’ll take a box of See’s over those boxes anytime. The Bay Area’s chocolate roots predate See’s when Ghirardelli Chocolate and Guittard Chocolate opened for business in the 19th century. And we lucked out again in the 1980s when Joseph Schmidt Confections did for chocolates what Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse did for restaurants and Peet’s Coffee did for coffee. By the late 1990s, three more local chocolate companies came on-line: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Recchiuti Confections, and XOX Truffles. Check out what we had to say about Recchiuti and other Bay Area treats earlier.
You can watch below Burt Wolf’s take on the history of chocolate. In 2016, Globe Trekker also produced “The Story of Chocolate” as part of its “Planet Food” specials. Check your local PBS station schedule for the next rerun.
Nearby options: The Slanted Door (closed for renovation), El Porteno Empanadas, Hog Island Oyster Co., Donut Farm, CheeseQuakes, Acme Bread Co., Golden Gate Meat Co., Humphry Slocombe, Dandelion Chocolate, Miette Patisserie & Confiserie
♦♦♦ East Bay
For years all we had around the country were Americanized Italian restaurants, Americanized Chinese restaurants, and Americanized Mexican restaurants. Well, times have changed as chefs introduced American diners to more authentic fare. There’s nothing wrong with Italian American restaurants, but if you want to move away from food that was made to appeal to “mainstream” palette a long time ago, come on down to Piedmont Avenue. Chef Michele Belotti and his wife operate a sit-down restaurant and a takeout-only bottega (shop). We prefer the latter for its location, another one of those two-lane restaurant rows. The menu showcases food from various regions of northern Italy: Piedmont (agnolotti, vitello tonnato, battuta), Lombardy (casoncelli, scarpinocc), Veneto (bigoli), and Emilia-Romagna (tortellini, tagliatelle). Pour yourself a glass of Lambrusco or Prosecco.
How fitting that a place that serves Piedmontese food is on a street named Piedmont. Yes, Herb Caen would’ve loved this twist on his namephreaks.
Nearby options: Pomella, Monkey King, Malibu’s Burgers, Mistura, The Saap Avenue, Lo Coco’s, The Wolf, La Farine Bakery, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery, Fentons Creamery, Piedmont Grocery
Considering people enjoyed some kind of chocolate drink in Mesoamerica 4,000 years ago, we think it’s only right that we have a place like Casa de Chocolates in the Elmwood area of Berkeley. The Maya referred to chocolate as the food of the gods. Using such intriguing flavors as mole, chipotle, tequila, and Inca peanut butter, Casa de Chocolates does its best to tempt us mortals with these heavenly offerings. Chocolate truffles are fairly easy to make at home. You’ll find lots of truffle recipes on the Internet. Milk Street gives brownies a twist by using tahini. You can take truffles and brownies to another level by adding a bit of chili powder. Of course, chocolate is also good for cooking. Chicken mole comes to mind.
Nearby options: La Mediterranee, Gai Barn, Donato & Co., Summer Kitchen, Organic Greens, Shen Hua, King Yen, Nabolom Bakery, Dream Fluff Donuts
De Afghanan Cuisine, Fremont | ABC Localish [►]
We figure Afghanistan will remain in the news for a while, so now is as good a time as any to talk about Afghan restaurants. If you like kebabs, lamb, pilaf, or Persian food in general, then Afghan cuisine will give you a sense of deja vu. Dari, one of Afghanistan’s languages, is basically farsi. Try qabili polow (lamb shank pilaf) and bolani (stuffed flatbread). De Afghanan, located in Fremont’s Little Kabul, has been around since 1993 and still maintains a small takeout-only place (limited menu and cash only) a few doors down from the main restaurant. Note that there’s a ghost site put up by some company (cybersquatting?). If you go to De Afghanan, tell them Baylindo sent you.
Nearby options: Momo & Kebab, A Sack of Potatoes (int’l chain), Pav Bhaji Hut (int’l chain), Bun Appetit, MW Chinese Gourmet, El Halal Amigos, Madhuram, LiZhou
Imperial Soup, Oakland | What...no video?! :-(
Here’s another unique restaurant in the Bay Area, a place that specializes in herbal soups. While we can’t vouch for their medicinal properties, what Imperial Soup offers tastes as comforting as, well, chicken soup. The English menu simply describes the 18 herbal soup options as “herbs.” Try the soup with American ginseng (#5) or the one with blaze mushroom (#7) or the one with sparerib (#9). It’s a nice change from the ubiquitous hot and sour soup. The desserts are on the “healthy” side as well. If they run out of double-layer steamed milk, steamed red bean milk with sago would be a good plan B. The rest are barely sweet—though where else can you find peach gum and tragacanth on the dessert menu? The main entrees are mostly steamed or braised (nothing deep-fried here). Hainan chicken rice is one of the better versions in the Bay Area. If you like food bundles, try steamed rice with pork belly in lotus leaf. Imperial Soup also serves noodles and noodle soups. There may be a $25 minimum for credit cards.
When the English menu fails to tell the whole story, we wish there’s a mobile app that allows one to point the camera at a foreign-language name or sign and get an English translation. Apple’s own Translate app doesn’t do that. If you find double-boiled herbal soup at other restaurants, it’s higher priced and usually requires a reservation. To learn more about food as medicine and food philosophy in general, check out episode #102 of Confucius Was a Foodie. KPJK is currently airing this Canadian series on Saturdays at 7 pm (starting in October 2021); KQED and KRCB will probably rerun it in the future.
Soup for One [►]
Nearby options: Peony Seafood, Cafe Gabriela, Battambang, Tay Ho, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, Shooting Star Cafe, C&M Bistro, Shandong, Eden Silk Road, Golden Peacock, New Gold Medal, UC Dessert
For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are well represented in the Bay Area. Whether or not you’ve had your fill of injera, check out other African eats such as this Liberian restaurant in downtown San Leandro. Liberia is one of 17 nations in West Africa, where most American slaves originated. Sampling West African food is like tasting the American South’s mother cuisine. Jollof rice is likely the inspiration for jambalaya and other Southern rice dishes. We don’t consume enough collard greens outside of the South; Kendejah offers sweet potato greens and cassava leaves in addition to that Southern staple. Also try torborgee or bean stew. For marketing purpose, the owner of this restaurant chose to spell Kendeja, an artists’ village outside Liberia’s capital, his way.
Liberia has another special connection to this country—if you know your U.S. history. Follow chef Marcus Samuelsson as he visits the Nigerian and West African community in Houston in episode #203 of No Passport Required. Chef Vivian Howard explores the ways greens are prepared in the South and observes someone in Georgia pounding cassava leaves and making fufu in episode #105 of Somewhere South. KQED will rerun these series in the future. In the meantime, you can watch below Michelle Kavachi make fufu (also seen in the Samuelsson series). Also check out her book on fufu.
Nearby options: Slice House, Xiang Yuen Xiao Long Bao, Maejoo Wings, Indian Grill, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Cafe Sorriso
Veggie Lee, Hayward | What...no video?! :-(
As the name suggests, this is indeed a vegetarian restaurant near Chabot College. What distinguishes Veggie Lee from other vegetarian places is the fact that owner/chef Che Heng “Veggie” Lee used to work in non-vegetarian kitchens in the Bay Area. Salt and pepper pumpkin is not the heavy and greasy rendition you often find elsewhere. Everything under Chef’s Specials is a safe bet, including pine nuts with Chinese toon fried rice. Veggie Lee uses konjac as a substitute for shark fin in a couple of soups. As far as we know, the only other place that serves konjac is Earl Spicy in Millbrae. Note that all the dishes are allium-free (no garlic, onion, shallot, leek, or chive), which is important to some Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. San Jose’s White Lotus was a beloved vegetarian spot until it closed in 2007; Veggie Lee has the potential to become an institution.
Nearby options: Bamboo Steamer, Hawaiian Drive Inn, Eon Coffee
♦♦♦ Silicon Valley/South Bay
Attention, Inspector Montalbano fans (are they called Salvos?). If you want some cannoli to snack on while watching your favorite Sicilian detective, you’ll find a very good version at Dolce Sicilia in Willow Glen. This cafe probably doesn’t use a wooden mold, but il commissario would still approve (Dr. Pasquano may be a different story). What’s even better is the pistachio and ricotta cake. Among the savory items, gorgonzola and fig coppa panino is the best of the six panini on the menu. The one uncommon pasta dish is garganelli, which is shaped like penne. While you’re here, pick up a jar of pistachio butter. Chris Kimball (Milk Street, America’s Test Kitchen) swears by this alternative to peanut butter. Located inside the former Garden Theatre that now houses a post office and the defunct Top Nosh Cafe, Dolce Sicilia’s layout is a little cramped. More than other neighborhoods in San Jose, Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue feels like a small town within a big city. Note that Dolce Sicilia closes early in the afternoon.
Nearby options: Braise, Bertucelli’s La Villa Delicatessen, Los Dubon, Aqui, 20twenty Cheese Bar, Bill’s Cafe, Willow Glen Creamery, Willow Glen Sweet Shoppe, Icicles, Mariette Chocolates
Happiness Cafe, San Jose | What...no video?! :-(
There are two types of vegetarian restaurants: the kind that likes to mimic meat and seafood and the kind that doesn’t try to “fake you out.” Among the latter is the famed Greens in San Francisco. For non-vegetarians, the novelty of sampling mock meat dishes wears off pretty fast. Happiness Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall place near San Jose’s main post office and a Costco, has a few surprises up its sleeve. While most fast casual restaurants use iceberg lettuce in their salads, this cafe gives you frisee. The desserts are uniformly good (we doubt they’re made in-house). Try opera cake, cheesecake, guava cake, or all three. Ocean melt tastes like real tuna; crispy patty with brown rice tastes like tonkatsu. The phish balls are the star of the rice noodle soup.
Nearby options: Vons Chicken (int’l chain), Ma’s, Ono Hawaiian BBQ
Jubba, San Jose | CPBA [►]
Named after a river in Somalia, Jubba is the only Somali restaurant in the South Bay—if not the entire Bay Area. Somali cuisine includes some recognizable items. Canjeero is lighter and less sour than neighboring Ethiopia’s injera. You’ll also find spaghetti on Jubba’s menu (Italy briefly occupied both East African countries). Sambusa and sabaayad are similar to Indian samosa and chapati, respectively. Order beef or chicken suqaar as your main and finish with mandazi or fried bread. This modest restaurant with a cafeteria atmosphere is located near Westfield Oakridge, sandwiched between a light rail station and a sprawling apartment complex. The secluded area has a laid-back vibe that belies its location; the clock tower adds to its old-timey feel. As much as we love paper maps, you’re better off following driving directions on the Internet.
Nearby options: Westfield Oakridge, Mandarin Gourmet, Chaat Cafe
When SF Chronicle and Michelin Guide reviewed this Sichuan restaurant, they somehow overlooked the fact that it also serves Tanjia food. Tanjia (or Tan Family) is essentially Beijing’s take on Cantonese cuisine, which for the longest time was synonymous with Chinese food in the U.S. So while you can order spicy dishes like fish fillet in chili oil and sauteed chili pepper with preserved egg, you can also enjoy Cantonese-tasting dishes such as sauteed shrimp with egg and cabbage, winter melon with shrimp, and braised Napa cabbage with chestnut. This is a joint venture between award-winning chef Zongyi Liu and a childhood friend. It would be a shame if we lost a unique restaurant like Royal Feast in the Bay Area.
Nearby options: Tasty Place, Yummy Szechuan, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, New Asian Pearl, Ben Tre, Millbrae Pancake House, Broadway (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to El Camino Real)
There aren’t too many Hunan restaurants around here, so get it while you can. The site presents a well-written, legible, and printer-friendly two-page menu—it’s the little things that mean so much. Ants climbing a tree (gotta love these poetic names) is not too spicy and has good flavor. Sweet potato noodles and cabbage (under Steamed Specials) is enough to feed a small family. Located in what is ostensibly Millbrae’s two-lane restaurant row on Broadway, Wonderful does live up to its name. There’s plenty of free parking everywhere.
Nearby options: Sugandh, Porridge & Things, Gourmet Village, Noodles & Things, Dean’s Produce, El Camino Real (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to Broadway)
Gone to the Big Food Court in the Sky
You don’t want to end up here....
Events and Teamwork
Check this space for special promotions from restaurants regarding Mother’s Day and other occasions. And look for career opportunities as well. Want to learn how to make fresh pasta that would make a nonna proud? Or create delectable desserts that would make anyone swoon? If you are a people person, we need you in the front of the house. They call it the hospitality industry for a reason.
Side Trips and Sidebars
While you visit Belotti Bottega, Pomella, Fentons Creamery, and other businesses on Piedmont Avenue, take a little side trip.
The Quiet Side of Oakland
At the end of Piedmont Avenue is Mountain View Cemetery designed in 1863 by Frederick Law Olmsted, arguably America’s most celebrated landscape architect. He is best known as the designer (together with Calvert Vaux) of New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park. Cemeteries are the precursor to public parks, so it makes perfect sense that Olmsted designed Mountain View Cemetery while he lived in California. Some of the noted graves include Stephen Bechtel, Warren Bechtel, Charles Crocker, March Fong Eu, James A. Folger, Domingo Ghirardelli, Thomas Hill, Henry J. Kaiser, Fred Korematsu, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and T.A. Soong. Guided tours are no longer available, but the grounds are open to recreational visits Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Originally designed in 1909 and redesigned in 1928 by the aforementioned Morgan, Chapel of the Chimes is a designated Oakland landmark located in front of Mountain View Cemetery. Notable residents include Dick Bartell, Al Davis, Bones Ely, and John Lee Hooker. Guided tours are available by appointment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why no ratings for these restaurants?
If we set out to publish the usual Bay Area restaurant reviews, we would definitely include a letter grade for each (we prefer this to the star or point system) and provide more details. But our mission is to help small businesses in these pandemic times, so anything lower than an A might dissuade some potential customers, not to mention there are—or will be—nominations that we don’t have an opportunity to visit ourselves. Just know that we will not feature any establishment that we find disappointing. Other than third-party suggestions, everything we select is either A or B.
Is a YouTube video a requirement?
The short answer is no. But we love to embed a video made available by professionals such as Check, Please! Bay Area and ABC Localish in the banner window above. YouTube has made this a three-click process. Some homemade videos by customers are quite polished, and we don’t have a problem embedding or linking to them. If no one has uploaded a video about your restaurant, you might consider making one yourself. YouTube offers some basic tools to put it together. Or just take out your smartphone and shoot. We don’t expect an Oscar-winning short, but please think about what you want to show and what you want to say, if anything. Your video could be as simple as a series of photos that are probably already on your own site.
What’s the idea behind nearby options?
As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. As long as we highlight a specific restaurant, we feel we should mention others in the vicinity in order to give more places a boost. Note that the list of nearby options is curated as well. We try to include restaurants that have a decent reputation or an interesting menu at least. In short, we’ve done the homework for you.
How do we assess a kitchen’s level of competence?
Cooking is all about balance. Nothing should be too sweet, too tart, too salty, too bitter, or too spicy—some restaurants purposely ignore the last point. Nothing should be too greasy, too dry, too heavy, or too bland. And nothing should be overcooked or undercooked. If we’re talking about professional kitchens, the same dish should taste the same every time. Balance and consistency. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If good cooking was that easy, there wouldn’t be so many bad reviews out there.
How long do we intend to keep this page active?
Two things need to happen for this country to return to business as usual: we need to reach herd immunity and we need to vaccinate the rest of the world to keep mutations at bay. California may be the fifth-largest economy in the world, but it is not a country. We can’t close our borders and allow only vaccinated visitors in. Even within the state, some counties have a much lower vaccination rate than the Bay Area. The Bay Area’s vaccination rate may be relatively high on paper, but keep in mind the real rate on any given day is actually lower due to an influx of unvaccinated people from other parts of California, other states, and other countries. If recent trends are a good predictor of the future, well, hang on to your masks for years to come. The restaurant industry is notorious for its high failure rate to begin with, so we’ll keep this page going indefinitely—with tweaks along the way, of course.
What do we think of food writing?
As far as restaurant reviews are concerned, we have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, we enjoy reading the likes of Patricia Unterman, Michael Bauer, and Ruth Reichl. Now professional food critics are paid to do what they do—and having their employers pick up the tab when they dine out is icing on the cake. We concede citizen reviewers do have a role to play here since the few professional critics could only cover a limited portion of eateries in the sprawling Bay Area. After we posted a small number of reviews some years ago, we realized most of the restaurants closed months later. It seemed like a waste of time and energy, a futile endeavor. For this and other reasons, we stopped posting on a certain social media site.
If cooking is an art—and no doubt some celebrity chefs think of themselves as artists—then this art form is as ephemeral as one of Christo’s projects—here today, gone tomorrow. You can read a book as long as it’s published or digitized. You can listen to any song as long as the rights holders have made it available on the Internet. You can watch any film/TV show if it’s available for streaming. You can appreciate a painting even if you’re just studying a photo of it. But you can’t taste a dish by looking at a photo or video. Once a restaurant is gone, no one will ever have the opportunity to savor anything from that kitchen again. Without the pandemic, we never would’ve started this page. So our new focus is on the greater truth and interesting bits of information. And as the song says, accentuate the positive.
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