Palo Alto is home to not only Stanford Cardinals and federally indicted crypto-scheming families, but also to extraordinary restaurateurs. Sure, there are lightweight, talkative bars and cafes in any dining scene. But If Palo Alto’s food and drink scene should be known for anything, it should be for a dizzying spread of wonderful options for any diner or drinker. There’s everything from Oklava’s Turkish casual coffee to Ethel’s Fancy’s upscale fine dining to La Bodeguita del Medio’s cigar bar. And with Sekoya opening on California Avenue in August, the landscape gets stronger and stronger all the time. Try any of these Palo Alto destinations for a taste of what makes this Peninsula city sing.Read More
Here Are the Must-Try Places to Eat and Drink in Palo Alto
Options for high-end restaurants where you’ll bump elbows with tech execs and perfect spots for students on a budget
Tamarine Restaurant & Gallery
This modern Vietnamese restaurant at the top end of University Avenue has been serving shaking beef, lemongrass sea bass, and hoisin lamb chops since 2002. Owned by two sisters, the space is also a rotating art gallery and a power spot for cocktails. The menu includes a few rotating favorites from Tam Tam, the slightly more casual spot they opened in 2019 and closed in 2020.
Ever want to drink a Nutty Professor, a mai tai riff incorporating pistachio orgeat and pistachio foam, on a rooftop? What about a Weekend at Burning Man, a sultry combo of tequila, pineapple juice, and elote reduction? Both and more are available at the bar above the recently-remodeled Graduate Hotel.
In October 2022 chef Scott Nishiyama opened a fine dining passion project to explore his Japanese American roots. Ethel’s Fancy delivers on that and so much more, serving dishes including toasted coconut fritters with wagyu beef and pickled green peppercorn vinaigrette in a restaurant named after both his mother and maternal grandmother.
Chef Robbie Wilson, also behind San Francisco’s Le Fantastique, brought fine-dining pedigree to Palo Alto when he opened Bird Dog in 2015. The menu ranges from raw fish and fatty meats to locally farmed vegetables and grains, highlighting ingredients like bone marrow, amberjack, and Arrowhead cabbage.
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Ramen Nagi Palo Alto
Palo Alto was the first U.S. location for this popular ramen chain in 2018, and fans have been lining up ever since. They get handed menus and markers, and pick out noodle thickness and firmness, as well as garlic and chile levels. The ramen bowls come in four variations: the “original king” with creamy tonkotsu pork broth, the “green king” with fresh basil pesto, the “red king” laced with chiles, and the “black king” darkened with squid ink.
Bevri had the distinction of being the first Georgian restaurant in the Bay Area, and it’s hard to resist the khachapuri, bread shaped like a canoe and filled with melted cheese, let alone the plump khinkali dumplings. Don’t miss the wine list — Georgian wines are having a moment, but as the restaurant points out, the tradition goes back 8,000 years.
Ettan brings Michelin-pedigreed and James Beard-nominated California-Indian cuisine to Palo Alto in a bright, colorful patterned space serving “grazing” snacks of oysters topped with a fennel and curry leaf ponzu and sliders filled with jackfruit. Chef Srijith Gopinathan opened Copra in 2023, so taking stock of the cook’s Silicon Valley restaurant is basically just doing your homework.
Not to name drop big city sisters, but Evvia in Palo Alto is the sibling of Kokkari in San Francisco, and for anyone who’s cozied up by the fire and feasted on flame-licked lamb, it has the same warmth and charm. Menu highlights include the dolmathes, grilled octopus, and lamb riblets — but, really, anything twirling over the big hearth.
There is an abundance of places to order baklava in the Bay Area, but not many with more than 20 varieties. This tiny cafe and bakery pumps out tons of flavors including double walnut, chocolate with pistachio, and carrot. The shop includes both Oklava and Kenz Coffee Bar, and also features heftier fare such as falafel and Turkish breakfasts.
With an emphasis on booze, blues, and New Orleans–style bon temps, Nola is a favorite among Stanford students, now with an even larger outdoor setup for lingering brunches. The three-story restaurant meant to resemble a French Quarter building serves Louisiana classics like gumbo and jambalaya, as well as distinctly non-Louisiana dishes like roasted cauliflower tacos and hot chicken sliders. The drinks are really the star here, with hurricanes, sazeracs, mojitos, and palomas all available in pitchers, as well as a menu of mini and zero-proof cocktails.
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Originally from Jamaica, chef Robert Simpson brought jerk chicken, coconut shrimp, and goat curry to sunny Palo Alto. His colorful restaurant is actually affordable enough for students, and the skinny side patio is criss-crossed with twinkling lights.
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The Palo Alto Creamery
Stanford kids, software engineers, and actual children can’t resist the charms of this old-school soda fountain, which boasts a big wraparound counter and red booths. It’s classic California, originally opened in 1923, and still serving burgers, shakes, and damn good pie.
Saint Michael's Alley
Though it originally opened as a bohemian coffee shop in 1959, Saint Michael’s Alley has since been turned into an upscale Californian restaurant by its current owners in 1993. And even though it’s moved around the corner to a new space, it’s still an intimate setting to cozy up with a date. Sundance the Steakhouse is another stand-up option for showing the visiting family a good time.
This fast-casual Pakistani and Indian spot always often has a line, but it moves at a good clip, as engineers in hoodies and sneakers load up on kebabs and curries, served on metal plates with lots of exciting compartments.
San Francisco is known for excellent Neapolitan-style pizza, with pillowy and chewy doughs blistered in roaring ovens. But Palo Alto started throwing down when Terún moved into town. With a wood-fired oven that’s stoked and burning bright, these pies are the real deal, as certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, otherwise known as the pizza police.
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Shekoh Moossavi is no stranger to cramming a taste of the high life in one bite; Shokolaat, a chocolate bistro in Palo Alto, is where she first brought her experience as an Iranian American to sweets. Her Persian Rose, highlighting a rose petal marmalade with rosewater ganache and a velvety, rose-petal-like texture to the chocolate, is already a hit at her new shop.
La Bodeguita del Medio
For more than 20 years, La Bodeguita has been a Cuban hideaway over on California Avenue, complete with rum and cigars. The ropa vieja is the star: skirt steak served shredded and saucy with sweet plantains and yellow rice. But the empanadas dipped in coconut-jalapeño sauce also can’t be missed.
INDO Restaurant & Lounge
After Straits Cafe closed in 2012, Bryan Lew and Tommy Charoen took over the space and added an upgraded bar program alongside the familiar Indonesian flavors that gained the original business so much fanfare. Black pepper prawns, garlic butter noodles, balado short ribs, and Thai iced tea are all smart orders.