The sprawling landscape of stores and restaurants that abuts Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose, otherwise known as Santana Row, is a testament to the power and allure of variety. Maybe you’re in the mood for a coffee at Blue Bottle or maybe tapioca pearl-laden caffeine from Boba Guys would be better. Hitting Chika for nachos could be nice, though xiao long bao at Dumpling Time could be better — possibly both. Santana Row is the kind of place where one can truly have it all: Parking is free, outdoor seating is abundant, and there’s nothing left to the imagination. These 12 restaurants, ice cream parlors, and bars are, shockingly, just a smidge of what’s possible. Meandering through five or six ensures a gourmand’s afternoon, but hitting just one is a surefire way to have a good time in the Capital of Silicon Valley.Read More
Where to Fuel Up for a Shopping Spree at San Jose’s Santana Row
A vetted guide to the best restaurants at this Silicon Valley retail destination
Chika - Gourmet Mexican Rosticeria
This Mexican rosticeria delves into the nuances of chicken through fritters, fajitas, burritos, and bowls. It’s a quirky establishment. The mascot is a rooster with long lady legs. The patron saint is a 1960s woman who drank men under the table and wrote recipes on the back of casino matchbooks. But the menu doesn’t fool around. The wet burrito is a fan favorite, generously loaded with rotisserie chicken, beans, corn, queso Oaxaca, fried kale, and your choice of quinoa or cilantro rice — all drizzled in a spicy creamy morita sauce. The business also offers a killer lemon coconut cheese flan, some solid cocktails, and the best chips and guac on the Row.
Stores have come and gone from the street, but Cocola is one of the originals. This iconic French-style patisserie at the heart of the Row has been a faithful standby over the years. It’s the perfect way to indulge in a little decadence, whether it be a mocha and macaroon or a chai and cheesecake. Finding it is relatively easy. Keep an out for the storefront with the dapper couple painted across the entrance. A 19th-century lady in a puff-sleeved gown and a mustachioed young gentleman flank the doorway as if inviting guests into their tea-time ritual.
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Does anything say “comfort food” quite like a hot cheesy slice? Pizza Antica’s Italian-style thin-crust pies and wood-fired oven match their mission to embody the classic Roman pizzeria. You don’t need a discerning palate to taste the quality. Partnering with local farmers, ranchers, meat curers, cheese producers, and bakers, the local ingredients earn the restaurant a wholesome rustic flavor. As for toppings, try the heirloom potato pizza or the spicy fennel sausage, though they’ve got all the classic standbys, too. And if you don’t mind getting cozy with your carbs, go ahead and order a side of spaghettini or gnocchi while you’re there.
If you’re craving Southeast Asian fusion make a beeline for Straights. To achieve intricate flavor profiles, this modern Singaporean establishment combines elements of Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, Nonya, and Indian cuisine. The house favorite is the roti prata, a traditional Indian flatbread crowned with scallions and served with a mouth-watering yellow coconut curry dip. But there are plenty of noteworthy options on the menu. Make sure to load up on spicy basil chicken, curried vegetables, and lemongrass beef. The lychee martinis are also a must. Heads up: Straights opens its dance floor and notches up its music in the evenings. So if you’re hoping for a lowkey kind of meal, stop by for lunch instead.
Ozumo Santana Row
Travelers and locals find their way to Ozumo, nestled beside the grand Hotel Valencia. This creative dining concept (think sushi bar meets sake lounge and robata grill) offers a number of izakaya specialties like yakitori chicken skewers and okonomiyaki, a savory pancake, as well as a wide range of nigiri and sashimi options. In 2023 chef Yukinori Yamamoto joined the ranks, bringing in a new sushi and sake menu in August.
Sauced BBQ & Spirits
For brisket and baked beans, stop by Sauced BBQ, a trendy industrial joint with intentionally “rusty” corrugated metal siding, weathered wood, metal chairs, and neon signage. Make sure to accompany your sauce-saturated ribs with deep-fried delights like jalapeño poppers stuffed with pulled pork, sharp cheddar, and cream cheese playfully referred to as hand grenades — and for dessert, deep-fried Oreos.
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If you value presentation over serving size, Oveja Negra is the option for you. Though the portions may be small, these pleasingly plated tapas are reminiscent of abstract art. Treating plates like canvases, the team here embellishes dishes by layering ingredients, strategically placing microgreens, sprinkling seasonings, and drizzling or brushing sauces across their surfaces. Try the raised beef cheeks, Oveja Negra’s signature dish. It contains tender meat with potato puree, seasonal mushrooms, and a full-bodied sauce with red wine.
Smitten Ice Cream
Located on the edge of the Plaza de Valencia with its cow-sized chameleon statues, Smitten Ice Cream offers some of the best people-watching views of Santana Row. Not your run-of-the-mill parlour, Smitten serves ice cream churned to order ensuring fresh flavor and silky smooth texture. The Brr Machine, an invention by the shop’s founder Robyn Sue Fisher, turns locally sourced ingredients into pure creamy goodness in 90 seconds flat. In the early days, Robyn placed her device in a little red wagon and wheeled it up and down the streets of San Francisco — but after growing a cult-like following, her operation got a whole lot less barebones. Today, her handful of brick-and-mortar operations serve exploratory flavors like Earl Grey with chocolate chips, cheesecake, and American pie to dessert foodies across the Bay.
This is the only spot on Santana Row for super cheap and well-seasoned edamame, delicate and decadent xiao long bao, pickled vegetable salad, bottomless tea refills, and even vegan fried rice with big old hunks of broccoli for the plant lovers out there. There’s outdoor seating, too, which is ideal for those fog-riddled San Franciscans looking to enjoy the San Jose heat.
Left Bank is a sister restaurant to LB Steak and though it might be the simpler of the two siblings, it is by no means less tasty. Acting as the brasserie on the block, Left Bank serves French cuisine with iconic regional dishes like escargot, cheese fondue, and beef bourguignon. There are also daily specials prompted by the chef’s happy excursions to local farmers markets.
As far as ambiance is concerned, El Jardin can’t be beat. Offering light bites and cocktails in a tiled garden patio flush with leafy green plants and string lights, it’s the perfect way to kill time before your dinner plans or draw out the evening after your meal. So order tacos and tequila, then settle in to enjoy the live music because this open-air venue hosts contemporary Latin pop singers and traditional mariachi bands.
Meso Modern Mediterranean
If you’re looking to impress your date, venture away from the main stretch to Meso, where the owner’s intention is to make you feel like you’re enjoying a meal along the shores of the Mediterranean. Expect a flatbread laden with artichokes, kasseri cheese, and tahini; creamy hummus studded with garbanzos alongside disks of fluffy, fresh-baked pita; and succulent lamb shank laid on a bed of couscous, all served on speckled ceramic dishes in a room with ocean-blue accents, mosaic tile floors and tabletops, and intricate latticework.