To put it simply: Don’t sleep on the South Bay. Santa Clara County is a culinary powerhouse in its own right. The region is home to restaurants and bars that have made appearances in the Michelin Guide for decades. Chez TJ opened in Mountain View in 1984, and the Plumed Horse debuted in Saratoga in 2009; each holds a coveted star. But the South Bay area has much more to offer than just upscale stunners. Diners can find dim sum, falafel, smoked barbeque, pizza, yakitori, jerk chicken, and hand-pulled noodles around the South Bay. Let this be your guide to 25 of the finest restaurant options in the region.Read More
25 Essential South Bay Area Restaurants
Standout restaurants in Santa Clara County for an array of appetites and price points
Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen
Steve Ugur’s newest restaurant is part lounge, part fine dining outfit, and part late-night destination, and looks to bring a sense of familiarity and a sense of class to Palo Alto’s California Avenue. Ugur comes from Pausa in San Mateo, a meat-centric restaurant on the Michelin Guide, whereas Sekoya is the go-to place for butterflied sea bream, inventive cocktails, and handsome wood furniture courtesy of Nashville furniture maker Sawdust & Whiskey.
Sumika brings a taste of Japan to Los Altos, with recipes from a sister restaurant located in Saitama, Japan. Since 2006, the izakaya has served high-end charcoal grilled skewers with meat, seafood, and vegetables. The chicken, Kobe beef, and soy sauce scallop skewers are some of the most popular, while the mushroom is a solid option for vegetarians. Aside from the esteemed yakitori, Sumika’s menu boasts an array of classic appetizers like agedashi tofu, karaage, and tempura, which can be enjoyed with sake, beer, or wine.
A longtime Bay Area institution, Chef Chu’s has been serving Chinese cuisine since 1970. The restaurant has been loved and visited by many Bay Area personalities, as well as advocates of the Asian American community. Even today, chef Lawrence Chu can be found in action in the kitchen, preparing his signature Beijing-style roasted duck, which is slow-cooked and barbecued in a traditional iron-cast Chinese oven. Regulars also rave about the Sichuan village-style clay pot, filled with meat that’s braised with a spicy sauce, as well as potstickers that are handmade daily.
For a blast to the past, Chez TJs offers a dining experience that feels both homey and upscale. The Michelin-starred French restaurant is housed in a historic Queen Anne-style house originally built in 1894. The house boasts four elegant and intimate rooms, as well as a serene outdoor garden patio, complete with string lights and a fire pit. The first dinner at Chez TJ was served in 1982 with a focus on local ingredients. Today, the prix fixe menu is personally tailored by the chef to feature fresh, in-season fruit, vegetables, and herbs from the restaurant’s on-site culinary garden.
In Sunnyvale, Madra’s Cafe serves South Indian staples, namely vegetarian comfort food and street food dishes. The spot is known for its large variety of dosas – crispy, fluffy pan-fried pancakes that are served with chutneys and a hearty lentil soup. There are 15 renditions to choose from, but the masala dosa, filled with potato and onion, is especially popular. The biryani served only on weekends, is another favorite dish. Madra’s is a casual spot, with a bustling ambiance and a cafeteria-like setting, though many diners would say the quality of the food far exceeds its unassuming environment.
Fine dining fans know Plumed Horse for its sleek, sophisticated approach to contemporary California cuisine, with dishes that harmoniously balance meat or fish with seasonal vegetables grown on the restaurant’s local farm. Since 2009, the Plumed Horse has received a Michelin star each year. The restaurant’s three-story wine cellar houses 1,800 selections and more than 20,000 bottles. Chef Peter Armellino created the black pepper and Parmesan souffle — with uni and Dungeness crab fondue — 15 years ago and it remains a staple on the menu today.
Dishdash Middle Eastern Cuisine
For quality Middle Eastern fare, Dishdash offers a slate of family recipes with a modern twist. Owner Emad Ibrahim is a Palestinian immigrant who moved to the U.S. from Jerusalem before opening the restaurant with his wife Nadiah Mshasha. The mansaf and kebabs are clear favorites, while the toasty lavash and homemade pitas with protein and vegetables are also popular choices. The restaurant aims to ensure the quality of its dishes using free-range chicken, dry-aged American lamb, and sustainably sourced seafood. After founding the original Sunnyvale location in 2001, the team has since opened a few additional casual outposts — similarly called “Dish N Dash” — throughout the South Bay.
One of the first Korean restaurants to open in Santa Clara, Chungdam has made a name for itself in the South Bay’s Koreatown for its elevated approach to the quintessential Korean barbeque experience. With batches of beef and pork that are hand selected, the quality of the meat is the star. The two most coveted barbeque options at Chungdam include the marinated short rib – made with a sweet, soy marinade — and the “Suwon”-style short rib, which is marinated in a dry rub of sugar, salt, and garlic. For those who aren’t in the mood for grilled meat, the restaurant also serves a variety of soups. The short rib stew is one of the most satisfying options.
For more than 20 years, Zeni has brought a true Ethiopian dining experience to Northern California. With traditional seating on low stools, family-style dishes, and the sharing of food from mesob straw baskets, Zeni is an expression of culture that seems to transcend the boundaries of its four walls on the west side of San Jose. The restaurant’s unleavened bread, or injera, is made from teff, which is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine. The notable specialty dishes are served with kitfo, meat that’s been seasoned with an array of aromatic spices.
In the charming downtown area of Los Gatos, Dio Deka serves sophisticated, Greek-inspired Mediterranean cuisine. The menu leans heavy on the protein, with an emphasis on fresh seafood, lamb chops, and steaks that are prepared on a mesquite-charcoal grill. The name of the restaurant translates to “210” and signifies the area code of Athens. Fittingly, the specialty dishes mirror a strong Greek influence with their ingredients including cheeses, olive oil, oregano, and thyme-scented honey. Dio Deka also offers an extensive wine list featuring 1,500 labels spanning Greek, Spanish, and Italian selections.
Le Papillon first opened in the heart of Silicon Valley in 1977 as a “continental-style” restaurant. While the it’s mostly stayed true to its roots in French fine dining, today’s Le Papillon feels rather contemporary. The tasting and prix fixe menus have kept offerings fresh as they change to reflect the season’s prime ingredients at their peak. Dining at the restaurant wouldn’t be complete without foray into the extensive wine list with more than 500 selections. Even with menu options that frequently evolve, the Grand Marnier souffle with fresh berries and cream has been on the menu since day one and is still the most popular dessert.
A Slice of New York
A Slice of New York aims to bring the New York pizza experience to the South Bay with a simple, unpretentious approach and a delicate balance between crust, sauce, and cheese. The shop whips up everything from scratch daily, including its own garlic olive oil. Pepperoni is the most beloved topping, while the ASONY Margarita — with its garlic oil base, Italian peeled plum tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and Parmesan — is most frequently ordered by customers. Today, A Slice of New York operates as a worker co-op, demonstrating a commitment to a democratically governed workplace with its employee-run board and operations.
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New Krungthai Restaurant
New Krungthai opened its doors in 1988 in San Jose, aiming to bring Thai cuisine to the Bay Area through a series of family recipes. To this day, the restaurant has stayed true to distinct flavors from Thailand, serving a menu of nearly 120 dishes and offering a casual dining experience. Unsurprisingly, pad thai is the most popular menu item, followed closely by the house specialty satay, marinated meat skewers. The fried rice dishes are also fan favorites, and most customers can’t resist ending their meals with sweet mango sticky rice.
Falafel's Drive In
Family-owned Falafel’s Drive-In has been cooking its staple dishes for nearly six decades. The menu offers casual favorites like hamburgers, salads, and pitas, but the restaurant’s forte is the falafels, which are based on a recipe that’s been passed down through generations. Visitors most frequently order “The Special,” which consists of a pita pocket stuffed with falafel balls, an array of vegetables, and homemade sauces. Many customers also gravitate toward the banana shake, which serves as a refreshing complement.
Orchard City Kitchen
Tapas-style restaurant Orchard City Kitchen serves an array of creative, flavorful bites. The shareable dishes on the menu run the gamut and frequently change due to seasonal ingredients. Most visitors opt to dine in during brunch, when OCK offers typical items like benedicts, toast, and eggs – but incorporates a twist with ingredients like kimchi. “The Cure” is a modern take on the Korean budae jjigae or “army stew,” a spicy stew with Spam, ramen, tofu, and cheese, while another star on the menu is the tiramisu pancake, a fluffy, coffee-forward rendition of a hot cake. The restaurant also serves charcuterie for both brunch and dinner.
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Adelita's Taquería, Restaurant & Bar
In 1998, a husband-and-wife duo wanted to bring flavors of Mexico to San Jose. With Adelita’s Taqueria, they aimed to serve a wide variety of Mexican staples with a home-cooked flavors, along with a full bar pouring mezcal, wine, and margaritas made with freshly squeezed lime juice. Adelita’s definitely has an extensive menu with a plethora of vegan and gluten-free menu options, like burritos made with teff grain. From Super tacos with al pastor and pineapple to enchiladas, chilaquilas, quesabirrias, fajitas, and even churros for dessert, there’s something for everyone here.
Ox 9 Lanzhou Hand Pulled Noodles
A husband and wife duo opened Ox 9 in 2017, aiming to bring their favorite delicacy of Lanzhou handpulled noodles to the Bay Area. Paying homage to the centuries-old craft of making the unique style of noodles, every chef who works at Ox 9 has learned the technique from a master chef in Lanzhou, China. The noodles are served with warm, rich broth that’s been simmered with 30 spices for more than six hours. Visitors can customize the thickness of their noodles at Ox 9, which have a specific water-to-flour ratio that garners the optimal chewiness and slurpiness. Though the restaurant began with one location in Milpitas, it’s since expanded to Cupertino and San Mateo, with another set to open in Fremont.
Since opening its doors in 1996, Koi Palace has expanded to multiple locations throughout the Bay Area, serving a variety of Cantonese dishes. The restaurant, inspired by the experience of enjoying fresh seafood from live tanks in Hong Kong, has no shortage of dim sum options, including pork and shrimp siu mai, shrimp har gow, and, of course, the iconic Shanghai soup dumplings. Koi Palace is well-suited to serve large groups, as it’s known for its bustling tea house atmosphere, banquet offerings, and large shareable entrees, including seafood dishes made with crustaceans from the tanks.
LUNA Mexican Kitchen - The Alameda
Ever since its inception as a family-run, farm-to-table Mexican restaurant, Luna has been committed to its tried-and-true processes. The restaurant’s masa is made daily using the thousand-year-old method of nixtamalization, and the tortillas and chips are hand-pressed with the nixtamalized masa. All of the salsas, sauces, broths, dressings, beans, rice, and chorizo are made from scratch in-house. Diners frequently order the mixed grill parrillada, a sizzling hot, communal-style tabletop grill with Niman Ranch carnitas, steak, bacon-wrapped shrimp, Mary’s chicken, lobster, and cheese chile relleno. The enchiladas suizas are also a crowd pleaser.
Chromatic Coffee Co.
The South Bay is a coffee destination all in its own right, and Chromatic Coffee on Lincoln Avenue is happy to remind any non-believers of that fact. The shop was founded by Bay Area-born-and-raised Hiver van Geenhoven and is the ideal place for honey-processed, anaerobic single-origin Ethiopian coffees. If that’s a bit too esoteric, fear not as Chromatic also sells pastries and hosts pop-ups including HashnDashSJ.
Bertucelli's La Villa Gourmet
For a true Italian deli, look no further than family-owned Bertucelli’s La Villa. Though ownership has shifted since the deli first opened as La Villa in 1947, most of the current staff have been working there for more than 15 years. To this day, the shop makes all its sauces, marinades, and dressings from scratch — oftentimes from recipes that have been passed down through generations. Bertucelli’s most loved dish is undoubtedly the ravioli, which are handmade and come in five different flavors. The sandwiches are also fan favorites, particularly the “Chris Combo,” a medley of meats, cheeses, and spices served on a French roll.
Henry's World Famous Hi-Life
As another long-time Bay Area restaurant, Henry’s World Famous Hi-Life has been cranking out slabs of dry-rubbed, hot-smoked barbeque since the 1960s. The restaurant is known for its juicy, flavorful meat, sure to satisfy carnivores and barbeque fans. Visitors rave about the baby back and spare ribs, and the USDA-choice New York steaks are also a popular choice. For those seeking poultry, barbecue chicken and teriyaki chicken are solid options. Dinner orders are accompanied by a medley of sides, including a salad, baked potatoes, and garlic bread, plus there are plenty of beers on tap.
Good Karma Artisan Ales & Café
For a top-notch plant-based eatery in the South Bay, look no further than Good Karma – a casual spot that proves eating vegan doesn’t have to break the bank. The completely plant-based menu offers a selection of filling rice plates, tacos, bowls, burritos, and nachos, with most ingredients sourced from local organic farms. The hip restaurant feels like a cross between a charming cafe and a pub, while the wall of craft beers on tap and live entertainment are sure to provide an enjoyable experience.
Pho Kim Long
Today, San Jose has the largest Vietnamese population in any city outside of Vietnam. And here is where you’ll find Pho Kim Long, a no-frills pho shop that opened its doors more than 35 years ago. As one of the most long-standing restaurants in the South Bay area, Pho Kim Long remains committed to original pho recipes that were enjoyed in Vietnam. The restaurant is known for its hearty beef broth that’s simmered for more than 20 hours using an array of meats — USDA grass-fed filet mignon, tendon, tripe, flank, and brisket — all of which are delivered to the restaurant daily. The barbeque vermicelli bowls, sizzling grilled fish, and rice dishes are also frequently ordered options.
Back A Yard Caribbean Grill
“Back A Yard” is derived from a term in the Caribbean that represents the lifestyle, culture, spirit and aura of welcoming visitors into one’s home. Fittingly, Back A Yard has become a Bay Area destination with five different locations serving nourishing and home-style Jamaican and Caribbean dishes. Some of the most popular orders include the jerk chicken and oxtail plate, curried goat, barbeque spareribs, jerk tofu, and coconut curried tofu. The jerk sauce and marinades are all made in-house, while the braised oxtail is cooked for hours to produce a deep, umami flavor.