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We’ve sipped and tasted our way through the East and South Bay’s best restaurants, sampling everything from bacalhau to brisket, nigiri and chaat. Now we’re ready to proclaim the Bay Area’s top 50 dining spots in cities from Sunnyvale to Danville, Berkeley and Menlo Park.
We’re rolling out our restaurant critics and food writers’ top picks this week, starting with Nos. 41-50 on Monday and Nos. 31-40 yesterday. Today, we’re diving into the next batch. So let’s get started — because when the countdown includes gougeres, bucatini, curries and mezze, it makes no sense to tarry.
A guide to the abbreviations:
$: A typical entree is $15 or less
$$$$: More than $100
Luna Mexican Kitchen, Campbell and San Jose: When you can’t resist the captivating aromas
Ahhhhh, the aroma emanating from diners’ tables on The Alameda in San Jose and the Pruneyard in Campbell.
Walk right past the sizzling parrilladas, or grills, and head to the hostess stand, where you’ll probably need to put your name on the waiting list — because there is almost always a wait at Jo Lerma-Lopez and John Lopez’s Luna Mexican Kitchens. The entrepreneurial couple hit upon a winning concept when they first decided to turn a vintage spot into a restaurant with a healthful, organic approach. It’s the concept of no: “No additives, no preservatives, no cans, no microwaves, no exceptions,” their website declares.
Tortillas are pressed by hand daily from organic, non-GMO corn, and entrees are made with antibiotic-free meats, sustainable seafood, free-range chicken and local produce. The scratch kitchen makes all sauces and salsas fresh daily.
The over-the-top Mixed Grill, with Niman Ranch carnitas and St. Louis rib, Mary’s free-range chicken, all-natural hormone-free steak fajita, wild shrimp wrapped in bacon, jumbo wild shrimp in garlic butter and chicken jalapeño sausage, is wildly popular for good reason. Also fantastic is the Cochinita Pibil, the achiote/citrus-marinated pork.
Don’t miss: The expanded breakfast menu features choices like New York Steak or Housemade Chorizo Con Huevos; Horchata French Toast with piloncillo syrup and organic berries; and a Cucumber Nopal Smoothie.
Details: 1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell, and 1495 The Alameda, San Jose; www.lunamexicankitchen.com; $$
11th Tiger, Danville: When you’re craving authentic Thai with hometown tales
Everything about this five-year-old Thai street food eatery in Danville feels familial and homey, from the knickknack-filled interiors to the warm Thai staffers who guide you through the massive menu of noodles, rice dishes and curries. They’ll tell you which specials hail from their hometowns and even introduce you to a house-brewed Thai herbal liquor the color of cherries (it’s medicinal but very cool).
Grab a table on the charming covered patio — the dining room can get packed with the to-go crowd — and steer your attention to those regional specialties, like fermented pork sausage that gets its fiery red color from bird’s eye chiles and is served with fresh ginger, as they do in northeastern Thailand. Another northern dish, khao soi, is comfort in a bowl, with springy egg noodles swimming in a stand-out curry soup. 11th Tiger also offers clay pots — something you don’t typically see in Thai restaurants — and a host of salads beyond larb gai. If you like spicy food, look to battered and fried fire prawns, as well as a signature emerald rib-eye, which is stir fried with whole peppercorns, kaffir lime leaves and a heat-packed ginger sauce.
Don’t miss: Essan sausage, crispy chicken and basil, khao soi, curry puffs and drunken noodle are all musts.
Details: 171 Hartz Ave., Danville; http://11thtiger.com; $-$$
Lulu, Berkeley: When you can’t decide between mezze and brunch
An exceptional bread and pastry program anchors the menu at this all-female run, daytime corner café in West Berkeley, where the bold flavors of Palestinian-California cuisine shine for breakfast, lunch and one of the best weekend brunch experiences in the East Bay.
Chef-owner Mona Leena’s mezze brunch, presented on round wooden slabs, is a Middle Eastern technicolor dreamscape of next-level dips — think preserved lemon labneh with mint oil, serrano hummus with spiced lamb — alongside heartier bites, like fennel-scented falafel and an Arab-inspired elote.
Drinks are just as dreamy: Cold brew is swirled with caramel and tahini, and the lemon orange blossom spritz is spa water with soul. While rezzies fill up weeks in advance for Friday-Sunday brunch, you can walk into the fig wallpapered café for cardamom-scented scones, orange-sumac sugar cookies or a seasonal manousheh. Save your burger cravings for a lunch visit to Lulu. Their kefta-style sandwich is stuffed with sumac fries. Be sure to notice the cool Arab pop art, too.
Don’t miss: Vegan breads, knafeh pancake, fried halloumi and watermelon salad, rose brulee cappucino, kefta burger and corn and feta scone are irresistible.
Details: 1019 Camelia St., Berkeley; www.luluberkeley.com; $$
Jood, San Carlos: When you want Lebanese farm-to-table from a counter
This tiny counter-service restaurant in downtown San Carlos is doing next-level Lebanese barbecue and street food, including epic sandwiches on locally baked pita and lavash. With his wife and co-owner, Rawan, chef Khaled Harbali also runs the Belmont vegetarian hot spot, Falafelle. But he knew char-grilled meat long before chickpea fritters. Harbali is descended from Lebanese shepherds and cattle ranchers and ran a successful restaurant and butcher shop in Beirut before moving to the Bay in 2013.
At Jood, cherished family recipes featuring tender rib-eye, juicy chicken and flavor-packed kafta take center stage on his grill. A sensational garlic-brined and butterflied chicken is made to order and served on lavash custom-baked for Jood by a South San Francisco bakery. Pro tip: We like to put in a to-go order while we’re eating lunch — a sweet potato or rib-eye “sandweesh” stuffed with house fries, pickles and housemade hummus — so our take-out dinner is ready just as we’re licking the last of the toom from our fingers.
Jood, which means comforting (ain’t that the truth), makes every sauce and side from scratch, including the sun-dried tomato “sun” sauce and a spicy pili pili made from Fresno chiles. It is touches like these and those beautiful fig-and-olive-decorated tile tables, custom made in Positano, Italy, that make us go out of our way to eat at Jood.
Don’t miss: The rib-eye bites sandweesh, of course, the fattoush salad with pomegranate molasses, char-grilled kefta and halloomi salata with imported Cypriot sheep’s milk cheese.
Details: 635 Laurel St., San Carlos; https://www.eatjood.com; $
Meyhouse, Sunnyvale: When you want a delicious education in Turkish food
You think you know Turkish cuisine – and then you visit Meyhouse, which serves çiroz (salt-cured wild mackerel) and şalgam (turnip juice that you can order spicy). Your eyes will get cartoonishly bigger as you make your way through the menu – that house yogurt, did you realize its mother culture came from a famous Turkish restaurant back in 2013?
Of course, you don’t really need to know anything to understand the food here is fantastic, thanks to a kitchen run by chef Omer Artun, who has a background in, of all things, physics. The mezze are a celebration of bold flavors, from tongue-tingling walnut and Aleppo pepper muhammara to a soft mound of Turkish Ezine cheese, an extremely rich and fragrant feta variant spiked with oregano and pistachios.
Piping-hot flat breads are great vehicles for house-cured meats like fermented sucuk sausage and pastirma, fenugreek-spiced striploin aged for months. The adana kebab of knife-cut lamb has the perfect grill kiss, but if you’re going for one entree, make it the yoğurtlu. This melange of meatballs and yogurt and beef tenderloin, so tender a falling leaf would cut it, is served with a tomato and brown-butter sauce that has to have the restaurant regretting its free-bread policy.
Don’t miss: Trust us, go with the girit (sheep’s milk cheese with pistachios), ahtapot (octopus with garlic-paprika sauce) or yoğurtlu (steak tenderloin with decade-old yogurt cultures and tomato and brown-butter sauce).
Details: 133 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, but moving soon to 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto; meyhousefood.com, $$-$$$
Camper, Menlo Park: When you’re curious what this ambitious chef is up to
If you haven’t dined with Greg Kuzia-Carmel lately, what are you waiting for? The chef-partner of creative, farm-to-table Camper is a veteran of San Francisco’s Quince and Cotogna who wants to put his stamp on the Peninsula dining scene.
Grab a table inside or outdoors on Menlo Park’s Santa Cruz Avenue and nibble on the Warm Cast-Iron Buttermilk Cornbread with its sweetly assertive green chile-honey butter and Blistered Shishitos with smoked Greek yogurt while you delve into the menu options here.
A Black Pepper Bucatini is tossed with guanciale, spicy pistachio “butter,” tomatoes, pickled ramps and stracciatella cheese. (The housemade pastas always impress with their creativity.) The chef’s signature Greg’s Steak is a marinated tri-tip with mole negro and onion chimichurri, accompanied by crispy sunchokes. There’s even an addictive Catalan-spiced ketchup for the Camper Cheeseburger and French fries.
Kuzia-Carmel is ramping up for a second concept nearby, by the way. Canteen will be an all-day wine bar featuring a seasonal menu of small plates plus takeout options.
Don’t miss: Saturday’s brunch menu is an intriguing, ever-changing one. You might find French toast with roasted apples and vanilla mascarpone. Or eggs baked Shakshuka style.
Details: 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; www.campermp.com; $$
Rêve Bistro, Lafayette: When it’s time to see Paris meet California
What does a French restaurant from a chef who worked with Alain Ducasse look like when transported to the ‘burbs? In the case of Rêve, it’s an unassuming strip-mall frontage that – voilà! – opens to a whimsical outdoor oasis of plush curtains, black and white-checkered tablecloths and ornate lights seemingly shipped in from a Paris Métro stop.
Paul Magu-Lecugy, who went from cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants in France to high-end hotels in San Francisco, opened the bistro with his wife Laura with an eye toward excellent service and reasonably priced fine dining. All the classics are here, albeit elevated by the chef’s technique and access to California’s bountiful farms – think duck with honey-sweet black figs, scallops with gnocchi and squash blossoms and boar pate studded with apricot and juniper berry and served with cornichons. Steak frites is a tender ribeye beautifully pan-seared in butter, with a newspaper cone of fries you’ll think are duck fat-fried but are not. The boudin blanc, meanwhile, cuts like an herb-and-wine-scented cloud with a rich shallot sauce and even richer mashed potatoes. The wine list spans at least four pages with good pulls from Napa to Bourgogne. And no meal would be complete without ordering the gougères, bite-sized poofs of cheesy goodness for the table – or frozen to enjoy later at home.
Don’t miss: Classics – gougères, steak frites with peppercorn sauce, boudin blanc, seared scallops – are classics for a reason.
Details: 960F Moraga Road, Lafayette; revebistro.com, $$$
Wildseed, Palo Alto: When you want cutting-edge vegan cuisine, plus drinks
Even with the advancement of vegan science, Wildseed might still have you scratching your head. How did the kitchen make a quality Andalusian salad with bacon and cheese without, well, the bacon and cheese? And for the excellent porcini-dusted mushroom fritters – how is the roasted-garlic aioli entirely plant-based, yet so rich and creamy?
Once you get over these quandaries, it’s simple to love Wildseed’s menu, designed by chef Alejandro Morgan of San Francisco’s El Techo (among other places). Everything is bright, fresh and popping with texture, such as a juicy watermelon salad with puffed rice, coconut feta and Jurassic-sized mint leaves. Ceviche presents meaty slabs of king mushroom dunked in a lime marinade almost indistinguishable from seafood leche de tigre. A masala with “neatballs” might have you dreading mushy, soy-glued meat spheres, but no – they’re delightfully nutty with a caramelized flavor like graham-cracker pie crust.
The elevation of superfoods and phytochemicals extends to drinks so beautiful, it’s as if Pantone designed them. Beet soda is minerally and refreshing and tastes like a week’s worth of vitamins, in a good way, and the house G&T has a rave-party purple glow, thanks to its essence of butterfly-pea flowers.
Don’t miss: Who can resist wild mushroom zeppole? Also great: the ceviche of king trumpet mushrooms, green forest flatbread with smoked cashew mozzarella and any of the boozy or zero-ABV drinks
Details: 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; another location at 2000 Union St., San Francisco; wildseedsf.com, $$
Hero Ranch Kitchen, Saratoga: When you want to be part of the Big Basin Way buzz
Primetime reservations fill up well ahead of time. Diners crowd the sidewalk, hoping to snag an available table. There’s a pleasant buzz both indoors and out in the alfresco area, which winds toward the back of the building.
Four years after longtime restaurateur Angelo Heropoulos opened his Hero Ranch Kitchen, the place is as popular as ever. Repeat diners say the restaurant offers them an appealing combination: fine dining in an approachable atmosphere. Come casually dressed, meet your friends, order your favorites, hang out over a glass of wine or cocktail.
Many of the early standouts are still starring on the menu. Consider the Pan-Seared Halibut or Scallops. Also popular are the steaks — a Wagyu filet, a Braveheart Black Angus filet, a Bone-In Ribeye — which are topped with truffle butter and accompanied by Irish Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes. Or share a few appetizers, maybe the Crab Cakes sitting on Asian slaw or the Buttermilk-Fried Chicken with Poblano Cornbread.
Psssst, there’s something else that keeps diners coming back. Hero Ranch doesn’t charge a corkage fee. (You may have to read that twice for it to sink in. No corkage fee. In tony Saratoga.)
Don’t miss: The 14-ounce Bone-In Pork Chop, more than 2 inches thick, glistening with its signature apricot glaze and served with a rich potato mash and bacon-infused Brussels sprouts.
Details: 14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, sharing a kitchen with sister restaurant Flowers next door; www.theheroranchkitchen.com; $$
Chez Sovan, San Jose: When you want to boast about your new “find”
Call it an unassuming eatery. A no-frills place. A hole in the wall.
For 35 years, Chez Sovan has been serving exceptional Cambodian cuisine — marinated lemongrass chicken skewers (Sach Ang), paprika-tamarind noodles (Kew Tiew Cha) and especially the signature dish of Amok, an aromatic fish mousse steamed in banana leaf — out of a small corner restaurant near 13th and Hedding streets.
It was 1987 when Mercury News reporters desperate for lunch options in that industrial neighborhood met founder and cook Sovan Boun Thuy, tasted the cuisine of her homeland and shared the discovery with the newspaper-reading public. But with every wave of Silicon Valley newcomers, the hidden gem had to be shared again.
These days, son Brian Nong runs the establishment, and he’s emerged from the pandemic with a small yet impressive menu of customer favorites that also includes Chicken Curry with Cambodian spices and Cabbage Salad tossed with lemongrass sauce, lime dressing, ground peanuts, mint leaves and cilantro.
Nong opens the restaurant for weekday lunch only, just 2.5 hours from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The limited business hours add a delicious element of exclusivity. If you know, you know.
Don’t miss: Like the Amok, the Ginger Fish is a revelation: a basa filet fried to a light crunch, topped with ground chicken and a sauce redolent of fresh ginger and shallots, then sprinkled with cilantro.
Details: 923 Oakland Road, San Jose; 408-287-7619; $-$$