Living in the great state of California has its benefits. Beautiful weather all year round, a coastline to die for, mountains for skiing, forests for camping, cities that offer an exciting nightlife, do I need to say more? I have called the wonderful Bay Area my home for the last 22 years so I consider myself some sort of expert of the region. I live in the peninsula area aka Silicon Valley. It’s funny to see tourists visiting these places in addition to the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, and TransAmerica building in San Francisco.
In this travel post, I decided to focus on the eateries of Bay Area. Like always I want to focus on the experience rather than just handing out information. But first, those who are curious about this region and are completely ignorant about it, let me spend a few minutes telling you about it.
Everyone has heard of San Francisco around the world. Nestled in the northern region of the Bay Area, this big little city boasts natural beauty mixed with cosmopolitan fun (did I mention homeless people?). There are unique neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy that has the best authentic food. There is plenty of hiking trails and parks on Angel Island and in northern Marine County. The best shopping experience is at Union Square and to browse unique art stalls and partake in festivals, check out Embarcadero Road. However, some tourists like to visit additional gems as well; places only locals know about. For example, to get a taste of Silicon Valley’s life, drive south to Silicon Valley via 101 or 280 and visit Stanford University and some of the biggest computer giants’ headquarters like Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, etc. To catch some natural beauty, visit Santa Cruz, which is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. For some closer beach action, try driving Northbound on Golden Gate Bridge and continue driving on 101 to access beaches like Stinson Beach and Glass Beach or try the beaches in Half Moon Bay in the South. To the East of San Francisco in Oakland and Berkeley, the cultural hub of the region and easily accessible by The Bay Bridge. You can find plenty of infamous protesters, kinda gross hippies, and “interesting” art here.
When you come here, you have to partake in the great food the region has to offer. I have traveled the world and I mean it when I say Bay Area has some of the best food options in the world. Michelin-rated restaurants, food trucks, a plethora of global cuisines, plus restaurants serving food cooked with organic or local produce, all offer locals, and tourists with great culinary experiences. If you are in the Bay Area (and particularly the Peninsula Area) I have recommended some restaurants for you based on cuisine themes. I have eaten in these restaurants multiple times and never been disappointed. That’s why I recommend them.
- Zareen’s: This place is by far my most favorite place to eat out on the weekend. It has vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Zareen opened in Mountain View and did so well they opened a second location in Palo Alto. Zareen serves the best South Asian street-style food in the region. Kebab rolls, masala fries, stuffed samosas and juicy burgers are some of its specialties. I usually go there on the weekend when they serve kebab, omelet, paratha and my personal favorite halwa puri. You can view these items on their website (See HERE).
- Mirchi’s: This restaurant has locations in Fremont and Dublin, which are not technically in Silicon Valley, but I had to include it on my list. Like Zareen’s it is 100% halal and a favorite among the South Asian community, especially it’s Muslim population. Mirchi boasts a wide selection of Pakistani style burgers and the cultural staple, illachi ki chai. They also have paratha rolls and ethnic desserts like faluda. They serve desi Chinese dishes and desi versions of pizza, which is very fusion. I prefer their South Asian dishes most of the time though. I usually order the Shami Kebab burger and faluda which sets me for the rest of the day. The burger comes with a choice of salad or fries. Make sure to get the masala fries for an extra fee. Totally worth the 40 minute trip from San Francisco (See HERE).
- Shaan: I love this restaurant even though some may consider it as a “hidden gem”. Located on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale, Shaan is located in a plaza with plenty of parking space. The place may look like a “hole” but, the food is halal, authentic, & quite delicious. Offering dishes from the Indian Subcontinent, guests can expect to find Afghani naans and kebabs, Pakistani-style biryani and raita, and Indian curries and fish. If you don’t mind watching horrible Bollywood on a giant flat screen, finding contract Silicon Valley employees in flip flops, or being surprised by rude children screaming (or laughing) with moms not caring then come to be enticed by Shaan’s authentic spicy Indian Subcontinent/Mughlai cuisine.
- La Baguette: I have been going to La Baguette in Palo Alto since high school (See HERE). The little cafe is nestled in the beautiful, manicured, and ultra-posh Stanford Shopping Center. The cafe itself doesn’t have any seating but there is a nice sitting area available just outside where you can enjoy the food and have conversations with pigeons (yes, very European). The food is mostly French and the servers are Mexican so it’s actually cute to see this little idiosyncrasy. Only in America, right? The cakes and pastries are to die for. My personal favorite is the strawberry shortcake, but pretty much the entire decadent dessert selection is worth the hefty price. Their savory food such as cheese croissants and sandwiches are good too. I am not particularly a fan of their salads. I have had better in California so don’t need to try those. Coffee is great though. So for a little French flair in California, try La Baguette.
- Paris Baguette: This cafe/dessertery (See HERE) is a chain scattered all over the peninsula region. Here you see the juxtaposition of French pastries and Asian employees. So interesting! I personally prefer La Baguette over Paris Baguette, but you won’t be disappointed if you come here. There is plenty of modern chic seating, a stylish environment and fresh food to try. Their fruit-topped pastries are the best and their breads are nice too. I particularly like their coffee. I am a mocha girl and whenever I come here I order one in those big “Friends”-style mugs. I feel like I have traveled to Paris after I leave this place.
- Gelato Classico Italian Ice Cream: For those hot California summer days and even some warmer winter nights, don’t go anywhere for gelato in the peninsula, but to Gelato Classico (See HERE) on Castro Street. The cue is always out the door and you pay cash only. Besides these inconveniences, the gelato and its flavors are unique, tasty, and a favorite among locals. You can even sample before you purchase. This little gem of a place is family owned and located in downtown Mountain View.
- New Krung Thai: My sister introduced us to this place ages ago and although we don’t go to it that often (because it’s not halal), I highly recommend it to others. Their menu and quality of food have really improved over the years. The restaurant is almost always crowded and noisy, but their service isn’t compromised. You can request the food to be as spicy or as bland as you want. Soups, Thai dishes, and desserts are totally worth the long drive to San Jose (from San Francisco). If you are still hungry, order Thai iced coffee or Thai iced tea or for dessert order the mango and sweet rice dish – it is totally delicious! One warning I may give you is to avoid the Krung Thai branch in Mountain View and the Krung Thai branch in San Jose.
- Mandarin Gourmet Cupertino: This is my dad’s favorite Chinese restaurant (See HERE) and although it’s not halal, it does have seafood and vegetarian options. Please do not confuse this restaurant with another restaurant in San Jose. In the past, when I didn’t eat halal, I would order sweet and sour chicken or broccoli and beef dishes and enjoyed them tremendously. I haven’t been back since converting to a strictly halal diet. The food is spicy and pretty authentic considering it is nowhere near Chinatown in San Francisco.
- Chef Chu’s: Tucked away inside the intersection of Los Altos and Mountain View city boundary, this lovely Chinese restaurant (See HERE) is one of my recent favorites. I highly recommend making reservations for large parties. What I love about this eatery is its friendly service. The food is pretty clean, although not as spicy as I want it to be, but the waiting staff is some of the friendliest I’ve met. This place is great for those special family occasions.
Middle Eastern Cuisine
- Arya: This place is by far the best Persian food I have ever tasted. There are some cheaper options in the region, but for a fine dining experience, come to Arya (See HERE). With a wide variety of authentic Persian dishes, the restaurant also boasts live music and dancing on the weekends. For appetizers, you HAVE to order Borani Bademjoona and Vege Mezze Platter. I am never disappointed with either option and always feel ready for the entrée afterward. Their halal kebabs are juicy and tender and a little-known fact is that you can select a variety of authentic Persian rice on the menu as a side. In other words, I suggest you substitute plain rice with specialty rice on the menu when it comes to ordering kebabs. This requires a little extra fee, but oh so delicious!
- Jubba: This place was a great find! Jubba was recommended to us by someone and boy, we were so glad we listened to her. I will admit it is a little out-of-the-way and in an odd location, but the trip to South San Jose is totally worth it for me. It is about 30 minutes South from Mountain View so people in the East Bay or North Bay would have to drive longer to get here. The restaurant is not visually appealing from the inside or the outside, but if you want authentic and delicious Somalian food that is freshly prepared, then come here. We usually start off by ordering Sambosas for everybody. Sambosas are meat stuffed savory pastry that you eat with a spicy chutney. So good! Then instead of ordering food for each and every person, we order the sports plate, which is good for 2-3 people. The sports plate comes with naan, rice, and pasta and plenty of juicy seasoned meat. For a little authentic, off-the-beaten-path experience, do visit Jubba (See HERE).
- Sweet Tomatoes: Okay, I am breaking a few rules here and writing about a chain restaurant present in other states. Sweet Tomatoes’ food (See HERE) is pretty darn good, healthy, and fresh. If you are craving soups, salads, and bread, then visit one of their many branches in the Bay Area. The salads are prepared fresh daily and since it is all you can eat buffet so you can get your money’s worth. In addition to salads, there is a variety of savory soups that come with soft bread. You can munch on those as well. You can finish off your meal with some ice cream, chocolate brownies, and coffee.
- Pluto’s: This place (See HERE) has been my favorite since high school. It is located in the prime downtown Palo Alto location. So if you are craving a giant make-your-own salad, creamy mac n’ cheese, and/or sandwiches, come here for some American goodness. I always and I mean always have their fresh salads here. They are not pre-prepared but actually made in front of you as you select what ingredients go in them. You can choose a small salad or a large salad and it comes with a piece of focaccia bread.
- True Foods Kitchen: A fellow blogger’s post convinced me to try my local True Food Kitchen (See HERE) and I am so glad I did. Mostly a brunch place, True Food Kitchen rotates their menu and their chef-designed dishes each season with freshly prepared, locally produced ingredients. I went there for the first time a couple of months ago and fell in love, especially after learning their dishes tend to have fewer calories. I do recommend ordering their matcha coffee seasoned with special spices. It is so sweet and so delicious. The dishes I have tried are two of their vegetarian pizza options, fish tacos, and cashew pad thai – yummy! Please note that they warn their patrons about the served meat (fish and otherwise) being undercooked so you have to request them to cook it well if you are worried about food-borne allergens.
In conclusion, San Francisco and the Bay Area has wonderful cuisines available for whatever your palette desires. You do have to drive around for the recommendations I make here, but it is so worth it. Hope you enjoyed this post! Happy Traveling!!