San Jose's restaurant scene is better than you think—and well worth a visit.
Selections from the wonderfully creative Indian menu at Fitoor on Santana Row (Neetu Laddha).

San Jose's restaurant scene is better than you think—and well worth a visit.


When I fell in love with a man and moved from San Francisco to San Jose, the city’s restaurants were high on the list of the things I was heartbroken to leave behind.

But San Jose, it turns out, holds its own in the food department. They just do things a little differently here.

For starters, most restaurants in San Jose are low-key family-owned operations. There are very few show-stoppingly stylish restaurants and, the majority that try, don’t exactly hit the mark. Almost every restaurant, from upscale spots to holes-in-the-wall have televisions, and both downtown and on Santana Row, the spaces are often so massive that they feel perpetually empty. Though this bodes well for reservations—you almost never need one—cavernous emptiness can definitely impact on vibe.

Then there’s the sometimes impenetrable multicultural aspect of San Jose. Unlike in today’s gentrified San Francisco, the capital of Silicon Valley is a mosaic of culinary heritage. The Mexican and Vietnamese scenes, in particular, are so extensive that there are food communities within food communities. It will, quite literally, take a lifetime to visit them all. Even after six years in town, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the carts, food trucks, and pop-ups that are, undoubtedly, just as good as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

So, for this guide to San Jose’s restaurants, we’ve organized our list by geography, and carved out separate spaces for old-school classics, Vietnamese eateries, and Mexican restaurants that fall outside those popular neighborhoods. From Portuguese tapas purveyor Petiscos to Peter’s Bakery, the original home of burnt almond cake, here are our picks for San Jose’s best.

The Best Restaurants in Downtown San Jose, SoFi + Japantown

Ackee and codfish from BackAYard

(Courtesy of @backayardgrill)

From the artsy SoFi (South First Street) neighborhood to historic Japantown, it’s in downtown San Jose where you’ll find the largest concentration of restaurants in a wide range of cuisines.

The owners of San Jose’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, a rustic Portuguese spot called Adega, weren’t able to keep up with the costs of fine dining and had to close last year but their more casual tapas spinoff, Petiscos (399 S. 1st St. & 1614 Alum Rock Ave.), is picking up the slack. The restaurant on South First Street earned a Bib Gourmand last year for its authentic preparation and homestyle favorites, and they’ve since turned the original Adega location in Alum Rock into a second Petiscos. // The Adega team is also behind the delightful Portuguese pastries—think, rich pastel de nata and creamy bola de Berlim—at the downtown Pasteleria Adega (30 E. Santa Clara St. #130). // Beloved BackAYard (457 E. San Carlos St. & 638 N. 13th St.), a Caribbean grill with an expanded reach throughout the South Bay, is the local go-to for jerk chicken, oxtail, curried goat, and the not-to-be-missed weekend special, Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and codfish. // The new downtown brick-and-mortar spot for a formerly transient Filipino-Hawaiian favorite, the Hula Bar and Kitchen (30 E. Santa Clara St. #110) has a tropical vibe and classic dishes like lumpia, 14-hour roasted kalua pig, spam masubi, and lechon sisig tacos. // Though it does a brisk business with students at adjacent San Jose State, California Wet Burrito’s (336 E. William St.) french fry-stuffed California burritos served wet or dry are so delicious, they’ve earned the taqueria acolytes from all over town. Want your mind blown? Get the Mazatlan California burrito, made with fish or shrimp sauteed in orange smoked chipotle. // At Japantown’s unfussy Gombei (193 Jackson St.), tangy teriyakis and generous udons are Japanese comfort food at its finest. // The unassuming Korean joint Danbi Korean Restaurant (1092 N. 1st St.), older sister to the somewhat flashier Omogari (154 Jackson St.) a few blocks away, is known for its traditional soups and stews, and Hawaiian-accented dishes like budae jjigae, which has a broth studded with spam and American cheese. // Henry’s Hi-Life (301 W. St. John St.) in San Jose’s tiny little Italy is a long-standing landmark for steaks and bbq served in divey saloon style.

The Best Restaurants in The Alameda + West San Jose

Zona Rosa on The Alameda

(Courtesy of @zonarosarestaurants)

Located near the downtown core and Santana Row, The Alameda has a somewhat sophisticated, upscale vibe while, in West San Jose, there’s a hodgepodge of culturally distinct options.

Walia Ethiopian Cuisine (2208 Business Cir.) is among the best of San Jose’s Ethiopian restaurants, with meticulously prepared, flavor-packed dishes like doro wot (slow-cooked chicken), kitfo (beef tartare), and shiro wot (chickpea stew). // A San Jose classic, Falafel’s Drive-In (2301 Stevens Creek Blvd.) has giant falafel sandwiches and fresh banana shakes that, together, will cost you less than a single dish on Santana Row. // Zona Rosa (1411 The Alameda), a hip upscale Mexican spot on The Alameda, has tasty, farmers-market-fresh tacos and enchiladas, plus a great daily brunch and a weekday happy hour where margaritas and palomas are just $8 a pop. // Just a couple blocks from Zona Rosa, Luna Mexican Kitchen (1495 The Alameda) delivers top-quality homestyle enchiladas and chile rellenos, paradillas, and regional dishes like cochinita pibil and mole poblano con pollo.

The Best Restaurants in San Jose's Santana Row

Santana Row's best restaurant, Fitoor.

(Neetu Laddha)

On Santana Row, San Jose’s popular open-air mall, you’ll find trendy chains like Smitten Ice Cream, The Veggie Grill, and Mendocino Farms along with a handful of independent restaurants that are among the city’s most stylishly decked out.

Hands down the best restaurant in Santana Row (and, possibly, in the entire city), Fitoor (377 Santana Row #1140)—the new outfit from the team behind ROOH and Alora in SF—has a wonderfully creative menu that combines Indian ingredients and dishes from around the subcontinent. From mouth-watering chaats, to rustically grilled branzino with coriander mint pesto, to small plates like Maryland soft-shell crab with crab meat poriyal and tomato chutney, there’s literally no way to go wrong at this swanky, beautifully-rendered spot. // At the breezy, light-filled new Suspiro (3060 Olsen Dr. #20), Spanish and Peruvian tapas, paellas, and main dishes like pulpo asado and puerco y rocoto (pork belly with rocoto, sweet potatoes, and plantains) are fuel for an upbeat celebration or date night. // Momosan Ramen & Sake (378 Santana Row #1130) has a casual take on Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s signature style. Come for the ramen, slurpable dashis packed with pork, braised beef ribs, wood ear mushrooms and soy-marinated eggs, and appetizers that are mash-ups of French, Italian, Mexican and Korean flavors.

Other Mexican + Vietnamese Standouts in San Jose

Banh mi fron Duc Huong Sandwiches.

(Courtesy of @duchuongsandwiches)

With a third of its population hailing from Mexican roots and the most Vietnamese residents of any city outside Vietnam, San Jose has a virtually endless selection of both types of cuisine—most of which are located in East San Jose and Little Saigon.

Acopio (399 S. 24th St.), an excellent, family-owned restaurant on the edge of East San Jose, has big city Mexican sophistication and a wide range of agave spirits and cocktails. Traditionally-inspired contemporary dishes change seasonally and include everything from chile adobo duck confit with pistachio mole to insanely delicious mushroom-hibiscus tacos. // If you want a place to party with shrimp-lined super chavelas in hand, Mariscos Costa Alegre (855 N. 13th St. & 1527 Alum Rock Ave.) is the place. The menu, which revolves around coastal seafood dishes, is one of the best in town. // The Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine Food Truck (various locations) loads indigenous ingredients cooked with traditional care (thnk, huitlacoche tacos, Yucatecan al pastor, and achiote citrus chicken) into tacos, burritos, and quesadillas wrapped in hand-made tortillas. // At newcomer Copita Tequileria y Comida (1098 Lincoln Ave.), the second restaurant from Sausalito celebrity chef Joanne Weir, you’ll find a roof deck made for crushing margaritas, tetelas, and chicken tinga tacos on steamy summer nights. // Bò Né Phú Yên (1818 Tully Rd.), a hole-in-the-wall located inside a mall strip court, earns high praise for its bò né phú yên, a traditional dish of sizzling pate-topped steak and eggs. // At the lively Hue Restaurant (3005 Silver Creek Rd. #190), Central Vietnamese dishes like banh beo (ground shrimp over rice cakes), spicy noodle soups, and vermicellis are served affordably, efficiently, and with tons of flavor. // With its crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside baguettes, and fillings in a rainbow of proteins, Duc Huong Sandwiches (1020 Story Rd. #C & 2345 McKee Rd.) are about as close to the perfect banh mi available outside of Vietnam. // Plant-based Vietnamese comfort food like faux fish clay pot and sweet and sour hot pot are on the menu at the Buddhist monk-frequented Green Lotus Restaurant (1143 Story Rd. #180). // Affordable Pho Ga Nha (930 Story Rd.) is a shrine to all things chicken with legendary phos, Hainan rice dishes, and family recipe-based signatures like côm gà rô ti (seasoned chicken with red rice and egg) all made with free-range, local chicken.

More Classic San Jose Restaurants

Peter's Bakery

(Courtesy of @peters.bakery)

Pick up massive Italian-style sandwiches, lasagnas, ravioli, and other Italian specialties and sauces at the old-school deli/shop, Bertucelli’s La Villa Gourmet (1319 Lincoln Ave.). // The nearly 100 year old Peter’s Bakery’s (3108 Alum Rock Ave.) claim to fame is the invention of burnt almond cake, a local confection filled with custard and rolled in toasted nuts. There’s an eye-popping variety of other cakes, cookies, pastries, doughnuts, and pies too and, during the holidays, they fire up Old World favorites like hot cross buns and German stollen bread. Pro tip: Order in advance online to skip the perennial line. // The New Almaden restaurant La Foret (21747 Bertram Rd.), a remnant from this historic center of quicksilver mining on San Jose’s south side, is an elegant place for rustic French game and seafood served in tasting menu or a la carte forms.

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