The Best of Silicon Valley 2011

New Categories | Editors' Picks

Mi Pueblo STEAM POWER The 1913 Baldwin locomotive No. 1215 on its way to its new perch at History Park San Jose Photograph by Daniel Kouba

Best Steam Engine

Baldwin No. 1215

History Park San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose. After an epic move last November, the 75-ton 1913 Baldwin steam engine No. 1215, now sits majestically on a small stretch of track just inside History Park's fence along Senter Road. After many years of painstaking restoration by the dedicated members of the California Trolley and Railroad Corporation, the mighty switcher engine has been meticulously restored and given a coat of fresh black paint with red trim. It serves as a lasting monument to the glory days of railroading.

Best High-End Ramen


10330 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino; 408.446.2222. Ramen is one the strengths of Silicon Valley's food scene. Most ramen shops occupy unremarkable strip malls and shopping centers, but Alexander's Steakhouse, home of outrageously expensive Kobe beef and quadruple-digit bottles of wine, also happens to make a very fine bowl of ramen for lunch. Chef Jeffrey Stout offers a thoroughly respectable version that can hang with the best of them—pork belly, shiitake mushroom, a soft-cooked egg and firm noodles in a salty, rich broth.

Best Revolutionary Street Brew

Aromatic Arabic at Philz Coffee

118 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; 408.971.4212. To celebrate those on the street, fighting to overthrow dictators and paving their own way toward a better future, we raise our mugs at Philz Coffee. The brews on the menu are grouped into light, medium and dark roasts, the latter of which includes Aromatic Arabic. A bold and luxurious layer of Arabian coffee makes it smooth, incredibly dark and pungent with a full-bodied finish. If you take it completely black, you can almost chew on it, but with cream and sugar, a menagerie of aromas begin to unwind and make themselves apparent. A favorite morning blend after the revolution.

Best Royal Family Food on the Salt Flats

Lunch With Tony

5202 N. First St., Alviso; 408.493.6090. The Santos Family constitutes the royal blood of Alviso—sort of like the Jesus and Mary Magdalene bloodline of the salt flats. Proprietor Tony comes from a legendary and colorful family of Alvisans. His grandfather Tony P. Santos served time as mayor and police chief eons ago when Alviso was still its own city. Tony P. passed in 2004 and a street now bears his name. The eatery itself is a pure-hearted family-run operation of the most regal sort. For lunch with the divine right of Alviso kings, Metro recommends Lunch With Tony, even it's your last supper before the crucifixion.

Best Place to Work on Your Jamaican Accent

Mango Caribbean

435 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650.324.9443. Mango's has been through several ups and downs over the years, but still provides ultraspicy jerk chicken amid an exotic Caribbean milieu—jam-packed with bearded warriors on the walls, tropical plants, bananas and soft reggae music emanating from the stereo. You don't even have to utter a Jamaican-style "man" after every sentence. The rattan chairs feature high backs, enabling much-needed neck support while you slump down after the food. Even the rice is flavorful and spicy. Add a few Red Stripes and some Matouk's Calypso Sauce and the rest of the day is smooth sailing, Caribbean style.

Best Fake Phone Number to Give to a Creepy Guy

California Vasectomy & Reversal Center

2490 Hospital Drive #210, Mountain View, 650.962.4662. Is this a childish thing to do? Yes. Is it funny as all hell? Well, yeah. Some guys just can't take a hint to scram, even if it was delivered with the dull end of a hammer to the head. A word of warning: Make sure the guy doesn't try to swap numbers by calling right away. That would just be all kinds of awkward.

Most Enthusiastic Cashiers

Unicorn Thrift

1181 Redmond Ave., San Jose; 408.997.9188. It isn't uncommon to hear "What a great find!" and "How cute!" flow forth from the friendly folks behind the counter while being rung up at Unicorn Thrift Shop. Unicorn Thrift Shop's all-volunteer staff members are genuinely interested in the gently used goodies brought to the register by its customers. When not on duty, these friendly helpers shop the store themselves and can also be found in line comparing notes with other shoppers looking for a good deal. What's even better? Along with the Butter Paddle and Happy Dragon Thrift Shop, both located in Los Gatos, Unicorn Thrift Shop's proceeds benefit the EMQ Families First organization, which supports children living in impoverished and traumatic situations.

Best Local Photo Project

Lost San Jose Believe it or not, there was life in the San Jose area before Silicon Valley. This area has a rich history that runs deeper than the latest, greatest gadget or mirrored building and Josh Marcotte is committed to preserving it. Armed only with a camera, Marcotte takes to the streets to document the fading and slowly crumbling buildings, landmarks, signage and structures of the San Jose of old for a photo project that he refers to as Lost San Jose. Now 10 years and several cameras into the project, Marcotte is creating a visual tribute to what he calls "a city that's hidden, overlooked and unwanted."

Best Hodgepodge Hall of Mirrors

La Casita de Kaleidoscopes

389 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.370.7877. The brand-new Casita de Kaleidoscopes has claimed its role in humanity: by placing a kaleidoscope in every home, it will help promote world peace. What a concept. Recently relocating from Albuquerque, N.M., this bizarre gallery continues to offer an array of kaleidoscopes from an array of creative types. New kaleidoscopes, old kaleidoscopes, limited-edition kaleidoscopes, candy kaleidoscopes, marble kaleidoscopes, jewelry made from kaleidoscopes—these folks have it all. A completely, absolutely inimitable place. Campbell will never be the same.

Best Reason to Be Glad It's Fall or Winter

Original Joe's Crab Salad

301 S. First St., San Jose; 408.292.7030. How could something be so simple and so decadent at the same time? The secret is volume. OJ's serves up a big, big pile of fresh crabmeat on top of a big pile of crisp romaine. That's it. From November through March—the peak of the local Dungeness crab season—this uncomplicated meal is almost too much.

Best Signs Pointing to the Future

Tesla and Solyndra

Highway 880, Fremont. The Solyndra plant, which is now churning out next-gen solar panels, was the biggest construction project in California last year, after the Bay Bridge. And in just a couple of years, Tesla has become a cooler automotive brand than Ferrari. Seeing their two signs on Highway 880 just north of the Fremont-Milpitas border is a happy reminder that one day soon, we will all be driving solar-powered electric cars, and the green-tech revolution will revive the world economy. It's not just the hippies making that prediction; some of the most powerful VCs in Silicon Valley—including John Doerr and Vinod Khosla—are betting a lot of money on it.