Metro premiered the concept that has become the annual Best of Silicon Valley on Oct. 2, 1986, with an issue called The Best! of the Santa Clara Valley. Happily, many of the winners of that year's readers poll are still thriving 23 years later. Here are some of the original Best, with excerpts from the write-ups that accompanied their victory lap in '86, along with updates.
Best Gallery for Weird Art
66 S. First St., San Jose; 408.286.6800
Most galleries have art work just framed and on the wall. WORKS will have things coming out of the wall, out of the floor, out of the ceiling. They sponsored a graffiti show, which practically destroyed the entire gallery. It surpasses the typical definition of what is art. UPDATE: WORKS is now located at 451 S. First St. and still showing off cutting-edge art.
2666 S. Bascom, San Jose; 408.377.6661
The tomatoes are plump and inviting, the New Zealand blueberries intriguing, the starfruit, prickly pears and hearts of palm as difficult to choose from as the imported Dutch yellow peppers, the Japanese cucumbers, the Hawaiian limestone lettuce and the varieties of pâté mousses with truffles. Consentino's is the place to break a food budget. UPDATE: Cosentino's continues to hold up well as a family-owned enterprise amidst a competitive invasion of specialty supermarkets.
Los Gatos Roasting Co.
101 W. Main St., Los Gatos; 408.354.3263
The map of the great drug-growing regions of the world on the wall is a tipoff. Just say no, we think, and send in the helicopters. Where's the bags? Coffee, sure. We saw you up last night roasting the evidence. Could smell it all over town. And then in the morning, Los Gatos java junkies were lined up—a bunch so pathetic that they don't even bother to change out of their jogging suits before hopping into their 735csi's for a fix. UPDATE: Drug humor has gone out of style, and 750Li's can now be seen out front.
10th Street at San Salvador, San Jose; 408.292.3470
Super Taqueria is the San Jose taco joint. It's worshipped by SJSU students and locals who stick to the tired and true. Super Taq serves its meat chunky, its avocados ripe and its salsa spicy. A cooler of Mexican and gringo beers is on hand to wash it all down with. UPDATE: A few years ago, the entire place was flattened and redesigned from the ground up, including much-needed parking, but other than that, the song remains the same.
Best Burger Dive
South Bascom and Dry Creek Road, Campbell; 408.371.3165. 1330 Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, Cupertino; 408.446.2988. 361 California St., Palo Alto; 650.326.6159. 2605 Homestead Road, Santa Clara; 408.241.5475
This is the real thing—flame-broiled over a pit. The attraction here is burgers, not Ronald McDonald, stained glass or hanging plants. Don't panic if a black-and-white pulls up: law enforcement found out long ago that Kirk's is simply without peer. UPDATE: Now with a new location in Santa Clara (see above).
Best Fish House
Steamer's Fish Again and Pasta Too
Old Town, Los Gatos; 408.395.2722
Others have tried to copy the Steamer's formula, but in this category, the original has withstood the challengers. The menu changes daily depending on what the boat brings in, but other than that, Steamers' offerings remain a source of comfort in an unstable, fast changing and often dangerous world. UPDATE: Steamer's has moved across the street, to a newer and larger building at 31 University Ave., where it has a larger bar and Thursday night happy hours prowled by large populations of cougars.
Best Sourdough Bread
310 Main St., Los Altos; 408.379-8300
Much to the chagrin of Herb Caen and other S.F. Chauvinists, a South Bay bakery has repeatedly won the city's prestigious sourdough competition. And our own experience reinforces the view that the Brunello family makes bread that tastes better than anything our neighbor to the north can produce. UPDATE: Now with 16 (!) locations throughout Silicon Valley.
Best Buffalo Burger
A Bite of Wyoming
2227 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose; 408.259.4819
Immense slabs of buffalo steak and ground buffalo for the most discriminating palate. Casual atmosphere, down-home folks and reasonable prices. UPDATE: Still an admired greasy spoon joint in East San Jose with a bison on the front door and rusted farming tools haphazardly strewn about the walls.
2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose; 408.294.7886
The Falafel Drive-In looks exactly the same as it did 20 years ago, and probably will for another two decades. And best of all, they still serve the same great garbanzo and spice treat. A unique fast food meal at a ridiculously low price ($1.35–$2.45). UPDATE: The Falafel Drive-In looks the same as it did 23 years ago, as Metro predicted. And won another Best of SV award this year.
Best Fish Market
Race Street Fish and Poultry
247 Race St., San Jose; 408.294.4857
If caught this morning, it's at Race Street today. Mostly fresh fish, along with the best of the frozen. A huge selection in a good old-fashioned meat market atmosphere. UPDATE:Now with online home delivery service, including live updates on what's available. Race Street sends out daily specials on Twitter instead of in the Mercury News.
Best Japanese Garden with a Tea Room
2100 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; 408.867.3634
Built in 1917, the traditional tea room at Hakone Gardens was restored in 1974 with classic rice paper dividers and tatami mats. Because of the delicate nature of the room's construction, it is off-limits to the general public, except when formal tea ceremony classes are held on the premises. The lower house, however, is open for meetings and weddings. Overall, one of the most enchanting park grounds in the valley. UPDATE: Hakone is now operated by a non-profit foundation under lease from its former operator, the City of Saratoga. An antique tea house and Cultural Exchange Center have been added, and the entry has been rebuilt to allow easier access for visitors with disabilities.
The Black Watch
141 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.2200
The Black Watch may not have invented the Kamikaze, but they sure perfected it. We watched the bartender mix 11 at once one night. Why are they better than anywhere else? "I dunno, but they are," a knowledgeable insider tells us. UPDATE: The trendy cocktail of 1986 has gone out of style everywhere but the Black Watch, where it's still delivered in a pint glass, with your very own bartender's strainer and an old-fashioned martini glass.
Best Car Wash
Del Medio and West El Camino Real, Mountain View; 650.941.0590
If you're looking for shoeshine-engraved crystal or Disneylandesque experience on the Bayou, these are not the places to come. Nor are they the places to watch bubblegum-chewing high school students shake it as they mop your dash, empty your ashtray and strip your gear box. With its clean blue and white décor and Hanna brushless system, Monarch's staff of pros makes cars shine for $5.50. UPDATE: While the service is still what it was, prices have, alas, been adjusted to keep up with the times.
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