Best of Silicon Valley 2004
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Editor's Short List
Best Sugar High
Kiki's Candy Bar
At this unique Palo Alto sweet shop, "bartenders" will actually make you a (nonalcoholic) drink out of candy. Candy cocktails like the Strawberry Kiki-Tini or the Jujube Jungle Juice pack a kid-sized rush. Kiki's slogan is "Because candy's supposed to be fun," and it really does make a good time of things, hosting birthday parties, creating custom candy gift buckets and even bringing a ministore to your next party. Hint: Go to Kiki's website to find its word of the month, and when you come into the store, say it, and you'll be rewarded with free candy. 540 Emerson St., Palo Alto. 650.321.9919; www.kikiscandybar.com. (AB)
Best Sushi in Tight Quarters
Sushi on the Run
Not much bigger than a bento box, Sushi on the Run is a Los Gatos favorite for large portions of reasonably priced sushi. Take one of eight seats at the narrow bar and gaze upon your reflection in the mirror. Also reflected there is the menu posted on the wall right behind you (it's printed backward). The specialties here are the dozens of sushi rolls of every stripe and combination. They outnumber the bar stools 6-to-1. Try the Big Wave Dave ($6): eel, tuna, avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds sauced with a sticky, salty-sweet soy glaze. The intimacy of the place makes it feel as if you're sitting in a barber shop and chatting with customers and proprietor alike. Everybody seems to know each other, and if you don't know the person next to you, you soon will. 114 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos. 408.354.1125. (SH)
Best Place to Jerk Your Boar
Ralph's Custom Smokehouse
You've bagged a 350-pound wild boar. You plan to mount the pig's toothy mug above your fireplace, but what to do with all that meat? Since 1972, Ralph's Custom Smokehouse has been the South Bay place to go for all your wild-game-processing needs. Owner and big-game hunter Montana Hutton will turn your wild pig, venison, elk, duck, caribou or any other quarry into sausage, jerky or steaks. While wild game isn't for sale, his full-service butcher shop also sells house-made sausage, hot dogs, smoked fish and farm-raised game. 855 Delmas Ave., San Jose. 408.279.4009. (SH)
Best Meal on Wheels
This taco truck doesn't appear to the hit the road very often. And that's a good thing. The hungry masses that queue up for $1.50 tacos and $3.50 tortas and burritos would be sadly disappointed. Place your order and grab a seat on the nearby bench or just eat in your car. Best are the al pastor, carne asada and lengua tacos. They're not so big that they fall apart in your hands, but they're small enough that you're better off ordering two. Or three. The tacos come unadorned, so you can load them up with cilantro, onion and your choice of a half-dozen kinds of red and green salsas. And don't miss the agua frescas. The horchata and watermelon are particularly good. Cash only. 1089 Park Ave., San Jose. (SH)
Best Place to Blow Your Cholesterol Rating
Those heath-conscious bastards who brainwashed the nation into believing that carbs are off-limits did not live in Hawaii. What passes for a hearty lunch would have these gastronomic moralists choking on their chicken wrap. Hukilau continues a fine tradition by serving the ultimate knockout lunch plate: the Loco Moco. It's an open marriage of two hamburger patties, two fried eggs, steamed rice, brown gravy and macaroni salad. Hukilau also offers chicken katsu, fried mahi or beef teriyaki instead of ground beef. The original Loco Moco goes back to mid-'50s Hilo, when a mom-and-pop diner wanted to serve the teenagers who hung out there something cheap, filling and uncomplicated. Today, it's the ultimate comfort plate, Hawaii's contribution to fast fooddamn the carb and cholesterol count. 230 Jackson St., San Jose. 408.279.4888; www.dahukilau.com. (TI)
Best Ceviche/Peruvian Food
Hidden along Monterey Road in south San Jose is Jesse's Place. Since 1993, the place has actually been owned by Peruvian national Zenon Roblesand quite simply, Robles serves up the best fish and mixed seafood ceviche in the valley. For $8.25, customers reel in a generous helping of fresh red snapper or tilapia cut in small squares, marinated in lime juice, seasoned with garlic and served under a piece of lettuce accompanied by yams, corn and potatoes with sliced lime-marinated red onions and cilantro. The mixed ceviche is a combination of shrimp, fish, octopus, crab, green mussels and other ocean delicacies. Robles, who does answer good-naturedly to "Jesse," also serves popular Peruvian dishes such as cau cau, tender honeycomb beef tripe cut in bite-size pieces with potatoes and cilantro; and pollo a la brasa, or rotisserie chicken with potatoes and salad. It's a busy place on weekends, when Peruvian Andean dancing and small singing groups perform. Cash only. 3088 Monterey Rd., San Jose. 408.225.3052. (SS)
Best Guacamole Prep
Consuelo Mexican Bistro
It's such a simple dish, guacamole. But at Consuelo, guac becomes a visual experience on a par with tableside Caesar salad or flambé. Once the order is in, a server is dispatched with a rolling cart of ripe avocados, diced onions, cilantro and jalapeños. Pleasantries are exchanged, desired heat level is determined and the guacarista expunges scoops of green goodness from wrinkly shells, adds the herbs, then mushes everything together in a volcanic rock mosh pit called a molcajete. The container is placed on the table, to be slathered on hot corn tortillas. Consuelo's guacamole is sublime. It would make an excellent topping for one of the restaurant's signature small plates, but it never lasts beyond the first round of drinks. 377 Santana Row, San Jose. 408.260.7082. (TI)
Best High-End Inside/Outside Dining Experience
Inside, downtown San Jose's new Paragon restaurant exudes a smart, groovy cool. Brown, beige and pale gold tones, low couches and a profusion of rectangular shapes bring to mind a relaxed but urbane 1970s vibe. Outside, Paragon's patio looks like a large outdoor living room with its comfortable chairs, couches and tables. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more appealing spot for an alfresco after-work drink or meal. The two bocce ball courts make the open-air patio even more alluring. And, oh yeah: executive chef Thomas Connolly's inventive American fare tastes good under the roof or under the stars. 211 S. First St., San Jose; 408.282.8888. (SH)
Best Lesson in Culinary Imperialism
Chez Croissant/Pho Bac So
If there's an upside to imperialism, it's the food. If the United States hadn't stolen a chunk of northern Mexico, it would probably be much harder to find a good taco. And Britain's colonial exploits in India have made tikka masala as common on the streets of London as fish and chips. In some cases, expanding empires leave traces of their cuisine behind. France departed Vietnam with its tail between its legs, but left the Vietnamese with a taste for coffee, pastries and French bread. You can savor the intermingling of cuisines at San Jose's Chez Croissant and Pho Bac So. Essentially two restaurants in one, one-half of the restaurant is a bakery and cafe, and the other is a Vietnamese restaurant. For a taste of both countries, try the barbecued pork sandwich: a French baguette slathered with house-made mayonnaise stuffed with tangy, vinegar-spiked pork, cilantro, carrots and onions. 1090-1092 N. First St., San Jose. 408.297.1102. (SH)
Lucy's Tamale Factory
For quick comfort food, American cuisine has its chicken pot pies, and Mexico has tamales. I think Mexico wins. And Lucy's Tamale Factory in San Jose's Alum Rock neighborhood is the place to go. The storefront isn't much to look at from the outside. It's set in a dumpy minimall near a car wash and a laundromat. But step inside, and you'll see they mean business. The plump, corn-husk-wrapped tamales go for $1.50 a pop. Best are the pork, chicken and jalapeño. And Lucy's is indeed a factory. There's only one small table and a small counter. Most of the place is given over to the production of massive quantities of tamales. Cash only. 233-C S. White Rd. (near East Hills), San Jose. 408.729.1846. Second location at 974 Story Rd., San Jose. 408.275.8262. (SH)
Best Semifast Greek
What we've got here is the classic tale of two brothers who traveled from afar to bring a slice of their culture to the land of opportunity. And as far as I am concerned, move over Falafel Drive-In, they've got something meatier. From their tasty gyros to their bountiful souvlaki and crispy falafel, Yiasoo is wrapped in quality. The pita is a major player in the flavor. It is doughy and fluffy and lightly griddled, almost like a pancake. They have great cheap wine including retsina, a pine-resin-infused white. Be sure to finish off your meal with baklava or cinnamon puffs laced with honey and powdered sugar. 2180 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell. 408.559.0312. (AR)
Best Dazzle for Dimes
Sonoma Chicken Coop
No one's calling you cheap. No one's calling you a player. But if you're a frequent dater with limited finances, the Coop is the place for you. Picture this: You and your prospective one-night-stand cuddled up by an outdoor fireplace next to a trickling fountain. You're staring into her eyes as you fork sweet portions of wine-country duck with warm fruit into her mouth, and you're talking about culture and poetry as if you have a clue. She's melting, and you're only spending $9.99. How do you beat that? Seriously, Sonoma Chicken Coop is a destination restaurant for the frugal gourmet. You absolutely cannot find tastier fine dining and atmosphere for less money. 31 Market St., San Jose. 408.287.4098. (AR)
Best Slurp Conductor
Kumao Arai at Ramen Halu
It begins innocently, as the bowl of fine ramen noodles slides onto the place mat. One is content to concentrate on the thick Halu ramen broth (a glossy mix of pork and chicken), the texture of the freshly pulled noodles, the glistening pork or the "aromatic constituents" of green onions. Then the chorus begins. A little slurp from across the room. A louder slurp at the table near the surfboard. And like the water dripping from the leaky faucet at 3am or that campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, the slurp becomes a hilarious cacophony. If slurping a bowl of ramen is considered a compliment to the cook, then Ramen Halu chef Kumao Arai is supreme slurp conductorthe Michael Tilson Thomas of the noodle. That giant sucking sound isn't coming from Washington or from City Hallit's from a modest ramen shop on Saratoga. 375-M S. Saratoga Ave., San Jose. 408.246.3933; www.ramenhalu.com (in Japanese only). (TI)
Best $16 Cheeseburger and Fries
In Pulp Fiction, John Travolta's character, Vincent Vega, had to find out what a $5 milkshake tasted like. It's just milk and ice creamno bourbon, right? When the creaminess passed his lips, he oozed, "Goddamn, this is a pretty fing good milkshake." Curiosity would get the best of Vega if he stepped into Michael Mina's San Jose outpost, Arcadia, where a cheeseburger and fries plate tops out at $16. It's just ground beef, bun and potatoes, right? Not quite. A charbroiled Kobe beef patty is laid to rest on a poppy-seed roll. A slice of tomato, lettuce heart and pickles ride shotgun. The cheese is Canadian white cheddar. The french fries are made from Kennebec potatoes and cooked in duck fatrendering them lighter in textureand then sprinkled with chopped Italian parsley, sea salt and other seasonings. Like Mina's other Arcadia creations, the cheeseburger gets a refined, though not extreme, makeover. Vega would be pleased, but Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson's character) would have the last word: "Mmm, this is a tasty burger!" 100 San Carlos St,, San Jose. 408.278.4555. (TI)
I always see people walking out of this 54-year-old Italian deli sporting their "Got Ravs?" T-shirts and hauling boxes of frozen ravs back to the house to be enjoyed at leisure. From around the country they come to sample the different varieties, which include spinach and ricotta, and lobster and feta, but it is the beef and spinach that you'll find readily available at the hot table. You can smell them from 100 feet awaydoughy cubes simmering like little bathing beauties in a pool of slightly sweet, slightly acidic and very herbaceous marinara. The tender, almost gummy casing dissolves in your mouth, revealing La Villa's blend of special ingredients that the loyal employees have taken a vow never to disclose. More than just raviolis, these are classics. 1319 Lincoln Ave., San Jose. 408.295.7851. (AR)
Best Way to Smoke 'Em Out of Their Holes
Texas Smokehouse BBQ
No need to look for the open sign at this east San Jose barbecue standout. The mesquite smoke billowing from the 500-gallon smoker out front tells you Texas Smokehouse BBQ is open for business. And barbecue is definitely its business. Hot links, ribs, chicken legs and tri-tip are all cooked Texas style and served with an excellent sweet and vinegary barbecue sauce. Try the no. 7, a more-than-you-can-eat plate of pork and tri-tip with a choice of two sides for $11.95. For traditionalists, the collard greens and baked beans are a must. For nonsmoked fare, opt for the fried catfish and red snapper. And don't miss out on the sweet-potato and pecan pies. Although mainly a takeout place, there are two small tables inside. Open for lunch and dinner Wed-Sat. 1091 S. Capitol Expressway, San Jose. 408.926.2829. (SH)
Best Least-Known Wine-Tasting Experience
Hike or drive up to Cupertino's Picchetti Winery, and it's like stumbling on a bit of Italy. Peacocks wander among secluded 19th-century buildings. As one of California's oldest wineries, Picchetti is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places. The place produces scores of multiregional wines each year, some of which have won awards and all of which can be tasted in the winery's tasting area. On Sunday afternoons, Picchetti Winery offers live music concerts (usually jazz or rock). The winery also hosts private events. 13100 Montebello Rd., Cupertino. 408.741.1310; www.picchetti.com. (AB)
Best Wine Education
People are always asking me where they can go to learn about wine without having to commit to a lengthy course or having to spend big dollars, and I always recommend the Grapevine. The Grapevine offers very affordable wine tasting and cheese pairing in a charming and comfortable atmosphere. The tastings are informative yet casual, and Grapevine showcases mainly small production wineries. It has great wine clubs to join as well. Tastings occur every other day, and range from $10 to $15 per person for a flight of four wines. Special event tastings, usually on Thursdays, can range from $15 to $100 per person. And once a, month Grapevine breaks into cheese, with tastings that focus on cheese-making regions for $5 per person. 1389 Lincoln Ave., San Jose. 408.293.7574; www.grapevine-wg.com. (AR)
Best Pearl Milk Tea With a View
Fantasia Coffee & Tea
Fantasia has become a household namelike Starbucks for milk tea drinkers. But this ain't your older sister's milk tea. You can choose your own tapioca pearls, and hey, if you feel like having guava juice, milk and green tea all in one drink, you can. The standard milk tea comes at a nifty $2.50 a pop, while specialty drinks like mango ices run upward of $4.50. Fantasia also serves dim sum finger foods such as barbecued pork buns, steamed potstickers and shrimp dumplings. But the best reason to visit the Fantasia Santana Row is its great location along the shopping center's stretch, right across from the little grassy garden area. Situate yourself at the outdoor tables and watch families and friends stroll by on a warm summer day. When the caffeine hits, shop till you drop. 378 Santana Row, San Jose. 408.238.0380. Various other locations. (CL)
Best Antidote to Curves
Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits
The owners of this minimall on Capitol Expressway near Highway 87 either have a vicious sense of humor or a cunning sense of supply and demand. A Castus Low-Carb specialty grocery store and Curves women's fitness pod share the same sidewalk space with that purveyor of New Orleans-style fried chicken and biscuits, Popeye's. How does it feel for the women who finish their workout session at Curves, shop for their low-carb needs at Castus and are ushered to their SUVs by the tempting smell of fried chicken? Like the Baskin-Robbins located adjacent to a Bally Total Fitness, this is urban planning at its nuttiest. When someone falls off the wagon, consider it game over! 705 W. Capitol Expwy., San Jose. 408.264.3128. (TI)
Best Frozen Yogurt
Willow Glen Frozen Yogurt Company
The icy stuff slithered over my tongue, turning my breath to fog. My lips pursed, I crouched over my cup, ready to fend off competitors with my plastic spoon. It was the first time I had tasted what is the gelato of frozen yogurts: the St. Louis Custard at WGFYC. Since then, I have been waiting all year to share the secret. Some of my other personal favorites include Angel Food Cake, Luscious Lemon, Root Beer and Cable Car Chocolate. Once you figure out yours, you can sign up to be notified by phone when your flavor is available; the shop's diligent employees will call you personally when it's in. Or you can call for today's flavors. Owner Jeff Mullen prefers this old-fashioned approach. "If you have a schedule of flavors, the schedule controls you," says the ice cream iconoclast. "I don't want to do that. When we get it in, we serve it within 24 to 48 hours." WGFYC is one of the few local places that serves real frozen custard. They also dish out Treat Ice Cream, a local handmade ice cream. There's an outdoor patio area. 1098 Lincoln Ave., San Jose. 408.292.5961. (AR)
Best Kooky Sushi
Suedy's Koo-ki Sushi
Not since Shelby's Bleeding Armadillo wedding cake in Steel Magnolias have I, a vegetarian, been so morbidly tempted to savor a confection that looks like something dead. Karen Sasaki, president and co-creator of Suedy's Koo-ki Sushi, has artfully excited my sweet tooth with chocolate simulacra of gooey fish eggs, sliced octopus and slivered seaweed. Her kooky "koo-kies" take the standard box of chocolates to a new level. A mild crisped rice base is topped with flavored chocolates, each hand-painted and molded to mimic gifts of the sea. The intricately combined tastes of these treats are influenced by the Japanese delicacy: ginger-flavored roses, tiny plastic bottles of chocolate "soy" sauce and dollops of green tea "wasabi" garnish edible plates and glossy obento (lunch) boxes ($11/piece, $70/assortment). The visual effect is so mesmerizing that the hardest part is actually eating the tongue-sized sculptures. "Just cut them up when you get home," Sasaki coaxes me. "It'll be OK." I gather the courage to chop the end off my creamy "shrimp" tail, which is filled with almond paste. Yes, my guilty taste buds convince me that the cruel act was worth it. Order Suedy's Koo-ki Sushi online or call for delivery options. 830 Jury Court, Suite 1, San Jose. 408.947.8228; www.kookisushi.com. (VN)
Best New Restaurant: Paragon, S.J. Runner-up: McCormick and Schmick's, S.J.
Best "It" Restaurant: 7/Seven, S.J. Runner-up: Restaurant O, Campbell
Best Chef: Justin Perez, Restaurant O, Campbell Runner-up: Curtis & Russel Valdez, 7/Seven, S.J.
Best Seafood Restaurant: Race Street Seafood Kitchen, S.J. Runner-up: Hawg's, S.J.
Best American: Sonoma Chicken Coop, S.J. Runner-up: By-Th-Bucket, Santa Clara
Best Chinese: Blue Sky Chinese Restaurant, Campbell Runner-up: P.F. Chang's, multiple locations
Best Japanese: Ariaki Sushi Boat, Sunnyvale Runner-up: Minato Japanese Restaurant, S.J.
Best Vietnamese: Khanh's Garden, S.J. Runner-up: Vung Tao, S.J.
Best Korean: Korean Palace BBQ, S.J. Runner-up: Korean BBQ, Milpitas
Best Dim Sum: Mayflower Seafood Restaurant, Milpitas Runner-up: Loon Wah Restaurant, S.J.
Best Mexican: La Victoria, S.J. Runner-up: El Burro, Campbell
Best Indian: Amber India, S.J., Mtn. View Runner-up: Sue's Indian Cuisine, Mtn. View
Best Ethiopian : Red Sea, S.J. Runner-up: Shebele, Campbell
Best French : Le Papillon, S.J. Runner-up: Left Bank, Multiple Locations
Best Italian: Maggiano's Little Italy, S.J. Runner-up: Il Fornaio, S.J.
Best Greek: Yiassoo, Campbell Runner-up: John's Xlnt Foods, S.J.
Best Middle Eastern : Falafel Drive-In, S.J. Runner-up: Kabul, Sunnyvale
Best Thai: Krung Thai, S.J. Runner-up: House of Siam, S.J.
Best Pho: TK Noodle, multiple locations Runner-up: Pho Hoa, multiple locations
Best Tapas/Small Plates: Cascal, Mtn. View Runner-up: Restaurant O, Campbell
Best Steak: Blake's Steakhouse & Bar, S.J. Runner-up: Outback Steakhouse, multiple locations
Best Late-Night Eats: Cardinal Coffeeshop & Lounge, S.J. Runner-up: Original Joe's, S.J.
Best Breakfast : Stacks All American, Campbell, Menlo Park Runner-up: Hobee's, Palo Alto
Best Barbecue: Sam's Barbecue, S.J. Runner-up: Armadillo Willy's BBQ, S.J.
Best Asian Vegetarian: White Lotus Restaurant, S.J. Runner-up: Tofoo Com Chay, S.J.
Best Indian Vegetarian : Chaat Paradise, Mtn. View Runner-up: Shalimar, S.J.
Best Vegetarian Overall: Garden Fresh, Mtn. View Runner-up: Vegetarian House, S.J.
Best Restaurant Patio : Gordon Biersch, S.J. Runner-up: Bella Mia, S.J.
Best Coffeehouse : Barefoot Coffee Roasters, Santa Clara Runner-up: Lowry's Irish Coffee, S.J.
Best Bakery: Dick's Bakery, S.J. Runner-up: Wilson's Jewel Bakery, Santa Clara
Best Desserts: Icing on the Cake, Los Gatos Runner-up: Three Flames Restaurant, S.J.
Best Pizza: Pizza Chicago, S.J. Runner-up: Pizza My Heart, S.J.
Best Burger: In-N-Out, multiple locations Runner-up: Kirk's Steakburgers, Palo Alto
Best Ice Cream: Cold Stone Creamery, S.J., Sunnyvale, Campbell Runner-up: Sweet Retreat, Los Gatos
Best Burrito: Ricardo's Mexican, Campbell Runner-up: Burrito Factory, multiple locations
Best Sushi: Kazoo Sushi Boat, Campbell Runner-up: Ariake Japanese Restaurant, Cupertino
Best Deli/Sandwich Shop: La Villa, Willow Glen Runner-up: Erik's DeliCafe, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Redwood City
Best All-You-Can-Eat Lunch Buffet: Hometown Buffet, S.J. Runner-up: Fresh Choice Buffet, multiple locations
Best Thai/Vietnamese Coffee: Fantasia, multiple locations Runner-up: Hydration, S.J.
Best Place to Blow Off Your Low-Carb Diet: Maggiano's Little Italy, S.J. Runner-up: The Cheesecake Factory, multiple locations
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