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Original Joe's

A San Jose original that doesn't need to change

By Corinne Asturias

Some people call it O.J.'s, others call it Oh-Joes, some just shorten it to Joe's, but almost nobody who frequents this 45-year-old downtown San Jose dining landmark calls it by its full name, Original Joe's.

And regulars are vast in number: no matter how many stylish new eateries open up downtown, O.J. devotees still pack the place, spilling onto the sidewalk at First and San Carlos streets to partake of its generous portions and old-school ambiance. Maître d' Rick Fleming expertly juggles the waitlist, rolling off reams of names into the microphone like an auctioneer, the roll call generating anticipation of the comforts to come.

Matt Rocca
Photograph by Larry Brazil

Don of an Old Era: Co-owner Matt Rocca welcomes guests to the elegant restaurant and watering hole at the corner of First and San Carlos.

I discovered O.J.'s when I was in high school and was struck with the big-city style of the waiters in their black jackets and white shirts, who even at 1am didn't need to write down orders and could swirl coffee into a diner's cup from two feet in the air. In college, I often took solace in a bowl of hot minestrone at the counter (only $2.50 back then) with the requisite leg of French bread and packets of foil-wrapped butter. I came to admire the simplicity of the place, the stainless-steel open kitchen, its toque-topped cooks competently grilling and frying behind the counter, the essential ingredients on a shelf above the stove: lemons, garlic, olive oil and wine.

At Joe's the food is the thing. Basic food, that is. No tongue-twister specials for the waitstaff. It's platters of pasta, hunks of meat--charbroiled or carved from steaming bins--thick-cut french fries, hefty sandwiches, thick burgers. There's also its namesake: Joe's Special, a hungry-man-sized platter of ground beef, scrambled eggs, spinach and mushrooms.

O.J.'s has maintained the traditions of its past by keeping it all in the family. Today it is run by owner Matt Rocca and his brother, sons of Louis Rocca, who was a partner when the place opened in 1955. Maitre d' Fleming has worked there since he was a kid in the 1960s. Rick's mom, Mary, is a cashier.

The cavelike bar remains one of the best hideouts in downtown, and good conversation can still be had at O.J.'s counter, where waiters, cooks and diners watch the world go by from a big window. When President Clinton's limo drove down First Street on one of his visits last year, staff members waved as he passed. (Note to Clinton's staff: Bill didn't wave back.)

There's nothing frou-frou at Joe's, just good people and good food that have earned it a place in the hearts of the regular Joes and Josephines of the valley for almost 50 years.


301 S. First St., SJ 408.292.7230

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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