My list of places to eat: South Bay and Peninsula

This is an incomplete list of places worth trying "over the hill", mainly in the South Bay and some Peninsula areas as well.  There is a lot of great food here, especially Asian food, and I hope this helps guide you to some interesting places. 

I link to many Yelp websites below when I couldn't find a decent website for the restaurant itself. I don't necessarily advocate reading their reviews (they're uneven at best), but the address, hours and map are useful. If you want to do your own research, I highly recommend Chowhound instead. The key to Chowhound is to find people who you think are trustworthy and knowledgable and weight their posts more strongly. Key figures for me in the South Bay include the incomparable Melanie Wong, who seems to know a lot about almost every kind of food and "K K", who really knows his Chinese and Japanese food.

Now identifying my most highly recommended places with a *.

** NEW: Google Map with many of the below restaurants. ** - Thanks to Adam for doing this!

Updated Mar 7, 2017

1. Chinese

1.1 Groceries

99 Ranch: There are a bunch of 99 Ranch locations in the Bay Area. While there are other Chinese grocery stores, these have always suited my needs.

1.2 Shopping Plazas

There are two large shopping plazas in the South Bay which are predominantly Chinese. Each is anchored by a 99 Ranch (whose location I'm linking to below) but each has a whole ecosystem of restaurants, video stores, book stores, tea shops, etc surrounding it. If you're flexible and up for a bit of an adventure, just go to one of these plazas and try one of the busy-looking restaurants - there are many choices. 

Cupertino Village: Besides the places described below, there's are a couple of decent bubble tea place (of course) and a Sheng Kee Bakery (try the Portugese custard tart). 

Milpitas Square:  Probably an even wider restaurant selection than at Cupertino Village. On my list to try are the Shanghainese place and Darda, a Muslim Chinese restaurant (try lamb dishes, hand-cut noodles and the sesame bread). There's also a decent Malaysian place, New Penang Garden which is plenty serviceable. There's also a Sheng Kee Bakery here.

1.3 South Bay

*Ai Noodle (formerly A&J): [Cupertino Village] Northern Chinese hole-in-the-wall. Get potstickers; pan-fried beef bun; beef noodle soups; fried (sometimes called salt and pepper) pork-chop. Requires a bit of an adventurous spirit if there isn't a Chinese speaker. Ignore the idiot Yelp reviewers. I'm a big fan.

*Koi Palace: [Milpitas] A newly opened branch of the highly-regarded Daly City tour-de-force mothership. Has set a new standard for dim sum in the area. Not been for dinner, but should also be of high quality. Beware the long waits. I would arrive well before 11 am if you don't want to be waiting for 30 to 45 mins. Coming at noon is a stomach suicide mission. 

Joy Luck Palace: [Cupertino Village] I mainly go for the dim sum (though Koi Palace in Milpitas is better). Arrive before 11:30 am or so, otherwise expect to wait for a while. Also has good Cantonese banquet-style dinners (though I would choose Cooking Papa).

*Din Tai Fung: [Santa Clara] So much has been written that I don't have anything to add. It's about as good as the LA (Arcadia) branches. Takes reservations, which are a must unless you're going at very off-hours.

Southland Flavor Cafe: [Cupertino Village]  Taiwanese. Decent for a quick meal. Get something like the pork chop rice or chicken rice if you're by yourself. Most notable is that they sell frozen handmade dumplings by some grandmother in 50 count bags for $13. Just go to the cashier and ask them. It's not on the menu. Choices are pork and chive, pork and cabagge, and Shanghai-style xiao long bao (mainly just pork filling) - the latter are more expensive. I'm a bit fan of the pork and chive myself. They're about a hundred times better than anything in the frozen section of 99 Ranch or (shudder) Trader Joes. 

Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor: [Sunnyvale] Yes, weird name. Cheaper than Joy Luck for dim sum with commensurate decrease in quality. That, of course, also makes it a magnet for the younger crowd. Again, go early-ish if you don't feel like waiting for 1 hr or more. If you have an extra five bucks to spare, please go to Joy Luck instead.

QQ Noodle: [Cupertino, Milpitas] Hand-pulled noodles. Great texture, and a variety of toppings to go with.

Queen House: [Mountain View] Taiwanese. Noodle soups and lots of other dishes. OK if you don't expect too much.

Mayflower: [Milpitas Square] There a few branches of this Cantonese banquet restaurant around, but the one in Milpitas is closest and most convenient. I'm not a huge fan of their dim sum, but they are rather good for dinner.

South Legend: [Milpitas] Decent Sichuan.  

Mama Chef: [Santa Clara] Taiwanese.  Pretty decent Taiwanese at that - not stellar, but more than serviceable.  Very inexpensive with a wide range of Taiwanese street dishes.  I've heard recent rumors of it going downhill, but have not confirmed them myself.

Shanghai Delight: [Milpitas] Shanghainese, obviously.  Some very good dishes, some so-so dishes.  There are dishes here that I'm told are very hard to find anywhere in North America.  

*Chinjin Eastern House: [San Jose] Islamic Chinese.  Good to excellent Islamic Chinese dishes. They have house-made knife-shaved noodles, which are fantastic. Their "Chinese hamburger" which is really a large pan-fried beef dumpling, is huge and delicious but not quite as good as the ones at A&J. Cumin lamb and sesame bread are also typical dishes.  Update: CLOSED, unfortunately.

*Tong Dumpling: [Cupertino] Chinese dumplings.  Everything is made in-house. Wide-array of fillings. You can get them pan-fried or boiled.  All the ones we tried were very good. Scallion pancakes also very good. Definitely recommended. Also sell their dumplings frozen, but I think you need to pre-order. Update: they have recently moved to Cupertino Village. Food is still very good.

Shanghai Dumplings: [Cupertino] Good xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings) and sheng jian bao (pan-fried pork buns). Haven't tried much else but it seems to be fairly popular. 

Shanghai Flavor Shop: [Sunnyvale] Hole-in-the-wall known for their pan-fried pork buns (sheng jian bao) and house-made noodles. The former are pretty good though I prefer Shanghai Dumplings version better. The noodle dish I had was quite good. Not bad if you're in the area but I'd go with the one of the other two on this list if given a choice.

Shanghai Garden: [Cupertino] Also Shanghainese. The fish in wine sauce is awesome and extremely authentic. I've heard good things about their shengjianbao, as well as their stir-fried rice cakes, both of which I really enjoy when done well.  I'll return to explore  more of their Shanghainese menu.


1.4 Peninsula

Almost all the great dim sum places in the Bay Area cluster near SFO (in Millbrae or Daly City).

Koi Palace: [Daly City] is often cited as best in the Bay Area, but beware the wicked lines, at least on weekends. Go very early (or late?) or as a party of one or two and it's not so bad. The roast pork here is almost always excellent. Their dinners are also very good. You pay a premium for top-quality dim sum, by the way. It's a hybrid of menu-service and cart-service so you can get more obscure dishes hot and not have to wait for them to come by. I don't actually believe it's superior to the others in the area and in fact I'd rather to go to Asian Pearl or Champagne Seafood most of the time. 

Hong Kong Flower Lounge: [Millbrae] I like this place just as much as Koi Palace, though it probably doesn't have quite as wide a range of dishes, but it's also slightly cheaper and the wait is slightly shorter. Update: It's changed hands now and the food quality dropped by half a notch. I'd recommend Zen or AP instead now. 

Zen Peninsula: [Millbrae] Mainly menu-service. But flavors are clear and tasty. Update: I've heard some downhill reports.

*Asian Pearl: [Millbrae] Very good dim sum. Very clean and clear flavors and nice execution.

*Champagne Seafood Restaurant: [San Mateo] Opened in Spring 2014. I think it's on par with other top tier places now. Not as creative, but solid for all the regular stuff. Bonus: you can make reservations!  This latter fact is enough to make it my top pick in the area, given that the food is competitive as well.

Crouching Tiger: [Redwood City] Sichuan. Very good flavors. Somewhat dumbed-down by default, but ask them to make it legit and they apparently will help you out.

*Da Sichuan: [Palo Alto] Sichuan. Very good flavors. Not dumbed down at all. Need to explore more of the menu, but their Sichuan dishes are totally legit.  Update: after multiple visits this place is going strong. Great stuff.

Chef Zhao Bistro: [Mountain View] Sichuan. I'd much rather go to Da Sichuan.

*Chef Zhao Kitchen: [Palo Alto] Not to be confused with Chef Zhao Bistro. This place is new and very good. XLB the best in the Bay Area, non-DTF category. Shenjian bao also really good.  Definitely the new go-to Shanghainese place. Unfortunately, everybody else knows it too. Can get really busy. Show up near opening and you should be OK.

*Cooking Papa: [Mountain View] Cantonese banquet style food. Lots of excellent dishes. There's another branch in Santa Clara that I have yet to try.

Fey Restaurant: [Menlo Park] Sichuan. Rather upscale decor and only somewhat more expensive than a normal Sichuan restaurant. I tried a couple of dishes and thought the flavors weren't as loud as at other places, which for me was a minus. But reading reviews suggests some others disagree, so it probably warrants a visit with a few more people. 

2. Japanese

2.1 Groceries

Mitsuwa: [San Jose, near San Jose/Cupertino border]. Excellent Japanese supermarket.

2.2 Sushi

Disclaimer: I'm a traditional nigiri sushi guy. I value the quality of the fish above all else. Next in importance is the selection of fish, i.e. the rotating "white board" specials.  Occasionally I'll also order sashimi. If you want rolls, fusion sushi or whatnot, there are probably better places than these.  And I only sit at the sushi bar, so I won't vouch for table service. Lastly, I try to go on the days that the top places get their shipments from Tsukiji, which are typically Tues and Fri.

For Peninsula sushi (south of SF to Sunnyvale, roughly), check out Sushi Monster's ranking of sushi places. SM ate at every sushi place possible. Amazing dedication to the cause. The SM site also has a wealth of information about eating traditional sushi. Note that the SM's top-ranked place is...

*Sakae Sushi: [Burlingame] Is indeed the best in the Bay Area that I've tried.  They've recently moved to a new location and opened a sister restaurant that I haven't tried.  Best reason to go is to eat off the amazing white board. Pricey but worth it. Update: still the best. The quality of their fish is outstanding. And it's still more expensive than most. 

*Sushi Sam's Edomata: [San Mateo] Top-notch sushi at (relatively) reasonable prices, which makes it probably the best value sushi place in the SF Bay Area that I've tried. Very good white board.  Update: still great.

DASH Japanese Tapas and Sushi: [San Mateo] A slightly modern/fusiony style of nigiri. Itamae is super nice and the white board is very good. I won't frequent as often as other places as I prefer a more traditional style, but it's excellent by Bay Area standards.

*Gintei: [San Bruno] Another contender for best value in the Bay Area. Top-notch sushi at (relatively) reasonable prices and good white board. Beautiful sushi bar, serene ambiance. My new favorite Bay Area sushi place. Bonus: super-convenient to SFO.

Sushi Yoshizumi: [San Mateo] Newish omakase-only spot with very few customers (seven on the night I was there) per seating. Has a Michelin star but I wasn't thta impressed.  High quality and more creative but also considerably more expensive than Gintei, and a heck of a lot harder to get into. Only harder Japanese reservation that I know of is Wakuriya.  I'll spend my money at Gintei.

Akane: [Los Altos] Sushi Monster's second-rated place and best value. I didn't much like the sushi bar ambience (small and a bit of an afterthought) and I think Kitsho's fish is generally better (albeit more expensive).

Sawa Sushi: [Sunnyvale] Probably the most controversial "sushi" place in the South Bay. Plenty of love and hate. Here's a review from the seriously high-end blogger ChuckEats.  My take:  It's not really a sushi place, more like a Japanese-inspired raw fish/crudo joint with a slightly crazy chef/owner.  He was very personable when I went, and the ingredients are amazing, but it's not sushi or even sashimi.  It's also overkill, as each dish is probably twice to four times the size it needs to be.  It would be more pleasant if there were more, but smaller, dishes.

2.3 Ramen

I'm rather addicted to Japanese ramen.  There are a number of great choices in the South Bay.

*Santouka: [San Jose] It's in the small food court of the Mitsuwa grocery store and has exactly the ambience (zero) that one would expect.  Also has great ramen. Their toroniku (ramen with pork jowl meat) is fantastic. Fairly high on the salt and fat content, though, so it's not health food (but no good-tasting ramen is, really). Update: Lines are becoming insufferable at peak times (e.g. lunch during weekends).

*Orenchi: [Santa Clara] My latest favorite ramen place. It's actually a restaurant so it's a much nicer place to hang out than Santouka. Broth is lighter in style than Santouka but has good flavor.  Update:  this place is now the go-to place for, seemingly, the entire South Bay. Lines can be ridiculous.  Go early or late is my suggestion. 

Kahoo Ramen: [San Jose] In same shopping plaza at Mitsuwa. Get shio ramen; miso ramen; gyoza; kare-age. Their gyoza is the best I've had in the Bay Area. Ramen is maybe half a notch below Orenchi. Update: they've updated their menu and there are some pretty cool new ramen styles on offer. 

*Halu Ramen: [San Jose] Some people think it's the bees knees. I prefer Orenchi and Santouka myself, but it's pretty darn good nonetheless. Try their special Halu ramen. They have seasonal specials that are sometimes worth looking for as well, like lobster ramen or clam/asari tsukemen. I would definitely return for the lobster ramen. Update: I've been really enjoying their tsukemen lately. Another plus is that the lines seem to have migrated to Santouka and Orenchi.

Maru Ichi: [Mountain View] If you're on Castro and need a decent but inexpensive meal, I'd try either this place or Queen House.

Ramen Dojo: [San Mateo] They're known for a substantially spicier style of broth, although you can order it non-spicy. I had regular spicy and it had a good kick to it. Tasty, but less subtle than regular ramen. Tasty and close to SFO but not worth a special trip IMO.

For more Ramen help, check out Melanie's Ramen Rankings (this links to a recent list - it doesn't actually change much over time at this point). I will say that I think Kahoo is too low and Himawari much too high. 

2.4 Izakaya

There are a number of Japanese izakayas in the South Bay all serving a range of cooked dishes whose origin is essentially bar food, but it's evolved well-past french fries and jalapeno poppers. Easier to think of them as tapas restaurants. Small plates allow you to sample lots of interesting dishes. I haven't eaten at all of these often enough to distinguish which one is the best, but they all have their advocates.

*Dan Izakaya: [San Jose] Have had many good meals there. Focus on izakaya-style dishes. Grilled pork cheeks and kimchi fried rice were particular standouts but almost all dishes were very good.

*Iroriya: [Santa Clara] Robata dishes. Pricier than others, but plenty of great dishes, with grilled seafood a particular standout. A new favorite and worth the price tag.

Tanto [Sunnyvale]: Huge menu. 

Gochi [Cupertino]: Leans toward fusion than traditional Japanese.

Hoshi: [San Jose] Go mainly for the "appetizers" and not sushi or regular cooked dishes.

Gokaku: [Cupertino] Good izakaya. Still a half-notch below Dan for me, however. 

Yume-ya: [Sunnyvale] Pretty good. Update: CLOSED.

2.5 Other Japanese

Kappo Nami Nami: [Mountain View] Really interesting koryori-style (described by someone as seasonal, upscale, elegant Japanese) restaurant on Castro in downtown MV (lunch has a different menu and apparently not that interesting). If you're interested in a culinary adventure (with bill to match), give it a try. 

*Huchi Ju Hachi: [Saratoga] Cooked Japanese dishes. Chef Suzuki apparently trained as a kaiseiki chef. One of my new favorites in all of South Bay. Food feels very personal, which is reinforced by the very small kitchen staff (normally just Suzuki-san and one sous chef). The grilled mackerel(saba no ichiya-boshi) is amazing and not to be missed. 

Sumika: [Los Altos] Japanese yakitori (grilled skewers, mainly of meat). The food is fairly subtle (no strong sauces), meant to express the meat more than anything. You can order very specific meat parts (e.g. chicken breast, thigh, gizzard, heart, skin, etc.) as distinct dishes. My last meal here was very good. 

Gombei: [4 locations - I've only been to the Japantown/San Jose location] Mainly for inexpensive cooked dishes. Curry plates, tonkatsu, croquettes, that sort of thing. The equivalent of a American diner - in a good way.

Wakuriya: [San Mateo] Kaiseiki-style fixed-menu. Expensive. Hard to score a reservation. Call at exactly midnight one month in advance. An awesome experience with great service and outstanding seafood dishes. Meat dishes are less notable.

3. Vietnamese

San Jose is home to a very large Vietnamese population so there are more restaurants than one could possibly try. For the adventurous, the Grant Century Mall (Story Road near the 680/280 interchange) has a food court with a wide variety of (I believe) authentic vendors dishing out all sorts of Vietnamese goodness.  The stretch of Capitol Expressway east of Hwy 101 in San Jose also has a huge number of places.

*Pho Kim Long: [San Jose] Their beef pho is OK to my taste, but others think it's great. I find their chicken pho to be the real highlight. You can (and should) ask for "fresh noodles" which are not found on the (English) menu. Heard some good things about their bun rieu and bun bo hue but haven't tried.

*Pho Y #1: [San Jose] Very good southern-style (more strongly flavored with star anise, cinnamon, etc) beef pho.

*Pho Papa: [San Jose] Newish place that has the best beef pho I've had in the Bay Area, besting the previous winner Pho Ao Sen (Oakland and Berkeley). All their meats are a notch or two above the norm, with their tai (rare steak) a particular standout.Lines are understandably an issue though it turns over relatively fast.

Pho Ha Noi: [San Jose] Northern-style pho. Original location closed a few years back. Now re-opened using the same recipes. I loved their pho ga, but some people swear by the pho bo. Either way, I'm glad they're back and looking forward to checking out the new iteration! Make sure to get fresh noodles. I've heard it's a little tricky to find (apparently it's all the way in the back of the shopping center). 

Pho Cong Ly: [San Jose] Also southern-style pho with less common meat choices like oxtail (yum) and prime rib (haven't tried it). 

Vung Tau: [San Jose] Fairly upscale Vietnamese in San Jose, but the food doesn't seem dumbed down at all. Apparently, dishes described as "caramelized" can be too sweet (my one data point agrees), so avoid those, but otherwise most menu items are good. 

*Com Tam Thien Huong: [San Jose, 2 locations] Awesome broken rice (com tam) plates. The combination plates (#42 to 45) are huge with lots of different and delicious things to eat with the huge mound of rice.  The BBQ beef was particularly tasty. I got two meals out of one order. There's frequently a line during meal times but it goes pretty fast. Perhaps this review will encourage you to go.

Bun Bo Hue An Nam: [San Jose, 2 locations] Specializes in bun bo hue (duh), a Vietnamese noodle soup that's generally spicier and more... rustic and adventurous... than pho. I'm no expert here, but give it a try.

*Da Lat: [San Jose] Very good noodle dishes. As at a lot of similar places, you can ask for noodle soups dry, which then comes with broth on the side. I prefer this style, personally.

Huong Lan: [San Jose; also a branch in Milpitas but might not be quite as good] Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). Still-to-try.


4. Other Notable South Bay Restaurants

4.1 Korean & Southeast Asian

99 Chicken: [Santa Clara] Korean fried chicken. I really like it, but get the chicken with the sauce on the side otherwise it loses its crispy appeal.

Bon Chon: [Sunnyvale] Korean fried chicken. A chain but the food's on par with 99 Chicken. Worth checking out.

Han Sung: [Santa Clara] Good Korean BBQ place. Uses real hardwood charcoal instead of gas. Good panchan.

Choi's Kitchen: [Santa Clara] Good Korean. The seafood pancake (haemul pajeon) is probably the best I've ever had, beating out longtime #1 favorite from (sadly now defunct) Sa Rit Gol in LA.  

Ilbungee #1: [Santa Clara] A contender for best Korean BBQ in the area?  My two meals there have been very good. Emphasis on high quality meat. Variety of panchan was rather low, though cabbage kimchi was very good. 

*Jang Su Jang: [Santa Clara and Milpitas] Another contender for best Korean BBQ in the area?  More refined than most Korean places. Others might say instead that spice and garlic levels are toned down, although I imagine you could ask for dishes to be legit spicy without a problem.  A nice variety of various dishes. Beyond BBQ, they have really good pan-fried dumplings, haemul paejeon, soondobu, etc.

Layang Layang: [San Jose; also Milpitas] Malaysian. They have all sorts of my favorite dishes like roti canai, kangkung belacan, Hainanese chicken and laksa (which they call Kari Mee), though their execution in general was fine but not great.

4.2 South Asian

Amber India: [Multiple locations - original in Mountain View] Upscale northern Indian cuisine. 

Madras Cafe: [Sunnyvale] Tasty dosa. 

Sakoon: [Mountain View] Upscale modern Indian with some innovative dishes.  Particularly good if you need a place with above-average decor and service.  Update: heard that the original chef left and the food now hews much closer to the norm.

*Madhuban: [Sunnyvale] Indian. Nicer than a normal place, but serving traditional dishes. I think it's my new favorite Indian place. Almost everything was excellent. One quibble is that the naan were not great. I might try roti or chipathi next time instead.

Rasam's: [Sunnyvale] Upscale modern Indian. Probably preferable to Sakoon at the moment.

*Hyderabadi Dum Biryani: [Milpitas] Biryani specialist. Best I've had in the Bay Area, although that's not a huge sample. Be warned that when they say spicy, they really mean it. Medium was plenty spicy for my taste.

Kebab and Curry: [Santa Clara] A well-known hole in the wall. Biryani was a bit too dry for my liking, but curry and kebab dishes were very good.

Saravana Bhavan: [Sunnyvale] Southern Indian. Still-to-try.

Anjappar Chettinad: [Milpitas] Chettinad Indian food. Very spicy regional Indian. Sounds pretty great. Still-to-try.

Aachi Aappakadai: [Santa Clara] Another Chettinad restaurant. Still-to-try.

Red Chillies: [Milpitas] Keralan. Sounds very interesting. Still-to-try.

4.3 Pizza / American

Slice of New York: [San Jose] Decent NY style pizza. Has slices and whole pies. Open fairly late if you're on your way home from SJC.

*Blueline Pizza: [Campbell]  From the same people as Little Star in SF/Berkeley, but different name. My favorite deep dish pizza anywhere. Waaaaaay better than Zachary's, and even better than the big-name Chicago joints (Uno, etc.). You can even get half-baked and finish the baking at home. Call ahead to streamline the process.

Napoletana Pizzeria: [Mountain View] Pretty good but I'd rather go to Pizzeria Delfina. Certified Napolitano style pizza.

*Pizzeria Delfina: [Palo Alta] One of my favorite pizza places in the whole Bay Area. Branches in SF, Burlingame and Palo Alto.

Oak & Rye: [Los Gatos] Very good modern pizza.

*The Refuge: [Los Altos & San Carlos] Excellent pastrami sandwiches, fries, burgers, and an extensive Belgian beer list.

Liquid Bread Gastropub: [Campbell] Nice small plates and burger. Decent beer list.

Village Pub: [Woodside] Upscale American. Expensive and somewhat dressy. Instead of the full restaurant menu, one can also sit at the bar and have an upscale burger. 

Lure + Till: [Palo Alto] Stylish, modern American. Moderately expensive but ingredients and creativity are commensurate. Better than most options in the area at this price point.

*The Bywater: [Los Gatos] Excellent, casual New Orleans style place from David Kinch (Manresa). Raw oyster bar is excellent, as is their fried chicken. Next up for me are the po' boys. Casual but not exactly cheap. 

Manresa: [Los Gatos] Its reputation is one of the best restaurants in the world (made the World Top 50 list by San Pellegrino). Michelin two stars as well (UPDATE: 3 STARS as of Fall 2015). I don't find it to be worth the money, but others would argue vehemently against this view. 

4.4 Other

*Bakery Mexico: [San Jose] Outstanding tortas. Large, cheap and delicious. Better than any I've had, save one stand by the UNAM metro station in Distrito Federal (a.k.a. Mexico City).  

*Tu Mero Mole: [San Jose] Mexican. Probably the best mole (in this case, mole poblano) I've had in this country. Nice housemade tortillas and salsa as well. Other nice regional specialties include cabrito veracruzano and cochinita pibil. 

Dio Deka: [Los Gatos] Greek, nominally. I'd call it more of a chophouse with Greek tendencies. Pricey and, I don't think worth it. But great if relatives are coming and need something just slightly different but not at all challenging.

Falafel Drive-In: [San Jose] Convenient off of 880. Very tasty falafel though the pita sandwiches to tend to fall apart, so it's not exactly eat-in-the-car food. Lots of positive comments about the banana shakes as well.

Rose Market: [Saratoga and Mountain View] Delicious Persian kabobs. Ordering is a bit weird, though. Get some meat and a thing of grilled veggies.

Zeni Ethiopian: [San Jose] Lots of people rave about this place and it's pretty busy, but I was slightly underwhelmed. Dishes were somewhat hit-or-miss. A decent fraction of the people looked like they were from East Africa though, so maybe I'm the one out of step. I'd try Walia first, myself.

*Walia: [San Jose] Excellent Ethiopian. Interesting but balanced flavors. Terrific execution on every dish. Injera has a nice sourness to it as well. I far prefer this to Zeni.

4.5 To-try list

Merlion: [Cupertino] Singaporan food. Heard they have good roti prata!

Muracci's: [Los Altos] Improbably-named place well-known for Japanese curry dishes.

*Dish Dash: [Sunnyvale] Middle eastern. Big place, good for groups. I thought the food was excellent.

Naglee Park Garage: [San Jose] American.

Pizza Bocca Lupo: [San Jose] Another potential contender for best pizza in South Bay. 

Dia de Pesca: [San Jose] Very good fish, scallop and other seafood tacos. 

Aloha Fresh: [Cupertino] Excellent poke?

La Strada: [Palo Alto] Italian with a reputation for excellent pastas and wood-fired pizzas.  

Oren's Hummus: [Palo Alto] Supposedly excellent and reasonably priced Israeli food in downtown PA.

Alexander's: [Cupertino] High end steak house with a few Asian influences. If you want really expensive wagyu (Japanese beef - Kobe beef is just one grade, and far from the highest grade) steak, this is the place to go. 

5. Other food/drink 

*Real Ice Cream: [Santa Clara] Really interesting Indian ice cream and kulfi. Some really good, exotic flavors. A bit tough to find as it's tucked behind and not so obvious from the street.

*Chantal Guillon: [Palo Alto] Best macarons I've had in the Bay Area, though still at least one tier lower than the famous Paris houses like Ladurée. Some of the flavors aren't as clear and bright. Fruit flavors seem to be the best.

*Bobby's Liquors: [Santa Clara] Excellent bottle shop for beer in an unlikely location and storefront. But it's the real deal. Russian River, Mikkeller, and on and on.  

Kelly's Liquors: [San Jose] Good selection of beer. 

Market Beer Company: [San Jose] Very good selection of beer in the San Pedro Square complex.  Also has a couple of taps to hang around and drink.

*Single Barrel: [San Jose] Outstanding cocktail bar in downtown SJ. Don't be too put-off by the line outside. Once you go in, you'll have a bartender at your service. And if you have cocktail-hating friends, they have some nice beers on tap as well (I've often seen Pliny the Elder on tap even as of Jan 2014). Update: CLOSED, replaced by Haberdasher at this location with one of the same original owners as Single Barrel. Haven't checked out this reboot yet but it sounds like the staff hasn't turned over much.

*Original Gravity: [San Jose] Craft beer pub with around 15 taps. They also have sausages, duck fat fries and poutine. 

*ISO Beer: [San Jose] Craft beer pub with around 30 taps. No food (but you can buy stuff nearby and bring it in). Best tap beer selection in the South Bay. They get some hard-to-find stuff (e.g. Alpine) pretty frequently. Also a bottle shop.

Harry's Hofbrau: [San Jose] One of the better places to grab a beer in the South Bay, though I haven't yet tried it. About two dozen craft beers on tap, with an emphasis on west coast breweries.  

6. Late Night near SFO

In case you need someplace to eat near SFO but it's after 10 pm.

Izakaya Mai: [San Mateo] Decent izakaya. But for late-night, it could be reasonably satisfying.  

Yakitori Kokko: [San Mateo] Best choice for late night near SFO. Not absolute top in the Bay Area (Ippuku in Berkeley continues to reign supreme) but it's competitive in the next tier for sure.

In-n-Out Burger: [Millbrae] My default and open the latest.

7. A few places in SF, Berkeley, Oakland:

There are a million lists of best places to eat in these areas so I've not really bothered to discuss them here until now. I'll highlight a small number of places I like, with some bias towards cheaper places. 

San Francisco:  Dojima Ann for Japanese diner cooked dishes. Shalimar for Pakistani. Dosa (I prefer the one on Fillmore) for upscale Indian. Z&Y for Sichuan. Um Ma Son for Korean. Kingdom of Dumpling. Lers Ros for authentic-leaning Thai. Burmese Kitchen. The Sentinel for take-out sandwiches. Muracci's for Japanese curry. Nopa does everything well (but make reservations). Mission Bowling Club for their burger, fried chicken and... bowling. Kin Khao for higher concept traditional Thai. My latest obsession is Hai Ky Mi Gia for their #4 (egg noodle with wontons and braised duck leg -- try it dry, i.e. broth on the side, instead of as a soup). Awesome.

East Bay: Kabana for Pakistani.  Ippuku for outstanding yakitori. Kiraku is an excellent izakaya. Pho Ao Sen for beef pho (recently added a Berkeley location). Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe for chicken pho. Hopscotch for more refined take on diner food. Miss Ollie's for southern food. Gregoire for fancier take-out. Comal for fancy but very tasty Mexican. Chez Panisse for the OG home of California cuisine, and still great and relevant.

Beer: East Bay: Trappist, Beer Revolution, Barclay's Pub, Rare Barrel (sour beer brewery). SF: Toronado, Monk's Kettle, City Beer Store, Mikkeller Bar, Cellarmaker (brewery).