Monday, August 10, 2015

Food Tour San Jose

As I mentioned in my essay about Jersey Mike’s and La Villa, I recently had the opportunity to grab dinner in San Jose each Wednesday for eight weeks.  I chose to make my culinary exploration as international as I could, but also inexpensive and fast.  Here are the quick hits:

Falafel Stop in Sunnyvale Saratoga – Crowded, busy and fast, this place has the most amazing pita I have had since I was a kid.  My memory of pita years ago was that you really could split it open and fill it up with deliciousness.  But the last couple decades it seems pita has become weak.  Try splitting one open and really filling it with meat and veggies.  I bet it falls apart.  Not at Falafel Stop.  They serve a sturdy, fresh and delicious pita that puts every pita I have eaten for the last 25 years to shame.  Paired with a Greek salad and I was nostalgic and happy.
Falafel’s Drive In on Stevens Creek– This place is apparently a local legend.  It’s been here for years, as the walls attest, featuring murals of San Jose history that can actually be read in order.  I wonder what will happen when they run out of wall space.  Is that the end of San Jose?  Not if we are all fed by their incredible falafels and koubby.  I have never had a more amazing falafel.  Moist, flavorful and delicate the falafels here really are worth putting on a map.  The Koubby is essentially a huge spiced meatball shaped like a blimp.  Wow…so much flavor I found myself puzzled as if I was exploring a riddle.  Get here ASAP.
Pho 21 on Sherman Way – Pho 21 was virtually silent the night I visited and most awkward to me was the TV dialed to a cooking show.  Service was efficient if a bit chilly, but the pho – soul warming.  I went with the flagship edition – brisket, rare steak, tendon and tripe.  The bowl was huge.  Babies could bathe in it.  But it tasted amazing.  Everything was cooked to perfection – soft and crunchy in perfect balance.
Krung Thai on South Winchester – Very kind service and a dining room of regulars make Krung Thai a place to return to.  The egg rolls were fresh and crunchy with veggies.  As much as I really wanted to try the pad thai as a matter of comparing it to my neighborhood favorite, I had to try the Pad Pao Heur, or abalone with mushrooms and Napa cabbage.  I had just read a great article about abalone fishing and its allure and dangers and figured I needed to try it (  It was delicious.  If you are familiar with conch, cross that with squid or clams and you have abalone.  Mixed with the mushrooms, this dish might be an acquired taste for some, but I would love some more.
Salsa Brava on Saratoga– I love taquerias and after living in California for five years I am feeling a book about them developing in me.  Salsa Brava ranks among my favorites for sentimental reasons.  The first time I visited I was spoken to in Spanish and they had Mexican soccer on TV.  Since it’s virtually across the street from school, I now have my standard order which I indulged one Wednesday night – two tacos – lengua and tripa and a large cup of horchatta.  I sweat a little from the salsas, contemplate the effort it takes to make them, cool it all down with sweet horchatta and try to figure out what’s going on in the game.  I go back to work in a week or so, and Salsa Brava calls.
Huong Lan on Tully – If you have read much of what I write here you know I love a great sandwich so finding a great banh mi sandwich was paramount.  A little research directed me to Huong Lan.  Talk about unassuming.  It appears to be a simple market with everything labeled in Vietnamese.  There was so much in this place completely foreign to me and I was loving every moment.  I went with the thit nguoi – a sandwich with head cheese, pate and ham.  In fact I got two, believing that at $4 each they must be too small to make a meal, so I also got the sardine sandwich.  I was wrong about the size.  I ate them both and waddled out.  I will return.  The options for the sandwiches were vast…all sorts of meat parts and combinations, lots of pork variations – I need to try them all.  On top of that, there was an entire corner of whole chicken and duck that glistened for its slow cooking and basting all day.  Looking for some international travel without leaving home – come to Huong Lan.
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