When is comes to dining out, you might think of Los Gatos and Saratoga or places further up the peninsula before San Jose comes to mind.
Restaurants are not often clustered in San Jose as they are in San Pedro Square in the downtown core. That makes it difficult to scout places to eat in a city that stretches over 180 miles. Yet San Jose offers a diverse selection of culinary delights that showcase various countries and family recipes, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or cafés and bakeries. It’s just a matter of finding them.
At San José Spotlight, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of these epicurean discoveries. From soul food to homemade cannoli to monster-size fish, each menu translates into mouth-watering surprises. With so many small businesses still struggling from the pandemic, dining locally supports their survival.
One such place is Bacalhau Grill, a restaurant and specialty market, which is also home to its namesake the bacalhau, a monster cod that’s a staple in Portugal. The restaurant has been feeding and introducing people to Portuguese culture and culinary dishes for about 40 years. Fifteen years ago, the owner added a Brazilian partner and fused two countries into the business on Alum Rock Avenue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant lost regulars who moved away, but others have discovered this unique place and those longing for their native homeland can find comfort in familiar meals.
Mudai Ethiopian Restaurant on West San Carlos Street offers cuisine from another part of the world. Owner and chef Selam Tkabo serves traditional, homemade Ethiopian dishes. Her family recipes are rich in exotic African spices, skills she mastered in her mother’s kitchen. At Mudai, a customer can taste traditional foods that include Doro Wat, Lamb Wot, Kitfo and Lamb Alicha Wot served with Ingera flatbread. Many who left their homeland have found a new home at Mudai.
If you are hankering for dessert instead, Holy Cannoli, a cafe and bakery blocks from San Jose City Hall, opened during the pandemic. A gutsy move for owner Jamie Whitmire, but it has turned out well. Customers love what’s described as a dreamy, sweet-cream filled cannoli made in nine flavors with 18 topping options. Whitmire’s recipe is inspired from the Italian side of the family, but she adds her own modern twist to the beloved dessert. Cannoli and other fresh baked pastries can be enjoyed in the café or as takeout.
Then there’s Jackie’s Place, a combination of Texas barbecue and soul food, that survived a fire and the pandemic. Owner Jackie Jackson brought her Texas roots and family recipes to San Jose to serve up seafood gumbo, chicken and waffles with maple syrup and good old-fashioned barbecue. Her heritage lives not just in the dishes, but on a word wall that speaks to her family’s history. Customers rave about this city gem.
Another dessert lover’s find is Mexico Bakery, a family business for decades. Melchor Landin’s father founded the bakery and the younger Landin learned from the patriarch. Now the son makes more than 25 varieties of authentic Mexican pan dulce. He also creates unique desserts like Chocoflan, which he discovered in Mexico. He recreated it in his bakery after being told the recipe was impossible.
And, we’d be remiss without mentioning Cup and Saucer on Blossom Hill Road, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Famous for its apricot French toast, it may be a coffee shop, but there aren’t many of those comfort food places left. A restaurant you can go to any time of the day for any meal on the menu.
Check out a few of these places. You might find yourself saying, “How come I never knew about this place?” And then, spread the word.
Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. She has more than 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley journalism, including as editor for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Contact Moryt at [email protected] or follow her at @morytmilo on Twitter and catch up on her monthly editorials here.