So you’ve somehow found yourself south of the city’s friendly confines. Like, way south. Maybe you dropped a pitch on Sand Hill or took a meeting at a hot startup on University Ave., or, gasp, are on a real live date with someone who lives down here. Good on you. But what’s to eat? There has to be something decent, right?
Rest assured, we’ve got you covered. Roll your top down, lean back, and breathe in the suburbia. Then take in the strip-mall dotted wonder that is El Camino Real.
To preface this section: I’m going to lay it down. Every good restaurant in Palo Alto is on this list. This is a completionist list. There are no unintentional omissions. If it’s not here, it’s either too new to know yet (Zola, Sushirrito), is priced wildly out of whack with common decency (Tamarine), or simply ain’t that good (70% of restaurants in Palo Alto). Bring it.
Best dollar-for-dollar meal in Palo Alto. What feels more cleansing than delicious fresh-made hummus? Pair it with a chicken skewer and sweet potato fries for extra delight.
These butchers/farmers know their meats. They only do a few items, but they do them damn well. We recommend the meatball sub and/or lamb belly slider, or if you prefer “lighter” fare, go with a steak salad and bone broth.
Decent sandwiches, decent meaty arepas, mediocre pastries, and an atmosphere comprised of every vagrant who works on a laptop and isn’t at Philz. A Palo Alto legend, of course.
Our favorite of the myriad “next Chipotles” popping up around town. Their bahn mi game is strong, but the recent introduction of Korean rice bowls has elevated the lunch action even further. A great, fast, relatively cheap option.
A completely absurd menu — wacky Indian-fusion with something like eight different food categories, including “Quesadillix” and “The Naughty Naan.” Amazingly, this idea for a restaurant turns out pretty decent food. We’re partial to the kathi roll, which is something like an egg-pancake-wrapped burrito.
Unless you’re a Chipotle fiend, there is nothing worth eating in the SoulCycle wing of the Stanford Shopping Center. Luckily, a mere 60-second drive away, in the “Barn” part of the shopping district, is one of our favorite patio/lunch/brunch hangs in Palo Alto (and there ain’t many). Get eggs, a nice salad, or our personal favorite: the porchetta sandwich.
A neighborhood-y kind of restaurant with great pancakes - we’d come more often were it not for the cockamamie seating policy that results in ridiculously long waits.
A nice, if somewhat expensive, utility player with cool decor and a place to sit outside, as long as you accept that the patio is in a suburban fancy strip mall parking lot. There’s a pale but acceptable Tartine Bakery imitation next door if you’re craving a decent morning bun.
Some solid pastries and good coffee in an amazing restored movie-theater space. Now that it’s here, it’s in rotation.
Tin Pot Creamery is at the Bi-Rite or Humphry Slocombe level. There, we said it. This is world class ice cream in a strip mall in Palo Alto. We have no idea why this exists, but are so bloody lucky that it does.
The only sushi worth eating in Palo Alto. Pricier than average but absolutely worth it.
If you tire of the hummus-chicken rotation at Oren’s, throwing some of the more creative meat options at Anatolian in the mix can be a good idea.
Sweet Jesus, a restaurant in Palo Alto that’s open until at least 1am every night of the week, that serves good food and drink. This is almost impossible to believe. It’s also a great option for potentially awkward dates, as you can “pivot” a couple of glasses of wine into a more complete meal experience. The pastas here are underrated.
A bubbling pot of spicy tofu. A pile of spicy pork meat. Banchan for days. The best adventurous dinner in town.
The only restaurant in Palo Alto that justifies a high-20s-low-30s entree price tag. Basically a carbon copy of Kokkari in SF, but who cares? The food is nicely prepared and you can spot 5-10 VCs from your seat at once.
A cozy French restaurant that only puts out a couple of dishes per night. Nice and homey, but perhaps excessively pricey (in case you can’t tell, a theme in Palo Alto).
Sure, they have Pizzeria Delfina in SF, but you know what they DON’T have? Pizzeria Delfina Palo Alto’s kickass cocktails. And these cocktails will kick your ass. Grab an Uber afterwards.
Oh, T-lish. How we wonder about you. Your tacos are so variable. Your restaurant is so trendy. Your drinks are so often watery. We love you, we hate you, we can’t decide.
Definitely a meat market on key nights (Fri-Sat during the school year). Go to have a drink, the food is highly missable.
This very nearly doesn’t make the cut, as the prices are kind of a rip, and the “upscale” Mexican is hit or miss. But the margaritas get the job done and the room is nice. A good spot to have in your date-pocket.
The best (and only) drunk food in town. The slices are enormous, and it’s open ’til 2 on weekends. Nearly impossible to believe, we know.
Care to eat expensive eggs or a sandwich on a giant patio? Does it matter if it’s right off a high-traffic thoroughfare? Not if it’s in Menlo Park, you say? There are no other options? Exactly.
The jerk chicken here is one of the great food items we’ve been lucky enough to eat repeatedly, in life. Absolutely unmissable if you happen to be anywhere near town.
Only worth going on Thursday. Madera, the fancy restaurant next door, is great as long as someone with unlimited resources is covering you.
A nice, fancy “California cuisine” restaurant that would get completely demolished if it were up in the City. But it’s not.
Decent Sichuan in a pretty pleasant, modern setting. It may not melt your face with tingling-numbing, but it will definitely wreak havoc on your digestive system with spice. Prepare yourself.
Redwood City is lucky to have an outpost of Ike’s, one of San Francisco’s great makers of sandwiches.
Really truly wonderful Neapolitan pizza. Up there with the best in the Bay Area. The honey-sausage pie is one of our favorite combinations, anywhere. And the Lush gelato for dessert is ridiculous. Dulce de leche, forever.
Still the best burger around, as always. Few burgers pass the In-N-Out test.
One of a group of taqueria gems we’ve found in the Michoacan mecca that is Redwood City. On a good day, the tortillas are “corny” in a way that is hard to find outside of Mexico, or Los Angeles.
Pay attention, because there are about 12 restaurants called “Grullense” in a 2-mile radius. This is the one on El Camino, just below Jefferson. The taco meats are unstoppable at their best and still-pretty-good at their worst. We’re particularly partial to chile rojo (a meat stew in a tortilla), chorizo (nice and spicy), and al pastor (because you gotta).
La Torta Cubana here is one of the largest and most delicious sandwiches in the world. It’s the size of a human head, and stuffed with ham/sausage/bacon/beans/avocado/probably 10 other things we’re not aware of. A must-get for those who enjoy a good torta.
A dependable burrito that is sometimes magical. For some reason the pollo asado (BBQ chicken) is the most reliable here.
Fairly excellent pho hiding on the main Michoacan drag. Get some pork summer rolls to start.
Not up with the absolute best Thai, but just a bit below. Surprisingly punchy curries and tom kha khai, as well as good basil noodles (avoid the touristy pad thai/see ew).
An awesome Taiwanese beef noodle soup, along with scallion-pancake meat wraps to match.
Legit, delicious Indian-Pakistani options. The tandoor and curries are where your heart should lie.
A medley of Vietnamese cheap eats in a classic food court. Go for the pho, stay for the fried egg rolls and egg omelet. Finish with an iced coffee, obviously.