The Best Restaurants In San Jose

19 of our favorite spots for Portuguese small plates, plant-based Vietnamese, and New York-style pies.
The Best Restaurants In San Jose image

photo credit: Mike Watford

San Jose’s restaurants have long lived in the shadow of San Francisco. But while SF gets all the hype, this city has a sleeper scene of truly excellent food. The Silicon Valley hub is home to multiple immigrant communities, which means you can get savory Vietnamese plates like sizzling pâté-topped steak and eggs, spicy East African dishes like ingudi tibs, comforting northwestern Chinese hand-pulled noodle soups, and much more. And for a homegrown delight, check out Peter’s Bakery—the likely originator of the city’s famed burnt almond cake—that's been around since 1936.





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It took almost a decade for contemporary Mexican restaurant Acopio to rise from the ashes of a taqueria that burned to the ground in 2012. But it was worth the wait. Acopio feels like a modern Mexico City or Guadalajara restaurant, with a menu that makes the most of California’s excellent produce. Dishes like chile adobo duck confit with pistachio mole, and mushroom and hibiscus flower tacos, are so delicious they haunt our dreams. Head here for dinner, when the succulent-and-tile-filled spot is buzzing, or grab a seat at the bar and sip on a cocktail made with agave spirits, chili, and fermented pineapple tepache.

photo credit: Mike Watford



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From the team behind San Jose’s recently closed fine dining juggernaut Adega, Petiscos’ Portuguese cuisine has earned the casual spot props rivaling those of its swanky predecessor. Crush some fried turnovers and croquettes or the decadent seafood rice dishes at this restaurant in downtown’s hip SoFA District. The massive menu revolves around shareable plates of fish, seafood, and traditional recipes like pig’s ear salad and linguiça with braised peas.

La Foret is located in a creekside boarding house that dates back to the mid-19th century quicksilver boom in the hills above New Almaden. Game is always on the French menu—it’s one of the few Bay Area restaurants serving dishes like elk and wild boar—along with decadent wine- and butter-based sauces. Make a reservation for dinner on the stone patio, just across from the 4,000-acre Almaden Quicksilver County Park—you can go à la carte, or pick from one of three tasting menus. We're partial to the six-course option for its seared scallops in saffron herb cream and elk loin in a portabella cognac reduction.



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Le Papillon is a fancy French spot on the western edge of San Jose that's been around for 45 years. They still do classic white-tablecloth service and the decor is slightly old-fashioned decor, but the beautifully plated food is firmly of the modern era. Seasonal tasting menus feature dishes like prawn crudo with kumquat and caviar, and red deer loin with huckleberry and golden chanterelles.


Don’t be fooled by the unassuming Milpitas shopping center that houses Royal Thaali. The bright and cheery vegetarian restaurant is warm, welcoming, and always bustling. People come in droves for the unlimited thaali that’s overflowing with curries, dal, roti, poori, chat, and dessert. Dishes change daily and from Friday through Sunday, you can get the even larger royal thaali for $5 more. This spot is also good if you're in the mood for takeout—the menu is a few bucks cheaper and more than enough to feed your hunger, even without the refills you get when dining in.

Ox9 Lanzhou was the first restaurant in the Bay Area to specialize in noodles native to China’s northwestern Gansu Province, and two of its four outposts are located in the San Jose metro area (Cupertino and Milpitas). They've got six noodle styles you can slurp in complex broths, sauces, and pastes brimming with spice. The sichuan braised beef stew, which takes a full ten hours to slowly simmer, is a real standout—especially when paired with flat, broad noodles. Prime your palate with an order of sinus-clearing crispy lamb chops that get their kick from chili powder.

This is about as close as you can get to crispy, thin-crust, New York-style pizza in San Jose. The shop even looks the part, with a divey, compact spot on Stevens Creek Boulevard where seating consists of a handful of bar stools. In addition to fully-prepared pies (mostly meaty combos with a tangy tomato base) and a handful of classic Italian subs, calzones, and strombolis, the pizzeria pulls in lots of business with their ready-to-bake dough balls and extra-creamy New York cheesecake.

Most San Joseans will tell you that Zeni has the best Ethiopian food in town. Yes, Zeni is fantastic, but Walia—a restaurant in a nondescript shopping center in West San Jose—has a wider-ranging menu of both classic and less-common dishes that are uniformly delicious. Dig into food loaded with flavor and spice in the dining room with floor-to-ceiling drapes and portraits of legendary Ethiopians. Try the ingudi tibs, a mushroomy take on a meaty standard, or the kitfo tartare served over ayib, a zippy Ethiopian cottage cheese that we’ve rarely found elsewhere.

For more than 50 years, Falafel’s Drive-In has been a San Jose landmark. And while it’s neither a drive-in nor owned by someone named Falafel, the mid-century fast-food joint is a local institution for a reason: falafel that’s crispy on the outside, marbled with herbs and spices on the inside, and topped with a delicious homemade hot sauce. Better still, it all comes in a pita sandwich the size of your face for just $7. Grab a spot at a picnic table outside, and don’t skip the fresh banana shake.


There are two contemporary Mexican restaurants on The Alameda, but Zona Rosa is the one we keep returning to again and again for creative dishes like tempura scallop and asparagus tacos, and chile relleno filled with carnitas and chorizo. They do reservation-only special menus for occasions like Dia de Los Muertos and Mother’s Day, and we’re especially fans of the weekday happy hour (when margaritas made with ingredients like prickly pear, hibiscus, and chili are just $8), and the daily brunch. The front and back patios are always great choices for large groups and celebrations.

Family-owned Hula is a longtime food truck and stadium concession stand that recently added a brick-and-mortar to their empire. Their Filipino and Hawaiian classics like lumpia, poke, and lechon are all here, plus new additions like kalua pig (pork shoulder roasted for more than 14 hours), garlic shrimp, and chicken adobo. The downtown spot’s breezy, leafy vibe reflects its island origins, as do the tropical-toned drinks like guava mimosas and a local mai tai IPA. 

Popular Caribbean joint BackAYard cooks up some ridiculously good jerk chicken. Since opening in 2004, they’ve become a small army of five Silicon Valley locations, including a brick-walled, fast-casual spot on the Capitol Expressway, and a take-out joint with an outdoor patio adjacent to San Jose State. The atmosphere is easygoing, and it’s all delicious—try the jerk chicken, some beef oxtails, the Jamaican fried cornbread, and daily specials like ackee and codfish. With plates and combos that range from $13-19, and snacks and sides under $10, you can (and should) try a little bit of everything.

This downtown restaurant serves up coastal Mexican cuisine with a side of live Norteño music. The stars of the show are the aguachiles, ceviches, and hearty seafood molcajetes, but if you’re craving something meatier, the menudo soup and taqueria classics hold their own. Grab a few friends for dinner, order up some double super chavelas (a cocktail of beer and tomato juice served in a glass lined with seven grilled shrimp, finished with a shot of tequila), and get the party started inside the dining room or out on the oversized tented patio.


This Japantown restaurant is our go-to for comforting dishes like saucy teriyakis, breaded cutlets, and savory udons. Don’t expect any overly involved presentations—Gombei’s real strength is its simplicity. Even the space is pretty bare bones, with just a handful of tables that are easier to snag at lunchtime than during dinner hours.

San Jose’s best bò né (sizzling, pâté-topped steak and eggs) can be tricky to find inside a shopping center in Little Saigon, but Bò Né Phú Yên is worth getting a bit lost for. They’ve got the regional delicacy down to a science, perfectly searing the beef and serving it with a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside baguette. Eat at one of the food court tables or just take it to go.

There are plenty of hit-or-miss banh mi spots in San Jose, but Duc Huong, which has four locations across the city, is never off its game. With consistently crisp yet pillowy french rolls, plus pickled and julienned veggies with a perfectly tart punch, there’s virtually no way to go wrong. While we're partial to the grilled pork, you can pick from 17 banh mi options in small or large sizes (the latter will set you back an astonishingly low $7 or less). Before you order, check out the fridges and shelves that are full of great pre-made snacks like steamed pork buns and sticky rice cakes.

Green Lotus is a plant-based Vietnamese spot with a mixed crowd of in-the-know locals and monks from the nearby monastery. Dishes like caramelized faux fish claypot and sweet and sour hotpot bring all the Vietnamese flavors you’d expect, just without any meat. It's in a small sunlit space in the Little Saigon shopping plaza, and we like it best for lunch or an early solo dinner (they close at 8pm).

This food truck run by a husband-and-wife team serves popular street foods like bean-topped mamelas, red mole-dipped enmoladas, and crispy tlayudas. They’ve also got harder-to-find plates like yiki, a thick stew of red chiles and corn that’s cooked underground and topped with barbacoa. On Monday through Friday (and some Saturdays), the truck is posted up in a large parking lot beside a tax accountant for lunch and dinner. Grab it all to go, and check their Facebook page for location changes.

This old-school deli and grocer in Willow Glen is your San Jose stop for all things Italian. Their extensive menu of sandwiches (get the meaty Italian Combo) pales in comparison only to their prepared foods, a smorgasbord of cannelloni, lasagnas, and handmade ravioli filled with things like meat and spinach or lobster. Browse the shelves of dry goods and bottles of Italian reds while you wait. You’ll probably have to stand in line, but it moves fast—the friendly staff know how to hustle.

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