A Hidden Foodie Haven, the Peninsula Breaks Out as Culinary Leader

No longer in the shadow of San Francisco, or Napa Valley, the Peninsula's cities find their place among the best restaurants in the country.

In recent years, the San Francisco Bay Area has broken out ahead of major cities like New York and Chicago to become the epicenter for fine dining.

Boasting top chefs like Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and relative newcomers such as Dominique Crenn and Michael Tusk, no area can match the innovation and culinary vision of the Bay.

National magazines and newspapers have taken notice, but one area full of hidden gems has remained under the radar, until now: the Peninsula.

The 32-mile stretch of quaint suburb from San Francisco to Palo Alto is home to some of the most desired restaurants in the world, some of the most down-to-Earth dives, and some of the best all-around food there is. Last year, four Peninsula restaurants earned Michelin Stars, and a dozen others topped multiple best-of lists.

in Millbrae is renowned as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country. A regular of the Michelin Bib Gourmand list, and winner of many awards, Master Chef Kam Wo Au delivers traditional Dim Sum and authentic Chinese fare.

Pacifica, a quirky beach town along the coast, can lay a strong claim to the title of best barbeque with and its red, run-down wagon-style food truck that its just off the highway. Inside, pulled pork, soaked chicken, and brisket are just some of the entrees that have gotten Gorillas BBQ mention on the Food Network and other national television outlets and magazines.

If it’s dining with a view you want, the Peruvian haunt La Costanera in Half Moon Bay is your best bet. A gorgeous waterfront view is just beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass. Go just before dinner to watch the sunset and enjoy their acclaimed entrees.

The coastal town is also home to , a jazzy, gourmet spot, long a favorite of locals that has recently garnered national headlines for its romantic atmosphere.

A recipient of a 2012 Michelin star, The Village Pub in Woodside is tucked away in a Victorian-style house. Romantic and lively, if a bit noisy, the space is perfect for a special occasion. Crispy Duck Confit, Grilled Pork and Poached Lobster top the most beloved dishes, though the chef is also known for his Sunday brunch.

Down the 101 a bit is a much larger city known as San Mateo, a city recently experiencing a boom of foodie love after its stand-out Indian restaurant, All Spice, became the talk of chefs and food critics from across the country.

It’s just a small house with a small parking lot and modest maroon awning bearing its name. The space could double as living room with turquoise walls and a crackling fireplace. White tables clothes are draped over the tables. And the food? Rack of lamb warped in bacon, Ahi tuna, Cumin scallops, and for dessert, the must-try spiced ice cream: honey, black pepper and mint.

San Mateo excels in more than just Indian cuisine. It’s also home to , a raved about Italian restaurant serving pizzas and homemade pastas that compete with Quince and Flour + Water for the Bay Area’s top Italian.

Further south, in San Carlos, is notorious for being one of the most consistently booked-up restaurants from San Jose to San Francisco. And it’s delicious, too. Steaks, chops and fish adorn their dinner menu. But brunch is the real star: filet mignon benedict, cookie-dough waffles, and the best chilaqueas around.

San Carlos’ southern neighbor, the much larger Redwood City, should be proud of , a small, eclecticly decorated space that has mastered Sichuan, Mandarin, and Hunan style foods, earning its way onto the elitist Bib Gourmand list.

And while the food takes center stage at Crouching Tiger, overshadowing their more modest, albeit colorful, décor, Menlo Park’s Madera, a restaurant located inside the Rosewood Hotel Sand Hill, is sleek and modern change of pace. An A-Frame ceiling and a wall of glass offering sweeping views of the Peninsula’s green hills is enough of a reason to dine at this Michelin starred restaurant. The food, as it turns out, is also on par, serving sustainable harvested meats and vegetables. The establishment also has its own wine sommelier.

Perhaps no other restaurant could top Madera except the beloved, raved about Baume, the orange and black building on California Avenue, that encompasses Palo Alto’s fine dining scene. Bruno Chemel’s French cuisine has made Baume a destination restaurant for food lovers all over the country. They serve a staggeringly expensive prix fixe menu inside a dark and sexy space conducive to romance and an unforgettable experience.

The Peninsula’s days of living in the culinary shadow of its big sister city are over, as it explodes onto the national scene with restaurants and chefs the lead the way with revolutionary approaches and sound, ecologically-friendly harvesting principles.

These suburbs are alive, and they’re changing the way our country views food. 


What are some of your favorite places on the Peninsula? Let us know in the comments!

Joan S. Dentler March 12, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Great article Kenny.....often times when we venture to SF for dinner, on the (long) drive home we comment that we could've had just as good a meal (plus great "atmo") right here on the Peninsula. And of course I'd add a few of Belmont's gems to your list above---Chez Saigon, Vivace, Divino.
Cy Young award March 13, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Why go to S.F. (my hometown)? No parking (or $15.+ tip in a parking lot), solcitors, unsafe streets, auto burgalries, and traffic to and from. Dine on the peninsula al fresco. Can't beat Laurel St. in San Carlos.


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