The Peninsula is 15 times the size of San Francisco, which means... so much more room for activities! Oh, and restaurants. Lots, and lots more restaurants, enough that it’s sometimes hard to figure out where to eat when... you’re not reading this list of the 26 best restaurants in the Peninsula.
(Looking for the Peninsula's best bars? Cool, we've got those, too.)
What you're getting: Chef's tasting menu
This is one of the most shocking-when-you-finally-find-it restaurants in the entire Bay Area -- a modern Indian joint housed in a 1906 Victorian house that's in the middle of a parking lot behind a home goods store and a women's clothing shop. The "dining room" is literally just all of the downstairs rooms in the house, which each only fit a few tables and provide one of the most intimate, elegant, and unique dining experiences on the Peninsula. The spot is owned by Shoshana Wolff and her husband chef Sachin Chopra -- a Culinary Institute of America alum who did time at Daniel in NYC and does about as fine dining an Indian plate as you'll find in California, from a milk-braised Half Moon Bay lamb saddle with "puffed chickpeas, various milk textures, charred leeks, salsify, 63 degree egg" to chili-cardamom braised beef cheeks with "English peas, potato risotto, herb pudding and a charred allium-goat cheese froth." Mmm... goat cheese froth... Long story short, if you're looking for the best date spot on the Peninsula, you've found it.
What you’re getting: Jerk chicken; Ackee & Codfish
Don’t worry about a thing, every jerk-sauce-coated barbecue meat here will be all right. Being a cottage in Facebook’s backyard, Back a Yard is a favorite of hoodies who cover their keyboards in the afternoon with the Caribbean’s signature smoky, slightly zesty seasoning. It’s hard to get past the jerk meat meals but daily specials are really where the party is at (you like parties, right?). Oxtails are tender and smooth and featured as a special every day (isn’t that usually called the regular menu?), while curry goat comes at the end of the week and the funky Ackee & Codfish appear Saturdays.
What you’re getting: Green Olive-Chili Flake Focaccia; Frenched Chicken Breast
This year-old hybrid takeout counter/regular restaurant (from the same Borrone family that runs the legendary, right-around-the-corner café) could literally serve just blocks of olive- or sausage-and-leek-studded focaccia à la North Beach’s Liguria Bakery and call it a day. But Chef Josh Pebbles is so darn good with everything from charcuterie to pastas to the most delicate, in-season harmony salmon or scallops entrees that thankfully the focaccia is just a part of the show. And the crème Chantilly-filled bomboloni for dessert or as a pre-train snack? Lights out. Since Negronis probably matter to you, its version with vodka in place of gin (!!) is possibly the best cocktail on the Peninsula. Thought you should know that.
What you’re getting: Peking duck; Hong Kong Style Egg Puff
Amidst the canals and quirkiness of Foster City is THE place to throw down the hammer when it’s time for a massive Hong Kong and Cantonese feast. By day, dim sum is served, at night Cooking Papa’s endless menu hopscotches all over the place from slickly glazed and sweetened barbecued meats and Peking duck, to superb congee and clay pots. The xiao long bao at any time are not quite on Millbrae level but hey, there are some 200 dishes to choose from and about 95% are worth a substantial journey. No matter how full you are, get Hong Kong Style Egg Puffs. Yep, even that full.
What you’re getting: Devil’s Slider pulled pork and beer
You’ve just had the adrenaline rush of a Devil’s Slide driving journey along hair-raising Highway One and charged through the tunnel (FINALLY completed) into the Pacifica foggy daylight. Or you just froze into an iceberg on the beach because for some reason you still think San Mateo County beaches can be warm. Either way, you need a beer. A real beer. Craft beer knows no boundaries, nor do sliders. They come together here at what quickly has become a de-facto Pacifica meeting house for the young and old, the surfers, and the wandering tourists, all after burgers, pulled pork, fish & chips, and Alpine Nelson. There’s no ocean view, but there are 29 taps as the vista instead.
What you’re getting: Ricotta & Chive Gnocchi and any salad
Jesse Cool is the Alice Waters of the Peninsula, having championed all-organic ingredients and relaxed California by way of Europe cuisine long before every restaurant became local, seasonal, organic, and sustainable (and on and on). There’s no point in recommending many specific dishes since they change all the time, though the short ribs with horseradish cream is really the gold ticket if they’re around. The café is really a grown-up bistro: homey, charming, and decidedly un-Peninsula, since it doesn’t feel like a generic suburban dining room and there are very few discussions at the tables about Y Combinator and Tinder. Visiting Flea Steet, then grabbing a nightcap across the street at Dutch Goose is one of the great neighbor pairings in the Bay Area.
What you're getting: Ribeye Burger at dinner; Fried Chicken Sandwich at lunch
This outdoor-seating-rich, no-reservations spot is run by a guy who was raised in his family’s coast-side pub in Northern Ireland (probably not literally?) and a Jeremiah Tower protege who's dominating the south side of the Laurel St eats game, using a rooftop garden and an eye for the little things. The move for literally every meal? The bread-meat-bread option -- there's a Ribeye Burger at dinner, a Fried Chicken Sandwich at lunch, and a pork belly and apricot jam breakfast sandwich, all three of which are next-level delicious.
What you’re getting: Seafood paella; ceviche
We’re not going to say Manuel Martinez’s La Viga put Redwood City on the dining map, but it sure inspired countless other chefs to come to the “Climate Best By Government Test” town and make it arguably the Peninsula’s strongest candidate for a sophisticated night out on the town. Mexico City’s fish market is the inspiration for the name and strong roster of seafood dishes. Ceviche is a given. Coconut prawns and the best paella for miles should be, too. And the balanced cocktails are one of the few times ordering a drink on the Peninsula isn’t a risky proposition. This probably is the most fun restaurant in San Mateo County.
What you're getting: Pick a pasta, any pasta
Located in the land of Hewlett-Packard garages and kinda douchey people wearing Stanford T-shirts, Lure + Till is a half-indoor, half-outdoor power dinner-ing (and lunch-ing/brunch-ing/breakfast-ing) spot off University that's just barely a year old now. In that year, a legit bartender (Bacar, A16, Range) and a legit chef (Gitane, Angele, La Folie) have made this the legit-est legit place that has ever legit-ed, from the menus (which change constantly with whatever he's getting from the fisherman/foragers/farmers he's working with), to the patio (yeah, sit there), to the fact that it's an actually worthwhile place in Downtown Palo Alto (and the only one on this list).
What you're getting: Whatever they're making on the wood-burning hearth
First of all, the view. Guys, THE VIEW. Second of all, the food. Guys, THE FOOD. The restaurant, which opened inside the five-star Rosewood Sand Hill in 2009, has carried a Michelin star basically ever since it opened, despite changing four to five dishes A WEEK. The move is and has always been whatever is coming off the wood-burning hearth, whether it be a roasted chicken or suckling pig, either of which you could totally order on its own. True story: you won't be forced into a tasting menu here -- Madera has more than a dozen apps and entrees, which start for as little as $15 (Spring Garlic Soup w/ chive blossom, prawns, parsley) and end for as much as $47 (Oak Grilled Beef Tenderloin w/ melted Swiss chard, turnips, and Brooks cherries). Also it maybe has unofficial "Cougar Nights," so... there's that.
What you’re getting: Eight-course, $98 kaiseki
Replacing the vaunted Kaygetsu three years ago, Mitsunobu basically is Steve Young stepping in for Joe Montana (as opposed to Jeff Garcia replacing Steve Young). From the jewel box of small, powerful morsels to the soothing rice course, this, folks, is formidable kaiseki dining. You can be lame and opt for the a la carte (oh gosh that yuzu-white miso-glazed cod). But come on. Set decisions aside and live it up with the $98 seasonal kaiseki, which will do more for putting you in tune with your inner environment and spirit than any yoga class or juice cleanse (there’s a reason for the Michelin stars and the calmness around Kyoto, kaiseki’s home).
What you're getting: Something you've never had in your entire life
The tinted glass exterior of Mokutanya -- located in a weird, kinda hard-to-find Burlingame strip mall -- belies the shockingly cool interior, which is as futuristic a Bay Area interior as you'll find. The reason it makes the list (other than the date night-winning insides): Exotic meat Wednesdays and Thursdays. From 6pm to 2am you'll be able to dine on everything from peacock and iguana, to kangaroo and swan, which are all way better than the sound (in some cases a lot better). Also cool: if you come in with a party of four or more any night of the week between 10pm and 1:30am, they'll hook you up with a FREE $60 bottle of sake.
What you’re getting: Del Cafone pizza
Get past the generic name and the generic strip mall location along El Camino Real. This is the kind of Neapolitan pizza that the Neapolitans would nod in unanimous approval for. Countless pizzerias claim to have perfected the art with certified pizzaiolos, blah blah spiffy ovens, this and that flour. Whatever. This place is legit and indeed certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana if you’re keeping score at home. From the rip-roaring wood-fired oven, start with the blank canvas Margherita, then migrate to the tomato sauceless Del Cafone with bitter rapini, homemade Italian sausage, and smoked mozzarella. A little dose of olive oil finishes most pies like gold.
What you're getting: Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese; Half & Half fries
A throwback burger spot that sounds like the kind of place you'd find in Tahoe, not Downtown Redwood City, The Patty Shack delivers on everything but the "shack" part. Come for a burger, stay for one of its 18 beers on tap, stay longer for a whole bunch of giant TVs, stay EVEN LONGER for the Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese (wuuuuuut???), OH MY GOD YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO LEAVE BECAUSE IT'S GOT A CAP'N CRUNCH MILKSHAKE.
What you’re getting: Baby Clam Pizza; Mushroom Salad
Longtime Peninsula chef heavyweight Andy Gambardella grew up in the Northeast and naturally has a New Haven staple clam pizza that adorns every table with garlic wafting about one touch below Stinking Rose level. But really, the two best dishes are as Bostonian or Italian as they are just plain San Carlos-ian. Green beans fritti with meyer lemon aioli for dipping. A roasted shiitake and ricotta salata umami explosion of a salad. This is forceful cooking in a jazz club level-relaxed room with Gambardella tending to his retirement project (that impressive, wood-powered oven).
What you’re getting: Dahi Vada; Bombay "Sliders"
Rasa’s 2ft-long white elephant dosa and Monet-worthy presentation of “Dahi Vada” lentil dumplings with yogurt, mint chutney, and tamarind would be must-orders just about anywhere simply for their grandiose appearances. Like, really, spectacular fireworks to look at. The weak curries, dry and geographically incorrect tandoori, and chalky dosas passing for South Indian around the Peninsula are all forgotten here when sampling the Dahi Vada, the white elephant dosa, and basically anything else created by Vijay Kumar (formerly of the Bay Area’s best South Indian restaurant, Dosa in the city). Burlingame can feel as "burb-y" as it gets except the vibe is sexy and sleek, and the cooking by Kumar is truly bright and forceful. (Vegetarian!) Bombay "Sliders," a bracing chicken and cashew curry... we could go on and on. Rasa is one of the newer arrivals to the Peninsula and hopefully a sign of the quality that’s coming next.
What you're getting: Reuben; Goofy Fries
If you want the best pastrami on the Peninsula, you go to the Refuge. If you want the best Belgian beer selection on the Peninsula (18 on tap!), you go to the Refuge. If you want French fries smothered in cheese sauce and pastrami, YOU GO TO THE REFUGE. Lauded by the Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, and The Food Network, this line-out-the-door San Carlos spot (which now has a second location in Menlo Park with TWENTY-FOUR Belgian beers on tap) will put you in the kind of food and beer coma you'll be happy not to wake up from, whether you're going for something with its house pastrami (you should go for something with its house pastrami) or one of its sliced-fresh ribeye cheesesteaks or house-blended burgers.
Half Moon Bay
What you're getting: Lobster roll
Selected by The Today Show as having one of the five best sandwiches in America, Sam's Chowder House's lobster roll might STILL be one of the five best sandwiches in America, especially when you're eating it on the Pacific Ocean-facing deck. If it's a beautiful day, and you're feeling like a lobster roll (when are you not feeling like a lobster roll?), you won't find a better place for one than Sam's.
What you're getting: Miso Ramen with Stewed Pork
Give the miso a try at this strip mall San Mateo gem. It’s vivid with citrus and nuttiness, comes with corn, and -- if you add the stewed pork (which, duh, you should) -- tastes like a summer barbecue translated into noodles and soup. Everything you love about life, now in one tasty bowl.
What you're getting: Ebi Bacon; Beef Tatami; Buta Kimchi
Sandwiched between a pet store and a cobbler, this Laurel St spot somehow still manages all kinds of sex appeal, from the sleek, booth-heavy interior to the dark woods that wrap it. The sushi bar is a strong move and the omakase doesn't disappoint (both visually and stomach...ly), but the robata grill move is a stronger one. Get the marbled pork (which's cube and topped with scallions and shioyaki), a tiger prawn wrapped in bacon, and anything from the More To Share menu, which you don't technically have to share.
What you’re getting: $85 Yohei Omakase
The Peninsula loves its kaiseki and omakase journeys almost as much as the Giants it seems. Voila, here’s your latest entrant (really, like two months new) that already is a blockbuster. Akira Yoshizumi comes to Downtown San Mateo by way of elite sushi bars in New York and Tokyo, and most recently the chef of the less sushi-focused Umami in San Francisco. His minimal, calm cypress domain really feels like what you’d find at a renowned Tokyo sushi specialist on the 8th floor of some nondescript Ginza building. Think you know the brilliant subtlety of Edomae-style fish and rice together? No, not yet, unless you’re one of the handful to have dined here already. There are basically the same number of courses as seats (capacity: nine). Plan accordingly.
What you’re getting: Eggplant Polpette; pizza
After surviving an initial subtle name change (started as Terrone before a big, bad Canada-based pizzeria Terroni threatened to sue), Térun is the Palo Alto destination to know for both feeling like you’re in Italy (like really, people drinking San Pellegrino and waving their hands with gusto) and eating accomplished Italian cuisine from antipasti to secondi. Pizzas (especially the nduja-zucchini) and pastas are terrific, and much more Buca di Beppo sized than at a Florence trattoria. But hey, we’re really here for the standout Italian wine list (at rational prices) and Eggplant Polpette -- falafel’s evolved and superior rival. Tech folks and Stanford kids know when it’s time to impress someone, and when that time comes, they’re here.
What you're getting: Town Power Lunch; Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls; Teriyaki Skirt Steak
Town is like some sort of perfect-food-making robot sent from the future to... make perfect food. No kitchen runs as efficiently, no staff is as well trained, and no menu comes out as consistently delicious as Town's does. Located in the Tivoli Building, an old theater that'll sort of remind you of the clocktower building in Back to the Future, Town does modern American eats (think deviled eggs finished with crispy jalapeños or a skirt steak gloriously topped with a bushel of crispy onion rings), and drinks (get the New Fashioned with Angel’s Envy rye), plus offers one of Laurel St's best front patios to eat them on.
What you're getting: Sausage & Honey red pie; Mushroom Toast
Good news: this casual lunch spot in Downtown Redwood City saves a good number of spots for walk-ins, meaning you can probably get its incredible pizza if you want its incredible pizza. The combinations are creative, but in a familiar way (sausage & honey, pears & burrata...), but don't sleep on the small plates, which -- despite this being a great pizza place -- might be better than the pizza. Mushroom Toast is a must, as are the Grilled Carrots (sounds weird, we know, but #trust), and the cauliflower, which comes with toasted almonds, currants, serrano chili, honey, and breadcrumbs.
What you're getting: Burger at lunch, duck at dinner
This is the kind of place where you'd find Peter Gregory, not Ulrich Bachmann. Sadly it isn't really a pub as much as it is a smallish white table-clothed, Frenchy-type bistro, but not-sadly, the food is super good, in particular the Aged Muscovy Duck, whole roasted for two. Best part though: the freaking bread -- it comes in a basket with four types, all delicious, and they aren't stingy about making a return trip.
What you’re getting: The $98 monthly nine-course menu
Not that anybody needs us to loudly trumpet Wakuriya’s excellence anymore -- the handful of reservations here basically don’t exist unless you’re a longtime regular or you run Tesla or Salesforce. There are two start times for dinner and be punctual. There is one menu. No debates. Yes, we’ve already mentioned two omakase/kaiseki establishments on this list, so why not make it a trifecta. Katsuhiro Yamasaki truly is a master of the kaiseki art. House-made sesame tofu. Delicate-as-air broiled lobster. Pristine sashimi. This is as good as it gets.
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Grant Marek is Thrillist’s Senior Cities Director and Trevor Felch is a restaurants writer for SF Weekly and contributing editor for Vino 24/7. Follow them to more Peninsula restaurant recs on Twitter at @Grant_Marek and @TrevorFelch.