International enclaves make San Jose a worthy culinary destination
Though the adjacent wine, nature, and technology of San Jose get recognition, the city’s most-overlooked aspect is its diversity. Like most cities in California, San Jose is rooted in agriculture -- Santa Clara Valley, where San Jose is the largest city, was originally dubbed “The Valley of Heart’s Delight,” where nearly everything could grow, and westward-migrating farmers could make a new life.
In the early part of the 20th century, the region drew Italian immigrants in droves, with soil and climate similar to their home country. A century later, San Jose has some of the best Italian food in America, boastinan outpost of Original Joe’s, and a hyper-authentic al-fresco dining experience one gets at Palermo.
San Jose is also teeming with little international enclaves. Little Saigon is home to one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the world outside Vietnam. Not far from there you’ll wander into Japantown, its wide streets filled with little Japanese restaurants and bakeries selling mochi early in the morning. The neighborhood is also home to the Japanese American Museum, which features in-depth and harrowing accounts of the World War II internment camps.
About ten minutes away from here, you’ll find Little Portugal, home to Michelin-rated Adega. This family-run Portuguese restaurant is a perfect example of how San Jose excels so far under the radar. It’s helmed by chefs David Costa and Jessica Carreira, serving refined Portuguese dishes -- think a bounty of seafood, from arroz de mariscos, croquettes, and an ever-changing selection of fresh fish.
Little Portugal is anchored by this unassuming spot, where a five-course tasting menu runs a reasonable $120. (Don’t skip out on the award-winning wine list, which boasts what may arguably be the country’s largest selection of Portuguese wines.) The restaurant is bustling, sure, but there’s no fine dining pretension -- you’d never know it was one of the most acclaimed restaurants in California. The decor feels rustic and authentic. Waiters wear denim. Tables are simple.
Spots like Adega help prove that San Jose can do anything San Francisco can, even if nobody knows about it. The city is a hard place to describe physically -- I’ve been many times and spent a week at the downtown Fairmont and still can’t picture the skyline. But it does encompass everything that is great about California without throngs of tourists mucking it up.
Granted, it would be hard to tell someone to go to San Jose ahead of San Francisco. It doesn’t have the sweeping bay views or the steep hills or the gold rush history. Or even major league baseball. But you have to give the city its due. Whether it’s technology, fine wine, gourmet food, or authentic cultural experiences, San Jose does it as well as anywhere. And though it may not have a bad rap to overcome or a nation of writers in love with its streets, it’s fantastic in its own San Jose way. We just need the reminder it’s there.