What we’re eating right now: $2 sweet potatoes and bottomless banchan

We got hungry in Santa Clara. Here’s what we ate.

The tonkatsu plate and all the necessary accoutrements at Iroriya in Santa Clara. (Image via Yelp)

Santa Clara is a sprawling food oasis. Not unlike the suburbs of Los Angeles, where immigrant enclaves churn out excellent cuisine — Indian next to Korean next to Vietnamese next to Japanese — the streets and many strip malls of Santa Clara are home to some of the Peninsula’s best food.

Here’s some of what we crave most when we’re in Santa Clara.

Turkish coffee, savory baked goods and sweets shine at Feride’s Bakery in Santa Clara. (Photos by Elena Kadvany)

Turkish coffee and pastries at Feride’s Bakery

Feride’s breakfast game is strong. Grab an intensely bitter and syrupy Turkish coffee with one of the bakery’s many pastries. You’ll hear the friendly staff speaking Turkish to each other, but they won’t hesitate to answer any questions about fare you’re unfamiliar with. There’s the simit, a thin Turkish bagel, loaded with egg, cheese and soujuk; pogacha, baked breads stuffed with fillings like feta cheese, olive, mushrooms and ground beef; and the water bourek, a tempting square of layered phyllo dough, butter and feta. (The dough is boiled in water, hence the name.)

Feride’s Bakery // 4300 Great America Parkway, Suite 172, Santa Clara; 408-970-0913

Jang Su Jang’s bibim naeng myun and banchan. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

Bibim naeng myun at Jang Su Jang

At Jang Su Jang, often referred to as one of the Bay Area’s best Korean restaurants, the banchan is bottomless and the bibim naeng myun leaves your mouth tingling and wanting more. Bibim naeng myun — long, thin buckwheat noodles swimming in a spicy and tangy gochujang sauce, topped with pickled radish, cucumber, sliced beef and a hard-boiled egg — is served cold, so it’s best on a hot day, but I can’t resist it no matter the temperature outside. Here, waitresses will offer scissors so you can cut the long tangle of noodles (though it’s my understanding that traditionally they’re not meant to be cut because they symbolize longevity and good health).

Jang Su Jang // 3561 El Camino Real Suite #10, Santa Clara; 408-246-1212

Self-restraint is a challenge at the prepared food section of the massive Korean grocery store, Hankook Supermarket. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

All of the banchan at Hankook Supermarket

Hankook Supermarket is its own vast universe, stocked with the best of the best Korean produce, groceries, sauces, dried goods, meat and seafood. (The market is technically in Sunnyvale but just over the border from Santa Clara’s Koreatown.) The prepared food bar is where it’s at — piles of fresh banchan as far as the eye can see: kimchi, pickled radish, cucumbers, baby squid and crab, roasted anchovies, dried shrimp and seasoned peanuts. Stock up on those sides, grab some fresh meat or seafood from the deli, a tub of gochujang and a bag of rice for an at-home Korean feast.

Hankook Supermarket // 1092 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale; 408-244-0871

Nothing but sweet potatoes: Santa Clara is home to a longtime, humble food stand that serves the tubers, plain and piping-hot. (Photos by Elena Kadvany)

Roasted sweet potatoes at the Sweet Potato Stall

The Silicon Valley food scene can sometimes feel suffocatingly homogeneous and pretentious. Santa Clara taps you on the shoulder to remind you that it’s most definitely not. Particularly so when you find yourself in a parking lot outside a Korean grocery store, where a humble food stand has for years sold one blessedly uncomplicated dish: roasted sweet potatoes, three for just $2. Craggy and charred on the outside, creamy and sweet on the inside, I gladly ate these out of a paper bag in the parking lot, no utensils necessary. Street food at its best. Cash only.

Sweet Potato Stall (outside Galleria Market) // 3531 El Camino Real, Santa Clara; 408-246-0896

Get it while you can…Iroriya closes this week! (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

Tonkatsu lunch set at Iroriya

Iroriya’s tonkatsu is simultaneously crispy and delicate, a feat for a breaded and deep-fried piece of meat. Only available at lunch, it’s served on a beautiful wooden tray with all the necessary accoutrements: rice, cabbage, two dipping sauces, the pickled veggies of the day, mustard, salt, a lemon wedge and a bowl of sesame seeds — complete with your own wooden pestle to grind them fresh.

Sadly, the tonkatsu and the rest of Iroriya’s glorious robata-style menu is not of this earth much longer. The restaurant will close on Thursday, Feb. 28. Owner Kuniko Ozawa is converting it into a second location of her first restaurant in Los Altos, Sumika. Iroriya had a “high-priced image,” Ozawa said, so she decided to go more casual and accessible. Sumika focuses on yakitori made on a binchotan grill.

Iroriya // 3548 Homestead Road, Santa Clara; 408-246-5511

What’d we miss? Write to us with your Santa Clara favorites: [email protected].

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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