A dim sum spread at Palette Tea House, part of a slew of new restaurants coming to Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo. (Image courtesy of Palette Tea House)

Take a look back at 2019’s most noteworthy newcomers, lamentable closures and robust revamps. Plus a Michelin star surprise and much more.

This was both a dynamic and a trying year for the Peninsula dining scene. Palo Alto’s Maum won its first Michelin star. Bacchus Management Group, perhaps the area’s best-known restaurant group, added swanky Selby’s to its family. International eateries opened or are on their way here, from Telefèric Barcelona to Singapore’s Killiney Kopitiam.

Many restaurant owners, meanwhile, spoke out about struggling to keep their businesses afloat amid a tight labor market, high turnover and the increasing cost of doing business in the Bay Area. These pressures will continue to play out in 2020, with many in the industry worried about the future of the locally owned, middle-range neighborhood restaurant.

Read on for a roundup of noteworthy restaurant news of the year and the openings we’re most looking forward to in 2020.

Regina Chan with a slice of cake in the original Prolific Oven location. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

Tearful goodbyes

We said farewell to a handful of longtime eateries this past year: The Prolific Oven (39 years), Round Table Pizza (52 years) and Village Cheese House (60 years, just this week) in Palo Alto; Applewood Pizza in Menlo Park (36 years); Martin’s West in Redwood City (10 years); Cho’s Mandarin Dim Sum in Los Altos (39 years, including at the original Palo Alto location); and Mountain View’s Tied House (31 years), which closed abruptly in late December, the owner said because of a need to remediate a chemical spill linked to a prior tenant’s dry cleaning business.

While there’s no singular reason for the closures, the owner of The Prolific Oven had some pertinent words for what customers can do to prevent family-run independent food businesses from becoming an endangered species: “It’s in the power of the people where they choose to spend their money,” said Regina Chan, whose parents Henry and Sophia Chan bought the bakery in 1996. “I hope that I’m wrong and that small businesses and family businesses can continue to thrive in the Bay Area, but it’s going to be up to the consumers to really show that.”

Long live Zotts! (Image via The Alpine Inn website)

Happiest revivals

A happy counter narrative to all the closures was the revival of much-loved restaurants this year. Mike’s Cafe gave Palo Alto’s Midtown neighborhood its favorite restaurant back after a lengthy renovation. New owners renovated and rejuvenated the 167-year-old Alpine Inn, giving back to the Portola Valley community its favorite gathering place and watering hole (now, plus wines on tap and wood-fired pizza) for years to come. Su Hong Palo Alto closed, but a former waiter reopened it under a new name, keeping on the same chef and changing little on the menu. Rose International Market returned to Mountain View after a four-year development-induced hiatus. And in a holiday miracle for sandwich lovers everywhere, Woodside Deli reopened in Redwood City last week, with the owners of Colombo’s Delicatessen in Pacifica, who are related to the original owners of the local deli, at the helm.

Selby’s $50 Black Label burger with Époisses cheese and Australian black truffles, served with fries. (Photo by Sammy Dallal)

Most expensive burger

Selby’s wanted to make a name for itself by serving “the coldest martini on the West Coast,” but perhaps should have considered going with “the most expensive burger on the Peninsula.” The swanky restaurant, located on the border of Redwood City and Atherton, drew attention for its $50 Black Label cheeseburger: a patty of dry-aged hanger steak, short rib and chuck, topped with black truffles and Époisses, a soft cheese from Burgundy.

Meichih and Michael Kim reflect on their careers over lunch at Orchard City Kitchen in Campbell. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

A Michelin star for Maum

The chefs at Maum, Palo Alto’s high-end Korean restaurant, took home their first Michelin star in June, less than a year after opening. Co-chef Michael Kim said the accolade had been a “lifelong professional goal” for him and his wife and co-chef, Meichih, who draw on their Korean and Taiwanese roots at Maum, which means “heart and soul” in Korean. Fine dining continues to grow on the Midpeninsula, which is now home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, including Maum (Baumé, Protégé, The Village Pub, Chez TJ, Madera).

DoorDash’s new shared commissary kitchen in Redwood City. (Photo courtesy of DoorDash)

The year of delivery

In a sign of the times, DoorDash opened its first shared delivery kitchen in Redwood City in October. Under one roof, several food businesses — Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Rooster & Rice, Humphrey Slocombe, The Halal Guys and Chick-fil-A — can deliver throughout the Peninsula without having a brick-and-mortar restaurant here. The bright red, 6,000-square-foot building is emblematic of shifts and tensions in the dining industry, spurred by the growth of third-party delivery apps like DoorDash, Caviar, UberEats and others.

John Traesche opens a bottle of Glou Glou, a natural red wine “san soufre” (without sulfur) from Las Jaras Wines, at Salvaje in Palo Alto. (Photo by Sammy Dallal)

Natural wine boom

The Peninsula got its first dedicated natural wine bar this year with Salvaje. The downtown Palo Alto bar (369 Lytton Ave.) defines natural wines as those made organically on biodynamic farms with minimal intervention and little to no sulfates or other additives. (Salvaje appropriately means “wild” in Spanish.) The small, cozy Spanish-style building Salvaje occupies feels like having a drink in your friend’s living room, and the intimate setting is ideal for peppering the helpful staff and owners with questions if you’re unfamiliar with natural wines.

Speaking of expertise, we made a point of sitting down with Alex Bernardo of Vineyard Gate Selections, who has championed natural wines at his Millbrae shop long before they got popular. Bernardo walked us through the “raw and wild” nuance of natty vino and gave us some worthwhile recommendations along the way.

A winter “mushroom one-pot” korma with pickles and jalapeño at Ettan in Palo Alto. (Photo by Isabel Baer)

Most anticipated openings of 2020

Early 2020 will see the local debut of two ambitious, modern Indian restaurants with connections to San Francisco: Ettan (518 Bryant St., Palo Alto) and Rooh (473 University Ave., Palo Alto). The former will be led by Srijith Gopinathan, a native of southern India and executive chef at the Michelin-starred Campton Place Restaurant in San Francisco. The latter is a new outpost of a popular San Francisco restaurant of the same name, but with a unique focus on open-fire cooking.

In Mountain View, beer drinkers and pretzel lovers are still not-so-patiently waiting for the much-delayed arrival of Ludwig’s German Table (383 Castro St.), which will likely materialize next year. Owner Ben Bate spoke out this year about the costly setbacks he’s faced in the city permitting process.

The six most viewed 650 food & drink stories of 2019

1. At the table: eating with Kenji López-Alt, San Mateo’s ‘mad scientist chef’

2. The coolest vending machine in Silicon Valley dispenses…bowls of hot ramen?

3. Hillsdale says hello to the modern mall food court with Shake Shack, The Refuge and Instagrammable dim sum

4. The Coastside’s best-kept secret is an abalone farm with a seafood market and a view

5. This local hot sauce sent two people to the hospital. We signed a waiver to try it.

6. The not-so-secret breakfast scene in the mountains that locals (kinda) don’t want you to know about

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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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