Where to get squid ink dumplings, enormous tacos and kaya toast.
It takes enormous effort and commitment to open a restaurant during “normal” times, let alone during a pandemic. Amid the sad news of closures and the dire state of the restaurant industry, there are also optimistic openings worth celebrating — and supporting.
Here are five new restaurants on the Peninsula serving up excellent and wide-ranging eats, from kaya toast at a Singaporean cafe to cochinita pibil tacos I’m already planning to have again.
Asian Street Eatery, Sunnyvale
Asian Street Eatery opened on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale last week with a massive menu inspired by China and Southeast Asia’s “legendary” street food stalls. Normally a menu this large — including dim sum, baos, mantou, customizable banh mi sandwiches, noodle soups, braised meats and build-your-own stir fries — would be a red flag, but the food here is well worth exploring.
The restaurant comes from the same owners of Ginger Cafe in Sunnyvale, Fu Kee in San Jose, and Rice + Noodles Asian Kitchen in Campbell. You’re greeted by large, touch-screen kiosks on which you place your order — no need to come within 6 feet of a human — and can get it to-go or eat on a large outdoor patio.
Do try the squid ink dumplings, filled with sweet, oceanic lobster and corn encased in a dumpling skin shaped like a shell you’d find on the beach. And don’t miss the zhua bing, a massive Chinese pancake wrapped around lettuce, a Chinese donut, pickled carrots and radishes, cucumbers, cilantro and your choice of protein (the grilled pork was rich and delicious).
1146 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale; 408–930–4798 // asianstreeteatery.com. Open for takeout and outdoor dining from Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Starting in October, hours will be 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Bandi Biryani, Sunnyvale
You might miss Bandi Biryani, tucked between a barber shop and Popeyes in a Sunnyvale strip mall, unless you’re seeking it out. Owner Kanagalakshmi Nagarajan, a former software engineer, opened the South Indian restaurant in July with chef John Annachi. Annachi is also behind other local Indian restaurants, including Annachikadai in Mountain View and Star Udupi Cafe in Santa Clara. Both owner and chef are originally from Tamil Nadu in South India.
Bandi Biryani serves several kinds of biryani and curries as well as some Indo-Chinese dishes. Nagarajan suggested I try the chicken dum biryani, aromatic and filled with pieces of bone-in chicken, and the mirchi bajji, which she warned are “hot, hot” (eat them and you understand why she used the word twice instead of just once). Here, mirchi bajji are halved jalapenos that are fried and then filled with diced red onion, peanuts, coriander, chilis and cilantro. They are indeed “hot, hot” but you can temper the heat by dipping them into a yogurt sauce on the side.
Call ahead to place your to-go order or use the wait as an excuse to peruse the aisles of Trinethra, a well-stocked Indian market in the same strip mall.
808 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale; 408-685–2039; bandibiryani.com. Open for takeout and delivery daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
La Cocina de la Abuela, Redwood City
Every time I bite into a fresh, handmade tortilla I instantly regret all the inferior supermarket versions I’ve consumed. This was the case at La Cocina de la Abuela, a new Redwood City restaurant from the owner of the nearby La Casita Chilanga.
Jose Navarro’s latest restaurant, open since August, is inspired by Mexico City fare cooked by the women of his family — hence the name, which means “grandmother’s kitchen” in Spanish. The pliant, charred tortillas are the anchor for excellent tacos. I had to try the restaurant’s specialty, tacos los mamalones, which comes on a single large tortilla that’s been lightly charred on the plancha. It’s filled with breaded steak, sautéed potatoes, nopales (cactus) and salsa on a bed of melted cheese. More the size of a burrito, this dish is not for the faint of heart — or the slightly hungry. One taco could serve as a single meal or shared between two.
If you come for the tacos los mamalones, stay for the cochinita pibil. Navarro marinates the incredibly flavorful Yucatan-style pork overnight with achiote and other spices and cooks it in banana leaves using his mother’s recipe. The pork comes on a fresh, pliant tortilla, topped simply with pickled red onions and a squeeze of lime. Make sure to ask for extra servings of the restaurant’s “grandma’s sauce,” a spicy, slightly acidic and nuanced hot sauce I wish they would bottle.
314 Arguello St, Redwood City; 650–362–3533 // lacocinadelaabuelaredwoocity.com. Open for takeout, delivery and outdoor seating daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Zamira, Palo Alto
Pavel Sirotin opened a restaurant within a restaurant earlier this month.
Sirotin owns Bevri, the Georgian restaurant in Palo Alto, and is now also using the space to run Zamira, a new ghost kitchen that will highlight cuisines that are “underrepresented” in the Bay Area.
Zamira opened in mid-September with a small menu of dishes from Uzbekistan, where Sirotin was born. He said he wanted to build off the success of Bevri, the Bay Area’s first Georgian restaurant, in exposing more local diners to what for some of them was a lesser-known cuisine. He decided to create a separate concept so the kitchen staff can experiment with other kinds of foods rather than causing confusion by adding them to the Bevri menu.
The Zamira menu is simple (read: cost effective) and Sirotin hopes it will become a reliable source of additional revenue as his business navigates the post-coronavirus landscape. They’re deliberately choosing dishes that travel well, both for delivery and the prospect of corporate catering when Silicon Valley offices reopen, he said.
The three dishes available at Zamira right now are somsa, a triangle-shaped puff pastry typically filled with lamb, onions and black pepper; a tomato-onion-herb salad and spicy carrot salad.
Sirotin said he’s “hoping that this will expand and we’ll be able to bring more exciting foods here — just to dilute the excessive presence of burgers and pizzas here.”
530 Bryant St., Palo Alto // zamira.delivery. Zamira is available for pickup at Bevri or delivery.
Killiney Kopitiam, Palo Alto
Singaporean restaurants are few and far between on the Peninsula. Perhaps that explains why people waited up to an hour to eat at Killiney Kopitiam when it opened in downtown Palo Alto last week, prompting the cafe to close for two days to regroup.
This is the first U.S. location of Singapore’s oldest cafe, known for its coffee and charcoal-grilled toast spread thick with kaya jam. At the Palo Alto restaurant, you can watch employees making the toast and pouring coffees from long-spouted metal kettles through a window into the open kitchen. (Get the toast. The subtly sweet kaya layered with pats of salty butter on humble Pullman bread is a delicious lesson in the “less is more” adage.)
A friend from Singapore told me that for laksa — a spicy coconut soup with springy rice noodles, shrimp, fish cakes, bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, fried tofu and sambal chili — the broth is what separates the great from the mediocre. (He gave Killiney Kopitiam’s broth, coconutty but not overly sweet, an A+ rating.) Round your order out with some roti prata, a tangle of griddled, buttery flatbread served with a yellow curry dipping sauce, and char kway teow, wide rice noodles stir fried with shrimp, fish cakes, Chinese sausage, onions, bean sprouts and egg.
552 Waverley St., Palo Alto; 650–752–6039 // killineykopitiam.getbento.com. Open for takeout only at this time. Check the website or call for current hours.
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