I am so lucky to have spent most of my life in one of the greatest places California has to offer, and even luckier to be living in the other greatest city California has to offer – I’m talking about San Jose and Los Angeles.
While I know the Bay Area and LA have their differences (mainly sports rivalries, but whatever), I love them both for very different reasons. San Jose will always be home – how can it not be after spending thirty years there? – but I have also always loved Los Angeles, and I’m over the moon to call it home now.
LA is my happy home now and for the foreseeable future, but there are obviously some things I miss from San Jose. I could ramble off a laundry list of things I miss, but instead I want to give you a short list of my favorite places to visit in my old neck of the woods, south San Jose.
It’s food. All five places are food.
If you’re surprised by this, you clearly haven’t been following along. Besides, if you know south San Jose like I do, can you blame me? I know that living in LA has its advantages when it comes to the snack scene – we have amazing bars, burgers, five-star fare, and food trucks as far as the eye can see – but there’s something special about certain spots that have always been staples in my life and the lives of other San Joseians (… is that what we’re called?). San Jose is huge, and there is some amazing stuff to eat wherever you go, but I want to concentrate on the area I grew up in and go back to visit, so without further ado (and in no particular order), here are my five favorite food spots in south San Jose:
If you are anywhere remotely near San Jose and are craving ice cream, you HAVE to make a stop at Sweet Retreat. This place is an icon for families in South San Jose. This is where you go after junior high school dances. It’s where you work if you’re a sophomore saving up for a car. It’s where you don’t mind waiting in a line that winds around the small shop and out the door (which goes by shockingly quickly) for the best damn ice cream in town. It’s creamy. It’s flavorful. It’s CHEAP. Sweet Retreat has always been the least expensive place in town to get ice cream, milkshakes, and freshly made frozen yogurt. This is a must for me when I come to town.
Tip: If you’re ready to get all sorts of chocolate wasted, try the Chocolate Fantasy. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Other favorites are Cookie Dough, Marble Butterscotch, and Burgundy Cherry.
Zanotto’s Family Market has been around for forever… seriously, read their story. These Italian markets have a few locations, and each of them are clean with amazing food and friendly customer service. What I (and so many other San Jose natives) love about Zonatto’s is their deli. Their Brown Bag lunch is legendary among local fire fighters and EMTs, and their sandwiches are hands down the best. At this deli counter, lunch-goers find a podium with a long slip. Mark off the bread, meat, cheese, and fixings you want (veggie options are available!), hand the ticket to the person behind the counter, and wait for your name you be called. There is nothing quite like unwrapping a freshly made Zanotto’s sandwhich… my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Tip: The sweet roll and Dutch crunch are the best breads, in my opinion. I also highly recommend the Bacon Lover’s Turkey, if you’re into meat.
Bonus Tip: Grab a cookie (or package) from Pacific Cookie Company while you’re there! I highly recommend the snickerdoodle or Lemon cookie.
I. Love. This. Bar. San Pedro Square Market Bar is sooooooo much more than just a bar. The Market Bar is actually a collection of food stalls and bars. There are artisanal pizzas, a sushi bar, a burger joint, a coffee bar, an ice cream truck, three separate bars, and much more. There’s a huge outdoor space where TVs are regularly broadcasting whatever sports are on, a stage for shows, and plenty of indoor seating and standing room with the most beautiful high ceilings and string lights. This place is seriously amazing. I don’t always make it to every place on this list when I visit San Jose, but I always make it out to San Pedro Square.
Tip: Check out the beer fridges at Market Beer Co. in the back building. They have an awesome selection of bottled and canned beers and ciders.
It’s no accident that La Vic’s is listed after my favorite bar. This taqueria is strategically set up next to San Pedro Square (another location is next door to another bar, Britannia Arms Almaden), and I think it’s because the owners of this establishment stumbled upon something important: drunk people love Mexican food. It’s true. I don’t know why. Science, I guess. This tiny taqueria is affordable, fast, and a staple in San Jose. They are probably more known for their orange sauce than anything else. This stuff is great. It’s a spicy secret recipe that is somehow both vegan and magical. No one does orange sauce like La Victoria, and nothing ends a night out like burrito covered in this stuff.
Tip: Order a bottle of Orange Sauce to go! It’s amazing on eggs in the morning, and last I checked, a bottle is around $6.
Aaaaah yes… Bill’s. Bill’s is a magical place (that actually has 7 other locations that I did not list) that everyone – and I mean everyone – knows about. On a Sunday morning you will find families, party-goers recovering from Saturday night, former and current NFL players, and anyone and everyone else who values a good stack of pancakes and bottomless mimosas. This is a weekend staple for locals, and it’s a place that I miss. The breakfast here is amazing, and if you don’t mind waiting for a table (the wait is longer at the Willow Glen location than at most others), the food will floor you. My personal favorites are the pancakes and ABC Omelette… a little basic, sure, but good food is good food. Another favorite in my family is the Cinnamon Roll French Toast. Whatever you order, Bill’s has big portions, reasonable prices, and did I already mention bottomless mimosas?
Tip: Bottomless mimosas.
If you check out any of these spots, let me know in the comments below, or tag me when you post your delicious food! If I left anything out (which I know I did, because c’mon… only 5 places?!?), then let me know where I need to eat next time I’m in town!