This August I took my first trip back to San Jose in just over a year. We went up to meet my best friend’s baby (the baby is perfect and precious and I love her, by the way), and as per our tradition, we visited San Pedro Square Market. This time, however, we also visited Japantown, a beautiful and often overlooked gem in the downtown area. We ate our way through both places, and I have a food guide ready for you the next time you find yourself looking for something delicious in Downtown San Jose.
We started our trip by having a beautiful brunch at our friends’ house where we spent the day catching up with two of my best friends and their families. That evening, we headed back to the friends we were staying with and met up with a group at our favorite place to grab a bite and a beer when we’re in town: San Pedro Square Market.
I’ve written a little bit about it before, but San Pedro Square Market is a collection of bars, food vendors, indoor and outdoor seating, the occasional live band on the outdoor stage, and a ton of character. It’s spacious, it has tons of food and drink options, and we love it. There are two main buildings separated by a beautiful outdoor seating and dancing area. I used to go there a lot before moving, and now Chris and I make sure to go every time we’re in San Jose. It’s the perfect place to get a group together so people can come and go as they please and grab food and drinks from any of the vendors.
We went directly to our two favorite places in the market: Market Beer Co and Pizza Bocca Lupo. Market Beer Co has an incredible selection of canned and bottled craft beers, ciders, sours, and cocktails. In addition to their massive self-serve fridge, they also have an excellent selection of beers on tap. This is our go-to hassle-free spot in the market because of their selection and how easy it is to order (forget about fighting your way to the bar and flagging down a bartender — just grab your beer from the fridge and pay, they’ll pop the top off and pour). This time around I got a Dust Bowl Rosé Lager and oh… YUM. This was the exact beer I didn’t know I wanted – super light and refreshing and perfect for someone like me who normally picks a light wheat beer, pale ale, or cider. (I actually can’t take credit for this pick, Chris chose it for me, but it was so deliciously refreshing on a hot summer night, and it went perfectly with my pizza.)
We also always have to grab a pizza (or two) at the market. The first time I took Chris to the market, he saw the wood-fired pizza at Pizza Bocca Lupo and said we had to get one. Since then, it’s become a kind of tradition that we eat there when we go to the bar. I love this tradition (even if it means skipping Konjoe Burger, which was my go-to when I lived in San Jose and is one of the best burgers downtown… but isn’t wood-fired pizza). This time around we ordered two pizzas – we split a Tomasso (mushrooms, peppers, basil, onions, garlic, cheese) and a Joe’s (sausage, mushroom, extra cheese, basil). Both were so delicious and loaded with fresh ingredients, gooey cheese, and had a beautifully chewy crust.
When I find myself downtown on these trips, I usually try to make it a point to stop at Treatbot for some ice cream, but this time around I took my sweet tooth to Chocatoo. Chocatoo is smack-dab in the center of the second building at San Pedro Square Market, and because that’s where we were sitting eating and drinking with our friends, I couldn’t escape the smell of warm cookies wafting through the bar… like that’s a bad thing? I skipped my Horchata Ice Cream from Treatbot (but you shouldn’t… definitely make room for a scoop of this stuff!) to instead grab a freshly-baked (at 10pm, by the way) Reese’s Cookie and S’mores Cookie. This little bakery has a huge variety of treats available, but the smell of cookies and vision of gooey peanut butter, pools of chocolate, and sticky marshmallows won me over.
After the market, we headed back to our friends’ place and played board games all night. We had kind of a slow start the next day, but we were all recuperating from bellies full of San Pedro Square Market food and drinks, so it was needed.
We started our Sunday morning Japantown exploration with a walk down to the Japantown Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market is open year-round and takes place at the Gordon Biersch Brewery (this is also the site of San Jose’s Thursday night Night Markets, which is another food-centric event that is so worth checking out if you’re in the area). We popped in at the tail-end of the market and grabbed some snacks to hold us over on our walk to lunch. Although they’re not listed as a regular vendor on the Farmer’s Market website, Hangry Moose was a stall Chris and I really liked. We’d never heard of malasadas before (uncultured swine, I know), but these delicious little Portuguese donuts filled the holes in our tummies and put smiles on our faces. We ordered one of each flavor (chocolate, cinnamon sugar, and their classic), and promptly popped them in our mouths. There’s always lots to eat at the Farmer’s Market, not just a gorgeous selection of seasonal fruits and veggies, so stop in next time you’re in the area. Just a word of warning to pup parents – no dogs allowed at this location 😕
After our Farmer’s Market pitstop, we kept moving along to Jackson Street, where all the best Japantown restaurants and shops are. We stopped at Sheui-Do Manjo Shop for mochi and manju, and this wasn’t just ANY mochi… this stuff was incredible. Our friends stocked up and were kind enough to share with us. I popped a Red Bean mochi into my mouth in the store, and that little bite of bean paste heaven just melted in my mouth. The mochi was soft and buttery and the red bean was slightly sweetened and had tiny pieces of bean in it – I’ve only ever had a completely pulverized paste, so this was a new texture mochi for me, and I really enjoyed it. Our friend was looking for butter mochi, but they were sold out, so I’ll have to take her word for it (and the fact that they were already sold out at 12pm on a Sunday afternoon) that their butter mochi is to die for. (I fully plan on investigating this for myself and reporting back the next time we’re in San Jose 😜.) When we got back to their house later, we opened the box of more mochi that Kristen bought and indulged in strawberry (OMG) and peanut butter (OMG!!!) mochi. They. Were. Heavenly. Do not pass up this tiny hole-in-the-wall shop if you’re a mochi lover.
Once dessert was acquired, we moved further down Jackson to the main event – lunch!
Kumako Ramen is a small, but very well-known, restaurant in Japantown. I went there a handful of times when I lived in San Jose, and to this day it’s the best Ramen I’ve ever had anywhere. I’ve never not waited to be seated, but it’s always been worth waiting for… even when we stood in the hot summer sun for 30 minutes on this particular trip.
When we were seated in the tiny shop, we ordered gyoza to munch on while waiting for our ramen (they were voted best gyoza in Silicon Valley by the way… no big deal).
I’ve been to some ramen places that have the noodles already cooked and then they just pour the broth you want over it. I’ve had cold, globbed-together noodles at ramen places, I’ve had overly-salted shoyu, and I’ve been served fatty, chewy, stringy pork belly floating on top of a less than desirable looking bowl of soup. I also have been known to ask for extra noodles (like, usually).
Kumako is NOT that place. Here, the soup is one size, and that size is filling. No need to order extra noodles or decide between a large or small here! Here, the shoyu is perfectly salted, has depth, and tastes incredible. Here, the food is always served piping hot. Here, the noodles are perfect, the pork is perfect, the food is absolutely perfect.
Kumako is family-owned and routinely wins awards and rave reviews for their fresh, hot, flavorful, authentic food and kind and attentive service. I can’t recommend this place highly enough. You will never have another ramen like it.
Chris and I had a blast on this trip. We got to spend quality time with people we love and adore, and we had some incredible food and drinks as we made our way through San Pedro Square Market and Japantown:
I can’t believe we ate as much as we did, but I also can’t wait to go back to visit our friends again and find more gems to share with you all!