Veggie Places visits South Bay

Ever since setting up Veggie Places we have been asked to include locations outside the UK. These requests were frequently from the USA. When we began adding those places it seemed sensible to start with the areas that were the most veggie friendly and so I came to be involved with checking out places in the San Francisco Bay Area. This report is different from previous 'Veggie Places visits' reports as I went to the Bay Area specifically to seek out and report on places that that been recommended to us for inclusion on the site. The Bay Area is also known as 'Silicon Valley' as it is home to many computer companies. It is not an area usually visited by tourists who either stay further north nearer San Francisco or head for the coast around Monterey, Carmel and Santa Cruz. Food outlets abound and competition must be fierce which explains why most have a similar format - huge helpings, quantity not quality. Customers are generally the locals (residents and workers) and it is probably for this reason that many, if not most, of the food outlets are cafe style offering quick and cheap food. Quite a few of the places I visited were in need of a coat of paint and generally had a 'tired' feel.

So what did I find? Well as I have said, numerous wholly vegetarian cafe style places that will provide a filling, inexpensive meal but not somewhere you would drive any distance to seek out. Places such as Amber Cafe, Happy Bamboo, Passage to India Bakery, Dee Dee's Indian Fast Food, Garden Fresh and Komala Villas. Of these I would recommend Amber Cafe and Happy Bamboo - Amber because it was a modern cafe and Happy Bamboo as the owner was so friendly (and the food at both was great!). Of the mid-price places I liked Udupi Palace. Udupi Palace Restaurant
Udupi Palace Restaurant
One of the nice things about this place (other than the food) is that it is easy to find. Right on the main road after Henderson and before Poplar Avenue - with a big sign and a car park! I went for lunch - they serve a buffet for $7.95 (plus tax) with drinks extra. The restaurant itself is a casual affair and can seat about 60 people. At the time of my visit it was filled almost to capacity with mainly Indian customers - I always take this as a good sign when people of the same ethnic roots as the cuisine are dining there. I was not to be disappointed. A friendly and helpful waiter took me to a table, arranged my drink and invited me to sample the buffet. The restaurant is wholly vegetarian so tucking in to the buffet was a pleasure rather than twenty questions. I had skipped breakfast in anticipation - and merrily tried a bit of everything on offer. Some things were not to my taste but there was plenty of choice and what I did like was delicious. After I had made my first foray to the buffet I was given a freshly cooked dosa, which I had not realised was part of the buffet deal. As with many places I have eaten in the USA, this is not somewhere I would drive any distance to visit but if I am in the area is definitely worth a repeat trip. They have 5 locations in California and a further 5 in the rest of the USA. All are completely vegetarian and are run on similar lines to the Sunnyvale outlet. Di Lac Cuisine
Di Lac Cuisine
I also liked Di Lac Cuisine - a vegetarian Chinese that looks unprepossessing from the outside and initial impressions do not improve until you have passed the take-away food counter and are in the restaurant proper. The serving staff were welcoming and helpful but over stretched and service was a little erratic as they tried to cover too many tables at once. All our fellow diners, bar one, were Asian. Their extensive all-vegetarian menu uses textured soy protein (mock meat, faux meat) in the dishes. We chose vegetable rolls with rice paper, a lovely sweet and sour soup, vegetarian shrimp with honey cashew and sweet and sour chicken. We were served enough soup to feed an army so we took it home along with the chicken and gave it to my friend's husband for his dinner. A committed carnivore he asked for a second helping of the 'chicken' not realising he was actually eating soy protein. China Wok, situated on the junction with San Antonio Road, just after Miller Avenue, would not seem to be an obvious choice for a vegetarian and the tank of fresh lobsters as you enter may be a deterrent. However if you are in a mixed group then you could do worse than the choices on offer here which include 5 soups, 6 tofu dishes and 18 variations on vegetable dishes such as lemon (soy) chicken. As with many restaurants in the USA, it does not look appealing from the outside and the interior could do with an update but the food is what I remember most. Next time I would ask for the take away menu as it lists the vegetarian options more clearly than the 'dine-in' version. My accent may also have made communication with my waitress difficult but I was able to get across that I was vegetarian and we settled on a noodle dish. Most meals in the US seem to include extras - usually soup or salad. This time it was a bowl of sweet and sour soup (small thankfully). It was so good I took a portion home with me. The noodles were also excellent. Happy Bamboo Restaurant
Happy Bamboo
Possibly a bit greasy for some, but I was cold, tired and wet (unseasonable rain during my visit) and it was just what I wanted. Finally in this section I come to Kokila's Kitchen. Reviews on this place were a mixed bag, so I was not too sure what to expect. It is situated in the ubiquitous 'shopping mall' behind the main section, so it is helpful to know to look for McDonalds. The seating area is quite small, with cloths on tables that were placed to give some space between guests. I was met by the owner, a very friendly chap who explained that without a reservation my choice was the buffet. When I said that I was vegan, he went to great lengths to point out which buffet dishes I should avoid and left me to help myself. I enjoyed everything I chose, preferring some of the mixtures to others but I cannot honestly say that it was in any way remarkable, other than some of the dishes had mixtures of vegetables and pulses that were new to me. They use mild spices in their food and I found it a little bland, one or two 'hotter' items would have added interest for me. Vegans have a wide choice here as they use milk and paneer cheese in only a few dishes. If you would rather not have the buffet option you need to order in advance. They will prepare any dish you want or you can opt for their special, a nine vegetable stew called Gujarati undhiyo.

Vegetarian restaurants, as opposed to cafes, appear to be thin on the ground. Dasaprakash is situated in a row of shops, was not easy to find and looked similar to many of the cafe/fast food outlets that I visited during my trip. How looks can deceive. Once inside I found an upmarket Indian restaurant with a completely vegetarian menu. Amber Restaurant
Amber Restaurant
Friendly service in a formal yet relaxed atmosphere makes this a place worth a small trek to get to. Dasaprakask have several other outlets mainly in India but all offering the same standard of fine vegetarian south Indian dining. I tried an iddly with was served with sambar and chutney and then a masala dosa (the best I have had outside India). They also have thalis and offer a set menu at lunch time. All the other restaurants I found were vegetarian-friendly rather than purely vegetarian. Of these Amber Restaurant is worth a mention. It is easy to find, on the main road just past South Rengstorff. It was closed when I arrived (I was later than planned). I was able to see inside and having sampled their food at their caf., this is definitely a place I will try on my next visit. Amarin is a vegetarian-friendly Thai restaurant in the main street of Mountain View. It is nicely decorated in gold and yellow. They have Western style seating or you can opt for the Thai style tables where you sit on cushions. I arrived just as the kitchen was closing but was welcomed in and the kitchen stayed open until my order had been prepared. I was then left in peace to enjoy my meal with no attempt to hurry me out so they could shut. I had the vegetable tempura here and BBQ tofu plate with Jasmine tea. They have a separate and extensive vegetarian menu with 8 appetisers, 4 soups, 8 salads and 18 main dishes from which to choose. Their other three Amarin named restaurants have a similar menu ( at Mountain View, San Jose and Santa Clara).

San Jose is home to the Sharks ice hockey team and I managed to get tickets. If you are in the area and even if you are not an ice hockey fan (like me) see a game if you can - it is quite amazing. Sharks Ice Hockey
Sharks Ice Hockey
We went to Amicis Pizzeria for a bite before seeing the match. I am not a fan of pizza, I think they are highly over-rated and without the cheese they are rather dry. Amicis cook the pizza to order and as a vegetarian you can have any combination of vegetable topping that you desire, so effectively the choice is unlimited (as long as you want pizza!). You can also opt to replace the 'animal-cheese' with mozzarella-style soy cheese. I took this option with three vegetables plus the tomato sauce. It was the nicest pizza I have ever had anywhere. If you do attend a game, there are fast food outlets at the stadium plus two restaurants. They are all meat focused, so if you want to eat while watching the game, take your own food.

There are some places in the area that I would not recommend. Many of the mid-range food outlet chains had little or nothing for a vegetarian. Places like Burger King, McDonalds, Applebys, Chili's, Dennys, Lyons, Jack-in-the-Box and Taco Bell. If you eat in these places expect to have salad, unless you can face the 20 questions - is there beef stock in the onion soup? etc. On the shopping side the two food chains Trader Joes and Whole Foods are worth a mention. They have branches throughout much of the Bay area and have a wide range of vegetarian and vegan foods (along with animal products). Whole Foods has a well explained ethical policy where under their Whole Trade Program they actively care for the environment iThis is not a complete record of all the possible places to eat in the South Bay Area, but I feel it is a good start. As I have said, eating places abound and I expect this will be one of many Veggie Places reports on the South Bay - so recommendations please.

Veggie Places - January 2007

Note: Veggie Places always reviews anonymously, posing as an ordinary customer. If we do divulge who we are, it is always after we have paid in full for food or accommodation.

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