Something surprising and wonderful started happening in the last few weeks: There were more restaurants opening than I could keep up with.
Establishments of all stripes, from boba shops, a food truck and a ghost kitchen to sit-down restaurants, are opening up shop after months of closures and dire predictions about the state of the restaurant industry (nearly one in six restaurants, or about 100,000 restaurants, has closed either permanently or long-term since March, according to the National Restaurant Association). Many local projects had been in the pipeline for months or even years, and owners said they felt a financial pressure to open as soon as possible, despite the limitations and risks.
Zareen Khan, who opened the third location of her eponymous restaurant in downtown Redwood City this month, said she invested "significantly" in the space before the coronavirus hit. She started paying rent in May, meaning she went more than five months without any business coming in at that location.
"Cities are being very supportive with outdoor dining so that has helped many restaurants reopen as well," Khan added.
Omid Zahedi opened this month Rise Woodfire, a massive restaurant at the San Mateo train station. It had been in the works for two years -- two years of investment, a full remodel and effort that he couldn't walk away from.
"We needed to open as soon as possible due to our financial obligations, and every month we did not would be another month of falling behind on them," he said.
Many Santa Clara and San Mateo county restaurants are also now taking advantage of the fact that they can again serve customers indoors, albeit at much-reduced numbers (25% capacity or 100 customers, whichever is fewer).
"There is the counter intuitive optimism that 'This too shall pass,'" Zahedi said. "Time will tell but the bold and brave that stayed the course in the face of dramatic fear in the industry may end up benefiting from the inevitable normalization of this time. What better time to build a restaurant than the 12-18 months that dried up supply and created pent up demand for people's natural desire to gather and socialize?"
Below is a non-exhaustive list of more than a dozen new restaurants that have opened or are opening soon on the Peninsula, representing an exciting range of cuisines and a sense of optimism about the local dining world.
Because these restaurants are all new and some of their hours are changing as they adjust, call them directly or check websites and social media for current hours.
Marufuku Ramen, Redwood City
San Francisco ramen favorite Marufuku is opening in downtown Redwood City on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
Marufuku's 20-hour tonkotsu ramen regularly drew long lines in San Francisco pre-pandemic. Marufuku is known for hakata, a regional style of ramen — a rich pork broth served with thinner than typical noodles. Marufuku's hakata ramen is topped with chashu pork belly, a seasoned soft boiled egg, green onions, kikurage mushrooms and bean sprouts. The menu also includes chicken paitan and vegetable ramens, rice bowls and sides like karaage and fried shishito peppers.
Outdoor and indoor dining. 865 Middlefield Road, Redwood City; marufukuramen.com
BottleShop, Redwood City
John Graham-Taylor, a culinary school graduate, sommelier, former wine supplier and restaurant general manager, has reopened Redwood City wine bar BottleShop. His resume includes stints in both the front- and back-of-house at the Michelin-starred Chez TJ in Mountain View, the now-closed Viognier at Draeger's in San Mateo and Cotogna in San Francisco.
After BottleShop closed several months ago, Graham-Taylor took it over with partner Tom Boriolo, wanting to bring a casual wine bar with high-level service to the Peninsula.
"We wanted to bring that level of quality but down to a more approachable and less stiff environment where you can come in, get really beautiful food, really manicured service but in jeans and flip flops," Graham-Taylor said.
While the former BottleShop focused on natural wines, the new iteration will not (though there will be some on the menu). Graham-Taylor described the wine selection as food friendly. He plans to offer custom food-and-wine pairings to customers in addition to a small menu of small bites and charcuterie. Wine bottles will also be available for retail purchase. They plan to offer classes, socially distanced events and wine and whiskey clubs.
Outdoor and indoor service. 2627 Broadway St., Redwood City; thebottleshoprwc.com
Alebrijes Oaxacan Kitchen, Redwood City
Carmen Lopez and her son-in-law Reynaldo Hernandez, both natives of Oaxaca, are behind the Alebrijes Oaxacan Kitchen food truck, which is now parked in Redwood City Monday through Thursday and pops up in Half Moon Bay on Friday and Saturday.
Lopez and Hernandez want to expose more local diners to the dishes and flavors of Oaxacan cuisine. Their two signature dishes are memelitas and tlayudas. Memelitas look like tacos but are served on larger, handmade corn tortillas. They're filled with a layer of pureed black beans, cabbage, quesillo (Oaxacan cheese made from cow's milk), salsa, guacamole and drizzled with asiento, or pork lard. Tlayudas, sometimes referred to as Oaxacan pizza, look like flatbread covered with toppings. Lopez and Hernandez toast a thin, 15-inch corn tortilla, lay it flat and smear it with asiento and pureed black beans, topped with cabbage, quesillo, tomatoes, salsa and your choice of carne asada, chorizo or marinated pork (or all three).
Memelitas and tlayudas are always on the menu but they rotate in additional dishes such as blandas (a Oaxacan burrito) and molotes (deep-fried masa stuffed with chorizo and potatoes).
Takeout. Located at 2666 Middlefield Road in Redwood City Monday-Thursday and 724 Main St. in Half Moon Bay Friday-Saturday. facebook.com/alebrijeskitchen
Tokemoana Foods, East Palo Alto
Polynesian food is vastly underrepresented on the Peninsula, but the newly opened Tokemoana Foods has changed that.
Tokemoana sells frozen foods and ingredients grown on the company's farms in Ha'ateiho, Tonga, like frozen ufi, or Samoan sweet potato.
On the weekends, there's hot food, like palusami (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk), sapasui (referred to as Samoan chop suey, glass noodles stir fried with vegetables) and feke (steamed octopus tossed in a coconut cream sauce), among other dishes.
Preorder for pickup. 1425 Bay Road, East Palo Alto; tokemoana-foods.square.site
T Bread, Mountain View
The owners of T Bread opened a banh mi shop in Saigon in 1990 and have brought their concept to Mountain View. T Bread makes eight kinds of foot-long banh mi with fillings like pate, grilled pork, sardines and meatballs. There's also made-to-order gỏi cuốn (spring rolls) and a selection of pastries.
Takeout and delivery. 805 E El Camino Real, Suite D, Mountain View; tbread.store
House on First, Los Altos
House on First has replaced Bumble in downtown Los Altos, opened by Jean-Luc Kayigire, who owns cocktail bar Amandine Project down the street.
House on First serves coffee, tea and pastries in the morning and dinner, cocktails, wine and beer in the evening. The dinner menu includes a burger (you can opt for the plant-based Impossible patty), halibut with romesco sauce, smoked duck with parsnip puree and ribeye steak with herb-roasted duck potatoes. The space has a massive outdoor patio for socially distancing dining, heat lamps included.
Outdoor dining. 145 1st St., Los Altos; facebook.com/houseonfirst
Wonderful, Foster City
Wonderful, downtown Millbrae's popular Hunan restaurant, has opened a second location in Foster City.
Look for the restaurant's signature Godfather noodles (fresh noodles topped with a spicy pork sauce, made-to-order, thick green onion pancakes, cilantro lamb, handmade dumplings and other Hunan dishes.
Takeout, indoor and outdoor dining. Accepting cash or VenMo payments only during the soft opening. 1000 Metro Center Blvd., Suite A, Foster City; wonderful.restaurant
Rise Woodfire, San Mateo
The owners of Rise Pizzeria in Burlingame recently opened their second act: Rise Woodfire, located in a historic building at the San Mateo train station at 2 North B. St. The restaurant serves the same thin crust, wood-fired pizza as at Rise Pizzeria, the dough made from four flours that are fermented using a sponge method over three days. More than a dozen pizzas are available, or you can build your own from a range of cheese and toppings.
The open kitchen is equipped with two wood-fired ovens that were handbuilt in Naples. Here, the kitchen uses the ovens to go beyond pizzas, with chicken wings, kale, broccoli, salmon and prime rib getting the wood-fire treatment. Rotisserie items such as a half or whole chicken come with sides and sauces, from chimichurri and Peruvian aji amarillo to roasted garlic and chili butter and wood-fired pineapple teriyaki chipotle.
Takeout, indoor and outdoor dining. 2 N. B. St., San Mateo; risewoodfire.com
Between the Bun, San Mateo
Oakland's Between the Bun has brought its lobster rolls to downtown San Mateo. As the name implies, these lobster rolls and other seafood sandwiches are served on a bun, more like a hamburger than a New England-style roll.
All the seafood rolls -- Maine lobster, red crab and North Atlantic Bay shrimp are lightly dressed with mayo, butter and a spice blend. Sides include beans, kettle chips, slaw and waffle fries, plus lobster bisque and clam chowder.
Takeout and delivery. 132 S. B St. San Mateo; facebook.com/BTBLOBSTER
Pylos Estiatorio, San Carlos
Laurel Street has a new Greek and Mediterranean option with the opening of Pylos, from the owner of the nearby Spasso and Blind Tasting. Pylos is open for lunch and dinner, with dishes such as keftedes saltsa (lamb-beef meatballs in a tomato sauce topped with yogurt), avgolemeno (egg-lemon soup with chicken and rice), saganaki (pan-fried cheese with lemon and oregano) chicken souvlaki and grilled lamb chops.
Takeout, indoor and outdoor dining. 621 Laurel St., San Carlos; 650-226-3652
Societea House & Eatery, San Bruno
The local boba boom continues with the opening of Societea House & Eatery in San Carlos, which serves some inventive milk tea drinks, like black tea mixed with milk infused with Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal or blended with double-stuffed Oreos.
Societea House & Eatery also serves food, including kimchi fried rice, bulgogi sandwich, fried chicken sandwich, popcorn chicken and "loaded" waffle fries topped with spicy pork or lemongrass chicken, kimchi, kimchi aioli, pickled vegetables and furikake.
Takeout and indoor dining. 446 San Mateo Ave., San Bruno; 650-636-4494
The family behind longtime Belmont Italian restaurant Vivace expanded in September with Capo, a fast-casual Mediterranean eatery. Vivace owner Mike Gunn's son Hayden and nephew Serhat are running the restaurant.
Look for pita wraps, rice plates and salads -- plus a calamari "po boy" wrapped in a pita with with tzatziki and pickled onions and beef and lamb cooked on a slowly turning spit, served with bright-pink beet lebni.
Takeout, delivery indoor and outdoor dining. 2040 Ralston Ave., Belmont; capobelmont.com
Casper Restaurant Group, Sunnyvale
Pre-coronavirus, JW Catering's large kitchen in Sunnyvale churned out orders for tech conferences, office lunches, bar and bat mitzvahs and special events. Now, it houses four different restaurant concepts available for pickup or delivery.
Jeffrey Weinberg's pandemic pivot has been to transform his catering company into a ghost kitchen. It's called Casper Restaurant Group, a play on the "ghost" concept. The first restaurant was The Marvelous Matzah Experiment (a riff off the TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), which serves Jewish deli fare inspired by Weinberg's East Coast youth, like housemade pastrami and corned beef on Wise Sons Deli rye bread, matzah ball soup and challah French toast.
They've since added Toasty Melt (grilled cheeses), Gorgeous Grits (Southern-inspired food) and the Lockdown Limited Luncheon (daily specials that change weekly), with more on the way. Weinberg said he can scale up to a dozen concepts in a single kitchen. His employees deliver food so the company can avoid the 30% commission fee charged by third party delivery companies.
"It's allowed me to keep my employees employed," Weinberg said of the ghost kitchen. "It's certainly not filling the gap on large corporate events -- I gotta sell a lot of $15 sandwiches to make up for a $1,000 corporate event -- (but) it's allowed us to keep the lights on and the doors open."
Weinberg is also looking for a brick-and-mortar space to expand The Marvelous Matzah Experiment, hopefully in Palo Alto. He's hoping to partner with a local restaurateur who might be struggling during the pandemic to share a kitchen and staff.
Open for pickup and delivery. 649 S. Bernardo Ave., Sunnyvale; casperrestaurantgroup.com
Bamboo Sushi, Santa Clara
Bamboo Sushi, the Portland, Oregon sustainable sushi restaurant, is now open at Westfield Valley Fair on the border of Santa Clara and San Jose.
Bamboo Sushi is known for paying close attention to seafood sourcing and maintaining a low carbon footprint. Every piece of fish served at the restaurant must meet the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guidelines, and the menu notes where and how seafood was caught.
Bamboo Sushi Valley Fair serves nigiri, rolls, a wagyu burger and crispy sushi rice topped with your choice of fish, truffled eel sauce and green onion. It's only open for takeout now as it eases into opening, though diners can eat their to-go food on an outdoor patio. The restaurant team is discussing when the dining room will open.
Bamboo Sushi will join the ranks of Din Tai Fung, Ramen Nagi, Super Duper Burgers and Salt & Straw at the mall. Several new eateries have also opened in recent weeks, including Shake Shack, fast casual chicken and rice eatery Rooster & Rice, Southern California seafood restaurant King's Fish House and Japanese cheesecake chain Uncle Tetsu. The mall recently built a new outdoor dining plaza as part of a $1.1 billion renovation.
Takeout and delivery, with outdoor dining for takeout (no service). 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Suite 1840, Santa Clara; bamboosushi.com/restaurant/san-jose