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By Elena Kadvany

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About this blog: I am a perpetually hungry twenty-something journalist, born and raised in Menlo Park and currently working at the Palo Alto Weekly as education and youth staff writer. I graduated from USC with a major in Spanish and a minor in jo...  (More)

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Food fight: Palo Alto vs. San Francisco

Uploaded: Oct 21, 2013
Will Palo Alto's food scene ever compete with San Francisco's?

It's a question I often ask myself, especially in light of the non-stop influx of well-known SF places opening up on the Peninsula. I tend to think not.

In my experience, some of these San Francisco outposts have actually not tasted quite as good down here (Tacolicious, to be exact, was a total letdown when I first went). Maybe I'm picky; a food snob; restaurants have off days. Who knows.

Though the great San Francisco restaurant migration is exciting for Peninsula foodies, present company included, it also leaves one wondering: Will Palo Alto be taken over by these chain transplants? What about the mom and pops, the individual, non-chain, non-franchised, unique and special places? There are plenty of places of that nature in Palo Alto that have been around for years, but few new ones coming into town. (I was pleased to hear about Scoop Microcreamery, an ice cream shop that opened on University Avenue a few weeks ago and is owned by a couple from New Jersey who call themselves "Mr. and Mrs. Scoop." Sidenote: The ice cream is sublime. Get the bourbon with salted caramel.)

Trevor Felch, a local food writer, aired similar thoughts on the SF Weekly's food blog on Monday, Oct. 21. Read his post: When Will Palo Alto's Dining Scene Step Out of S.F.'s Shadow?

His two cents: what Palo Alto lacks, is "small, passionate, chef-owned concepts," which are pushed out/kept away by the "restaurant expansion culture" that has been dominating the city of late. I totally agree.

I'd be interested to hear what others think. What's your take on the Palo Alto food scene? What about Mountain View, Menlo Park, Redwood City? Will Palo Alto (or the Peninsula's) food scene ever compete with San Francisco's? Does it need to?

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by another foodie, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Palo Alto food scene is far from being able to compete with San Francisco. There are probably less than 5 restaurants if not 3 that would be at the level of an average restaurant in NY or SF. Palo Alto has many great things, but a world class cuisine is not one of them.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by resident, a resident of another community,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I live in Palo Alto. I enjoy the restaurant scene in San Francisco so much better simply because of the tremendous variety up there. There are only a handful of restaurants in Palo Alto I enjoy visiting regularly, but even then I don't want to visit the same ones every week because they start tasting the same after a while. In San Francisco, there are so many different cuisines represented (by quality restaurants) that I could easily eat something completely different more than once a week for a year or more.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:05 am

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

another foodie, resident - Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you, resident. I have my favorites down here, but am constantly trying new places in San Francisco.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:48 am

Elena - I wonder if some of the difference is the lack of an available employee base. I remember reading a while back that the founder of Calafia commented on how challenging it is to hire people in Palo Alto.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

palo alto resident - Interesting point. Do you mean hiring chefs? I'm sure most aspiring chefs on the West Coast flock to San Francisco and L.A., not Palo Alto...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Elena - I wasn't thinking of the chefs, rather all the support staff that a good restaurant requires. If you know that rents are expensive and staff is difficult to hire, you might not choose that location for a restaurant. Just wondering if that comes into play.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

I doubt SF has much to fear of restaurant competition from any of the (comparatively) small-town restaurant clusters of the peninsula and S. Bay, of which there are several.

On the other hand, the larger phenomenon of SF restaurateurs preferring to open on the peninsula, and some of the peculiar current economics of this, got a notable Chronicle article earlier this year.

Web Link

Note especially Frank Klein's comments predicting shake-out of inexperienced restaurateurs in a current climate of peak restaurant rental prices. (So sharp a peak, a popular downtown-MV Chinese restaurant closed this year after its lease came up for renewal at three times the previous monthly rent.)

20 years ago, people often complained online that Palo Alto, for all its appropriate environment and residents who could afford to eat out, conspicuously lacked a restaurant scene. Stars was the famous high-end place, and didn't last. PA had long been better known for humble local-grown chains and neighborhood cafes (Stukey's, Ken's, Round Table Pizza -- a Menlo Park invention). That has changed considerably: neighborhoods like University and California ave's and the totally re-born Town & Country near Sranford now feature independent, innovative restaurants with range and variety.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

palo alto resident, Max - Very good points; I appreciate you commenting. There's a lot more at play than just good food or attracting talented chefs. There's increasingly high rents (in both Palo Alto and San Francisco), city ordinances to get through, challenges hiring staff, etc. Makes it pretty clear why all these already successful, well-established SF places can easily make the move down here.

To anyone else interested in the topic: the Chronicle article that Max posted is worth a read.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by SF Native, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Nice idea, but PA's food will never surpass that found in San Francisco. It's simply not going to happen.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Also, "palo alto resident" raised a good point that I too have heard from restaurateurs and even restaurant employees in Santa Clara County.

Because of its extremely high restaurant count in a compact geography (several hubdred thousand restaurant seats in a city of only 47 square miles, just twice the land area of Palo Alto), SF has a uniquely large and experienced pool of restaurant workers to draw on, many of whom choose it as a career.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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