Breakfast staple

Bill's Cafe dishes up big portions of classic breakfast fare

Bill's Cafe has been doing a brisk business serving up breakfast in the Bay Area for more than three decades.

What started as one family-owned breakfast joint in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood in 1977 has grown to seven locations, including its newest outpost in Midtown Palo Alto.

There's something for everyone at Bill's, but try not to panic when browsing the extensive menu. There are more than 20 kinds of omelets and scrambles, six types of Belgian waffles, seven versions of French toast, 11 kinds of pancakes and 10 variations on eggs Benedict -- plus numerous other breakfast items. My advice: Go with a group that's willing to share so you can taste more items. The website's claim that the food "comes big and hearty" is no PR stunt; servings are large.

The "French Garden" omelet ($11.79) was satisfying, with goat cheese, spinach, sundried tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms and basil. Country potatoes, served on the side (or swap them for hash browns) were flavorful but served cold.

The Hawaiian pancakes ($8.99) -- buttermilk cakes with fresh bananas, macadamia nuts and coconut -- were luscious, fluffy and not overly sweet. A short stack comes with two massive pancakes and sides of butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. My only complaint was that the syrup wasn't real maple syrup and the whipped cream tasted like the store-bought stuff that comes in a can.

The blueberry waffles ($9.99) aren't quite like those that Leslie Knope of "Parks and Recreation" obsesses over at JJ's Diner, but they're a solid, sweet breakfast choice -- light and fluffy, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and four large dollops of whipped cream. Again, there's no skimping when it comes to portions at Bill's.

The "skillet creations" are a favorite, and I highly recommend them to those who are either incredibly hungry or hungover -- or both. The veggie skillet ($11.50) is an enormous bed of hash browns piled with scrambled egg whites, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, tomato, avocado, onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives. Don't miss Bill's "original skillet" of country-fried potatoes, onions, ham, cheddar cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes and green peppers topped with two eggs in any style ($11.50).

The California eggs Benedict ($11.95, with bacon, avocado and tomato instead of the traditional Canadian bacon) came with perfectly poached eggs, but the flavorless hollandaise sauce left something to be desired.

On my first visit, the service was overeager and not well-paced, but at subsequent meals, it was friendly and attentive without being overbearing. My coffee cup was always full. (Pro tip: If you prefer the drinks next-door at Philz Coffee, Bill's will let you bring it in.)

The space itself is somewhat sterile, with tables and some large booths. There's outdoor seating on a small patio along Middlefield Road. While the food is homey, the physical space leaves something to be desired. For a string of local restaurants with a long history, I would hope for more of a neighborhood feel or a bit of charm.

For thirsty customers, belly up to the bar for a mimosa ($7) served in chalice-like cups described on the menu as "bowls." (They clock in at 17.5 ounces.) Anyone looking for a boozy breakfast can choose from bloody marys, coffee with Bailey's, Mexican coffee (tequila, Kahlua, coffee and whipped cream), Irish coffee with Jameson whiskey, a chavela (Model Especial beer served with lime in a glass with a salted rim) or Bill's "super Michelada" (Negra Modelo beer, a splash of tomato juice, lime juice and a "touch" of tequila served in a large chilled glass with a salted rim).

Bill's Cafe should be a welcome addition for breakfast lovers with hearty appetites looking for something new on the Midpeninsula.

Bill's Cafe

3163 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto



Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Reservations: no

Credit cards: yes

Parking: street, lot

Alcohol: beer and wine

Happy hour: no

Corkage: no

Children: yes

Takeout: yes

Outdoor dining: patio

Noise level: moderate

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

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6 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2016 at 5:01 pm

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

Agree in general after several meals. Hollandaise sauce terrible. Decor in my opinion is super. Service friendly and efficient, except when they are very busy. The bread pudding french toast with banana and three meaty pieces of bacon: superb (both times). You didn't mention the soup and sandwich combos, which my wife loves, especially the BLT.

1 person likes this
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2016 at 5:56 pm

We love Bill's Cafe and thankful for finally having a diner style cafe in Palo Alto with good breakfast food.

1 person likes this
Posted by Palo Verde
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2016 at 6:02 pm

Have enjoyed a couple of brunches and lunches. Such a shame that it is not open for dinner in the evening, we would love to have somewhere to walk for dinner where we could have a glass of wine or a beer and then walk home without having to have a designated driver.

11 people like this
Posted by Yuckola
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 8:19 pm

The Bill's Cafe in San Jose is great, but the one in Palo Alto does not compare to it at all.

Soggy hash browns REALLY gross me out, and that's what you get at Bill's.

Overkill of alcohol in the Mimosas.

Lazy service, at least on the weekends.

We have tried this place three times: the first was okay, and we really wanted to like this place, but the s cond and third times were successively worse

3 people like this
Posted by gluten free?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:36 pm

do they have a gluten free menu or enough dishes to make it worthwhile for person who is gluten free to pay them a visit?

7 people like this
Posted by EffieClyde
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 24, 2016 at 1:14 pm

I live a five-minute walk from Bill's, and I really wanted to like it -- but I don't. The reviews complains about the decor, which I think is really very attractive. It's the food that has been disappointing, all three visits.

Hash browns requested well done but served half-raw; soup so salty it's hard to eat (canned?); chicken salad devoid of taste; a poached egg requested soft but arriving rock-hard; limp and pale croissants (for a sandwich); bread that even toasting won't make tasty.

The coffee is poor quality, both regular and decaf; Philz would be a better choice, as the reviewer suggests.

The service has been very pleasant and accommodating. But what's going on in the kitchen? The Willow Glen Bill's serves food much better than this, or did when I was there a few years back.

1 person likes this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 24, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Bill's does not have a spirits license, unless they acquired one in the last week, which I do not think possible. They use the same menu they have at their cafe that does have a license. They really, really need to modify that at Palo Alto. I've mentioned it there several times now. One waiter told me some customers became really mad when they realized their Michelada did not have Tequila in it. Evidently some waiters tell the customers; others don't. I had to tell my friend that the Bloody Mary would not have Vodka. I guess they would've just served it to her. This is a rather large omission in a restaurant review and to unequivocally state that the ingredients from just reading a menu, isn't acceptable. The VERY best thing about this place, IMO, is that they have a "Mini" section on the menu. Instead of getting Eggs Benedict, you can get a Mini Benedict with just the one muffin. Few restaurants offer this choice. The A La Carte section allows you to order one egg and toast, e.g., if you wish. Making comments about the huge portions without mentioning the other choices (you do not need to come with a crowd) is again rather shoddy restaurant reviewing. Frankly, I think there needs to be an addendum/correction released, printed to this review. And, finally, the decor is NOT sterile. We have all mentioned that it's homey, pleasant, bright, and we can hear each other talk. If you want sterile, go to any new, trendy restaurant, where it's all gray concrete, the hardest seats ever, and a decibel level bordering on hearing damage range.

1 person likes this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 24, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Forget to include my disgust with the suggestion to bring coffee in from Philz, even if the restaurant says it's OK. This is so rude. I'm not sure if this is a Palo Alto entitlement practice or it's just an idea with younger folk. At Nut House, I've seen groups of young people go in there with their Starbucks, sit and play games, and not order one thing from the Nut House. And, I tell they what I think of it.

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

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