News


Palo Alto, rejoice. Mike's Cafe is back.

Midtown restaurant opening for dinner Thursday night, June 20

The new dining room at Mike's Palo Alto was once Peninsula Hardware. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

The return of Mike's Cafe, a humble, longtime neighborhood eatery, might be one of Palo Alto's most anticipated restaurant openings of the year.

Customers and neighbors have been stopping by the 2680 Middlefield Road space in Midtown for weeks as it's visibly neared opening. They've been calling owner Mike Wallau and his other restaurant in Portola Valley, desperate for news. In the span of a 45-minute interview for this article, not one, but two people — one teenage boy and an older woman — eagerly popped their heads into the front door to ask when Mike's will be open.

"I can't wait two weeks to eat lunch!" the woman exclaimed.

She won't have to. After shuttering for a year and a half for a major renovation and expansion, Mike's Cafe will reopen to the public Thursday night, June 20. The restaurant is opening for dinner at 5 p.m.

"I made a big decision," Wallau said last week, standing in his restaurant's brand-new dining room. "It's a decision I'm very happy I made. I did this because I really felt ... Midtown has always needed a place where neighbors can say hi," where staff and diners know each other by name and gather over comfort food.

Wallau opened the original Mike's Cafe more than two decades ago, in 1995. A Midtown native, he started working in restaurants when he was a student at Palo Alto High School and never left the industry. His first restaurant job was as a busboy at L'Auberge, an upscale French restaurant on the Atherton-Redwood City border owned by his friend's father.

Wallau went on to open two more Mike's Cafes in Portola Valley (now Portola Kitchen) and Menlo Park (sold in 2012). Two years ago, he took over the former Peninsula Hardware space, adjacent to the Palo Alto Mike's Cafe, with plans to expand. He never anticipated it would take this long.

"I feel that it was the most challenging project of my career," he said.

Everything had to be rebuilt — electrical, gas, plumbing, the old linoleum floors. The planning and permitting process was extensive. Wallau tore down the wall between the old Mike's and the hardware store, adding new bathrooms, an open kitchen, pizza ovens, a communal dining table and a gleaming 18-seat bar made from 100-year-old Douglas fir wood. The former Mike's space seats 40 and the new dining room, 50.

Then came the challenge of staffing. The restaurant would have already been open if not for the Bay Area's tight restaurant labor market, Wallau said.

But the community is ready and waiting to support the restaurant, which has been packed during recent friends and family events.

The new space resembles Portola Kitchen, with reclaimed wood, white headboard paneling on the walls and Edison light bulbs enclosed in iron. The menu is also similar, with the addition of pizzas and fresh pastas made on a machine imported from Italy. Wallau also purchased a prosciutto slicer from Italy.

He described the new Mike's food as "rustic Italian" with ingredients made as fresh as possible and locally sourced.

The new dinner menu includes appetizers such as caprese, fried calamari and eggplant parmesan. The dough is made in house for thin-crust pizzas and mozzarella is imported from Italy.

There are also salads, several pastas and entrees, from veal scallopine to a cheeseburger.

The new restaurant will take reservations and walk-ins. People can order from the full food menu at the bar. Mike's serves wine, beer and cocktails.

Wallau, who still lives several blocks from the restaurant, is planning to hang on the walls prints of old Midtown, which he said was a "blighted," neglected neighborhood when he first opened.

"We're trying to keep the heritage and history of Midtown intact," he said.

Mike's is part of that history. With the new space, he considered renaming the restaurant Palo Alto Kitchen, like Portola Kitchen, but decided against it.

Why?

"Just the feeling from customers that they wanted it to stay Mike's," he said.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Loved the art on the walls of the old Mikes.

Only 10 more seats. Wow, I would have expected more.

Still hope it as good as it was and look forward to visiting. Any link to the menu?


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 20, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Now I know I'm getting old. My wife and I started going there as soon as it opened the first time. His dad, Bill, greeted people at the door. And now there won't be a service station type restroom, a big improvement. That was always a detractor, except you didn't have to ask for the key.


10 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 20, 2019 at 5:56 pm

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

Reread the article - the original 40 seats are still there - he ADDED 50 in the new space.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 20, 2019 at 6:17 pm

I'll still be looking for lightbulbs and faucet washers.


23 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Mike's closed about Jan. 1, 2018 for renovations. It's now about 18 months later. Why does a reasonably simple renovation project take so long in Palo Alto. This project should have taken only a few months. Far too much red tape in this town.


5 people like this
Posted by elyse
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 20, 2019 at 8:48 pm

so glad Mike's is back in business, can't wait to see the old gang enjoying food and friendship.


Like this comment
Posted by Keri
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 21, 2019 at 12:18 am

Yay! Can't wait to try the new Mike's!


Like this comment
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2019 at 7:54 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Great news and happy to hear it!


Like this comment
Posted by midtowngirl
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2019 at 9:09 am

yay!
see you on sunday :)

and to musical thanks for the laugh :)


3 people like this
Posted by Josie
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:09 am

Looking forward to restrooms you don't have to go outside to use!! :-)


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:12 am

What happened to all the people who previously worked there?
How many of the current workers worked there previously?


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 21, 2019 at 12:18 pm

@Joe, let's hear from Mike on all the reasons why it took so long.

@musical, that is funny, but sadly that is all many of us shopped for at Gary's store once Home Depot and Orchard Supply came to town. Human nature and maybe our own individual financial situations drove us to look for the cheapest paint, hardware, tools, etc. That's the sad history of family owned retail stores in PA.

@CrescentParkAnon, that's a good question. I have a hunch they found jobs elsewhere, maybe even out of the area/state, and I would be surprised to see any of them back. There were some good ones and I was generous with my tips for them. He had good cooks also, I could look over my left shoulder and watch them in the kitchen. Occasionally a special would show up on the menu. The one I remember that my wife and I enjoyed the most was the strawberry rhubarb pie. Yummm!


1 person likes this
Posted by Teresa
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:10 pm

Yes,yes,yes!, back to our LOCAL wonderful restaurant and it’s lovely owners. FNS will be able to have their retired teachers , monthly meetings there again. And my husband and I delicious dinners!,,,so happy!!!!


27 people like this
Posted by In the neighborhood
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2019 at 11:38 pm

Am I the only one who thinks the prices are very high?

I was hoping that this could become our neighborhood restaurant, where our family could enjoy dinner once in a while. But with the steep prices, we’ll sadly have to pass.


8 people like this
Posted by MoneyBurner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 23, 2019 at 10:14 am

Rejoice? Did you get a lot of those prices? Check it out - Web Link

Seem like any place with a Palo Alto address assumes it has a few Michelin stars and takes full advantage of the Palo Alto mark-up. There are some good places in Palo Alto that warrant higher prices, let's hope this rises to be one of them. From the way this place used to be run before just call me skeptical. Good luck! Midtown and fine dining just seem to be at odds.

I just remember how fast the Palo Alto Breakfast Kitchen went out of business.


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2019 at 11:56 am

@MoneyBurner - those prices are very disappointing. Definitely not family friendly, at least for my family.


3 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 25, 2019 at 4:17 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

It seems like the new Mike's is 3 times more expensive than the old Mike's. It should fit perfectly into the new Palo Alto dining scene: The more overpriced the restaurant, the more lousy the food.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2019 at 5:28 pm

"Why does a reasonably simple renovation project take so long in Palo Alto."

Mike's does not sell Mercedeses, so no fast track for them.


1 person likes this
Posted by TeaLady
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 25, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Oh dear!, we have been waiting with bated breath. This morning we went there.....what a disappointment!. Honestly there was nothing on the menu I wanted to eat, I settled for a beet salad.. and got a pile of arugula, eight 1/2 " pieces of beets, 6 pistachios nuts, and three 1/2 " peices of goat cheese.It was $17.00. The bread was dry and just served as is...no oil no butter . I doapplaud their inclusion of Peroni on tap. They seated us in the old part of the restaurant. It was so loud, my husband took out his hearing aids. The kitchen was clatterering, and occasionally sending off bad smells. there is no baffling so it was loud, I could not hear my husband but could hear every word from the guy on the other side of the room who never learned that not all people are interested in what he wants to share. The decor was uninteresting, and the view out the window was of a gas main, a dirty street, and a parking lot.
Oh please give me my mushroom melt, the scampi with linguini, and those exquisite soups. We can't afford to eat here...and really don't want to.


Like this comment
Posted by Dante Drummond
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2019 at 6:27 pm

So happy to see this open! We will be there soon!!


4 people like this
Posted by Just observing
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 27, 2019 at 6:39 pm

" This project should have taken only a few months. Far too much red tape in this town."

Far too many arm-chair designers, contractors, cops, doctors, etc. in this town. Everybody knows exactly how long anything should take.


Like this comment
Posted by Laurie
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 4, 2019 at 9:58 pm

I am not hearing anything about lunch. Are they open for lunch and have a lunch menu?


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