Mini Restaurant Reviews
Publication Date: Friday May 26, 1995

Mini Restaurant Reviews

Following are condensed versions, in alphabetical order, of longer restaurant reviews published in the Weekly over the past several years. This week's reviews begin where the list ended one week ago.

Acorn Restaurant, 1906 El Camino Real, Atherton, 853-1906

A touch of Italy, France and Greece rolled into one menu, with everything from moussaka and dolmas to linguini Napolitana. Even California cuisine fits into their concept of Mediterranean food. The Acorn opened 21 years ago on Crane Street in Menlo Park, originally owned and run by Sam and Maria Petrakis, the latter of which again runs the new version of an old favorite. Napkins and tablecloths are white linen. The chairs are commodious. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sun. (Reviewed May 28, 1993)

Amandine Swiss Pastries and Candies Restaurant, 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 325-4776

At this cute pastry shop and restaurant (formerly Andre's), Ernst and Annegret Wiedmer serve fabulous quiche Lorraine for lunch, authentic fondue for dinner and the most heavenly pastries for dessert. At lunch or dinner, you get your choice of six or more sweets on the prix fixe menu. You also get a tiny salad with creamy walnut dressing and your choice of several entrees. You can't do better than the quiche Lorraine, a sinfully rich melt of cheese and eggs on a shallow pastry crust. There's also spinach quiche and usually a salad plate in summer or a heavier dish like wiener schnitzel in winter. The "cook-it-yourself" style of fondue and raclette dishes makes Amandine a fun place for a first date. Hours: Monday-Wednesday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Sunday (Reviewed Aug. 5, 1994)

L'Amie Donia, 530 Bryant St., Palo Alto, 323-7614

Simple French bistro cuisine. Perfect chocolate mousse. Salads dressed so lightly you can taste the different greens. You'll get mild flavors, fresh ingredients and light, French country fare at this bustling bistro. The only caveat: L'Amie Donia can be unbearably noisy. Menus change seasonally here. Examples include coq au vin ($13.50), a mild melange of chicken stewed in cabernet with mushrooms, pearl onions and potatoes, and for vegetarians, yellow bell peppers stuffed with a buttery mixture of rice and vegetables ($12.75). The restaurant has a carefully selected list of French and local wines. Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday-Saturday 5:30-11 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 26, 1994)

Andale Taqueria, 209 University Ave., Palo Alto, 323-2939

Chili-pepper lights and a bull's head decorate this fast food newcomer to the downtown scene. But don't let the surreal art deco put you off--mesquite-grilled chicken, low-fat black beans and fresh tamales so pretty you won't want to eat them make the fare here impossible to resist. Diners can pig out on supremo burritos laden with smoky grilled chicken, guacamole, beans and cheese, and other authentic Mexican dishes, or opt for a mesquite chicken salad with goat cheese, romaine lettuce and avocado that is top-quality California fresh. Save room for an extraordinary cheese flan. This place is kid-friendly and inexpensive but draws quite a crowd. Open Mon. to Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 4, 1991)

Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-2922

Recognizing that barbecue is not simply a method of cooking meat, but a culinary obsession--an art, even, in certain areas of Texas--the owners of Armadillo Willy's have created a dining experiene worthy of a hearty "Yahoo!" The huge menu features ribs, sausages, hamburgers, Tex-Mex specialties, sandwiches and salads. The service is friendly and the atmosphere is no-frills. Wine and beer as well as margaritas are available. Armadillo Willy's has won awards for its barbecue sauce, which comes in hot and mild versions. Unless you're a real spice wimp, go for the hot. It is quite manageable whereas the less complicated mild is a bit on the subtle side. Open Mon.-Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. noon-10 p.m.; Sun. 4:30-9 p.m. (Reviewed April 16, 1993)

Baccarat at Hotel Sofitel, 233 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City, 598-9000

Sophisticated French dining is a rarity these days, so when you feel like splurging it's important to go to the right place. Baccarat, the restaurant of the Hotel Sofitel, delivers classic, flawless meals from the first course--perhaps wild mushroom gnocchi in duck consomme--to the last-- maybe a chateaubriand carved at the table and accompanied by red-wine and bearnaise sauces. You'll find a triple veal chop, medallions of bison and other spectacular and creative dishes, all pricey but perfectly executed. The dessert special, a souffle, is worth the wait. Hours (dinner only): Mon.-Thurs. from 6-10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. until 10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. (Reviewed Aug. 26, 1992)

Bangkok Bay Thai Cuisine, 825 El Camino Real (at Broadway), Redwood City, 365-5369

Bangkok Bay does a pretty good job of walking that fine line between accessibility and authenticity, much in the way Thai food manages at once to be subtle and intense. The satay is especially good. Tom kah gai is a chicken lemon soup, mildly spiced, smoothed with coconut milk and brightened with lemon leaves. If you order lunch from the Combinations listing, you get any two items along with soup and rice. Tod man pla, an entree unfortunately found only on the luncheon menu, is an excellent version of fish cakes served in a sweet and spicy cucumber sauce. Hours: Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

Bangkok Cuisine, 407 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 322-6533

Bangkok Cuisine, off the beaten path on Lytton Avenue, is intimate, friendly and inviting. The smells are the first wake-up call to the senses, a fragrant fusion of barbecue, garlic, sugar, chilies and peanuts. After a few minutes, the comfortable ambience, decorated in soft pinks and greens, seduces you into thinking you are gazing at fresh flowers while dining off linen. Such is the charm of the place, because the napkins and place mats, at lunch at least, are mere paper; the flowers ersatz. Hours: Monday-Saturday lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday-Thursday dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 10, 1993)

Beausejour, 170 State St., Los Altos, 948-1382

Beausejour is run by William and Ahn Yee, who came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975. The Vietnamese influence shows in the reduced reliance of fat in the food, and Californian influence can be seen in the use of shiitake mushrooms and cilantro in sauces where a roux or cream sauce might be more customary. The decor is unassuming and understated. The monied classes can easily spend $100 or more for dinner with wine. But more value-conscious types shouldn't rule out Beausejour. By sticking to glasses of Los Altos tap, dinner for two can be held to $25 or $30. The extensive wine list is primarily Californian and French. Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. from 11:30 a.m. to 2 pm.; dinner every day at 5:30 p.m.; cocktail lounge open Mon.-Fri. from 5 to 7 p.m. (Reviewed Sept. 17, 1993)

BenBo's, 460 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 323-2555

This tiny, family-run Mediterranean restaurant combines the convenience of ordering at the counter with the prettiness of tiled tabletops and the pleasures of a finely prepared healthy meal. The small but interesting menu is a veritable Middle Eastern melting pot, incorporating specialties from Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Armenia and Greece--with the requisite creative California influences mixed in. They use no oils but olive oil, they fry nothing and make interesting soup combinations like yogurt-barley and yogurt-cabbage. The vegetarian lentil soup is routinely good. Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Mon.-Sat. 5:30-9:30 p.m. (Reviewed Nov. 18, 1994)

Betty's Soul Food Cafe, 2417 Pulgas Ave., East Palo Alto, 321-6369

Betty Robertson learned her peach cobbler recipe from her Texan mother, and honed her barbecue skills cooking for her family. Certainly a haven from high prices and haut cuisine, Betty's is the kind of place where you can be sure you will get your fill--of food and friendly conversation. Vegetarians beware: The rotating specials of the day come up meat, meat and meat. Smothered steak on Monday. Ox tails on Tuesday. Turkey wings on Wednesday. Smothered pork chops on Thursday. The standard selection of intriguing side orders includes greens, red beans and rice, black-eyed peas, string beans and yams. Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 6 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 6 a.m.-9 p.m. (Reviewed April 1, 1994)

Blue Chalk Cafe, 630 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 326-1020

A rocking restaurant-cum-pool hall with blue felt pool tables, an upstairs bar and art on the walls, the Blue Chalk Cafe is the kind of place an advertising copywriter would call High Concept. The food is predominantly Southern with a California flair--Texas-style catfish, staples like grits and greens gussied up with garlic, embossed with jalapeno relish and slathered with chipotle sauce. Even the blue corn hush puppies are more uptown than down-home. The full bar serves the usual wines and beer, plus an array of mixed drinks. Pool is $10 per hour for the table before 7 p.m. and $12 after 7. Hours: Open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. for pool and drinks. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. (Reviewed July 2, 1993)

Blue Sky Cafe, 336 Bryant St., Mountain View, 961-2082

After a harried day at work, the Blue Sky Cafe feels a lot like being at home. Long before it began serving dinner, Blue Sky built a solid reputation on the virtues of its gargantuan, down-home breakfasts. With the same standards applied to its dinners, the result is white-linen food in a cotton-tablecloth environment. Three daily specials are featured, generally a fish, pasta and meat entree, and each entree comes with a generous serving of three vegetables: caramelized carrots, broccoli with cheese and potato souffle. The restaurant prides itself on its lamb dishes, for which owner Betty Peach Ewing credits New Zealand-trained chef Paul Smith. Hours are Tues.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. (Reviewed May 8, 1991)

Bravo Fono, 99 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-4664

There is much that is charming at this fine establishment, starting with the sophisticated look of the place--sleek and cool overall, but with warm splashes of color on the walls from the paintings by Andrea Fono, daughter of owners Paulette and Lazlo, Hungarian-born food entrepreneurs who also started the chain of Magic Pan restaurants. The service is extremely attentive, and any seafood dish is a good bet. The menu also features a variety of pasta dishes and a section titled "Paulette's Cuisine Grand Mere," which offers entrees like coq au vin ($14.95), which stews chicken in red wine with bacon and potatoes; and veal fricassee ($13.95). Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Reviewed March 31, 1995)

British Bankers' Club, 1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-8769

Food and fantasy, the twin pillars of many an enjoyable dining experience meet agreeably at the British Bankers' Club, a meticulously reconstructed monument to England's Edwardian past. The flip side of all that cool British reserve is the glorious excess of a place like the BBC, with its gaming trophies on the walls, colored glass windows in the doors and on the ceiling and beaten copper table tops. By contrast, the pub food here (bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, garlic bread) is nothing fancy, but, for the most part, quite satisfying. Live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. daily. (Reviewed Feb. 10, 1995)

Boudin Sourdough Bakery and Cafe, 68, Stanford Shopping Center, 853-1849

For the most part, the menu at this bakery/cafe builds on a splendid foundation of crunchy and chewy sourdough bread, offering a slew of sandwiches, soups and salads, along with a variety of coffees and desserts. The atmosphere is pleasant, aided by a generous display of breads, muffins, pastas, coffee beans and seasonings in boxes, jars, cans, cannisters, tins and baskets behind the main counter. Boudin does salads very well, especially their signature Caesar ($5.15), which comes as a standard portion or small and on-the-side with the purchase of an entree. Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Reviewed Feb. 24, 1995)

Buck's Restaurant, 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside, 851-8010

Everyone from the youngest hand to the trail boss is bound to have a good time at Buck's. This zany, down-home restaurant teams up wacky Western deco with comfort food. Buck's menu is fun, but it's not for sissies. You can get buttermilk onion rings with BBQ sauce morning, noon or night ($3.50). Big, honest burgers are up from 11 a.m. till closing ($6 plain, $6.50 fancy). For dinner, you get chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy ($10.50), chicken and dumplings ($10.50), and Yankee pot roast ($12). Hours: Breakfast Mon.-Fri. 7-11 a.m.; Sat., Sun. and holidays 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Lunch 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (limited menu 3:30-5:30 p.m.) Dinner Sun.-Thurs. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 6, 1993)

The Butler's Pantry, 305 Second Street, Los Altos, 941-9676

Tiny sandwiches and tempting sweets are served here from 10 in the morning until 8 at night. The same menu is available all day long, and there's a well-stocked pastry trolley at your beck and call. Chef Tracy McVeigh's golden raisin scones are dense as pound cake and soft as angel food. If you're up for heartier fare, there's traditional Welsh Rarebit. The restaurant has soup of the day served with herbed French bread ($3.75) and a quiche of the day ($6.75). Salmon lovers will appreciate the Scottish oak-smoked fish served on whole wheat bread ($8.75). Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (Reviewed July 1, 1994)

Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830

A cross between an elegant sidewalk cafe and a busy Berkeley coffee house, Borrone offers light entrees such as nutmeg-spiced chicken salad and spinach quiche, along with some of the best coffee drinks around. You'll find state-of-the-art sandwiches and desserts, featuring Rose's vanilla custard. It's all delicious, but it's not the cheapest meal in town. Decor is bookstore chic, and Kepler's Books & Magazines is just across the way. On warm evenings you can dine outside in the courtyard. Open Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. No credit cards. (Reviewed May 23, 1990)

Cafe Fino, 544 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-6082

This classy piano bar is part of Freddie Maddalena's little culinary empire that includes his larger, namesake restaurant next door. Maddalena bills the larger restaurant as "traditionally romantic." What makes his smaller cafe fun is the untraditional romance of the place. Ladies who lunch feel comfortable here at night. They come to hear the Jazmin Trio's jazz or Nancy Gilliland's piano bar favorites. There's no live music at lunch. But then, there are no $5 specials at night. Just as you'd expect from an Italian eatery, Fino's has fried calamari and plenty of pasta. Penne with fresh vegetables. Penne pomadore. Linguini alio olio. Fettucini Alfredo. Canelloni marinara. (Reviewed March 25, 1994)

Cafe Pro Bono, 2437 Birch St., Palo Alto, 326-1626

Rising above its trendy decor, the casually elegant Cafe Pro Bono has a cozy, relaxed environment where diners can hang and talk for hours. The grilled duck sausage ($12.95) is a specialty of the house. Susan's Downfall cheese ravioli is a dish to savor, a mildly sweet, flavorful meltdown of gorgonzola and toasted almonds over ravioli filled with Swiss chard. Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. daily. (Reviewed Feb. 18, 1994)

California Cafe, 700 Welch Road, Palo Alto, 325-2233

Set in the renovated Stanford Barn, the California Cafe is a perfect example of Silicon Valley chic with its noisy, fun-filled atmosphere. A large, frequently changing menu offers everything from sandwich platters to full-course meals, with selections ranging from fried calamari in a corn meal crust to Japanese eggplant and focaccia canapes. The Cafe's wine list offers several interesting choices in the $20-$25 price range. All menus always include several vegetarian and Palo Alto, 325-2233. Hours: Dinner 5-10:30 p.m.; lunch Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Reviewed May 20, 1994)

California Pizza Kitchen, 513 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 323-7332

Like the Hard Rock Cafe, CPK is more than a just a restaurant and a T-shirt. It's a statement about being in the know. Certainly, CPK understands the California food mind-set: cheeseless pizza options, mixed grill vegetarian pizza, honey whole wheat crust. Pasta dishes include the intriguing chicken tequila pasta, made with tequila, ginger, black beans and chipolte chicken. The menu is complicated only within categories. Basically, CPK serves pizza, soup, salad, pasta, foccacia sandwiches and a few grilled meats. As expected, the wine list has a heavy California accent, with a bit of Italian throw in. Hours: Mon.-Fri. from 11;30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat. from 11:30 to 11 p.m.; Sun. from noon to 9 p.m. (Reviewed Sept. 9, 1994)

Capriccio, 546 El Camino Real, Los Altos, 941-1855

Capriccio is spacious and private; the tables are well separated in neat, curtained-off areas. It's quieter than is typical among our raucous, popular Italian eateries. The menu is enormous and service is quick and courteous. The menu contains no surprises. Anything with which you're familiar is there in every standard variation. No fewer than 16 pasta dishes ($9.70-$13.20), table d'hote dinners including soup or salad, vegetables, rice and tea or coffee; 12 seafood entrees at $13.95-$17.95; and veal six ways ($14.75-$16.25). Wine offerings are rather few and relentlessly conventional. Hours: Lunch Mon.-Sat. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner Sun.-Thurs. from 4 to 10 p.m. and Fri. and Sat. from 4 to 11 p.m. (Reviewed July 23, 1993)

Carpaccio, 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park, 322-1211

Carpaccio is one of Menlo Park's toniest places to see and be seen. The people-watching is great. But food and service fell short of the restaurant's reputation for excellence on our visits. A mix of funky accent pieces with staid marble floors and mahogany-painted chairs keep things a little off kilter. The best dishes on the menu take their cue from the earthy exuberance of the decor. One of the best is an appetizer of protobello mushrooms roasted in the wood-burning oven ($5). Carpaccio pours fresh olive oil that's great with the super-fresh bread brought in daily from Le Boulanger. The "pansotti con crema di noci," with its elegant cream sauce and mild herbs, is another good bet. You will need a reservation. Ask for a seat by the front window. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m. Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun. (Reviewed May 7, 1993)

Casa Isabel, 2434 Park Blvd., Palo Alto, 328-3102

The unassuming little Casa Isabel has been serving up sauce-drenched enchiladas and good old refried beans since the early 1980s. Judging from the tattered, bright orange menus (emblazoned on the front with a long-ago disconnected phone number) and the selection of traditional, often heavy entrees, it would appear that not much has changed here since opening day. Divided by archways into three kitchy-cozy little rooms, this family-run eatery is a somewhat dim, but not gloomy, locale for lunch, what with all the deep red curtains keeping the midday sun at bay. Hours: Lunch Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner 5:30-9 p.m.; Dinner Sat. 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Closed Sun. and Mon. (Reviewed Aug. 12, 1994)

Cenzo's, 233 University Ave., Palo Alto, 322-1846

This is an unpretentious little restaurant with several outstanding dishes, and some that aren't up to par. Try Cenzo's special, prix fixe lunch. For $8, you get soup or salad, a full basket of freshly baked focaccia and your choice of several entrees. The calzones are enough to convert a die-hard pizza fan. The Early Bird specials (before 6:30 p.m.) at dinner don't quite live up to the lunch specials, but the new dinner menu has many interesting Northern Italian dishes. Hours: Monday-Saturday lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 4:30-11 p.m. Sunday dinner 4:30-10 p.m. (Reviewed Nov. 5, 1993)

Chantilly II, 530 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 321-4080

In an era when trendy restaurants open and close within a few years, one takes comfort in knowing that some traditional establishments do last. As it approaches its third decade, Chantilly (for the last four years Chantilly II) draws a loyal following to its cozy courtyard location. Cognizant of dining trends away from the elaborate French preparations that marked Chantilly's culinary past, the restaurant's partners designed a more reasonably priced "continental" menu with a generous splash of Italian flavors. To keep attracting the customers who enjoyed the former style, traditional favorites such as the signature rack of lamb ($18.75) still grace the menu. With its numerous antiques, character-rich table settings and cozy, private dining rooms, the atmosphere at Chantilly II points to a restaurant not at all uncomfortable with its past. Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Mon -Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 2, 1994)

Charley's Restaurant, 244 State Street, Los Altos, 948-5700

This family-run Chinese restaurant is so friendly, it's as comfy as your best friend's kitchen. Picturesque as the decor may be, the true atmosphere comes from the whirling dervish personalities of owners Charley Cheng and his wife Fan Lin. Walk in the door and you'll get a lively greeting from across the room. Early on, Charley taught economics in Taiwan. After arriving in this country, he learned to cook in New York, dabbled in pecan farming in Alabama, bought an interest in the doughnut shop near his restaurant, and also shares in his brother-in-laws orchid business. Each of Cheng's entrepreneurial ventures adds to his restaurant's quirky personality. Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Monday-Thursday until 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-9 p.m., Sunday 5-8 p.m. (Reviewed Nov. 11, 1994)

Chevys Mexican Restaurant, 2907 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 367-6892

This giant warehouse of a restaurant lives up to its reputation for fresh Mex food with made-by-the-hour chips, salsa pungent with fresh cilantro and slushy margaritas by the pitcher. Whether you're starving and want a Plato Gordo--mesquite grilled chicken and prawns, warm tortillas, guacamole and rice and beans--or a just a quesadilla and a cold beer, Chevys comes through with the best Mexican food on the Midpeninsula. Fajitas won't resemble those fast food renditions but come piping hot on a metal plate piled with crisp lettuce, bright red tomatoes, slabs of smokey chicken or beef and creamy guacamole. Children are made to feel welcome. Watch out for giant crowds on weekends. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. 11: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs. (Reviewed Sept. 25, 1991)

Chez TJ., 938 Villa St., Mountain View, 964-7466

Elegant and intimate, Chez TJ. offers some of the most delicious and beautifully presented cuisine around. Nothing is spared in the preparation, and the kitchen just doesn't make technical errors. Set in a charming house on Villa Street, Chez TJ. offers leisurely dining surrounded by fresh flowers, spotless linen and classical music. A new menu is created every two weeks, offering three different prix fixe dinners. The menu gastronomique ($57) includes appetizer, first and main courses, salad, selection of cheeses, a petit dessert followed by a larger selection of desserts. The menu moderne ($50) and the menu petit ($45) are just slightly less filling. The wine list is varied. Dinner seatings only, Tues.-Sat. from 5:30-9 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 20, 1993)

Compadres Bar & Grill, 3877 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 858-1141

If you crave a good, smooth pitcher of margaritas, a chile relleno or skewer of giant gulf prawns--and you don't mind crowds, noise and having to wait for a table at prime time--this is 10-year-old establishment is one of the funnest Mexican restaurants on the midpeninsula. The menu ranges from traditional Mexican fare such as enchiladas and tacos to more unusual offerings such as mahi mahi a la Vera Cruz. You won't find the true native Mexican cooking of some small family-run eateries, but the food is hearty, service is friendly and efficient and prices are reasonable. Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (bar open until 1:30 p.m. nightly); Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Reviewed June 3, 1994)

The Cook Book Restaurant, 127 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 321-7500

In the morning, the Cook Book is known for its omelets, blintzes and waffles. At dinner, the restaurant really shines, serving huge portions of Pacific Rim-California cuisine. The broiled, Hawaiian-style salmon ($13 with soup or salad and dessert) almost slid off a scoop of pesto-flavored mashed potatoes. It was saved from a fall by phalanx of grilled pineapple and vegetables, not to mention a dollop of fresh pineapple salsa. Diverse listings run from spicy Thai chicken salad ($7) to fettucini with smoked salmon ($10) to broiled herbed chicken breast with nonfat raspberry yogurt sauce ($9). There are special servings for children under 12. Service is outstanding. Hours: Breakfast Tues.-Sat. 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Sun. and holidays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sat. 7-9:30 p.m. (Reviewed June 24, 1994)

La Costena, 2078 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View, 967-4969

This is one place all burrito-lovers find themselves pulled to with an almost magnetic force. Unlike any other local burrito place, La Costena has no ambience (unless you find grocery stores appealing) and has no place to sit. But they crank out incredible take-away Mexican fare: 12 different kinds of burritos (plus any you can invent), tacos, quesadillas, tamales, platters, tacquitacos, menudo, huevos rancheros, huevos divorciados and tortas. Prices are as sweet as the homemade horchata. Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Reviewed Oct. 28, 1994)

The Cultured Cappuccino, in the courtyard of the Palo Alto Cultural Center, 1313 Newell Road, 329-2366 (Cultural Center)

The Cultural Center's makeshift cafe, The Cultured Cappuccino, is so casual it's eccentric. More than a coffee cart, less than a restaurant, it's all things to artists and museum-goers who got by with a vending machine until Janice White began renting catering space here. Now you can pick up a steaming latte or bagel with cream cheese before a morning pottery class. Or you can order home-made soup and sandwiches for lunch. For an afternoon treat, you can buy big chocolate-dipped macaroons to munch with coffee. Sandwiches here are big and sloppy, just the thing to nourish starving artists. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. (Reviewed Sept. 16, 1994)

Dal Baffo, 878 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 325-1588

Dal Baffo offers fine northern Italian fare in the heart of downtown Menlo Park. The dinner and lunch menus are laden with Bolognese, Milanese and Florentine delights. Food is a la carte, so you can construct the meal you want. Entrees include seafood, pasta, fowl, veal and red meat, arranged in dishes originating from various Italian provinces. There also is an extensive wine list. Dal Baffo's is not for the cheap or fast-food crowd; a three-course dinner, wine and a tip will come out to about $125 for two, but for sophisticated dining, it's the place to go. Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat. 5-10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. All major credit cards accepted, and reservations are recommended. (Reviewed June 25, 1993)

Dario's Cafe Italian Ristorante, 2415 Broadway, Redwood City, 366-3616

The quiet, calming Dario's serves no-nonsense Italian comfort food: linguine al pesto, fettuccine Alfredo, ravioli with meat sauce. Whether you eat inside or out, you'll get excellent service. It's easy to fill up on extras here before you begin your meal. Hearty entrees like traditional veal medallions alla Romana and chicken breast Parmigiana, come with soup or salad. The soup is a big bowl of thin minestrone broth full of chunky fresh vegetables. The house salad is lightly dressed with a creamy Caesar-like dressing. Pastas come with old-fashioned cream or tomato-based sauces and range in price from simple cappellini Napoletana to linguine pescatore with clams, mussels, calamari, prawns and salmon. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (Reviewed Oct. 21, 1994)

Dinah's Poolside Restaurant, 4261 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-4542

Nestled close to the swimming pool of Dinah's Garden Hotel, is Dinah's Poolside Restaurant. The defining feature of the restaurant is spelled out in its name--if eating unpretentious California diner cuisine at umbrella-equipped tables by the pool strikes your fancy, then this place is worth checking out. Dinah's serves breakfast all day, but if pancakes and sausage at 8 p.m. isn't important to you, Dinah's also serves lunch and dinner starting at 11:30 a.m. A highlight at dinnertime is the Pollo Borracho ($9.95). This half-chicken, marinated in beer, wine and spices, then grilled over mesquite, is savory, subtle and wonderfully succulent. Hours: 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily; bar open until 11 p.m. (Reviewed Aug. 13, 1993)

Draeger's Market Bistro, 1010 University Ave., Menlo Park, 688-0694

The Market Bistro at the tony supermarket offers a security guard's view of the downstairs hustle and bustle. Servers here follow the old coffee shop tradition of quick quips and quicker service. Sandwiches at Market Bistro are not cheap ($7.25-$8), but each is more than a meal in itself. For brunch, the Market Bistro splits its menu between lunch favorites and fancy breakfast dishes. You can get sandwiches, burgers and salads. Or, you can indulge in riches like Eggs Christine, a croissant topped with creamed spinach, leeks, poached eggs, Draeger's Hollandaise and dungeness crab ($9.50). Everything on the menu comes in child-size portions. Hours: Weekday breakfast 7:30 a.m.-11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday brunch 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; call for dinner hours. (Reviewed March 24, 1995)

The Duck Club, Stanford Park Hotel, 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-1234

Soft lighting, comfortable chairs and a quiet atmosphere invite you to relax and really dine instead of bolting down a meal in the trendy frenzy we get too often these days. You can get a delicious meal here, but service was very uneven when we visited. The lunch menu has crisp salads, big sandwiches on homemade sun-dried foccacia bread and pasta with a few interesting duck dishes such as a smoked duck sausage quesadilla ($7 starter, $10 entree). The dinner menu has some of the same entree salads and pasta but adds a larger choice of meats and seafood. Portions are huge. Hours: Dinner 6-10 p.m.; breakfast Mon.-Fri. 6:45-11 a.m.; lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday a la carte brunch 6:45 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday breakfast 6:45 a.m.-10 a.m., brunch buffet 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Tea Thurs.-Sat. 2:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (Reviewed April 14, 1995)

El Calderon, 699 Calderon Ave., Mountain View, 940-9533

In this unpretentious restaurant, gourd cups are taken for granted along with plantains and yucca root. They're all part of owner Angela Lopez's Salvadoran roots. While similar to Mexican food, the fare is flavored with mild, Cuban-style flavorings. You can see the resemblance in pupusas--two homemade masa tortillas that seal in a mixture of cheese with meat or beans. A rich entree of fried plantains served on beans with soured cream makes the dessert version of fried plantains and cream seem shallow and unfinished by comparison. You'll know for sure you're getting a taste of El Salvador if you try the yucca root "salad"--piping hot chunks of white yucca and crispy crumbles of pork scattered over a bed of tart, lemony slaw. (Reviewed Sept. 26, 1990)

Elbe German and European Cuisine, 117 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-3319

The menu here has all the classics of Central European cooking, and although we may know some of the names (Wienerschnitzel, for example), this does not mean that all of this will be familiar. Care to start your meal with a nice plate of head cheese ($3.95), or perhaps some quail eggs stuffed in mushrooms ($5.95)? The hearty split pea soup is divine, as is the Wienerschnitzel, sauerbraten and potato pancakes. Hungarian goulash ($10.95) comes with spatzle. There's a good variety of German, French and California wines, as well as desserts as only the Germans can do: German chocolate cake, crepes with caramel and chocolate sauce and homemade apple strudel with vanilla sauce (available specially packaged for takeout). Live accordion music on some nights. Hours: Lunch 11:30-2 p.m. Mon-Sat.; dinner 5-10 p.m. daily. (Reviewed May 19, 1995)

Eugene's Polish Restaurant, 420 San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-1222

This Old World Polish restaurant provides a taste of European culture and food right here on the Midpeninsula. The goulash is particularly good. Other offerings include a non-traditional borscht with potato, onion and garlic, stuffed cabbage, herring and, of course, Polish sausage. Dishes tend to be on the mild side, what some might consider bland. The ambience is festive, with servers dressed in Central European attire. The full bar has a big selection of beer and a moderately priced wine list. Lunches highlight ham on rye sandwiches, omelets and salads. Dinners are served Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m. and lunch Tues.-Fri. from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 19, 1990)

Fabbro's, 2915 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 368-1491

The pickiest in-law and the finickiest great-aunt would like this Redwood City restaurant. It exudes peace and quiet; nobody is going to rush your dining experience. The mood is enhanced by the comfortable decor: wood paneling, lace curtains, white linen. Even before you get a chance to order appetizers, they bring out an ample plate of cold meat and vegetables to prime you for the task ahead. There is also a serving of bread made available, as well as a properly seasoned dish of garbonzo beans. Although those with light appetites could almost fill themselves up on the complimentary starters, do not hesitate to take advantage of the other choices. Dinner entrees come with the choice of soup, salad or ravioli. Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 23, 1994)

The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-9188

Offering fresh fish served grilled, baked, smoked and broiled or any other way you like it, the bustling, rather noisy Fish Market has 20-30 choices of fish, depending on the season. For the most part, the food lives up to the fresh billing, although every time we strayed away from the menu's centerpiece--the broiled fish entrees--we were disappointed to some degree. But stick with the mesquite wood charcoal broiled fresh fish and you won't go wrong. Standard fare is a fish entree with rice or potatoes, along with appetizers ranging from white clam chowder or several different seafood cocktails. Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sun.; dinner 5-11 p.m. Market opens one hour earlier than the restaurant. (Reviewed April 8, 1994)

Flea St. Cafe, 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park, 854-1226

This totally organic, gourmet kitchen turns out some of the best food on the Peninsula. From tender scallops with enoki and shiitake mushrooms dotted with tiny purple flowers to grilled salmon and mashed potatoes, everything is lovingly prepared and presented picture perfect. California-style fresh takes shape with hints of ethnic cuisines and specials change nightly. Vegetarians will find sumptuous offerings, as will those who love chicken or fish. Salads are made with the most delicate greens, sauces are light and bursting with flavor, fish is ocean-fresh and desserts too good to pass up. Open for lunch Tues.-Fri. from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner Tues. to Sun. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Brunch is served weekends from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Reviewed July 12, 1992)

Frankie, Johnnie, Luigi Too, 939 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View, 967-5384

From the garlic-infused Caesar salad to the authentic pizza pie, to the hearty pasta and meat entrees, this lively Italian restaurant is the place to go for generous servings of satisfyingly rich food. Although the size of the restaurant and its menu offerings have grown over the years, the quality of the dining experience has remained constant. Highlights include the thick, yeasty-crusted pizza ($11-$16) and pasta dishes with succulent sauces. Full dinners ($10-$13) run the gamut from tiger prawns sauteed with garlic, shallots, tomatoes and white wine to New York-style Italian sausage with bell peppers. Hours are 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Thurs.; to 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.; and 1 p.m. to midnight Sunday. (Reviewed March 27, 1991)

Fresco, 3398 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-3470

A moderately priced cafe-style restaurant where the entrees are inventive, but straightforward and decidedly unpretentious. The menu is diverse, featuring mostly garlicky California cuisine, but also some old-fashioned stand-bys such as a hearty Reuben Sandwhich ($7.50). The restaurant is divided into a comfortable dining room with gigantic booths, linen tablecloths, a counter and a full wall of windows; and the smaller, darker, more romantic dining room that is still laid-back enough for a quick bite with a group of friends. Try the famous Roasted Red Pepper Soup ($2.25 cup, $3.25 bowl). A small, but interesting breakfast menu. Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; brunch 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (Reviewed July 16, 1993)

Fresh Taste Mandarin Kitchen, 2111 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 324-8749

Fresh Taste Mandarin Kitchen offers lower-fat versions of many traditional favorites such as mu shu pork and kung pao chicken. The restaurant has banned all canned produce. Instead of water-logged bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, you get fresh local ingredients. Don't get the idea that any of these dishes are incredible edibles. Fresh Taste doesn't aspire to innovation. The restaurant simply produces healthier versions of old standbys. Service is generally gracious and attentive. Communication is sometimes difficult, but servers go out of their way to accommodate. Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Reviewed Feb. 4, 1994)

Gambardella's Ristorante Italiano, 561 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, 325-6989

The atmosphere in this dining room is one of festivity and great food, all made better with generous portions of garlic. White linen and fresh flowers set each table. Giant garlic braids dangle from the ceiling and classical music, often opera, sets the mood. First courses like polenta fritta con porcini e pepperoni--a masterful combination of crispy polenta wedges, mushrooms and peppers--whet the appetite. There is a never-ending supply of tomato and red pepper spread and warm house-made foccacia bread, sublime green salads and pastas and fish specials prepared to perfection. A full range of coffee drinks and a generous wine list featuring Italian selections round out a meal that can only be described as scrumptious. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues. to Fri. Dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Tues. through Sun. (Reviewed Feb. 24, 1993)

Garden Fresh Vegetarian Restaurant, 1245 El Camino Real, Mountain View, 961-7795

Run by Buddhist owner Jesse Ma, the restaurant serves no meat, no fish, no dairy and no eggs--the perfect fare for tender-hearted animal lovers, strict vegetarians, people concerned about over-fishing and "lite" eaters concerned about their arteries. Because not only does Ma limit the foods she is working with, she also skimps on fat. Although vegans will feel understood at Garden Fresh, the restaurant deserves a wider audience, including meat-and-potatoes types who can find substance aplenty in trick-of-the-palette dishes like sweet and sour vegetarian "pork" and orange vegetarian "beef." Napkins are paper, tables are Formica, the walls are wood veneer and the floors are lino. But the food is a wonder. Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun. 2 to 10 p.m. (Reviewed Feb. 11, 1994)

Garden Grill, 1026 Alma St., Menlo Park, 325-8981

This daring, elegant restaurant makes hasty pudding of all the grousing about British food. Appetizers range from dainty griddled scallops on puffs of smoked salmon mousse to the incomparable "Devils on Horseback"--bacon wrapped prunes stuffed with chutney served on toast points spread with mustard cream sauce. Fresh game dishes are based on tender, ranch-raised elk and deer. Seafood includes the likes of grilled salmon in shellfish sauce or shellfish braised in saffron cream sauce. Portions are ladylike. For a special tea-time treat, try the "cream tea" served with tiny scones, jam and sinful faux clotted cream. The Red Terrier Public House, a cozy pub addition to the restaurant, offers tasty "snack food" such as fish and chips for reasonable prices. Hours for lunch are 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner is from 5:30-10:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Reviewed May 12, 1995)

Ginger Club, 2A Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 325-6588

Restaurateur and cookbook author Bruce Cost's latest endeavor gives you a taste of ginger in all its guises. In the appetizer department, there's a fat-free Vietnamese shrimp roll (4 pieces, $5.50). A clean, crisp flavor comes from this mix of shrimp with lettuce, slivered red pepper and green onion, chopped peanuts, ginger and a whiff of fresh cilantro, all wrapped snugly in edible rice paper. The priciest dishes on the menu are grilled honey-orange duck ($14.75), and grilled flank steak with tamarind marinade, fries and salad ($16). Desserts are just as creative as the appetizers and main dishes. The rush and noise prevent quiet conversation. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. -11 p.m. (Reviewed Dec. 16, 1994)

Gombei Japanese Restaurant, 1438 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 329-1799

Simple and soul-satisfying Japanese cuisine with a special emphasis on noodle dishes make Gombei unique on the Peninsula. Featured are unusual combinations like large, deep fried balls of mashed potatoes flavored with curry and mushrooms, a croquette of faux crab, fried cutlet and broiled fish or Spanish mackerel steeped in soy and mirin. More traditional dishes include noodle, rice, chicken and egg combinations served in earthenware bowls. Avoid the eel noodle soup, which doesn't share the freshness of other dishes. Gombei resembles small diners in Japan, lists no desserts and offers quick, friendly service. Open for lunch from 11:30 to 2 p.m. and dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Mon. through Fri. (Reviewed Dec. 5, 1990)

Gordon Biersch, 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-7723

Gordon Biersch has come to represent everything the Silicon Valley singles set seems to want in a restaurant and drinking establishment: terrible acoustics, inventive California cuisine, friendly service, good beer and masses of "beautiful people" milling about. Overall, Dean Biersch, the half of the dynamite duo who honchos the kitchen, serves up interesting appetizers, entrees, salads and sandwiches: Roasted Leg of Lamb Sandwich ($7.50), served with rosemary aioli, olive focaccia and brie; and the Marzen Prawn Salad ($8.50), which comes on walnut bread with a side of leeks and red pepper puree, for example. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (Reviewed Oct. 22, 1993)

Gourmet Franks, 199 Stanford Shopping Center, 327-7246

This tiny storefront at the Stanford Shopping Center offers the healthiest sausages available. There's a chicken apple sausage that dietitians would love. It weighs in with only 120 calories, no sodium and 4.5 percent fat ($3.95). Schwarz's Lemon Chicken comes with a tingle of cayenne pepper ($3.25). There's a vegetarian version ($2.95), and a Louisiana Hot. There's a toppings bar with so many choices you can bury your hot dog under an avalanche of extras: fresh tomatoes, onions, sauerkraut, cheddar cheese, relishes, mustards, ketchup, mayonnaise, etc. Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. (Reviewed Nov. 25, 1994) 

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