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New Survey Results: Best Restaurants South of SF

By Meesha Halm
October 10, 2013

650 and 408, it’s your time. As we continue to shine the spotlight on some of the biggest winners in the newly released 2014 San Francisco Bay Area Restaurant Guide, this week we focus on the best dining options South of San Francisco. Whether you’re looking for a special occasion spot in Silicon Valley to wine and dine investors, planning a trip to the Monterey Peninsula or simply hungering for the best ramen or sandwich shops in San Mateo county, we've got you covered.   

This year was a particularly exciting year for the South Bay, as a slew of high-profile restaurateurs from San Francisco and beyond continue to open outposts in the area, hoping to tap into the gourmet tastes, disposable income and proximity of VC companies and other businesses. In Palo Alto alone, we saw new branches of Asian Box, The Melt, Tacolicious and Umami Burger; a Burlingame branch of Pizzeria Delfina is on the way, and even the sleepy coastside hugging Highway 1 saw an influx of new arrivals such as Bantam, Puerto 27, La Balena Cucina and Big Sur Roadhouse. Cruise through our slideshow below for the biggest winners in the South and stay tuned for more Survey coverage from around the Bay Area throughout the month. 

  • Top Food South of San Francisco

    Sierra Mar, the fine-dining crown jewel down at Big Sur's exclusive Post Ranch Inn won big this year. In addition to sweeping top honors for Decor and Service for the South section, the cliffhanger edged out Marinus (last year’s survey winner), for the title of Top Food for its sophisticated, gorgeously presented Eclectic/Californian offerings. Rounding out the top picks in this category were Café Gibraltar, Evvia, La Forêt, Manresa and Le Papillon.

  • Top Decor South of San Francisco

    One could argue that the biggest winner in this category is Mother Nature. After all, it’s hard to compete with the awe-inspiring panoramic vistas served up daily at Sierra Mar, a glassed-in aerie jutting out on a bluff 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The Big Sur restaurant's “extraordinary architecture” (designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright protégé) affords diners some of “the best views of California.” For the second year in a row, the restaurant not only won the Top Decor honors for the south; it swept the Decor category in the overall 2014 Guide. Other rooms with a view worth driving for include Navio, Pacific’s Edge and Roy’s at Pebble Beach.

  • Top Service South of San Francisco

    Proving that it’s more than just a pretty face, Sierra Mar also took top honors for its “impeccable service" both at the table and for the staff's assistance in helping diners navigate the restaurant’s award-winning 14,000-bottle deep wine cellar. It inched out another popular Monterey Peninsula destination, the Cal-French outpost Marinus in Carmel Valley, which nabbed the number two spot for its “superb” service and “perfect pairings.”

  • Photo by: Mark Holthusen

    Top American South of San Francisco

    “Exciting, unexpected and flawless” is how 2014 surveyors describe a typical dinner at David Kinch’s Manresa, which retained top dog status for the best American restaurant in the South Bay. Diners are smitten by the Los Gatos restaurant that turns out “sublime” inventive tasting menus featuring dishes such as "Into the Garden" (shown above), that are inspired by and sourced from the restaurant’s own biodynamic gardens.

  • Top French South of San Francisco

    Forget cutting-edge and trendy. When Francophiles want to go out for French food in Silicon Valley, they head tout de suite to La Forêt, the special occasion restaurant tucked away in an historic creek-side house on the outskirts of Saratoga, which still presents “superb” Continental-style French tasting menus the old-fashioned way (think tournedos of beef, lobster tail with beurre blanc and Grand Marnier soufflé), matched with “impressive wines” and “very formal” service. The other top-rated Frenchies in the South Bay are Le Papillon, MarinusBaumé and Chantilly.

  • Top Japanese South of San Francisco

    Don’t be fooled by the name. You’ll find more than just dry-aged meats at Cupertino’s “posh” “temple of beef,” Alexander’s Steakhouse. For the second year in a row, the kitchen’s deft touch with Japanese cuisine (think hamachi shots, lobster tempura and crab oshitashi), doled out by attentive staff helped Alexander's beat out the more traditional Japanese restaurants for the top spot in this category. The yakitori bar Sumika and fusion small plates spot GocHi (which recently opened a new Mountain View branch) also won big, as did the humble noodle shops Ramen Dojo and Orenchi Ramen.

  • Top Italian South of San Francisco

    Surveyors for this year’s guide singled out Italian as their favored cuisine, earning 22% of the overall vote. And when they’re craving Italian in the South Bay, diners save their highest praise for two-time winner Stella Alpina Osteria, a charming low-key neighborhood joint in Burlingame that turns out “consistently wonderful” cucina fare inspired by the chef’s hometown mountain region of Northern Italy (think gnocchi and osso bucco) in a “warm” and “inviting” Alpine-like setting. This year's other top-rated Italian winners include Chantilly, Pasta Moon, A Bellagio and Casanova.

  • Top Mediterranean/Greek South of San Francisco

    Out-of-the-way Café Gibraltar, which has been winning over savvy coastside diners for years with its "spectacular" seasonal, organic Mediterranean meals, "friendly" service and "amazing" Moorish decor, climbed back up to the top of this list, nudging out last year’s winner Evvia, which assumed the number two position. Rounding out the top five spots for that big fat Greek dinner out are Dio Deka, Cetrella and 71 Saint Peter.

  • Top Mexican South of San Francisco

    South Bay diners take their tacos and burritos very seriously, and the prize for the best South of the Border fare south of San Francisco goes to the venerable San Jose taqueria chainlet La Victoria, whose original San Jose branch recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with mariachi bands and a whole mess of Orange Sauce, the kitchen’s seriously addictive secret sauce. Infiltrating the the list for the first time in the number two spot is Tacolicious, the San Francisco-based upscale cantina that’s been making inroads since opening in Palo Alto. South Bay branches of Taqueria San Jose, El Farolito, and Pancho Villa also notched top scores.

  • Top Best-Buy Restaurants South of San Francisco

    Not everyone in Silicon Valley dines out on expense account or gets free food from the company cafeteria. Happily, you can still eat like a tech titan on a startup budget thanks to top-ranking neighborhood joints such as Mingalaba, the Burlingame sibling of SF's Mandalay specializing in Burmese and Chinese standards that was voted this year’s Best Buy. Other bang-for-your-buck joints singled out in the South Bay were the sandwich-slinging outposts of Refuge and Ike’s Place, the tiny noodle shop Ramen Dojo and the Vietnamese chainlet Vung Tau.


Places Mentioned

Sierra Mar


Food- Decor- Service- Cost 

Fine Dining

Food26 Decor28 Service27 Cost$100
Cafe Gibraltar

Mediterranean • El Granada

Food27 Decor25 Service26 Cost$48

Greek • Palo Alto

Food28 Decor27 Service26 Cost$54
La Forêt

French • San Jose

Food27 Decor26 Service25 Cost$73

American • Los Gatos

Food27 Decor26 Service27 Cost$169
Le Papillon

Fine Dining • San Jose

Food27 Decor25 Service26 Cost$91

American • Half Moon Bay

Food25 Decor27 Service24 Cost$87
Food24 Decor28 Service24 Cost$79
Food26 Decor25 Service25 Cost$73
Dio Deka Fine Hellenic Cuisine

Greek • Los Gatos

Food25 Decor25 Service24 Cost$73

Mediterranean • Half Moon Bay

Food21 Decor20 Service21 Cost$60
Food23 Decor22 Service22 Cost$39
Vung Tau Restaurant

Vietnamese • San Jose

Food23 Decor17 Service18 Cost$21
Vung Tau II Restaurant

Vietnamese • Milpitas

Food23 Decor17 Service18 Cost$21
Vung Tau Restaurant

Vietnamese • Newark

Food23 Decor17 Service18 Cost$21

Sandwich Shop • Santa Clara

Food25 Decor15 Service21 Cost$12
Ike's Lair

Sandwich Shop • Cupertino

Food25 Decor15 Service21 Cost$12
Ike's Lair of Redwood City

Sandwich Shop • Redwood City

Food25 Decor15 Service21 Cost$12
Ike's Lair of Foster City

Sandwich Shop • Foster City

Food25 Decor15 Service21 Cost$12

San Carlos

Food24 Decor16 Service19 Cost$24

American • Menlo Park

Food24 Decor16 Service19 Cost$24
Mingalaba Restaurant

Burmese • Burlingame

Food26 Decor18 Service20 Cost$26
Stella Alpina Osteria

Italian • Burlingame

Food24 Decor22 Service23 Cost$48

French • North Fair Oaks

Food24 Decor22 Service21 Cost$65
Pasta Moon

Italian • Half Moon Bay

Food23 Decor20 Service22 Cost$44
A Bellagio Italian Restaurant

Italian • Campbell

Food23 Decor20 Service24 Cost$43


Food25 Decor24 Service24 Cost$70

French • Palo Alto

Food22 Decor19 Service24 Cost$155
Orenchi Ramen

Japanese • Santa Clara

Food24 Decor15 Service18 Cost$18
Ramen Dojo

Noodle Shop • San Mateo

Food25 Decor15 Service16 Cost$15
GocHi Japanese Fusion Tapas

Japanese • Cupertino

Food22 Decor18 Service18 Cost$42

Japanese • Los Altos

Food25 Decor20 Service21 Cost$51
La Victoria

Mexican • Hayward

Food23 Decor14 Service18 Cost$10
La Victoria

Mexican • San Jose

Food23 Decor14 Service18 Cost$10
La Victoria Taqueria

Mexican • San Jose

Food23 Decor14 Service18 Cost$10
La Victoria Taqueria

Mexican • Redwood City

Food23 Decor14 Service18 Cost$10
La Victoria Taqueria

Mexican • San Jose

Food23 Decor14 Service18 Cost$10
Taquerias El Farolito

Mexican • South San Francisco

Food23 Decor12 Service16 Cost$11
Pancho Villa Taqueria

Latin American • San Mateo

Food24 Decor15 Service19 Cost$12
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