10 Best Cultural Restaurants In Palo Alto, California

Restaurants and shops on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, USA
Restaurants and shops on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, USA | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
Makaela Anderson

Palo Alto is now a major, bustling city in California’s modern Silicon Valley, yet has a rich history dating back to the days of Leland Stanford Sr, former governor of California and founder of Stanford University. The area has experienced multiple transformations over the past two centuries, but has maintained much of the culture and history associated with its former farming town status. We explore the 10 best restaurants in Palo Alto, combining the old with the new.

1. NOLA

Bar, Restaurant, Cajun, French, American

NOLA brings a taste New Orleans to Palo Alto for seven days a week. Situated in the historic Ramona Street Building, they serve creole, Cajun, and south-western cuisine along with a drinks menu fit for the French District. The restaurant’s historic building consists of three floors, which in turn have been transformed into seven dining areas, with the walls between each room filled with the largest collection of Southern folk art on the West Coast. Voted ‘The Hottest Bar in the Silicon Valley’ by Fortune magazine, the team at NOLA seem to champion the motto of ‘let the good times roll’. Whether stopping in for a drink or making it an evening with friends and loved ones, a night out at NOLA is always guaranteed good fun.

2. Osteria Cucina Toscana

Restaurant, Italian, Fast Food, Vegetarian, Vegan

Osteria Cucina Toscana
Courtesy of Cardinal Hotel / Booking.com
When it comes to wholesome homemade Italian cooking, Osteria has it covered. Located underneath the historic Cardinal Hotel, this sophisticated restaurant serves the best calamari steaks in the Bay Area. The pasta plates are another favourite amongst the locals, which is unsurprising considering all of the pasta is made by the owner himself, who also hand picks the entirety of the produce from local sources. Winner of Palo Alto Weekly’s Best of 2014 Best Italian Restaurant category, Osteria’s cosy seating, relaxed atmosphere and reasonable prices appeal to both those looking for a place to take the kids and for those heading out on a smart-casual date.

3. Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill

Diner, Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan

The Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill is home to the best burgers, shakes, and homemade apple pie in Palo Alto. Built in 1923, the building that now houses the restaurant has been maintaining local traditions for decades. The interior has been updated to reflect the classical American diner decor, the juke box still plays and the original clay tile exterior has been immaculately cared for. Along with establishing clear historical and cultural values, their approach to food is similarly in line with tradition. Dishes compiled from scratch using only the very freshest ingredients ensures that every item on the menu is as delicious as the day the Creamery opened its doors 90 years ago. Their philosophy of ‘simple food, done well’ won them Best Milkshake in Palo Alto Weekly, so don’t forget to save room for this delicious sweet treat.

4. Reposado

Restaurant, American

Just off of the main strip in Downtown Palo Alto sits the historic Palo Alto Feed and Fuel building that is now home to Reposado’s fine Mexican food and tequila. With exceptional ratings across the board, Reposado is a must when looking for a place for delicious flavour or simply to enjoy a drink in Palo Alto. The cochinita pibil, pork marinated in achiote and citrus accompanied by creamy jasmine rice, is a favourite that is sure to fuel a night of fun. When stopping by for drinks, the tequila selection will impress even the most discerning tequila connoisseurs. All margaritas are made with 100% blue agave, fresh lime and one of the almost 50 tequilas on hand. Reposado’s atmosphere is energetic and vibrant, perfect for a night out with the family or with a special someone.

5. Scoop Microcreamery

Restaurant, American

The self-proclaimed ‘mom and pop’ microcreamery, Scoop competes daily with other chain ice-cream and frozen yogurt establishments on and around University Avenue, yet still stands head and shoulder above the crowd. The ice cream is made fresh throughout the day in what they call ‘micro batches’ and they keep the ingredients simple, local and organic. Flavours change daily depending on what ingredients are available, some of the most popular flavours being the vegan coconut, vanilla bean, and ‘hella nutella’. Scoop adheres to traditional business values, perceiving the employees as part of the family and running operations in an ethical and responsible fashion, preserving a part of Palo Alto that is essential to locals.

6. Siam Royal

Restaurant, Thai, Vegetarian

From the outside, Siam Royal appears to be a standard restaurant on University Avenue, but step inside and you will no longer feel as if they you in Northern California. From the beautiful artwork covering the walls to the plates used to serve the traditional cuisine, the restaurant is a small piece of Thailand on Palo Alto’s main street. This family-owned and run restaurant has small statues, delicate artwork and Buddhist symbols adorning the walls. Just as memorable as the décor is the food; dishes are made to order with fresh ingredients and prepared with startling efficiency. The mint rolls are particularly refreshing and the tom soup is perfect on a chilly day.

7. Terún

Restaurant, Italian, American, Vegan, Vegetarian, Wine, Beer

Step inside Terún and prepare to be offered a slice of Italy in the heart of the Bay Area. As only one of 15 restaurants in California that is a member of American Delegation of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (a non-profit organisation that recognises the few restaurants outside of Italy who meet strict standards and respect the meticulous process of pizza-making according to Neapolitan tradition) it is amazing that this restaurant does not become overwhelmed with diners. The tables inside are small and intimate, but the seating al fresco is ample and comfortable. The unusual Brussel sprout dish is cooked to perfection and topped with gorgonzola, whilst the pizzas are in a league of their own.

8. Tootsie’s at the Stanford Barn

Restaurant, American

This former barn situated on the original Stanford family farm has been flawlessly restored to its original glory. Nestled into a corner of the Stanford Shopping Centre, the outdoor seating at Tootsie’s is three times larger than the inside seating, making it the ideal place for brunch on one of the Bay Area’s many sunny days. Do not be discouraged by the queue to order, it moves quickly and the dishes are well worth the wait. The lattes are locally considered to be some of the best in the area, the food is excellent and the service unflappable. All breakfast plates come with oven roasted pancetta potatoes made in-house and are the perfect addition to an already impressive stack of pancakes, frittata, or a breakfast panino.

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