The Best Restaurants In Downtown San Jose, California

Pizza | Photo by Pinar Kucuk on Unsplash
Alana Jajko

San Jose is the largest city within the Bay Area and in Northern California, known as a global city for its thriving economy and affluence. With so much to offer, we have narrowed in on the Downtown San Jose area to explore what kind of cuisine is popular for dinner. Here are 10 of the best restaurants to try.

Le Papillon

Le Papillon is an upscale French restaurant and steakhouse perfect for special occasions. With more than 500 wines and three to four course dining options, Le Papillon offers an elegant spread of cuisine. The extensive menu changes seasonally, allowing chefs to showcase the finest and freshest ingredients, focusing on local, organic, and sustainable fare. For a private anniversary dinner or a dinner party of up to fifty guests, Le Papillon offers a wonderful venue and attentive staff, happy to wait on any fine dining experience.

La Forêt

La Forêt is an exquisite French restaurant named for its surrounding scenery of lush forest. Situated in a historical building that dates back to the California Gold Rush, the repurposed boarding house is now home to elegant dishes like cold water Australian lobster tail with lime beurre blan or tournedos of beef tarragon with cabernet and cognac sauce. Though La Forêt is located in the countryside just south of Downtown San Jose, the 30-minute drive is well worth it for the quality of food, quaint atmosphere and attentive service you will receive upon arrival. La Forêt is another venue perfect for special occasions and also has dining options for banquets and weddings. Called the ‘gem of Amalden Valley’ by reviewers, the beautiful wooded area and the historic building itself sets the mood for a romantic evening at a fine restaurant in the country.

Falafel Drive-In

On the other end of the spectrum, Falafel Drive-In is a roadside setup that features authentic Middle Eastern fare through a take-out window. Since 1966, this unsuspecting stand has been gathering a following and has become a San Jose staple for quick and tasty food. There is nearly always a line during their opening hours, but it is well worth the wait. The falafel, of course, is a favorite among customers, but Falafel Drive-In also serves a selection of freshly made milkshakes, other traditional foods like chicken pita, tabbouleh, and gyros, alongside innovative takes on your regular hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries. Outdoor seating is available with murals of the area on the surrounding walls. The falafels are light and crispy and full of flavor, and the ingredients are always fresh. Falafel Drive-In will offer you a quick and quality meal, flooded with the flavor and unique spices of Mediterranean cooking.

Zeni Ethiopian restaurant

Zeni Ethiopian restaurant is a dining experience for the adventurer looking for a cultural experience at home. With an authentic Ethiopian menu featuring items like alitcha wot, gomen besiga, quanta firfir, and ye-timatim fit fit, the names of the dishes themselves can be intimidating, but don’t let that sway you. The spices and flavors of this unique cuisine will melt you mouth, and you will feel all the better when you realize the ingredients themselves are not so strange. Alitcha wot, for example, is a mild and spicy beef stew, extra lean chopped beef simmered in mild sauce with spicy butter, onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric. As for gomen besiga, it is simply lamb on the bone cooked with collard greens, herbed butter, garlic, ginger, onions, and green pepper. The real adventure begins as soon as you sit down. For a real cultural immersion, customers can sit on the floor & eat with their hands while enjoying the colorful Ethiopian décor of the place.

Aqui Cal-Mex

Aqui Cal-Mex is a San Jose franchise serving quick, quality food. When you walk into any one of the warmly decorated restaurants, you place your order at the counter and wait at a table until the food is ready. While you wait, you might admire the walls of Aqui, which are decked out with unique artwork from talented local artists. The menu features a cultural mix of Asia, American, and South American flavors with items like adobo chicken lime avocado, mango sesame chicken, Thai peanut bowl, California enchiladas, and cotija taquitos. For a quick, healthy bite that is full of flavor, stop at one of Aqui Cal-Mex’s locations in San Jose.

Nemea Greek Taverna

Nemea Greek Taverna is a little taste of Greece at the heart of San Jose. Nemea is dedicated to serving the freshest ingredients with outstanding quality and distinct flavors straight from the Mediterranean. As you enjoy the warm ambiance of the restaurant itself, peruse a menu full of savoury dishes like lavraki, a Mediterranean bass, mesquite, braised greens, roasted potatoes, with lemon vinaigrette or moschari souvlaki, a filet of beef with mushrooms, onions, Nemea potatoes and yogurt dressing. Nemea’s is an upscale restaurant that offers the best of authentic Greek cuisine and even live music on occasion. The staff are all friendly and very knowledgeable about what they are serving, and offer the best of hospitality. Nemea’s is also available for parties and events for those who want to share their love for Greek cuisine with everyone.

Veggie Grill

Veggie Grill is a Vegan restaurant featuring the best that vegetables have to offer in new and innovative dishes. Try their Sonoran bowl filled with steamed quinoa and seasoned black beans with fire roasted carrots or corn, avocado, salsa, jalapenos, tortilla strips, and roasted red pepper sauce, or maybe you would like a simple serving of mac and cheese with organic, non-GMO rice pasta, VG-Cheese sauce, and bread crumbs. At Veggie Grill the vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruits are the superstars, and whole healthy eating is at a max. Something like the harvest bowl with field roast sausage, herb-roasted veggies, supergrains, steamed kale, porcini mushroom and miso gravy, and hemp seeds, offers up the flavors of meat in a completely Vegan way. Veggie Grill has a little something for everyone, and everything on the menu is healthy and flavorful. With its quick and easy counter-service setting, you can’t go wrong.

Vito’s Trattoria

Vito’s Trattoria is a restaurant that offers up genuine Italian cuisine packed with flavor and surrounded by excellent service. Prepared from authentic Italian family recipes, each dish has a little taste of home cooked comfort whether it be the farfalle con piselli e’ prosciutto (bow tie pasta, with peas and prosciutto in a garlic cream sauce) or the simple homemade meat and sausage lasagna. Open for lunch and dinner since 2003, Vito’s has gathered a following of locals and out-of-towners alike. The décor is charming and reminiscent of an Italian villa, and the staff is always hospitable and accommodating. Vito’s also offers pizza to go, a homemade pie that has people coming back for more. They also own a café right next door with a nice selection of salads, sandwiches and pizza ready to grab and go.

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