Eating during the coronavirus is like entering a parallel universe, where masked people deliver meals curbside, we pay for groceries from behind plexiglass barriers and phrases like "no-contact delivery" have become the norm.
But it's our universe, for now, and the restaurants that are part of it need our support more than ever. They're getting creative, continuing under immense financial and emotional pressure and with skeleton staffs — in some cases, just the owners themselves — to cook comforting, joyful food for takeout and delivery.
Here are 15 dishes we've enjoyed of late, from warming phở tai and barbacoa tacos to flaky buttermilk biscuits and to-go negronis. A reminder that hours and menus are evolving during this time; check with restaurants directly about availability and hours, though we've listed the most up-to-date available information here. (Also, if you want to save a restaurant the commission fees from delivery apps, call them directly, pick up your order yourself — and tip well.)
View our full list of Peninsula restaurants open for takeout and delivery here.
Tacos on made-to-order tortillas, La Estrellita Restaurant, Redwood City
La Estrellita's tacos are worth a detour at any time, but especially now. The best part is the tortillas, made to order in front of you, the kitchen staff flattening balls of dough on a tortilla press before putting them on the plancha and serving them warm. They’re thick, chewy and supple — almost naan-like — and are the perfect vessel for tender barbacoa and spicy chili verde.
You can, and should, order extra tortillas to keep in your fridge or freezer. La Estrellita is attached to a Mexican market where you can stock up on carnitas by the pound, tamales, Mexican spices and other goods for home cooking.
Fresh tortillas made from scratch with care might not solve the current public health crisis but they’ll at least provide a temporary respite — a portal into another world that I hope we'll get back to soon.
La Estrellita Restaurant // 2205 Middlefield Road, Redwood City; 650.369.3877
The off-menu burger, Bird Dog, Palo Alto
Bird Dog's double cheeseburger was long something only for those in the know. It was never officially listed on the Palo Alto restaurant's menu and only served at lunch. And when the kitchen ceased lunch service a few months ago, the burger went with it. But it recently made a triumphant return on Bird Dog's new takeout menu: two meaty patties made from short rib and brisket, fermented mushrooms, butter lettuce, "fancy sauce" and American cheese (reportedly made in house) on a squishy-soft bun sprinkled with leek ash.
And if you're looking for a full meal, Bird Dog's signature dishes — that wood-grilled avocado and the fried chicken thigh with green curry and yuzu mayonette — are as delicious in takeout boxes as at the restaurant. Chef-owner Robbie Wilson also recently debuted a shio ramen with pork belly and chickpea miso.
Bird Dog is open for takeout and delivery Monday-Saturday, 4–8:30 p.m.
Bird Dog // 420 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 650.656.8180
Grandma pie, State of Mind Public House & Pizzeria, Los Altos
Normally, State of Mind's grandma pie was too an elusive menu item: the Los Altos pizzeria made just 10 a day. The kitchen has amped up production during the shutdown, so they're more available now.
The crusty-edged, pan-baked pie pays homage to the New York-born thin-crust, rectangular pizza style. Here, it's topped with a layer of mozzarella, Estero Gold cheese, sauce and julienned basil. Add the pepperoni, which comes from the Swiss American Sausage Company in Lathrop, and order a side of the fried, pickled red onions with housemade ranch.
State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria // 101 Plaza N., Los Altos; 650.383.5210
Phở tai and phở ga, Hometown Noodle, Redwood City
Hometown Noodle quietly serves some of the best phở on the Peninsula out of a space so humble you'll drive right past it if you're not looking closely. Located on a stretch of Middlefield Road teeming with taquerias, panaderias and Mexican markets, the no-frills Vietnamese restaurant remains open for takeout.
The kitchen cooks the phở broth from beef bones over 10 hours with ginger and yellow onion, controlling the temperature carefully to ensure a consistent product. The phở tái chin with flank steak and slices of brisket isn't to be missed, but the phở ga with shredded chicken also stands out — mostly because they serve it with the same beef broth rather than a less flavorful chicken soup.
They separate the broth from the rice noodles for takeout, with a bag of all the necessary phở garnishes and sauce packets on the side. If you want the noodles to be as fresh as they can be, ask for uncooked noodles and finish them on the stove at home.
Hometown Noodle // 3151 Middlefield Road, Redwood City; 650.367.0567
Pastries, Love for Butter pop-up
I can't be alone in fantasizing about the day that John Shelsta opens a brick-and-mortar bakery on the Peninsula. The man behind the Love for Butter pastry pop-ups, Shelsta has built a loyal following, one flaky kouign amann at a time.
Within hours after Shelsta's email announcing he would be reviving Love for Butter for an Easter weekend takeout pop-up, he sold out. Those who moved quickly could take their pick from a box of a dozen sweet and savory pastries — including traditional and chocolate kouign amann, a bacon-onion-cheddar brioche tart, almond financier and Valrhona chocolate toffee cookies that will make you swoon — as well as sourdough rye loaves, brioche, rosemary focaccia and crème fraîche coffee cake. He asked everyone to pay in advance and adhere to social distancing when picking up their orders. (For this pop-up, he baked out of Howie's Artisan Pizza in Palo Alto.)
Shelsta is now accepting pre-orders for pickup on Saturday, April 18 and has added new pastries, bread and a take-and-make rigatoni alla vodka kit from Howie's Pizza. If he sells out quickly again, he'll consider baking several
For more information and to place an order, email [email protected]
Fresh udon set, Sumika Grill, Los Altos, Santa Clara
The best part about Sumika, beyond the excellent yakitori and donburi sets, is sitting at the bar and getting a live view of the cooks manning the binchotan grill, fanning the charcoals to coax deep flavor out of skewers of yuzu chicken and pork belly. While we can't do that right now, Sumika is open daily for takeout and has started serving a limited supply of fresh, homemade udon. For $12, you get two servings of udon, garnishes and dashi soup to assemble at home.
You can also now order Orenchi Ramen from Sumika, though it's limited to 20 bowls a day from Sunday-Wednesday only. (The popular ramen shop in Santa Clara and Redwood City was actually born in the Sumika Los Altos kitchen, where the chef experimented with tonkotsu ramen on a secret menu before owner Kuniko Ozawa opened the spinoff concept.)
Sumika // 236 Central Plz, Los Altos; 650.917.1822 and 3548 Homestead Road, Santa Clara; 408.246.5511
Buttermilk biscuits and to-go cocktails, Flea St. Cafe, Menlo Park
I can't take credit for this one: A friend recently had the truly inspired idea to pick up Flea St. Cafe's famous housemade biscuits and to-go cocktails for a Zoom happy hour.
The biscuits, sprinkled with toasted white sesame seeds, have been on the menu since Flea St.'s inception three decades ago and are called "Martin's" in homage to owner Jesse Cool's father, the restaurant's first baker. In 2013, the biscuits set the scene for an interview with Oprah Winfrey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Order a dozen frozen biscuits for that virtual happy hour — or just to hoard in your freezer — along with a jarred lavender lemon drop (vodka, lavender, lemon, Cointreau and agave) or the green strawberry negroni (gin, sweet vermouth, Bruto Americano and green strawberries).
Flea St. is accepting takeout orders via email at [email protected] Wednesday–Sunday, with pickups scheduled between 5–7:30 p.m. (You can also donate to Cool's new nonprofit, Meals of Gratitude, which is providing meals to local healthcare workers while keeping the Flea St. staff employed.)
Flea St. Cafe // 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 650.854.1226
Jhol momos, Everest Cuisine, Mountain View
Everest Cuisine serves several kinds of momos, the Nepalese dumpling: filled with veggies or chicken, steamed or fried, or with a chili dipping sauce. But the Titantic jhol momo is the Nepalese-Indian restaurant's specialty. Steamed veggie or chicken momos are served in a bath of jhol achar, a spicy, tangy soup — usually in a large, boat-shaped ceramic dish that gives the dish its name.
Everest Cuisine is open for takeout and delivery Monday–Friday 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Saturday–Sunday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Everest Cuisine // 425 N. Whisman Road, Mountain View; 650.282.5958
Assemble-your-own tsukemen, Taishoken, San Mateo
If you never braved the lines at Taishoken, now's your time to try the Japanese-born ramen shop's popular tsukemen, or dipping ramen. For takeout, Taishoken is packaging its rich dipping broth (made over two days with pork, chicken, dried anchovy, bonito flakes, homemade soy sauce and other ingredients), fresh buckwheat noodles and toppings separately with step-by-step instructions for home assembly.
Taishoken is open for takeout and delivery during regular business hours.
Taishoken // 47 E. 4th Ave., San Mateo; 650.445.7579
Nigiri set, Sushi Yoshizumi, San Mateo
The coronavirus has forced many fine-dining restaurants that would have never before offered takeout to do so, including Sushi Yoshizumi in San Mateo. The traditional edomae sushi restaurant usually serves a 15-course omakase menu starting at $163 per person, with reservations notoriously hard to get given there are only two seatings of six people a day.
But in late March, Sushi Yoshizumi started offering a tiny menu of to-go sushi and don, or rice bowls: a nigiri sushi set ($85), chirashi don with assorted fish ($85) and tekka don, sushi rice topped with marinated bluefin tuna from Kyoto ($75). The dishes are available for pickup at the restaurant Tuesday–Saturday between 5 and 6:30 p.m. and on Sunday between noon and 1 p.m.
Sushi Yoshizumi // 325 E. 4th Ave., San Mateo; 650.437.2282
Tonkatsu curry, Curry Hyuga, Burlingame
The owners of Curry Hyuga made the rare choice of opening their doors in Burlingame in the midst of the Bay Area's shelter-in-place order. After just two weeks of operation, they're already running a brisk takeout business thanks to some early press attention for their decision to open at a time so many other restaurants are shutting down. (Be patient, and kind, if your order takes longer than you might like.) They haven't yet remodeled the space or taken down the previous restaurant's signage, but converted the front entrance into a socially distant waiting area for pickup and delivery orders.
The kitchen's specialty is Japanese curry, served over rice with cabbage, fukujinzuke (pickled vegetables) and your choice of protein including pork and chicken katsu, chicken karaage and korokke (a fried potato croquette). The protein — in this case, tonkatsu — is packaged separately with a scoop of Japanese potato salad to avoid getting drowned in the velvety, rich curry sauce during transportation.
Curry Hyuga is open for takeout and delivery Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Curry Hyuga // 1204 Broadway, Burlingame; 650.523.2230
Fried chicken sandwich, All Spice, San Mateo
Husband and wife owners Sachin Chopra and Shoshana Wolff of All Spice had to lay off their staff and are now alone in the kitchen running the restaurant's to-go menu. Place your order online or via phone, call when you're outside the charming 20th-century Victorian home that houses the restaurant and Wolff, gloved and masked, will bring the food out to your car.
All Spice's fried chicken sandwich is not like its massive, how-hot-can-you-take-it Nashville-style counterparts that dominated Instagram this year. It's a more restrained take: crispy chicken thighs on thin, griddled slices of housemade sourdough bread with a manageably spicy buttermilk sauce, kosher dill pickle chips and ginger-chili-peanut slaw on the side. (We've heard the lamb curry is a must-order, too.)
All Spice is open for takeout Tuesday–Saturday from 12:30–7 p.m.
All Spice // 1602 S. El Camino Real, San Mateo; 650.627.4303
D.I.Y. Korean BBQ, 10 Butchers, Sunnyvale
10 Butchers' dining room is closed, but it's still serving Korean barbecue sets for at-home feasts, from marinated galbi to Wagyu ribeye and bone-in short rib with banchan (side dishes), ssam (fresh lettuces for wrapping the cooked meats) and doenjang jjigae, a comforting soybean paste stew. Or, the kkorijjim set comes with oxtail stew, yukgaejang (spicy beef soup) or miyeok galbi tang (short rib soup) and nakji pajeon, an octopus-green onion pancake.
The restaurant has no website and is posting menus to Instagram. Call 408-720-8889 to place an order, Sunday–Thursday noon to 8 p.m. and Friday–Saturday until 9 p.m.
10 Butchers Korean BBQ // 595 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale; 408.720.8889
Family meal of the day, Manresa, Los Gatos
"Drive-through" and "Manresa" are three words I never thought I'd see together. When you go to pick up dinner to go from the three-Michelin-star restaurant (also unimaginable just a few weeks ago), pull up to the line of cars stretched through a back parking lot and wait your turn. Manresa staff — still wearing the black, formal suits they would to serve a $300 tasting menu in the dining room, but with the addition of blue nitrile gloves — hand food and wine bottles in brown paper bags through car windows.
Manresa's takeout menu is inspired by the restaurant's family meals, or what the staff would usually cook and eat together before service, so you'll find more comfort food than experimental fine dining. Recent meals have included lasagna bolognese with garlic bread, salmon and couscous and sides like Parker House rolls and fingerling potatoes.
On a recent Friday, however, the kitchen churned out gaeng daeng moo (red curry pork ribs), pineapple rice and laab cauliflower with toasted rice from Lalita Kaewsawang, who apprenticed at Manresa before starting her popular Thai food pop-up in Santa Cruz, Hanloh Thai. She's considering doing another "pop-up" at Manresa in April; watch the Manresa and Hanloh Thai Instagrams for announcements.
Pickup is available Wednesday-Sunday, 4:30–7:30 p.m. Orders can be placed online beginning the morning before pickup and until 7 p.m. the day of or until sold out at exploretock.com/manresa/. Menus are posted on Instagram and the restaurant's website daily. For to-go wine recommendations, email Manresa wine director Jim Rollston, a master sommelier, at [email protected]
Manresa // 320 Village Lane, Los Gatos; 408.354.4330
Donuts, Saltwater Bakery, Pacifica
Pacifica's Saltwater Bakery is serving its gluten-free baked goods out of a pickup window for now, asking customers to respect six-feet social distancing markers and pay only with credit cards to allow the bakery to stay open during the shutdown. Cheery pink lemonade and vanilla sprinkle donuts should top your order. The bakery also recently started selling mixes to bake their blueberry muffins and donuts at home.
Saltwater Bakery is continuing to adjust its hours; check Facebook for the latest updates.
Saltwater Bakery // 1905 Palmetto Ave., Pacifica; 415.637.8946