Working in Almaden valley in South San Jose the past year, Ive been hard pressed to find good chow in this realm of chains and the Oakridge Mall food court. So Ive been slowly eating my way through several indie (and indian) restaurants...some arent really worth posting, some are. So heres a couple places to start off what may become a series of this part of the South Bay.
Erawan Thai Cuisine, 5945 Almaden Expy.
There was a spell when I ate here once a week for 4 weeks with 4 different groups (not by my choice, these things just happen when you lunch with a group). The food is above-average and can get it really spicy. For lunch specials (around $7-8) you pretty much choose your curry and choose your meat (or go veggie). There are other lunch specials but I dont remember them. With lunch you get a complimentary egg roll (just okay, but always hot & crisp) and small bowl of soup, which is ALWAYS this sort of spicy broth with small veggies, like a tom yum but without meat or seafood. Anyways, Ive tried the red, green, penang, and massaman curries, and the massaman is my favorite. I think its the spiciest; I ordered it medium and burned my mouth, but another time ordered something else spicy and it was barely over mild. I always get the vegetarian, while most of my co-workers like chicken best. I also tried something like veggie with basil garlic sauce, which is a brown sauce with chopped garlic, chili flakes and a few basil leaves. Service is usually quite attentive, and food always comes out pretty fast.
Ori-Deli Indonesian Market and Restaurant, 5479 Snell Ave.
I was thinking of Han went I went here. I like Indonesian food but am not that familiar with it so was hoping to learn more by going here. This is a tiny store with a tiny restaurant attached. There wasnt another single soul shopping or eating here during the 1+ hour I was there. But its worth a post for its uniqueness. The store has 3 short aisles of Indonesian and SE Asian staples, condiments, canned goods, as well as dutch snacks & items. They have 3 brands of kecap manis, sweet soy sauce (did I mention the store is tiny?). The restaurant is a windowless room adjoining the store (it had an external glass door but that was locked up) with about 5 booths, and a big table with lots of Indonesian magazines & journals laid out all over. More like a store room than a restaurant, but didnt bother me. I ordered Nasi Rendang and to go, the Gado Gado, and chatted with the owners while waiting. The husband runs the store (he might decide to carry fresh mangosteen this summer, for like $7-8/pound, but thinks its not worth it), and the wife runs the restaurant. I feel weird using the word run because its such a tiny (& empty) place. Plus theres a cook in the back. Cook is Indonesian, husband is from Southern China and wife is Indonesian-born, some-time Chinese resident, and American resident of 16 years.
The Nasi Rendang is pricey at $9.50 for a scoop of rice and about ¼ cup each of 5 accompaniments. It had beef rendang (tender, very flavorful), 4 fat slices of peeled cucumber, abon (pork dryer lint, the sweet kind), some lightly deep fried hash browns with a sweet coating, and a mixture of veggies in sambal chili sauce (not spicy). The veggies were tempeh, canned green beans, canned but not smelly bamboo shoots, and broad beans called peteh that have a very slight sour taste. Asking the wife about the broad beans resulted in one of those comical exchanges where you hear the word, you repeat it back, they shake their head & stress a certain syllable, you say it again, they shake their head again, and so on while you swear youre saying the same sound they are. Overall the beef rendang was good, the rest edible, and I wouldnt order again (plus its pricey).
The Gado Gado ($7.25) was a winner, and a big portion. Lightly boiled veggies (cabbage, bean sprouts, potatoes, spinach), hard boiled egg wedges, cold cubes of fried tofu, iceberg lettuce, topped with commercial fried shallots. On the side, a thick, rich peanut sauce redolent of lemongrass. In a paper bag, some shrimp chips and another type that is light yellow, tastes like potato, but is slightly bitter. When I ate it the next day, the chips were stale but crisped up nicely after 20 seconds in the microwave. I also microwaved the sauce until just about scalding and it made the fridge-cold veggies much better.
In the same strip mall there is a small Middle Eastern store (about twice the size of Ori-Deli). Tons of ingredients. Something like 10 kinds of halvah (one that is touted sugar free! low carb!). Fresh cheese sitting in liquid. Lots of eye candy for the Persian cook. I couldve browsed & browsed but was well past my lunch hour. I bought some Israeli couscous, kebab spice, red lentils, and a pouch of mixed dried herbs. I have no idea what the herbs are for but they looked so damn good!
While Im talking about this strip mall, directly across the street (also on Snell) is Tandoor Indian Restaurant & Bar (445A Blossom Hill Rd). Ive tried both the lunch buffet & off the menu, and most things are good but not great. Nan is hot, chewy with an outer crisp, delivered to your table & replenished if asked. Buffet items are not kept very hot, but theyre still ok (tandoori chicken, for example was not dry). Mostly northern dishes. Very nice ambiance.