The joy of eating outside in the South Bay

By Khalida Sarwari

In California, especially the Bay Area, the concept of seasons has a different meaning than much of the rest of the country, where the arrival of fall usually means it’s time to start taking out scarves and begrudgingly dusting off parkas and windbreakers.

Here, the transition from one season to the next is as foggy as the weather in San Francisco most days. There was no better example of that than the recent heat wave in the days leading up to the advent of fall.

This time of year usually has one segment of the South Bay population eagerly pulling out their long boots from the garage and counting down the days until Starbucks puts pumpkin spice latte back on their menu, while another segment, in denial about the season ending, clutches tightly to their sun hats and pina coladas.

But one thing most Californians can agree on is al fresco dining. Stroll up and down any downtown in the South Bay and you’ll see hordes of people out, even on the most blustery days. Here are some places to enjoy the last gasp of summer.


The Table

1110 Willow St., San Jose

Opened in 2012, The Table is a seasonal, farm-to-table American restaurant in Willow Glen that prides itself on using seasonal ingredients and sustainably raised beef, poultry and fish. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, folks from Willow Glen and beyond–mainly young professionals and families–cram into the restaurant’s abundant 40-seat outdoor patio, outfitted with fire pits and couches, to nosh on roasted bone marrow, burgers and seasonal produce, all prepared under the direction of Chef Christopher Velasquez.

“People usually get excited about sharing” the bone marrow on social media, said the restaurant’s general manager, Brian Nicholas. Another dish that has become Instagram-famous is the restaurant’s eggs Benedict, which is served three ways—with pork, salmon or vegetarian—sandwiched in between Acme green onion slab bread.

For drinks, the restaurant serves up craft cocktails with fun names such as “El Diablo” and “The Stinger” as well as classics such as the “Old Fashioned,” which it makes using Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon, house bitters and brown sugar syrup.

“All the cocktails have a beautiful look to them,” Nicholas said. “One of our favorites is the ‘Secret Garden;’ we use housemade citrus-infused vodka, fresh cucumber, lime, ginger beer and Luxardo maraschino syrup.”

Reservations: Yes (408-638-7911)

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Allowed on patio

Additional restaurants and cafes offering al fresco dining in Willow Glen

Pizza My Heart
Tac-oh! Mexican Comfort Food
Vin Santo Ristorante
John’s of Willow Glen
Black Sheep Brasserie
Main Street Burgers
Purple Onion
Le Boulanger
Nick The Greek
Bertucelli’s La Villa

Claudine’s Wine Experience

20490 Los Gatos-Saratoga Road, Saratoga

There are wine bars and then there’s Claudine’s, a tucked-away oasis in downtown Saratoga that resembles a backyard garden more than a wine bar. At this casual, but upscale establishment, bar managers Jordan Nunez and Matt Mocherman take personal fulfillment in encouraging patrons to try wines they normally wouldn’t order.

“It’s a great place to come and try new wines,” said Mocherman. “We offer a lot of different flights of wine, both half glass and full glass options.”

It’s the kind of place to discover wines you wouldn’t necessarily find at BevMo, he said. “We kind of specialize in the stuff that you can’t find regularly.”

And that’s exactly what patrons here do; a lot of them drop in on date nights before or after dinner on nearby Big Basin Way, grab the couches with the fire pits and put their trust in Mocherman and Nunez. In fact, Claudine’s has a whole flight—called “Flying Blind”—centered on the idea of entrusting the servers to create a flight based on the individual’s wine or beer preferences. But, the items that get people snapping away on their phones are the Grand and Lush flight of red wines and cheese and charcuterie plates. The smoked gouda with calabrese hot salami is also very popular, as are the different varieties of hummus.

The restaurant, which recently celebrated its third year, hosts a variety of fun events on weekdays. It holds open mic nights on Thursday evenings and brings in local bands or vocalists to serenade customers, and paint nights occasionally on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, it offers unlimited sparkling wine for $15.

Reservations: Yes (408-647-8002)

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Highly encouraged. “We’re crazy dog friendly; we’ve got plenty of water and plenty of treats at the back of the bar” for pooches, Mocherman said.

Other restaurants and cafes offering al fresco dining in downtown Saratoga

Big Basin Burger Bar
Mio Vicino
Rose Market
La Mere Michelle
Big Basin Cafe
Bella Saratoga
Plumed Horse
Sue’s Gallery Cafe
Cinnabar Winery
Big Basin Vineyards
La Fondue
Hong’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant
Florentine Trattoria
Masu Japanese Bistro
Lillian’s Bakery & Cafe
Bell Tower Cafe

Metro City Restaurant & Bar

151 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale

There are few places where you can order breakfast anytime of the day, but Metro City, an upscale diner on Murphy Avenue that’s only been around for a year, offers just that and more. Omelettes and Benedicts aside (of which it has eight varieties!), the diner serves a full bar complete with craft beers, along with lunch and dinner. You can easily spend all day at this all-occasion restaurant and not run out of all sorts of American comfort foods to snack and sip on. And people do. The place gets packed with business groups around lunchtime on weekdays and families for brunch on weekends.

The restaurant’s doors open wide to its 45-seat covered sidewalk patio, giving the place an open and airy ambiance. Customers make return trips for Chef Alex Tsaboukos’ fried chicken n waffles, chicken piccata and handcrafted Angus burgers. A few of the standout drinks to wash those down with are the 1912 Old Fashion, made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Angostura bitters and orange zest, and Always Sunny in Sunnyvale, which, among other ingredients, comes packed with St. George vodka, Aperol and grapefruit juice.

Ron Brio, a San Jose resident, took his 10-year-old daughter, Raymi, there recently for lunch before starting his night shift at work. He had the meatloaf while she had the garlic fries.

“That’s one reason why I decided to eat outside,” he said, “because I’m about to be indoors.”

Reservations: No, but groups of 10 or more are advised to call in advance.

Heat lamps: Coming soon

Dog policy: Allowed on patio

Other restaurants and cafes offering al fresco dining in downtown Sunnyvale

Vino Vino
The Oxford
Lilly Mac’s Restaurant & Pub
Taverna Bistro
Gelateria Bella Roma
Firehouse Grill & Brewery
Thai Basil
Coffee & More Cafe
Il Postale
Rok Stone-Age Fondue & Steakhouse
Fibbar Magees
Roberto’s Cantina
Gumba’s Italian Restaurant
Bean Scene Cafe
Siam Taste Thai Cuisine

Opa! Authentic Greek Cuisine

276 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell

Though it’s well worth the wait, good luck trying to find a seat on the large patio here, especially during dinnertime and more so during dinner on weekends or post-farmers market on Sundays when crowds pour in for pitas, cheesesteak sandwiches and the restaurant’s signature saute and fries. The visually appealing saganaki, a grilled Kasseri cheese served flaming on a flat iron skillet, tends to get the most Instagram uploads.

“It’s flaming cheese and it’s lit right in front of you,” said Opa’s general manager, Mike Rodriguez.

On the cocktail menu, the Grand Opa sangria is a big hit with patrons as is the Greek margarita and citrus cucumber mojito.

“It’s a great place if you want to come in or if you want to lounge outside,” said Rodriguez. “We have great handcrafted cocktails.”

The crowd here varies across the board from millennials to older folks and those in the business community. Israel Ziranda is the chef at this establishment, which opened about five years ago. The original Opa is in Willow Glen, with additional South Bay locations in Los Gatos and Santa Clara. Though a traditional Greek restaurant, Opa also offers American and Greek fare for brunch on the weekends and happy hour between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays.

Reservations: Yes, but only for parties of 7 or more.

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Allowed on patio


193 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell

A lot of sandwich places have you come in, place your order and pick it up in a brown bag and head back to your car, but not Spread. Its bright blue lounge chairs on the front patio make you reconsider scarfing down your BLT in the parking lot with NPR droning on in the background. And with a patio that seats about 20 people, you are encouraged to even bring a friend or two.

College-age and older crowds have been patronizing the eatery since it opened in downtown Campbell five years ago, giving their love to the “Unkosher” sandwich, made with beef pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut and bacon Russian dressing (ah, that’s where the “un” in “unkosher” comes from) on swirl rye or “The Duchess,” made with deep fried turkey breast, beef pastrami, sharp cheddar, roma tomatoes, sprouts, black garlic aioli and chipotle aioli on a sweet roll.

The Duchess tends to get shared the most on social media, said general manager Jason Endert. “People have posted a lot of pictures of those.” But, what’s usually accompanying the sandwiches in those posts, he said, is a glass of beer and if there’s anything Spread does better than sandwiches, it’s brews. From IPAs to sour beers, Spread covers its bases on everything that’s new and relevant in the craft beer world, said Endert. And with an impressive selection of 21 ales on tap and about 100 bottled beers, there should be something to please any beer enthusiast’s palate. Once or twice a month Spread hosts a beer-focused event to highlight specific breweries.

“Our mainstay of our sales is definitely the food, but I think our unique beer selection definitely brings people in,” Endert said.

Reservations: No

Heat lamps: No

Dog policy: Definitely allowed. “We’re more than happy for people to bring their dogs,” Endert said. “I have dog bowls in the back. If we see a puppy out there, we’ll definitely bring them some water.”


368 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell

The concept for Flights was born in…Maui? That’s where Alex Hult, who also owns his eponymous upscale Los Gatos establishment Hult’s, was treated to a cocktail flight on his honeymoon four years ago.

“(My wife and I) both thought that was genius and we were shocked no one else was doing it,” he said.

He started developing the concept for a similar place of his own and voila, three years later Flights was born with the help of Hult’s partners, a cadre of San Jose Sharks players, a professional hockey player from Russia and other local businessmen. Launched on July 8, Flights dishes up comfort food tapas and drinks in threes by servers wearing flight attendant uniforms. The concept has so far proved successful, drawing everyone from families to those on date nights and folks celebrating girls and boys’ nights out.

“We’ve been full every single night so obviously we’re doing something right, which is super exciting,” Hult said.

Patrons have been clamoring for the ahi tuna trio, meatballs and mac and cheese. On the drinks menu, the margarita flight is a bestseller, along with various beer and wine flights. One of the more fun flights is the shots, which is served in six test tubes that come in colors representing local sports teams: teal for the Sharks, red for the San Francisco 49ers and orange for the San Francisco Giants.

The restaurant offers 25 percent off all food and drinks from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and a “frequent flights reward” program that allows patrons to accrue points every time they dine in.

Reservations: No, although Hult encourages patrons to use a mobile app called “No Wait,” which allows users to “line up” at restaurants without having to be there physically.

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Super dog friendly. “We have water bowls for dogs,” Hult said.

Other restaurants and cafes offering al fresco dining in downtown Campbell

Campbell Creamery
Sushi Confidential
La Panotiq Bakery Cafe
Snake & Butterfly
The Pit @ CBC
El Guapo’s
Willard Hicks
Pino’s Trattoria
The Vesper
Blue Line Pizza
La Pizzeria
Katie Bloom’s
Orchard Valley Coffee

Oak & Rye

303 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos


A cross-section of Los Gatos and San Jose locals regularly patronize this pizza joint, which in addition to its pizzas serves up dishes such as chicken liver mousse and potato and octopus. It’s New American meets old-world Italian at this 3-year-old establishment.

General manager Eddie Diaz recommends placing your trust in the hands of Oak & Rye’s servers, especially if you happen to build a rapport with them. “Let them know any dietary restrictions you might have and let somebody put something together for you,” he advised.

Some customer favorites whipped up by Chefs Ross Hanson and Angelo Womack are Scotty 2 Hottie, a pizza pie topped with crushed tomato, mozzarella, soppressata, honey, basil and pepperoncini oil, and the Cortez, another pie made with crushed tomato, New Mexico red chile chorizo, jalapeños, crema, radish, lime-pickled red onion and cilantro. The latter has, in fact, become quite Instagram-famous, Diaz said.

“I think probably the Cortez pizza is going to be one of the most beautiful things you see,” he said. “There’s an overload of color with the greens and reds; it’s very nice.”

The Hear Nocino Evil (rye, walnut liqueur, vermouth and bitters) and the sweet, but deceptive Milk Punch (rye, rum, spices and clarified milk) are the most popular drinks here, as are Oak & Rye’s wines, which run the gamut of Italian varietals to American and French-produced wines.

The restaurant offers wine and spirit classes on some Tuesday nights and brunch on weekends.

Diaz advises folks to get to the restaurant a little before 7 p.m. when the dinner rush starts swelling up, to take advantage of the outdoor patio.

“The shade covers the patio and it’s nice and bright still outside,” he said. “It’s one of the best times for people to sit out there.”

Reservations: No

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Yes, as long as they’re on a leash. “We love dogs on the patio,” Diaz said.

The Catamount

50 University Ave., Los Gatos

The historic building that housed the California Cafe for decades and at one time the town’s University Avenue Elementary School is now home to The Catamount, a newly opened restaurant that specializes in California classics.

Patrons of all ages pack the place on Friday and Saturday evenings to take advantage of not only the bites prepared under the direction of Chef Cory Armenta, such as the sauteed local Petrale sole, Brandt Ranch skirt steak and five-spice whole fried chicken, but also the cocktails, such as the seasonal Catamount mule, which is prepared with vodka, huckleberry lime shrub and ginger beer.

For those who are curious about stopping by, manager Mark Mills has a few pieces of advice. “Experience the full menu and trust the serving staff,” he said. “We taste the food daily. (The staff) know the food well.”

The light and airy restaurant offers a full bar and 30-seat patio and holds a “social hour” from Tuesday through Saturday, featuring drink and food specials.

Reservations: Yes (408-442-5533)

Heat lamps: No

Dog policy: Allowed on patio


115 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos

If there’s one thing Los Gatos isn’t short on it’s picturesque dining spots and it doesn’t get any prettier than Palacio, a restaurant that’s literally housed in a Victorian Queen Anne building constructed in 1891. Los Gatos folks have caught onto this fact, filling up the the restaurant’s front garden and outdoor patio for brunch and dinner on the weekends.

“Definitely make a reservation for outside,” said Maegan Garald, general manager at Palacio. “And bring some friends you’d be willing to share a punch bowl with.”

The restaurant is suitable for families and large groups but also makes a great date night spot. If you are coming with a squad, though, it might be worth checking out Palacio’s new craft cocktail menu which features the “Peach Pit,” a two-person drink that’s lit on fire (have those cameras ready), and another cocktail that can easily be shared among five people called “Real Housewives of Los Gatos.”

“I’ve probably seen the most Instagrams of our punch bowls,” Garald said. “They come out with giant 20-inch straws and we always get the looks and the pictures.”

The food is just as exciting here under the direction of Chef Ruben Soto. Customer favorites include the grilled sea bass, lobster and shrimp ravioli and parmesan truffle fries.

“We opened as a Mexican restaurant in 2011 and transitioned through different cuisines, but in May 2016 we officially declared ourselves as new American food,” Garald said.

Reservations: Yes (408-402-3811)

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Allowed in the garden but not on the patio.

Other restaurants and cafes offering al fresco dining in downtown Los Gatos

Forbes Mill Steakhouse
Rootstock Wine Bar
Nasch Austrian Bistro
Andale Mexican Family Kitchen
Main Street Burgers
Willow Street Pizza
Toll House Hotel
The Lexington House
Wine Cellar of Los Gatos

Oren’s Hummus Shop

19419 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

With its high ceilings and dazzling chandeliers, it’s hard to believe Oren’s specializes mostly in hummus. But while the main dining hall is an interior decorator’s dream, the spacious and sunny outdoor patio with its communal tables surrounded by lush plants and string lights is the spot to enjoy Oren’s fresh lemonade or any of its Israeli imported assortment of red, white and rosé wines.

Since the restaurant opened up a little over a year ago, it’s been the preferred hangout spot for Apple employees and families. Here, Chef David Cohen dishes out Mediterranean fare with an Israeli twist. The hummus bowls, shakshuka (poached eggs prepared in a bed of spiced tomato sauce and topped with sausage and cheese) and meat skewers are regularly demanded by diners.

The majority of its items are gluten-free, but the meats are not kosher, according to manager Adolpho Gomez. The restaurant offers 50 percent off all wine bottles and glasses all day on Wednesdays.

“It seems pretty extreme, but you’d be surprised the amount of people that drink wine in the morning,” Gomez said.

Reservations: Yes (408-982-5237)

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Allowed on patio


19369 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

A city that’s home to one of the most innovative companies in the world will naturally inspire other businesses to follow suit. And that’s why Eureka, a restaurant that does classic Americana but, wait for it—with a twist—opened up here a year and a half ago.

A quick glance of the menu will have you thinking you’re at any other American diner, but a closer read reveals ingredients such as bone marrow and fig marmalade.

In fact, that latter condiment belongs on Eureka’s Fresno fig burger, one of its more popular items that, in addition to the fig marmalade, is prepared with melted goat cheese, bacon, tomato, red onion, arugula and spicy porter mustard. Another one of its unconventional burgers is the bone marrow burger, which comes packed with bone marrow porcini butter, charbroiled onion, mustard aioli and roasted roma tomato.

Its drinks menu is no less impressive, with 40 different beers and 20 rotating taps.

“We want people to discover; we want them to try new things,” said Dan Tittle, assistant general manager. “There’s always something new around the corner.”

The restaurant boasts a fun cocktail menu as well, featuring drinks such as “The Industry,” made with El Charro tequila, orange juice, pineapple juice, syrup and cilantro. The “Holy Smokes” is another fun one that’s made in a mason jar with Old Forester bourbon, chocolate bitters and cherry liqueur, then infused with smoke and capped with a lid so that when it’s opened, a cloud of smoke billows out for a good 10 seconds to introduce the drink. You can bet there’s plenty of posts showing it off on Instagram.

In addition to burgers, salads, steaks and tacos, the restaurant offers brunch on the weekends, half-off discounts on wine by the glass on Tuesdays and “steal the glass” nights on Wednesdays where it gives out beer glasses bearing the name of a featured brewery that diners can take home as souvenirs.

The clientele at Eureka tends to be an eclectic mix of expats, families and tech industry folks, Tittle said, conjecturing that it’s the classic but unconventional American food that is probably the restaurant’s biggest draw.

“All the time I’m checking passports from all over the place,” he said.

Cupertino residents David Rubenstein and his wife, Raven, opted for Eureka’s patio while dining there recently with their son and daughter.

“It’s perfect outside,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting; I’m happy to be here.”

Reservations: Yes, for for parties of eight or more. (669-266-6752)

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Allowed on patio

Rootstock Wine Bar

19389 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

Specializing in wines and small bites, the 1-year-old Rootstock draws Apple employees and after-work crowds daily and especially on weekend evenings. Its outdoor patio, with its mix of high top tables and couches, can easily fit 50 people.

Flatbreads, charcuterie plates and bruschetta are all the rage here, which patrons wash down with drinks such as the Made in Provence rosé, Rootstock’s most popular drink.

“We’re not just a wine bar,” said manager Jessica Do. “Don’t be afraid of trying new things.”

The bar offers live Spanish jazz music on Thursdays and Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m., half-off bottles on Mondays and $1 oysters on Saturday and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. Rootstock also hosts wine tasting events every first and third Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Reservations: Recommended for parties of 15 or more.

Heat lamps: Yes

Dog policy: Allowed on patio. “Dogs are more than welcome,” Do said.

Other restaurants and cafes offering al fresco dining in Cupertino

85°C Bakery Cafe
Tea Chansii
Panino Giusto
LYFE Kitchen
Pieology Pizzeria
Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar

Link: The joy of eating outside in the South Bay


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