Given the magnitude of eating and drinking places in San Carlos and its wide variety of cuisines, we don’t often have to travel beyond our borders for great food. But it’s worth taking a look at some great food choices in our neighboring cities, particularly places that offer something we don’t get in San Carlos (something beyond what may be equally good Mexican, Italian, or Japanese restaurants, for example). Here are a few of our favorites in our neighbor to the north, Belmont:
Godfathers Burger Lounge – Although San Carlos has a number of spots for hamburgers, Godfather’s stands out. The quality of the burgers and other offerings is top-notch. Naturally, beef burgers are their speciality, but you can also order a turkey burger, salmon burger, crabcake burger, or veggie burger. They come with a generous amount of toppings based on a number of packaged combinations (our favorites include the California and the Untouchables burger) or your own customized order. You also can’t go wrong with the included sides such as fries, sweet potato fries, garlicky truffle fries, or onion rings. If we want to cut back the calories a bit, we order a side salad instead, which is also excellent. Speaking of salads, there are a few entree offerings, our favorite being the BLT wedge salad. They also have sliders, kids’ dishes, milkshakes, and a decent selection of wines and draft beers. The owners are very friendly and welcoming, but the restaurant is fairly small (one almost wishes they would purchase the Good Bites Cafe next door and expand), so we definitely recommend reservations or going on a weekday evening or for lunch. The restaurant has a unique cinema theme with movie memorabilia and photos all around the restaurant, with a particular homage to the Godfather movies. One wonders what the trademark and copyright issues are here, but who cares as we love their food!
Falafelle – Like burgers, San Carlos also has a few places to get good falafel, but this relatively new Belmont vegetarian spot is getting a serious reputation (as evidenced by their five star rating on Yelp). They basically do one thing, but do it very well. You order a pita pocket or container with falafel as well as series of veggies that they include – some combination of dolma, hummus, tabbouleh, beets, sauerkraut, cabbage, onion, peppers, chickpeas, and a few other things, including some good tahini and chili sauces. The quality of the falafel and vegetables is excellent, and the owner takes painstaking care in putting together each order in a poke-bowl style assembly process (which does slow down the ordering process a bit). The pita is thick and doughy (in a good way), and the overall portions are pretty big – this is definitely a full lunch. The only challenge going here is its tiny size and limited throughput capacity. During peak lunch times there could be a line outside and a decent wait. There are only a couple of tables inside and a couple outside, so you’re not guaranteed a seat. One time, we ordered the food to go and walked to Twin Pines park next door to enjoy our lunch.
Dog Haus Biergarten – a chain (over three dozen locations across the U.S.) that recently opened in Belmont on the very visible corner of Ralston and El Camino, the Dog Haus specializes in hot dogs, sausages, and beer. A very casual place with a quasi-sports bar atmosphere, you either order up-front and find a table, or you can sit at their bar and order service there. It is decently sized inside (with mostly long, community tables), and they have more room in a “biergarten” outside which is popular weather permitting. There are a number of hot dog and sausage options, including spicy Italian, Polish kielbasa, curry wurst, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, bratwurst, chicken sausage, etc. The chain is big fan of pun-based names (their slogan is “The Absolute Würst”) and includes menu items such as the Thai Fighter, Cocky Balboa, Reservoir Hog, Free Bird, and Pig Lebowski. They also have about two dozen beers on tap, which rotate regularly but often include a wide variety of lagers, ales, stouts, IPAs, as well as German and Belgian style beers (at the bar you can taste one or two before you commit). They also have hamburgers (including the Impossible Burger), chicken, ice cream shakes, and sides such as coleslaw, fries, and onion rings. It’s very family-friendly but also good for a fun and casual date night.
Iron Gate – although the time machine has not been invented yet, we can still time travel by stepping through the iron gate at the Iron Gate restaurant. It opened in the 1950s and probably hasn’t changed much since. It is absolutely a singular dining experience both because of their classic (and excellent quality) dishes as well as the unique atmosphere and service level. It offers a very traditional French Continental menu in a relatively formal atmosphere (besides going back in time, you’ve also left California — this is a dress-up place). Not surprisingly, you often see people celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions (as the prices are for special occasions). The service is impeccable from well-dressed waiters, and the menu is a like a who’s who of classic dishes — items like Oysters Rockefeller, Escargots Bouguignon, Coquilles St. Jacques, Veau Oscar, Steak Diane (well, you get the idea). The waiters will prepare a number of dishes tableside, including one of our favorites, the Les Epinards Au Bacon Flambe (flambé spinach salad). Their desserts are equally decadent, including soufflés (chocolate or Grand Marnier) and classics you get nowhere else such as Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee. They have a lounge/bar in front of the restaurant (although we’ve never been in there) and a dining room in back which is packed with tables and barely enough room for the waiters to squeeze by. Not an everyday place, but a classic and fun experience with some great food!
China Village Seafood Restaurant – although San Carlos has plenty of Chinese food restaurants, it does not have a dim sum restaurant. Panda Dumpling does serve buns and dumplings, but it’s not the full dim sum experience with servers with carts or trays coming around to each table allowing you to examine a wide variety of dishes. We’ve been going here for 20 years, and many of the same welcoming managers and wait staff have been there since then. It’s on a busy Ralston Avenue near Old County Road, and most of their parking is in the rear. They open at 11am on weekdays and 10am on weekends, and stay open through dinner with a full menu, but we primarily go there for a late morning or mid-day dim sum. Note that it can get fairly crowded particularly on weekends after noon, so I recommend you go early. There is the full variety of small steamed and fried dishes you’d expect at Dim Sum, with plenty of seafood selections, vegetarian options, as well as beef and pork dishes. Of course they they have all of the dim sum staples — pork buns, steamed shrimp dumplings, sticky rice, stuffed eggplant or peppers with shrimp, pot stickers, Chinese broccoli, egg yolk buns, sesame balls, etc. If you’re a more advanced dim sum eater, you can go for items such as the chicken feet, beef tripe, or jellyfish. There are also a variety of noodle dishes and soups. The bigger the group with which you go, the more variety you get to have. The hardest part is just knowing when to stop eating!