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Now you know the way to some fine fare


Richard Ouzounian

SAN JOSE, Calif. –"Do you know the way to San Jose?" asked Dionne Warwick in that infectious 1968 tune by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. At the time, she was referring to a sleepy, pleasant place about 90 minutes south of San Francisco.

A lot has changed in 40 years. The growth of Silicon Valley has made San Jose a major destination point and it's also proved to be a highly popular convention location as well. There's now a wealth of galleries, shops, theatres, hotels and – of course – restaurants. Some of the best date back to the early days, but if you play your cards right, you'll be able to mix old and new with highly satisfactory results.

Friday night

Original Joe's, 301 S. First St., 408-292-7030: Start your visit off with a real slice of historic San Jose. This place has been open since 1956 and judging from the crowds it still attracts, popularity has never been a problem. The basic menu is Italian, although the steaks are highly touted and there's a 12-ounce hamburger that makes for mighty fine eating. Let the tuxedoed waiters seat you at a comfy leather booth, or ask to sit at the counter, where you can watch the white-toqued chefs perform their magic. They're also open till very late (last order at 1:30 a.m.), so you can come here for their stuffed sausage and pepper sandwich at bedtime ... if you're not worried about what kind of dreams might ensue.

Saturday morning

Hobee's Pruneyard, 1875 S. Bascom Ave. Unit 190, Campbell, 408-369-0575: If you spend a lot of time in Northern California, you'll probably encounter a Hobee's, a family-run chain of a dozen places known for wholesome, old-fashioned food. They excel at breakfast, where their blueberry coffee cake is a fave of former president Bill Clinton. This branch is near the popular Pruneyard shopping district and I was knocked out by the South of the Border Omelet, which came with black bean chili, salsa verde, guacamole and sour cream. Great coffee, fresh-squeezed juices and quality baking.

Saturday afternoon

La Taqueria, 15 S. First St., 408-287-1542: This no-frills Mexican establishment has been around for more than 30 years in the Mission district and after you try their food, you'll know why. Unlike many similar places, they emphasize the quality and quantity of the meat in their tacos and burritos and you can taste the difference instantly. Don't worry about the lineups, the service is quick and you'll be delighted to see lots of locals waiting for their grub with you. This is no tourist trap and the prices are mercifully low.

Saturday night

A.P. Stumps, 163 W. Santa Clara St., 408-292-9928: Finding a Grade A steakhouse that isn't part of a chain is rapidly becoming a dying art in some parts of North America. Fortunately, San Jose has A.P. Stumps, which has transformed a historic downtown building into an elegant yet comfortable dining destination.

Start out with their signature beet salad that mixes together three varieties of the oft-maligned veg with excellent results, then go on to one of their gorgeous steaks. The 14-ounce rib-eye topped with Gorgonzola and served with buttery garlic mashed potatoes was my favourite although their rack of lamb and double-cut spice-rubbed pork chop also get good reviews. For dessert, I always have trouble resisting a bread pudding and their banana, chocolate and macadamia nut certainly entered my winner's circle.

Sunday morning

The Original Pancake House, 1366 S. DeAnza Blvd., 408-255-7373: Another San Jose favourite. One local I talked to said he'd been coming here with his family for more than 20 years. As you might expect from the name, pancakes are king, with dozens of varieties, all supposedly based on the in-house sourdough starter. I had the blueberry, which were absolutely fine, but around me people were also singing the praises of the Georgia pecan flapjacks or a giant piece of lemon-and-sugar-dusted glory called The Dutch Baby. Service is slow, but relax and get ready to eat big.

Sunday afternoon

The Fountain Room, Fairmont San Jose Hotel, 170 South Market St., 408-998-1900: There are times when nothing will satisfy like a decadent Sunday brunch at an elegant hotel and the Fountain Room knows just how to provide it. Yes, there's the obligatory omelette bar, but there's a first-rate sushi bar as well. The hot table features out-of-the-ordinary treats like a citrus-and-herb-crusted Atlantic salmon and a chocolate fondue fountain to finish you off, in addition to excellent pastries. The atmosphere is definitely upscale, but the feeling is relaxed.





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