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[Bay Area] Milpitas: South Bay Ethnic Food Mecca


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First post from previous, derailed thread:

 

An interesting and informative article on how Milpitas went from an unincorporated area of pear orchards and strawberry fields to become "the South Bay's premier ethnic dining destination."

 

While Milpitas is still something of a Silicon Valley backwater, the array of restaurants and markets in the city of 65,000 has made it something special. Sure, San Jose and Los Gatos have got Milpitas beat in white tablecloth fine dining, but for a taste of the real thing—be it from Chengdu, Taipei, Shanghai, Hanoi or Hyderabad—Milpitas is the place. The countless strip malls and shopping centers are an ethnic food lover's paradise.

 

Drive just a few short blocks, and you'll pass family-style Filipino restaurants, bAnh mi and pho joints, Indian sweet shops and pizzerias that offer halal meat toppings. Cross the street and you'll find a Korean tofu house, a dim sum palace and a Chinese noodle restaurant. It goes on and on.

Cheers,

 

Squeat

 

My son lives in San Jose and every time I come to visit him, he and his family and his other programmer friends, many of them of varied heritage, go out to eat, and we invariably wind up in Milpitas. The dim sum there is incredible, and the restaurants are always jam-packed and busy.

 

Last night there were eight of us at a wonderful Malaysian restaurant called The Banana Leaf. One of my son's closest friends, Ray, is the son of a Chinese master chef, and the boy likes to eat. The Banana Leaf is a favorite of his, and the owner always recognizes him and makes a big fuss. Yesterday was Ray's birthday so last night the kitchen sent out several complimentary dishes.

 

We started with the Roti Murtabak, a multi-layered Indian bread stuffed with minced meat, veggies, egg, and a curry dipping sauce. It's warm and wonderful and we never go to the Banana Leaf without ordering it. Also we get the Tofu Salad, greens, fried tofu with a peanut dressing. Cool and refreshing and delicious.

 

One of the dishes that the kitchen sent out in honor of Ray's birthday was a Yu Sang Salad. On the menu, it's described as containing tuna sashimi, but our version was just the salad. It was crunchy, with bits of orange and mango, shot through with ginger. It's one of my favorite things I've had in a very long while and before I leave the Bay Area this time, I'm going back and getting an entire plate of this salad, just for me, me, me. Oh my was it good!

 

We had four mains: Malay Sizzling Beef, Mango Chicken, Rendang Beef, and Utama Basil Chicken, all delicious.

 

The Mango Chicken was a kind of sweet and sour chicken minus the heavy artifical gloppy red sauce and the heavily-breaded, fried meat. Served in scooped out mango shells, it was one of the top pleasers of the meal. The other big crowd-pleasing main (and something we always get) was the Rendang Beef, tender hunks of beef in a "chef's special Malay curry sauce." Ever had a so-called "basil" dish and you're hard pressed to find the basil? No such prob with the Utama Basil Chicken. When it arrived, I, not having listened to what was ordered, assumed it was some sort of vegetable spinach dish. But when the aroma hit my nose, I knew the truth. It was a dark, peppery basil sauce smothering chunks of perfectly-cooked and juicy chicken.

 

Since we eat out with Chinese diners, we always order the plain steamed rice. But at the Banana Leaf, we make an exception because the Pineapple Fried Rice is simply irresistable - bits of onion, green pepper, cashews, shrimp, chicken and peas stuffed in a pineapple. And we also get the Malay Coconut Milk Rice - looks like plain steamed white rice, but cooked in coconut liquid, so it's gently infused with a mild coconut flavor.

 

And last night we also got something that I can't recognize on the menu. That's because nothing says "Big Plate of Black Worms." When we ordered it, the conversation went something like:

 

Ray (pointing): "...and we'd like that."

 

Waiter: "Are you sure?"

 

Ray: "Well...(suddenly he wasn't sure he was sure)...I think so."

 

Waiter: "Have you had it before?"

 

Ray: "No, but I'd like to try it. Why are you asking."

 

Waiter: "Not everybody likes it. And nobody just kind of likes it. Everybody either loves it or hates it. Maybe you'd better....."

 

Ray: "But how will we know if we love it or hate it if we don't try it? We want it."

 

At our table half loved it and half hated it. But, like I said, it looked like a big plate of black slimy squiggly worms so even those that loved it had to get past that part.

 

All in all, a wonderful, wonderful meal, at about $20 a person.

 

And in closing, I'd like to say that there is delicious food to be had in Milpitas. I've had a lot of it, but would always like to have more. I'm hopeful that we can discuss food in this thread and keep the strip-mall argument over in the other hijacked thread.

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What's non-ethnic food? Serious question, I'm not playing around.

 

It seems to me that sometimes we have to resort to "accepted vocabulary" to be understood whether or not it's the perfect thing to say.

 

I consider "ethnic food" to be anything not originally native to the area but originally native to a small group of folks transplanted from another area. Therefore, I'd think having meatloaf and mashed potatoes while in the middle of the US would not be called "ethnic food," but if I were in, say, Bangkok and there was a restaurant serving that to an American expat community, it would be.

 

I don't know...

 

You just do the best you can, you know?

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Funny you mention that. When I left San Francisco to drive to Los Gatos, I set my GPS to the "slow route" (least use of freeways). I often do that to see the small towns and neighborhoods. The route took me through Milpitas. If I hadn't been restraining myself for a major meal at Manresa that evening, I would have stopped at one of the many restaurants we passed that looked very interesting. The BBQ and taquerias were calling to us.

 

One sign that caught my eye was painted on the wall of a furniture store.

It read:

SOFA & LOVE $499

 

All it needed to add is BBQ and I could not have resisted.

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One of the dishes that the kitchen sent out in honor of Ray's birthday was a Yu Sang Salad. On the menu, it's described as containing tuna sashimi, but our version was just the salad. It was crunchy, with bits of orange and mango, shot through with ginger. It's one of my favorite things I've had in a very long while and before I leave the Bay Area this time, I'm going back and getting an entire plate of this salad, just for me, me, me. Oh my was it good!

Here's a recipe that looks good

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Many many years ago, KSAN, the top radio station at that time in San Francisco was having a contest. I forget what you had to do for the contest but the first prize was a weekend at the Holiday Inn in Milpitas. The second prize was a week at the Holiday Inn in Milpitas. That is my fondest memory of the lovey burg of Milpitas from when I lived in the bay area.

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Funny you mention that. When I left San Francisco to drive to Los Gatos, I set my GPS to the "slow route" (least use of freeways). I often do that to see the small towns and neighborhoods. The route took me through Milpitas. If I hadn't been restraining myself for a major meal at Manresa that evening, I would have stopped at one of the many restaurants we passed that looked very interesting. The BBQ and taquerias were calling to us.

 

One sign that caught my eye was painted on the wall of a furniture store.

It read:

SOFA & LOVE $499

 

All it needed to add is BBQ and I could not have resisted.

 

:lol:

 

That reminds me of those fancy drink places where you get to keep the glass as a souvenir after you finish your drink. Here, you'd get to keep the sofa.

 

 

 

And Memesuze - I did click on that link and it does indeed look like the same salad. I'm definitely going to toss that up as soon as I get home. It was absolutely delicious and I can see why it was a big hit from the time it first hit the table.

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An interesting and informative article on how Milpitas went from an unincorporated area of pear orchards and strawberry fields to become "the South Bay's premier ethnic dining destination."

Stett Holbrook (the author) does know something of South Bay restaurants, as likely the region's best journalistic writer about them; but a rich trove of independent family-run immigrant restaurants is actually the gastronomic strength of the entire county. (Something many outside writers manage to miss.)

 

Not Milpitas but neighboring Fremont (to the north) advertised years ago to attract restaurants (only four were non-chains then, in an agglomerated city about the size of Belgium). Milpitas's problem, instead, has always been its role as butt of Bay Area jokes, and as a collector of local history I offer quotations below for cultural value. It seems Milpitas was an early venue of real-estate development whose developers didn't provide for necessary services, infrastructure, or institutions, they just sold out and left. (Omissions later corrected.) It's taught in city-planning courses, I'm told, as a case study in what not to do. But yes, it has fine inexpensive restaurants.

 

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“Did you see that trophy? It wasn’t, like, the Milpitas Cup or something, or the Northern California Cup -- it was the whole World Cup!”

 

-- John Madden, KCBS radio, July 1999

 

 

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Former Bay Area graduate students who took lectures about the New Testament from a Jesuit expert, professor John Curran, recall the analogy he used in the early 1950s to explain the line from John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

 

To put the original meaning into perspective, Curran updated it as “Can anything good come out of Milpitas?”

 

 

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Milpitas, just beyond Warm Springs, is so prosperous a village that it can afford to laugh off the fact that it long was gently guyed as the Podunk of northern California.

 

-- Aubrey Drury, California: An Intimate Portrait (Harper & Brothers, 1935)

 

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