I speed down highway 101 with some friends. It’s 3:30 a.m.
We are blasting Kendrick Lamar’s “Untitled 02,” and assigning back stories to the people we see drive their cars past us.
After all — who are the people out and about in this late at night? The Silicon Valley is a microcosm of diverse activities and social events, most of which dial down as soon as the twilight hours hit. But, with a bit of exploring, even the Bay Area provides opportunities for late night excursions that can lead to delicious adventures fitting for any Palo Alto High School food lover with a car, money and some friends.
609 Saratoga Ave. San Jose
12:13 a.m. — Embedded in a large parking of a Shell gas station in San Jose lies a hidden gem of Bay Area Mexican cuisine, Taco Santiaguito. Even this late at night, there is a long line to order from the small aromatic vehicle. My friend and I stand at the end of the line, crowded between a father and his two children and a woman dressed in a colorful mumu — a tunic — patiently waiting with her husband.
The man turns to me and engages in polite conversation: “You know they are [the taco truck] the best in town. They started out here just two guys four years ago. Now we come here all the time from across town for their tacos.”
After ordering, we move to the side of the truck and scoop an array of vividly colored salsas into small plastic containers and wait for our food to be prepared. After a few minutes one of the men working in the truck sticks his head out of a small square window and shouts “sesenta y uno.” From my limited knowledge of Spanish, I figure that it is probably my order, and I grab the traditional white plastic “Thank You” bag containing my food. The quesadilla ($5.50) is topped with sour cream and mouth-watering guacamole. Just the right amount of melted cheese is nestled between the crispy browned tortillas, pre-cut into quarters, making the dish easily sharable. The beef taco ($2) is traditionally small, and is loaded with perfectly seasoned beef and topped with caramelized, crunchy glazed onions. The complimentary lime brings the entire dish together and the fiery salsa options add a kick to the overall experience. I pack up my garbage and sort it between the overflowing trash and recycling bins offered, then return to the car for my next late night meal.
1155 California Drive Burlingame
1:30 a.m. — I follow a shoeless waitress dressed in black through a dark restaurant. I remove my Birkenstocks and slide into a hallway of glass cubicles. In my cubicle, a table is set on the floor, surrounded by four cherry red cushions. I expect to be sitting cross-legged on the floor behind our table setting, but as I slide into my seat I am surprised to find an empty space below the table for my legs to dangle into. A small placard off to the side of the table boasts Mokutanya’s Wednesday and Thursday exotic meat specials, including peacock, iguana , silkworm and camel.
The first plate to arrive is stacked with croquette tapas ($6) — circular, panko-breaded, deep fried mashed potatoes that melt in my mouth, adorned with tonkatsu, a Japanese-style BBQ sauce. Next, the fried baby “takos” (baby octopus, $9) make it to the table. Each octopus is perfectly intact, breaded and thoroughly fried to ensure a crunchy exterior while preserving the chewy insides.
The traditional Izakaya skewers are last to arrive, one Momo (chicken thigh, $3) and one Gindara Kasuzuke (black cod in miso sauce, $5), each grilled to perfection and dripping with juices from their marination. As I enjoy my food, waitresses scurry down the hallway carrying dishes, taking orders and refilling water glasses. Cacophonic laughs echo from one of the cubicles in a different hallway of the restaurant as a party celebrates whatever there is to celebrate at 1:50 a.m.
1941 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
2:24 a.m. — Stepping through the doors of Heidi’s Pies transported me through a time machine straight into a diner that may as well have been from the ‘60s. The gleaming tables and vinyl booths are surprisingly fully packed with people. The hostess leads me to a circular table near a window, providing me with an antiquated menu.
Pies are running on low supply tonight, so of the limited remaining options my companions and I settle on pecan pie ($5.39) a-la-carte (extra $1.20) in addition to a fresh baked Belgian waffle ($7.99). The Beach Boys jubilant tones mix with multilingual chatter as the hostess returns shortly with two of each dish in hand — doubling the order generously, on the house. The waffle is comparable to a soggy Eggo, and the pie tastes artificial, but this is made up by the pleasant atmosphere. I pick through my final meal of the night and eventually leave the restaurant through two swinging glass doors, returning to 2016.
3:42 a.m. — After a long night out of delectable endeavors I finally return to my house and plop into my warm bed with a full stomach and a content heart. The images of adventourous night dwellers and nocturnal explorers float through my mind as sleep for the short remainder of the night. v