Craving German food? Kein Problem!

German restaurants in the Bay Area & beyond (part 1)

The San Francisco Bay Area is a wonderful place for people who like food! Almost any cuisine that one could wish for is represented in our melting pot, be it in fancy street blocks or run-down strip malls.

German food has always been in the picture. While a few of my favorite places have long since closed their doors (Elbe in Palo Alto, Joan & Peter’s in San Juan Bautista and Nuernberger’s in Monterey), new gems have popped up in recent years alongside the old standbys.

Quarkkeulchen, a sweet pancake-like dish from Saxony. The only place where I ever had it in the US was at Nuernberger’s in Monterey. This photo was taken in Dresden.

Now, before I go into details, let me straighten out a few things! When you google or yelp for German food, the results are generally … how shall I say it … inclusive? Your results probably include restaurants that are Austrian or Swiss. And a number of the German restaurants are, strictly speaking, Bavarian, meaning that they represent southern Germany only. Hey, wait, were you just thinking of crispy Schnitzel or steaming plates of Sauerkraut and grilled Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle)? Well there, QED! Just picture an “American” restaurant that only serves shrimp and grits and you can see what my beef (or rather shellfish) is.

And it’s not just the menus that are limited. I swear, everyone who opened a German/Bavarian restaurant in the past seems to have bought the same CD (or more likely, cassette tape, now that I think about it) of German “folk” music. I am at the point where I can predict reasonably well which song will accompany my next sip of beer! Seriously, I’m still waiting for the day when I walk into a restaurant and hear modern German music (or at least a selection of Neue Deutsche Welle). I have no idea what I would actually do!

I’ve thought a lot about why most German restaurants in the US serve Bavarian food and play oom-pah music. I have thought about it even harder because I come from the opposite side of the country. Finally, my partner suggested that southern German cuisine and culture may be over-represented due to decades of servicemen and women who were stationed at US military bases, all of which were located in (you guessed it!) the south of Germany. When they came home, they brought along memories of the food, beer, and culture they discovered. Add to that the success of a drinking party phenomenon called Oktoberfest and you can see why northern and eastern cuisine has taken a back seat to Bavaria. But that is slowly changing! New restaurant owners have learned that they can offer a more varied cuisine, as long as it is “Bavarian” enough to meet American expectations.

Here is another fun fact! One of my personal checks into how many generations the owners might be removed from Germany is the menu. If the menu has tons of errors in the German part but is well written in English, the food is probably on the old-fashioned side. If the German writing is good but the English is funny, they are probably fresh from the boat and authentic. Very scientific, I know! 🙂

But enough talk! Let’s go and check out some places! The list is long and by no means complete; you could say this is just a taste…

Restaurants nearby & farther afield

San Jose

One of the older restaurants in the South Bay is Teske’s Germania, founded in 1980. The decor, menu, and music are all very “Old World”. The dining room is dark, and the big hall is traditionally decorated with stuffed animal heads. Teske’s menu has a number of mistakes in the German (see my theory above) … but if you think I don’t approve, you would be wrong. Teske’s has a place in my German restaurant cravings, especially on Friday nights in summer when they offer live jazz in the enclosed Biergarten and I don’t have to listen to THE tape. They are also a good option for work team lunches as they have plenty of space and offer family-style platters (just don’t look for much in the way of vegetarian options). My favorites are the Wiener Schnitzel, the Wurstplatte and the occasional game dishes. Their prices seem high but dinners include salad, soup and dessert. I do wish that they offered an a la carte menu for those with smaller appetites or wallets!

Family-style platter at Teske’s Germania

The new kid on the block is Ludwig’s German Table. As it happens, they are just around the corner from Teske’s. The founder is from northern Germany and opened one of those restaurants that is “just Bavarian enough”. They have a nice Biergarten, celebrate Oktoberfest and have quickly become one of the main Oktoberfest caterers in the Bay Area. In addition, they got you covered for other culturally important events such as the Fußballweltmeisterschaft (Soccer World Cup), Fasching (German carnival), and Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Their relatively small menu manages to represent different parts of the country; you can usually see on Facebook what’s cooking. The decor is more modern, and so is the vibe. No wonder then that Ludwig’s has quickly become one of my happy places!

Flammkuchen, a flatbread with onions, speck, and sour cream, is a speciality from the region along the German-French border. Here is the version at Ludwig’s German Table.


One of my favorite stops after hiking somewhere along the Big Sur coast is Stammtisch in Seaside. It is quite old-fashioned, gothic font, furniture, and all! It also is amazing that they manage to survive considering there is probably zero foot-traffic and the owner can be a bit grumpy at times. But if you crave Schnitzel and Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried – never deep fried – potatoes), this is the place to go, albeit a bit pricey. My go-to menu item here is the Stammtischschnitzel.

San Luis Obispo

If you ever have German food cravings in San Luis Obispo, try Beda’s Biergarten. We felt right at home, when we walked into their place for a New Year’s Eve celebration at 3PM (German midnight) a few years ago. The owners handed out free champagne and party favors and visited every table for a little chat. Since they are originally from Düsseldorf, they also celebrate German carnival. I love their Frikadellen (little German meatballs) and Beda’s stew. Inside and outside seating is available.

Ben Lomond

One of the best places to enjoy a beer served by dirndl-wearing waitresses under towering redwoods is the Tyrolean Inn in Ben Lomond. If you know your geography, you might like to exclaim: “But Katja, Tyrol is in Austria and Italy!” And you would be right. But according to their own website, they are serving authentic German cuisine, so there… Who am I to judge?! The food is hit and miss though. I used to really like it, but with changes of owners came changes in quality, and I don’t find the place reliable anymore. It is always good for a beer though. This is also the place that made me laugh when I saw Ganz Brust (totally breast) on their Specials menu one year. I can only assume they meant Gänsebrust (goose breast).

What’s coming next?

In my next blog posts, we will visit restaurants on the Peninsula, in the East Bay, and in San Francisco. Who would have thought there are so many! Not me! Until I started writing this…

For now, I leave you with a wise word from Heinrich Heine, famous German-Jewish poet: “Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier, drum trinken wir es hier.” (In heaven there is no beer, therefore we drink it here.)

I concur. Prost!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *