Craving German food? You can fix that right now!

German restaurants in the Bay Area & beyond (part 3)

In Europe, we love to consume our meal or drink outside. No matter if we are enjoying a pint, a coffee and croissant, bocadillo, currywurst, poffertjes, or a nice cup of gelato, Europeans love to be outside. In Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona, or Berlin, you find tables and umbrellas at every market square, in the shadow of church spires, along rivers and lakes, and even on boats. In Stockholm, we visited a coffee bar that had blankets on every chair outside so that people could enjoy the sun as long as possible. In Germany, I convinced my partner that it was perfectly fine to eat our gelato outside. I mean, really, what are down jackets and woolly hats for? I think it was that same day he learned about the German saying: there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!

Early morning at the Market square in Hildesheim, Germany

When I came to mostly sunny Northern California more than 20 years ago, I obviously pictured a similar outside culture, except on steroids, considering the endless blue skies and warm temperatures here. Now, imagine my surprise: There was hardly any place to sit outside, except your own backyard or picnic area in your local park. OK, there was another surprise: It gets cold here in the evening! But that’s a different story.

Fast forward to today. We are still a society focusing on cars; we don’t really have pedestrian zones, and a lot of people are still enamored with air-conditioned spaces. And yet, things have changed significantly in the Bay Area. Cities like Mountain View widened sidewalks to provide space for tables, and others are experimenting with temporary street closures to get people out of their cars. Coffee places and beer gardens have popped up everywhere, and I dare say that they have played an important role in moving us out of cold restaurants into the California sun.    

Here now is part 3 of my German culinary trip: first, to the City we go…

San Francisco

San Francisco has a number of interesting German restaurants, from Schroeder’s, the oldest German restaurant on the West coast, to Walzwerk, which features decor from the GDR days. Walzwerk has a few typical Eastern German food items on the menu. This is the one place where I can get Soljanka, a soup I used to eat as a kid when returning from family visits behind the Iron Curtain. My favorite German place in SF, and go-to restaurant before concerts in Davies Symphony Hall, is Suppenküche. The food here is always good; the only problem is that it tends to get crowded, so plan for ample time! A very recent addition to the German scene (and a place I have not managed to visit just yet) is Mauerpark. Looking at the website, it has a small and simple menu, coffee drinks, and a few beers and wines.

East Bay

A number of great German restaurants are located across the Bay. Enjoy organic slow-food at Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley, another place that is not typical Bavarian. The menu has a nice variety, and this is one of the few places where you can stop in the afternoon for the beloved German tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). If you are in Alameda, check out Speisekammer. They have an interesting menu – always featuring a few fish dishes – and are the only German place, where I have heard live, wait for it, Honky Tonk music 🙂

Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) at Speisekammer

Stuck on 880 on a sunny day? Get off the freeway and visit Brotzeit, located on the waterfront. I would venture to say that this is the only German place where you can enjoy your beer with views of sailing boats. A favorite here is the Sausage Platter which features two brats, sauerkraut, spätzle, and a bretzel. They also offer family platters, which are great for groups, and an interesting cocktail menu. As far as I know, the owners are not German but their food is pretty spot on.

Beer with a view at Brotzeit


As I said when I started this series, some restaurants included in the search results for “German food” are from other German-speaking areas in Europe or feature a mixed cuisine.

Probably the most famous Austrian restaurant is Naschmarkt in Campbell. Since it is on the expensive side, I would call this a place for special occasions. You don’t get huge American portions here, and that’s good because you should treat yourself with one of their delicious soups and also keep space for dessert! If you are in Carmel and love cheese, visit Swiss Bistro Lugano, which is located in the Barnyard. In this old-fashioned looking place, you can address your cravings for fondue, but no worries, they do serve other dishes as well.

Cheese fondue at Lugano in Carmel

Another Austrian (Alpine-inspired) place is Leopold’s in San Francisco. It’s a boisterous place, where the beer flows, waitresses wear Oktoberfest outfits, and thirsty people can try their luck on 2 or 3 liter boots. Did I mention I never saw beer boots before coming to the US?

I don’t want to leave you without mentioning a San Jose staple since 1971: Gunther’s. While Gunther is from Northern Germany (you can read about the immigration history of his family on their website), I don’t consider Gunther’s a German restaurant but rather a New York-style deli. Except for the sandwiches (Reuben, Pastrami, etc.), most of the food comes from the steam table, which makes this a good place for a quick bite. You can find a touch of “Germanness” in the Favorites menu though, including a German Platter (sausages, kraut, and potato salad), Jägerschnitzel, and Kohlrouladen (stuffed cabbage).

Aside from these places, there are now quite a few beer gardens in the Bay Area. Some of them might have a somewhat German-sounding name on the door, like Steins Beer Garden, but are actually an American take on the German idea. That does not mean they aren’t great places to hang out with your friends! In the end, it’s all about having a good time!

What is your favorite German place in the Bay Area? And which places have I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Craving German food? Wirklich kein Problem!

German restaurants in the Bay Area & beyond (part 2)

Dia duit and happy St. Patrick’s Day! OK, it’s the day you probably won’t think of German food … but just in case you do, here is part 2 of my write-up on German restaurants in the Bay Area and farther afield. In the last post, we looked at our two main German hang-outs in San Jose and ventured to Seaside and SLO. Today, we’ll travel up the Peninsula and check out what’s cooking there.

Peninsula restaurants

Our first stop leaving San Jose is Hardy’s Bavaria in Sunnyvale. To be quite honest, I hardly ever go to Hardly’s, I mean, Hardy’s since I have two great German restaurants close by. But from what I remember, they have good food, bit pricey, and slow but nice service. I also remember I was wearing my DFB soccer jersey last time I visited 🙂

Next, we visit Esther’s German Bakery in Los Altos. Although mainly a bakery, they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and feature a cozy little Biergarten in the back. That means that, yes, you can get beer here too. Among my favorite dishes are the Bauernfrühstück (an omelet with potatoes, onions, and bacon) and their crispy potato pancakes with salmon. The bakery also puts on a variety of events such as the ubiquitous Oktoberfest and German live music concerts and jams. In the past, they have collaborated with the German school and supported a Laternenumzug (children’s lantern procession) on the day of St. Martin’s. You can find info on this and more on their Facebook page. The founder, Esther, sold the bakery recently, and unfortunately, I have seen the quality slip in some of the baked goods. However, they still make the best pretzels around.

Bauernfrühstück at Esther’s German Bakery

Another must-know place is Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City. I remember when this was a dusty little old shop with two tables for food service; boy has it changed! The new owners (or new generation of owners) have turned this place upside down. The store is still there but cleaner and more spacious, with pretty much everything you might have on your German shopping list.

Chocolate heaven…

They added a dining room and Biergarten in the back which is always hopping. They may not have the most elaborate German food menu, but you gotta love their selection of local and German beers! This is where I had Weihenstephan Vitus on tap for the first time and that alone makes the Gourmet Haus an important stop on my way 🙂 What I also love about the Staudt is their friendly and caring staff and the fact that they embrace other cultures. The other night, we had a fabulous time listening to Irish live music, eating corned beef and enjoying Guinness on tap.

A relatively new space on the peninsula is the Wursthall in San Mateo. It’s located in a great airy space and features a lot of brats on the menu, hence the name. They have a nice local beer selection, while their German selection is not very extensive. The food we tried was disappointingly far removed from authentic though.

That’s it for today. San Francisco and the East Bay will follow in the third (and maybe last) installment of our German restaurant round-up!

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!

An apple a day

During my recent trip to Germany I visited the Alte Land, a beautiful sleepy region near Hamburg. This marshland stretch along the river Elbe is famous for its half-timbered houses and endless orchards. It is also Northern Europe’s biggest contiguous fruit-producing area, and apple harvest was in full swing. Farm stands offered a wide variety of apples and related products like apple spirits or freshly baked cakes. Even my bed-and-breakfast was on the bandwagon and offered delicious cold-pressed apple juice from the neighboring farm.

Apple orchard near Hamburg

Where can we go to get our fix of fresh apples in the extended Bay Area, you might ask? While wine has largely taken over areas that used to be producing cherries and apples, there are still some great places to discover.

Please note that some of these farms mentioned below do not allow dogs or outside food. Make sure to check their websites before you go. I am planning to visit at least one of the farms this weekend 🙂

Apple picking from Watsonville to Sebastopol

My favorite place to pick apples is just north of Davenport at Swanton Pacific Ranch. This little u-pick orchard operated by Cal Poly University has a nice variety of apples (some of which are unusual) and a low-key vibe. During some visits, we have had the place to ourselves; during others, we enjoyed seeing families with little kids picking apples and then picnicking on the property. Since this is not a big orchard, the picking season often ends earlier than in other locations. I believe this might be the last weekend to go, but best to check their website.

Apples at Swanton Pacific Ranch

A popular place to visit is Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville. Gizdich has a lot to offer (and is therefore sometimes quite crowded), from their famous fresh pies to jams to freshly pressed juices, an antiques shop, nice picnic grounds, and u-pick opportunities. Check their website for more information.

Apple orchard at Gizdich Ranch

Other orchards in the Watsonville area are Clearview Organic Orchards and Live Earth Farm. Clearview’s season of weekend apple picking usually goes till the end of October. This friendly family farm also offer squashes, local honey, lavender, apple butter, and baked goods on the premises. Find more information here. Live Earth Farm is an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. They have special weekends dedicated to specific varietal picking. Check their schedule for the next apple picking dates. They have a nice farm stand on the premises and currently also a pumpkin patch.

Farm stand at Clearview Orchards

One of the original fruit areas of Northern California was located around Sebastopol. While a lot of the original orchards have been converted to vineyards, there are some reminders – like the annual Apple Blossom Festival and Gravenstein Apple Fair – that this once was a prime apple-growing region. Here are some farms you can visit while in the area: Gabriel Farm (membership is required for this CSA, please check their website) and Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch (long picking season, picnic tables, award-winning juice).

More apple-y stuff

My favorite, favorite, favorite apple is the Cox Orange Pippin. We even planted a tree in our backyard despite the fact that San Jose has nowhere near the climate this apple likes. This year, the little tree delighted us for the first time ever with not the usual 2 apples but some 30 or so! In the end, we still only got 2 because a mob of irreverent squirrels looted the tree long before harvest time. They just gnawed their way through the netting… There is ONE farm I know of that sells Cox Orange and that unfortunately is a bit of a drive up north. But whenever I am up in Anderson Valley, I make sure to stop at the Gowan’s Oak Tree farm stand. This 100+ year old farm along Highway 128 offers an incredible variety of apples as well as cider, peaches, and plums. This is not a u-pick destination. Also in Philo and close to Gowan is The Apple Farm. Here you can peruse the farm stand but also rent cottages or book one of their Stay & Cook packages.

Liquid apples

Finally, if you prefer to drink your apples, check out The Cider Junction in San Jose. Opened exactly a year ago by a fellow German from Hanover, this bistro has 26 rotating hard ciders from California and select countries on tap and offers 30 more in bottles or cans (they also have a few beers on tap). The best thing to do at the Junction is choose a flight and let your taste buds experience different fruits, regions, and alcohol levels! Just be aware that hard cider tends to go to your head, so make sure to pair it with some food. The Cider Junction offers a simple but tasty menu to make sure you are covered.

The Cider Junction


The curious case of cake

On my first-ever birthday in the United States, a kind soul baked me a cake. I will never forget the look she had on her face when she put it in front of me; it was a strange mix of pride and happy expectation. Whole-heartedly I thanked her for the lovely gesture (your typical Germans love homemade goods, in case you were wondering), all the while thinking: “Why is she looking at me like this?!” We cut the cake and started eating. After a moment of silence, the person behind the cake asked, “And?” I had already thanked her, but in the German spirit of Doppelt hält besser (literally twice holds better), I added another “That’s very nice, thank you.” Curiously, this still did not seem to be satisfying. But why? Finally, she asked with the slightest hint of exasperation, “Don’t you recognize it? It’s German chocolate cake!” Chewing on a piece of the sweet dark cake, the first thought my brain produced as a response was “Why would a German cake contain coconut? That makes no sense!”

Since my first encounter with German chocolate cake in a millennium long since passed, our paths have crossed many times. I have even spotted the curious cake on an Oktoberfest menu once. Finally, a few years ago, my own partner in crime solved the mystery for me.

The story goes like this… In 1852, a man named Samuel German invented a new type of baking chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. The company generously named it after him, using the rather possessive title Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.

Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

A century or so later (some things take time!), a Texan homemaker sent a recipe using the afore-mentioned chocolate to The Dallas Morning News. She named it German’s chocolate cake. The recipe was an immediate success, and the sweet concoction became one of the most recognized and popular cakes in America.

Somewhere during its tour of fame, the name lost its possessive form and morphed from German’s chocolate cake to German chocolate cake, confusing the sweet hell out of people to this day.

So there you have it. German chocolate cake is not German at all! My brain was right! If you are looking for an actual chocolate cake from Germany, try the famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake), although most of the so-called Black Forest cakes I have tried here were merely a faint echo of the real deal, using pie cherries instead of sour cherries, skipping the alcohol, and replacing real whipped cream with some sugary knockoff. I only know of one place in the Bay Area so far where it tastes pretty authentic and that is Esther’s German Bakery.

Another favorite of mine is the Herrentorte (literally Gentlemen’s cake), a decadent multi-layer cake covered in dark chocolate. Yum! Did I pique your interest? Then I have to disappoint you because I have yet to find that one here in the Bay Area!

Looks like it is time to bake. And maybe, just maybe, I will share a recipe in one of my future posts… 🙂

Guten Appetit!