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!

Beer, brats, and Gemütlichkeit

Every year when the leaves start to change color, the thought of Oktoberfest pops into many people’s minds. And with it the important question: “Where should we go?” Because I am German and hence considered an expert, questions and requests inevitably find their way into my ear or inbox. Case in point, two years ago, my team at work insisted rather convincingly that I should organize an Oktoberfest for them. The fact that as a Northerner I had never ever been to an authentic Oktoberfest, let alone the famous Munich event, was met with slight incredulity and then was shrugged off as easily and quickly as you can say Prost!

Another assumption is that each and every German woman has a wardrobe featuring a Dirndl dress. Here comes another disappointment, I am afraid. When my friends – no matter their nationality – throw an Oktoberfest party in their backyard these days, this German often ends up being the only one without the appropriate outfit. Go figure. (OK, I did have Lederhosen when I was a kid and must confess that I loved those! But how they ended up in a village near Hannover is a story for another day.)

In order to explain the fact that the Oktoberfest is a Southern thing, we need a bit of history and context.

A local, royal event

The origins of Munich’s Oktoberfest go back to the royal wedding of Kronprinz Ludwig and princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend horse races, performances, and a parade on a field outside the city gates. It was named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow) to honor the princess, a name that is still used today. In 1811, the celebrations were repeated and thus began the tradition of the legendary Oktoberfest.

Ever wondered why Oktoberfest deco features a lot of white and blue? Check the Bavarian flag with coat of arms.

For the longest time and due to these origins, the Oktoberfest was a truly Bavarian event, unlike some religious or harvest festivals that had more of a national character. However, this has changed! Today, the Oktoberfest is an international phenomenon. Not only do millions of people travel from across the globe to visit Munich and consume millions of liters of beer in the famous festival tents, but the idea of the Oktoberfest took a firm hold in all corners of the world. First, they were organized by German immigrant communities, which is why in the US you find many in the original places of German settlement (New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Germantown, etc.). But these days, you don’t need Germans to throw a beer party! People everywhere are perfectly happy to adopt popular festivals and just make them their own. Consider Halloween – that one is making its way around the world as we speak.

Bay Area festivities

If you want to experience an Oktoberfest in the Bay Area (and beyond), you have plenty of choices. As a matter of fact, there are so many, I haven’t tried and tested them all yet. But here is a (very incomplete) list to get you started. And note, despite the name, Oktoberfests mostly happen in September, some even in August. Nomen is not always omen.

The biggest event in our area with tent, music, and all is the Oktoberfest by the Bay in San Francisco. Check it out here:

The oldest German restaurant on the West Coast, Schroeder’s in San Francisco, is holding its 125th edition of their Oktoberfest this year. Wow! The event is free but you can buy tokens in advance.

Some other sizeable parties happen in Redwood City, Mountain View, and Monterey

There are outdoor Oktoberfests that are based on the idea of your typical summer Art & Wine festival. One of these is the Oktoberfest in Campbell:

There are parties happening in breweries like Das Brew,, or wineries like Schug And of course, the German American Chamber of Commerce has one too

If food is your focus, check out the Oktoberfests held or organized on weekends by our many fine German restaurants. Here are just some examples:

Ludwig’s German Table (San Jose):
Teske’s Germania (San Jose):
Tyrolean Inn (Ben Lomond):
Speisekammer (Alameda):

So there you have it, our part of California is ripe with choices. And even if you are traveling, there is probably an Oktoberfest happening near you right now, including in places where you might least expect them. How do I know? A few years ago, I was staying with my folks at the historic Camp Richardson resort on the peaceful shores of Lake Tahoe, when I was rudely awakened at 5AM by beer kegs being rolled down a truck ramp…

So throw on your garb (or not) and head over to the nearest tent for beer and oom-pah music!

A toast!

Now all you need to know is how to toast in German! For a casual toast like cheers, try Prosit or the shorter Prost! If you want to be a tad more elegant, make it a Zum Wohl (pronounced like “tsoom vohl”, which means to your health)!

Oh, and the Oktoberfest I cooked up for my team was a success. Just in case you wondered 🙂

What are your favorite Oktoberfest memories or places? Please feel free to share in the comments.