Best dumplings and hot pots in Silicon Valley

Patrons flocked to May’s opening of the Din Tai Fung dumpling palace at Westfield Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara.
Patrons flocked to May’s opening of the Din Tai Fung dumpling palace at Westfield Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara. San Jose Mercury News

Silicon Valley has changed the world with its time-eating gadgets and digital disruptions, but the arrival of engineers, designers and other talent from practically every continent also has transformed this once-sleepy swath of suburbia.

Drive down Stevens Creek Boulevard or El Camino Real, and it’s impossible to miss the supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries and other businesses catering to international arrivees.

In particular, south-central cities such as Cupertino and Sunnyvale have sprouted a dazzling array of Chinese and Taiwanese eateries, some of them satellites of foreign motherships. If you have the stomach for the lines, it’s a chance to taste the spicy hot pot that’s all the rage in Beijing or visit the kind of congee, or rice porridge, joints that have taken over whole blocks of Taipei. All without stepping on and off a plane.

Here are a few of the region’s most delicious, and popular, spots:

Din Tai Fung (2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara, 408-248-1688, reservations required) has turned much of the Westfield Valley Fair mall into a soft jazz-filled waiting area for some of the most addictive dumplings, won tons and steamed buns this side of the Pacific. This branch of the ever-growing Taiwanese dumpling empire is, incredibly, the first to open in Northern California, after conquering Southern California, Seattle and much of Asia and Australia. The pork wontons in spicy sauce are a must-try.

The popular Chinese hot pot chain Haidilao (19409 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino) will make its own Silicon Valley debut soon in an already crowded field. If the chain’s Beijing restaurant is any indication, the Cupertino branch promises to redefine hot pot. The restaurant offers a choice between white and red broth, with the latter about as spicy as Cholula sauce. Diners then can boil meats, vegetables and noodles, some theatrically made at the table, and dip the result in their own concoction of spices and sauces. In Beijing, the bustling waiting area included in-house manicurists and masseuses.

The 85ºC Bakery Cafe (Milpitas, Newark, San Jose, Berkeley and in the same Cupertino shopping center as the soon-to-open Haidilao) is another Taiwanese chain that inspires rock concert-like frenzy for its Danishes, puff pastries and cakes. What’s so special about the cafe? Perhaps the prodigious variety of its baked goods, all glamorously displayed like gadgets in a Japanese toy shop, and the particularly fluffy sweetness of Asian pastries.

So many more places to try: Shanghai Flavor Shop (888 Old San Francisco Road, Sunnyvale, 408-738-3003) for soup buns, rice noodle soup and fried dumplings; Taiwan Porridge Kingdom (20956 Homestead Road, Cupertino, 408-253-2569) for hot rice porridge paired with small savory dishes; and Eden Silk Road Cuisine (39144 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont, 510-505-9255) for lamb skewers, Uighur noodles and other non-pork dishes from China’s Muslim-dominated far west.

Barbecue by the bay


What: Grilled and sauced meat will be celebrated at this San Francisco barbecue festival. Spend a day sipping local craft brews and grooving to rock bands.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22

Where: The Yard at Mission Rock, 100 Terry A Francois Blvd.

Cost: $25 general admission; $75 VIP


Surf and seafood


What: The 70th Annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival will serve up all manner of the mollusk, from chowder to baked.

When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22; 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23

Where: Pismo Beach pier and its parking lot

Cost: Free admission; the Friday Wine Walk costs $20; Saturday Chowder Contest costs $10; Sunday Clam Bake cost $25; two-day pass, with Wine Walk, Chowder Contest and two drinks, costs $30.


Festival of color


What: The Holi Festival of Colors, a Hindu ritual, comes to California, with its yearly frenzy of dyed powders, yoga and dance.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22

Where: San Lorenzo Park, 137 Dakota Ave.

Cost: $5.25 general admission; kids get in free; bags of colored powder to toss in the air range from $12 to $25.


Jessica Hice