Milpitas City Hall. Photo by James Shih.
Milpitas, CA. Little known to most people outside of the Bay Area, Milpitas is a small city that spans the length of three freeway exits along 680 and is the place I proudly call my hometown. Just north of San Jose and about an hour south of San Francisco, Milpitas boasts a diverse community that brings with them their own food culture and interpretations on traditional cuisine.
In this article, I will explore some of my favorite places to eat in Milpitas as well as some local history growing up there. This is by all means not a full list and I’ve opted to not include newer restaurants that I’m less familiar with, but I’m sure many of them are great too.
Photo by Carolen on Yelp.
The place that introduced me to Banh Mi, the Vietnamese sandwich. Their number 7, grilled pork sandwich, is a personal favorite and a popular choice. Sandwiches come with meat (there’s also a vegetarian option), a nice spread, veggies, peppers, all in a baguette bread. With a sandwich I usually also get a soybean drink from the fridge as well as spring rolls they have pre-made laid out near the register.
They also have noodles and a hot food section to the right of the store when walking in (it's a two door entrance but only one is unlocked) that also feature a number of excellent Vietnamese dishes. To this day, I still don’t know where Huong Lan Sandwiches 1 through 3 are. On the back wall, there’s a cute picture of a baby holding up a baguette that I believe is a family member of the owner. The owner is a kind, soft-spoken older Vietnamese woman that still comes in from time to time to make sandwiches.
Huong Lan is located about two blocks from the Milpitas Library just off of Main Street.
the Pizza Box since 1986. Photo by James Shih
A Milpitas legend. Located next to Golfland, Pizza Box is known for its large slices and tasty pizza. There’s an arcade machine that’s still in there that’s much older than me. Pizza Box used to be run by my high school classmate’s mother for MANY years. She was a straight shooter and did not take any BS from customers.
One of the few times I saw her brighten up was when I spoke Mandarin to her and she seemed happy to chat with someone in one of her more fluent languages. She eventually retired, but passed on the legacy of Pizza Box to a younger generation, teaching some of the cooks there her secret recipe and preparation techniques.
One of the employees told me she was pretty strict with her students and I smiled, imagining her yelling at any of the slackers in class. With the passing of the torch, I’m glad the place still maintains the distinct Pizza Box style: crispy crust, flavorful cheese, and large slices.
Photo by restaurant owner on Yelp.
Just up the street from Pizza Box is Chez Christina’s. This restaurant is run by the Huynh family and is a Vietnamese-French fusion restaurant. Their steaks are excellent (mushroom steak is a customer favorite) as well as their grilled fish dishes and spring rolls.
Established in 1994, this restaurant has a welcoming and home-like atmosphere. My friends and I have been going here off and on since high school and the place contains memories of birthday parties and friend’s gatherings. The owner Linda, the aunt of my friend Long, is great at taking care of her customers and giving a fine dining experience without the fine dining price tag.
The restaurant is currently open for takeout and patio dining.
Photo by Phil I. on Yelp.
The place to go in Milpitas for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. They’re well known for their generous portions and delicious tasting American style foods. I personally enjoy their pancakes, omelettes, and steak and eggs.
Breakfast usually comes with toast and hashbrowns. Their hash browns are crispy and delicious and are the standard for whenever I get hashbrowns anywhere else. They can also be replaced with country-style potatoes which are also very good. This American diner has old school booths and countertops that make you feel as if you've transported back to 1950’s America (without the racism).
The customer service is excellent and many of the servers have been there for years and know many of the community members by name.
Photo by Paul M. on Yelp.
New China Foods
I’m a bit hesitant to give away one of my favorite unassuming Chinese food spots, but here it goes. New China Foods, is my family’s go-to spot for authentic Chinese cuisine at affordable prices. Twice-cooked pork? They got it. Maopo Tofu? Yup. Chicken feet. YES.
For the waiguoren, this place might be a bit daunting unless you’ve spent time living in Asia. There are some menu items that are only written in Chinese and the place has the feel of a real market in Asia, with meat on display and close quarters.
They also have fresh soybean milk in the fridge (sweetened or unsweetened). Their smoked duck and three cups chicken taste great too. This small shop was specifically made for take out so luckily they’re business model was pandemic-proof. To order here, you may need a year of intensive Chinese lessons. Just kidding, before ordering, take a look at their menu and study up on your Chinese cuisine. This place is a great opportunity for the uninitiated to expand their understanding of Chinese food beyond orange chicken (which is a good dish, but try something new!).
Darda Seafood Photo by Tim Y. on Yelp.
There’s much more to cover, but for now I’ll just a give a list of honorable mentions:
Darda Seafood (Halal Chinese food, knife cut noodles are great!) and Nutrition House (not a nutrition supply store as the name suggests, but an authentic Chinese food restaurant) in McCarthy Ranch. I could do a whole other article just on McCarthy Ranch, lots of good spots here.
Half Penny Fish & Grill Photo by Phil I. on Yelp.
Closed but Not Forgotten
Half Penny Fish & Grill - Ran by Kwan Sung, this was the place many Milpitians went to for fried seafood and french fries when growing up. Established in 1969, it's name comes from the former owner, an Irish immigrant who came to the states with very little and Sung's father, a Korean immigrant who bought the business, kept the name as he too came from humble beginnings. It’s closed but I’m happy to hear that the owner has moved on to other endeavors.
Savory Chicken - my go to for Filipino-style crispy chicken with gravy and a side of wonton soup. This place was good and had a quaint atmosphere. A Seafood City has now opened up in this plaza. This store will be missed.