Pho Garden marks return to San Mateo 

click to enlarge Pho Garden
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • Pho Garden features several Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches on French bread, in addition to several takes on the traditional pho noodle soup.
After closing two years ago, Pho Garden is back in downtown San Mateo at the same address with the same ownership. As the restaurant name implies, Vietnamese noodle soups are a big focus at Pho Garden. You’ll find the more traditional beef-based and chicken-based noodle soups here, along with a few more rare varieties such as shrimp, crab and tomato paste or a Hue-style beef and pork. Beyond noodle soups, the tidy menu covers a handful of other categories with roughly five to six topping choices or options in each. Appetizers include crispy imperial rolls or a green papaya and shrimp salad. For main courses, there are a few rice platters, a yellow curry or seafood curry clay pot, cold vermicelli noodle dishes and the classic Vietnamese sandwich on a French baguette, banh mi. The banh mi can be stuffed with the likes of grilled lemongrass beef, tofu and mushrooms, or pork belly. At $5, they are a solid bargain for a quick and filling lunch.

150 S. B St., San Mateo; (650) 685-8815, no website

Palo Alto

The AOL Building in Palo Alto has a new tenant in its lobby cafe space after last fall’s closing of the Stanford graduate student-run Ground Up. Beet Café is a dual concept of Eastern European food specialties inspired by the owners’ home country of Ukraine and regular cafe staples. On the cafe side, coffee comes from Vertigo Coffee in San Juan Bautista, the kombucha is made in-house, and several nutritious smoothies are offered ranging from avocado to kale and banana. Indeed, beets do make an appearance, sometimes in salads, other times on a couscous plate with hummus, and of course, in the classic soup borscht. Sweet and savory pastries are also served, including cookies and pirozhki (pocket pies). The casual cafe area is unique in catering to both employees and the general public. There is a large communal table that’s perfect for impromptu meetings or a couple of private tables with a view of conference rooms and computer labs — welcome to Silicon Valley.

395 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto; (415) 694-2347, no website

Palo Alto, El Granada

The Fourth of July is coming up Friday, and it wouldn’t be Independence Day on the Peninsula without the 33rd edition of Palo Alto’s Summer Festival, highlighted by the always competitive (and delicious) Chili Cook-Off. Chili tasting begins at 1:30 p.m. and crowds often reach over 5,000, so visitors are encouraged to arrive early to ensure trying several of the approximately two dozen choices. Meanwhile on the coast, the country might be turning 238 years old, but Hop Dogma Brewing Co. actually opened July 4 last year and will celebrate its first birthday by bringing back some of its original beers from way back in 2013.

600 East Meadow Drive, Palo Alto; (650) 648-3829,

30 Ave. Portola, El Granada; (650) 560-8729,

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