Category Archives: Best Takeout Food

Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 31

Cuban pork-plantain enchiladas from Aqui.
Cuban pork-plantain enchiladas from Aqui.

Aqui, San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino

Long before certain chefs in Southern California and on the East Coast were gaining fame for stuffing tacos and burritos with all manner of global ingredients, there was Aqui.

It was a forerunner to the novelty of folding flour tortillas around a filling of Thai peanut saucy chicken or tangy goat cheese to create something anew.

It opened way back in 1994 in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood. I remember going there in the late ’90s, where no matter if it was lunch or dinner, you’d have to time it just right or risk not getting a table. Today, Aqui is not only still going strong, but it now boasts five locations in the South Bay.

It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s fun, vibrant California-ized Mexican-inspired food in generous portions. Order the avocado dip ($7.49), and you’ll get enough tortilla chips to feed four handily, along with salsa fresca on the side for good measure. The avocado dip is essentially a chunk guacamole with habanero, lime, and cilantro. The menu says there’s mango in it, but it’s not readily detectable. The chips are very crisp and have a great rustic corn taste.

The Cuban pork enchiladas ($12.49) come three to an order, along with black beans and crunchy, mild tasting Aqui slaw. The enchiladas are filled with ground pork that’s been cooked with mashed plaintains, giving it a nice sweetness, before being napped with a red, nutty tasting achiote sauce. Squiggles of sour cream decorate the top.

Don't miss the flourless chocolate cake.
Don’t miss the flourless chocolate cake.

On the lighter side, the Southwest Caesar ($9.49) was a kaleidoscope of color with yellow, purple and red fried tortilla strips all over the top. It’s a simple mix of crunchy Romaine, pumpkin seeds, black beans and grilled corn, done up with a flourish of Asiago cheese, but really hits the spot.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 30

A beautiful beet and goat cheese tart packed with care by Le Papillon.
A beautiful beet and goat cheese tart packed with care by Le Papillon.

Le Papillon, San Jose

For an astounding 44 years, Le Papillon has not only endured but thrived during Santa Clara Valley’s metamorphosis from orchard-rich Valley of Heart’s Delight to tech-visionary Silicon Valley.

So, it’s no surprise that even during a pandemic, it’s managed to roll with the punches, successfully offering a three-course menu ($75 per person for pick-up; $85 per person for delivery) that changes each week with two to three options to choose from for each course.

Even if all you do is roll up to the front of the restaurant to have a server place the takeout in your hands or your trunk, there’s still an air of specialness about it all.

It starts with the attention to detail: The hot food comes in one bag; the cold food in another. First courses and desserts that have a bit of intricate plating get cleverly adhered to the bottom of the takeout container with an extra dab of sauce so that even after a few right or left turns in your car, they not only stay upright, but completely intact.

Miso Chilean sea bass with Cape gooseberries.
Miso Chilean sea bass with Cape gooseberries.

I was duly impressed when I witnessed that with the chilled beet and puff pastry tart that stood ramrod straight when I opened the container at home, thanks to a tiny bit of goat cheese underneath that acted as mortar.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 29

The Crispy Chicken Sandwich from Winner Winner Chicken.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich from Winner Winner Chicken.

Winner Winner Chicken, San Mateo

Chefs Jeremy Cheng and Chef Randy Magpantay couldn’t have been more excited to finally open their Winner Winner Chicken after conceiving of the Nashville-style hot chicken establishment in 2018.

Only, they opened it in March 2020 in San Mateo’s Hillsdale Shopping Center. Five days later, the pandemic put the kibash on it.

Fortunately, with the Bay Area seemingly turning the corner now in this health crisis, Winner Winner Chicken has been able to sling its specialties for the past couple of months. I was invited in by the fast-casual eatery a week ago to try some menu items gratis, which I ferried home as takeout.

It’s a family operation, with Cheng and Magpantay, and their wives, behind the counter overseeing the ordering and cooking. Cheng and Magpantay are veterans of the South Bay’s Avenir Restaurant Group, which includes Nola in Palo Alto, Milagros in Redwood City, and Town in San Carlos.

At Winner Winner Chicken, you can choose how incendiary you like it, from Classic (no heat) to Medium (starting to heat up) and Spicy (That’s hot) to Extra Spicy (Hot as cluck).

Crispy barbecue chicken spring rolls with a center of gooey cheese.
Crispy barbecue chicken spring rolls with a center of gooey cheese.

I went with medium, though I think Magpantay dialed it down a bit and gave me medium-light (which you can request, by the way) that offered up a modest amount of heat on the palate.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 28

Bake Sum's inventive Croissubi.
Bake Sum’s inventive Croissubi.

Bake Sum, Berkeley, Plus San Francisco, Redwood City, and Oakland

Imagine impeccable French Viennoiserie with crisp, buttery layers to get lost in — but flaunting inspired Asian flavors.

That, in sum, is Bake Sum.

This Berkeley-based bakery, which has amassed a huge following during the pandemic, was co-founded by local baker, Joyce Tang, who had the wholesale bakery Chinoiserie, and previously supplied pastries to Boba Guys.

Each week, Bake Sum offers one set pastry box ($35) filled with about half a dozen treats, as well as a specialty bun box, Gochujang sourdough loaves, mochi bites, and cookies.

Sign up for its newsletter ahead of time because it drops Monday morning with that week’s offerings. It pays to be quick on the draw because the baked goods, especially the pastry box, sell out quickly. Pick up your order on Fridays or Saturdays at the Bread Project in Berkeley; Fridays at Golden Goat Coffee in San Francisco; Saturdays at Grand Coffee in San Francisco; or Fridays at Red Giant Coffee Roasters in Redwood City.

Yes, with Spam and nori tucked inside, it's like a musubi in croissant form.
Yes, with Spam and nori tucked inside, it’s like a musubi in croissant form.

Last week’s pastry box included a Croissubi, a unique riff on a traditional ham and cheese croissant that paid homage to Spam musubi. Just on its own, this was one beautiful croissant — shattering into deep golden shards upon the first bite. Add in the novelty of thin slices of Spam wrapped in nori, and get ready for your taste buds to take a French-Hawaiian ride. Crispy Parmesan cheese and flecks of togarashi dot the top to add more umami, savoriness and just a hint of spice. It is every inch like a nostalgic ABC Store musubi transformed into a perfect French croissant.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 27

Veal and oyster mushroom paella from PintxoPote, which I finished cooking at home in less than 20 minutes.
Veal and oyster mushroom paella from PintxoPote, which I finished cooking at home in less than 20 minutes.

PintxoPote, Los Gatos

Los Gatos’ PintxoPote is a sliver of a restaurant that has managed to survive this incredibly challenging year, despite not having the ability to provide either outdoor or indoor seating.

Instead, the Spanish-Basque restaurant has persevered, largely through the support of a loyal clientele that orders takeout, along with the fact that Chef-Owner Hector Figueroa and his wife Angie Lipsett have operated the restaurant all on their own without any staff, and without taking any salaries.

If you haven’t yet discovered this charming Spanish restaurant, it’s high time that you did.

Right now, the restaurant is open only on Fridays and Saturdays. The takeout menu for the week usually posts on Thursdays.

A saute of fava beans, asparagus and peas that comes with the paella.
A saute of fava beans, asparagus and peas that comes with the paella.

Figueroa, whose grandparents hailed from Spain, is a former tech engineer. When you pick up your order at the doorway, you can spot him in the kitchen, as Lipsett hands you your food.

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