What to Eat in Palo Alto Pre-Classic Films at Stanford Theatre


Thanks to my classic film-obsessed Mother, one of my favorite pastimes is watching old movies. I may not know as much as my Mom does about all things classic film, but I do have an in-depth appreciation & knowledge of film in general, and the classics in particular. I feel lucky to be able to partake in the incomparable line-up of popular and rare (often not available on DVD/video) old movies shown daily at the Stanford Theatre in downtown Palo Alto.

This historic theater has the necessary classic movie-house organ (with live performances before most evening screenings), elaborate carvings and murals. Tickets are $7, which will get you into both films on whatever day/night you go. Over the years, I’ve hit screenings during what can be 2-3 month long “festivals” showing dozens of films of featured actors (Bette DavisJimmy StewartKatharine HepburnCary Grant), directors (Alfred HitchcockPreston Sturges, George Cukor) or themes like Romantic Comedies or Film Noir. They’re keeping it light for the holidays with perennial classics like Bogart films, “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

Palo Alto, though more lively (and crowded) than most suburban downtowns, doesn’t have a wealth of city-quality restaurants (there’s certainly a great volume, however), and I more often than not, end up having a mediocre meal, but after much digging over the years, here are some of the best for pre or post film viewing:


Bistro Elan
Bistro Elan

My favorite restaurant in Palo Alto is Bistro Elan where a gourmet, fresh, delicious Cal French meal (and warm service) is in order, but… it’s not really ideal in conjunction with a film as it’s a short drive, rather than walk, from University Ave, and as you want to take your time here. Still, I had to mention it as a Palo Alto great.


SF’s impeccable Bong Su was opened by owners of Palo Alto’s Tamarine. Upscale Vietnamese is done right here with Crab and Garlic Glass Noodles ($15), Clay Pot Cod ($19), Hoisin Lamb Chops ($25) or Citrus Soft Shell Crab ($11), served in a spare, but elegant, dining room.


Evvia Estiatorio – An offshoot of SF’s fabulous, elegant Greek Kokkari, Evvia is a secondary player to the more stimulating décor and layout at Kokkari, though charging similar prices. Here you can get lunch or dinner in a large, open-air room with delicious Greek food, making it one of Palo Alto’s better dining options.


Vino Locale – See description below under “Drink” and come here for Panini to eat in or to go.

Kanpai Sushi (330 Lytton Avenue, between Florence and Bryant Streets; 650-325-2696) is a decent sushi stop in downtown Palo Alto where the Omakase meals are steep ($45-65) but lunch is real deal and ala carte items are always available.

Nola – This place must come with a caveat: at least half the menu and drinks are suburban average and at night the party scene and noise absolutely ruins it. But for lunch or appetizers, this place transports to The Big Easy with its awesome two-level layout of house, bar, courtyard, Zydeco music and NoLa artwork; menu items are not quite Cajun (um, Cajun Spiced Fish Tacos?) and not always that good. Still, portions are generous and the better dishes are satisfying enough (think of it as better-than-average bar food and you’ll be on the right track), but it’s all about the setting. I like the surprisingly good, albeit drowned in rich cream sauce, Crawfish Andouille Dumplings ($8.95) or Crispy Calamari & Delta Blue Lakes with Red Creole Remoulade ($8.95). Share these hearty appetizers with friends over a cocktail (again, hit and miss) and you just might be ready to party Mardi Gras-style.

Wine, Cocktails & Tea

Vino Locale – There’s no place around quite like this magical Victorian cottage housing bottles of local wines, simple foods (appetizers, salads, panini and desserts prepared with a Slow Food ethos), local artists’ artwork (+ a monthly “Meet the Artist” night) and all around charm. Sip a glass in the house or courtyard or order food for a picnic.

Junoon – Though the décor is hot, their bland “Indian fusion” is way overpriced and utterly disappointing – don’t even waste your time on appetizers. But you just might like the Tipsy Lassi, a Mango Lassi spiked with Mango Rum, for an after-movie imbibement. And the setting is, after all, cool in that London Indian restaurant sort-of-way.

Tea Time – A cute little shop with a nice range of teas… pre-movie only as they close early (7pm Monday-Saturday; 6pm Sunday).


Peninsula Fountain/Palo Alto Creamery – A charming, retro diner around since 1923, don’t come here for a meal, but do come for dessert (baked pies or creamy milkshakes). An ideal setting for a soda or an ice cream float post-classic films (yes, you can sit at the counter and pretend you’re Lana Turner about to be discovered).

Fraiche Yogurt – This is Palo Alto’s “froyo” (tart frozen yogurt) locale with not only great froyo, but fresh probiotic, cultured yogurt (made from Clover organic milk; tart but not sour). I love the Valrhona Chocolate flavor. They also serve a Soy frozen yogurt, which I like better than their Plain. And they bless the South Bay with Blue Bottle Coffee.

Zibibbo – Though taste value vs. cost means eat elsewhere, the candlelit, spacious dining room and bar are so enchanting, it’s worth a drink or dessert to soak up the atmosphere.