Who: A Father and Son that like to eat.

Where: The Bay Area, California.

The Goal: To find the best hidden lunch spots based on your suggestions. We're looking for secret gems, not your neighborhood Chili's. We'll try anything - no distance in the Bay Area too far, no ethnicity of food too scary. We love a good challenge.

The Result: Based on our rating system, we will determine the best spot for lunch by the end of summer.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lunch #3 and #4: Hunan Taste (San Jose, CA) and Mark's Hot Dogs (San Jose, CA)

Two posts for the price of one. What a great value, especially for a food blog!

Last week, we visited Hunan Taste on N. 4th Street in Downtown San Jose. From the outside, this place looks like a real dive but inside, this intimate restaurant is filled with a bustling lunch crowd of business professionals. This week, we kept the theme of "dives" alive by having lunch at Mark's Hot Dogs on Central Avenue in East San Jose. Since 1936, Mark's has moved several times but they've kept the trademark giant orange dome, where all the hot dog magic happens. It's like an old style drive-in where you can get service in your car or you can sit outside at picnic tables.

When we go for Asian food, I usually let my Dad take the lead on ordering - he is the Menu Master - and at Hunan Taste he ordered the meat pie, beef and green beans and a seafood dish that was listed as the House Specialty. I have to admit, when my Dad suggested we get the Meat Pie, I was expecting something from Sweeney Todd - but what arrived was crispy green onion shell filled with spicy ground beef and shredded lettuce. We both enjoyed it, and it was my Dad's favorite thing that we ordered, but I couldn't help but think of a Mexican Pizza from Taco Bell the entire time I was eating it. It was good, but not something I would go back for. At Mark's Hot Dogs, my dad got their regular hot dog which comes garnished with diced white onion, sliced tomatoes, sweet relish and mustard. I went big because the Hot Dog Gods required it and got the Chili Cheese Dog which arrives just as advertised and with nothing else added. We decided to sit at the picnic tables and ordered - we had to wait 20 minutes for the dogs to arrive, so if you're in a rush, speed doesn't seem to be a specialty or priority at Mark's.

Our entrees arrived quickly and featured quality ingredients that were cooked perfectly but really featured a lack of diverse flavor. All I got from the beef and green bean dish was a strong smell and taste of soy sauce and the seafood dish, which featured shrimp and scallops, was all heat and lack of spice/flavor. They did ask us how spicy we wanted our dishes and we asked for medium - but my Irish cheeks turned red and my Dad even started sweating a little. If that was medium, beware the hot. At Mark's Hot Dog's, my dad commented on the snap of the beef/pork hot dog and the flavor was balanced to him. It was a foot long dog on a steamed bun, nothing special but what you would expect from a regular hot dog. I thought my chili dog was good as well, exactly what you would expect - but nothing out of the ordinary. I liked it but I felt like I had eaten it before, at about five other places I can't remember the name of and maybe even a ballpark or two.

My Dad is planning to make a return to try their fried dumplings and the Hunan ground beef noodle, but I don't think I'll be joining him. It wasn't bad, but if I want Asian/Chinese food - I'll get my fix at a few other places I know. As for Mark's, we would both go back for a hot dog fix and I would be curious to order one of their milkshakes and their french fries to see how they stack up. If by chance you do visit Mark's, you must check out Peter's Bakery down the street for dessert. Possibly the best cream puff I've ever had and my dad devoured a lemon meringue tart. Don't tell Jenny Craig...

N. 4th Street
Our Rating: 6 out of 10.

Central Avenue/Alum Rock Avenue
Our Rating: 7 out of 10.

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