What person doesn’t enjoy fast food every once in a while? Whether or not it’s a guilty pleasure for you, it’s inexpensive, and usually hits the spot.
There are a lot of quick-service, comfort-food restaurants in the South Bay that aren’t like the big fast-food chains. The restaurants below all serve high-quality food in a relaxed setting — and if you aren’t usually a fan of cheap food, some of these places may surprise you. Fast food in the South Bay is distinctly representative of our local culture — it’s fresh, reimagined, and frequently a mash-up of cultures and traditions from around the world. There are some hidden gems with delicious hot dogs, falafel, lobster, and Taiwanese street food. Quick-service food in the South Bay is all the right kinds of greasy or healthy delights that make you feel like you’re eating a cheat meal. So, if you’re looking for a quick and inexpensive meal, forget about your usual haunts and give something new a try. 
The Happy Hound serves, without a doubt, one of the best hot dogs in the region. This family-owned restaurant has been a popular stop on the way to and from Santa Cruz since 1971. These aren’t the slightly terrifying boiled hot dogs you might find in a school cafeteria. These grilled dogs have a lot of flavor and snap when you bite into them. A toasted bun, red onion, tomato, mustard, and relish are included in the signature hound. The chili dog is a popular choice, and the tater tots are hard to resist. The hot dog portions are enormous, and the fries are enough to feed an entire family. Old-fashioned malts, milkshakes, floats, and freezes are available to wash it down. The banana milkshake is a perennial favorite among locals. Happy Hound also has a homey feel to it, with generous portions, reasonable prices, and delicious food. 
Savory Umai Hot dogs are an unmitigated culinary delight, and this establishment has truly realized the American fast-food dream. Umai was founded by a Vietnamese family who fled to America as refugees. They wanted more, like many immigrant families, but spoke little English and struggled to make ends meet. They were given an old hot dog cart and decided to take a chance and try something new, despite knowing very little about American food. They combined flavors from around the world, baked the buns fresh every day, and made all of the sauces from scratch. One hotdog cart grew into four, which eventually led to a storefront on North Capital Avenue with a slew of fans. Plain hot dogs will suffer from a severe inferiority complex as a result of these hot dogs. They have dogs from all over the world that represent different cultures and countries. Some are topped with truffles, while others have mouthwatering Nashville brisket. The fries are a must-try! This is a location that you will undoubtedly enjoy.
Classic Burger, located in the heart of Los Gatos, is another hidden gem. It is one of the best places to go if you want a perfect, no-frills, classic diner burger and a shake. The burgers are juicy and flavorful, the bacon is salty and delicious, and the buns are always fresh and served warm. The fries are golden brown, thin, and crispy. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something other than burgers, check out their daily specials, which include BBQ beef sandwiches and turkey melts. Classic Burger also offers a wide variety of shake flavors that will leave even the most seasoned shopper perplexed at the cash register. Butterscotch, boysenberry, peanut butter, chocolate chip, and other flavors are available. 
The second coming of fried chicken is often referred to as Star Bird. This isn’t the kind of greasy food that makes you want to nap afterward. Local, antibiotic-free chicken is hand-breaded in a gluten-free flour and spice mixture at Star Bird. The ingredients are fresh, the sauces and pickles are homemade, and the bread is baked daily. Also, their salads are light, but packed with decadent ingredients. One must-try dish is the churros and chicken — a brilliant twist on chicken and waffles with freshly deep-fried cinnamon-sugar churros, breaded chicken tenders, and maple syrup on the side. 
Look no further if you’ve ever watched “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and wished you could jump through your TV screen and try the food. Falafel Drive-In has not only been featured on the Food Network show, but it also received rave reviews from Guy Fieri himself. For more than 50 years, this charming quick-service restaurant has been a South Bay institution. The restaurant’s walls are covered in a mural depicting the bay area through the years, created by a local San Jose artist. Even if you aren’t a fan of Mediterranean cuisine, you should give this place a try. A banana shake and a falafel sandwich are the daily specials, and they’re a winning combination. And the falafels here are always hot and perfectly crispy.
Ben’s Fast Food is a newcomer to the South Bay, but it’s already making waves. Ben’s serves tasty fast food at reasonable prices, but it has been reimagined. These guys are revolutionizing fast food by offering everyone healthy, organic options. Gluten-free? It’s no problem. Is it better to eat keto, paleo, or vegan? That’s simple. Do you suffer from a bizarre allergy? You’re in good hands with Ben. They have the ability to serve anyone who is willing to try their food and do so in a delicious manner. The ‘Slow Roast Bowls’ here are incredible — the meat is tender and has clearly been cooked for several hours, and it’s served with grains, vegetables, and sauces made in-house. Even those with a serious sweet tooth will swoon over this dark chocolate cashew pudding if you’re looking for a healthy dessert. 
The people at the Lobster Shack are serious about their lobster. They’ve been flying in fresh lobster from Maine since 2006, and it’s never been frozen. This keeps the meat tender and prevents it from tasting fishy. And the lobster in their lobster rolls is plentiful! It isn’t weighed down by fillers and mayonnaise, and the lobster chunks are enormous. Lobster rolls come with a heaping helping of french fries and a tangy coleslaw. A killer cooler with a ton of fun sodas and craft beers is also available at the Lobster Shack. The Lobster Mac is for you if you’re looking for something decadent that will leave you couch-bound for a few hours. In all the right ways, it’s creamy and heavy. The lobster is buttery and warm. The proportion of cheese to pasta is ideal. After just one trip, you’ll want to return to Portola Valley on a regular basis.
Tacos el Compa has a cult-like following, and rightfully so. This place is fast, cheap, and located in an unassuming strip mall on San Jose’s South Side, but it does not disappoint. El Compa does not skimp on quality, and its dedication to authenticity is palpable. All of the meats are top-notch. They’ve been perfectly seasoned and cooked. The al pastor here is magical and made from a family recipe. The tortillas for the tacos are all made to order, and all of the salsas are made from scratch. In addition to having a storefront, Tacos el Compa also caters. They will bring a griddle to any event, along with all of their delectable meats and salsas, and prepare tacos to order. 
Mark’s is a tiny hot dog stand in the shape of an orange dome, but don’t let its size fool you. Mark’s has been serving hot dogs on the East Side of San Jose for more than 85 years. This place is a time machine encased in a bun and covered in chili — it will transport you to another era. Mark’s is also one of the last remaining restaurants in the region with a real carhop — i.e. the old-school fast-food service where you can order in your car and have your food delivered to your car window by the waitstaff. The menu is simple and limited, but everything on it is flawless. The chili dogs are deliciously sloppy. The fries are deep-fried to order and served hot at all times. The shakes are creamy and thick. Dining in your car has never tasted so good.
This family-run ice cream parlor will be the best meal you’ve had all week. They use fresh and well-prepared ingredients, the prices are unbeatable, the proprietors are warm and friendly, and Sliders also has some truly outrageous burger options. On their extensive menu, wild boar, ostrich, and elk are just a few of the options. Whatever type of protein you choose, it will be cooked over an open fire and served with all of the fixings of your choice. The toppings bar may be the best part of Sliders. They have every kind of topping you can think of, and you can choose as little or as much as you want. A burger isn’t complete without fries, and Sliders deserves some sort of award for theirs. The chili cheese fries are absolutely delicious. Sweet potato fries are a well-executed take on a classic. The onion rings are outstanding as well.
Five stars, five stars, five stars! The praise and visits that House of Teriyaki has received are well deserved. The teriyaki sauce is sweet, sour, and spicy, and it’s hard to stop eating it. The servings are large and designed to be shared. The prices are the type of fast food prices that everyone seeks. This family-owned quick-service restaurant offers meat-eaters and vegans alike a variety of options. Choose a protein like steak tofu or chicken katsu. Choose a teriyaki with the right level of spice for you. Serve with steamed vegetables and perfectly cooked white rice. Everything is made to order and may take a while to arrive, but it is well worth the wait. It’s the kind of simple but comforting meal that can brighten even the darkest of days.
Amato’s is the place to go when you’re craving a hoagie filled with melty cheese and thinly sliced beef. For over 65 years, Amato’s has been the king of cheesesteaks in San Jose. Four generations of Amatos have run this family-owned restaurant, which has been using their passed-down recipes. On a massive griddle, the cheesesteaks are cooked to order. Amato’s will prepare your cheesesteak according to your specifications. You can substitute chicken, beef, onions, mushrooms, or white American cheese. The portions are enormous. A “shorty” can easily feed two people, and a basket of fries is enough for the whole family. Although it may appear to be a hole in the wall, this establishment serves the best cheesesteak outside of Philadelphia. It’s the type of meal that you won’t want to finish.
For years, Pinoy BBQ ATBP has been a popular quick-service restaurant in the Philippines. This cozy Filipino restaurant has been serving classics like pancit, adobo, and lumpia in Milpitas since 2005. The barbecue ribs and BBQ sticks are their specialty and perhaps most popular items. The barbecue here isn’t to be taken lightly — flavors, presentation, and execution are all on point. Pinoy BBQ ATBP has the kind of atmosphere that makes you want to stay a while. On their televisions are Filipino shows, the smells are incredible, and the walls are covered in Manny Pacquiao memorabilia. Pinoy BBQ also offers combo plates, so, if you’re not familiar with Filipino cuisine or have a specific menu item in mind, you can personalize your meal.
Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks is the type of place where people line up outside before it opens. Shihlin specialized in night market food from Taiwan. The Taipei Shihlin Night Market has just about every type of delectable delicacy you can think of. Milpitas Shihlin is a smaller version of the Taipei Shihlin, but it’s just as tasty. It is impossible to pass up the crispy chicken. It doesn’t matter if the chicken is breast, thigh, or leg because it’s all marinated, breaded, fried, and spiced. It goes well with a crispy floss egg crepe and any of the drinks on the menu. The Lemon Ai-Yu Jelly drink is light and refreshing without being too sweet. Shihlin is the type of restaurant where you will always be in the mood after just one visit.
At the corner of Winchester Blvd. and W Sunnyoaks Ave. in Campbell is a Valero Gas Station, and inside they sell some of the best fried chicken around. Krispy Krunchy Chicken first opened its doors in Lousiana in 1989, and as a national chain, it often is just a stand inside a gas station quick-mart. It’s no surprise that the chicken here is so good, given its Southern roots and years of practice. But, let’s face it, you can’t judge a restaurant solely on the basis of its chicken. The sides are arguably just as important as the main course when it comes to the dining experience. Honey butter biscuits, mac and cheese, and jambalaya are all part of the Krispy Krunchy Chicken menu. Crispitos are ideal for on-the-go eating if you’re in a hurry and need something quick — they are made with fried chicken dusted with cajun seasoning and rolled in a warm tortilla with cheese. This place is beloved by the fried chicken gods, and you will love it too.
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