Elegant Vietnamese in Palo Alto.
Tamarine is a popular Vietnamese contemporary restaurant in downtown Palo Alto on busy University Avenue. They focus on small plates and serve food family style. Tamarine features light, but flavor-intensive culinary delicacies of Vietnam. This place is similar to Slanted Door or Xanh in Mountain View. We find the food pretty accessible with many items for mainstream palates. The owners family runs the more traditional Vietnamese restaurant Vung Tau in San Jose and a more casual spot Tam Tam in Palo Alto. Our last visit was in 2020.
Tamarine along with Protoge are top restaurants in Palo Alto.
Decor, Vibe – Very nice decor, lots of beautiful art from Vietnam. The place had lots of couples, small parties, people from a variety of age and ethnic groups. Clearly lots of high tech workers and VC types frequent Tamarine. Tamarine gets packed at night. Reserve ahead of time. They have a bar and communal table for times when you can’t get a reservation. These fill up around 6pm.
Tamarine’s Menu has a variety of starters, noodles, and entrees. Dessert menu is weak. Menu changes every once in a while, but the favorites remain. They have a special menu during the Lunar New Year. Prices slowly go up everytime we come back. In recent years, they have added a lot more vegetarian items. Ask for their gluten free menu, if you need that.
Tamarine Food Picks:
Lychee martini ($12) was strong and sweet. Very Hidden alcohol content!
Banh Mi Roti Pan fried wheat bread served with red Panang curry dipping sauce ($10) was fab. We ate it up very quickly. In 2020 the roti was precut and not as thick, alas and not as good! 7.5/10
Green Papaya Salad ($16) was decent, with interesting beef jerky topping it. 8/10
Salt & Pepper Calamari Crisp calamari wok tossed w/ garlic & spring onions. Served w/ a cilantro emulsion ($12) was very delicious. Light batter, strong cilantro sauce made this a classic here, and a good starter.
Lamb Meatballs ($15) Garlic, onion, & parsley lamb meatballs served with cherry pomegranate glaze. This does not seem very Vietnamese, more Mediterranean! Really good in any case. Love the cherry glaze. Chop up the meatballs and soak them in the sweet sauce!
Apple & Asian Pear Salad ($12) Heart of palm, pomelo & cashews tossed with apple & pear; drizzled with a tamarind vinaigrette was very fruity and refreshing, with a lite dressing.
Kobe Beef Pho ($19) now called Kobe Beef Noodle Soup – Sliced Kobe beef blanched with star anise, cinnamon & ginger beef broth (boiled 24 hours); served w/ rice noodles & herbs. Wow this is a tour de force must get for pho fans. Strong star anise – slightly sweet flavored broth, excellent quality thick sliced beef, and some thin delicate noodles. Far better than those cheap pho restaurants. Bean Sprouts are preloaded and plentiful unlike most versions. Tamarine gives you some Sriracha sauce, lime, and plum sauce on the side. Only available at Weekday Lunch. 8/10
Vegan Pho ($16) was added on our last visit in 2019. Full of ingredients like tofu skin, this is a great for vegans.
Wok Pho Beef Noodles ($14) Wok-flashed rice noodles tossed with Chinese broccoli, flank steak, eggs & soy sauce was spot on. Almost like Chinese Chow fun, the noodles were wide and soft, while the quality of the meat really shined.
Wok Fried Garlic Noodles ($13) Egg noodles wok-fired with garlic, butter, Parmesan cheese & black pepper; served with fresh cilantro & lime. Wow, this was excellent, a much more interesting way to get your starch than rice.
Pineapple Sea Bass Whole fried Branzino filet served w/ a black bean, ginger & roasted pineapple sauce ($27) is a popular dish with fresh fish that is deep fried to perfection. Good sweet and sour flavors and a beautiful look.
Lemongrass Sea Bass ($28) Lemongrass & garlic sea bass served with a cold mango & cilantro glass noodle salad was a fairly small portion but definitely hit the spot. It is interesting that they vary the preparation of each item radically over time.
Spiced Honey Seared Duck ($26) Seared Sonoma duck breast drizzled with spiced honey & served with grilled pineapple & a radish cake was a bit on the tart side, but still satisfying for duck fans.
Shaking Beef ($33) Cubed beef tenderloin seared with soy, garlic & onions; served with a watercress & mizuna salad is a must order. Tender beef cooked perfectly. This dish is very very good. We would order the prawns and this any day. Wish there was more beef!
Tamarine Prawns ($31) Flash-fried 5 huge jumbo prawns tossed in Tamarine’s signature tamarind sauce & served with crisp noodles is their signature dish and a must get. Very fresh seafood along with a sweet and tangy sauce that is absorbed by the crispy vermicelli noodles. Butterflied, so there isn’t a lot of excuse to having messy hands. The sauce could use a little toning down as it is pretty sweet. 8/10
Anatto Chicken ($27) Half Jidori chicken marinated in coconut vinegar, lemongrass, & anatto seeds, served with yuca fries. Normally we do not order chicken (Eat far too much at home), but this version was really good. Interesting coated fries that resemble a tempura fry.
Garlic Fried Rice ($10) Long-grain jasmine rice wok-fired with butter & garlic hit the spot 100%. A bit rich, but nice flavors. We would order it over the coconut rice.
Lemon-soy Broccolini ($11) wok tossed with shallots & almonds in lemon-tamari garlic sauce is our recommended veggie after trying several.
Grilled Summer Vegetables ($14) Grilled eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, & basil, finished with goat cheese & red pesto. Veggies massaged in a nice sauce.
Mustard greens ($10) wok tossed with garlic, rice wine, chili & dried squid surprised us with the interplay between the vegetable and chewy calamari. This is also a must order.
Grilled Acorn squash ($14) is a winter vegetable option that included some weird croutons. Decent but not exceptional.
Charred Brussel Sprouts ($14) were topped with nuts. An inventive and different take on brussel sprouts.
Coconut Tapioca ($9) Coconut Milk Tapioca served with lemongrass-coconut & very tart passion fruit sorbet drizzled with passion fruit caramel & pandan syrup was a light refreshing desert. Good combination of flavors.
Tamarine Mojito ($11) with Ten Cane Rum, Fresh Mango, Muddled mint & lime was filled with all these different flavors. Moderate strength. On our last visit, it wasn’t very sweet, so we had to ask for a redo.
Persimmon Salad ($14) Tossed radicchio, Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese & frisée; finished with a sherry vinaigrette was a fairly small salad with very little persimmon. Order something else.
Herbed Tomato Salad ($14) was a bit on the tart side.
Avocado & Corn Salad ($14) Fresh corn, romaine lettuce, jicama, cherry tomatoes, & avocado, dressed in a honey cilantro vinaigrette. Not very Asian and just Okay.
Hoisin Lamb Chops Grilled w/ garlic & served w/ baby bok choy & sweet potato fries ($27) The lamb was a little overwhelmed by the hoisin sauce. No gaminess but not much distinct lamb flavor. Good quantities and yummy yam fries.
Sake Mushrooms Shiitake mushrooms wok fired in sake w/ sugar snap peas in a sesame oil & oyster sauce. ($10) has fresh mushrooms and crispy peas. Not too oily.
Coconut, vanilla, roasted coconut flakes Rice ($2.50) was an interesting combination. A good change of pace. 7.5/10
Tamarine’s Anti-Oxidant Mojito ($14) Myers Silver Rum, Fresh Raspberry, Fresh BlackBerry, Strawberry Puree, Fresh Lime, Club Soda has devolved and is tart and weird. They have changed this one so many times, I would get a regular mojito instead.
Curry Roasted Cauliflower ($10) Madras curry, garam masala & butter roasted cauliflower was a bit powdery and over crisp.
Curried long beans ($11) were chopped up really short and did not really have a curry flavor to them.
Tamarine’s service was above average with the waiter and servers floating around constantly. This is definitely one of the best restaurants on Palo Alto’s University Ave district and is an easy choice for those looking for fine Vietnamese cuisine. As with most other small plate places, you may order more than anticipated and your bill will reflect that. Carefully navigate the menu as the prices are high.