To view images of the food and places described in this post, click here for a slide show.
As with most exits off Northern California's US-101, the area around the Story Road turn-off in southern San Jose is freckled with shopping centers and strip malls. If you look closer, however, you'll notice that here the writing on the signs and windows of many of the shops and restaurants is in Vietnamese. As it has throughout the U.S., the Vietnamese population in San Jose has increased in the last several decades; here that surge has been dramatic, making San Jose the city with the largest Vietnamese population in the country according to the city's planning department. In 1980 San Jose had a Vietnamese population of only around 8,000 people. By the 2000 census, that number had reached 80,000.
With these new residents has come a new culinary landscape for the city, as restaurant owners and shopkeepers try to preserve the tastes of their native country. Maintaining those flavors and eating familiar food is important, says area restaurant owner Vu Tran, who came to San Jose after traveling throughout Asia and the Midwestern United States as a refugee. "It's the feeling of homeland," he says. For a sense of those flavors, you need only explore the restaurants, markets, and bakeries scattered throughout the neighborhoods off of this stretch of 101.