A remodeled Mike’s Cafe is still steeped in Midtown history

The interior of Mikes Cafe.

Nadav Sternheim

The interior of Mike’s Cafe.

Nadav Sternheim, Reporter

Imagine a restaurant with spacious, modern rooms that serves delicious food at reasonable prices amid the current inflation crisis. The waiters are friendly and the service is quick. 

Oh, and best of all, the atmosphere is great.

Thanks to Mike Wallau, owner of Mike’s Cafe and a Palo Alto native, this is the reality for people living in the Midtown neighborhood of Palo Alto and the surrounding Bay Area.

Mike’s Cafe is located in the heart of Palo Alto at 2680 Middlefield Rd. across the street from the Midtown Shopping Center, and serves a variety of Italian and American-style foods.

Wallau first opened the restaurant in 1995, replacing a delicatessen that was going out of business. In 2017, the restaurant actually shut down for renovation and expansion, and Wallau added a second room which used to be a neighboring hardware store.

Mike’s Cafe serves a variety of Italian and American foods.

Mike’s Cafe finally opened up five years later after a long remodel and forced hiatus due to the pandemic.

There is a lot of space in between the tables, which contributes to a pleasant atmosphere without too much noise — unless you’re sitting near the bar during a Warriors game.

There is also plenty of parking, but many regulars actually choose to walk to the restaurant. 

Wallau said that most customers live in the Midtown area, and that he has been able to develop deep connections with many of them.

“People have been coming here once or twice a week for 27 years, so you get to know your customers pretty well,” Wallau said.

The front of Mike’s has a sports bar, and there are about a dozen or so tables in both rooms. I sat in the outdoor dining area, which also has a few tables and patio heaters, which are always appreciated when the weather takes a turn.

The restaurant is open every day from 5 to 8:30 p.m., and the menu is diverse, offering many Italian and California-style foods such as pizza, pasta, steak, and fish. There is also a special menu that rotates weekly, and a set dessert menu that includes chocolate brownies and crème brûlée.

The complimentary bread is flavorful and well-baked, though this customer wishes they were kept warm until serving.

As for drinks, Mike’s has an extensive selection of cocktails, wine, and beers. For those that don’t drink alcohol, there is also a nice selection of Italian sodas. If you insist or have to sit at the bar, they make Shirley Temples too.

For appetizers, I ordered a Caesar salad and some Brussels sprouts. The salad was fairly standard, while the Brussels sprouts were tender and had a slightly nutty flavor.

As for the main course, I ordered the skirt steak which also came with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. The steak was on the chewier side, but seasoned well, and the portion was quite generous. The mashed potatoes and vegetables could have used a little more flavor, but were cooked nicely.

While prices may look high at a top-level, the large portions actually make it worth it. If you don’t finish your meal, it could easily be a second one for later.

But it’s not the food or the prices that draw so many to the restaurant; it’s the neighborly atmosphere and its connections to the local community.

Wallau said that most of all, he is grateful for the restaurant’s relationships with its neighbors and patrons.

“It’s an adventure,” Wallau said. “Not many people stay in business this long.”

Rating: 4 stars out of 5