Joe Cirone finally has a restaurant of his own. The San Jose native has worked in restaurants most of his adult life, but until opening Hay Market Restaurant in Willow Glen three weeks he never had a place that was all his. Years ago, he worked under David Kinch at Sent Sovi and went on to help start restaurants all over the country as a consultant with the CB5 Restaurant Group. But at 41, he tired of living out of a suitcase and wanted to settle down. And he saw an opportunity in Willow Glen.

“I know San Jose is staving for culinary attention,” Cirone says. “My friends would ask me what to eat when they came to town, and I’d tell them to get on a train and go to [San Francisco]. There’s not much going on down here unless you’re in the mood for a hard to find, crazy hole-in-the-wall taqueria. It’s ripe for the picking.”

He was able to scoop up a restaurant space on Lincoln Avenue formerly occupied by Casablanca’s for relatively cheap. It looks a lot better now that he’s remodeled it. There is an eclectic array of photos on the wall (David Lee Roth and Patrick Swayze share one picture), and the dining room consists of several rough-hewen communal tables. The only rub is there’s no gas or freezer space. To work around that, he had to get creative. He cooks many of his meats sous vide, in a low-temperature water bath that yields supremely tender and moist meat. 

Cirone says he’s attracted a good crew of young cooks fresh out of culinary school that love the idea of making up the menu new each day. “Everybody loves the idea of saying, ‘Hey, what do you want to do tomorrow’ instead of sitting here and grinding out the same thing day in and day out.”

While the menu changes regularly, there a couple of dishes that have become instant favorites like the vegetarian banh mi sandwiches and artisanal “Willow Glen hot dog” with apricot relish. “The hot dog has hit in a ridiculous way,” Cirone tells me. Other winners have been a duck meatloaf, braised beef cheeks, pepper-crusted hanger steak amd the excellent BLT featuring bacon made by Cirone’s dad.

Willow Glen is one of San Jose’s most appealing neighborhoods, but it’s never had a marquee restaurant that can pull in diners from out of the community as well. Is Hay Market it? I’ll let you know what I think in the weeks to come.