For the second straight year, Weekly readers chose, by a huge margin, Noah's New York Bagels, located at the always-bustling corner of Bryant Street and University Avenue. Noah's, which offers about 14 varieties of freshly baked bagels each day, drew 189 votes for its steamed-not-boiled recipe. A Noah's shop is a slick combination of schmaltz and kitsch dear to the heart of any former New Yorker. Everything is kosher. There are no bagels-of-the-month in gimmicky flavors like pesto-pine nut or pumpkin. Cream cheese shmears, knishes and smoked fish and salads are available, and you can even pick up the Sunday New York Times there. In second place, with 85 votes, was Bagel Works, and close behind was House of Bagels, with 70 votes.
Noah's, 278 University Ave., Palo Alto, 473-0751
Peninsula natives John Berwald and John Carroll made a serious research tour of Texas before opening Armadillo Willy's in 1983. The restaurant features "real Texas BBQ," including Willy's Famous Baby Back Pork Ribs and the award-winning St. Louis cut spareribs. Willy's is a hugely popular oasis of hearty flavors in an area top-heavy with Italian eateries and bottom-heavy with burrito joints. The Los Altos location (there are also Armadillo Willy's in Cupertino, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale and two in San Jose) sports shiny aluminum-siding walls, a big stone hearth and Southwestern scenes on the walls. Even if you've never been there, you still may be familiar with their food from one of the many events they regularly cater. Armadillo Willy's won by a huge margin this year, with 104 votes. In second place was MacArthur Park with 46 votes, and in third was East Palo Alto's Goldie's Barbecue, with 20 votes.
Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-2922
According to Weekly readers, the home of Palo Alto's best bread is at 2750 Middlefield Road in Midtown Palo Alto. That's where you'll find Phil Nasr's Harmony Bakery.. Nasr, a lifelong Palo Alto resident and former pastry chef at Barbarossa, uses no preservatives and no artificial colors in his all-natural loaves. For the last year, Harmony Bakery has enjoyed greater visibility than ever, having moved to a new, bigger location--right across the street from the site of the old bakery. They even have a full juice bar now, serving up everything from smoothies to wheatgrass juice. In second place, with 59 votes, was Il Fornaio, and just behind was Le Boulanger, with 57 votes.
Harmony Bakery, 2750 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-1815.
BREAKFAST and BRUNCH
Once again our voters say that when it comes to any morning meal, the place to go is Hobee's, a five-time winner in the category of best breakfast, with 118 votes. Although the Town & Country outpost of the popular restaurant was destroyed in an accidental fire two months ago, die-hard patrons are just taking their business a little further south on El Camino Real, where there's another Hobee's. The Town & Country location should be back in operation in about three months.
Hobee's also received 49 votes for best brunch, winning for the second year in a row. All the usual breakfast options are available at Hobee's, including such delectables as the Stanford "Cardinal" omelets containing chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, spinach and cheese, topped with tomatillo sauce. A variety of scrambles--featuring everything from turkey to garlic--are also available for about $5. Of course, topping it all off is the famous "Hobeemade" blueberry coffeecake, which has a bigger following than many major political figures. Runners-up for best breakfast were the Peninsula Fountain and Grill, with 34 votes, and Late for the Train, with 27 votes. Late for the Train came in second in the brunch category, with 29 votes, followed closely by Holiday Inn, which garnered 22 votes.
Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124, and 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111 (currently under reconstruction)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's clearly the voters' take when it comes to deciding the winner of the best burger contest each year. The favorite once again is perennial champion Kirk's on California Avenue. The meat is seasoned by Kirk's employees with tomato soup and bread crumbs, then molded into 1/3-pound patties and barbecued over hot coals. You can top off your burger with just about anything you want. They've been doing it that way since 1949 when Kirk's first opened. One of the most popular offerings is the Pineapple Burger for $4.40, which you have to try to appreciate. The Kirk's Burger--which is actually a steak burger--is also a favorite for $4.25. A new addition to the menu in the Griller, a burger with grilled onion's and swiss cheese on a french roll for $5.25. Kirk's garnered 107 first-place votes. Taxi's Hamburgers in Palo Alto, new this year, was second with 47, while the Oasis in Menlo Park was third with 37 after finishing second last year.
Kirk's Restaurant, 361 California Ave., 326-6159
BURRITO and MEAL FOR UNDER $5
The favorite burrito again this year was Pollo's which beat out World Wraps and Andale Taqueria in a race that each year seems to have more competitors. Pollo's Rotisserie Chicken, which also won for best meal under $5, has built a reputation for its giant burritos which range from the Senor Veggie chico for $3.39 to the carne asada (steak) supremo for $5.99 which includes guacamole, sour cream and fresh hand-cut salsa. You choose white or whole wheat tortillas. This place also offers slow mesquite- roasted chicken, chicken quesadillas, chicken tacos and stuffed baked potatoes with chicken. If you are in the mood to drink something new, try horchata, a Mexican drink made of rice, meal, water, sugar and cinnamon. In the burrito category, Pollo's received 63 votes, World Wraps garnered 52 and Andale was a close third with 42. For cheap eats, Pollo's (31) edged Andale (29) with Una Mas (23) third.
Pollo's, 543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 473-0212, and 683 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 853-1200
OK, so you sip your double decaf latte with a view onto El Camino Real, but the venerable Cafe Borrone is about as close as you're going to get to the bustling, see-and-be-seen atmosphere of a Euro cafe. They even still allow smoking at the many outdoor tables. Cafe Borrone eased ahead of second-place winner Caffe Verona by just six votes (58 for Borrone, 52 for Verona). The elegant edibles here include cheese and fruit plates, soups, sandwiches, quiche and a famous tiramisu. And of course they have all your favorite specialty coffee drinks. Ah, and those frozen mochas. There are few better places on the Midpeninsula for people-watching. Everyone from tweedy Stanford professors to pierced preteens hangs out here. There's live Dixieland jazz on most Friday nights. Third place, and 20 votes, went to Printer's Inc. Cafe.
Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830
The runaway choice for Best Cake is once again The Prolific Oven, which received 171 votes this year. Owned by Menlo Park resident Harriet Spier, the bakery specializes in cakes, breads, muffins and cookies of Spier's invention. The bakery's best-sellers are chocolate cakes with variations: chocolate cake with rum cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake with coffee cream cheese frosting, chocolate orange almond, chocolate on chocolate. Wedding cakes, a specialty, come adorned with gorgeous sprays of fresh flowers. At Passover, the bakery makes specialty cakes using matzoh meal, and recently introduced the new chocolate Passover Decadence cake. Spier also has a reputation for being one of the most environmentally conscious businesswomen in town. She recycles or composts everything from newspapers to banana peels to coffee grounds, and donates leftovers to local food closets. Second place in this category goes to Just Desserts with 40 votes, and Palo Alto Baking Co. placed third with 17 votes.
The Prolific Oven, 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-8485
Su Hong, which won again for Best Chinese Restaurant, received 95 votes this year. The restaurant has built its reputation on familiarity--all the traditional favorites are here--and convenience, offering takeout service that is utilized constantly by workers and students on tight budgets and tighter schedules. The menu is standard as far as Chinese restaurants go, but location and quality make Su Hong a favorite among many. Mandarin Gourmet, with 76 votes, placed second once again, and Chef Chu's placed third with 35 votes.
Su Hong Restaurant, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852; 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-3836
Black and white, tried and true, the winner once again for Best Chocolate Fix was See's Candies, receiving 75 votes. Started in Pasadena in 1921 by Canadian immigrants Mrs. See, 71, and her son, the company next year will mark its 76th anniversary of "making people smile." See's has been in Palo Alto since the 1940s and opened the Stanford Shopping Center store in 1956. The chocolatier does nearly half of its business volume during the Christmas season, but Palo Alto fans come any day of the year for all-time favorites like Bordeaux creams, chocolate butter and, of course, boxed assorted chocolates. Prolific Oven took second place with 24 votes, just edging out Just Desserts and Max's Opera Cafe, which tied for third place with 23 votes each.
See's Candies, 123 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-8274
COMFORT FOOD and MILKSHAKE
Is it any coincidence that the restaurant that swept the comfort food category last year and this year also consistently takes top honors in the milkshake division? Ah, the Peninsula Fountain and Grill, more commonly referred to as The Peninsula Creamery, where even vegetarians have been known to consider the virtues of a carnivorous existence. Where some of the most devoted calorie counters have stopped their tabulating. Where many a cholesterol-phobe has come to believe--over a "breakfust" of bacon and eggs, or a mountainous helping of meatloaf and mashed potatoes (extra gravy)--that it's all in the genes anyway, so we might as well indulge. It's comforting just to walk in the doors of this downtown establishment, with its marbled Formica table-tops, '50s-style decor and nostalgic advertisements on the walls. The grill easily beat out its closest competitors in the Comfort Food category with 46 votes: Good Earth and Hobee's tied for second place with 9 votes each, and Stickney's placed third with 7 votes. Just be prepared to wait for a coveted booth. This divine diner is packed night and day.
No matter how long the wait, though, you can always go straight to the register and order one of the finest milkshakes in the dairy-drinking world. This is no hyperbole. Receiving 245 votes, the restaurant took first place again this year by a landslide, followed by Taxi's Hamburgers in second place with 17 votes and Double Rainbow in third with 4 votes. With ice cream purchased from the Peninsula Creamery, the Fountain and Grill concocts its icy ambrosia from three to four scoops of ice cream mixed with syrup and milk and blended to the right consistency. It's as old-fashioned a milkshake as you'll find in this frozen yogurt world, and it comes in 20 flavors, including pineapple. Or you can order a low-fat sherbet freeze. But why kid yourself? After the roast beef special, you might as well just go for one more taste of comfort-food heaven.
Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-3131
At Fresh Choice, kids 5 and under eat free. Youngsters 6-10 can chow down for $3.99. And, best of all, the soft-serve ice cream is unlimited. (Don't worry, mom, so is the spinach salad.) It's hard to get more family-oriented than Fresh Choice at the Stanford Shopping Center. If it's the evening to give mom (or dad) a break from the kitchen, Fresh Choice gets the nod from Weekly readers as the top family restaurant for the second year in a row and getting 43 votes, beating out Hobee's (32 votes) and the Good Earth (23 votes). With row upon row of kid-friendly nourishment, from Jell-O cubes to pizza, blueberry muffins to chicken soup, Fresh Choice offers something for even the pickiest little palate. And between pasta with pesto and Caesar salad, there's bound to be something to satisfy the bigger stomachs in the family as well.
Fresh Choice, 379 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-6995
HOT AND SPICY FOOD
For the second year in a row, Jing Jing, the Chinese restaurant where eyes have been known to water just upon entering the establishment, captures the hot prize. One has to wonder, after a bowl of their hot and sour soup, why they even bother with the "sour" in the name. The kung pao chicken, chock full of peanuts, is another fiery favorite here. Ask for lots of water, bring something to mop that brow, and settle in for some of the spiciest culinary sensations this side of the Szechwan province. Or ask for one of their milder alternatives. There's plenty here, even for non-chili-heads. Jing Jing won with 50 votes, beating out the Mango Cafe with 19 votes and the Ginger Club with 12 votes.
Jing Jing, 443 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 328-6885.
GROCERY STORE and PLACE TO BUY HEALTH FOOD and
ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS STORE
Health conscious residents have a lot of choices for finding good food, but for the fifth year in a row Whole Foods Market gets the nod from Weekly readers as the best place to buy health food. Whole Foods also scored a triple win this year, also capturing the best grocery store and environmentally conscious store categories. The market's aisles are filled with freshly milled unbleached flour, millet, barley and other grains, and bulk dispensers containing fresh olive oil and tamari. The vitamin and herb sections are stocked with a gold mine of ginseng, rose hips and multiple brands of vitamins and minerals. This is a combination grocery store, deli, bakery, health food store, salad bar and place to sit and eat lunch. Whole Foods offers a broad selection of organic foods, from bananas to frozen macaroni and cheese dinners made with all natural ingredients. If you have a question, the friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff is at your service. Organically grown produce from local farms, recycled paper products, biodegradable detergents, hormone, steroid and antibiotic-free meat and lots of recycle bins in front of the store--is it any wonder our readers also chose Whole Foods Market as the best environmentally conscious store? As part of its health and civic-mindedness, the store offers many services such as lectures on health issues and free pamphlets on topics such as vitamins, recycling and sports nutrition. For diversity, there is Zen party mix, papaya spears, and Guatamala Antigua coffee. Store hours are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Whole Foods won best grocery store with 101 votes while Draeger's received 94 votes and Piazza's Fine Foods received 45 votes. In the health food category, Whole Foods received 159 votes to 73 for Country Sun and eight for Millie Stone's Market. In the environmentally conscious store category, Whole Foods received 43 votes, compared to 20 for Earthsake and 13 for Country Sun.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., 326-8676
ICE CREAM/FROZEN YOGURT
Double Rainbow moved up one notch from last year to regain its 1994 ranking as the top ice cream/frozen yogurt place in town. Whether it's a single scoop of a traditional favorite like chocolate or strawberry, or a more elaborate mixture such as cappuccino chocolate crunch or strawberry kiwi sorbet, it can be found at Double Rainbow. There are also coffee drinks and other desserts available at the cafe. Double Rainbow's selection of gourmet ice creams and other goodies pulled in 61 votes, knocking last year's winner, Baskin-Robbins (with 48 votes), down to second. Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream store came in third with 35 votes.
Double Rainbow Gourmet Ice Cream and Dessert Cafe, 520 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 321-7466.
The exotic dishes of Janta Indian Cuisine, such as shrimp biryani and rice pilaf with shrimp and cashew nuts, helped the restaurant to win this year's reader's poll. The tiny restaurant, which received 53 votes, cooks everything from scratch--even the lowly garbanzo bean is roasted before it's boiled. Five-time winner Gaylord Indian Restaurant came in second with 34 votes, while Darbar ranked third with 17 votes. Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Avenue, Palo Alto, 462-5903.
Once again, for a luxurious pasta dinner in an authentic Italian setting, Weekly readers recommend Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana. Find out why when you munch some crusty bread dipped in olive oil, sip a glass of chianti and watch the chefs prepare your meal right in front of you at the counter. The restaurant, which received 62 votes, offers a fine selection of pizzas, as well as oakwood-roasted meat and pastas such as linguini and cannelloni. The restaurant's tasteful interior includes mirrored walls and an authentic Italian bar. Osteria was not far behind Il Fornaio, in second place, with 56 votes. And Palermo came in third with 29 votes.
Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888
Plain and simple, Juice Club at Town and Country Village, dominates this category. Juice Club scored 138 votes compared to 20 for second place winner Whole Foods and 17 for Jammin' Juice. This is the second year that we have tallied votes for this category, and Juice Club stomped on the competition last year in equally as impressive a fashion. This juice bar, which started in San Luis Obispo in 1990, has become a mega-popular with people looking for healthy drinks such as the orange, strawberry and banana-filled Ironman/Woman and the guava and pineapple laced Guava Gulp. Customers are also given their choice of two additional ingredients to add to their smoothie, including protein powder, ginseng, calcium bee pollen, oat bran, wheat germ and a nutrient powder known as the "Juice Boost." Fresh orange and carrot juices are also available, as well as healthy snacks, health books and juicers.
Juice Club, 69 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto 325-2582. Note: The Juice Club is closed due to fire damage. It is scheduled to reopen in about three months.
For the sixth straight year, Chevy's, just across the Atherton border in Redwood City, has won the Mexican restaurant category. Obviously, the chain's patented "Fresh Mex" style of food is very popular with our readers, scoring more than twice as many votes as the next most popular (according to our readers) Mexican restaurant, Andale Taqueria. Chevy's received 62 votes, while Andale Taqueria had 27 and third place winner Compadres hit 21. Chevy's is known for its steaming plates of enchiladas, sizzling fajitas, super-fresh tortillas and addictive salsa.
Chevy's, 2907 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 367-6892
There's something comforting and inviting about the 1-year-old Evvia Estiatorio in downtown Palo Alto. Big sturdy tables, pretty glass bottles lining the walls, and a homey fireplace are conducive to long, lingering dinners with large groups of friends. This is no rough-around-the-edges tavern, though. Evvia is as adventuresome as any Silicon Valley start-up, with its Greek-flavored dishes loosely inspired by California's fresh cuisine. Partners George and Judy Marcus and Kenny and Angie Frangadakis gathered their families' recipes from the islands of Samos, Crete and, of course, Evvia. They put them in the hands of their chef and told him to be creative. The result is feta and filo, grilled fish and lamb chops, pizza-like "pita," and even Greek-flavored pasta. Don't forget to make that reservation. Evvia won with 42 votes. Coming in second place, with 23 votes, was the colorful, eclectic World Wrapps, and taking third place, with 21 votes, was Mike's Cafe Etc.
Evvia Estiatorio, 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-0983.
For dining al fresco, look no further than the Empire Tap Room. A custom-made mahogany bar runs the length of the dining room/bar. Eight oversized booths line the other wall, creating a convivial setup. There are 16 beers on tap, including such rarities as Pilsner Urquell and Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout. But the real treasure of the Empire is its outdoor patio, a gracious dining room that happens to lack a ceiling. Well-spaced tables are covered with white linens in an atmosphere that is subdued but made friendly by a trickling fountain and rustling greenery. The menu offers a nice cross-section of California homestyle cuisine: meats from an open grill, side dishes like sauteed spinach, mashed potatoes, fries with garlic mayonnaise and roasted new potatoes, fresh fish and such appetizer staples as steamed mussels, carpaccio, grilled polenta and fried calamari. The Empire Tap Room took this category with a whopping 91 votes. In a distant second place, with 11 votes, was Il Fornaio, and in third place, with 10 votes, was MacArthur Park.
Empire Grill and Tap Room, 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 321-3030.
Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market rolls over the competition once again in the Best Pasta category, with 58 votes. One reason is the giant, well-stocked refrigerator displaying fresh sauces and Florentine's homemade pasta, all packaged nicely and ready to take home. This San Jose-based chain, owned by the Del Monaco family, serves up all the traditional Northern Italian pasta dishes, pizza with toppings like prosciutto and fresh basil, and a great bag lunch special for $5-$5.75, depending on the sauce you choose. When dining in the restaurant, try not to fill up on the divine garlic bread and creamy butter-cheese spread. You'll need to save room for the hearty portions--and maybe a tastefully presented tiramisu. Finishing second in the pasta category was Osteria, with 41 votes, and Il Fornaio, with 29 votes came in third.
Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market, 560 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-5295
Only the chef knows for sure what goes into the rich crust and special spices of the pizzas at Applewood Inn, but that's good enough to make it the most popular pizzeria for six years in a row. Customers can get their pizza with exotic toppings or the traditional kind. Applewood has made its deservedly excellent reputation by creating unusual variations of pizza for adult tastes. Creative minds have come up with sophisticated flavor combinations with an international edge, such as the Nice (spinach, ricotta, red onions and tomatoes), the Dallas (chili sauce, barbecue beef, chilies and red peppers), and the Athens (marinated eggplant, feta, sun-dried tomatoes and capers). None of this deters from the bottom line of an excellent pizza: a terrific, chewy crust, cheese thick enough to pull off in strings and a flavorful tomato sauce. Applewood won with a whopping 105 votes. In a distant second, with 49 votes, was Pizz'a Chicago, and Round Table came in third with 40 votes.
Applewood Inn, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-3486
PLACE TO BUY FRESH FISH
Whether it's fresh, cold crab legs or barbecued ahi tuna, there's nothing like really good fish. Luckily, living near the ocean, there is no shortage of places to find it around here. Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park tops the list again this year with 121 votes. The El Camino Real market sells more than 40 varieties of fresh local fish. Founded 67 years ago by Bill Cook, the market specializes in fresh fish bought from local fishermen. Whether you are planning to poach salmon, deep-fry calamari or toss a crab salad, our readers say Cook's is the place to go. In second place with 42 votes was The Fish Market in Palo Alto, while Whole Foods Market in Palo Alto was third with 28 votes.
Cook's Seafood Market, 751 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-2231
PLACE TO BUY FRESH PRODUCE
When you need Blue Lake beans to go with your barbecued turkey, arugula for your tossed green salad, or perfectly tart green apples for a scrumptious pie, the only place to go is Monterey Market, which once again this year placed first with 111 votes. The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables in this Stanford Shopping Center version of an open-air market will add color to your table and health to your diet. The weekend Palo Alto Farmer's Market garnered a respectable second place with 77 votes, and Whole Foods Market, which sells an array of organic fruits and vegetables, got 53 votes.
Monterey Market, 399 Stanford Shopping Center, 329-1340
PLACE TO BUY MEAT
Whether it's their special marinated "Fred's Steak," or piles of fresh shrimp, Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry has the winning combination of quality and friendly, helpful service. Besides the wide array of meats, they also have a delectable selection of spices, dressings and gourmet dishes like Thai chicken salad and fresh bread. This upscale meat market, which got 103 votes, is far from a typical butcher shop, with freshly cooked turkey, chicken, ribs and sausages available daily. Draeger's in Menlo Park again finished second with 52 votes, while JJ&F Market in Palo Alto was third with 31 votes.
Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, 395 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-6328
PLACE TO BUY WINE
Local wine connoisseurs seem to agree that whether it's a bottle of 1990 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon or the perfect chardonnay, the place to go is Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, which got 109 votes. Beltramo's, founded in 1882, has 4,000 different selections of wine, a tasting room and in-house wine consultants. Finishing second was Trader Joe's with 53 votes, while third place went to Cost Plus, with 23 votes.
Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-2806
RESTAURANT FOR A FIRST DATE
If you're trying to impress that special someone, our readers agree that the best place to take a first date is L'Amie Donia. This French bistro is a great place to get a chance to know each other, while eating French country fare. Menus change seasonally, and feature such delights as coq au vin, chicken stewed in cabernet with mushrooms, pearl onions and potatoes, or rabbit with whole grain mustard.
Share a bottle of French or local wine, and end your evening with a perfect chocolate mousse or apple tart. L'Amie Donia got 11 votes from readers, edging out Left at Albuquerque and Osteria, which each got 8 votes, and Macarthur Park which got 7 votes.
L'Amie Donia, 530 Bryant St., Palo Alto, 323-7614
RESTAURANT WITH THE BEST SERVICE
Wouldn't it be nice to sit down for a meal in a restaurant and not have a waiter coming by every five minutes to ask if everything is OK, especially when you have your mouth full? Well, Dal Baffo European Cuisine in Menlo Park offers just such a courteous atmosphere with old-fashioned service. Dal Baffo came in first in this category, with 14 votes. Apart from exquisite continental cuisine and different daily specials, Dal Baffo boasts a spacious dining room and tableside service. The tables are set a good distance apart so it is possible to have an intimate conversation without hearing the conversation going on at the next table. Instead of wallpaper, Dal Baffo has Laura Ashley prints on the wall with padding behind them to absorb noise. This restaurant schedules seatings at each table of between two and two and a half hours apart so guests can take time to enjoy their meal. The dinner and lunch menus are laden with Bolognese, Milanese and Florentine delights. Food is a la carte, so you can construct the meal you want. Entrees include seafood, pasta, fowl, veal and red meat, arranged in dishes originating from various Italian provinces. There also is an extensive wine list. Dal Baffo is not for the cheap or fast-food crowd; a three-course dinner, wine and a tip will come out to about $125 for two, but for sophisticated dining, it's the place to go. Reservations are required. A close second for best service, with 13 votes, was Maddelena's and in third place, with 10 votes, was Chantilly II.
Dal Baffo European Cuisine, 878 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 325-1588
So you're tired of tuna sandwiches and fish sticks? Well, what about New Zealand's John Dory fish, or the Hawaiian native Opakapaka? When it comes to seafood, Weekly readers know to go to The Fish Market in Palo Alto. For the fifth year in a row--this time with 106 votes--The Fish Market was chosen as the place to go for seafood. This is so not only because the restaurant serves mahi mahi, trout, tropical fish, clams, mussels and oysters, but also because it offers rarer varieties other restaurants don't bother with. Standard fare is a fish entree with rice or potatoes, along with appetizers ranging from white clam chowder or several different seafood cocktails. With 40 votes, Scott's Seafood came in second, and Cook's finished in third place, with 22 votes.
The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-9188
SPECIAL OCCASION RESTAURANT
The shell of a vintage building decked out in brasserie style is pleasant place to enjoy a wonderful meal and a glass or two of fine Napa wine. Stars Palo Alto, serves up new-American meals at reasonable prices. Choices change every two weeks or so, but always reflect a blend of classic French technique with the freshest California ingredients. Star's offers a wide range of selections, usually including fillet mignon, rack of lamb and salmon for that special occasion meal. With an outdoor setting and a Mediterranean feel, Stars sets no dress code, but sees patrons with styles ranging from formal tuxedos to the "casual chicness" of blue jeans. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Be sure to call for reservations. With 45 votes, Star's was the top choice of Palo Alto Weekly readers for special occasion restaurant. Taking second, with 29 votes, was Chez TJ. A close third, with 27 votes, was Chantilly II.
Stars Palo Alto, 265 Lytton Ave., 321-4466
Hey, we can't all be health-conscious. Somebody has to eat the steak. And according to Weekly readers, the best place to eat a steak, for the third year in a row, is the Sundance Mine Company. Sundance has attracted a loyal following by serving a small but well-chosen array of entrees that are centered on, but not limited to, a passion for beef. The restaurant won again because the chefs buy only properly aged Angus beef and then hand-cut it at the restaurant. The mine company also features fresh-daily seafood, shellfish, chicken and three kinds of pasta. Sundance received 70 votes, followed by MacArthur Park with 13 votes and Schaub's, with four.
Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798
With a new, larger location and an even more festive atmosphere than before, Miyake is once again on top of the rice heap. Its 63 votes this year were more than enough to overcome its usually close rival Fuki-Sushi, which received 41 votes. Both have great sushi--the difference is atmosphere. Miyake attracts a younger crowd to its loud, lively University Avenue location, now complete with flashing disco lights and accompanying disco music whenever large groups indulge in saki bombs. Fuki-Sushi has a more sedate, classical Japanese atmosphere. Though Miyake now has a much larger dining space than it used to, waitlists for dinner still run a mile long. Toshi's Sushiya came in third.
Miyake Restaurant, 140 University Ave., Palo Alto, 323-9449
Try the lunch special at Siam Garden starting at $5.95, and you will know instantly why it is the area's perennial favorite Thai restaurant. Siam Garden won here with 47 votes. Appetizers feature curry-laden chicken, pork or beef, as well as scads of vegetarian dishes. With reasonable prices--the jumbo prawns top the menu at $11.95--and the combination of various quality menu choices, Siam Garden is consistently an award-winner. Thai City came in second with 37 votes, and Bangkok Cuisine finished third with 24 votes.
Siam Garden, 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 853-1143
Burger King may have a salad bar, Carl's Jr. makes baked potatoes and McDonald's offers salads, but our readers still prefer their vegetarian food from a place that has a little more history in the field of healthy food. For the fourth year in a row, Weekly readers chose Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery for its vegetarian fare. The restaurant, which won with 34 votes, certainly has endured: Good Earth has been blending smoothies and stir-frying vegetables in Palo Alto since 1976. Besides ubiquitous salads, vegetarians can sup on exotic vegetarian mixtures like polenta and black beans, magic eggplant, Guatemalan rice and tofu and walnut mushroom au gratin. The Good Earth is also home to the fragrant Good Earth cinnamon tea. Once again, Fresh Choice was second in the voting with 16 votes, and Hobee's took third with 12 votes.
Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery, 185 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9449
If you are a person who likes variety in an antique store, Antiques Unlimited is the place to go, according to readers who voted it first place this year with 17 votes. Antiques Unlimited offers an eclectic blend of high-quality merchandise, ranging from antique jewelry to early American pine furniture to vintage-clothing to old Stanford pendants. You'll even find a large boat here. Adele's Antiques and The Antique Emporium tied for second place with seven votes each, and Maria's Antiques in Los Altos came in third with five.
Antiques Unlimited, 542 High St., Palo Alto, 328-3748
If you're looking for a bear to put over your fireplace or a moose to mount on the wall of your den, chances are Tom Mangelsen has already shot it and you can get it--in photographic form, of course--at Images of Nature. Images of Nature, a chain gallery, specializes in limited-edition prints of Mangelsen's nature photography. It's worth a look just to see the playful side of notoriously savage wildlife. Images won with 11 votes. Z Galerie and The Photographer's Gallery placed second with nine votes each, followed by the Palo Alto Cultural Center with seven. Images of Nature, 227 University Ave., 325-4387
With 8,000 square feet of classy, high-ceilinged space, Wheelsmith bears little resemblance to the tiny garage on Alma Street where owner-brothers Ric and John Hjirtberg built wheels and repaired bikes 20 years ago. Now Wheelsmith carries more spandex than a girdle shop and has TV screens that show videos of races. But some things never change: Wheelsmith still builds wheels, does repairs, displays groovy old bikes and plays KJAZ on the radio. The user-friendly store is an upstairs-downstairs affair, with a workshop and parts sold downstairs and accessories, videos, bikes and magazines sold upstairs. "At least we don't have a talking diorama," said co-owner Ric Hjirtberg. Wheelsmith took an easy victory with 64 votes. Palo Alto Bicycles was runner-up with 31 votes, and Garner's Pro-Bicycle Shop took a close third with 30.
Wheelsmith, 201 Hamilton St., Palo Alto, 324-0510
BOOKSTORE and BEST PLACE TO BLOW YOUR LAST $20
Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park once again has won the best bookstore category, with an overwhelming 213 votes, and Printers Inc. Bookstore in Palo Alto has once again finished second, with a solid 81 votes. Both stores feature knowledgeable staffs, great depths in the various popular categories and personalized service. Both also feature extensive programs of readings and book signings each month, so you can meet your favorite authors in person. Plus, both stores sell newspapers and magazines from around the country and the world. Kepler's opens at 9 every morning until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Stacey's Bookstore in downtown Palo Alto once again finished third for best bookstore, with 44 votes.
In the category of best place to blow your last $20, Kepler's eked out a narrow win over its competitors--88 stores were named in all. Coming in second, by one vote, was Tower Records, followed by Printer's Inc. in third place, just one vote behind Tower.
Keplers's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-4321
Finding a good car mechanic is always something that people have strong feelings about. There are a surprising number of choices locally, but Ole's Car Shop remains the readers' favorite. Personal service--they'll remember your name and your car's quirks--and a convenient downtown location are just two of the attractions at Ole's. Ole's won this category with 25 votes. Say Ray Foreign Auto Service in Palo Alto tied with Honda Small Car Shop for second with 10 votes each, and Bill Young's Auto Repair and Tires came in third with eight votes.
Ole's Car Shop, 801 Alma St., Palo Alto, 328-6537
CHILD CARE CENTER
The favorite among local parents this year was Palo Alto Community Child Care (PACCC), a collection of fourteen full- and part-time programs for children 2 months to 12 years. Specific centers that got votes included Downtown Children's Center, College Terrace Center and Sojourner Truth Child Development Center. PACCC as a whole garnered seven votes. The Creative Children's Learning Center took second place with five votes, and the Stanford Arboretum Children's Center and Peninsula Day Care Center tied for third place with four votes apiece.
Palo Alto Community Child Care, 3990 Ventura Court, Palo Alto, 493-2361
If your clothes are stained and you don't trust yourself to clean them up, our readers say the best place to go is Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers. Hey, that's what our readers have said for the last couple of years, too. And Delia's does more than clean and launder ordinary clothing. The dry cleaner, which was founded in San Jose in 1969 and has 44 stores between there and here, also does leather, suede and, of course, draperies. And if you've lost (or gained) a little weight around the beltline, the tailors and seamstresses at Delia's also do alterations. Delia's won with 30 votes. New vote-getters this year are Stanford Cleaners, with 16 votes, and Charleston Cleaners, which came in third with 14 votes.
Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 321-9190; 2103 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 323-9190; and 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 321-7551
There is nothing like fresh flowers to bring the outside in, and according to our readers, there is no florist around quite like Stapleton Florist, in its narrow, pink building on Waverley Street. From round-eyed cosmos to irises, lilies, roses and fragrant stock, you can find the perfect arrangement. Buckets brim over with colorful blossoms, and the hanging chalkboard tells you names and prices. Just hand your choice to Mrs. Stapleton or her assistant, who will surely wrap it in tissue and a matching colored ribbon. After the whopping 80 votes garnered by Stapleton Florist, The Palo Alto Farmer's Market finished in second place with 26 votes and Stanford Florists came in third with 21 votes.
Stapleton Florist, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 321-5390
Whether it's your child's fingerpainting masterpiece or an original O'Keefe, our readers say they prefer to take their art to University Art Center for framing. In business since 1947, the store, with locations in San Francisco and San Jose, is known for its knowledgeable staff, who can help you choose from the seemingly infinite frame and mat styles available. Don't forget to browse through the rest of the store, including the Corner Gallery next door. Switching spots this year for second and third places were, respectively, Richard Sumner Frames and Prints with 19 votes and the Great American Framing Shop with 8 votes.
University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 328-3500
The high-quality furniture at Flegel's Home Furnishings keeps Weekly readers coming back to this store for big purchases, as well as annually voting it No. 1 in the area. Flegel's has expanded to serve all of California and even some spots overseas, but judging by its 33 votes, it has not lost any of its popularity in Palo Alto. Not only do the employees take pride in delivering the goods quickly, but each salesperson is a certified interior designer who can give advice on which coffee tables go with which sofa. With 22 votes, the trendy Z Gallerie moved up to second place from a third place showing last year, while Expressions Custom Furniture took third with 11 votes.
Flegel's Home Furnishings, 870 Santa Cruz Ave. Menlo Park, 326-9661
As evidenced by its crowded parking lot every weekend, Woolworth Nursery is a popular spot to get everything from trellises to trees, aphid spray to annuals. Tops for the third year in a row, the nursery offers a large selection of plants, especially unusual perennial varieties, at low prices. It received twice the number of votes (98) as the runner-up, the upscale Smith & Hawken store. The catalog spinoff store mainly deals in tools, garden ornaments, books, and clothing. In third place out of the 23 businesses nominated, readers chose Menlo Park's Roger Reynolds Nursery, an independent nursery with instructive sales people and orchid houseplants.
Woolworth Nursery, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, 493-5136
Once again, Yosh for Hair is the favorite of Weekly readers, if, um, only by a hair. Supercuts--where all haircuts are only $9--was just a snip behind with 33 votes to Yosh's 34. At Yosh, haircuts cost between $39 and $62, but if you only trust your 'do to Yosh himself, it will cost $85. The tony Palo Alto salon puts its "hair designers" through a rigorous training program before they consult and cut hair for full-paying customers. The color specialists who do tints and highlights also go through a training program. If you've got a barbershop budget, sign up for a $12 haircut by the trainees. Call Thursday mornings to sign up for the following Wednesday's class. And on bad hair days, anyone can drop by for advice. Among the 87 shops nominated, Hair International in the Stanford Shopping Center and the President Barbershop on University Avenue tied for third place with 10 votes apiece.
Yosh for Hair, 240 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-4067
No contest. Palo Alto Hardware, is a two-by-four above the rest in our readers' do-it-yourself dreams, nailing down three times as many votes as its closest competitor. Since opening near downtown in January 1993, the store, an independently-owned affiliate of Ace Hardware, has built a reputation for courteous, small-town service. And, like the general stores of the past, it carries a wide selection of goods, from PVC piping to cooking ware. After Palo Alto Hardware's 141 votes, Menlo Park Hardware Co. on Santa Cruz Avenue was second (45 votes), while Orchard Supply Hardware in Redwood City came in third (35 votes). Seventeen others also received votes.
Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma St., Palo Alto, 327-7222
Mediterranean architecture, 61 guest rooms overlooking a flower-filled courtyard and excellent service are just some of the reasons the Garden Court Hotel came in first place with our readers. Rooms range from $200 to $425, depending on if you desire a courtyard view, fireplace, Jacuzzi, or perhaps the penthouse suite. All include VCRs with complimentary videos and popcorn, terry cloth robes, down pillows and comforters, a Wall Street Journal and local newspaper delivered to your door every morning, and room service available 24 hours a day. The hotel also offers catering by Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana, Palo Alto's famous award-winning restaurant in the same building. Out of the 18 others nominated, readers chose the Stanford Park Hotel for second place, and downtown's Cardinal Hotel for third.
Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 322-9000
The zenith of local music stores is once again Tower Records, according to our readers, who gave it 89 votes. The Mountain View mecca serves as a teen hangout, concert ticket outlet, and warehouse for musical tastes spanning the gamut from classical and jazz to ear-splitting rock. There's also a video department, a healthy selection of CD singles and a bookstore next door. Best of all, if you feel compelled to go out and buy a Smashing Pumpkins CD late on Christmas Eve, you can head on over to Tower. The store is open from 9 a.m. to midnight every day of the year. Hear Music came in second with 35 votes. The Stanford Shopping Center store lets you listen before you buy. Melody Lane on Ramona Street came in third with 21 votes.
Tower Records, 630 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, 941-7900
Even though its a short trek to REI, Weekly readers think it's the best place in the area to buy backpacking gear, camping food, rugged clothing, maps, kayaks, and climbing, biking, skiing gear. Recreational Equipment Inc., with outposts in Cupertino and San Carlos, received 74 votes. The locally owned Pacific Mountaineer in Palo Alto garnered 33 votes. With 17 votes, the North Face in Palo Alto swapped positions with Pacific Mountaineer compared to last year.
REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), 20640 Homestead Road, Cupertino, (408) 446-1991; and 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, 508-2330
Longs Drug Store chain has become firmly entrenched as the place of choice for buying potions and lotions and prescriptions to tend to ailments. With 58 votes, Longs won this category for the third year in a row. Town & Country Pharmacy received a loyal 29 votes, even though the pharmacy closed its doors June 7. Walgreen Drug Store, with outlets in Palo Alto and Mountain View, got 23 votes to win third place.
Longs Drug Store, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1667
Photo Time at the Stanford Shopping Center leapt from third place to first place this year with 55 votes. The store across from Crate & Barrel offers one-hour photo processing, reprints, enlargements, poster prints, slides, overheads from prints, a portrait studio, meeting presentation services and many other services. Last year's winner, Longs Drug Store, came in a close second with 46 votes. Venerable Keeble and Shuchat on California Avenue received 32 votes.
Photo Time, 138 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 326-7687
PLACE TO BUY GREETING CARDS
For creative cards and stationery, Papyrus is still the most popular with our readers. Located near the clock tower at Stanford Shopping Center, the 6-year-old store sells paper in a plethora of designs, shapes and forms for a variety of occasions. The store, which won 35 votes, also offers wrapping paper and wedding invitations. McWhorter's Stationers, with a branch in Menlo Park, took second with 26 votes. Letter Perfect in Palo Alto garnered 22 votes.
Papyrus, 365 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 328-7016
PLACE TO BUY PETS
This year, voters declared that a visit to Palo Alto Animal Services (the animal shelter) is the best way to find yourself a new furry friend. The cost is minimal ($30 for a male cat, $40 for a female cat; $48 for a male dog and $54 for a female), and the animal even comes to you spayed or neutered. Of course prospective pet-owners also get the satisfaction of knowing they're making a little dent in the sad statistics of pet overpopulation. Palo Alto Animal Services not only screens all animals to make sure they're healthy and sociable, but also screens potential owners to make sure they're able to give the necessary time, money and love to the animal. In addition to dogs and cats, Animal Services also adopts out rabbits, birds, reptiles and an assortment of other pets. In second place was Monette Pet Shop, under new management on California Avenue, and in third was the Palo Alto Humane Society, which adopts out cats, and also acts as an information and referral service.
Palo Alto Animal Services, 3281 E. Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, 329-2433
Need a good warm coat that doesn't come with 48-month financing? Want a television but don't want something that requires a high-beamed ceiling and a security guard? One doesn't need to look further than the Goodwill Industries outlet in Palo Alto, voted by our readers for the fifth year in a row as the area's best thrift store. The prices are reasonable, the racks are well-organized and the merchandise changes almost daily. So if you don't find that tweed coat this week, come back tomorrow. Goodwill received 35 votes. Runners-up in this category were Afterwards in Menlo Park with 15 votes and Bargain Box in Palo Alto with 13.
Goodwill Industries, 4085 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-1416
When it comes to shoe repair, you want a place that wears well. So readers knew what they were doing when they decided their top choice was Paul's European Cobblery a locally owned and family-operated company serving the Palo Alto area since 1943. Paul's has three local shops, all of which are known for their quick and friendly service. Shoes are repaired while you wait. Paul's also offers a selection of Swedish clogs and Negev-Sabra footwear and many footwear accessories. Paul's received 73 votes while Midtown Shoe Repair received 37. The Cobbler Shop at Stanford Shopping Center was third with 19 votes.
Paul's European Cobblery, 410 California Ave., Palo Alto, 323-0409; 390 University Ave., entrance on Waverley Street, Palo Alto, 323-3045; and 993 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-6911.
STORE TO BROWSE IN
How about some organic catnip for $8? Or a colorful dog visor for $5.50? Or maybe a $600 weather vane? These are all to be found in Spirals Gallery in downtown Palo Alto, which for the fifth year in a row has won as Best Store to Browse In. Spirals, which received 45 votes, specializes in a variety of items, from decorative dishes to ornate glassware. All of it is artistic, and most of it is available at reasonable prices. Be sure to check out the Polly Frizzel clocks featuring a breakfast plate with two strips of bacon which serve as the clock's hands. This timely meal costs $150. Coming in second was Z Galerie, located on University Avenue in Palo Alto, with 38 votes. Third was Restoration Hardware, also on University Avenue, with 34 votes.
Spirals Gallery, 367 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1155
If it's a $21 Bill Clinton Halloween mask you need or a game of Chutes and Ladders, the readers' choice for the place to go is Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. This 65-year-old Palo Alto establishment offers everything from rubber rats for 59 cents to $8.49 Magic 8 Balls to a pair of Rollerblades. Remember Twister? You can still find the game here for $16.99. Sport and Toy received a whopping 102 votes this year. Coming in second this year was Toys R Us in Redwood City, with 29 votes, and Imaginarium, located in the Stanford Shopping Center, came in third with 21 votes.
Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 328-8555
It's the fifth time around as best travel agency for Bungey Travel Inc., a downtown institution since 1931. Bungey received more votes than the two runners up combined. The Bungey world view can zoom in on everything from deluxe steamer tours to Southeast Asia to the college student's tour of Europe on $4 a day (well, maybe not exactly $4). In second place was Sides Travel on Emerson Street in Palo Alto with 14 votes, and Small World Travel on El Camino in Palo Alto with seven votes.
Bungey Travel Inc., 116 University Ave., Palo Alto, 325-5686
The area is blessed with excellent bookstores, and that includes stores selling used books. This year, Bell's Bookstore with 49 votes, just managed to edge out last year's champ Know Knew Books by one vote. Bell's Bookstore has been in Palo Alto since 1935. With more than 100,000 titles, Bell's features an extensive selection of children's books, and is famous for its variety of gardening books. In third place was Wessex in Menlo Park, which garnered 15 votes.
Bell's Bookstore, 536 Emerson, Palo Alto, 323-7822
VIDEO STORE and FOREIGN VIDEOS
For the first time this year, the Weekly's "Best of" contest included a category for video rental stores. With more than half of the total vote Blockbuster Video won by a landslide. With locations all over the Bay Area, and two in Palo Alto, Blockbuster is a convenient place to rent your favorite movie. Midtown Video took second place with 31 votes. Videoscope finished third with 18. Blockbuster also won in the Best Foreign Videos category with 26 votes. Again, Videoscope came in second here with 16, and Midtown Video was third with 13.
Blockbuster Video, 4102 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 424-1362, or 102 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-7582
YMCA Fitness Centers are the readers' choice for the best workout in Palo Alto. Whether you're into racquetball at the Page Mill Road center or swimming in the new pool at the Ross Road Y, they both offer free weights, weight machines and various aerobics and occasional yoga classes as well as sauna and Jacuzzi for unwinding afterward. A $150 initiation and $48 monthly fee ($46 at Ross) will get you the run of the place, so get out and get fit. The Y won with 49 votes. Last year's winner, Reach Fitness, placed second with 35, and the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center placed third with 13.
YMCA, 755 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, 858-0661, or 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, 494-1883
What's the most impressive building to look at around here? In the second year for this category, Stanford Memorial Church was the clear winner, with the Main Quad that surrounds it in second place. The non-sectarian Protestant church, at the literal heart of the campus, is impressive from a distance and even more majestic from inside. The church was almost destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and the 80-foot spire it had then fell into the church. It was rebuilt without the tower, only to suffer significant damage again in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The church was reopened in 1992 after $10 million of repair work and strengthening. In second place was the Stanford Theatre with 14 votes, and in third was the Stanford University campus as a whole, with 10 votes.
Stanford Memorial Church, Main Quad, Stanford campus
Music and food, that's the winning combination for our readers, who selected Palo Alto's Twilight Concert Series as the area's best free entertainment. Run by the Palo Alto Recreation Department, the eight summer concerts showcase a variety of different types of music, from children's performers to blues to '50s bee-bop and country fiddle. Concerts are held at different parks around the city. A very close second for free entertainment was people-watching on University Avenue (23 votes, compared to 24 for the Twilight sereis), and third place, and 20 votes, went to the free Brown Bag concerts at noon Thursdays at Cogswell Plaza.
City of Palo Alto Twilight Concert Series, Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. in various parks in the city, 329-2426
She's got the pipes; he's got the arm; he takes the votes (26 to her 13). Once again football superstar Joe Montana beat out singer-pacifist Joan Baez as local celebrity we would most like to meet. Even if he can't sing, we have to admit the guy has charm, an arm and looks good mighty good in his underwear. That may account for why Baez topped that other 49er quarterback, Steve Young, in the celebrity sweeps. So far, we've not seen Young in any underwear ads or on "The David Letterman Show" skateboarding down the crookedest street in the world. That may explain why only nine people voted for Young.
Sorry, we can't give you their addresses or phone numbers.
PLACE TO HAVE A WEDDING RECEPTION
A gracious mansion set amid turn-of-the-century gardens--that's the kind of place our readers want to retreat to after exchanging vows. In Palo Alto, there is only one place that fits that description: the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center at 1431 Waverley Street, which won with 35 votes. The house and grounds, built in 1902, were left to the city by Elizabeth F. Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble fame). The fully restored garden is built around thematic "rooms"--a formal rose garden, a wisteria alley, even a clock-golf circle. Wedding receptions cost $850 and include the services of the center's wedding coordinator. Time is limited to eight hours and 50 people, although GGC allows parties of 75-people twice a month. Of course, nothing this good comes without a few restrictions: Music must be live and acoustic, and no hard liquor is allowed. The Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto came in second with 15 votes, while Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton ranked third with nine.
Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 329-1356
PLACE TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC
Is it the price of admission--basically a cup of coffee--that garnered 19 votes for cozy St. Michael's Alley (compared to Shoreline Amphitheater's 12) as best place to hear live music? Or was it the steady stream of local musical talent? (Never forget that the Greatful Dead started there). In any case, St. Michael's offers a completely mixed bag of music nearly every night of the week, from Irish to country to blues to folk to jazz. If you want Kenny G, you'll have to go to Shoreline. (Of course, some Palo Altans can hear Shoreline right in their own living rooms). Third place went to Cafe Fino, a true jazz haunt downtown.
St. Michael's Alley, 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-2530
PLACE TO MEET SINGLES
People, people who like people. No, make that single people, single people who like to meet single people. Those people find the happiest hunting grounds at the Blue Chalk Cafe. That's probably because the Blue Chalk, which got 11 votes, isn't just a heavy bar scene. Those who don't feel comfortable with the drink-and-drop-lines stuff can play pool, darts or shuffleboard, or linger over the Blue Chalk's Southern fare. Second place went to Q Cafe & Billiards, with seven votes, while third place went to Gordon Biersch, which garnered five votes. A word of warning: All these places cater to a collegiate, post-collegiate crowd.
Blue Chalk Cafe, 630 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 326-1020
PLACE TO WRITE POETRY
For our readers, the muse does not strike in cafes, train stations, edifices of higher learning or streets where other poets have trod. Rather, our readers find it easiest to unleash their poetic tendencies in nature. The number one spot to compose is Foothills Park (21 votes), followed by the hill near the satellite dish (11 votes) and the Baylands (seven votes). With its oak and bay trees, views of the bay from Vista Hill, placid lake and 15 hiking trails, it's easy to see why this private city park brings out the poet in people.
Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer. $2 admission per car. Visitors must be Palo Alto residents.