Welcome to the Palo Alto Weekly’s 20th Annual Best Of Reader Poll. We are pleased to offer Midpeninsula consumers the results of this popular poll in a variety of useful formats:
- Winners Grid which lists current and past winners by category and includes Web links to many winners’ Web sites
- The Weekly editorial staff’s informative and lively summary of who our readers think is “Best”
Scroll down to see the whole list or use the links below.
| Restaurants/Food |
Fun Stuff |
Living in the Limelight
20th Annual readers' poll showcases new rising stars
To protect the Weekly from any performance-enhancing-drug scandal, we won't say this year's contest is like the "Best Of Palo Alto" on steroids. But we've made so many changes to the readers' poll this year that it seems super-sized.
For the 20th Anniversary of the contest, the Weekly completely retooled the poll for the information age, replacing paper ballots with online voting in all categories. Online voting helped with the accuracy of the count and more than doubled our vote count since last year.
To honor Palo Alto's perennial winners, we've created a special designation for 2005. These "Hall of Fame" businesses are those which have won the Best Of five years in a row. For three years, they'll rest in luxury in the Hall of Fame before reentering the fray. The designation honors their standing in the community while opening up the competition to up-and-comers in their category.
If you are an off-the-beaten-path type, the Weekly's editorial staff has generated a list of some of Palo Alto's best kept secrets, including hole-in-the wall eateries, parking spots and the best place to view the city.
For the analytical crowd, we've also generated a matrix of our past winners, from 1994-2004 for you to compare, contrast and discuss amongst yourselves.
But enough with the details. Now, it's time to step inside our diorama and bask in the limelight with this years winners.
Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels
With its photos of New York City and illustration of the Brooklyn Bridge hanging on the walls, Izzy's has the that's-a-real-Jewish-bagel flair -- with a twist. Besides serving up the lox, herring in cream sauce, and knishes, Izzy's sells "Uncle Luigi's" pizzas, a selection of salads, and the nontraditional cream cheese flavors of blueberry, Dijon garlic, and sun-dried tomato and basil. You can nosh on a chocolate chip cookie or muffin, too. Second place is a close tie between House of Bagels and Noah's Bagels.
470 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 329-0700.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Hobee's
When it comes to the Weekly's Best Of contest, the words "Hobee's" and "Hall of Fame" go together as naturally as the restaurant's trademark blueberry coffeecake, array of scrambles and omelets, oatmeal and thick French toast. The restaurant has held the "Best Breakfast" crown for more than a decade, making it the Babe Ruth of morning spots in the Palo Alto area. 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 327-4111; 2312 Central Expressway, Mountain View, (650) 968-6050.
From the genuinely friendly wait staff to the simple-but-good fare, having breakfast at Joanie's Café is kind of like going to your best friend's house. Regulars amble in and seat themselves, knowing that familiar waiters will stop by soon to say hello and take an order. With tasteful black-and-white photos from France lining the walls and Benny Goodman tooting his clarinet through the speakers, the California Avenue eatery exudes an easy, old-school charm. But ambiance alone doesn't make Joanie's popular; it's the food. The basic menu features pancakes, waffles, egg scrambles, omelets and the like, and the cooks excel at making the simple tasty. For variety, the specials offer up something different, like the mushroom, brie and green-onion scramble. With kids, businessmen and everybody in between hanging out, it's no wonder Joanie's came out on top of the breakfast bunch this year. 447 California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 326-6505.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Kirk's Steakburgers
Kirk's is famous for its steakburgers and is mobbed at noon by hungry students from nearby Palo Alto High School during the school year, although tables are usually available. The greatly expanded menu now includes chicken, sausage patties, fries, onion rings and salads, while the old Kirk's on California Avenue had just burgers and hotdogs. The burgers are still boss. 75 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 326-6159.
There's something comforting about watching the cooks at In-N-Out make an order of fries. Seeing a potato going through the slicer, into the vat, then into the bag reminds you that fries are made of potatoes. Whoever it is at the corporate office who gave the order to put that process on display at their restaurants is a genius. It flies in the face of the clandestine laboratories, mass-production tactics and world domination of In-N-Out's big name competitors. No super-sizing here. It's also helpful to know these burgers taste great. They say their meat is never frozen, and your burger doesn't hit the grill until you've ordered it. Can fast food be environmentally responsible? Can it taste great too? Palo Altans say, yes.
1159 N. Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View; Customer Service: (800)-786-1000; Corporate Office: (949) 509 6200.
The tranquil environment of Mandarin Gourmet suggests a dining experience a world apart from the clattering stir-fry joints of Chinatown USA. Distinctive in its sleekness -- and absence of red, paper lanterns -- the downtown Palo Alto restaurant features elegantly crafted horse and lion statues and large, contemporary Chinese brush paintings. As for the menu, there's a reason why venture capitalists and retirees alike frequent the Ramona Street destination. Pages and pages of dishes offer up a meal fit for an emperor. Favorites include tangerine chicken and garlicky eggplant, as well as a rice and noodle section with plenty to choose from. This is Mandarin Gourmet's second year in the No. 1 spot, but the 15-year-old restaurant can't rest on its laurels too long. In a tight race, competitors Jing Jing (runner up) and Su Hong were nipping at its heels.
420 Ramona St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-8898.
Peet's Coffee and Tea
Lab Journal, 8-10-05; 10 a.m.: Something strange happens to the subjects after their first exposure to the serum. Common reactions include accelerated speech patterns, accompanied by wider-than-normal smiling. A sense of heightened social activity pervades the testing area. Reports of increased productivity are confirmed, as are random outbursts of brainstorming and the spontaneous generation of ideas. Lab Journal, 8-17-05; 8:45 a.m.: After a week of testing, the subjects are increasingly irritable before the administering of the serum, and are lining up early to receive their daily dosage ... could be because we changed the formula midweek to a generic with the same molecular structure. Reaction should have been identical, but the subjects complained the new extract was weak and did not evoke a pleasant state of being. We are switching back to the original recipe, Peet's House Blend, without hesitation, as the subjects are becoming somewhat violent in its absence.
Peet's Coffee and Tea, 153 Homer Ave. Palo Alto, (650) 325-2091; Town & Country, 855 El Camino Real #77, Palo Alto, (650) 328-4771; Charleston Center, 3904 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 433-0500.
You can get a sugar high just walking into this shop. The Waverley-Street bakery has some of the best desserts in town, with some of the richest, moistest chocolate cake and enormous soft cookies. New this year: Lunch. The bake shop now serves a host of sandwiches on freshly-baked breads, and soups and salads. It's almost always full of people getting their fix or picking up a fancy dessert for a special occasion. Best of the lot is the carrot cake, smothered in a cream cheese frosting that would make a dentist wince. 550 Waverley St. Palo Alto, (650) 326-8485.
Dining with kids
Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill
If you have young children, you've doubtlessly endured countless hours of begging and pleading for Happy Meals replete with inexpensive plastic toys designed to promote would-be cinematic blockbusters. Despair no more. The Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill serves food that's sure to please young and old alike, cooked fresh on the premises using the finest ingredients. Hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches - talk about truly having it your way. And you can always top off a meal with one of their legendary milkshakes, pies and other sumptuous desserts. Who needs a plastic "Mr. Fantastic" toy anyway?
566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 323-3131; 2A Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, (650) 327-3141.
Is it the mystique of the Hawaiian shirts the employees wear, or is it the ship's bell that gets rung when you buy a gift certificate? Many shop here simply for the eclectic selection, which includes a wealth of imported foods and everything from Greek yogurt to grapefruit soda. There are many options for vegetarians, including vegan bread, soy milk in several flavors and everything tofu. Whole Foods Market was a close second.
590 Showers, Mountain View, CA 94040 (650) 917-1013. 720 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park CA 94025 (650) 323-2134.
Ice Cream Store
Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream
Cardamon, kulfi and ginger sound more like ingredients in an Indian dish, rather than ice cream. But at Ricky's Rather Rich Ice Cream these flavors pair with chocolate, vanilla, saffron and rose to create some unique and exotic concoctions. It's this ingenuity that has Palo Altans raving about the old-fashioned soda shop in Charleston Center. It has consistently received high marks from such publications as Gourmet Magazine, which mentioned it in 2002, and the online foodie site Epicurious, which named it one of the top 10 ice cream parlors in the country. Rick's uses a high amount of butterfat in its more than 400 recipes that include flavors like Computer Chip, chocolate-orange ice cream with big chocolate chunks, and White Chocolate Ginger. The small shop featuring 3-D cows on its walls was opened in 1958 by Rick Payne. Now under different ownership, it's maintained its popularity as proven by the hordes that crowd the benches and picnic tables outside on a warm evening.
3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 493-6553.
Darbar Indian Restaurant
Whether it's the day-glo orange exterior or the delectable and surprisingly affordable Indian cuisine, something keeps drawing Weekly readers back to Darbar. From the tangy-sweet mango lassi to the assortment of South and North Indian fare of the lunch buffet, every taste is just as good as the potato fritters served upon arrival. For the third year in a row, Darbar can proudly announce that it is a favorite among Palo Alto diners with a craving for tastes of the East. A little pricier, but still a close second, was Amber India in Mountain View.
129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650)321-6688.
Predictably, for the best deal in Palo Alto readers need to drive to Mountain View for In-N-Out's closest branch. A guilty pleasure that's easy on the wallet, this fast food joint offers only burgers, fries and drinks, keeping the decision simple -- this bargain or that one? Two Palo Alto options -- Mediterranean Wraps and Pluto's -- came in second and third, respectively, in a close race.
1159 N. Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View, (800) 786-1000.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Osteria
The online Italian dictionary may not contain a word for "overachiever," but if it did, that word might be pronounced as "Osteria." This favorite downtown ristorante enters the "Best of" Hall of Fame not with five straight wins to its name but six. Mama mia! Formally known as Osteria Cucina Toscana, its chefs specialize in classical Tuscan cuisine, including house-made pasta such as pappardelle Osteria, spinach raviolini, and linguine al pesto.247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-5700
Italy has contributed many fine things to the world -- Monica Bellucci, Parmalat milk, and the Fibbonacci numbers included. But greater even than the legacy of Cristoforo Columbo (as the Italians call him) is the lure of Italian cuisine. Whether you're a broke college student living off of Easy Mac, or a nascent Wolfgang Puck, all must give props to the mother of pasta. Weekly readers appreciate everything from ravioli to bruschetta at downtown Palo Alto's Il Fornaio, this year's Italian Restaurant winner.
Il Fornaio 520 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, (650) 853-3888.
The traditional atmosphere and cuisine of Fuki-Sushi has won the hearts of readers once again. For the third year in a row, Fuki-Sushi, said to be the Peninsula's first Japanese restaurant, has won "best," beating out five-time winner Miyake for the top spot. A seven-time first place winner, Fuki-Sushi offers atmosphere to match diners' moods: from elegant tatami rooms offering privacy to a lively sushi bar. Patrons can get everything from zosui, a traditional porridge of rice, egg and vegetables, to tempura.
4119 El Camino Real, (650) 494-9383.
Palo Alto Sol
For authentic Mexican fare, Weekly readers said California Avenue's Palo Alto Sol is the place to go. While lounging in the sidewalk dining area or inside near the large front windows, patrons can soak in the sun and enjoy the excellent menu selections, which come from the Mexican state of Puebla. Because the region was a French colony for a large parts of its history, the European influence can be noted in some of the entrees, especially in the wine and cream sauces. You can also enjoy the establishment's fine use of peppers.
408 California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-8840.
The conversation of locals drifts through your consciousness. You recognize the smell of fresh-made sandwiches wafting through the small shop. You stare out the window as machinery from the 800 High St. development promenades past. But it means nothing to you. You are, of course, awaiting the arrival of that vanilla malt you just ordered at the Peninsula Creamery, and until it arrives, nothing else matters. Sure it's a little bit off the beaten path, but you know it's worth it.
900 High Street, Palo Alto, (650) 323-3175.
The converted Woodside firehouse was always a favorite among diners, and now so is John Bentley's latest incarnation in Redwood City. With a menu that could please any palate, John Bentley's serves modern American cuisine with careful attention to fresh ingredients. It's similar to the original, but in a larger, more urban setting with private dining options and a full bar. Just remember to leave room for dessert. For a more casual evening out, Mike's CafÈ is quite a treat, coming in as a close second.
2991 Woodside Rd., Redwood City, (650) 851-4988 and 2915 El Camino Real, Redwood City, (650) 365-7777.
Although it originated in Italy, people of Palo Alto have embraced the act of pizza eating. Lunch, dinner, snack -- anytime seems suitable for munching the popular entrÈe. And Palo Altans agree that no place does it better than Applewood Inn. The Menlo Park-based restaurant has satisfied many hungry diners over the years. With unique specialty pizzas such as the Athens (marinated eggplant, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and green onions) and the Margherita (provolone, asiago, romano, garlic, fresh tomatoes and basil pesto), Applewood keeps eaters eager for more. The establishment also offers pastas (with alfredo, marinara or meat sauce), fresh salads (including baby spinach, Greek and Caesar) and even Hungarian Goulash.
1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 324-3486.
Whole Foods Market
When it comes to fresh produce, appearance is everything -- and no one excels at pyramids of perfectly stacked peaches like Whole Foods Market. At midday, store clerks busily re-organize rows of blueberry cartons and efficiently sweep up stray bits of mixed greens that have tumbled to the floor -- squeaky-clean Disneyland's got nothin' on the Organic Kingdom. Appearances aside, Weekly readers also seek variety, and from pluots to salsify roots, the store has a corner on that market, too. Shoppers can even sample before they buy, with open cartons of blackberries and slices of peaches beckoning at every turn. Want more? How about the nutritional value of rutabagas? Whole Foods' helpful signs list the carbs, protein and calories of each fruit and veggie, giving information-hungry shoppers plenty of -- yup, you got it -- food for thought.
774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676 and 1250 Jefferson Ave., Redwood City, (650) 367-1400.
Restaurant to Splurge
Mosharisia Brizola: mesquite-grilled, dry-aged rib eye steak with spicy greens & Evvia potatoes, $34.95. Need I say more? The category may be "where to splurge" but the ambience, food and discreet service smack of "romance" to many. On Valentine's Day, women were feted with a single, elegant long-stemmed rose. Sigh. That was even before the crispy, crunchy horiatiki, a classic Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, onion, olives and feta or the dolmathes, grape leaves stuffed with rice, currants and pine nuts, and the to-die-for lamb shank. Makes one want to think of many occasions to splurge.
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-0983.
St. Michael's Alley
Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Palo Alto, St. Michael's Alley offers New California cuisine in the elegance of a European bistro. Small, understated St. Mike's wooed readers for a first place win, beating out rivals Flea Street Café (second) and Bella Vista (third) in a close race. Couples can steal away for a romantic brunch, exchange furtive glances over an impromptu lunch, or celebrate a romantic anniversary while indulging their palates in what some critics have called "a foodie's paradise" at moderate prices.
806 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, (650) 326-2530.
Village Cheese House
Owner Richard Staehnke says he has felt the impact of proliferating Subway and Togo's sandwich shops, but you can't tell it from the taste of his Cheese House sandwiches -- which came out on top again this year for "Best Sandwich" in the Weekly's "Best of ..." poll. People head for the well-hidden, back-corner location in Palo Alto's Town & Country Village shopping center for the rich array of specialty cheeses and other goods in the well-packed store and deli. But the big lunch crowd that empties the racks by the front door come for the thick, double-decker sandwiches, exotic breads and Staehnke's secret sandwich spread, in the $5-$6 range. Despite its discreet location, this sandwich shop (a perennial Best of ... winner) has been the least-kept best secret in town for 45 years.
157 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto (650) 326-9251.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Fish Market
Founded in 1976 by the late Martin Simon of Palo Alto and two partners from Southern California, the Fish Market has dominated this category for the more than a decade. It's easy to see why. The restaurant, which eventually branched out into a chain, has long boasted good food at moderate prices served in a lively atmosphere. The Fish Market is definitely a quality "catch" for the Weekly's Hall of Fame. 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 493-9188
Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar
Tired of mindlessly devouring fish sticks on the couch while watching reruns of Reality TV's glory days? You need to get out more. You need a fresh start! Break the monotony with a trip to Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar. Their dedication to maintaining freshness and quality has kept customers coming back for more than 20 years. From their creamy clam chowder to USDA prime dry-aged steaks, the exquisite menu and all-American style have earned this seafood restaurant first in its category. Dinner selections range from $15-$40, and the professional staff and array of wine options make it worth every penny. Not interested in the romantic evening or business luncheon but still want to escape the home-on-the-couch scenario? A fully-stocked bar, with a number of specialized martinis awaits.
#1 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 323-1555.
Café Borrone boasts the perfect recipe for flying solo: big windows for people-watching, a laid-back atmosphere and a cheerful staff that won't make you feel lonely, even if you're alone. Stop by for a quick drink and maybe bump into a friend or spend hours lingering by yourself, working on the Great American Novel.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 327-0830.
You know, it's that place with the great warm coffee cake with melting butter on top. Hobee's restaurants in Palo Alto, at either end of town, is once again a "Best of ..." pick for Sunday brunch by Palo Alto Weekly readers and Hobee's fans. But their fare goes far beyond the blueberry coffee cake -- which goes cranberry for the holidays -- to include Hobee's traditional array of "California style" breakfasts, lunches and dinners that have been a Palo Alto hit for decades, Sunday or not. The brunch is worth the wait -- ask anyone awaiting a table on a Sunday morning. Hobee's still has it's travel-photo bulletin board, featuring photos of people in Hobee's T-shirts from around the world -- worth a free lunch or breakfast.
4424 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 493-7823 and 855 El Camino Real #67, Palo Alto, (650) 327-4111.
Siam Royal Authentic Thai
Siam Royal Authentic Thai is a mouthful to say, and according to our readers, it's pretty darn good for eating too. This small alcove of Thai cuisine is conveniently located on University Avenue, across the street from competing Thai eatery Krung Siam. The menu is authentic in the best way -- exploring savory little-known secrets (try coconut chicken soup) while avoiding the Thai delicacies that are little-known for good reason (no deep-fried larvae).
338 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 329-8129.
From its signature coconut and lemongrass soups to its architecturally balanced entrÈe portions, Tamarine fuses traditional Vietnamese recipes with a distinct California attitude. The plates are "family-style," which gives a party the opportunity to mix and match selections. Co-proprietors Anne Le and head chef Tammy Huvnh designed the restaurant to embody "casual elegance," largely influenced by traditional Asian dÈcor. While the body is fed with gracefully prepared dishes, the soothing atmosphere -- along with its lively bar and displays of fine art --feed patrons' imaginations. Semi-annually, the art is auctioned off and all proceeds are donated to the Eastside College Prep School.
546 University Ave. in Palo Alto, (650) 325-8500.
Cantor Arts Center
A museum rather than a gallery, Cantor Arts Center boasts a collection of more than 25,000 art objects. Works of art from the Ancient Americas to contemporary are exhibited in 24 galleries. Lectures, tours, special events and classes have made the Cantor a favorite among readers, who contemplate in the outdoor Rodin sculpture garden or dine in the California cuisine-inspired Cool Café. The bookstore offers jewelry, glassware and fine art books among many objects for sale. The spring Treasure Market offers the public a chance to purchase fine art, antiques and collectibles donated from estate collections.
328 Lomita Drive and Museum Way, Stanford, (650) 725-0464
While the Bohemian look may be in, grunge is definitely out. Even for a look that is torn and worn, it is still important to smell and look fresh. So what's Palo Alto's secret to success? The perfect remedy for the stray sip of coffee or the missed meatball? Weekly readers prefer sending their stylish duds to Charleston Cleaners. Providing alteration and laundry services as well, it's a great one-stop shop.
3900 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, (650)424-1113.
|Hall of Fame Winner: University Art
The choices for framing can be mind-boggling, but at University Art you can count on the pros to figure out how deep the matting should be, which exact colors to pick up and what style suits your artwork -- and your taste. No job is too weird, whether it's framing nude John and Yoko from the album liner of the '60s or making a list of Stanford University donors look snazzy. Its' why this business is a favorite and a hall-of-famer. 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-3500.
The Great American Framing Company
In this day of digital cameras, iPhoto slideshows and massive plasma televisions, our images are more portable and shareable than ever. But all this beautiful technology still won't fill that empty space above your family room couch. We still want to see art on our walls. The only problem is, our readers are conflicted this year about who can frame it best. Their advice? One winner for California Avenue, and one for the downtown crowd. Leave it to Palo Altans to offer environmentally-sound alternatives for your framing needs. Less drive time equals less fossil fuel burned and more time to obsess about how best to frame that Nagel you've had in storage for years. There's no denying it, the '80s are back! Frame it up at Accent Arts or The Great American Framing Company.
Accent Arts, 392 California Ave, Palo Alto, (650)424-1044; The Great American Framing Company, 229 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650)327-4521.
YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula
Right now, you think you've got it made. The worst of the hot weather is past and the clear, cool days of Autumn are on the horizon. The daylight hours are still long, and that after-work running is really paying dividends. Don't wait until daylight savings time throws a wrench into your schedule, or the office food and holiday season parties get ready to plump you up. With three gyms in town, the YMCA makes it hard to resist getting into, or remaining in good shape.
4151 Middlefield Road, #211, Palo Alto, (650) 856-3955; 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, (650) 856-9622; and 755 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, (650) 858-0661.
Whether they are lusting after a weave, primping for the big dance, or merely getting a trim and a shave, Weekly readers need to care for their tresses somewhere, and those who voted know exactly where that place is. Locals have stayed loyal to their chic salon of choice, and deemed Los Salonez in Menlo Park the best in hair cuts, dyes and styling for the third year in a row.
1012 Alma Street, Menlo Park, (650) 328-0735.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Garden Court Hotel
For more than a decade, the Garden Court Hotel has been ranked the No. 1 hotel, making it the local Garden of Eden for visitors. Paradise doesn't come cheap -- rooms range from $299 a night for a deluxe guest room to $694 a night for the penthouse suite -- but readers have long said the price is worth it. 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto.
Stanford Park Hotel
The Stanford Park Hotel bills itself as the "South Bay's only Five Star Diamond Hotel." Taking a look at the lush facility, it's a difficult claim to dispute. The four-story English Colonial and European style building offers an elegant oasis from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. Conveniently located adjacent to Stanford University, guests can enjoy comfortable, yet luxurious rooms and spend their spare time perusing secluded garden courtyards, private libraries and isolated conversational seating areas filled with museum quality artifacts. Stanford Park is a true rarity, a luxury hotel that fits in with its surrounding community. If you desire Disney-style attractions and a generic corporate atmosphere, look elsewhere.
100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 322-1234.
La Belle Day Spa
Getting your hands and feet pampered at La Belle Day Spa is no ordinary $10 polishing experience. A little on the pricey side, manicures and pedicures at La Belle are well worth the extra money. Who wouldn't pay to have her toes massaged and exfoliated with a rich chocolate scrub? It's a wonderful way to get perfectly kissable feet and sensationally soft hands.
95 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, (650)327-6964 and 36 Stanford Shopping Center, (650) 326-8215.
For more than two decades Watercourse Way has been offering Palo Altans a place to relax. And when everyday pressures are at their peak, nothing alleviates like a good massage. The options at Watercourse are an array of tension-fighting tools. From a plethora of modalities that include reiki, shiatsu, reflexology and deep tissue, to the use of aromatherapy essential oils such as lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus, you're sure to find everything an aching body needs at Watercourse. The Tassajara-inspired oasis even offers Hot Stone Massage -- the use of smooth, igneous stones, warm oils and long fluid strokes -- for an apex of serenity. With a finely crafted interior and two floors of massage and spa rooms, Watercourse leaves no soothing stone unturned.
165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-2000.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Midtown Shoe Repair
Describing this hall-of-famer as simply a "shoe repair" shop is a drastic understatement. The work of Robert Babekian touches more than his customers' shoes and sandals. Loyal patrons also bring in damaged luggage, items with broken zippers, special-needs items, and even ask for custom-made leather watchbands. The Babekian family has operated the shop for two dozen years. 2796 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, (650) 329-8171.
Paul's European Cobblery Shop
Every successful person needs a firm foundation. In the absence of one, a well-kept pair of shoes will do. If you seek the latter, Paul's European Cobblery is your place, fixing the most embarrassing rips, holes, and detached heels in the "650." Operating for decades, this family-owned shop does more than revive a pair of worn out pumps, it also specializes in luggage repair, shoe shinning, resoling, and can even bring life to that vintage Prada look-alike. It embodies a warm atmosphere that caters to the customer who can't seem to donate his or her best kicks to the Goodwill. The readers have spoken. Next time you see someone hoofing it down University with a tattered shoe, point them to Pauls.
410 S. California Avenue, Palo Alto, (650) 323-0409.
Palo Altans often seek an oasis to relieve the stress of busy lives. Work, childrearing, in-laws, interest rates -- the barrage of tension-building hurdles can mount exponentially. So where do Palo Altans turn when it's time to wind down? A retreat that has soothed troubled spirits for 25 years: Watercourse Way. Established in 1980 by co-owners John Roberts and Susan Nightingale, Watercourse Way offers a plethora of alternatives to the overwhelming pressures of a hectic world. With nine private hot-tub rooms (several of which include skylights, steam rooms, saunas and cold plunges), a score of accomplished massage therapists, varied spa and facial treatments (including the two-hour Essensa 3-Dimentional Spa Program) and a Zen-like atmosphere, Watercourse continues its tradition of peace and serenity. 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-2000.
Adobe Animal Hospital
Watch out Kaiser! There's a booming hospital on the healthcare block -- and it's doing things doggy style. That's right, the Adobe Animal Hospital provides the best healthcare for your feline friends, offering an in-house lab, radiology facilities, and a 24-hour Intensive Care Unit -- all available 7 days a week. Since 1964, Abode has lived up to its mission: "to provide the highest standard of quality and compassion in veterinary care for our patients, and welcoming, informative, and supportive service for our clients." The services are plenty, offering care to dogs, cats, rabbits, pocket pets (rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.), birds, reptiles (lizards, snakes, turtles, etc.), and even small farm animals.
396 First Street, Los Altos, (650) 948-9661.
Palo Alto Bicycles
Even if you're not the next Lance Armstrong, you might want to check out Palo Alto Bicycles on University Avenue. For starters, the repair shop in the back will set you up with simple repairs, such as fixing a blown-out tire, as well as intricate installations to make your bike Tour-de-France-ready. But let's not get a head of ourselves. There is a large selection of road bikes, tools, clothing, gear and high-tech supplements to browse and buy. So whether you're a hardcore bicycle commuter, a weekend warrior, or thinking about picking up the popular hobby, Palo Alto Bicycles is there to take care of all your two-wheeling needs.
171 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-7411
|Hall of Fame Winner: Kepler's Books & Magazines
A Peninsula icon, Kepler's is celebrating its 50th year and it's recognition as a hall of fame winner. Kepler's has set the standard for progressive bookstores in the area since its inception as a bastion of free speech in the 1950s. The mission may have toned down since the store's early days, but Kepler's remains a place where ideas of all persuasions are encouraged to be aired. Where else on the Peninsula can one see former First Lady Barbara Bush or Jane Fonda? 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 324-4321, www.keplers.com.
Borders Books & Music
You'd be hard pressed to find another of Borders' 1,200 bookstores that resembles the Palo Alto branch. Located in the former Varsity Theater, the store is packed with more than 200,000 titles in books, music and DVDs, and they're artfully arranged to accommodate the old arches, stairways and balconies of the former theater. Management confirms that this particular branch sells more science and computer books than other Borders stores (there are 20 in the Bay Area). And don't forget the atrium -- or your wireless laptop computer -- where patrons and visitors soak up the sun while picking up some of the city's best free Wi-Fi from the nearby Apple store. 456 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 326-3670.
Michaela's Flower Shop
Think "Stapleton," the former name of this regular "Best of ..." winner, and you'll smell both the scent of flowers and rich history of this modest-sized florist in downtown Palo Alto. Think rose petals for special occasions or romantic evenings. Think creative design and friendly service from owners Michaela Dieffenbach and Steve Wong, with nearly 40 years between them in the flower business. Longtime customers have come to expect the same creativity, service and scents at Michaela's Flower Shop that they received from Olga Stapleton for several decades. Whether you're after fragrant tuberoses from Hawaii or exotic Casablanca lilies, this shop is the place to look. If not already available in the shop, almost any flower can be ordered by the next day.
453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 321-5390.
Go ahead, snicker at IKEA for its flagrant use of particle board. But it's hard to deny the Swedish behemoth has a certain charm. Plus you can impress your significant other by assembling your new Hensvik bookcase or Snappa shelf unit all by yourself. Decorative items such as baskets, candles, curtains, picture frames and throw pillows mean that you could conceivably plan your entire pad without leaving the store.
1700 E. Bayshore Rd., East Palo Alto, (650) 323-4532.
Eyeing that platinum dollar sign or the diamond-encrusted brass knuckles of MTV's elite with envy? Try your luck at Gleim, voted best in the field of jewelry for yet another year. With the express purpose of allowing Palo Alto's upper-crust to get their "bling-bling" on, their styles may be subtler than Jay-Z's, but they won't look dated in six months, either. Do the nation and your rap career a favor and buy yourself some real class!
322 University Ave., Palo Alto, and 119 Stanford Shopping Center, (650) 323-1331.
|Hall of Fame Winner: Palo Alto Hardware
This hall-of-famer seems to have a good grip on success. For more than a decade, it's been rated No. 1 by our readers. From tools to fixtures, electrical to plumbing and a little of everything in between, Palo Alto Hardware is the place for the handy-minded. 857 Alma St., Palo Alto, (650) 327-7772
The local hardware store has taken on new importance in the stratospheric housing market. No longer a hangout for the odd-jobbers and DIY mechanics, the hardware store is the new place to go to see and be seen. This year, that place is Peninsula Hardware. Wander the aisles in search of fasteners and fittings or just eavesdrop on your neighbor's remodeling headaches. Stop by the Midtown store and see what all the fuss is about. 2676 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 325-3491.
If you hate to shop, Nordstrom is the place to go. There's no need to waste hours looking at trendier-than-thou boutiques that will be out of date -- and possibly business -- by the time you walk out the door. Nordstrom offers elegant, modern clothes that never date. There's also the store's legendary commitment to personalized service, ensuring that someone will be available to answer any questions in a thoughtful and polite manner. Other stores might offer greater bargains, but when you want to shop without much fuss or muss, a helpful pointer or clear answer is more than worth its weight in gold.
550 Stanford Shopping Center, (650) 323-5111.
It's Saturday at noon and you just remembered you need a birthday card for your great-aunt, you've run out of ColorFast lipstick and your hubby's got a rotten cold. Longs offers the wonders of one-stop shopping, with everything from the gift to the wrapping paper -- not to mention a competitively-priced pharmacy. Recently the University-Avenue store expanded its photo center to better serve its digital-age customers, and the Town & Country location now includes a mailing center, with better hours than USPS.
352 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 324-1667; 2701 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 330-0131; 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650)322-2150.
REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) has brought it all together for the most demanding outdoor enthusiast. It's been the chain's claim to fame for decades, and Palo Atans agree. Whether it's backpacking, camping, climbing or kayaking, REI has you covered: from miniscule multi-fuel stoves to functional fashions for the back country. The San Carlos store is a smaller version of the flagship Seattle store, but with access to the same assortment of products. REI now has seven Bay Area stores, with an eighth planned for nearby Mountain View.
1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, (650) 508-2330.
Little pads of paper invite you to test out the latest in ergonomic pens, or just double-check that your favorite fine-point now comes in lavender. If you're re-stocking your office and color-coding your filing system, this is the place to shop. Gifts galore grace a series of tables, including adorable stuffed animals, along with the boxes of stationery -- from formal to wild. If you've got some time to kill, settle down to read through the amazing selection of greeting cards: It'll be hard to leave without picking up a few. 310 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 326-7970 and 719 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, (650) 321-6920.
Palo Alto Sport & Toy World
Is your son or daughter sitting around the house, spending hours immersed in PlayStation2 games or surfing the Net? Palo Alto Sport & Toy World may be the place for you. No copies of "Halo" or "Grand Theft Auto," no PSPs or iPods -- just old-school toys and sporting goods designed to engage a child's imagination and ward off excess calories caused by junk food and lack of exercise. What a concept. The store also offers such quaint notions as knowledgeable and friendly service, providing an ideal atmosphere for parents and children to find toys that are designed for fun, rather than maximum marketability. 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-8555.
Boutique shopping may be the hippest thing since Rodeo Drive among celebrities, but in Palo Alto it's Nordstrom that's the place to browse for new duds. Here, you can hang out with Kate Spade, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren and be the center of attention. Where else can you find a pianist playing your favorite tunes, tote along your favorite bow-wow, get a make over, find a new suit, eat lunch and return a pair of tires? Rumor has it that the store once accepted a pair of tires as a return. 550 Stanford Shopping Center, (650) 323-5111.
Best Late Night Hangout
From the colorful Cajun bar to the open patio, Nola is tops among the city's night owls. Nola has long been recognized as a hot first-date spot or a perfect locale for a girls' night out. Unless it's an unusually slow night, plan to join a large, boisterous party on the weekends. The 25- to 35-year-old crowd has been known to spill out onto the sidewalks, not slowing down until 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and after 1 a.m. on weekends. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor dining and enough privacy if you're searching for that first-date location. This was a tight race, and University Avenue took a close second.
535 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, (650)328-2722.
You've just about had it. It's only mid-morning, and you're already maxed out on blaring car alarms and too-public cell phone conversations. You need to get out of town -- fast -- but only have an afternoon to do it. Forget Yosemite. Whether your aim is trail running or communing with nature, consider the 1,400-acre preserve off upper Page Mill Road your local escape. Foothills Park is the jewel of the city's parks, but open only to city residents and their guests. The park has an 8-acre lake for boating and fishing, 10 hiking trails, seven picnic areas and an interpretive center. Wildlife, especially deer, can be frequently seen in the meadow near the picnic areas. If you can't wait for Calgon to take you away, this is your prescription for serenity.
3300 Page Mill Road, (650) 329-2423.
Best Place for a Parking Ticket
Downtown Palo Alto
Wallet weighing you down? Too much green packed in your pockets? Now there's one simple solution: park your car in downtown Palo Alto. The imagery is reminiscent of a low-budget horror film. You feel the beads of sweat trickle down your cheek as you realize your trusted Toyota has been lingering on University Avenue for two hours and seven minutes. Frantic, you rush out of the local coffee shop, spilling latte on your lap while hustling to the ominous spot. But it's too late. A cold chill licks your neck as that slender white sheet lingers under your windshield wiper. You secretly hope it's a Scientology pamphlet or New York Pizza's latest menu as you slowly slip it away. But one hard glance reveals a blood-red border and shadowy black numbers -- that latte has just cost you $27. Welcome to downtown Palo Alto.
Best Place for a Date
The Wurlitzer begins playing. What will he look like? Will she laugh at my bad jokes? The curtain rises. He's got a nice smile. She looks like Aunt Gertie. The main characters appear. He's being quite rude. She's flirting with me! The tension builds. Is he intentionally brushing my shoulder? Will I get a kiss at the door? The plot nears its climax. Shall I invite him in? How fast can I run away? The credits roll. I hope I never see him again. I'll call her tomorrow. ... It's not just the movies that are classic at the Stanford Theatre. 221 University Ave, Palo Alto, (650) 324-3700.
What's more interesting than a Saturday afternoon marathon of MTV's Real World? University Avenue. In an age where the cell phone has publicized what was once personal, who needs reality television? You can watch people's personal dramas unfold on the avenue. Just get comfortable on a bench and watch the cast of characters parade by. There's the power-brokering, well-suited businessman authoritatively dictating instructions on a land deal; the stay-at-home mom pushing baby and discussing last night's episode of Desperate Housewives, and the dozens of college students retelling the harrowing tale of last night's escapades. We can't promise that it's more scintillating than when Vern Troyer on the Surreal Life urinated in a corner, but there's a chance you might see someone's dog do the same.
Romance comes in many forms. Some couples enjoy dinners by candlelight, others the ever-popular long walks on the beach, while still others like lying down in the dirt to watch enormous gaseous bodies of plasma many light-years away. Yes, indeed, it is the time of year when one can take a long hike at dusk in a t-shirt, find a secluded clearing, and observe the wonders of the universe. Weekly readers voted both Foothill Park and the Dish as the best places to appreciate nuclear fusion, but for the less adventurous, backyards work as well.
Foothill Park 300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, (650)329-2423; The Dish, Stanford campus.
Teen Thing to Do
"Just be back by 10 p.m.," the parent prays. "Of course I will," the teen answers, fingers crossed behind the back. Another Saturday night, another chance for a teen to "Drive Parents Nuts," readers' third-place choice.