Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - August 19, 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers (Restaurants)

Ambiance

Restaurant goers light up when talking about St. Michael's Alley, which also earned honors for brunch. See the complete listing in the Sunday Brunch category. La Bodeguita del Medio finished a close second.

Hall of Fame: First Year

When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay, the lights are already low at Evvia, and it's the Mediterranean lapping on the rocks. Adorned with dark barrels and copper pots, the partially exposed kitchen adds to an atmosphere that is at once distinctly classy and authentically old-world. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983. www.evvia.net

Bar/Lounge

Atmospheric bar/lounge La Bodeguita del Medio also rocked the vote with its Cuban-style cuisine. See the complete listing in the Latin American Cuisine category.

California Cuisine

Having spent years fueling sharp minds at Google with even sharper culinary panache, Chef Charlie Ayers is certainly qualified to make a statement about nutrition. His Calafia Cafe & Market A Go Go is a Mecca of sophisticated simplicity, boasting yummy take-out lunches and baked goods on the market side, with wholesome meals and a cute chandelier on the cafe side. The all-around delicious fare, plus tasty vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, make Calafia a true exemplar of Silicon Valley sensibility and a winner in the additional category of Vegetarian Restaurant. #130 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; 650-322-9200. calafiapaloalto.com

Chinese Restaurant

Chef Chu's is a longtime local favorite, serving exceptional-quality Chinese food at prices that won't break the bank. Meat and seafood lovers will rejoice in the selection of specialty dishes such as Peking duck, rack of lamb and clam soup, but vegetarians will find much to enjoy as well, including scrumptious tofu and noodle dishes, and even "vegetarian goose." 1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos; 650-948-2696. www.chefchu.com

Coffee House

The aroma of rich, strong coffee wafts down Ramona Street, drawing in the caffeine-deprived to Coupa Cafe. Or, it could be the free Wi-Fi, the comfy casual seating, the exquisite chocolates (no need to wait for Valentine's Day, dear) or the unusual Venezuelan menu that includes their signature arepas, made with thin cornmeal griddle cakes. Everything is served with quiet flair, from the little bowl of chopped fruit with breakfast scrambles to that floral squiggle atop the latte. Just blocks away, Peet's Coffee & Tea garnered a close second place. Coupa also won in the Solo Dining category. 538 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 650-322-6872. www.coupacafe.com

Dining With Kids

Palo Alto and Mountain View mainstay Hobee's also scored on the merits of its morning meals. See the complete listing in the Breakfast category.

Hall of Fame: Second Year

With its '50s-style atmosphere, comfy booths, satisfying food and off-the-chart milkshakes, Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill has established itself in the Best Of Palo Alto Hall of Fame for Dining With Kids. Parents and babysitters across the Peninsula have long frequented the Palo Alto eatery with their young ones in tow. The restaurant's bee-bop energy is bolstered by a menu that includes homemade oatmeal, dozens of hamburger options, onion rings, vanilla coke and much, much more. And the restaurant is open on Mother's Day and Father's Day, so kids can return the favor. 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-323-3131; and #2A Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford; 650-327-3141. paloaltocreamery.com

French Restaurant

Weekly readers once again cast their votes for the popular Bistro Elan, which Andrea Hyde and her husband, chef Ambjorn Lindskog, ran for 16 years on California Avenue in Palo Alto. The pair, though, closed Bistro Elan in July, citing rent and landlord issues. Voters will no doubt be pleased to know that Hyde and Lindskog moved their business only an amble away, earlier this year opening up the smaller Birch Street restaurant on, well, Birch Street. Recently, Weekly food critic Dale Bentson dined at the new eatery and pronounced it sparkling. 2363a Birch St., Palo Alto; 650-853-0667. bistroelan.com

Fusion Restaurant

Former Hall of Fame restaurant Tamarine was also named the top spot to lay down some dough. See the complete listing in the Restaurant to Splurge category.

Indian Restaurant

Excellent Indian food means an array of tantalizing colors, spices and textures, from hot and spicy to rich and creamy, and Mountain View's Amber India is no exception, offering a range of tikas, curries, biryanis and more, enhanced with such flavors as chilies, saffron and rose water. Amber's cuisine leaves taste buds singing, dancing and cheering for an encore. Darbar garnered a close second place. 2290 El Camino Real, #9, Mountain View; 650-968-7511. www.amber-inda.com

Italian Restaurant

Whether it's a quick cup of coffee, a cozy family dinner or a full-on banquet for 25, Il Fornaio earns its keep as a reliable venue for quality and style. Crisp white tablecloths and the smell of an oak-wood-burning oven define the atmosphere. The fresh bread, made daily from scratch, is to die for. Conveniently, the place is open for breakfast at 7 a.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. on weekends. Coming in a close second was Italian eatery Osteria. 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto; 650-853-3888. www.ilfornaio.com

Latin American Cuisine

The menu at La Bodeguita del Medio is distinctive and flavorful, offering liberally spiced meats, unconventional sauces and an ingredient repertoire that includes everything from habanero peppers and coconut milk to guava, cassava and plantain. Taking inspiration from the original Bodeguita restaurant and bar in Havana where Ernest Hemingway famously drank his mojitos, the Palo Alto restaurant provides not only intriguing Cuban food, but also a smoking lounge and a wide assortment of cocktails, earning it first place in the Bar/Lounge category as well. 463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-326-7762. www.labodeguita.com

Meal Under $20

No need to sing for your supper, when the whole meal — even classic Thanksgiving fare of sliced fresh-roasted turkey with a side of mashed potatoes and mushrooms and gravy — runs under 20 bucks. Pluto's is famous for its salads, in two sizes, with a choice of seven toppings (from jicama and beets to chopped apple and roasted fennel), with or without meat (chicken, turkey or grilled roast beef). The atmosphere is casual, noisy, collegiate, and the food's available to go. 482 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-853-1556. plutosfreshfood.com/

Mediterranean Restaurant

Long lines out the door at Mediterranean Wraps in Palo Alto and Go Go Gyro in Los Altos are worth the wait. Weekly voters chose both as the area's best Mediterranean restaurants. Mediterranean Wraps, with locations on California Avenue and University Avenue, delights palates with its falafel, shawerma wrap (sliced lamb and beef) and kufta kabab plate (minced lamb and beef with spices). Information on Go Go Gyro can be found in the Best New Restaurant category. 425 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-8189; and 209 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-289-0866. kanzeman.com/medwraps

Hall of Fame: First Year

Frankie Valli knew: Greece is the word, is the word that you heard. Greece is the time, is the place, is the motion. Greece is the way we are feeling. Palo Altans have been feeling it for years, thanks to Evvia, which transports patrons to the best of the Mediterranean through its fresh, imaginative cuisine and charming, sophisticated decor. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983. evvia.net

Mexican Restaurant

Upscale Mexican eatery Reposado would be a great place to relax and unwind after a long day of living la vida loca. Diners say they love the Mexican-fusion seafood dishes, especially ceviche de huachinango (pacific snapper) and camarones al ajillo. Happy Hour is especially popular with the afternoon crowd, who devour half-off chilitos rellenos, queso fundido and freshly made guacamole. Can't make it in the evening? Reposado opens at 11:30 a.m. for lunch on weekdays and at 11 a.m. for brunch on weekends. Celia's earned a close second place with voters. 236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-833-3151. reposadorestaurant.com

Hall of Fame: Second Year

Puebla, Mexico, natives Hector and Helena Sol know well the rhythm of California Avenue. Their 11-year-old establishment Palo Alto Sol is often bustling with customers who come during lunch and dinner hours to indulge in Puebla-style Mexican dishes. Regulars savor favorites like mole poblano chicken and guajillo enchiladas inside the brightly colored dining room or sip margaritas and assorted tequilas on the outdoor patio. 408 California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-8840. paloaltosol.biz

New Restaurant

It's tough being the New Kids On The Block in today's economic climate. Will a new eatery be a one-hit wonder or become a classic? Los Altos' Go Go Gyro, where wholesome, traditional Greek food meets modern convenience, seems sure to be more than a flash in the pan, as voters have chosen it Best New Restaurant. Like the songs of the similarly named girl group The Go Gos, Go Go Gyro is at the top of the charts. 4546 El Camino Real, Los Altos; 650-948-GoGo. gogogyro.com.

Outdoor Dining

Locals just don't stop believin' in Café Borrone, which won for Outdoor Dining and is in the Hall of Fame for solo Dining. No matter the time of day, the endless line of customers that often extends into the patio area of the cafe is a good indication of its stable popularity. Locals frequent the family-owned cafe for its delicious Taylor Maid coffee and hot sandwiches, or the recently added dinner specials, served from 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. And, of course, the smorgasbord of places to sit and eat or drink outside. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-327-0830. www.cafeborrone.com

Restaurant to Splurge

High-class dining is not just for material girl Madonna. Tamarine entices downtown diners with its classy ambiance and Vietnamese-fusion fare. Customers say the food is well worth the pretty penny, especially the salt and pepper calamari, shaking beef, clay pot cod and empress rice. Looking to take home a touch of Tamarine's elegance? Patrons can even purchase the artwork on display. 546 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-325-8500. tamarinerestaurant.com

Hall of Fame: Second Year

You don't have to be rich to be Prince's girl. You don't have to be rich to eat at Evvia either, but if you're feeling extravagant for a night, there's no place like it. The downtown Greek establishment has helped Palo Altans impress their first dates for years. Act your age (not your shoe size) and order the souvlaki, lamb chops and one of many decadent desserts. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983. evvia.net

Romantic Restaurant

It's quite an accomplishment for such a packed, lively place like Evvia to be considered the most romantic restaurant in town. And yet, somehow, it's true. If you're trying to get away into the night, the whole package of world-class food, atmosphere and service at Evvia might be enough to make you say, "I think we're alone now." Just be sure to plan ahead and book your getaway a couple of days in advance. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983. evvia.net

Hall of Fame: First Year

A love-struck fellow eager to romance his new flame may be inclined to grab a guitar and serenade her outside a lofty bedroom window. But there's an easier way. Just ask the patrons of St. Michael's Alley, the Hall of Famer for Best Romantic Restaurant. St. Michael's features a serene atmosphere, tasty food and a robust wine list. Eating by candlelight is common and the restaurant's polished dŽcor only adds to the romantic ambiance. And don't forget to top your romantic evening off with a St. Michael's favorite — tiramisu. 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-2530. stmikes.com

Solo Dining

Popular Coupa Cafe also scored accolades for coffee service. See the complete listing in the Coffee House category.

Hall of Fame: Second Year

Going solo has worked out for a lot of musicians: Paul Simon, Neil Young and Phil Collins, to name a few. And going solo for a good place to eat often works out as well, especially when that place is the uber-popular Café Borrone. General manager Marina Borrone, who owns the cafe with husband and chef Josh Pebbles, as well as her parents, remarks that, "Our guests always comment on the vibrant, uplifting energy that our environment offers." The cafe often serves as a stage for Clint Baker and the All Stars, who play New Orleans-style jazz and "who have stirred it up (there) for over 20 years," she says. So, whether you're scheduling an interview, or hoping to hang out with friends, Cafe Borrone will not disappoint. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-327-0830. www.cafeborrone.com

Sports Bar

Sliders, pizza, wings — and a 110-ounce "Beerzooka" to share with friends while cheering on your favorite teams on 13 HD-plasma-screen televisions — that's an evening at The Old Pro, Palo Alto's favorite sports-bar haunt. Want something classier? The Old Pro can serve up gustatory ambiance with classy dishes such as premium steaks and Prince Edward Island mussels. 541 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 650-326-1446. www.oldpropa.com

Steak

It ain't much you're asking, if you want the truth. You just want your steak to be both tender and flavorful. Like Queen, you want it all, and you want it now. So get a table at Fleming's and order the bone-in filet, which isn't on the menu. The bone brings full flavor back into the normally blander, but more tender cut, making this steak the best of both worlds. You can have it all. #2 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 650-329-8457. flemingssteakhouse.com

Hall of Fame: First Year

If you're in the mood (for steak) and the rhythm is right, take a slow ride to Sundance the Steakhouse for the slow-roasted prime rib. The Certified Angus house specialty, served with au jus and creamy horseradish, might as well be called the city specialty by now. It cooks for more than eight hours, and you may want to savor it for just as long. 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-321-6798. sundancethesteakhouse.com

Sunday Brunch

A classic local choice for Sunday brunch, St. Michael's Alley oozes charm and the passion of a kitchen with high standards. Since opening its newer lunch-and-dinner venue at Homer and High two years ago, St. Mike's reserves "the annex," a small dining room on Emerson Street, for private functions and Sunday's midday repast. All manner of eggs and pancakes as well as salads, pasta and sandwiches — but not reservations — are available in the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. brunch window. St. Michael's Alley also shined for ambiance.

806 Emerson St., Palo Alto. 650-326-2530. www.stmikes.com

Sushi/Japanese Restaurant

Fuki Sushi was named a favorite by readers for its professional standards of service, dedication to authenticity, delicately calming geometrical decor and ultra-fresh seafood. Customers can enjoy their tataki, donburi, gyoza, udon and tempura in the more spacious dining areas, or reserve smaller tatami rooms for private meals, optionally followed by a relaxing, romantic kona coffee ice cream dessert. 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-494-9383. fukisushi.com

Thai Restaurant

A craving for mango chicken, hot soups, curries, roast duck, shrimp rolls or peanut-topped noodles leads the discerning local foodie to downtown Palo Alto powerhouse Siam Royal. The eatery makes generous use of sweet-and-sour flavors, basil, peppers and mint leaves in cooking up a robust signature taste that readers have voted the best in Thai cuisine. 338 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-329-8129. siamroyalthai.com

Hall of Fame: First Year

Delicious food and an inviting atmosphere have earned Thaiphoon induction into the Best Of Palo Alto Hall of Fame. The downtown restaurant has tantalized eaters with a winning menu that includes Kung-Pao Chicken, Musamun Beef Curry and Lychee Curry Prawns. Executive Chef Wanna Vongampai has more than 25 years of experience and uses only the freshest ingredients with no MSG. Try something spicy to ignite that inner rock star, or aim for a smooth-jazz approach with a mild dish. 543 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-323-7700. thaiphoonrestaurant.com

Vegetarian/Vegan Cuisine

Veggie-friendly Calafia Cafe & Market A Go Go won honors for its California-style fare. See the complete listing in the California Cuisine category.

Wine Bar

A cozy and classy spot for a glass of wine, the downtown Wine Room also offers a small menu of snacks including a cheese plate, stuffed piquillo peppers and marinated olives. But wine, domestic and imported, is the real star here. The front room includes a bar as well as seating at small high tables or in comfortable stuffed chairs and benches. A back room offers sofa and easy-chair seating, and a fireplace. 520 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 650-462-1968. thepawineroom.com

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