Best of '94

Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 12, 1994

Best of '94

Palo Alto is a city in which the number of bagel shops has finally outpaced the number of croissant outlets. Which makes it all the more significant that The Bagel Works, Palo Alto's oldest bagel store, won the title of best bagels for the third consecutive year. The Bagel Works likes to stress that it boils, not steams, its bagels in the time-honored tradition of bagel making. At the same time, the bakery finds no irony in experimenting wildly on its bagels after they have been boiled. Blueberry, strawberry and asiago cheese are all evidence of the bakery's quest for variation on a theme of flour, yeast, malt and salt. Cream cheeses also don't stop with Philly in the silver wrapper, with chive, blueberry, green onion, pimento, garlic, jalapeno and honey. The Bagel Works also serves a knockout cinnamon roll. And prices remain reasonable: 45 cents for a normal bagel, 55 cents for one of the exotics. Coming in second was Noah's followed by House of Bagels.
The Bagel Works, 642 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 328-5429

Even with all the tofu-alfalfa sprout experimentation going on, carnivores abound. And when carnivores are in the mood for giant slabs of ribs swimming in oceans of award-winning barbecue sauce, they head for MacArthur Park. The spacious restaurant, set in a Julia Morgan building, won in the category of best ribs for the second year in a row, with Armadillo Willy's running close behind. Of the various types of ribs on the menu, the Park's baby back ribs were singled out as particularly delectable. MacArthur Park also has all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffets, monster onion strings, crayons on every table for doodling on the paper placemats, a high-tech computer ordering system and live piano music.
MacArthur Park, 27 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9990

In the old days, the French comprised the principal baguette-toting population. That was before Le Boulanger came to town, causing Midpeninsulans to take up the practice as well. And porquoi non? French bread is crusty, has virtually no fat and goes well with nearly every foodstuff except bagels. This is the second year in a row that the bakery has won in the category of best bread. Lest you think that the bakery only thinks in French, be advised that it also bakes cinnamon raisin, whole wheat, Dutch crunch, honey wheat, cracked wheat, nine-grain and cottage dill bread. The French bread comes two ways: sweet and sour. Il Fornaio Bakery finished second in the balloting, with Harmony Bakery in Midtown finishing third.
Le Boulanger, 720 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 322-5528

Everything from soup to nuts for breakfast is not far from reality at Hobee's, the three-time winner in the category of best breakfast in Our Town. Hobee's also won for best brunch, nudging out Late for the Train. Hobee's has always billed itself as BDBIT (Best Darn Breakfast in Town). It could as easily bill itself as LDBMIT (Longest Darn Breakfast Menu in Town). In the normal genre, they have eggs, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, bagels, muffins, French toast, regular toast and so forth. But not to be outdone, they also have breakfasts with tofu and their ubiquitous coffeecake. On weekends, Hobee's doles out samples of the coffeecake to people waiting for their waffles, scrambles, toast and eggs.
Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124, and 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111

Kirk's does it simple and does it best when it comes to serving up burgers, according to our readers. The meat is ground locally and seasoned by Kirk's employees with tomato soup and bread crumbs, then molded into one-third-pound patties and barbecued to mouth-watering perfection over hot coals. You have a choice of a plain burger, a burger with cheese, a burger with pineapple or a burger with pineapple and cheese. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no fries. They've been doing it that way since 1949 when Kirk's first opened. And it works, said manager Ellen Jones, who's been taking orders there for 21 years. And if you don't believe her, ask one of her three daughters, who also work there. And if you don't believe them, go try one. For burgers, Oasis finished a distant second followed by Peninsula Creamery.
Kirk's Restaurant, 361 California Ave., 326-6159

These days, burrito places seem to be proliferating as fast as bagel shops. Of them, Pollo's Rotisserie Chicken won first place in the category of best burrito, with Andale following close behind. At Pollo's, the name says it all: This is your basic chicken place, with barbecued chicken, chicken burritos, chicken quesadillas, chicken tacos and stuffed baked potatoes with chicken. As for the burritos, Pollo's initially had only two kinds: vegetarian or chicken, both huge and loaded with rice, beans, cheese and salsa. Recently, Pollo's added a garden burrito (with sauteed celery, bell peppers and tomatoes) to its burrito menu and great rice pudding to its other-than-burrito menu. Please note: The rice pudding has no chicken.
Pollo's, 543 Emerson St., Palo Alto 473-0212

Extra-frothy cappuccino is what makes Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park the choicest entry on the espresso menu for the third year in a row. The flagship of the cappuccino fleet, this large venue has indoor and outdoor tables to seat its massive clientele. The people-watching opportunities are unlimited, and there is plenty of foam for all. Second place for Best Cafe was awarded to the stylish Caffe Verona in downtown Palo Alto on Hamilton.
Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830

The runaway choice for Best Cake is The Prolific Oven. Owned by Menlo Park resident Harriet Spier, the bakery specializes in cakes, breads, muffins and cookies of Spier's invention. But it is best known for its cakes--chocolate cake, carrot cake, fresh strawberry cake, and the list goes on. 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 a 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. Runners-up in this category were Just Desserts and the Palo Alto Baking Co.
The Prolific Oven, 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-8485

Su Hong, which won again for Best Chinese 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 was a close second once again. Chef Chu's was third.
Su Hong Restaurant, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852; 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-3836

Enough already about Seattle being the coffee capital of the country. There's no Peet's Coffee and Tea in Seattle, so it can't be that great up there for connoisseurs of caffeine. Ah, Peet's, where even the decaf gives a jolt to the senses, where there are no fewer than 25 blends from around the world from which to choose. For the second year in a row, Weekly readers chose Peet's as having the Best Coffee Beans. There's a Palo Alto Peet's at High Street and Homer Avenue, and a shop in Menlo Park, as well as 14 other locations. They're all in the Bay Area, though, as they must be within driving distance of the Emeryville roasting plant to ensure daily fresh deliveries. As Peet's veterans--perhaps "addicts" is a better word--know, this is not coffee for the timid. A cuppa joe from Peet's and you're wired for the day--maybe the whole week. Coming in second was Starbuck's followed by the Palo Alto Roasting Co.
Peet's, 163 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 325-2091, and 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 325-8989

It's comforting just to walk in the doors of Peninsula Fountain and Grill, with its sparkling vinyl floors, warm wood wainscoting, marbled Formica table-tops and '50s-style leather-upholstered booths (or is that Naugahyde?). Artful signs on the walls advertise "Giant Cookies" and "Homemade Pies." Most comforting, though, is the food, particularly the meatloaf, burgers and fries, bacon and eggs. Even people who usually lunch on salads come here when they have a craving for mashed potatoes because they know that, like the meatloaf and gravy, it's all homemade. Purchased nearly six years ago by brother-and-sister team Rob Fischer and Laurie Davis, who hail from Connecticut, the Peninsula Fountain still makes sure that its ice cream comes from Palo Alto's own Peninsula Creamery.
The secret to Peninsula Fountain & Grill milkshakes, says owner Fisher, is consistency. At the Creamery, as the place is known to locals, consistency means 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 18 flavors, including pineapple. Those with a deep fear of the cold cholesterol-laden concoction can order the sherbet freeze, a lower-in-fat combination of sherbet and seltzer water. The Creamery also has ambience aplenty, which was carefully preserved during a recent remodel. It's the perfect place to settle down at the counter with your sweetie, put two straws in a shake, and sip slowly while listening to Elvis on the jukebox and musing about where he is now. Perhaps more notable than the fact that the Creamery won this category again is the margin by which it won, garnering a whopping 426 votes to 12 for the runner-up, Foster Freeze.
Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-3131

If food is your passion, and you are looking for only the very best ingredients for that special meal, Draeger's Supermarket is the place to find them. From saffron to specially imported Greek olives or fresh brie cheese, this Menlo Park mainstay has what you need. At the full-service deli counter you can buy anything from roast turkey with all the trimmings to lasagna, ambrosia salad or a fresh made-to-order sandwich. The spectacular produce presentation will make your mouth water as your eyes skim over photogenic rows of tomatoes, bright green peppers and Fuji apples. Helpful and very knowledgeable staff can help you pick the perfect bottle of wine from the store's connoisseur wine collection to go with the right cut of meat from the butcher shop. The beautiful wood columns rise to the opulent cafe upstairs which offers table service for breakfast and lunch, or a place shoppers can pause for a glass of wine or a cappuccino. Draeger's simply rates A-plus in every department, and easily won accolades from the most Weekly readers for Best Grocery, edging out Whole Foods and Mollie Stone's Market, which came in second and third.
Draeger's Supermarket, 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park, 688-0677

When that craving for something sweet, creamy and cold with some whipped cream on top takes over, Weekly readers flock to Double Rainbow every time. Now double winners in the category of best ice cream and frozen yogurt for three years in a row, Double Rainbow is a dream world for chocoholics, or even peachoholics, butter toffee swirloholics, or those who prefer frozen yogurt. Whether it's Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip, or fat-free raspberry sorbet for those who insist on dieting even in an ice cream store, this place wins, cones down. Baskin Robbins and Haagen-Dazs came in second and third, respectively.
Double Rainbow Gourmet Ice Cream and Dessert Cafe, 520 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 321-7466.

Tucked away in a small corner of Stanford Shopping Center,Gaylord Indian Restaurant is an oasis for savory Indian cuisine. Their lavish selection of spicy Indian recipes a la Tandoori (yogurt dipped and roasted) is complemented by a wide array of breads. It is easy to taste why Weekly readers have chosen Gaylord for the third time. Though spices--ground by the chefs themselves--are applied generously to most dishes, tall cold Taj Majal beer reinforcements are kept not far from the dining room. All of the chefs were trained in India and have been at the restaurant since its inception 12 years ago. Enjoy your meal in Gaylord's luxurious dining room. Janta, a newly opened restaurant, came in second, and Nataraja was third.
Gaylord Indian Restaurant, 317 Stanford Shopping Center, 326-8761

If you're in the mood for a luxurious pasta dinner in an authentic Italian setting, take the recommendation of Weekly readers who voted for Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante as best Italian restaurant. You can watch the chefs prepare your meal right in front of you at the counter while you munch on crusty bread dipped in olive oil and sip a glass of chianti. If linguini or cannelloni doesn't strike your fancy, there is a delicious selection of pizza, or if you prefer California cuisine, an oakwood-roasted meat may be what you're looking for. The mirrored walls, authentic Italian bar and patio dining area work together to add taste to the environment as well as the food. Palo Alto's Osteria was second in readers' minds, and Carpaccio in Menlo Park came in third.
Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888

When you're growing faint from hunger and you're down to your last five bucks, don't despair. Our readers agree the best place to head for a meal under the $5 mark is Taco Bell. The fast-food, south-of-the-border style eatery can serve up a wide variety of hot tacos, enchiladas and taco salads stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, ground beef, chicken, refried beans and a lot more. Beaten out by just one vote was another Mexican eatery, Andale Taqueria in downtown Palo Alto.
Taco Bell, 910 E. Charleston Road, Palo Alto, 424-8052, and 3850 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 424-8473

One visit to this Redwood City haven and you will be beaming, "Me gusta mucho!" For the fourth straight year, Chevy's--located just over the Atherton border in Redwood City--is the place to be if you're looking for great Mexican food, speedy service, smiling faces and a bustling, lively atmosphere. Whether celebrating a special occasion with friends or relaxing after work, it's hard to resist the crispy tortilla chips, the sizzling chicken and beef fajita platters, the delicious margaritas and everything else on their "Fresh Mex" menu. But be forewarned: Many people are already aware of its many temptations, and you should be prepared for limited elbow room, particularly on weekend nights or right after work. Compadres came in second followed by Andale Taqueria.
Chevy's, 2907 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 367-6892

The warm Mediterranean murals and delicious smells wafting through should be enough to draw you to a new epicurean gem, Ristorante Piatti, which readers chose as the best new restaurant on the Midpeninsula. Close behind was Janta India Cuisine, and L'Amie Donia, a French restaurant which came in third. Piatti, a Tuscan-esque restaurant next to Emporium at Stanford Shopping Center, can sate even the most gourmet of appetites with its Bruschetta, grilled bread smothered in garlic, olive oil and fresh basil, followed by one of a list of fresh salads like Insalata Di Pollo e Spinaci, made with chicken, spinach, roasted peppers and fried onion rings with a warm balsamic and grain mustard dressing. Its diverse menu offers pasta entrees using fresh ingredients, such as homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, served with lemon cream or tomato sauce. Reservations are recommended.
Ristorante Piatti, 2 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 324-9733

Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market rolls over the competition once again in the Best Pasta category. One reason is the giant, well-stocked refrigerator displaying fresh sauces and Florentine's homemade pasta, all packaged nicely and ready to take home. For some patrons, Florentine is as much a pasta market as it is a restaurant. This clean-lined, modern chain serves up all the traditional Northern Italian pasta dishes and offers a great Bag Lunch Special for $5. When dining in the restaurant, try not to fill up on the delicious garlic bread and creamy butter-cheese spread. You'll need to save room for the hearty portions--and maybe a nicely presented tiramisu. Finishing second in the pasta category was Osteria followed by Il Fornaio.
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 four years in a role. Customers can get their pizza with exotic toppings or the traditional kind. Either way, hungry lovers of this cuisine keep coming back for more. Applewood again won in a landslide of votes, with Ramona's in second place and Round Table third.
Applewood Inn, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-3486

Fish lovers know there's nothing like fresh fish, and there's also no shortage of choices to find it around here. But Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park tops the poll again this year with more than 40 varieties of fresh local fish. Founded 65 years ago by Bill Cook, the market specializes in fresh fish bought from local fisherman. Whether you are planning to barbecue Hawaiian ahi, deep-fry calamari or toss a crab salad, our readers say Cook's is the place to go. In second place was The Fish Market in Palo Alto, while Whole Foods was third.
Cook's Seafood Market, 751 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-2231

Getting fresh produce is easy, and now there are more choices than ever. But for those who fret about not being able to find healthy Gravenstein apples or ripe Freedom plums, you will find supreme happiness at Monterey Market. The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables in this Stanford Shopping Center magnate of markets will make you smile. But while Monterey Market was the top vote-getter again this year, it narrowly nipped out the votes for the local weekend farmer's markets in Palo Alto and Menlo Park that have grown so popular. Whole Foods finished third.
Monterey Market, 399 Stanford Shopping Center, 329-1340

This is a competitive category, but for the third year in a row, passing up Country Sun and Mollie Stone's, Whole Foods Market is the clear winner. 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 Guatamalen Antigua coffee. Store hours are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Runners-up for most environmentally conscious store were Country Sun and The Nature Company.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., 326-8676

Whether it's marinated steak or 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, gourmet dishes like Thai chicken salad and fresh bread. This upscale meat market 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, while JJ&F Market in Palo Alto was third.
Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, 395 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-6328

Wine connoisseurs agree there is only one good place to go when looking for a bottle of fermented grapes. Whether it is a Jordan cabernet or Gallo table wine from 1994, people know to go to Beltramo's Wines and Liquors. Beltramo's, founded in 1882, has 4,000 different selections of wine, a tasting room, in-house wine consultants--and if that isn't enough, there is a store in Sharon Park too. Finishing second was Trader Joe's.
Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-2806; 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park, 854-7545

Any restaurant where kids can color while eating Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes is a good one to take them to. It's four years in a row for Hobee's as Best Restaurant for Kids, as the perennially popular eatery tied for first this year with Fresh Choice. The main reason Hobee's was selected is because children are bombarded with things to do while eating. Immediately after sitting down, every kid gets a child's fruit plate to eat. They not only get to color, but their work is displayed on the walls and Hobee's coffee cake is good enough to make them come back as adults. Fresh Choice tied as best restaurant for kids because there are so many different things for them to eat, although salad dressing-covered carrots, chicken soup and dessert are probably the three favorites among children. Fresh Choice is also family-oriented so it is fine for the little ones to make noise at the table and eat olives off their fingertips.
Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124, and 67 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111
Fresh Choice, 379 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-6995, and 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 323-4061

Boy does Fresh Choice know salad, plus it's all-you-can-eat. It is feasible for a person to have a green salad, taco salad, Caesar salad, fruit salad and a bell pepper and cucumber salad in one sitting. After that, the pasta, soups, bread and dessert are all gravy. Fresh Choice won for the third year in a row probably because there is more good food than anyone can eat (and some have tried). Plus the employees whisk something away if it looks old. The restaurant uses a lot of seasonal vegetables, so the salad bar changes with every season. Fresh Choice was the overwhelming pick, garnering 500 more votes than the second-place finisher, Sizzler.
Fresh Choice, 379 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-6995

So you're tired of tuna sandwiches and fish sticks--what about New Zealand's John Dory fish, or the Hawaiian native Opakapaka? When is comes to seafood, Weekly readers know to go to The Fish Market in Palo Alto. For the fourth year in a row, this restaurant was chosen as the place to go for seafood. This is so because not only does the restaurant carry mahi mahi, trout, tropical fish, clams, mussels and oysters, but it carries rarer varieties other restaurants don't bother with. Plus the fish constantly is being sniffed and checked for freshness. If the fish even threatens to smell bad, it is thrown out. Scott's was second, and Pearl's finished in third place.
The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-9188

Our readers agree that it's worth the trip to Mountain View to eat at Chez TJ for that special occasion meal. Offering three prix fixe menus, the restaurant reaches the pinnacle of gourmet dining with dishes like french fried goat cheese with port sauce and pink peppercorns and duck confit with bleu cheese vinaigrette. Yet Chez TJ, located in an old Victorian house, maintains a California ambience that's not too stuffy. (The dress code is quite loose for a restaurant of this caliber.) The menus generally change every two weeks. Prices are $57 for a seven-course meal, $50 for five-course and $45 for four-course. Reservations are suggested, especially on weekends. Runners-up were Il Fornaio restaurant and Chantilly II.
Chez TJ, 938 Villa, Mountain View, 964-7466

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 second year in a row, is the Sundance Mine Company. The restaurant won again because the chefs buy only properly aged beef and then hand-cut it at the restaurant. The Sundance Mine Company also features seafood, chicken and a pasta primavera that has no eggs or cream in it. McArthur Park finished a distant second followed by Black Angus.
Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798

People who like sushi are passionate about the available choice of entrees, the setting and the price. The vote was close this year, with Fuki Sushi edging out longtime favorite Miyaki, indicating that for many people, sushi has arrived as a leisurely dining choice in a generous and comfortable setting. Higashi West finished third.
Fuki Sushi, 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-9383

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. 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 $12.95--and the combination of various menu choices, those who feast on the fare at the Siam Garden is growing every day. Thai City and Thai Garden finished second and third, respectively, in the voting.
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 third year in a row, Weekly readers chose Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery for its vegetarian fare. The restaurant 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. Local favorite Hobee's was second in the voting, and Fresh Choice took third.
Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery, 185 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9449

If you are a person who likes browsing through antique stores, then you're probably familiar with Karen's Antiques in Menlo Park. If the thought conjures up images of jumble sales, flea markets and piles of miscellaneous debris cluttering up someone's driveway, then it makes a visit to Karen Weibel's emporium all the more worthwhile. Clean, well-lighted and exquisite, this store possesses an atmosphere more akin to a museum than a mere antique store. It's 4,000 square feet of everything the novice or most advanced collectible hunter would covet: china, formal and country furnishings, glass, silver and many other decorative items. This is the store's fourth year in a row in winning this category. Antiques Unlimited and Antique Emporium were second and third, respectively, in the voting.
Karen's Antiques, 712 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 326-9404

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 19 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. Palo Alto Bicycles was runner-up in the voting, and the Bike Connection took third.
Wheelsmith, 201 Hamilton St., Palo Alto, 324-0510


Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park once again has won this category, and Printers Inc. in Palo Alto has once again finished a strong second. Last year, Kepler's opened an annex, located on the other side of the cafe, which sells hardcover books with discounts up to 80 percent. Both stores feature knowledgeable staffs, great depths in the various popular categories, and personalized service. Kepler's opens at 9 every morning 'til 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 'til midnight Friday and Saturday. Stacey's finished third.
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, again by a wide margin. D&M Motors and Say Ray Foreign Auto Service, both in Palo Alto, finished second and third.
Ole's Car Shop, 801 Alma St., Palo Alto 328-6537

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 Center. Hey, that's what our readers said last year, 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 a little weight around the beltline, the tailors and seamstresses at Delia's also do alterations.
Delia's Cleaner and Drapery Center, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 321-9190; 2103 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 323-9190; 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 321-7551

What makes a bank a good bank? Number of branches? Being open late and on weekends? Friendly tellers? Financial package options? Weekly readers cited all of these as important criteria, and for the third straight year, Wells Fargo Bank has won the Best Financial Institution category. Finishing a very close second and third place, respectively, were University Bank and Great Western.
Wells Fargo Bank, 400 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 325-2004, and numerous other locations in Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Portola Valley

There is nothing like a bouquet of fresh flowers to cheer up any room, 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 gladiolas, lilies, mums 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, who will surely wrap it in tissue and a matching colored ribbon. For flowers, Mills finished second, and Draeger's came in third.
Stapleton Florist, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 321-5390

Whether it's a second-grader's crayon creation or an original O'Keefe, our readers say they prefer to take their art to University Art Center for framing. In business for 46 years, the Art Center 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 Art Center's Corner Gallery. In second and third places, respectively, were the Great American Frame Shop and Richard Sumner Frames and Prints.
University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 328-3500

When buying furniture, Weekly readers chose Flegel's Home Furnishings this year as the place to get it. In addition to the high-quality furniture, what keeps customers coming back is the service. The employees at Flegel's pride themselves on getting the furniture to people quickly, and if the customer has no idea about decorating an empty room, there are interior designers on hand to fill any room with the right mix of lamps and coffee tables. Plus people can bounce on the couches and beds before buying them. They just have to take off their shoes first.
Flegel's Home Furnishings, 870 Santa Cruz Ave. Menlo Park, 326-9661.

A new category this year finds Woolworth Nursery as the clear favorite over Smith and Hawkin and Menlo Park's Roger Reynolds Nursery. One only has to drive into the crowded parking lot at Woolworth each weekend to view just how popular the place is. Woolworth offers everything any gardener could want, from perennials to peat moss. There's even a landscaping service available, as well as plants, shrubs and trees for indoors and out. Weekly sales make this popular garden outlet tough to beat.
Woolworth Nursery, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, 493-5136

At Yosh for Hair , a haircut costs between $39 and $56--but you can be relatively sure you won't end up with one side longer than the other (unless you want it that way, of course). The tony Palo Alto salon puts its "hair designers" through a rigorous training program before they're let loose on full-paying customers. If you're feeling adventurous, you can get your hair cut for $10 by one of the trainees at their Wednesday class. You have to be "open to a style change," and you have to call the previous Thursday morning to reserve a spot. In second place was Supercuts, where all haircuts are only $9 (shampoo and blow-dry extra). The Haircut at Stanford Shopping Center took third place.
Yosh for Hair, 240 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-4067

One of newest kids on the block now is the best. Palo Alto Hardware, a member of the Ace Hardware chain, has caught on quickly since opening in January 1993. Many customers have remarked to the courteous staff that it's nice to have a local, convenient hardware store now that Hubbard and Johnson has closed. While Palo Alto Hardware doesn't carry the volume of wood that H&J did, it carries everything else: from light bulbs to chain saws. Nationally advertised monthly sales also have proven popular. Last year's winner, Menlo Hardware, was second in the voting. Orchard Supply Hardware was third.
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 include VCRs with complimentary video tapes, terry cloth robes, down pillows and comforters, and a Wall Street Journal and local newspaper delivered to your front step every morning. Some rooms also have fireplaces, whirlpool baths and wet bars. To make your stay a completely memorable experience, the hotel offers catering by Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana, Palo Alto's famous award-winning restaurant.
Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 322-9000

Little people like to look hip, too--even if they are too young to pick out their own clothes. So when mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa go shopping for Junior, Gap Kids is their first stop for tiny flannel shirts, kids-sized ties, itsy-bitsy denim jackets and perfectly proportioned button-down shirts. Gap Kids, a frequent top-placer in this category, was followed by Gymboree, known for its crayon-bright colors for infants and youngsters. In third place was the children's department at Mervyn's.
Gap Kids, 228 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 321-5739

Taking top honors once again is Tower Records, the Mountain View music store that is as much a teen hangout as it is the place to get the latest Cranberries CD, tickets for Lollapalooza or Peter Gabriel's CD-ROM. The massive store is divided into islands of musical pleasure: the classical department, the jazz section, imports, New Age, country, rap, pop, show tunes. 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 the Pink Floyd retrospective CD set at 11 p.m. Christmas Day, you can head on over to Tower. The store is open from 9 a.m. to midnight every day of the year, holidays included. Coming in second was the new Hear Music store in Stanford Shopping Center, where you can actually listen to a CD before you buy it. Melody Lane, the downtown Palo Alto sheet music institution, came in third.
Tower Records, 630 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, 941-7900

In a big upset this year, Pet Food Depot unseated, by just a few votes, second-place finisher Monette's Pet Shop, a perennial top-placer in this category. Open for eight years now, Pet Food Depot on El Camino Real sells no live pets, but has food and supplies for just about every furry or feathered friend imaginable, from dog collars to chicken feed. Coming in third was the Pet Place in Menlo Park.
Pet Food Depot, 3127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 852-1277

When it comes to buying prescription drugs, the Longs Drug Store chain gets the nod this year in the Best Pharmacy category. At Longs outposts all over the Midpeninsula, you can drop off both your prescription order and film in one stop--and pick up some shampoo and sunglasses while you're there. Coming in second was Walgreen's, and just a few votes behind that was the Town and Country Pharmacy.
Longs Drug Store, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1667

When it comes to photo developing Keeble and Shuchat, one of Northern California's largest and most complete camera stores, is Palo Alto's top film processor and printer--for the fourth year in a row. Perhaps it's because of the one-hour service, the standard 4 by 6 inch prints, or that you can get doubles for an additional 20 cents each. They develop any size film, any type or any speed, to crisp, high-quality prints without delay or hassle. You can even watch.
Keeble and Shuchat, 290 California Ave., Palo Alto, 327-8996

The hallmark of the Peninsula's greeting card business for 1994, according to our readers, is Papyrus, located near the clock tower at Stanford Shopping Center. Since its opening four years ago, this store, which garnered 90 votes, has become widely recognized for its inventory of cards and stationery of every design, shape and for every occasion. Although cards are its calling, Papyrus also offers wrapping paper, wedding invitations and the like. Finishing second and third with 33 and 31 votes respectively were two Menlo Park institutions located on Santa Cruz Avenue--Paper Chase and McWhorter's Stationers.
Papyrus, 365 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 328-6141

Whether it's a couch, a toaster oven or an outfit to wear to a disco-revival party, one doesn't need to look further than the Goodwill Industries outlet in Palo Alto, voted by our readers for the third 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 zoot suit today, come back tomorrow. Goodwill received 85 votes. Runners-up in this category were Afterwards in Menlo Park and Bargain Box in Palo Alto.
Goodwill Industries, 4085 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-1416

When it comes to outdoor gear, Peninsulans don't mind making the trek to REI, which they voted the overwhelming top choice in this category. REI has two outlets nearby, one in Cupertino and the other in San Carlos. These cavernous establishments offer everything known to nature in the way of backpacking and mountaineering equipment and supplies. The second- and third-place finishers are closer to home and specialize more in traditional sporting goods: Big 5 Sporting Goods in Menlo Park and Copeland's Sports on University Avenue in Palo Alto.
REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), 20640 Homestead Road, Cupertino, (408) 446-1991; and 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, 508-2330

The competition was fierce here, but in the end voters for the third year in a row named Spirals Gallery in downtown Palo Alto the Best Store to Browse In. Spirals 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. But even if you aren't buying, it's worth seeing. Ask any browser. Second place was once again a battle between Z Gallerie on University Avenue and Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park. But this year they swapped positions. Z finished second and Kepler's came in third.
Spirals Gallery, 367 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1155

Locals don't ponder long before casting their ballots in this category. The hands-down favorite is Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. Whether you need Nerf rocket launchers or Rollerblades, ping-pong paddles or Pogs--the hottest new game in town--this store has it. At any time in this store's 64-year history in town, it probably would have won this category. In fact, for many years it probably would have won Best Bike Shop as well because as some may remember that Palo Alto Bicycles used to operate out of the back of this Waverley Street business. Coming in second was Toys-R-Us in Redwood City, and Imaginarium at Stanford Shopping Center was third.
Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 328-8555

The readers' favorite for the third year in a row is Bungey Travel Inc., which has been in downtown Palo Alto enchanting passersby with its posters of distant lands since 1931. This office specializes in first class/deluxe travel and tour arrangements, from exotic cruises in Southeast Asia to safaris in all parts of Africa. Second place belonged to local favorite Cardoza Travel Services at 555 Hamilton Ave. Third place was a tie between Small World Travel on El Camino Way and California State Auto Association (AAA) Travel Agency on Forest Avenue.
Bungey Travel Inc., 116 University Ave., Palo Alto, 325-5686

Since 1937, the family-owned and operated Bell's Book Store on Emerson Street in Palo Alto has been a haven for browsers and book bums who are drawn in by its 100,000-volume selection of used and rare books. Perhaps the only disconcerting part of visiting Bell's is watching the salesclerk ascend the ladder to get your books down from the precipitous shelves. In second place was Know Knew Books on California Avenue and, in third, Chimera Books and Records on University Avenue.
Bell's Book Store, 536 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-7822

Whether you're in a hurry or want to just browse, Blockbuster Video has been chosen once again by our readers as a runaway hit for the title of best video rental store. While many voters nominated their favorite mom n' pop stores--Midtown Video was second, again, and Videoscope on El Camino was a close third--Blockbuster won out with its free membership, large selection, late hours (until midnight at most locations) and two- and three-day rentals. Having three stores within a six-mile radius also makes it easier to find your favorite movie.
Blockbuster Video, 102 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-7582; 4102 B El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 424-1362; 1365 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 326-4797

After sharing the honor three years ago and just missing being named Best Place for a Workout in 1992, last year Reach Fitness Club finally, uh, reached the top--and now it's becoming a perennial favorite. It won again this year, ahead of the YMCA Fitness Centers and the Jewish Community Center. A combination of dawn-to-dusk activities, a variety of dance, aerobics and stretching classes, as well as weights and cardio machines make Reach the place to shed body fat and stress. Classes can be challenging and the music uplifting, whether you're a beginner or a veteran and no matter what your age.
Reach Fitness Club, 707 High Street, Palo Alto, 328-3224

If it's a simple sojourn away from suburban society you seek, our readers suggest seaside siestas, whether they be blue-collar or boutique destinations. Half Moon Bay, close and pretty cheap, and Carmel, a bit farther and pricier, tied for our readers' favorite affordable local overnight getaway. Obviously, affordable and local mean different things to different people. A close third was another coastal community, Monterey.

If you're a cyclist who's short on time but still would like to get in a quickie ride or just a leisurely spin through the countryside, try bicycling the pretty Stanford Loop, voted by our readers the best bike ride around. You don't have to be Miguel Indurain to enjoy this 16-mile sweep through the bucolic foothills. Start pedaling north along Junipero Serra Boulevard from the Stanford Golf Course, navigate the Alpine Road intersection and turn left on Sand Hill Road. You'll start to feel your heart pump and your legs burn as you climb past Interstate 280 into Portola Valley, where it turns into Portola Road. Follow it until you reach Alpine Road, turn left and enjoy a coast down to Arastradero Road. Maybe stop and enjoy a cold drink at the Alpine Inn. Continue on Arastradero Road until you reach Page Mill, where you'll steer left. Back to Junipero and it's another mile or so back to the start.

It wasn't too long ago that you would have been laughed at for suggesting that University Avenue was a good place to head for an exciting evening. No more. The apparent after-dark explosion of life along the city's central commercial strip has transformed University into what our readers believe is the best place for an evening stroll. Maybe it's the half-dozen or so shops along the way where you can get dessert that make it an attraction. Step off University and wander around the rest of downtown Palo Alto and our readers believe you've found the second-best place to put your feet to the pavement. See how many Birge Clark buildings or Greg Brown murals you can spot. And don't forget the side streets, where ornate Victorian homes still remain--see if you can find the one completely surrounded by other buildings (hint: it's off Bryant Street).

It's hard to know whether it was the far-out Appalachia folk tunes by Hillbillies From Mars or the pounding, thirst-quenching resonance of the German Oom-pa band Tyroleans that prompted our readers to name Palo Alto's Summer Concert Series best free entertainment in town. (It couldn't simply have been the fact that nobody had to pull out their wallet to enjoy this party. Nah.) The Recreation Department-run events featured a dozen performances as part of the Brown Bag lunchtime concerts at Cogswell Plaza and six Summer Twilight concerts at parks all around town. Nearly as popular with the populace was Stanford Shopping Center's summer jazz concerts.

The Varsity Theatre may have stolen all the controversy this year, but few businesses have added as much to the character of downtown Palo Alto as the renovated Stanford Theatre, the winner, for the third year running, in this category. The true moviegoing experience has been preserved within this shrine to Hollywood's golden age. With intricate detail, this theater has been restored to its original 1930s state by David Packard Jr. and the Stanford Theatre Foundation. For $6 ($4 for seniors, $3 for children) you can take a balcony seat and catch a Vincente Minnelli or John Ford classic, or maybe enjoy an old Harold Lloyd film while listening to a live accompaniment performed on the theater's Wurlitzer organ. What they say about old movies holds true for this movie house. They just don't make 'em like that anymore. The Century 10 on Page Mill took second in this survey. Readers also voted the Stanford the best place to take a first date.
Stanford Theatre, 221 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-3700

Even though it's way up in the hills and the sounds of traffic and city life are reduced to a murmur, Foothills Park is still within the city limits of Palo Alto. Probably because of the combination of convenience and outdoor beauty, it is our readers' choice for a place to picnic. And in a strange coincidence, our readers have also chosen Foothills as the area's best park, well ahead of second-place Shoreline. Foothills' myriad hiking trails and Boronda Lake make the park great for family outings. The park is restricted to Palo Alto residents and their guests, so bring your ID along with your chicken salad and coleslaw. Woodsy Huddart Park near Woodside and Windy Hill preserve tied for third as best picnic spot. Mitchell Park was rated second among readers as the best park.
Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, 329-2423

It's been one of those days, when all your mail is bills, there are no messages on your answering machine and you just can't shake that blue feeling. Our readers suggest heading for the cool, salty breezes at the Baylands Nature Preserve. This spot won last year, too. Could it be the strange, curative powers of bay mud. Go check out the duck pond, where you're sure to crack a smile watching some silly-looking duck dive for a bread crumb. Or go for a walk on the boardwalk and watch the serene lives of snowy egrets, herons, terns, gulls and other marine life. Something about the air, the rippling reeds and the birds has an amazing ability to restore the soul. For those whose spirits can only be lifted by unloading a little dough, our readers chose second-place Stanford Shopping Center as a remedy.
In a new category, readers voted the nature preserve the best place to walk your dog, with the Dish close behind. The Baylands' 1,700 acres in a peaceful marsh setting along the bay give plenty of space for Fido and Fifi to exercise while you enjoy the calm beauty and a variety of birds.
Baylands Nature Preserve, 2775 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto, 329-2506

For the fourth year in a row, Shoreline Amphitheatre gets our readers' vote as the best place to hear live music on the Peninsula. Some would say the best (or worst) place to hear music from Shoreline is in the comfort of their home, but the ample parking and the atmosphere of the starry nights make this the most popular place to enjoy the diversity of the concert calendar. For those who prefer somewhat more intimate settings for live music, second-place St. Michael's Alley provides a quieter alternative.
Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, 967-4040

The best place to meet people over 65, our readers believe, is the Senior Center of Palo Alto. A program of the Senior Coordinating Council of the Palo Alto Area, it offers a wide range of activities and services including lunch, a new computer center, games, socializing, classes on everything from computers to exercise to financial concerns, and the popular G. Derwood Baker Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Stanford professors. Three couples who met at the center since its 1978 opening have been married there. Little House in Menlo Park, a multipurpose senior center sponsored by Peninsula Volunteers, was a close second.
Senior Center of Palo Alto, 450 Bryant St., 327-2811

Stanford Shopping Center takes the prize for the fourth year in a row for the best place to people-watch. Pleasant outdoor cafes offer choice locations for observing people strolling by. It's a great place to see and to be seen. Close behind for people watching was University Avenue downtown.
Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 617-8585

The best place to take visitors is Stanford University, where you can photograph them through the graceful archways, enjoy the mosaics at Memorial Church, meander through the Rodin Sculpture garden and go to the top of the world-famous Hoover Tower and see San Francisco on the rare days it's not fogged in. Other attractions include the spectacular view from the Dish, concerts at Frost Ampitheater, lectures in Memorial Auditorium and Lively Arts performances in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Relax with a latte at the Tresidder Coffee House and browse through the bookstore to round out the visit.
Stanford University, 723-2300

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