The 'Best Of' 1997

Publication Date: Wednesday Aug 20, 1997

Best of Cover

The 'Best Of' 1997

Epicurean delights

For the third straight year, Weekly readers chose, by a huge margin, Noah's New York Bagels, located at the always-bustling corner of Bryant Street and University Avenue. Noah's, which offers about 20 varieties of freshly baked bagels each day, drew 147 votes for its steamed-not-boiled recipe. A Noah's shop is a slick combination of schmaltz and kitsch dear to the heart of any former New Yorker. Everything is kosher. There are no bagels-of-the-month in gimmicky flavors like pesto-pine nut or pumpkin. Cream cheese shmears, knishes and smoked fish and salads are available, and you can even pick up the Sunday New York Times there. In second place, with 62 votes, was Bagel Works, and close behind was Posh Bagels, with 43 votes.
Noah's, 278 University Ave., Palo Alto, 473-0751

Peninsula natives John Berwald and John Carroll made a serious research tour of Texas before opening Armadillo Willy's in 1983. The restaurant features "real Texas BBQ," including Willy's Famous Baby Back Pork Ribs and the award-winning St. Louis cut spareribs. Willy's is a hugely popular oasis of hearty flavors in an area top-heavy with Italian eateries and bottom-heavy with burrito joints. The Los Altos location (there are also Armadillo Willy's in Cupertino, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale and two in San Jose) sports aluminum-siding walls, a big stone hearth and Southwestern scenes on the walls. Even if you've never been there, you still may be familiar with their food from one of the many events they regularly cater. For the second year in a row, Armadillo Willy's won handily, with 91 votes. In second place was MacArthur Park, and East Palo Alto's Goldie's Barbecue took third.
Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-2922

For the second year in a row, Weekly readers have said the home of Palo Alto's best bread is at 2750 Middlefield Road in Midtown Palo Alto. That's where you'll find Phil Nasr's Harmony Bakery.. Nasr, a lifelong Palo Alto resident and former pastry chef at Barbarossa, uses no preservatives and no artificial colors in his all-natural loaves. For the last two years, Harmony Bakery has enjoyed greater visibility than ever, having moved to a new, bigger location--right across the street from the site of the old bakery. It even has a full juice bar, serving up everything from smoothies to wheatgrass juice. Harmony Bakery received 65 votes. In second place, with 36 votes, was Le Boulanger, and just behind was Il Fornaio, with 32 votes.
Harmony Bakery, 2750 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-1815.

Once again voters say that when it comes to any morning meal, the place to go is Hobee's, a six-time winner in the category of best breakfast, with 111 votes. Hobee's also received 30 votes for best brunch, winning for the third year in a row. All the usual breakfast options are available at Hobee's, including such delectables as the Stanford "Cardinal" omelets containing chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, spinach and cheese, topped with tomatillo sauce. A variety of scrambles--featuring everything from turkey to garlic--are also available for about $5. Of course, topping it all off is the famous "Hobeemade" blueberry coffeecake, which has a bigger following than many major political figures. Runner-up for best breakfast was the Peninsula Creamery, and Joanie's took third place. Holiday Inn came in second in the brunch category, followed closely by Late for the Train.
Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124, and 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's clearly the voters' take when it comes to deciding the winner of the best burger contest each year. The favorite once again is perennial champion Kirk's on California Avenue. The meat is seasoned by Kirk's employees with tomato soup and bread crumbs, then molded into 1/3-pound patties and barbecued over hot coals. You can top off your burger with just about anything you want. They've been doing it that way since 1949, when Kirk's first opened. One of the most popular offerings is the Pineapple Burger for $4.60, which you have to try to appreciate. The Kirk's Burger--which is actually a steak burger--is also a favorite for $4.25. Kirk's garnered 97 votes. Taxi's Hamburgers in Palo Alto was second with 41, and the Peninsula Creamery was third with 30.
Kirk's Restaurant, 361 California Ave., 326-6159

After finishing a close second last year, Andale Taqueria, has ousted six-year reigning champ Chevy's to win the Mexican Restaurant category. Readers also gave Andale the nod in the Burrito category. Supremo burritos laden with smoky grilled chicken, guacamole, beans and cheese are a favorite at Andale. And don't forget the cheese flan. The surreal art deco--including chili-pepper lights and a bulls head--only add to the the experience. In the close race for best burrito, Andale Taqueria had 38 votes, Pollo Rey had 34 and Una Mas had 32. In the Mexican restaurant category, Andale won by just two votes, with 31; Chevy's came in second with 29, and Palo Alto Sol took third place.
Andale Taqueria, 209 University Ave., 323-2939

OK, so you sip your double decaf latte with a view of El Camino Real, but the venerable Cafe Borrone is about as close as you're going to get to the bustling, see-and-be-seen atmosphere of a Euro cafe. They even still allow smoking at the many outdoor tables. The elegant edibles here include cheese and fruit plates, soups, sandwiches, quiche and a famous tiramisu. And of course they have all your favorite specialty coffee drinks. Ah, and those frozen mochas. There are few better places on the Midpeninsula for people-watching. The people who hang out here range from tweedy Stanford professors to business professionals to pierced teenagers. There's live Dixieland jazz on most Friday nights. For the second year, Caffe Verona finished second with 33 votes. Mike's Cafe and Printer's Inc. tied for third.
Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830

If you're craving Cajun, most Weekly voters agree that there is only one place to go--Nola's. The rustic, open-to-the-sky patio, and vibrant mustard, purple and turquoise walls decorated with masks and artifacts transport diners to the heart of Voodoo Country. And to add to the entertainment, live bands perform from one of the balconies on some nights. Instead of serving traditional New Orleans cuisine, Nola dishes out a unique mix of Cajun, Creole, Caribbean and Southwest fare. Popular main courses include Tony's teriyaki strip steak, (name for chef Tony Flier) served on garlic mashed potatoes and topped with crispy onion strings for $14.95, and blackened Hawaiian ahi tuna on red-pepper mashed potatoes for $15.50. Blue Chalk Cafe finished second, and Jose's, Mango Cafe and Cafe d'Orleans all tied for third.
Nola's, 535 Ramona St., 328-2722

The runaway choice for Best Cake is once again The Prolific Oven, which received 143 votes this year. Owned by Menlo Park resident Harriet Spier, the bakery specializes in cakes, breads, muffins and cookies of Spier's invention. The bakery's best-sellers are chocolate cakes with variations: chocolate cake with rum cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake with coffee cream cheese frosting, chocolate orange almond, chocolate on chocolate. Wedding cakes, a specialty, come adorned with gorgeous sprays of fresh flowers. At Passover, the bakery makes specialty cakes using matzoh meal and recently introduced the new chocolate Passover Decadence cake. Spier also has a reputation for being environmentally conscious. She recycles or composts everything from newspapers to banana peels to coffee grounds, and donates leftovers to local food closets. Second place in this category goes to Just Desserts with 29 votes, and Palo Alto Baking Co. placed third.
The Prolific Oven, 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-8485

You've got to be good to stay in the catering business for more than 20 years. Victoria Emmons is one such caterer. She was the choice of Weekly readers as the best in her business. Emmons handles a broad array of catering jobs, from large corporate functions to small private parties. If she had to classify her cuisine, it would be French Californian. Why was she selected best? Emmons believes it's a combination of consistent service, attention to detail, efficient staff, punctuality, good equipment and, of course, quality and variety of food. Coming in second place was Eric Ragir. Third place was won by In Perfect Taste.
Victoria Emmons Catering, 2699 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 325-4779

Su Hong, the perennial favorite for Best Chinese Restaurant, received 80 votes to take the crown once again. The restaurant has built its reputation on familiarity--all the traditional favorites are here--and convenience, offering takeout service that is utilized constantly by workers and students on tight budgets and tighter schedules. The menu is standard as far as Chinese restaurants go, but location and quality make Su Hong a favorite among many. Mandarin Gourmet, which also has a loyal following, placed second once again with 51 votes, and Jing Jing placed third with 27 votes.
Su Hong Restaurant, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852; 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-3836

Is it any coincidence that the restaurant that swept the Comfort Food category last year and this year also consistently takes top honors in the Milkshake division? Ah, the Peninsula Fountain and Grill, more commonly referred to as the Peninsula Creamery, is a place where even vegetarians have been known to consider the virtues of a carnivorous existence. Where some of the most devoted calorie counters have stopped their tabulating. Where many a cholesterol-phobe has come to believe--over a "breakfust" of bacon and eggs, or a mountainous helping of meatloaf and mashed potatoes (extra gravy)--that it's all in the genes anyway, so we might as well indulge. It's comforting just to walk in the doors of this downtown establishment, with its marbled Formica table-tops, '50s-style decor and nostalgic advertisements on the walls. The grill easily beat out its closest competitors in the Comfort Food category with 42 votes: Stickney's placed second, and Good Earth nabbed third. In the Milkshake category, it wasn't even close: The Creamery was the choice of 197 voters. Foster's Freeze came in second, and Taxi's Hamburgers took third place.
Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-3131

At Fresh Choice, kids 5 and under eat free. Youngsters 6-10 can chow down for $3.99. And, best of all, the soft-serve ice cream is unlimited. (Don't worry, Mom, so is the spinach salad.) It's hard to get more family-oriented than Fresh Choice at the Stanford Shopping Center. If it's the evening to give Mom (or Dad) a break from the kitchen, Fresh Choice gets the nod from Weekly readers as the top family restaurant for the third year in a row, beating out Hobee's and the Peninsula Fountain and Grill (better known as the Peninsula Creamery). With row upon row of kid-friendly nourishment, from Jell-O cubes to pizza, blueberry muffins to chicken soup, Fresh Choice offers something for even the pickiest little palate. And between pasta with pesto and Caesar salad, there's bound to be something to satisfy the bigger stomachs in the family as well.
Fresh Choice, 379 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-6995


Health-conscious residents have a lot of choices for finding good food, but for the fifth year in a row Whole Foods Market gets the nod from Weekly readers as the Best Place to Buy Health Food. 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. Whole Foods won Best Grocery Store with 78 votes to Draeger's 72 votes. Piazza's Fine Foods came in third with 44 votes. Among places to buy health food, Whole Foods received 123 votes to Country Sun's 65, with Trader Joe's coming in third. Country Sun was also the runner-up in the Environmentally Conscious Store category, with Common Ground taking third place.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., 326-8676

It may be a chain with as many stores as flavors, but Baskin-Robbins evidently is doing what it takes to be a winner in this category. Following a second-place finish a year ago, Baskin-Robbins and its 31 flavors (actually much more these days) made the big jump to first this year with 42 votes. Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream store also moved up, from third to second with 36 votes while last year's winner, Double Rainbow, slipped to third with 29. Perhaps aiding in its popularity is the fact Baskin-Robbins has three local locations--on University Avenue and at Midtown in Palo Alto and on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. Fruit smoothies are a new addition to the already wide variety of gourmet ice creams, frozen yogurts, fruit sorbets, coffee drinks and ice cream cakes. All this makes Baskin-Robbins a popular place--whether it's a warm evening or a cold night.
Baskin-Robbins 31 Ice Cream & Yogurt Stores, 2615 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 327-1636; 863 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 323-9335; 267 University Ave., Palo Alto, 325-2100

The exotic dishes of Janta India Cuisine, such as shrimp biryani and rice pilaf with shrimp and cashew nuts, helped the restaurant win this year's reader's poll for the second straight year. The tiny restaurant, which received 31 votes, cooks everything from scratch--even the lowly garbanzo bean is roasted before it's boiled. The restaurant features vegetarian and Tandoori dishes and is open seven days a week. Darbar moved up a spot to second, edging five-time winner Gaylord of India by a single vote.
Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Avenue, Palo Alto, 462-5903.

For a luxurious pasta dinner in an authentic Italian setting, Weekly readers once again recommend Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana. Find out why when you munch some crusty bread dipped in olive oil, sip a glass of chianti and watch the chefs prepare your meal right in front of you at the counter. The restaurant, which received 45 votes, offers a fine selection of pizzas, as well as oakwood-roasted meat and pastas such as linguini and cannelloni. The restaurant's tasteful interior includes mirrored walls and an authentic Italian bar. Palermo moved up one spot to second, garnering 33 votes. Osteria, second last year, slipped to third with 26 votes.
Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888

Despite a fire that closed the store for a lengthy period, Juice Club/Jamba Juice at Town and Country Village still has a strong enough following to dominate this category for the third straight year. Jamba Juice, formerly known simply as the Juice Club, started in San Luis Obispo in 1990 and has become mega-popular with people looking for healthy drinks such as the orange, strawberry and banana-filled Ironman/Woman and the guava and pineapple laced Guava Gulp. Customers are also given their choice of two additional ingredients to add to a smoothie, including protein powder, ginseng, calcium bee pollen, oat bran, wheat germ and a nutrient powder known as the "Juice Boost." Fresh orange and carrot juices are also available, as well as healthy snacks, health books and juicers. Jamba Juice received 93 votes to beat out Slammin' Juice (formerly known as Jammin' Juice) in Midtown, which received 36 votes. Juice Patch in Menlo Park took third place.
Jamba Juice, 69 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto 325-2582

The night owls in our community weighed in for the first time this year on their favorite restaurants to hang out in after dark. The winner was Lyon's Restaurant, on El Camino Real in Los Altos. Lyon's signature dish is prime rib, topped with onions or mushrooms, but that's only served 'til 10 p.m. After that, you can get big Caesar salads, chicken quesadillas, French fries or anything else on their special "late night" menu. The 24-hour restaurant caters to many of the bar-hopping crowd, who come by to have a nibble before they call it an evening. If you're craving something sweet at 2 o'clock in the morning, Lyon's also has an array of desserts, from New York cheesecake, lemon meringue pie and apple pie to a huge ice cream sundae with three scoops of ice cream and your choice of sauce. The second place late-night restaurant winner is Il Fornaio on Cowper Street near University Avenue in Palo Alto. Tied for third place were Denny's and Stickney's.
Lyon's, 4298 El Camino Real, Los Altos, 941-4204.

The favorite cheap meal for the third year in a row was Pollo Rey, which specializes in an array of burritos, from chicken mole to vegetarian, and everything in between. Prices range from the "chico" Senor Veggie for $2.95, to the "grande" chicken burrito for $4.75, to the "supremo" carne asada (steak) for $6. Supremo burritos include guacamole and sour cream and fresh hand-cut salsa. You choose white, whole wheat or even tomato tortillas. This place also offers slow mesquite-roasted chicken, chicken quesadillas, chicken tacos and stuffed baked potatoes with chicken. If you are in the mood to drink something new, try horchata, a Mexican drink made of rice, meal, water, sugar and cinnamon. Among other favorite cheap meals, Una Mas narrowly edged out Taco Bell for second place.
Pollo's, 543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 473-0212, and 683 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 853-1200

For Best New Restaurant, Weekly readers chose Pluto's, which sits where the old Henry's used to be on University Avenue. Pluto's has a futuristic George Jetson-esque decor, and the motto, "Fresh Food for a Hungry Universe." And, there's probably enough to feed most of the galaxy. The cafeteria-style restaurant serves large portions and has fast-moving lines at an array of food stations, from a salad bar to a grill. You can see your spinach salad (huge) made on the spot, or your flank steak grilled to perfection. The menu offers a range of vegetarian entrees, as well as mashed potatoes ("Smashed Spuds"). A celestial variety of desserts follows the main course. The specialty of the house is s'mores, topped with marshmallows. Crescent Park Grill and Spalti tied for second place.
Pluto's, 482 University Ave., Palo Alto, 853-1556

The closing of the Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market in Palo Alto, the perennial favorite in this category, opened the doors for Osteria, which came in second this year. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended if you plan to dine in this immensely popular restaurant, which captures the feel of a small neighborhood trattoria in Florence. Osteria's menu features such delightful dishes as veal scaloppine, carpaccio, prosciutto with melon and fettuccine Alfredo. Osteria received 36 votes, Il Fornaio came in second, and--old habits die hard--Florentine, even without a Palo Alto location, ranked third.
Osteria, 247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 328-5700

The status quo held firm in the local pizza scene during this year's poll. Applewood Inn, with 67 votes, was selected as the most popular pizzeria for the seventh year in a row. At Applewood, customers can find both exotic and traditional toppings for their pizzas. Applewood has made its excellent reputation by creating unusual variations of pizza for adult tastes. Creative minds have come up with sophisticated flavor combinations with an international edge, such as the Nice (spinach, ricotta, red onions and tomatoes), the Dallas (chili sauce, barbecue beef, chilies and red peppers), and the Athens (marinated eggplant, feta, sun-dried tomatoes and capers). None of this deters from the bottom line of an excellent pizza: a terrific, chewy crust, cheese thick enough to pull off in strings and a flavorful tomato sauce. Pizz'a Chicago again came in second, with 57 votes, and Round Table again finished third, with 43 votes.
Applewood Inn, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-3486

Started in Pasadena in 1921 by Canadian immigrants Mrs. See and her son, See's Candies has been in Palo Alto since the 1940s (it opened the Stanford Shopping Center store in 1956). See's received 62 votes in this year's poll, wining Best Place for a Chocolate Fix for the third year in a row. The chocolatier does nearly half of its business volume during the Christmas season, but Palo Alto fans can shop any day of the year for all-time favorites like Bordeaux creams, chocolate butter and, of course, boxed assorted chocolates. Prolific Oven took second place with 30 votes, and Just Desserts came in third.
See's Candies, 123 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-8274

Jing Jing, the Chinese restaurant where eyes have been known to water just upon entering the establishment, is still sizzling for the third year in a row. One has to wonder, after a bowl of their hot and sour soup, why they even bother with the "sour" in the name. The orange peel chicken is another fiery favorite here. Keep the water close at hand, bring something to mop that brow, and settle in for some of the spiciest culinary sensations this side of the Szechwan province. Don't worry--if you're not a chili aficionado, there are plenty of mild alternatives here. Jing Jing easily won the Hot and Spicy category this year with 50 votes. The Mango Cafe came in second, and Left at Albequerque and Siam Garden tied for third.
Jing Jing, 443 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 328-6885.

For dining al fresco, look no farther than the Empire Tap Room. For the third year in a row, Weekly readers have named it the Best Place for Outdoor Dining. The custom-made mahogany bar and the oversized booths lining the opposite wall create a convivial setup, and there are more than a dozen beers on tap, including such rarities as Anderson Valley India Pale Ale and Hubsch Marzen. But the real treasure of the Empire is its outdoor patio, a gracious dining room with a celestial ceiling. Well-spaced tables are covered with white linens in an atmosphere that is subdued but made friendly by a trickling fountain and rustling greenery. Don't worry about getting cold--outdoor heaters keep the environment cozy. Refreshing summer favorites include cool gazpacho, Asian chicken salad and lemon mascarpone to top things off. Popular year-round menu items span a broad range of California homestyle cuisine: meats from an open grill, side dishes like sauteed spinach, mashed potatoes, fries with garlic mayonnaise and roasted new potatoes, fresh fish and such appetizer staples as steamed mussels, carpaccio, grilled polenta and fried calamari. The Empire Tap Room was a big favorite with voters, garnering a hefty total of 70 votes. Il Fornaio took second place, and MacArthur Park and Nola tied for third.
Empire Grill and Tap Room, 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 321-3030.

Yet another plus of living in the Bay Area is that the Pacific Ocean is but a stone's throw away. The best place to snatch the freshest of the day's catch is Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park. The market on El Camino Real tops the list once again this year with 85 votes. Founded in 1928 by Bill Cook, the market specializes in fresh fish bought from local fishermen. Cook's sells more than 40 varieties of seafood, featuring snapper and sole fished from local waters. Whether you're planning to deep-fry calamari, throw a salmon steak on the grill or steam some halibut, our readers say Cook's is the best place to go. The Fish Market in Palo Alto finished second in the poll, and Whole Foods Market in Palo Alto took third place.
Cook's Seafood Market, 751 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-2231

The best place to go for plump, juicy blackberries to fill a scrumptious pie or sensuous summer squash to accompany a perfectly grilled slab of swordfish is, believe it or not, Stanford Shopping Center. Nestled in a corner of the mall, Monterey Market was chosen by our readers as the best spot to pick the freshest fruits and vegetables--the makings of delicious and healthy meals. The open-air market took the lead again this year, with 111 votes. The weekend Palo Alto Farmer's Market garnered a respectable second place with 60 votes, and Whole Foods Market, which sells an array of organic fruits and vegetables, received 35 votes.
Monterey Market, 399 Stanford Shopping Center, 329-1340

Surf and turf acquires an elegant new flair at Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, voted again this year the best place to buy meat. Schaub's had the winning combination of quality and friendly, helpful service, which added up to 83 votes in this year's poll. Besides a wide array of meats, this upscale meat market also has a delectable selection of spices, dressings and gourmet dishes, such as Thai chicken salad and fresh bread. Whether it's freshly cooked turkey or chicken, or ribs or sausages that you crave, our readers advise heading straight to Schaub's for the best selection available daily. The upscale Draeger's market in Menlo Park again finished second with 34 votes, and Whole Foods Market took third place with 27 votes.
Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, 395 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-6328

Local wine connoisseurs seem to agree that the best place to go for vintages from France to Australia to, yes, Lebanon, is Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, taking the lead again this year with 86 votes. Beltramo's, a family-owned and -operated business founded in 1882, has 4,000 different selections of wine, a tasting room and in-house wine consultants. The upscale wine shop features a large selection of hard-to-find labels from small California wineries and the largest selection of Italian wines in the area. Finishing second was Trader Joe's with 32 votes. Third place went to Vin Vino Wine.
Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-2806

The best place to make an elegant first impression on a new date or even an old sweetheart, our readers agree, is Evvia. With hardwood floors, fresh flowers, an open kitchen and olive oil bottles lined up against the back wall, the atmosphere inside Evvia is what one would expect from a restaurant in Greece rather than a Greek restaurant in Palo Alto. Specializing in both Greek and Mediterranean fare, Evvia offers traditional favorites such as spit-roasted leg of lamb and mesquite-grilled lamb chops along with more unusual dishes such as grilled octopus (an appetizer) or grilled whole sea bass with charred greens. You'd hardly know you're eating heart-healthy with a savory plateful of grilled salmon with oven-roasted vegetables over eggplant mashed potatoes. The average cost for an enchanted evening for two at Evvia is about $50, including wine, and it's a good idea to make reservations. Evvia edged out Chantilly II European Restaurant in both categories. Max's Opera Cafe took third place in the Best Restaurant for a First Date category. Flea Street Cafe came in third for Best Special Occasion Restaurant.
Evvia 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-0983

Aside from great food, what really makes for a memorable eating experience is terrific service. According to our readers, you'll find the best service at Chantilly II European Restaurant in Palo Alto. The restaurant, a favorite of local venture capitalists, was chosen as venue for Microsoft's Bill Gates' $1.5 billion acquisition of Mountain View's Intuit Inc. A short trip down a cobbled alley off Ramona Street leads you to Chantilly II's door. The restaurant offers six private dining rooms, some with fireplaces. The atmosphere is elegant, as is the food: Here, continental cuisine translates to entrees such as Calamari Steak or Roasted Sonoma Quail. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Chantilly's luscious Creme Brule or Warm French Apple Torte with Caramel Sauce. Reservations are recommended. Chantilly II edged out Cafe Pro Bono, Evvia and Maddelena's, which all tied for second place.
Chantilly II, 530 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 321-4080

Looking for a smashing seafood meal? Our readers say head to The Fish Market in Palo Alto, where you can find rare treats, such as New Zealand's John Dory fish or Australian Gold Band Snapper. The restaurant also offers plenty of delicious favorites, such as swordfish caught on one of the establishment's own boats, the "Harpooned Pilikea." A longtime reader favorite, this time with 91 votes, The Fish Market was chosen as the place to go for seafood. Other things you'll find on the menu are mahi mahi, trout, tropical fish, clams, mussels and oysters, fresh from their own oyster farm up on Puget Sound. There are a sea of appetizers--ranging from white clam chowder to several different seafood cocktails--to whet your appetite for the entrees, which come with rice or potatoes. With 35 votes, Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar came in second. Cook's Seafood took third place.
The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-9188

If you're looking for a big, juicy steak, Weekly readers can tell you where to find it. The best place to eat a steak, for the third year in a row, is the Sundance Mine Company. Sundance has attracted a loyal following by serving a small but well-chosen array of entrees that are centered on, but not limited to, a passion for beef. The restaurant won again because the chefs buy only properly aged Angus beef and then cut it by hand at the restaurant. The menu also features seafood (fresh daily), shellfish, chicken and three kinds of pasta. Sundance won hands down with 52 votes. MacArthur Park finished second, and Schaub's and L'Amie Donia tied for third place.
Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798

Miyake is once again on top of the rice heap among sushi and Japanese restaurants. Its 56 votes this year were more than enough to overcome its perennial rival Fuki-Sushi, which received 46 votes. Both have great sushi--the difference is atmosphere. Miyake attracts a younger crowd to its loud, lively University Avenue location, complete with flashing disco lights and accompanying disco music whenever large groups indulge in saki bombs. Fuki-Sushi has a more sedate, classical Japanese atmosphere. Though Miyake now has a much larger dining space than it used to, lines for dinner still run a mile long. Higashi West took third place.
Miyake Restaurant, 140 University Ave., Palo Alto, 323-9449

Try the lunch special at Siam Garden starting at $5.95, and you will know instantly why it is the area's perennial favorite Thai restaurant. Appetizers feature curry-laden chicken, pork or beef, as well as scads of vegetarian dishes. With reasonable prices--the jumbo prawns top the menu at $11.95--and the combination of various quality menu choices, Siam Garden is consistently an award-winner. Thai City and Bangkok Cuisine tied for second place.
Siam Garden, 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 853-1143

Burger King may have a salad bar, but our readers still prefer their vegetarian food from a place that has a little more history in the field of healthy food. For the fourth year in a row, Weekly readers chose Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery for its vegetarian fare. The restaurant certainly has endured: Good Earth has been blending smoothies and stir-frying vegetables in Palo Alto since 1976. Besides ubiquitous salads, vegetarians can sup on exotic vegetarian mixtures like polenta and black beans, magic eggplant, Guatemalan rice and tofu and walnut mushroom au gratin. The Good Earth is also home to the fragrant Good Earth cinnamon tea. Once again, Fresh Choice came in second in the voting. Garden Fresh and Late for the Train tied for third place.
Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery, 185 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9449

The right stuff

If you are a person who likes variety in an antique store, Antiques Unlimited is the place to go, according to readers who voted it Best Antique Store this year. Antiques Unlimited offers an eclectic blend of high-quality merchandise, ranging from antique jewelry to early American pine furniture to vintage clothing. The Antique Trove came in second, edging out Adele's Antiques.
Antiques Unlimited, 542 High St., Palo Alto, 328-3748

If you're looking for some fine photos, The Photographer's Gallery has everything from vintage 20th century photographs to works by Ansel Adams. Weekly readers voted it the Best Art Gallery this year. The Photographer's Gallery offers "museum-quality" art, as well as expertise for the novice and the experienced individual. Photography shows change every six to eight weeks. The dynamic-but-classic art setting draws in customers. The gallery often features work by established photographers, as well as up-and-coming local artists. The Gallery House came in second, and Spirals finished third.
The Photographer's Gallery, 536 Ramona, Palo Alto, 328-0662

With 8,000 square feet of classy, high-ceilinged space, Wheelsmith bears little resemblance to the tiny garage on Alma Street where brothers Ric and John Hjirtberg built wheels and repaired bikes 20 years ago. Now Wheelsmith carries more spandex than a girdle shop and has TV screens that show videos of races. But some things never change: Wheelsmith still builds wheels, does repairs, displays groovy old bikes and plays KJAZ on the radio. The user-friendly store is an upstairs-downstairs affair, with a workshop and parts sold downstairs and accessories, videos, bikes and magazines sold upstairs. "At least we don't have a talking diorama," said co-owner Ric Hjirtberg. Wheelsmith coasted to an easy victory with 44 votes. Palo Alto Bicycles and Garner's Pro Bicycle Shop tied for second place.
Wheelsmith, 201 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 324-0510

Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park once again has won the Best Bookstore category, with an overwhelming 157 votes. Printers Inc. Bookstore in Palo Alto has once again finished second, with a solid 68 votes. Both stores feature knowledgeable staffs, great depths in the various popular categories and personalized service. Both also feature extensive programs of readings and book signings each month, so you can meet your favorite authors in person. Plus, both stores sell newspapers and magazines from around the country and the world. Kepler's is open from 9 every morning until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Borders Bookstore finished third, with 42 votes.
Keplers's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-4321

A good car mechanic is always hard to find, but Weekly readers say they've found one. Though dozens of local shops received a vote or two, Ole's Car Shop remains the readers' favorite. Personal service--they'll remember your name and your car's quirks--and a convenient downtown location are just two of the attractions at Ole's. Ole's won this category with 28 votes. Helmings Auto Repair came in second, and Honda Small Car came in a close third.
Ole's Car Shop, 801 Alma St., Palo Alto, 328-6537

Though Palo Alto Community Child Care was the clear winner last year, this year's poll finds them tied for first place with the Stanford Arboretum Children's Center at Stanford University. Housed in cottage-like buildings on the Stanford campus, the Arboretum serves about 150 families. They offer full- and part-time care, a highly-trained staff and student-to-teacher ratios that are well below state requirements. High ceilings and low windows, hours from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and competitive prices for infants and toddlers are just a few of the Arboretum's features. The PACCC offers a collection of 14 full- and part-time programs for children 2 months to 12 years. Their goal is to "enhance each child's self-concept" while "building a sense of community for all children and families." They offer activities that are physically and mentally challenging. Readers ranked the Downtown Children's Center a close third.
The Arboretum at Stanford, 215 Quarry Road, Stanford, 725-6322, Palo Alto Community Child Care, 3990 Ventura Court, Palo Alto, 493-2361

If your clothes are stained and you don't trust yourself to clean them, our readers say the best place to go is Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers. And that's what our readers have said for the last couple of years, too. Delia's does more than clean and launder ordinary clothing. The business, which was founded in San Jose in 1969 and has 31 stores between there and here, also does leather, suede and, of course, draperies. And if you've lost (or gained) a little weight around the waist, the tailors and seamstresses at Delia's also do alterations. Delia's won with 24 votes. Runners-up this year are Charleston Cleaners in second place and Town and Country Village Cleaners, which came in a close third.
Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 321-9190; 2103 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 323-9190

When it's time to give your face a rejuvenating, revitalizing experience, Weekly readers say the two La Belle shops in Palo Alto are the first places they'd go. La Belle won this new category handily, with 51 votes. La Belle offers more than 10 different customized facials, with prices starting at $75. They also offer facials for men and teens. All facials are performed in private treatment rooms, and highly-trained specialists explain every step of the process to the customer. "When a customer leaves La Belle, they are thoroughly schooled in the fine art of face and skin care," said marketing director Suzy Strauss. Founded by Bella Schneider in 1975 in San Francisco, La Belle also offers body massages, wraps and scrubs, as well as electrolysis, waxing and nail and makeup artistry. Watercourse Way took second place, and Beau Visage came in third.
La Belle Day Spas, 95 Town and Country Village in Palo Alto, 327-6964, and 37 Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, 326-8522

The winner in this new category is one of the fastest-growing financial investment firms in the nation. Weekly readers declared Charles Schwab the best place to make a financial investment. The pioneer of "no transaction fee" mutual funds, Charles Schwab serves more than 4.4 million active investors nationwide. Schwab capitalizes on technology by offering many computer services that provide investors 24-hour investment access and information. Schwab provides services for individuals, institutions, financial advisors and retirement plans. The Menlo Park branch has 16 employees with a breadth of expertise and a wide range of investment services to offer. Second place in this category goes to Dean Witter, and third place goes to Fidelity Investments.
Charles Schwab, 800 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-2333

There is nothing like a bunch of fresh flowers to bring the outside in, and according to our readers, there is no florist around quite like Stapleton Florist, in its narrow, pink building on Waverley Street. From round-eyed cosmos to irises, lilies, roses and fragrant stock, you can find the perfect arrangement. Buckets brim over with colorful blossoms, and the hanging chalkboard lists names and prices. Just hand your choice to Mrs. Stapleton or her assistant, and they will wrap it in tissue and a matching colored ribbon. In an almost exact repeat of last year's voting, Stapleton received 67 votes, followed by the Palo Alto Farmer's Market with 26 votes and Stanford Florists with 21 votes.
Stapleton Florist, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 321-5390

Want to settle in Friday night with a vintage Fellini or Kurosawa movie? Want to see some classic French films? Weekly readers say Midtown Video is the place to find foreign film rentals. The store has 720 foreign titles, not counting British films, from 36 different countries. Stanford faculty and students are among regular customers. Midtown Video won 31 votes, while Blockbuster and Videoscope tied for second place with 19 votes apiece.
Midtown Video, 2655 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-0637

Whether it's your child's fingerpainting masterpiece or an original O'Keefe, our readers say they prefer to take their art to University Art Center for framing. In business since 1947, the store, with locations in San Francisco and San Jose, is known for its knowledgeable staff, who can help you choose from the seemingly infinite frame and mat styles available. Don't forget to browse through the rest of the store, including the Corner Gallery next door. The University Art Center again easily won the voting as the best framing shop, with 38 votes, followed by Richard Sumner Frames and Prints and the Great American Framing Shop.
University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 328-3500

The Z Gallerie store in downtown Palo Alto edged out Flegel's Home Furnishing in downtown Menlo Park as the best furniture store in this year's balloting, breaking Flegel's grip on first place in this category. Z Gallerie boasts a number of styles from contemporary to modern, and has furniture and furnishings for every room in your house. The store's specialty may be living room sofas, with more than 20 on its display floor at any one time. Restoration Hardware took third place.
Z Gallerie, 340 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-0693

As evidenced by its crowded parking lot every weekend, Woolworth Garden Center is a popular spot to get everything from trellises to trees, aphid spray to annuals. Tops for the third year in a row, the nursery offers a large selection of plants, especially unusual perennial varieties, at low prices. This category once again garnered a lot of voter interest. Woolworth Garden Center was the repeat winner with 65 votes this year, followed again by the upscale Smith & Hawken store with 42 votes and Roger Reynolds Nursery with 32 votes.
Woolworth Garden Center, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, 493-5136

Once again, Yosh for Hair is the favorite of Weekly readers, with 33 votes. At Yosh, haircuts cost between $42 and $68, but if you only trust your 'do to Yosh himself, it will cost $100. The tony Palo Alto salon puts its "hair designers" through a rigorous training program before they consult and cut hair for full-paying customers. The color specialists who do tints and highlights also go through a training program. If you've got a barbershop budget, sign up for a $14 haircut by the trainees. Call Thursday mornings to sign up for the following Wednesday's class. And on bad hair days, anyone can drop by for advice. Supercuts took second place, and Hair International was a hair behind in third place.
Yosh for Hair, 240 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-4067

No contest. Palo Alto Hardware, is a two-by-four above the rest in our readers' do-it-yourself dreams, nailing down three times as many votes as its closest competitor. Since opening near downtown in January 1993, the store, an independently-owned affiliate of Ace Hardware, has built a reputation for courteous, small-town service. And, like the general stores of the past, it carries a wide selection of goods, from PVC piping to cooking wares. After Palo Alto Hardware's 112 votes, Menlo Park Hardware Co. on Santa Cruz Avenue took second place with 34 votes, edging out Orchard Supply Hardware in Redwood City, which received 33.
Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma St., Palo Alto, 327-7222

Mediterranean architecture, 62 guest rooms overlooking a flower-filled courtyard and excellent service are just some of the reasons the Garden Court Hotel came in first place with our readers. Rooms range from $210 to $435 a night, depending on whether you desire a courtyard view, fireplace, Jacuzzi, or perhaps the penthouse suite. All include VCRs with complimentary videos and popcorn, terry cloth robes, down pillows and comforters, a Wall Street Journal and local newspaper delivered to your door every morning, and room service available 24 hours a day. Beginning in August, every room at Garden Court will have a fax machine. The hotel uses its downstairs neighbor, Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana, Palo Alto's award-winning restaurant, for both room service and catering. Garden Court received 49 votes. The Stanford Park Hotel took second place with 38 votes, and Holiday Inn came in third.
Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 322-9000

Catering to the whims of generations of Palo Altans since 1931, Gleim Jewelers proved, with 30 votes, that they and their diamonds are Palo Alto's best friend. From money clips to estate jewelry, Gleim has trinkets starting at $50 and ranging as high as $50,000. Jewelers at the three locations--University Avenue in Palo Alto, Stanford Shopping Center and Main Street in Los Altos--will appraise your grandmother's broach, fix your watch or design your engagement ring. A community institution, Gleim takes pride in customer service and will deal with customers over the phone or by mail. They buy pieces from individuals and also offer consignment for those who want to sell their jewels directly. Coming in second was Timothy Fidge, and De Novo Fine Contemporary Jewelry took third place.
Gleim the Jeweler, 322 University Ave., 323-1331; Stanford Shopping Center, No. 119, 325-3533; 350 Main Street, Los Altos, 949-1122

When it comes to having your muscles rubbed, your senses soothed and generally pampering yourself for an hour or two, Watercourse Way won hands down with readers once again. Feel like a spa, sauna and cold plunge? How about a seaweed wrap or a holistic facial and massage with bio-intrinsic herbs and essential oils? Watercourse Way offers a variety of packages to suit every need and budget ranging from a basic hot tub and massage for $66 to the four-and-a-quarter-hour, $252 Ayurvedic treatment to purify the body and mind. Or, you can just soak in the hot tub for an hour for $25, if you need a quick pick-me-up. With 59 votes, Watercourse Way won handily. In second place was La Bell with 27 votes. Body Therapy came in third.
Watercourse Way, 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, 462-2000

The zenith of local music stores is once again Tower Records, according to our readers, who gave it 73 votes. The Mountain View mecca serves as a teen hangout, concert ticket outlet, and warehouse for musical tastes spanning the gamut from classical and jazz to ear-splitting rock. There's also a video department, a healthy selection of CD singles and a bookstore next door. Best of all, if you feel compelled to buy an Indigo Girls CD late on Christmas Eve, you can head on over to Tower. The store is open from 9 a.m. to midnight every day of the year. Melody Lane and Hear Music tied for second place in the Best Music Store category. For Best Place to Blow Your Last $20, Kepler's Books in Menlo Park claimed second place, and Printer's Inc. Bookstore on California Avenue came in third.
Tower Records, 630 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, 941-7900

Longs Drug Store chain has become firmly entrenched as the place of choice for buying potions and lotions and prescriptions to tend ailments. With 48 votes, Longs won this category for the fourth year in a row. Walgreens Drug Store, with outlets in Palo Alto and Mountain View, picked up 30 votes. Maximart Pharmacy made a strong showing in third place with 24 votes.
Longs Drug Store, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1667

Photo Time at the Stanford Shopping Center held onto first place in this category for the second year in a row with 43 votes. The store across from Crate & Barrel offers one-hour photo processing, reprints, enlargements, poster prints, slides, overheads from prints, a portrait studio, meeting presentation services and many other services. Longs Drug Store came in second with 29 votes. Venerable Keeble and Shuchat on California Avenue received 22 votes.
Photo Time, 138 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 326-7687

For creative cards and stationery, Letter Perfect is the most popular with our readers. The store's stated mission is to "create, inspire and share beauty, quality and service." One-on-one customer service is a signature feature at Letter Perfect, which also offers an inclusive product line that caters to a wide spectrum of patrons. It offers in-house printing of invitations and sells a plethora of cards and journals. With 27 votes, Letter Perfect pulled ahead of Papyrus, last year's victor, which garnered 26 votes. Located near the clock tower at Stanford Shopping Center, Papyrus sells paper in a plethora of designs, shapes and forms for a variety of occasions. Longs Drugs came in third with 23 votes.
Letter Perfect, 384 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 321-3700

Even though it's a bit of a trek to REI, Weekly readers think it's the best place in the area to buy backpacking gear, camping food, rugged clothing, maps, kayaks, and climbing, biking and skiing gear. Recreational Equipment Inc., with outposts in Cupertino and San Carlos, pulled off an easy win, with 66 votes. North Face in Palo Alto took second place, and Big 5, Pacific Mountaineer and Redwood Trading Forest all tied for third place.
REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), 20640 Homestead Road, Cupertino, (408) 446-1991; and 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, 508-2330

This year, voters declared that a visit to the Palo Alto Humane Society (which is separate from the Animal Shelter) is the best way to find yourself a new furry friend. The Humane Society provides several community programs, including Saturday dog hikes and animal visitation to nursing homes and hospitals. The organization, which won 50 votes, mostly deals with cat or kitten adoptions, but has a placement list for other animals as well. A new feline friend will cost $70, but this fee also provides a year's membership to the Humane Society, spay or neuter surgery, vaccination and many other services. Monette Pet Store on California Avenue came in second, and Pet's in Need in Redwood City took third place.
Palo Alto Humane Society, 415 Cambridge Ave., Palo Alto, 327-0631

Need a good warm coat that doesn't come with 48-month financing? Want a television but don't want something that requires a high-beamed ceiling and a security guard? One doesn't need to look farther than the Goodwill Industries outlet in Palo Alto, voted the area's best thrift store once again, this time with 39 votes. The prices are reasonable, the racks are well-organized, and the merchandise changes almost daily. So if you don't find that tweed coat this week, come back tomorrow. Bargain Box in Palo Alto took second place. Two Menlo Park stores, New Life Boutique and The Shop (Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula Inc.), tied for third place.
Goodwill Industries, 4085 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-1416

If your feet crave the pampering provided by quality shoes, Nordstrom is the place to go, according to 65 Weekly voters. Located in the Stanford Shopping Center, Nordstrom has a large selection of colors and styles. Footwear, Etc. on University Avenue racked up 46 votes. Robert Krohn on El Camino Real took third place.
Nordstrom, 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 323-5111

When it comes to shoe repair, you want a place that wears well. So readers knew what they were doing when they decided their top choice was Paul's European Cobblery, a locally owned and family-operated company serving the Palo Alto area since 1943. Paul's has three local shops, all of which are known for their quick and friendly service. Shoes are repaired while you wait. Paul's also offers a selection of Swedish clogs and Negev-Sabra footwear and many footwear accessories. Paul's received 51 votes to top Midtown Shoe Repair, which received 36. The Cobbler Shop at Stanford Shopping Center took third place.
Paul's European Cobblery, 410 California Ave., Palo Alto, 323-0409; 390 University Ave., entrance on Waverley Street, Palo Alto, 323-3045; and 993 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-6911.

How about some organic catnip for $8? Or a colorful dog visor for $5.50? Or maybe a $600 weather vane? These are all to be found in Spirals Gallery in downtown Palo Alto, which has taken first place in this category once again. Spirals, which received 38 votes, specializes in a variety of items, ranging from decorative dishes to ornate glassware. All of it is artistic, and most are available at reasonable prices. Be sure to check out the Polly Frizzel clocks featuring a breakfast plate with two strips of bacon, which serve as the clock's hands. This timely meal costs $150. Coming in second was Z Gallerie, located on University Avenue in Palo Alto, with 27 votes. Restoration Hardware, also on University Avenue, was third with 21 votes.
Spirals Gallery, 367 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1155

If it's a $21 Bill Clinton Halloween mask you need or a game of Chutes and Ladders, the readers' choice for the place to go is Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. This 66-year-old Palo Alto establishment offers everything from rubber rats for 59 cents to $8.49 Magic 8 Balls to a pair of Rollerblades. Remember Twister? You can still find the game here for $16.99. Sport and Toy received a whopping 84 votes this year. Coming in second this year was Toys R Us in Redwood City, with 28 votes. Imaginarium, located in the Stanford Shopping Center, came in third.
Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 328-8555

Weekly readers once again have given the Best Travel Agency honors to Bungey Travel Inc., a downtown institution since 1931. With 28 votes, Bungey won this category hands down. The Bungey world view can zoom in on everything from deluxe steamer tours to Southeast Asia to the college student's tour of Europe on $4 a day (well, maybe not exactly $4). Small World Travel on El Camino in Palo Alto claimed second place, and five agencies tied for third place.
Bungey Travel Inc., 116 University Ave., Palo Alto, 325-5686

The area is blessed with excellent bookstores, and that includes stores selling used books. This year, Know Knew Books regained first place with 51 votes. With more than 80,000 books, the store is renowned for its eclectic collection of titles, which includes sets of 1940s vintage paperbacks. The California Avenue store has been feeding appetites for rare books for eight years. Last year's champion, Bell's Bookstore, fell to second place with 34 votes. In third place was MegaBooks in Palo Alto, which garnered 26 votes.
Know Knew Books, 415 California Ave., Palo Alto, 326-9355

Not surprisingly, Blockbuster Video won by a landslide for the second consecutive year with 86 votes. With locations all over the Bay Area, including two in Palo Alto, Blockbuster is a convenient place to rent your favorite movie. Midtown Video took second place with 23 votes. Videoscope came in third.
Blockbuster Video, 4102 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 424-1362, or 102 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-7582

YMCA Fitness Centers are the readers' choice for the best workout in Palo Alto. Whether you're partial to playing basketball or swimming in the new pool at the Ross Road location or whacking a racquetball at the Page Mill Road center, they both offer free weights, weight machines, aerobics and occasional yoga classes, as well as sauna and Jacuzzi for unwinding afterward. At the Ross Road facility, a $150 initiation fee ($250 for families) and $48 monthly fee ($50 as of Sept. 1) will get you the run of the place. The Y won with 41 votes. Reach Fitness, which won two years ago, placed second with 18. Tying for third place were Fitness 101 and "running the Dish"--which requires no membership fee.
YMCA, 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, 494-1883, or 755 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, 858-0661

Local color

What's the most impressive building to look at around here? In the third year for this category, Stanford Memorial Church was the clear winner with 22 votes. The non-sectarian Protestant church, at the literal heart of the campus, is impressive from a distance and even more majestic from inside. The church was almost destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and the 80-foot spire it then had fell into the church. It was rebuilt without the tower, only to suffer significant damage again in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The church was reopened in 1992 after $10 million of repair work and strengthening. In second place was the entire university. Tied for third were the Stanford Theatre and The Downing House, a Victorian at Cowper Street and Forest Avenue.
Stanford Memorial Church, Main Quad, Stanford campus

The numbers were fairly close this year as a new winner emerged in this category: According to Weekly readers, the best place for free entertainment is at the Brown Bag Concert Series. Presented by the City of Palo Alto Arts and Culture Division and the Palo Alto Weekly, the series features everything from reggae to latin jazz to the sounds of Brazil. The series runs from June 5 to Aug. 28 at noon on Thursdays in the Cogswell Plaza at the corner of Lytton Avenue and Ramona Street. The Brown Bag series won with 27 votes. Last year's winner, the Summer Twilight Concert Series in the Park, came in second this year with 20 votes. With 18 votes, people-watching on University Avenue came in a close third.
Brown Bag Concert Series, Thursdays at noon in Cogswell Plaza, 329-2527

According to Palo Altans, No. 16 is still No. 1 in our hearts. Once again, superstar Joe Montana (11 votes) beat out Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (nine votes) and singer-pacifist Joan Baez (eight votes) as local celebrity we would most like to meet. Even if he can't sing, (we don't know about his computer literacy) we have to admit the guy has charm, an arm and looks mighty good in his underwear. But watch out, local celebs. Soon-to-be local celebrity, Chelsea Clinton came in a close fourth place with seven votes, promising to give the other three a run for their money in upcoming years. What other Stanford student has two limos at her disposal and can spend the holidays at the White House? Montana completes more commercials than he does passes these days, but that didn't stop 11 respondents from naming him the area's favorite local male athlete. Pint-sized, cougar-quick Brevin Knight, who helped bring Stanford men's basketball national recognition before heading off to the NBA this coming season, stole second with eight votes. All-world receiver Jerry Rice grabbed another touchdown (seven points if you count the extra point) to maintain par with Tiger Woods and tie for third.
Sorry, we can't give you their addresses or phone numbers.

This a new category this year, recognizing the talents of female athletes who have made the greatest impression on the general public, either through their athletic achievements or teaching expertise. While she may not be the fastest or strongest athlete in the area, recent Stanford graduate Kate Starbird obviously contributed a great deal to the success of the Cardinal women's basketball team during her four-year career. Starbird, the school's all-time leading scorer, was a first-team All-American and was named winner of the Naismith National Player of the Year Award in 1997. She picked up 22 votes. Starbird's coach, Tara VanDerveer may dispute her selection as runner-up (with seven votes), but VanDerveer's contribution to the success of the women's basketball program certainly is worth noting. Tying for third was yet another member of the Stanford women's basketball team, Jamila Wideman. She picked up three votes, as did Olympic figure-skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, who hails from Fremont. Starbird, a native of Tacoma, Wash., will play for the Seattle Reign of the American Basketball League this coming season, which starts in October.

Folk singer Joan Baez is on par with golf phenom Tiger Woods as the top local hero. Both received four votes. Stanford and Olympic women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer came up a free-throw short with three votes. Ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi and former Stanford women's basketball guard Jamila Wideman also received three votes.

Far and away the hottest local issue, according to 38 respondents, is Stanford's proposed Sand Hill Road development, which will impact both Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The issue has a long history, and it now faces a make-or-break election in November. A distant second on the list, with eight votes, was Palo Alto's continuing struggles with issues related to homelessness, followed by the city's homeless-related "sit-lie ban" and the city's perennial parking woes, both with five votes.

A gracious mansion set amid turn-of-the-century gardens--that's the kind of place our readers want to retreat to after exchanging vows. In Palo Alto, there is only one place that fits that description: the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center at 1431 Waverley St., which won this category with 30 votes. The house and grounds, built in 1902, were left to the city by Elizabeth F. Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble fame). The fully restored garden is built around thematic "rooms"--a formal rose garden, a wisteria garden, even a "clock-golf" circle (used years ago by Elizabeth Gamble for a type of golf). Wedding receptions cost $850 and include the services of the center's wedding coordinator. Time is limited to eight hours and guests are limited to 50 people, although the center allows parties of 75 people twice a month. Of course, nothing this good comes without restrictions: Music must be live and acoustic, and no hard liquor is allowed. The Garden Court Hotel/Il Fornaio in Palo Alto came in second, and Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton ranked third.
Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 329-1356 (call between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Monday through Friday)

If you want to work up a sweat to techno tunes or disco dances, look no further than California Avenue. The Edge won Best Place to Dance in this year's poll. The popular club has two dance floors: The main one features modern, house, techno and alternative music, while the smaller one in the back cranks out disco and funk. Dancing takes place on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. ($2 Tuesdays are a ritual for some dance-crazed Peninsula folks.) Dance nights are for the 18 and over crowd, although there are some nights (such as summer Sundays) where younger boogiers are admitted. The Edge also has frequent live shows, by artists such as Salmon, bis and the Wallflowers, which make for excellent opportunities to shake your groove thing. Alberto's tied with Fanny & Alexander for second place.
The Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto, 324-EDGE

With major names like the Dave Matthews Band, Vince Gill, Kenny G, Phish, Jimmy Buffett, Neil Young and Santana regularly playing, it's no wonder that the Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View won as Best Place to Hear Live Music. The Shoreline rules the Peninsula concert scene from April to October each year, bringing in a healthy series of rock, country and other types of mainstream music. It's not intimate, but with the big screens and booming sound system, every seat is a good one. In second place was the downtown jazz haunt Cafe Fino, and The Edge placed third.
Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, 967-4040

For a second year, the Blue Chalk Cafe won first place as the best place to meet singles. Blue Chalk edged out Meeting for Good, which isn't a bar but an organization that uses community service as a way to meet others. Blue Chalk isn't just a bar, though, it's got delicious Southern fare to munch on. And if you're not comfortable standing around making small talk, you can play pool, throw darts, or play shuffleboard while you're getting to know each other. Third place went to Fanny & Alexander on Emerson Street.
Blue Chalk Cafe, 630 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 326-1020

From its expansive concrete plazas to its long corridors, bike paths, wide stairways and picturesque Quad, the Stanford Campus won handily as the best place around for Rollerblading, with 33 votes. Shoreline Park in Mountain View, with its scenic bike path around the lake, golf course and marshlands, took second place, and the Baylands and city parks tied for third place.

The glorious wide-open spaces of the Peninsula inspire the creative energies of poets better than any other locale, say our readers. The No. 1 spot to compose is Foothills Park, which received 14 votes. Actually, any old park will do for six of our voters, but Baylands park was a close third, earning five votes. With scents of eucalyptus and bay trees wafting through the clear air, views of the bay from Vista Hill and 15 hiking trails, it's easy to see why Foothills Park is the best antidote for writer's block.
Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer. $2 admission per car. Visitors must be Palo Alto residents.

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