The 'Best Of' 1998

Publication Date: Wednesday September 16, 1998

Best of CoverThe 'Best Of' 1998

Epicurean delights

Compared to last year, it was a close race but one with the same result: For the fourth straight year, Weekly readers chose Noah's New York Bagels, located at the always-bustling corner of Bryant Street and University Avenue. Noah's offers about 20 varieties of freshly baked bagels each day and features a 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. Close behind Noah's was Izzy's, in second place, and checking in third was House of Bagles.
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 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 third year in a row, Armadillo Willy's won handily in this category. In second place was the upscale MacArthur Park.
Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-2922

Rack up a third straight victory for Phil Nasr's Harmony Bakery. Yup, for three years in a row, Weekly readers have said the home of Palo Alto's best bread is at 2750 Middlefield Road in Midtown Palo Alto. 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 three 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. Acme came in right behind Harmony, in second, while Le Boulanger claimed third.
Harmony Bakery, 2750 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-1815.

Plain and simple, Hobee's dominates these categories. Once again, voters say that when it comes to any morning meal, the place to go is Hobee's, a seven-time winner in the category of best breakfast. Hobee's also doubled the number of votes received by its nearest competitor for best brunch, winning for the fourth 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 Fountain and Grill, and Jim's Coffee Shop took third place. Menlo Park's Late for the Train came in second in the brunch category.
Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111

No surprise here. 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, which you have to try to appreciate. The Kirk's Burger--which is actually a steak burger--is also a favorite. Taxi's Hamburgers in Palo Alto was second, and new kid on the block, Mountain View's In 'n' Out Burger, captured third.
Kirk's Restaurant, 361 California Ave., 326-6159

For the second year in a row, downtown Palo Alto's Andale Taqueria has come out on top in both the best burrito and best Mexican restaurant categories. 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 bull's head--only add to the the experience. Andale dominated in the burrito category, more than doubling the number received by La Costena, which came in second. In third was Pollo Rey. In the Mexican restaurant category, Andale won in a close race over Chevy's.
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 came in a close second.
Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830

Nola Restaurant & Bar nabs first place again for ragin' Cajun. The rustic open patio and vibrant mustard, purple and turquoise walls decorated with masks and artifacts transport diners to the heart of voodoo country. Instead of serving traditional New Orleans cuisine, Nola dishes out a saucy mix of Cajun, Creole, Caribbean and Southwest fare. Popular main courses include Tony's teriyaki strip steak, a perennial favorite, served on garlic mashed potatoes and topped with crispy onion strings for $15.95, the smoldering jambalaya for $13.95 and seared ahi tuna on jalapeno mashed potatoes with mango salsa and chipotle aioli for $16.95. Blue Chalk Cafe finished a distant second.
Nola Restaurant & Bar, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 328-2722

The runaway choice for best cake store is once again The Prolific Oven. Owned by GHS Champion Inc., the bakery specializes in cakes, breads, muffins and cookies. 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.
Second place in this category goes to Just Desserts.
The Prolific Oven, 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-8485, or visit

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 once again 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 Continental. Victoria Emmons Catering, 2699 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 325-4779

Su Hong, the perennial favorite for best Chinese restaurant, took the crown once again this year. Who says familiarity breeds contempt? The restaurant has built its reputation on serving up all the traditional favorites year in and year out, 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 consistent quality make Su Hong a favorite among many. Mandarin Gourmet, which also has a loyal following, placed second once again and Jing Jing placed third.
Su Hong Restaurant, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852; 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-3836

Comfort food in this country seems to be code for food that is unstintingly fat laden, big as your head and accompanied by mashed spuds. Ah, the Peninsula Fountain and Grill, more commonly referred to as 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 tabletops, '50s-style decor and nostalgic advertisements on the walls. The grill easily beat out its closest competitors in the comfort food category: Max's Opera Cafe placed second (clearly size does matter).
Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-3131

Beppo is the family restaurant for BIG families. Beppo's huge thin-crust pizzas and even huger pasta dishes get the nod from Weekly readers as the top family restaurant this year. "Small" plates of spaghetti will serve three to four; large plates will serve five to six. So kick back with a tortellini with cream sauce and a pepperoni pie and take in all the Italianate flotsam and jetsam that bedecks the walls at this kitschy classic. Photos of Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra in their prime add to the madcap bustle. Fresh Choice came in second (kids 6 and under eat free), and Hobee's ran a distant third.
Beppo, 643 Emerson St. Palo Alto, 329-0665

We had a tie this year. Readers equally favor Whole Foods Market and Draeger's as the best places to buy groceries. Both are combination grocery stores, delis, bakeries, salad bars and places to sit and eat lunch. Whole Foods Market also offers a broad selection of organic foods, from bananas to frozen macaroni and cheese dinners made with all-natural ingredients. Store hours for Whole Foods Market and Draeger's are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, respectfully. Andronico's placed third.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-8676
Draeger's, 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park, 688-0677; 342 First St., Los Altos, 948-4425

Readers voted Yogurt Stop the spot for cool refreshments. This Menlo Park store offers three dozen kinds of fresh and creamy frozen yogurts and ice creams. Patrons can choose from nonfat, low fat and lactose-free yogurts, as well as famous brands like Honeyhill, Ambrosia and Gise. Yogurt and ice cream shakes, smoothies and coffee drinks are also available. Double Rainbow placed second, while Baskin Robbins came in third.
Yogurt Stop, 401 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-9864.

Plain and simple, Jamba Juice at Town & Country Village dominates this category. This is the third year that we have tallied votes for this category, and Jamba Juice (formerly known as Juice Club) stomped on the competition last year in equally as impressive a fashion. This juice bar, which started in San Luis Obispo in 1990, has become mega-popular with people looking for healthy drinks such as the strawberry wild and the kiwi berry burner. Customers are also given their choice of one additional ingredient to add to their smoothie, including protein powder, ginseng, calcium bee pollen, oat bran, wheat germ and a nutrient powder known as the "Juice Boost." Fresh orange and carrot juices are also available, as well as healthy snacks, health books and juicers. Slammin' Juice came in second.
Jamba Juice, 69 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 325-2582

Make it four years straight for Janta India Cuisine. Janta's popular Indian dishes, such as shrimp biryani and rice pilaf with shrimp and cashew nuts, helped the restaurant win this year's reader poll once again. The tiny restaurant 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. In second place is five-time winner Gaylord of India.
Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Avenue, Palo Alto, 462-5903

Although there was some competition from the new kid on the block, Beppo, once again Weekly readers have given the nod to Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana as the top Italian restaurant. For a luxurious pasta dinner in an authentic Italian setting, Weekly readers say you can't beat Il Fornaio. And it's hard to debate the choice. 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 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. Beppo came in second while Osteria came in third for the second year in row.
Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888

This is just the second year for this category, but already we seem to have a dynasty in the works. When local night owls want grub after hours they go to 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 till 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 a.m., 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. The Peninsula Fountain and Grill came in third.
Lyon's, 4298 El Camino Real, Los Altos, 941-4204

Pollo Rey, which won this category for three straight years, has been dethroned. The new champ is Pluto's on University Avenue. People flock to this chic cafeteria-style eatery for inexpensive dining on such favorites as huge Caesar salads, herb-roasted Sonoma turkey sandwiches served on fresh foccacia or sourdough bread, and garlic potato rings. The menu offers a range of vegetarian entrees. They also have some fine micro brews on tap. In second place was Andale Taqueria. And the old champ, Pollo Rey, checked in at third.
Pluto's, 482 University Ave., 853-1556

Far and away, the best milkshake in town is that served up by Peninsula Fountain and Grill. No matter how long the wait, you can always go straight to the register and order one of the finest milkshakes in the dairy-drinking world. This is no hyperbole. The restaurant took first place again this year by a landslide. In a distant second place was Taxi's Hamburgers. With ice cream purchased from the Peninsula Creamery, the Fountain and Grill concocts its icy ambrosia from three to four scoops of ice cream mixed with syrup and milk and blended to the right consistency. It's as old-fashioned a milkshake as you'll find in this frozen yogurt world, and it comes in 20 flavors, including pineapple. Or, for the health-conscious among you, you can order a low-fat sherbet freeze.
Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-3131

This figured to be a tough category since the Peninsula--and Palo Alto in particular--has been a magnet for high-profile restaurant openings in the past year or so. Still, Zibibbo nearly doubled the number of votes received by Wolfgang Puck's Spago. Zibibbo is the name of a grape used in Italy's regional dessert wines, and it's a fitting appellation for this restaurant--quirky, witty and down-to-earth. The menu spans the cuisines of the Mediterranean, including dishes from the south of France, Italy, Greece, Morocco and Spain. The open kitchen creates untraditional variations on dishes that are traditionally associated with the area, incorporating in-season produce, fresh fish and occasional experiments. The menu is tweaked daily and is overhauled seasonally as raw materials come into and go out of season. Many dishes at the restaurant are meant to be shared and come to the table on a family-style platter. Celebrity chef Puck and his Spago came in second. Zibibbo, 430 Kipling St., Palo Alto, 328-6722

Things still seem to be sorting themselves out in this category since the closing of the Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market in Palo Alto. When Florentine, the perennial favorite in this category, closed, Osteria took first place last year, while Il Fornaio came in second. For 1998, Il Fornaio is on tops with Osteria close behind in second place. There's no doubt that Il Fornaio is a great choice for pasta, offering such tempting dishes as cannelloni and linguini. Palermo and Pasta ? tied for third place.
Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888

Make it eight years straight. Once again, Menlo Park's Applewood Inn was selected as the most popular pizzeria in the area. At Applewood, customers can find both exotic and traditional toppings for their pizzas. Applewood has built 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, while Vicolo Pizzeria finished third.
Applewood Inn, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-3486

All you have to do is walk in the door of See's candy shop and the scent of fresh chocolate will transport you to the world of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Readers chose See's as the best place to satisfy that craving for dark, light, milk or semi-sweet chocolate. Their neat stacks of flat white paper-covered boxes with labels like "nuts and chews," will tempt you with their contents. Or, if you're picky, choose your own selection from the neat glass bowls full of bordeauxs, Victorian toffee, truffles, Scotch mallow, molasses chips, or old-fashioned lollipops. The Prolific Oven in Palo Alto, which sells bakery items, came in second.
See's Candies, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 325-8274

Our readers say that if you are looking for hot and spicy food, the place to go is Jing Jing. And this is not the first time they've said this. This Chinese restaurant, where eyes have been known to water just upon entering the establishment, is still sizzling for the fourth 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. Janta's Indian cuisine came in second.
Jing Jing, 443 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 328-6885.

Weekly readers say that if you are looking for dining al fresco, look no farther than Empire Tap Room. This is the fourth year in a row that readers have named the restaurant 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 excellent beers on tap. But the real treasure of the Empire is its outdoor patio, a gracious dining area 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. In second place is Nola's in Palo Alto.
Empire Grill and Tap Room, 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 321-3030.

The Pacific Ocean may be close enough to drive to, but most of us don't venture out to catch our own fish. The best place to snatch the freshest of the day's catch without using a rod and reel is Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park. The market on El Camino Real tops the list once again this year with 72 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

Loyal to the end, readers said the best place to go for plump, juicy blackberries to fill a scrumptious pie or fresh ripe cherry tomatoes was the late, great Monterey Market, which closed last spring. Readers said it was 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 73 votes. The good news is Segona's, another produce market, has just opened in Monterey Market's space. The weekend Palo Alto Farmer's Market garnered a second place, and Whole Foods Market, which sells an array of organic fruits and vegetables, came in third.
Monterey Market (now Segona's), 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto

Health-conscious residents have a lot of choices for finding good food, but for the sixth 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 fresh, organic tomatoes and piles of other fresh produce, bins of unbleached flour, whole wheat, and barley. Its bakery has delectable cakes, pastries and cookies, and it offers coffee drinks, chai tea and smoothies. The vitamin and herb sections are stocked with a gold mine of ginseng, echinacea and brands of vitamins and minerals. This is a combination grocery store, deli, bakery, health food store, salad bar and place to eat lunch. Whole Foods offers a selection of organic foods, from bananas to frozen dinners made with all-natural ingredients. In the category for environmentally conscious store, Whole Foods again led the field, followed by new player Earthsake.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-8676

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 73 votes in this year's poll. Besides a wide array of meats, including their special "Fred's Steak," this upscale meat market also has a delectable selection of spices, dressings and gourmet dishes, such as Thai chicken salad and fresh bread. Their poultry and seafood selection is strong as well, whether it's freshly cooked chicken or a halibut steak. Palo Alto's JJ&F Market came in second, with Whole Foods taking third.
Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, 395 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 325-6328

Local wine connoisseurs seem to agree that the best place to go, for vintages from France to Australia to the latest Sonoma Valley Cabernet, is Beltramo's Wines and Liquors. Beltramo's, a family-owned and operated business founded in 1882, has 4,000 selections of wine, a tasting room and in-house wine consultants. The 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.
Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-2806

Going out on a first date can be hard on the nerves, so the last thing you need is to have picked the wrong restaurant. Well, take our readers' advice and go to Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana. It's a great place to split a bottle of wine with someone who might later turn out to be a significant other. Il Fornaio is elegant, luxurious and, if you so desire, very romantic. MacArthur Park and L'Amie Donia tied for second place.
Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888

Service is only one part of the Evvia experience but, our readers agree, it's a big part. Evvia came in first place in the category for restaurant service. You'll get great service at Evvia but you'll also get much more. 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. Spago came in second.
Evvia, 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-0983

Our readers definitely have a favorite seafood restaurant and its name is The Fish Market in Palo Alto. At this restaurant, which dominated this category, diners can find such rare treats 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." 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. 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

Whether its a wedding anniversary, a birthday or a graduation party, Weekly readers say the best place for a special occasion is Chantilly II European Restaurant in Palo Alto. The restaurant, a favorite of local venture capitalists, is known for its great service as well as for its upscale interior. 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. Evvia came in second.
Chantilly II, 530 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 321-4080

For the fourth year in a row, Weekly readers say the best place to eat a steak 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 in this competition, with nearly five times the votes of second place finisher, MacArthur Park.
Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798

This seems to be a two-establishment race. But, once again, Miyake is on top of the rice heap among sushi and Japanese restaurants. Miyake's perennial rival, Fuki-Sushi, once again finished second. 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 extend out to the sidewalk. Miyake Restaurant, 140 University Ave., Palo Alto, 323-9449

Menlo Park's Siam Garden is the place to beat in this competition. Once again, Siam Garden was picked as this area's Best Thai Restaurant. Appetizers feature curry-laden chicken, pork or beef, as well as scads of vegetarian dishes. With reasonable prices and the combination of various quality menu choices, Siam Garden is consistently an award winner. Thai City came in second while Bangkok Cuisine finished third.
Siam Garden, 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 853-1143

There are a wealth of places to find a good vegetarian meal in and around Palo Alto but our readers say there are none better than Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery. This is the fifth year in a row that Good Earth has earned the first-place ranking. The restaurant certainly has endured: Good Earth has been blending smoothies and stir-frying vegetables in Palo Alto since 1976. Besides ubiquitous salads, the restaurant features 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. Janta was ranked second.
Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery, 185 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9449

There is a new favorite among the antique hunters--Judith Frost and Co.. Owner Judith Frost describes her collection of furniture and art as eclectic, but high quality. It's all on consignment. The showroom is only open three days a week, though--Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But appointments are available, too. In second place was Antique Treasure Trove.
Judith A. Frost and Co., 67 Encina Ave., Palo Alto, 324-8791

The Pacific Art League captured first place in this category. The league was founded in 1921 and has been a steady influence on the local art scene ever since. The league operates much more than a gallery on Ramona Street. It also offers all sorts of classes as well as one-person shows in its Elizabeth Norton Studio. Images of Nature at Town & Country Village came in second. Pacific Art League, 668 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 321-3891

Despite moving from its downtown location to El Camino Real, Wheelsmith once again was voted the best bike shop. The new store has something you couldn't find downtown in a lifetime, 21 adjacent parking spaces. The new location also gives the store more space in which to display bikes and an expanded clothing line. If you need a wheel built or simply some repairs, the service department is now upstairs, but otherwise, Wheelsmith still has the features the store has become known for--TV screens that show tapes of races, a display of groovy old bikes, and the sounds of jazz on the radio. Palo Alto Bicycles grabbed second place.
Wheelsmith, 2180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-8776

Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park once again has won the bookstore category. But for the first time, Borders Books has finished second, slightly ahead of Printers Inc. Kepler's, which was founded in 1955, is one of the oldest independent bookstores in the area. The store features a knowledgeable staff, a wide variety of popular categories and personalized service. Each week, the store hosts author readings and book signings, and the first Sunday of each month Kepler's has an open-mike poetry reading. Aside from the books, Kepler's has a range of newspapers and magazines from around the country and the world, a huge selection of calendars and reading accoutrements.
Kepler'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. Helmings Auto Repair came in second.
Ole's Car Shop, 801 Alma St., Palo Alto, 328-6537

If you are a part of the Stanford community, the Weekly's readers recommend Children's Center of the Stanford Community for your child care needs. The play-based classes take kids from 6 weeks to 5 years old. The center is a parent-run cooperative in which all parents spend some time in the classroom volunteering. Depending on your child's age, he or she will be in the infant, teeny, little kids or big kids class. Bing's Nursery School took second, and Children's Creative Learning Center rounded out the field.
Children's Center of the Stanford Community, 695 Pampas Lane, Stanford, 853-3090

If you've dabbed pasta sauce on your favorite blouse or dribbled ink on your best slacks, our readers say the solution is a trip to Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers. And that's what our readers have said for the last few years, too. Founded in San Jose in 1969, Delia's 31 stores provide standard dry cleaning and laundry services as well as ministering to your delicate leather and suede items. And if you've lost (or gained) a little weight around the waist, the tailors and seamstresses at Delia's can do alterations. Runner-up is Charleston Cleaners.
Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 321-9190; 2103 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 323-9190

When you need some serious pampering, treat yourself (or a stressed-out friend) to a revitalizing facial. For the second year in a row, Weekly readers say the two La Belle shops in Palo Alto are the best places to go. La Belle offers more than 10 different customized facials--including some specifically designed for men and teenagers--with prices starting at $75. Ensconced in a private treatment room, the customer is tended to by highly trained specialists who explain every step of the process. Founded in San Francisco 23 years ago by Bella Schneider, La Belle also offers numerous massage treatments, wraps and scrubs, as well as electrolysis, waxing, and nail and makeup artistry. Watercourse Way took second place.
La Belle Day Spas, 95 Town and Country Village in Palo Alto, 327-6964, and 36 Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, 326-8522

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

Although the community has lost a treasure with the passing of Olga Stapleton, her store remains a favorite with our readers. To them there is no florist around quite like Stapleton Florist. In the narrow, bubble-gum pink building on Waverley Street, floralphiles can find everything from round-eyed cosmos to irises, lilies, roses and fragrant stock. Buckets brim over with colorful blossoms, and the hanging chalkboard lists names and prices. Selection is made easier by consulting with the staff who can help in guiding you toward that perfect arrangement. For the finishing touches, hand over your choice and they will wrap it in tissue and ribbon. Stanford Floral Design came in second.
Stapleton Florist, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 321-5390

If you're searching for that vintage Fellini or Kurosawa movie, looking for your favorite French classic, or just dying to rent "My Life as a Dog" one more time, discriminating Weekly readers maintain that Midtown Video is still the best place to find foreign film rentals. The store, the oldest video rental establishment in Palo Alto, has 795 foreign titles from 36 different countries. Stanford faculty and students are among regular customers. Blockbuster came in second.
Midtown Video, 2655 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-0637

Regardless of subject or medium--from your great uncle's watercolor of the family homestead to an original Chagall--our readers recommend taking art to University Art Center for framing. In business since 1947, the store, with locations in San Francisco, San Jose and now Sacramento, is known for its knowledgeable staff, who can help you choose the best available frame and mat styles to complement your piece. Before you leave, take a few minutes to browse through the rest of the store and admire the copious art supplies and paraphernalia. Also worth a look is the Corner Gallery next door. The University Art Center was followed by Frame-O-Rama in the tally.
University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 328-3500

The votes were close but R.S. Basso has emerged as the new favorite in Palo Alto. The store boasts an "Italian eclectic" look and they are known for creating their own custom-made furniture at their headquarters in Sebastopol. They feel the key to customer satisfaction lies in keeping their style fresh and unique, straying from the norm. R.S. Basso edged out Crate & Barrel and the Z Gallerie.
R.S. Basso, 355 University Ave., Palo Alto, 322-6088

Once again, Woolworth Garden Center is the place to go for those unusual perennial varieties. For the fourth year in a row, they have beat out the competition. The nursery offers a large array of plants, with almost anything the finnicky gardener could ask for, at low prices. In second place was Smith & Hawkin.
Woolworth Garden Center, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, 493-5136

Even with a new name,Yosh Salon and Spa remains the favorite of Weekly readers. A haircut at Yosh will cost between $45 andn $85 but if you want Yosh himself to cut your hair, $125 is the going rate. If you think you can't quite afford a Yosh haircut, think again. Also offered is a $15 haircut with an apprentice, call ahead to find out when you can make an appointment. The 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. And on bad hair days, anyone can drop by for advice. Supercuts took second place and Hair International brought up the rear.
Yosh Salon and Spa, 240 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-4067

They've done it again. Palo Alto Hardware earned nearly three times more votes than the competition. Since opening near downtown in January 1993, the 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. Orchard Supply Hardware took second and ACE Hardware in Menlo Park came in third.
Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma St., Palo Alto, 327-7222

More luxurious than some people's homes, the Garden Court Hotel came in first place with our readers once again for its excellent service, flower-filled courtyard and Mediterranean style. Rooms range from $240 to $450 a night, depending on whether you desire a courtyard view, a standard room, a suite or the penthouse. Regardless of your choice, each room comes equipped with a mini-bar, a fax machine, a VCR with complimentary videos, newspapers, terrycloth robes, and room service 24 hours a day. For its room service and catering, the Garden Court uses Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana, an award-winning restaurant situated below the hotel. Stanford Park came in second and the Holiday Inn placed third.
Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 322-9000

Catering to the needs and wishes of Palo Altans since 1931, Gleim Jewelers proved 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 do almost anything from appraising your jewelry to designing your engagement ring. A community institution, Gleim takes pride in customer service and will deal with customers over the phone or by mail. If you have a piece you want to sell, you may be able to sell it there. They also offer consignment for those who want to sell their jewels directly. Timothy Fidge took second place and Shady Lane placed third.
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 $69 to the four-and-a-quarter-hour, $252 Ayurvedic treatment to purify the body and mind. Or, for $22, you can just soak in the hot tub for an hour if you need a quick pick-me-up. Rates for all treatments vary according to the time of your visit; all rates increase after 5:40 p.m. Prices and additional information can also be found at their new Web site: In second place was La Belle. 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. 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. Hear Music at the Stanford Shopping Center received second place in the Best Music Store category. For Best Place to Blow Your Last $20, Kepler's Books in Menlo Park claimed first place, with Tower Records coming in a close second.
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. Longs won this category for the fifth year in a row. Walgreens Drug Store, with outlets in Palo Alto and Mountain View, came in second.
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 third year in a row. The store right next door to Boudin's offers one-hour photo processing, reprints, enlargements, poster prints, slides, overheads from prints, a portrait studio, meeting presentation services and many other services. Venerable Keeble and Shuchat on California Avenue came in second.
Photo Time, 138 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 326-7687

For creative cards and stationery, Longs Drug Store is the most popular with our readers this year. The store--which came in third last year--offers a wide selection from serious to humorous cards, all at reasonable prices. Longs pulled ahead of last year's victor Letter Perfect, which came in third this year. McWhorter's Stationers, which has stores in Los Altos and Menlo Park, came in second.
Longs Drug Store, 352 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 324-1667

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 at the newly renovated site in Saratoga and San Carlos, pulled off an easy win. Costco Wholesale, with stores in Mountain View and Redwood City, took second place, while Sportmart Inc. in Sunnyvale nabbed third.
REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), El Paseo Shopping Center off Saratoga Ave., (408) 871-8765; and 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, 508-2330

If your dog needs a new rawhide bone, the fish are out of food, and your horse needs a new brush, you need a one-stop shopping destination for pet supplies and food. The family-owned Pet Food Depot in south Palo Alto can fill those and other needs, from bird cages to chicken feed. The store has a full range of dog and cat products and has a selection of healthy food for animals. The store has an unusually large selection of cat furniture. Petco finished second.
Pet Food Depot, 3127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 852-1277

Need a good warm coat that doesn't come with 48-month financing? Want a television but don't want something that requires a high-beamed ceiling and a security guard? One doesn't need to look further than the Goodwill Industries outlet in Palo Alto, voted the area's best thrift store once again. 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.
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 70 Weekly voters. Located in the Stanford Shopping Center, Nordstrom has a large selection of colors and styles. Nine West, also in Stanford Shopping Center, finished second in the voting.
Nordstrom, 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 323-5111

Getting shoes repaired is what Midtown Shoe Repair started out doing 20 years ago. They still fix shoes, of course, but will also mend your leather handbag or belt and may also be available to make some custom leather items. The store specializes in prompt service, and it has enough satisfied customers to get the nod over Paul's European Cobblery, last year's top vote getter.
Midtown Shoe Repair, 2778 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 329-8171

Chicago natives may be happy to learn that, at Spirals Gallery, they can purchase an immortalized dead alewife fish--a common Lake Michigan fish--for $15, and the proceeds go to lake conservation. Or buy a fancy carved pepper grinder for $100. Or get a hand-painted piano bench for $1,000. The store specializes in handmade artwork that is also functional, including many whimsical and unusual items. Spirals has taken first place in this category, outdistancing Z Gallerie.
Spirals Gallery, 367 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1155

If it's a 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 67-year-old Palo Alto establishment offers everything from rubber rats to Magic 8 Balls to a pair of Rollerblades. Remember Twister? You can still find the game here. In this year's voting, Sport and Toy trounced its nearest rival, Toys R Us in Redwood City.
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. Bungey specializes in the higher-end of the travel market. It's not the place to go if you want to book a European vacation on $4 a day. Instead, the company gears itself these days to cruises, customized travel and, increasingly, action-adventure packages, such as camel trekking in Morocco. In this year's voting, there was a three-way tie for second place between Council Travel, Dale Johnson Travel and Peninsula Travel.
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 captured first place for the second straight year. 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. Megabooks came in second, and Bell's third.
Know Knew Books, 415 California Ave., Palo Alto, 326-9355

Not surprisingly, Blockbuster Video won by a landslide for the third consecutive year. 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. Hollywood Video rounded out the field.
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 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. Reach Fitness, a past winner, placed second this year.
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. 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 the Stanford Theatre, the 1920s-style movie house on University Avenue that was restored several years ago by David Packard Jr.
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 Summer Jazz at Stanford Shopping Center. The summer-long concerts take place in the gardens of Clock Tower Plazer, near Neiman Marcus, every Thursday at 6 p.m. Coming in second this year was the Brown Bag Lunch Series, presented by the City of Palo Alto Arts and Culture Division and the Palo Alto Weekly, from June to August at noon on Thursdays in the Cogswell Plaza at the corner of Lytton Avenue and Ramona Street.
Summer Jazz at Stanford Shopping Center, Thursdays at 6 p.m., 617-8240

According to Palo Altans, Chelsea Clinton is the person they'd most like to team up with or at least speak to. Since arriving at Stanford last September, Chelsea has been a low-key presence in town. There are the occasional sightings in the downtown area, but she has pretty much kept out of the public eye, and Stanford officials have made it policy from the start to decline comment on all Chelsea matters. Close behind Chelsea in the voting was 49er quarterback Steve Young.
Sorry, we can't give you their addresses or phone numbers.

The top two local female athletes who made the greatest impression through athletic achievements or teaching expertise are both Stanford products. Jennifer Azzi was national women's basketball player of the year in 1989-90, when she led the Cardinal to a national championship and a 32-1 season, the finest record in school history. She went on to play a few seasons in Europe before earning a berth on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, which captured the gold medal in Atlanta. She now plays for the San Jose Lasers of the American Basketball League. The runnerup was Kristen Folkl, who made a name for herself at Stanford as one of the all-time great two-sport athletes. She played on three NCAA championship teams in women's volleyball, and this past year in women's basketball she was both a finalist for national player of the year and a member of the Kodak All-America team. A Stanford graduate this spring, she has signed a contract with the Women's National Basketball Association and will join a team after completing rehabilitation from a knee injury.

The category may have changed, but he's a winner all the same: Joe Montana, who in previous years topped the voting for local celebrity we would most like to meet, is this year's favorite local hero. The former San Francisco 49er quarterback received more votes than the team's current starting quarterback, Steve Young, and First Daughter Chelsea Clinton. Montana, who lives in Atherton, continues to benefit from his record as a three-time Super Bowl champion, his knack for thrilling, come-from-behind victories and his indomitable spirit, which brought him back from a series of seemingly career-ending injuries. Young's record is not too shabby, either. A resident of Old Palo Alto, he also has led the Niners to a Super Bowl victory and for several seasons has been the National Football League's top-rated quarterback. Chelsea may not have quite the arm of Montana or Young, but the Stanford sophomore is at least one Peninsula resident who doesn't have to explain why she gets to spend the night at the White House.

It hasn't received quite the attention it commanded last year when it was a hotly contested measure on the November ballot, but Stanford's proposed Sand Hill Road development once again was the top local issue. Sand Hill more than doubled the vote total of the runner-up, the parking crunch in downtown Palo Alto. Plans to expand and extend Sand Hill and to develop adjacent lands have been around for decades. It continued to be an issue this year, after Menlo Park sued Stanford and Palo Alto, challenging the adequacy of the project's environmental impact report. But even if the Sand Hill debate seems never-ending, it may be making more progress than downtown parking. With the booming Silicon Valley economy attracting throngs of shoppers and diners to the University Avenue retail area, the difficulty finding parking seems to have only grown worse.

It's not your typical city park. While it has the usual collection of barbecue pits and recreation fields, Palo Alto's Foothills Park also offers commanding views of San Francisco Bay, an extensive network of hiking trails, a nature center and a placid lake. Not surprisingly, the mini-wilderness retreat is the runaway winner for best local park. Two parks closer to home--Rinconada and Mitchell--tied for second. Rinconada is the largest park in north Palo Alto, with two playground areas, swimming pools (now being renovated) and tennis courts. Mitchell serves the southern end of the city with its own collection of tennis courts, playgrounds and wading pool, as well as a dog run.
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.

If techno tunes or disco dances are what set your feet to tapping, or more, look no further than California Avenue. The Edge once again won honors as the best place to dance and added best place to hear live music to its list of honors. Dancing is invited on two dance floors--the main one, featuring modern, house, techno and alternative music, and a smaller one in the back that specializes in disco and funk. Put on your dance shoes any Tuesday, Friday or Saturday, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. And although dance nights are generally limited to guests over 18, younger boogiers can join in on select evenings, such as summer Sundays and during school holidays. Fanny & Alexander finished second among dance spots, as it did last year. Cafe Fino was runner-up in the live music category.
The Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto, 324-EDGE

Fanny & Alexander won first place as the best place to meet singles. Although perhaps best known for its live music and dancing on weekend nights, Fanny & Alexander isn't just a bar. It's a full-fledged restaurant offering a variety of homestyle foods cooked with creative flair. In a three-way tie for second place were Blue Chalk Cafe, Stanford football games and Meeting for Good, which isn't a bar but an organization that uses community service as a way to meet others.
Fanny & Alexander, 412 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-7183

Once again, the Stanford campus, with its expansive concrete plazas and varied corridors, bike paths and stairways, won handily as the best place around for Rollerblading. The picturesque Main Quad probably didn't hurt its chances any, either. Shoreline Park in Mountain View, with its scenic bike path around the lake, golf course and marshlands, took second place.

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. 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). Renting the facility for a wedding reception costs $950 and comes with 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 (stringed instruments only). The Garden Court Hotel/Il Fornaio restaurant in Palo Alto came in second.
Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 329-1356 (call between 9 a.m. and noon Monday through Friday)

The Baylands Nature Preserve edged out the Gamble Garden Center as our readers' favorite place for poetic musings. The wide-open spaces of the Baylands inspire the creative energies of poets better than any other locale, our readers say. With its abundant vegetation, water and wildlife, it's easy to see why the Baylands is the best antidote for writer's block. You may also see some windsurfers and other exercise enthusiasts, but don't expect to see any kites: The Baylands lies in the flight path of the Palo Alto Municipal Airport.
Baylands Nature Preserve, east end of Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs must be kept on a leash.

Banning leaf blowers topped the priority list for a handful of our readers, edging out housing the homeless as best solution to a local problem. Palo Alto has been researching its options for restricting leaf blowers lately, but it's also keeping an eye on events in Menlo Park. Now that opponents of a ban passed by the Menlo Park City Council are bringing the issue before voters in November, this promises to be a hot local issue for a while.

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