The 'Best Of' 1999

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Best of CoverThe 'Best Of' 1999

Culinary kudos

David whupped up on Goliath in a couple of instances--little Janta beat out big-guns Spago and Evvia for top service--but otherwise all the usual suspects got their due. A banner year for new restaurant openings on the Midpeninsula, a number of 1999's winners were newcomers. Straits Cafe's sultry Singaporean cuisine has captured many hearts, as has the steak-and-martini nostalgia of Mackie's Supper Club. Still, Su Hong, Kirk's and Sundance Mine Company received their customary acclaim. Sadly, some old favorites (Ken's and Fresco, to name a couple) succumbed this year, done in by rising real estate prices and changing tastes.

Now traded on the NASDAQ (after a hot-and-heavy IPO, it's cooled off a little in recent months), Noah's New York Bagels started as the dream of East Coast transplant Noah Alper. No babe in the woods of entrepreneurship, Noah Alper had already founded and sold the wildly popular Boston natural foods store Bread & Circus before seeing visions of rolls with holes in Berkeley. No longer owned by Alper, the Noah's chain is now in the hands of Einstein Bros., the people who brought us Boston Market. Noah's bagels are steamed, not boiled. They have about 20 varieties, all certified kosher; 12 varieties of cream cheese (shmears, as they call them, from the Yiddish word "ischmieren," to smear or spread); New York-style, Oregon and Nova lox; smoked whitefish; albacore tuna; hummus; and so forth. Close behind Noah's--winner for five consecutive years--was Izzy's, in second place, and checking in third was Bagel Works.
Noah's, 278 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 473-0751

Peninsula natives John Berwald and John Carroll went deep into the wilds of the Lone Star State 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. For the uninitiated, barbecue from the Carolinas is smoked and then bathed in a vinegary, mustardy sauce; soul food barbecue is marinated, smoked and ladled with hot brown sauce; and Texas-style--the king of 'cue--is smoky, shellacked with a sweet, tomatoey sauce and still clinging tenaciously to the bone. Willy's 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 fourth year in a row, Armadillo Willy's won handily in this category. In second place was the upscale MacArthur Park, and Austin's in Mountain View pulled in at third.
Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, (650) 941-2922

An old-timer on the Peninsula, Harmony Bakery has been forming baguettes, batards, focaccia and so forth for years. Palo Alto native Phil Nasr's unassuming bakery in Midtown uses no preservatives and no artificial colors in its all-natural loaves. For the past four 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. Le Boulanger came in right behind Harmony, while Whole Foods Market's bakery claimed third.
Harmony Bakery, 2750 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-1815.

It's the blueberry coffee cake that would be king. Whether you're talking a quick midweek morning nosh or a leisurely weekend sprawl complete with the Sunday paper, Hobee's quite literally takes the cake. Once again, voters say the place to go is Hobee's, an eight-time winner in the category of best breakfast and a fifth-year charmer for best brunch. All the usual breakfast options are available at Hobee's, including such delectables as the Stanford "Cardinal" omelets, marrying chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, spinach and cheese and topped with tomatillo sauce. A variety of scrambles--featuring everything from turkey to garlic--pancakes and heart-healthy chicken and turkey sausages round out the bill. Runner-up for best breakfast was the Peninsula Fountain and Grill, while Joanie's and Late for the Train tied for third place. The Sheraton came in second in the brunch category.
Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 327-4111

A big cinderblock building kitted out with vinyl booths, Kirk's Steakburgers has been doing what it does since 1948. That's 50 years of unswervingly flipping burgers and making shakes, sometimes by the same hardy souls (they have several employees with more than 40 years of tenure). Kirk's has added Western fries and scoop-shop ice cream to its list of offerings, but it still tops voters' list for burgers. One of the most popular offerings is the pineapple burger. Taxi's Hamburgers in Palo Alto was second and Clarke's in Menlo Park nabbed third.
Kirk's Steakburgers, 361 California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 326-6159

For the third year in a row, downtown Palo Alto's Andale Taqueria has come out on top in both the burrito and Mexican restaurant categories. Supremo burritos laden with smoky grilled chicken, guacamole, beans and cheese are a favorite at Andale. Otherwise, fish tacos top the bill of fare, and the chicken tamales' tender corn masa surrounds a gorgeous filling of chili-sparked dark meat. And don't forget the cheese flan or the brightly colored agua frescas. The surreal art deco--including chili-pepper lights and a bull's head--only add to the experience. The Stanford Shopping Center's Una Mas pulled in second in the burrito category, trailed by La Costena and World Wrapps. In the Mexican restaurant category, local Celia's beat out chain restaurant Chevy's for second place.
Andale Taqueria, 209 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 323-2939

Cafe Borrone is practically an institution in Menlo Park. It's the one-two punch: Grab a salad and cappuccino at Cafe Borrone after making a selection among the aisles at Kepler's Books next door. The plaza between the two spots is dotted with cafe tables overflowing with beautiful people just cracking the spine of a new purchase. Owners Rose and Roy Borrone and their kids took over Kepler's Annex a couple years back to add more room, but it still seems packed to overflowing, especially on nights when there's live Dixieland jazz. Voters swear by the fresh muffins, scones and divine coffee drinks in the morning, or a glass of red wine and a little pate after the sun has set. Those frozen mochas are good anytime. For the third year, Caffe Verona came in a close second; University Coffee Cafe came in third.
Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 327-0830

Opinions are divided: Is it the orange almond or the chocolate one with the mocha buttercream that reigns supreme? No one seems confused about the purveyor, though. The Prolific Oven has aced the cake category again. 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 it recently introduced the new chocolate Passover Decadence cake. Second place in this category goes to Just Desserts and third goes to Palo Alto Baking Company.
The Prolific Oven, 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 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 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 caterer Eric Rager, with Menlo Park's Continental following in third.
Victoria Emmons Catering, 2699 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 325-4779

Su Hong, opened in 1977, is part of an old guard in Menlo Park and Palo Alto witnessing the encroaching hoards of fiendishly high-profile eateries. In just the past year, the small downtown area of Menlo Park has become home to several celebrity-chef outposts that draw from as far away as San Francisco. So, with all these new choices, is anyone still patronizing the old-timers? This year's poll made it clear: Maybe an anachronism, Su Hong is still beloved for its Americanized Chinese food served in an unfussy dining room where no one worries about what to wear. 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, (650) 323-6852; 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, (650) 493-3836

No matter how long the wait, you can always go straight to the register at Peninsula Fountain and Grill and order one of the finest milkshakes in the dairy-drinking world. Now that's comforting. The place has won again for its big-as-your-head, cholesterol-be-damned comfort foods. More commonly referred to as Peninsula Creamery, this 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--over a "breakfust" of bacon and eggs or a mountainous helping of meatloaf and mashed potatoes (extra gravy). 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 beat out its closest competitors: Max's Opera Cafe placed second, while Good Earth and Mike's Cafe Etc. tied for third.
Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 323-3131

Fresh Choice beat out other local favorites Beppo, Hobee's and Good Earth for where to take the whole family. It could be because kids 5 years old and under eat for free, but it could just as easily be the yards and yards of soups, salads, pizzas and fixings at the Stanford Shopping Center location. Other Fresh Choices are located in Redwood City and Mountain View.
Fresh Choice, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 322-6995

Readers have weighed in in favor of Whole Foods Market this year, with Piazza's on Middlefield Road and Menlo Park's Draeger's coming in second and third, respectively. A combination grocery store, deli, bakery, salad bar and downtown lunch spot, Whole Foods Market also offers a broad selection of organic foods, from bananas to frozen macaroni and cheese dinners made with all-natural ingredients. The vegan will find countless ways to put dinner on the table, and the meat eater can hardly complain about the store's quality poultry and meats. Store hours for Whole Foods Market are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676

Readers voted good old "31-derful flavors" Baskin Robbins and Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream as equally hot spots for cool refreshments. Mint chocolate chip, pralines & cream, rocky road--it's all there at the Midtown location of B&R, located not too far from the Rick's Rather Rich outpost on Middlefield. Both offer scoop-shop sugar or wafer cones, shakes, sundaes and other dairy delights. Double Rainbow placed second.
Baskin & Robbins, 2615 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 327-1636; Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream, 3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 493-6553

Make it five 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, and service is about as personable as it comes. The restaurant features lots of fiery Northern Indian tandoori soothed by cooling yogurt raita, and vegetarians have a treasure trove of meat-free possibilities. It is open seven days a week. In second place is Darbar, with Menlo Park's Gaylord India weighing in at third.
Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-5903

Weekly readers this year have given the nod to Osteria. Tables are tightly packed. Would-be diners crowd in a clogged foyer at the door. Slick waiters zoom around like parts of a well-oiled machine, making you feel like just so many more cogs sitting on chairs. These are not bad things at Osteria, according to voters. Palo Alto's love for this corner trattoria remains unabated. While downtown's dining scene has exploded, Osteria fans still come back for the convivial atmosphere, sense of festivity and very fairly priced, unfussy Italian staples. Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana checked in at second for its authentic Italian setting, and Menlo Park's Carpaccio scooted in at third.
Osteria, 247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-5700

Jamba Juice at Town & Country Village is the clear juicing juggernaut for the fourth straight year. Started in San Luis Obispo in 1990, Jamba Juice 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. A new shop will open soon on El Camino in Palo Alto. Slammin' Juice came in second, followed by Juice Patch.
Jamba Juice, 69 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 325-2582

Denny's hardly needs an introduction. Who hasn't sidled into this chain eatery at an ungodly hour to shovel in life-sustaining potatoes, omelets and burgers? When local night owls want grub after hours, they go to Denny's in Palo Alto or Mountain View, both open round the clock. Known for its inexpensive breakfasts, Denny's is proficient with sandwiches, soups, salads and lots of gooey ice cream concoctions as well. Peninsula Fountain and Grill is locals' second choice, while Lyon's Restaurant on El Camino Real in Los Altos places third.
Denny's, 4256 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 493-3082

Tungkee Noodle House, known locally as TK Noodle, is the king of noodle houses on Castro Street. It's the biggest, the most crowded and the best bargain. The prices are remarkable, even for the cheap-eats world of pho and noodles. For 10 bucks, two people can get more food than they can possibly eat in one sitting. The large noodle and vermicelli soups run $2.50 to $3.50. And the best part? Domestic beers go for $1.30, and imports are $1.60. The decor is strictly of the fast-food eatery style, and the most noticeable adornments are the big, colorful posters depicting bowls of mysterious-looking soup dishes. Andale Taqueria was readers' second choice, and Mediterranean Wraps came in third.
Tungkee Noodle House, 401 Castro St., Mountain View, (650) 965-1488

The Midpeninsula has been a magnet for high-profile restaurant openings in the past couple of years, and this category was chockablock with contenders. Chris Yeo brought Singaporean cuisine to San Francisco with much fanfare in 1987, and with even more to-do he opened a second Straits Cafe in Palo Alto last July. Singapore, which lies off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, was once part of a British Crown Colony known as the Straits Settlements. Influences from China, Malaysia, India and Indonesia creep into the cuisine, which can be homey, spicy, sweet, bright and sometimes even zany. The dining room is outfitted with lots of teak, orchids, and Balinese A-frame chairs. An exotic patio is a marvel; one would never know that El Camino traffic shoots by just feet away. Menlo Park's Francophile heaven, Left Bank, came in second, with Joey Altman's paean to wild game, Wild Hare, in third.
Straits Cafe, 3295 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 494-7168

Where do you get a $6 pasta entree in downtown Palo Alto? That's right--Pasta ? And that's not a question. Opened last year, the small cafe began with the peculiar, unfinished name, hoping to nab a new one during a naming competition. The community was so smitten with the cheap plates of pasta, Caesar salads and free-flowing Chianti, however, that the management never had the heart to change the name. Pasta ? has had to squeeze its little tables into an unforgiving narrow storefront, but the friendly atmosphere makes the space seem cozy, not cramped. All noodles come perfectly al dente, ladled with hearty bolognese sauce, a delicate dill and smoked salmon concoction or sausage and green peas in a light cream sauce. Osteria and Il Fornaio came in second and third, respectively.
(Pasta ?, 326 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-4585)

OK, this make it nine 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 Round Table finished third.
Applewood Inn, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 324-3486

Once again, top honors go to the ladies in the orthopedic shoes at See's. Some claim it's the smell of chocolate that transports one to the world of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, others point to the contents of those sleek white boxes of nuts and chews--but the real reason See's is the perennial favorite can be summed up in two words: free samples. It's an old-timey chocolate shop still working its magic as the millennium approaches. And Bordeaux, Victorian toffee, truffles, Scotch mallow, molasses chips and old-fashioned lollipops will surely make 2000 just as sweet. The Prolific Oven in Palo Alto came in second, and Just Desserts followed in third--both hailed for their gooey chocolate cakes.
See's Candies, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 325-8274

There's hot, there's incendiary, and there's please-stop-I'll-tell-you-everything-you-want-to-know. Readers have long agreed that Palo Alto's Jing Jing has a little of each, depending on the dish. This Chinese restaurant, where eyes have been known to water preemptively upon entering the establishment, is still sizzling for the fifth year in a row. The orange peel beef, kung pao chicken and dahn dahn mihn noodles are worth a foray. 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. Janta's Indian Cuisine came in second, and Mango Cafe placed third.
Jing Jing, 443 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-6885

Yeah, there's a grill and, yeah, there are lots of beers on tap. But Weekly readers agree--for the fifth year in a row--that the best thing about the beloved Empire Grill & Tap Room, is its fabulous patio. It's hard to feel more blessed than you do dining on a warm day at one of the patio tables with friends or business associates--that's how pleasant it is. A little trickling fountain and rustling greenery make it hard to believe you're in downtown Palo Alto. To go with the well-chosen microbrews and imports on tap, the menu showcases unfussy dishes and assertive flavors that could be characterized as California cuisine with no pretension. Outdoor heaters keep the environment cozy when the weather cools. In second place is California Avenue's little Bistro Elan, and newcomer Straits Cafe comes in third.
Empire Grill & Tap Room, 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 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. 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 place to go. The Fish Market finished second in the poll, and Whole Foods Market took third place.
Cook's Seafood Market, 751 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 322-2231

A Saturday morning downtown scene, the bustling parking lot behind Hamilton Avenue's post office is home to the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers' Market, which runs June through December. This was one of the first markets on the Peninsula to open for business, second only to Redwood City, which opened in 1979. Palo Alto's market opened in 1981 with just 10 growers and has grown to accommodate nearly 3,000 shoppers every Saturday. Readers claim it's not only the best place to buy produce but also a perfect opportunity to run into neighbors and friends. Readers have also warmed to the store that took over the late great Monterey Market's location, saying Sigona's Farmers Market is the second best place to go for produce. Whole Foods Market, which sells an array of organic fruits and vegetables, came in third.
Downtown Palo Alto Farmers' Market, parking lot behind the Hamilton Avenue post office, Palo Alto. Opens 8 a.m. Saturdays

Health-conscious residents have a lot of choices for finding good-for-you foods, but for the seventh 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 organic tomatoes, fragrant peaches and piles of other just-picked produce, as well as bins of unbleached flour, dried lentils and quinoa. Its bakery has delectable cakes, pastries and cookies, and it offers coffee drinks, chai teas, and healthy juices and smoothies. The vitamin and herb sections are stocked with a gold mine of ginseng, echinacea and brands of vitamins and supplements. California Avenue's Country Sun placed second, and Trader Joe's took third place.
Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676

Once again, "Fred's Steak" leads the pack, a fat and sassy, grill-ready beauty from Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry. Surf and turf acquires an elegant new flair at Schaub's, 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 lots of votes in this year's poll. Besides a wide array of meats, this upscale meat market also has a selection of spices, dressings and gourmet dishes to round out dinner. Also strong is its poultry and seafood selection, whether it's burnished roast chicken or a halibut steak. College Terrace's JJ&F Market came in second, with Whole Foods and Andronico's tying for third.
Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, 395 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 325-6328

Beltramo's Wines and Liquors has been filling people's enological needs for a lot of years--since 1882, to be exact. Service is the top offering here, with lots of expertise, and even wine-making experience, among staff members. The shop has more than 4,000 different wines in stock, with about two-thirds of the wines domestic products. The other third meanders through Chile, Argentina, Israel and Switzerland, as well as the world's classic wine-making regions. A tasting room and in-house wine consultants take some of the guesswork out of buying wine. Finishing second was Trader Joe's, for its bargain pricing, and K&L Wines pulled in at third.
Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 325-2806

Nola's secret weapons? It's loud, so you have to lean in. The drinks are deviously delicious yet strong (note the hurricanes, bug juice and frozen 'ritas). And the restaurant's sultry Mardi Gras atmosphere turns every night into a party. Readers say if it doesn't kindle romance, you should look for a new Prince Charming. The food is an odd mix of Cajun/Creole and Caribbean, something that has never worried the lively young crowd. This year's second place goes to Zibibbo, the sophisticated purveyor of Mediterranean small plates on Kipling Street, and third place is taken by Palo Alto continental stalwart, Chantilly II.
Nola Restaurant, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-2722

It's heartening to see the little guy beat out some of the gastronomic big guns: Evvia and Spago lost out this year to little Janta India Cuisine. Clearly readers this year were more enthralled by the personal attention and charms of Janta's small staff than the more formal style of some of the Midpeninsula's bastions of haute cuisine. The tiny Indian restaurant cooks everything from scratch, with lots of fiery Northern Indian tandoori soothed by cooling yogurt raita. Vegetarians have a treasure trove of meat-free possibilities. Evvia and Spago tied for second, and in third place, a three-way tie included Chantilly II, Chez Sophie and Flea St. Cafe.
Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-5903

Nothing fishy about it: Our readers definitely have a favorite seafood restaurant, and its name is The Fish Market. At this restaurant, 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, clams, mussels and oysters, fresh from the restaurant's own oyster farm up on Puget Sound. There's 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, and Cook's Seafood took third place.
The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 493-9188

Whether it's a wedding anniversary, a birthday or a graduation party, Weekly readers say the best place for a special occasion is the area's hottest celebrity-chef circus, Spago Palo Alto. Taking his cues from owner Wolfgang Puck, chef Michael French dazzles diners with high-flying architectural dishes such as Puck's signature pizza of paper-thin smoked salmon with lemon creme fraiche, little pops of sturgeon caviar and bits of chive; or two pink lobster tail halves peeking out from a mix of frisee and frizzled leeks, all perched atop an orange-scented disk of creamy potato salad. At the site of the short-lived Stars, Spago Palo Alto was elegantly designed in a ripe Mediterranean color palette by famed restaurant designer Adam Tihany; a less expensive cafe side gives a feel for the place without breaking the bank. Chantilly II follows up in second place, while Evvia comes in third.
(265 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 833-1000)

For the fifth consecutive year, 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 around a passion for beef. Its tag line is "The Steakhouse," but the Sundance kitchen focuses just as much on surf as it does turf. Clubby and dark, Sundance is the perfect place to try your hand at the obscene Shareholder's Cut (16 ounces of prime rib) as a Palo Alto rite of passage. The twilight dinner menu (soup or salad and entree) is a steal for $13.95, especially when the entree is a rosy steak or a fillet of grilled ahi tuna. Newcomer Mackie's Supper Club comes in second, with Outback Steakhouse and MacArthur Park tying in third place.
Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 321-6798

This seems to be a two-establishment race, tipping back and forth between perennial favorites Miyake and Fuki-Sushi. This is Fuki-Sushi's turn at the top of the rice heap of sushi and Japanese restaurants. Maybe this year's result is due to Fuki's soothing tatami rooms, suave sake selection and festive Japanese-style fondue (called shabu shabu, after the sound the beef makes as it's swished through the boiling broth at the table). Fuki-Sushi also offers a straightforward list of fresh sushi and sashimi. Miyake, of course, came in second, with the newly remodeled Higashi West in third place.
4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 494-9383

Menlo Park's Siam Garden is the place to beat in this competition. Appetizers feature fragrant, curry-laden chicken, pork or beef, as well as scads of vegetarian dishes. Soups are first rate, flavored with lemon grass, galangal and kaffir lime leaf. With reasonable prices, comfortable blue Naugahyde booths and a far-reaching menu of Thai favorites, 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

Indian food relies on rice and legumes, in addition to fragrantly spiced vegetables, as mainstays of the diet. Meat-heavy dishes are less common, which explains why Janta Indian Cuisine was the big winner this year. Janta swept in several categories, but this one was due in full to its meticulous vegetable curries, pulse dishes (lentil, bean and so forth) and pillowy breads. Hindu dogma explains the devotion to vegetarian dishes in Indian cuisine, while Janta can take all the credit for its flavorful and wholesome interpretations. Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery was knocked out of first place this year, coming in second, and heart-healthy Hobee's came in third.
Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-5903

Consumer greats

This year's top shops largely seemed to be a shuffling of the deck: No. 2 moved up to the top spot, No. 1 slipped down into third place, and so forth. Kepler's Books, Gleim's Jewelry and Palo Alto Hardware proved once again that Midpeninsulans love the familiarity and charms of independently owned, oh-so-local shops. At the same time, chain-store giants Blockbuster, Long's Drugs and Tower Records showed that if the merchandise is high quality and fairly priced, locals are willing to overlook a little bland homogeneity. And this year marked the rebirth of some old favorites--Palo Alto Bicycle wheeled back into first place, as a result of its newly renovated and expanded downtown location, and Stapleton's Florist has a new identity and name--Michaela's--which locals were quick to embrace.

There was a tie in the category this year, with Adele's Antiques and Maria's Antiques splitting the votes. Owned continuously for 50 years by the Backlund family, Adele's has been located in three different sites in the Cardinal Hotel. The shop for years was widely known for its antique Orientalia, but more recently it has shifted into antique estate jewelry, antique sterling silver and early American furniture. Maria's has three locations in Los Altos and one in Los Gatos. Around nearly a quarter century, Maria's specializes in country French furniture, French pottery and ultra luxe French fabrics. In second place was Antique Treasure Trove, and Antiques Unlimited place third.
Adele's Antiques, 231 Hamilton Ave., (650) 322-7184; Maria's Antiques, 393 Main St., Los Altos, (650) 941-9682

Not surprisingly, the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts moves into first place this year. Ten years after its closure by earthquake damage, the gallery at Stanford, splendidly renovated and expanded, reopened in January as part of a new visual arts complex. With strengthened collections on view in 27 galleries, special exhibitions and stimulating educational programs and events, the Center is a new cultural hub on the Peninsula. Coming in second, the Photographer's Gallery features works by local and national photographers. Third place was a three-way tie between Pacific Art League, Spirals and Z Gallerie.
Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Lomita Drive and Museum Way, Stanford, (650) 723-4177

Palo Alto Bicycle this year rolled right over Garner's and Wheelsmith for top honors. The peripatetic store moved across the street briefly while its old digs were rebuilt and moved back about a year ago. The new store provides a great forum for asking questions and exploring new bikes: It carries a full range of mountain bikes, racing bikes, hybrid bikes and cyclocross bikes, as well as the latest accessories. Readers cite excellent customer service among their reasons for shopping here. Palo Alto Bicycle also runs the Palo Alto Bikestation at the Palo Alto Caltrain depot. Garner's in the Town & Country Shopping Center grabbed second place, and Wheelsmith, in its new El Camino Real spot, took third.
Palo Alto Bicycle, 171 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-7411

Weekly readers still trust Kepler's Books and Magazines most for all their in-print needs. Founded in 1955, Kepler's 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 on the first Sunday of each month, Kepler's has an open-mike poetry reading. Aside from the books, Kepler's has newspapers and magazines from around the world, a huge selection of calendars and reading accoutrements. Borders Books was edged out by Printers Inc. for second place.
Kepler's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 324-4321

"Let me look under your hood" is about as panic-inducing for most folks as "Open wide and say 'Ah.'" That's why Weekly readers have voted Ole's Car Shop the top car repair shop for the past few years. 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. The shop does diagnostic and electrical work along with engine overhauls, transmissions, clutches and brakes. Helmings Auto Repair came in second. Ole's Car Shop, 801 Alma St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-6537

Founded in 1974 by the Palo Alto City Council, Palo Alto Community Child Care was allocated city general fund money to create a nonprofit corporation to meet the child care needs of families at all economic levels. There are now 14 PACCC centers in the city, including sites at the Palo Alto district elementary schools as well as free-standing centers, such as the Downtown Children's Center and the Sojourner Truth Child Development Center. YMCA of the Midpeninsula took second, in a tie with Arboretum, and the Jewish Community Center rounded out the field.
Palo Alto Community Child Care, 3990 Ventura Court, Palo Alto, (650) 493-2361

Out, damned spot. If you've smudged 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 45 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 Town & Country Village Cleaners, with Charleston Cleaners in third place.
Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 321-9190; 2103 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 323-9190

When you need some serious pampering, treat yourself to a revitalizing facial. For the third 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 $60. 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 24 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, Palo Alto, (650) 327-6964; and 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 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, pointing to Schwab's 25 years of demystifying investing and providing individual investors with the tools, access and information they need to become better investors. The Menlo Park Schwab branch boasts employees with a breadth of expertise and a wide range of investment services. Home of the Mutual Fund Marketplace, a ground-breaking mutual fund supermarket, Schwab beat out Fidelity Investments and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which finished second and third, respectively.
Charles Schwab, 800 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 325-2333

Although the community lost a treasure with the passing of Olga Stapleton, her store remains a favorite, newly renamed Michaela's Flower Shop. Even under the new name and ownership, the narrow, bubble-gum pink building on Waverley Street is a haven for flower lovers. 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 Florists came in second, and the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers' Market's blossoms ranked third.
Michaela's Flower Shop, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 321-5390

If you're searching for that obscure Fellini or Kurosawa film, looking for your favorite subtitled classic, or just dying to rent "Ma Vie en Rose" 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 more than 800 foreign titles from 36 different countries. Stanford faculty and students are among regular customers. Blockbuster came in second and Videoscope weighed in at third.
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 Sacramento, is known for its knowledgeable staff, who can help you choose the best 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 range of art supplies and paraphernalia. The University Art Center was followed in the tally by Richard Sumner Gallery and FastFrame.
University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-3500

At the top of the heap in this year's tally is Flegel's, prized for its range of Baker, Stickley, Henredon, Guy Chaddock and Widdicomb furniture. The Menlo Park shop also carries an extensive line of Brown Jordan outdoor furniture and offers complete home design services. Flegel's has served the Bay Area since 1954, with another store in San Rafael. Crate & Barrel and Z Gallerie tied for second place, and University Avenue's Restoration Hardware pulled in at third.
Flegel's, 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, (650) 326-9661

For the fifth straight year, Woolworth Garden Center beat out all the hoity-toity competition for best gardening store. It may not carry the most exotic species, but the perennials, bedding plants, roses, trees and shrubs are healthy and well priced. In addition, Woolworth stocks a wide range of planters, garden tools and fertilizers. In second place was Smith & Hawkin, and old-timer Roger Reynolds in Menlo Park took third.
Woolworth Garden Center, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, (650) 493-5136

For 27 years in its spot at University Avenue and Ramona Street, Yosh Salon and Spa remains the favorite of Weekly readers. Haircuts at Yosh cost between $45 and $100. New owner David Wagner of Horst Salons and Spas remodeled the two-story space in order to add spa services to the hair salon, a move that readers are obviously happy with. With room for manicures and pedicures as well as private rooms for spa services, such as massages, facials and other body treatments, Yosh has it all. And 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 Morpheus finished third.
Yosh Salon and Spa, 240 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-4067

They've done it again. Palo Alto Hardware earned many more votes than its nearest competitor, Peninsula Hardware in the Midtown area. 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. It has been honored as the best Ace Hardware Store in the West by Ace Hardware Corp., and owner Larry Hassett has received the coveted Tall Tree Award in Palo Alto for his service to the community. Orchard Supply Hardware took third place.
Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma St., Palo Alto, (650) 327-7222

The luxurious Garden Court Hotel won first place once again. With excellent service, a flower-filled courtyard and Mediterranean style, the hotel has rooms ranging from $250 to $500 a night. Each room comes equipped with a mini-bar, a fax machine, a VCR with complimentary videos, newspapers, terry cloth 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 Cardinal Hotel placed third.
Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, (650) 322-9000

Family owned and operated since 1931, Gleim Jewelers was one of the original merchants at the Stanford Shopping Center. And once again, Gleim has proved to be one of Palo Alto's best friends. From money clips to estate jewelry, Gleim has trinkets starting at $50 and ranging as high as $50,000, featuring pieces by Tiffany & Co., Breitling, estate baubles and diamonds. Gleim is a member of the American Gem Society, with certified gemologists on staff. It also offers consignment for those who want to sell their jewels directly, and it hosts frequent free community lectures. Mansoor-Gore Jewelers followed in second place; De Novo placed third.
Gleim Jewelers, 322 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 323-1331; Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 325-3533; 350 Main St., Los Altos, (650) 949-1122

When it comes to having your your senses soothed and your muscles rubbed, Watercourse Way won hands down, so to speak, 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 $71 to the two-hour, $125 Ayurvedic treatment to purify the body and mind. Or, for $13, 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. In second place was La Belle. Body Therapy came in third.
Watercourse Way, 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-2000

The acme 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 the latest SmashMouth CD late on Christmas Eve, you can get it at 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 honors, and Melody Lane followed in third.
Tower Records, 630 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, (650) 941-7900

Hardly the little neighborhood drugstore, Longs Drug Stores have been publicly held since 1961 and traded on the New York Stock Exchange since 1971, with over 370 stores in six Western states. Nonetheless, the chain has become firmly entrenched as the local place of choice for potions, lotions and prescriptions to tend ailments. Longs has won this category for six straight years. It also gives back to the community, hosting health screenings and vaccinations and fund raising for the Juvenile Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Walgreens Drug Store, with outlets in Palo Alto and Mountain View, came in second.
Longs Drug Store, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 324-1667

Longs Drug Store took top honors in this category as well, toppling longtime winner Photo Time at the Stanford Shopping Center. Longs beat out the competition for convenience, speed of developing and its central downtown location, not to mention its cool passport-photo booth. Photo Time held onto No. 2, for its one-hour photo processing, reprints, enlargements, poster prints, slides, overheads from prints, a portrait studio and meeting-presentation services, among several.
Longs Drug Store, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 324-1583

From the latest John Grisham fluff to all the literary fiction that's fit to print, Kepler's Books and Magazines is readers' top spot for whiling away a little time and a little cash. Organized thoughtfully by subject, Kepler's boasts little crowds of enthusiasts all over the store rifling through the pages of their latest find--from cookbooks to Judaica or children's first readers. If you don't know how to blow that last $20, employees' picks, with brief descriptions, are posted around the store. Competitor Borders Books, Music and Cafe tied with Restoration Hardware for second place, while Diddam's brought up the rear.
Kepler's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 324-4321

For creative cards and stationery, Letter Perfect is the most popular with our readers this year. The store--beaten last year by this year's second-place winner, nearby Longs Drug Store--offers a wide selection, from serious to humorous greeting cards, all at reasonable prices. Additionally, University Avenue's Letter Perfect carries a broad array of personal and business stationery and lots of great gift ideas.
Letter Perfect, 384 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 321-3700

Even though it's a bit of a trek--but then, hey, maybe that's part of the adventure--to REI, Weekly readers still think it's the best place in the area to buy backpacking equipment, camping food, rugged clothing, maps, kayaks and climbing, biking and skiing gear. Recreational Equipment Inc., with outposts in Saratoga and San Carlos, pulled off an easy win. For camping neophytes, REI also rents equipment, so you can try it out without spending a bundle. Big 5 in Menlo Park placed second, and The North Face tied for third with Palo Alto Sport & Toy.
REI, El Paseo Shopping Center off Saratoga Ave., Saratoga, (408) 871-8765; and 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, (650) 508-2330

If your dog craves a new rawhide bone, the fish are banging on the glass in disgust, and your horse has absolutely nothing to wear, you need a one-stop shopping destination for pet supplies and food. The family-owned Pet Food Depot can fill those and other needs, from bird cages to chicken feed. The store has a full range of dog and cat products and a selection of healthy food for animals. The store has a remarkably large selection of cat furniture. With many area locations, Petco finished second; Pet Club in Mountain View took third.
Pet Food Depot, 3127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 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 farther than the Goodwill Industries outlet in Palo Alto, once again voted the area's best thrift store. The prices are reasonable, the racks are well-organized, and the merchandise changes almost daily. So if you don't find that dapper tweed coat today, come back tomorrow. Goodwill has 10 retail stores in the area, with countless drop-off boxes and trucks where the company accepts donations of secondhand clothing and household items. Cars, trucks and vans also may be donated. Bargain Box in Palo Alto took second place, and Savers in Redwood City placed third.
Goodwill Industries, 4085 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 494-1416

This year's No. 1 and No. 2 winners are diametrically opposed. Nordstrom is the place to go, according to Weekly voters, for those to-die-for beaded Manolo Blahnik pumps with the cruel 3-inch heels. But then, runner up Footwear Etc. specializes in Rockport, Mephisto, Birkenstock--all the brands that are low on the drama scale and high on comfort. Located in the Stanford Shopping Center, Nordstrom has a huge selection of colors and styles for men, women and children. Semiannual sales provide bargain hunters with some heart-stopping finds. Palo Alto's own Robert Krohn came in third.
Nordstrom, 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 323-5111

Getting shoes repaired is what Midtown Shoe Repair started out doing more than 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. Midtown also resoles Birkenstocks and Rockports, dyes party pumps and does orthopedic work on shoes. The store specializes in prompt service, and it has enough satisfied customers to get the nod over Paul's European Cobblery and the Cobblery Shop.
Midtown Shoe Repair, 2778 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 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 American handmade art and craft that is also functional, including many whimsical and unusual items. Coming in second and third, respectively, were Restoration Hardware and Fry's Electronics.
Spirals Gallery, 367 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 324-1155

If it's a Bill Clinton Halloween mask or a game of Chutes and Ladders you need, the readers' choice for the place to go is Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. This 68-year-old Palo Alto landmark offers everything from rubber rats to Magic 8 Balls to a pair of Rollerblades. Remember Twister? You can still find the game here. Brio, Lego, Fisher-Price and Playmobil are stocked for the little ones, while party toys and balloons appeal to the kid in all of us. The shop has also recently built a reputation for competitive-swimming merchandise. In this year's voting, Sport and Toy trounced its nearest rivals, Toys R Us in Redwood City and Imaginarium at the Stanford Shopping Center.
Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 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 to cruises, customized travel and, increasingly, action-adventure packages, such as camel trekking in Morocco. In this year's voting, Dale Johnson Travel weighed in at second place and Council Travel took third.
Bungey Travel Inc., 116 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 325-5686

Readers may still not understand the pun in the shop's name, but Know Knew Books captured first place for the third straight year. With more than 80,000 books, including erotica, science fiction, travel, Western Americana and more--the store is renowned for its eclectic collection of titles. The California Avenue store has been feeding appetites for rare books for nine years. Megabooks came in second, and Bell's third.
Know Knew Books, 415 California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 326-9355

The blue-and-yellow signs are taking over the world. With its moniker on blimps, billboards and seemingly every street corner, it should come as no surprise that Blockbuster Video was on the tip of readers' tongues. Convenience is cited as the strong suit of this video giant. New releases are offered in multiple copies, video games are stocked in reckless abundance, and the chain does a respectable job with foreign films. Midtown Video took second place. Hollywood Video rounded out the field.
Blockbuster Video, 3990 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 424-1362, or 102 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-7582

Nordstrom took top honors in this year's fight for domination in women's clothing. Readers were drawn by the store's broad selection of everyday wear, evening attire and sleek designer styles. Located at the Stanford Shopping Center, Nordstrom has long been the place to turn to when looking for just the right special-occasion frock or that sure-to-get-the-job power suit. Seasonal sales make for great bargain hunting. With comfortable, cotton-heavy styles, California Avenue's Leaf & Petal took second place; Macy's at the Stanford Shopping Center pulled in at third.
Nordstrom, 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 323-5111

YMCA Fitness Centers are once again the readers' choice for the best workout in Palo Alto. Among the offerings are basketball, free weights, weight machines, aerobics, occasional yoga classes and (at the Ross Road location) swimming, as well as sauna and Jacuzzi for unwinding afterward. Reach Fitness, a past winner, placed second this year, and 24 Hour Fitness placed third.
YMCA, 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, (650) 494-1883; 755 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, (650) 858-0661

Local color

In addition to pointing out local heroes and movers and shakers, we asked readers to vote for the most prominent local issue. The Sand Hill Road development, the top concern for several years, still looms for readers: This year's top problem concerned traffic congestion and a dearth of downtown parking, problems that voters felt will be exacerbated by the Sand Hill Road growth.

What's the most impressive building here? Mem Chu--otherwise known as Stanford Memorial Church --claimed victory for the fourth consecutive year. The nonsectarian Protestant church, at the heart of the Stanford campus, is impressive from a distance and even more majestic inside. The church was almost destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and the 80-foot spire it then had collapsed 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 Stanford Theatre, the 1920s-style movie house on University Avenue that was restored several years ago by David Packard Jr. Stanford's Hoover Tower placed third.
Stanford Memorial Church, Main Quad, Stanford campus

According to Weekly readers for the second year in a row, 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 the Clock Tower Plaza, near Neiman Marcus, every Thursday at 6 p.m. The short concerts are easy on the ears, and the broad plaza offers room to spread out. 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 Cogswell Plaza at the corner of Lytton Avenue and Ramona Street. The City of Palo Alto's Arts and Culture Division's peripatetic Twilight Concert Series came in third.
Summer Jazz at Stanford Shopping Center, Thursdays at 6 p.m., (650) 617-8240

It was a battle of the Steves this year--Steve Young and Steve Jobs, who live almost across the street from each other in Old Palo Alto. We know the 49er quarterback could take the Apple Computer giant mano a mano, but in a battle of wits, the high-tech titan might have the edge. Nonetheless, football won out over silicon in this year's competition. Palo Altans' ardor to meet Chelsea Clinton has clearly cooled as her father has gotten himself out of hot water. The low-profile Stanford junior took third place this year.
Sorry, we can't give you their addresses or phone numbers.

Oh, quelle surprise. Ms. Cover Girl 1999, Brandi Chastain, stole readers' hearts this year. After her World Cup performance--especially that part where she scored the winning goal against China and whipped her shirt off in a glorious example of grrrrl power--the San Jose native and assistant soccer coach at Santa Clara University has been on everyone's lips. Her teammate Julie Foudy, a former Stanford All-American, tied for second place with Jenny Thompson. Thompson, voted 1998's female world swimmer of the year, just set a new record in the 100-meter butterfly. The two-time Olympian has five gold medals under her belt. Since the San Jose Lasers closed up shop, Cardinal basketball champ and U.S. Olympian Jennifer Azzi slipped into third place.

The Atherton resident beat out the Palo Alto boy. 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, who tied for second place with David Packard. Montana continues to benefit from his record as a four-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--he also has led the Niners to a Super Bowl victory and for several seasons was the National Football League's top-rated quarterback.

Traffic congestion and parking are top concerns for readers this year. 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. Color parking zones and metered parking have done little to solve the congestion problem. Just this past month, Palo Alto planning commissioners rejected designs for two downtown parking garages, concerned that the seven- and four-story structures were too massive. What's the solution, according to readers? Underground parking garages. Historic home preservation and the lack of affordable housing were concerns that followed in distant second and third spots.

At the corner of Middlefield Road and East Meadow Drive, Mitchell Park took top honors this year. With picnic areas, tennis courts, playgrounds and a wading pool, Mitchell serves the southern end of the city. One of its chief assets is a dog run. In second place was Palo Alto's Foothills Park. While it has the usual collection of barbecue pits and recreation fields, Foothills also offers commanding views of San Francisco Bay, an extensive network of hiking trails, a nature center and a placid lake. Rinconada Park came in third. It is the largest park in north Palo Alto, with two playground areas, swimming pools (a newly opened kids' pool that is universally described as "so cool") and tennis courts.

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. 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, (650) 324-EDGE

The Pollstar Concert Industry Awards named Shoreline Amphitheatre the Best Large Outdoor Amphitheatre in the United States. The Wall Street Journal called it "The Cadillac of Amphitheatres." And the San Francisco Chronicle said it is "the biggest and most beautiful tent in the world." We don't know about all that, but whether it's cool R & B, sultry jazz, timeless classical, hot country or high-energy rock, Shoreline gets the nod from readers. Every year over the course of the long outdoor-concert season, more than 40 of the world's most popular and talented entertainers zoom into Shoreline and 700,000 entertainment lovers flock to see them. Shoreline Amphitheatre was opened in 1986 under the direction of Bill Graham Presents. The Edge came in second, and Cafe Fino finished third.
Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, (650) 967-3000

Nola's scored a double whammy this year--best place for a first date and best place to meet singles (tied with Menlo Park's British Bankers Club). So, either way, forget the personal ads and stop in for Nola's odd mix of Cajun/Creole and Caribbean cuisine. At British Bankers Club--that is, the BBC--the beer flows freely, and the wood-and-brass establishment looks like something out of "Masterpiece Theatre." And if you don't meet anyone, you can console yourself with a plate of bangers and mash. Blue Chalk, Fanny & Alexander and Gordon Biersch also get a mention for their singles' scene.
Nola Restaurant, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-2722; British Bankers Club, 1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 327-8769

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, although the current sidewalk construction in front of Memorial Church can make for some serious skinned knees and elbows. 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 and Stanford Court tied for second.
Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 329-1356 (call between 9 a.m. and noon Monday through Friday)

"I think that I shall never see ..." No, wait. "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes ..." Naa, that's not it. Writing poetry is tough, but the muse for readers this year can be found in the 1,400-acre Foothills Park. The Baylands, Gamble Garden Center and the Rodin Sculpture garden all tied for second place. But it was the wide-open spaces of Foothills that inspire the creative energies of poets better than any other locale. Unfortunately, non-Palo Alto residents will have to suffer on with writer's block: The park is open to residents only.
3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto. $2 per car, $1 per bicycle.

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