Palo Alto Online Logo Best of Show: 2001 Reader Poll

As the Weekly's Best of Palo Alto competition shows, if you want to stay in the winner's circle, you've got to stay sharp

by Marc Igler

Current Winners
  • BEST OF 2001 -
    published August 21, 2001
  • Past Winners:
  • BEST OF 2000 - published August 30, 2000
  • BEST OF 1999 - published September 8, 1999
  • BEST OF 1998 - published September 16, 1998
  • BEST OF 1997 - published August 20, 1997
  • BEST OF 1996 - published July 31, 1996
  • BEST OF 1995 - published Oct. 18, 1995
  • BEST OF 1994 - published Oct. 12, 1994
  • Palo Altans can be a fickle, demanding lot.

    You see it in our treatment of local government. You see it in the expectations we set for ourselves and others. And you see it in the results of the Weekly's latest Best of Palo Alto survey.

    Sure, we have our longtime favorites -- take-out food, hardware store, venue for live music -- but as a rule, the same-old, same-old just doesn't cut it here. In this town, you can't just sit back and live on your reputation. You've got to stay sharp -- nimble -- or you'll find yourself out of the running, as many past winners have discovered, much to their chagrin.

    This year, the 16th year the Weekly has held the competition, we offer up 68 categories that reflect the best of our area. The selections came from 550 readers who took time to fill out the ballots over the past few months.

    To keep our survey fresh, we've added more than a dozen new categories and renamed others to stimulate more accurate responses.

    We've dropped, for instance, Best Special Occasion Restaurant and replaced it with a quartet of more detailed categories -- Best Place for a Celebration, Best Place to take Mom, Best Place to take Dad, and Best Place to Drop a Wad. We've scuttled Best Car Repair, Best Bike Shop and Best Pet Supplies. In their place are such categories as Best Place to take Out-of-Town Visitors, Best Girls Nigh Out, and Best Places for a first -- and last -- dates.

    To those who took part in our voting, we appreciate your thoughts and opinions. To the winners, we raise our glass. And to those of you about to read The Best of 2001, we truly hope you find some new and exciting places to go and things to do.

    Epicurean Delights

    Boiled and baked, or just baked? Our readers seem to change their minds each year. This year, it was baked. Noah's, with 20 different bagels, 11 assorted shmears and lots of pastries and lunch specialties, came in first, eclipsing last year's winner, Izzy's (boiled, then baked.) Coming in third was the House of Bagels.
    Noah's New York Bagels, 278 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 473-0751; 746 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park, 326-4794

    Bang for Your Buck
    For those of you with a taste for frugality when it comes to food, Weekly diners went with a new pick - Una Mas's Los Altos location, found to have top value for the dollar. The restaurant's rapidly expanding, no-lard menu includes rotisserie chicken, grilled steak, pork and fish, as well as a serviceable but no-frills salsa bar. Pluto's and Pasta? came in second and third.
    Una Mas, 100 State Street, Los Altos, 949-2400

    Readers stuck with a longtime favorite here - Hobee's. With its signature blueberry coffee cake and a wide assortment of egg and pancake dishes, Hobbees has held the crown for the past decade. Two other noteable, and well-established favorites, Peninsula Creamery downtown and Joanie's CafÈ on California Avenue, rounded out the field.
    Hobbees, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111; 2312 Central Expressway, Mountain View, 968-6050

    A note of sadness in this category. Local burger legend, Kirk's, again rolled to victory, as it has almost every year since the Weekly poll began. It will, however, be the last for the 51-year-old California Avenue institution. Kirk's lost its lease and will be shutting down. No date has been set, but employees expect closure soon after the first of the year. An office building will rise from the rubble. Who will now carry on the tradition of the pineapple burger? Peninsula Creamery took second; Oasis got the bronze.
    Kirk's Steakburger, 361 California Avenue, Palo Alto, 326-6159

    Chinese Food
    After losing its position last year, Su Hong emerged on top again. Serving both Mandarin and Szechwan dishes, Su Hong runs two local restaurants, both of which feature large traditional dining areas and fast, efficient take-out operations. Its flagship Menlo Park operation opened in 1977. Last year's winner, Mandarin Gourmet, slipped to second. Chef Chu's came in third.
    Su Hong, 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-4664; 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852

    Coffee House
    The two titans of local java duked it out again, with the usual results. Peet's remains the choice in the Palo Alto area. The Northern California company known for its dark roasts and strong flavors, opened its first coffee house in Berkeley in 1966. Try one of the company's new offerings - the Aged Moka Java, New Panama, or any of its reserve lines. Starbucks came in second, and Palo Alto CafÈ at Midtown in third.
    Peet's Coffee & Tea, 153 Homer Street, Palo Alto, 325-2091; 77 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 328-4471; 899 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park, 325-8989; 367 State Street, Los Altos, 941-6722

    Whether you're in the mood for a custard Èclair, a bit of strudel, or a giant slice of chocolate cake, Prolific Oven sets the local standard. The downtown bakery and meeting spot sells 25 different types of cakes (American, French and German), 15 different cookies, and 14 types each of muffins and pastries. The kitchen also makes some of the best specialty breads around. Max's Opera CafÈ came in second. The defunct Just Desserts, which closed its downtown Palo Alto location last year, came in third.
    Prolific Oven, 559 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, 326-8486

    Girls Night Out
    When local women want to get away, they favor Cajun/Caribbean specialists Nola's. The restaurant is fun and relaxed, and the waiters are perfectly happy to just let you sit and talk. The drinks are plentiful - try the Hurricanes - the outdoor patio is pleasant, and the appetizers range from the safe - crispy calamari rings to the adventurous - alligator and crawfish dumplings. Zibibbo and Fanny & Alexander's finished second and third.
    Nola's, 535 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 328-2722

    Gourmet Ice Cream Shop
    Rick's Rather Rich, a longtime South Palo Alto purveyor of frozen delights, vaulted into the top spot. Credit has to go to owner Greg Schwarzmann, who concocts some of the best and most creative ice cream blends in the western states, all made on site. Next time you drop by, try a scoop of canteloupe or Kulfi, or just one of his decadent chocolate, caramel or peanut butter ripples. In rather tough competition, Double Rainbow nosed out Gelato Classico.
    Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream, 3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 493-6553

    Gourmet Market
    For upscale grocery tastes, Draeger's ran away from the field. Its cheeses, meats, deli, and of course, museum-quality produce have set a standard matched by no other markets, according to readers. Its busting Menlo Park store has become so popular that owners are pushing the city for permission to expand. Andronico's and Whole Foods came in second and third.
    Draeger's Supermarket, 1010 University Avenue, Menlo Park, 688-0677; 342 First Street, Los Altos, 948-4425

    Indian Food
    The competition in this category is always fierce - for second and third place. For the seventh year running, Janta was the number one pick. This cozy restaurant, featuring both indoor and patio dining, serves many signature dishes, but you can't go wrong with anything on the menu. Two Mountain View entrants, Amber and Swagat, filled out the winner's circle.
    Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Avenue, Palo Alto, 462-5903

    Italian Food
    In a category with new contestants seemingly every month, none quite match longtime local Osteria, according to our tally. Tightly packed, yet oddly intimate most nights of the week, this restaurant has managed to distinguish itself through excellent Tuscan-style dinners. Its experienced kitchen and highly efficient wait staff run in perfect sync. Il Fornaio and Carpaccio held off the rest of the field for second and third.
    Osteria, 247 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, 328-5700

    Said to have been invented in the unlikely birthplace of Martinez in the Bay Area, the martini surged to popularity in the Roaring '20s. Who serves the best one around here? Readers toasted Moe's, which has evolved from Mackie's Supper Club. The menu is a bit more casual now, but they still serve a fine martini. Grabbing second place was CafÈ Fino. Third place went to Zibibbo.
    Moe's, 541 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 326-1446

    The Una Mas at Stanford Shopping Center, now renamed Una Mas Playa Bar and Grill to reflect its new cocktail selections, ran away from the field in the south-of-the-border category. The small Bay Area chain serves healthy, grilled entrees and several surprisingly good salads. Palo Alto Sol and Andale Taqueria hustled along at second and third.
    Una Mas Playa Bar and Grill, 244 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 323-8226

    New Restaurant
    New Bamboo, a casual Asian eatery with two locations, has won over a lot of palates since opening last summer. Chef Yung Le serves up enormous helpings, all loudly stirred up in woks within plain view. Great soups and chicken dishes. Second place wound up in a tie between Al Fresco and Le Poisson Japonais. Third place went to Trellis.
    New Bamboo, 543 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 473-0212; 3130 Alpine Road, Portola Valley, 851-1718

    Night Owl Restaurant
    It's late at night. You need a hot meal. You don't want fast food. Who can argue with Denny's? It's got good breakfast food - served 24-7 - decent burgers and sandwiches, and plenty of big soft booths. It's a longtime favorite of night owls. Look closely. Many of its restaurants don't even have locks on the front doors. Second choice: Peninsula Creamery. Third: tie between Al Fresco and Il Fornaio.
    Denny's, 4256 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-3082

    Organic Food
    It's been there for years - smack dab at the corner of University Avenue and Emerson Street. You couldn't ask for a better location, and Good Earth has made the most of it for a long time. Everything on the menu is either organic or raised in the most healthy of ways. Excellent seafood and vegetarian selections. Late for the Train and Flea Street CafÈ came in close behind.
    Good Earth CafÈ, 185 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 321-9449

    Like Indian food, pizza has long been a category where the competition is for the also-rans. Applewood has kept the title for a staggering 11 years. A pioneer in the specialty pizza trend that swept the country a decade or so ago, Applewood has a broad line of toppings and 17 signature pizzas, including several vegetarian offerings (Florentine, Budapest, Athens) and ones for the carnivore (Menlo Combo). Large parties may even want to try Sweet Dreams, a dessert pizza with flavored ricotta, raisins, pineapple and coconut. Pizza Chicago carried second, while Pizza A-Go-Go placed third.
    Applewood, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-3486; 227 First Street, Los Altos, 941-9222

    Place for a Carnivore
    The meateaters among us have voted Sundance Mine Company as the leader of the herd for seven straight years. The specialty is Angus Prime Rib (8 oz or 13 oz cut) and Fletcher Family steaks. The 27-year-old restaurant, however, also does quite well with seafood, particularly swordfish and all shellfish. MacArthur Park and Armadillo Willy's tied for second. Wild Hare came in third.
    Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798

    Hot and Spicy Cuisine
    At least a couple times a week, some poor soul loses his voice - waiters say it's usually a male - at Jing Jing. His eyes water, and he looks like a wreck for the rest of the meal. That's the way it is at Jing Jing - Chinese food with a big kick. Even those who like a lot of spice should beware. For every spicy dish - try the dry braised shrimp or the braised tofu - make sure you order a tame one. A one-two punch here can cause revolt in the most durable of taste buds. The balloting for second ended in a draw between Nola and Straits Café. Third went to Janta.
    Jing Jing, 443 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, 328-6885

    First Date
    If you're looking to come out strong on a first date, our singles population was indecisive. In a dead heat for first place were French/Italian specialist Nouveau Trattoria and Cajon favorite Nola. Both restaurants offer outdoor and indoor dining, great food and enough privary - but not too much - to make that first dip in the water comfortable. Zibibbo and L'Amie Donia took second and third.
    Nouveau Trattoria, 541 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, 327-0132; Nola, 535 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 328-2722

    Last Date
    You need to end it quickly. You don't want to spend much. The food really doesn't matter. Where else? Readers chose McDonald's, followed by Burger King. If you want to go out with a little more style, the suggestions included Il Fornaio, Miyake, Pasta? and Starbucks.
    McDonald's, 3128 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-7161; 190 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 327-0560

    Take Out
    When making dinner looms as a simply impossible task, give yourself a break. Try a little take out. Our readers prefer Su Hong, which serves up a formidable array of reasonably priced Chinese food from its two local to-go operations. Both run with precision efficiency. Whole Foods and Jing Jing also come highly recommended.
    Su Hong, 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-3836; 630 Menlo Avenue, Menlo Park, 322-4631

    Place to Buy Produce
    Readers have been fickle in choosing the best place for fruits and vegetables. This year's pick was Sigonia's. The Sigonia brothers - Joe, Paul, Mel and John - hit the winner's circle three years after taking over the Stanford Shopping Center location of longtime produce favorite Monterey Market. The Palo Alto Farmers Market, last year's winner, dropped to second. Whole Foods ran third.
    Sigonia's Farmers Market, 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 329-1340

    Health Food
    Department for department, no local market rivals Whole Foods, which has owned this category for six years running. Whether you're looking for organic produce, grains, meats and cheeses, take-out, even baked goods, you'll find a deep and well-chosen stock. The vitamin and herb section is particularly impressive. Second place: Country Sun. Third: Trader Joes.
    Whole Foods, 774 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, 326-8676

    Place for Kids
    Parents have known if for years: It's hard to beat Fresh Choice if you've got kids, particularly little ones. You'll eat healthy. With a bit of luck, you're kids will, too. The enormous salad bar and other buffet selections (soups, pasta, pizza, breads, desserts) guarantee everyone will find something they like. The restaurant has amazingly efficient bussing staffs and all the necessary family friendly accoutrements. Peninsula Creamery wound up in second. Chevy's took third.
    Fresh Choice, 180 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-6995; 2540 El Camino Real, Mountain View, 949-4901

    Place to Drop a Wad
    When money is no object - is this ever really true? - readers prefer Spago. The Lytton Avenue hot spot - opened by Wolfgang Puck during the upswing of the Internet frenzy, still packs 'em in with its Euro-Asian fare, including many established hits and experimental dishes that come and go. Mediterranean specialists Evvia took second. Continental stalwart Chantilly came in third.
    Spago, 265 Lytton Avenue, Palo Alto, 833-1000

    Place to take Dad
    It's obvious that the stereotype holds: Men like meat. Readers say the best place to take Dad is Sundance Mine Company. Every dinner at this carnivoric institution is based around either beef or seafood, although steamed vegetables and potatoes typically come on the side. Martini "hour" is from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also in the running were MacArthur Park, and for those harboring a taste for big game, Wild Hare.
    Sundance Mine Company, 921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798

    Place to take Mom
    We got strikingly different results when it came to Mom. Her tastes seem to lean toward the more ethnic and the more casual. Evvia and Nouveau Trattoria headed the list, followed by Allied Arts Guild and Mike's CafÈ in a tie for second. The French flavors and techniques of Bistro Elan arrived in the show position.
    Evvia, 420 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, 326-0983; Nouveau Trattoria, 541 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, 327-0132

    Power Lunch
    Is this term still part of the vernacular? Sounds a bit archaic, but we figure you know what we mean. If you're looking for good food in a setting where you can do deals, think big thoughts, haggle and dicker - and maybe, just maybe - get seen while you're doing it, Il Fornaio is choice number one, followed by Spago and Evvia.
    Il Fornaio, 520 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, 853-3888

    Best Sandwich
    The humble sandwich can be a surprisingly tricky thing to make. So, who has perfected the process? According to our readers, it's The Village Cheese House, which has been putting meat, cheese, vegetables and spices between sliced bread since 1959. Besides lunch fixings, the store also has one of the largest selections of gourmet foods in the area. Second place: Togo's. Third: a tie between Max's Opera CafÈ and JJ&F Market.
    The Village Cheese House, 157 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 326-9251

    After struggling in the water for a couple of years, Fish Market is again king of the sea among readers. The longtime favorite remains jammed for most meals, testament to its expertise with all things pulled from the ocean. Its dÈcor - an East Coast mix of old fishing and waterfront photos, polished brass, and nautical accessories - will keep you fascinated until your food arrives. Last year's winner, 3Fish, dropped to second in a tie with Cook's Seafood. Coming in third was Scott's Seafood Bar and Grill.
    Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-9188

    Singles Joint for Baby Boomers
    The British Banker's Club, Menlo Park's monument to England's Edwardian past, was a surprise winner in this elusive category, much subject to the ever-changing whims of singles. At BBC, you can order all things British - bangers and Shepherd's Pie - but it's the extensive selection of ales that grab most customers' attention, as well as all the gaming trophies and other English touches. Blue Chalk CafÈ and Fanny & Alexander knotted at second. Gordon Biersch wound up in third.
    British Banker's Club, 1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-8769

    Singles Joint for Gen Xer
    With its third category win (including First Date and Girls Night Out), Nola's takes this year's crown for all-around popularity. Here, the 20s and early-30s crowd registers its preference for the New Orleans-style restaurant. Great bar, friendly wait staff, great food. Proving that it's popular with both generations, Blue Chalk CafÈ again took second. Q CafÈ, came in second and third.
    Nola's, 535 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 328-2722

    Solo Dining
    If you need to get away by yourself, CaffÈ Verona will meet most of your requirements, readers say. Good sandwiches and salads. Great coffee and other drinks. You can get in and out quickly or linger a while. Chances are you'll see someone you know during your stay at this bustling downtown staple. Pluto's and Una Mas came in second and third.
    Caffe Verona, 236 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto326-9942

    Fresh from its recent remodel and expansion, Fuki Sushi maintained its hold among the always-crowded competition in this category. Jockeying for the top post with its boisterous downtown rival, Miyake, the more sedate and elegant Fuki Sushi has now captured honors two years in a row. The restaurant serves everything from traditional Japanese combos to the most daring sushi. Check out the new sushi bar. Behind Miyake was relative newcomer Higashi West in third.
    Fuki Sushi, 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-9383

    Thai restaurants come and go, but Siam Garden isn't going anywhere. This consistent award-winner continues to please those with a taste for curries, pad thai, pot rices and soups flavored with lemon grass, galangal and kaffir. Its side street locale is simple and unpretentious. Longtime rival Thai City came in second. Siam Royale placed third.
    Siam Garden, 1143 Crane Street, Menlo That City came Park, 853-1143

    Weekend Brunch
    Having already nailed down the breakfast award, Hobees now captures the prize for the day's next meal. Readers picked this 11-restaurant chain for best brunch - for the seventh straight year - despite it having no brunch menu to speak of. Just the same great breakfast fare. Dinah's Poolside CafÈ, with its extensive buffet, checked in at second. Joanie's CafÈ on California Avenue ranked third.
    Hobbees, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111; 2312 Central Expressway, Mountain View, 968-6050

    Well, that's of Local Note

    Local Band
    For more than a decade, swingmasters String of Pearls have entertained locals at just about every venue you can imagine - wedding receptions, big parties, even concerts in the park. Led by Don and Connie Conway, the eight-piece band specializes in tunes from the 1930s and 40s. The Conways, however, always offer a fresh take on big band and swing. The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra came in second, followed by Wendy Walker and Her Fine Band.

    Romantic Spot
    When it comes to romance, our readers have a decided bent toward nature. Two of the top three choices reflect the outdoor spirit. Foothills Park - with its miles of scenic trails, vistas, grassy areas and campgrounds - topped the list. The intimate Nouveau Trattoria restaurant came in second before our survey went back to nature with The Baylands with its salty marshes and wetland trails.
    Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, 329-2423

    Place to take Out-of-Town Visitors
    Stanford University certainly ranks as one of the country's great institutions of higher learning. As our poll found, it's also a strong lure as a tourist attraction. When asked where they would take out-of-towners, readers said Stanford, in general, was their top choice, followed by the university's Cantor Center for Visual Arts and the adjoining Rodin Sculpture Garden.

    Place for a Wedding Reception
    Gamble Gardens, the 99-year-old mini-estate maintained in beautiful and loving condition, is choice number one for those tying the knot. The historic property, deeded to the city in 1981, has a wide array of formal gardens - a great place for summer or spring nuptials. Fogerty Winery, with its stunning vistas and scenic surroundings, came in second. The Garden Court Hotel placed third.
    Gamble Gardens, 1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, 329-1356

    Place for a Special Celebration
    Spago took the prize in this general, catch-all category. Its outdoor pavilion and private dining rooms are ideal for both large and small parties. Gamble Gardens captured second place while Garden Court Hotel trailed in third.
    Spago, 265 Lytton Avenue, Palo Alto, 833-1000

    The Right Stuff

    Antique Store
    The Antique Emporium, a Palo Alto fixture since 1977, broke through this year as the winner. A collective of 26 different antique dealers, the emporium specializes in a wide range of collectibles, particularly Art Deco jewelry, furniture of many style and vintages, as well as lighting and glass. Last year's pick, Maria's Antiques in Los Altos, placed second, while Judith Frost and Co. came in third.
    Antique Emporium, 4219 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-2868

    Art Gallery
    The Pacific Art League, which has nurtured the careers of countless local artists, got some well-deserved recognition this year after falling out of the winner's circle in recent years. The League, now in its 80th year, not only exhibits a wide range of art in its three galleries but holds dozens of classes and lectures. Gallery House finished second. Photographer's Gallery and Europa tied for third.
    Pacific Art League, 668 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, 321-3891

    Dry Cleaner
    Did you dribble a little coffee down your tie? Let a meatball slip off your fork, right into your lap? Our readers say your next shop should be Delia's Cleaners. With two locations in Palo Alto and 43 more throughout the Bay Area, Delia's specializes in everyday cleaning as well as tough stains. They also do tailoring at most locations. Charleston Cleaners and Emerson Laundry rounded out the winners.

    Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 321-9190; 2013 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 323-9190

    Two-and-a-half years after taking over flower favorite Stapleton's Florist, new owners Michaela Dieffenbach and Steve Wong have earned top honors. Like its predecessor in the skinny pink building on Waverley Street, Michaela's Flowers handles everything from big, ornate wedding arrangements to the sole, perfect rose. Stanford Florist and University Florist rounded out the field.
    Michaela's Flowers, 453 Waverely Street, Palo Alto, 321-5390

    Framing Shop
    Whether you're framing a square, a trapazoid or a rhombus, chances are University Art Center has done it before. They've been around since 1947 and are a perennial winner of our competition. Beside frames, the store has a great selection of art supplies, gifts and toys. Runners up this year were The Great Frame Up and Great American Framing.
    University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, 328-3500

    Furniture Store
    National furniture retailer Z Gallerie promises a "Wow!" shopping experience with each visit. Readers seem to agree, passing over longtime favorite Flagel's in Menlo Park. Whether a chenile sofa or a beaded silk lampshade, Z Gallerie features dÈcor for the living room, bedroom, office, even the kitchen. Coming in third behind Flagel's was Design and Interiors in Los Altos.
    Z Gallerie, 340 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 324-0693

    Hair Salon
    It's about time Ross McArthur got some recognition. After all, the Menlo Park salon has been around since Ike was president. After a snazzy remodel a few years ago, Weekly readers now consider it the best around. With 26 stylists, the salon serves a clientele from hip, Gen Yers looking for edge to seniors who just want a good cut. Services include manicures and waxings. Juut came in second, followed by Hair International.
    Ross McArthur Salon, 859 Oak Grove Avenue, Menlo Park, 322-6641

    Hardware Store
    Year after year, home repair after home repair, Palo Altans seem to think there's really only one place for their hardware needs: Palo Alto Hardware. The ACE affiliate on Alma Street maintains its position through a simple recipe - low prices, a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of roaming employees who are both friendly and know what they're talking about. Taking second place was Menlo Park Hardware, followed by Peninsula Hardware.
    Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma Street, Palo Alto, 327-7222

    The Garden Court Hotel, an intimate 62-room hotel in downtown Palo Alto, again takes top honors in our survey. With rooms starting at $290 and topping out at $525 a night, the Mediterranean-style hotel is not cheap, but many visitors will stay no place else. An added bonus is the presence of Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana restaurant on the ground level. Close behind were Stanford Park Hotel and The Sheraton.
    Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, 322-9000

    Live Music
    There are lots of great places to catch live music in the Palo Alto area - parks, nightclubs, auditoriums, even street corners. Shoreline, however, gets the nod here. After all, who could argue with the venue's impressive list of summer concerts - usually 40 or so, attended by roughly 750,000 people. There's a show for all tastes. Rounding out the balloting were CafÈ Fino and Stanford Shopping Center.
    Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, 967-3000

    Two longtime Palo Alto bookstores - Printer's Ink and Stacey's - bit the dust in the past year. Local stronghold Kepler's, however, not only remains standing but again wins its category with room to spare. Owner Clark Kepler manages to always stay ahead of the chain competition. If you really want to support a local, check out Kepler's new online store. Borders finished as the runner's up. The bookstore on the Stanford campus and the late Printer's Ink came in third.
    Kepler's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-4321

    Shoe Store
    Whether pumps, flats, slippers, sneakers or any other kind of footwear, no one beats Nordstrom, our readers say. The selections of women's shoes is the most extensive, but the men's department has come on strong in recent years. Watch for the summer sales. Footware, Etc.and newcomer European Shuz notched second and third, respectively.
    Nordsrom, 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 323-5111

    If it goes in the garden or just in the ground, Woolworth's has got it. Not only that, they'll take time to show you how to keep it alive and thriving. For indoor and outdoor gardeners. Roger Reynolds Nursery and Ladera Nursery were tabbed as runners-up.
    Woolworth's Nursery, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, 493-5136

    Tiny, jam-packed Maximart Pharmacy a block off California Avenue beat back the big boys again this year. There are no frills in this 33-year-old simple operation, just polite, knowledgable service. Maximart is one of the few pharmacies around that still delivers, and if you need a special order, there's nobody faster. Longs Drugs and Walgreens filled out the field.
    Maximart Pharmacy, 240 Cambridge Avenue, Palo Alto, 327-3922

    Photo Developing
    Everybody develops photos these days, especially all the retail heavyweights - Safeway, Walmart, Target - that can price the job down to where no independent can go. It says something when a one-shop operation like Phototime keeps the crown for the second year in a row. Besides prompt, high-quality developing, the shop now offers a full menu of digital photo services. Costco and Longs ran second and third, respectively.
    Phototime, 138 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 326-7687

    Place for a Massage
    No doubt, Palo Altans work hard. No doubt, we have lots of sore muscles, throbbing temples, and work-stressed headaches. Not surprisingly, lots of businesses want to sooth our hurt. Weekly readers say Watercourse Way noses out the field in this competitive market. LaBelle Day Spa and Body Therapy Center captured the silver and bronze.
    Watercourse Way, 165 Channing Avenue, Palo Alto, 462-2000

    Place for a Workout
    Want to buff up those delts, tighten up that gluteus, or just work off a few of those deep-fried mozzarella poppers? Better get down to the YMCA on Ross Road, this year's favorite. The facilities - fitness center, pool, gymnasium, saunas and spa, a multitude of classes - are unrivaled for the price. Monthly fees range from $21 to $104 for a family, not including modest joining fees. Reach Fitness Club and 24-Hour Fitness took second and third place.
    Palo Alto Family YMCA, 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, 856-9622

    Place to Buy Tunes
    Tower Records captures this category almost every year - including this one - and with good reason. It's big. It's well-organized. And you can browse for a long time. The adjoining bookstore, added a few years ago, has a surprisingly large selection that goes well beyond what you would expect. Second and third place went to Hear Music and Borders, respectively.
    Tower Records, 630 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, 941-7900

    Place to Splurge on Jewels
    That well-known purveyor of fine jewelry that landed with such a splash two years ago at Stanford Shopping Center couldn't hold its place in this year's competition. Local product Gleim's Jewelers recaptured the top spot, as readers' choice for rings, necklases and the like - all of which can be giftwrapped, but not in a little blue box. Tiffany & Co. came in second, followed by Diamonds of Palo Alto.
    Gleim Jewelers, 322 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 321-1331; 119 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 325-3533; 350 Main Street, Los Altos, 949-1122

    Shoe Repair
    Bring in your shoes - or purses, or suitcases, even car seats. Weekly readers say there's no better place than Midtown Shoe Repair. The shop, owned and operated by the Babekian family for 21 years, specializes in leather repair and cleaning, as well as all makes of shoes. Last year's winner, Paul's European Cobblery, came in second, with The Cobbler in third.
    Midtown Shoe Repair, 2796 Middlefield, Palo Alto, 329-8171

    Stationery Store
    Weekly readers apparently aren't taken in by the warehouse stores when it comes to paper, pens, greeting cards, and the like. This year's slate of winners, led by University Avenue fixture Congdon & Crome, a company whose roots reach back to 1904, was followed by Letter Perfect and Village Stationers.
    Congdon & Crome, 270 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 326-1650

    Toy Store
    Another downtown regular, Palo Alto Sport and Toy, dominated the field in its category, as is the case every year. The shop, run by the Hoffacker family since 1930, may not have the selection of the mega stores, but it's always on top of trends, and you can't beat the knowledgeable service. Toys R Us came in second, followed by relative newcomer Cheeky Monkey in Menlo Park.
    Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, 328-8555

    Travel Agency
    Care to track rhinos in Kenya? Sea kayak in New Guinea? Fly fish in Patagonia? Whether you like the adventurous stuff or just a nice, luxurious stay in Hawaii, Bungey Travel always seems to be the pick of locals. The downtown agency has been around since 1931. This year's runners-up were American Express/Triple A and Awana.
    Bungey Travel, 116 University Avenue, Palo Alto, 325-5686

    Video Store
    Small fries don't stand much of a chance in this category. With seven locations within Palo Alto striking distance, giant Blockbuster runs away with the laurels. With a huge selection and prices just within the competitive range, the Viacom-controlled company is still the choice of the masses. Midtown Video and Hollywood Video placed second and third.
    Blockbuster Video, 3990 El Camino, Palo Alto, 424-1362; 102 University Avenue, Palo Alto,328-7582

    Women's Boutique
    Female readers say Leaf & Petal is hands-down the place to go if department store offerings aren't your taste. A failed foray onto University Avenue a few years ago hasn't seemed to have diminished the popularity of this 22-year-old store. Rounding out the field were two Menlo Park boutiques, Calla and The Surrey Shop.
    Leaf and Petal, 439 California Avenue, Palo Alto, 329-8070


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