Simply the best
In 17th annual Best Of competition, readers vote for the familiar

Current Winners
  • BEST OF 2002 -
    published August 21, 2002
  • Past Winners:
  • BEST OF 2001 -
    published August 21, 2001
  • 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
  • In this year of terrorism, war and economic decline, most people are going back to the basics of life: home and family. Sticking close to home means frequenting familiar haunts, like places for morning coffee, spaghetti, good clam chowder, flowers and fresh produce.

    It's in this kind of year when people don't tend to experiment as much, but stick to what they like.

    This trend is reflected in the votes of 477 Weekly readers - including nearly 200 who voted online - for the best of the best. Many places won for the second consecutive year - like Best Breakfast or Best Coffee House or continued a winning streak which has lasted for years.

    This is the 17th year (with a small break in the middle) and once again we've honed categories, eliminating some and adding others, to make it more interesting and more useful to readers.

    Gone are such categories as Best Place to Buy Tunes and Best Place to Take Mom. New or renamed this year are Best Men's Apparel, Best Women's Boutique, Best Restaurant to Splurge, Best Inexpensive Restaurant, Best Singles Bar, Best Place for Girls/Boys Night Out, and Best Place for a Romantic Getaway. All in all, we have 53 categories. Whether you've lived here for years or you're new to the area and looking for a good dry cleaner, we hope you'll find some nuggets here or be inspired to try something new.

    Noah's New York Bagels has introduced countless Palo Altans to the glories of lox and cream cheese on a bagel, so obviously they're doing something right. Offering a wide variety of bagels, shmears, pastries and lunch specials, the shop has definitely struck a chord with our readers -- this is the second year in a row they've bested the competition. Izzy's, once again, came in second.
    Noah's New York Bagels, 278 University Avenue, Palo Alto, (650) 473-0751; 746 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, (650) 326-4794.

    If breakfast is the meal you tend to skip, Hobee's trademark blueberry coffeecake, array of scrambles and omelets or thick French toast will convert you. Accompany your meal with some spicy Hobee's tea and you are set to go. The place caters to kids, with special crayons and placemats for little artists. By the way, Hobee's has held the Weekly's Best Breakfast crown for more than a decade, and this year was also voted Best Sunday Brunch. Runner-up for breakfast was the Peninsula Fountain and Grill.
    Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 327-4111; 2312 Central Expressway, Mountain View, (650) 968-6050.

    Local burger legend Kirk's again rolled to victory, as it has almost every year since the Weekly poll began. With a tasty array of burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes and fries, Kirk's patrons order at the grill and pick from a huge selection of do-it-yourself condiments. Burgers are always fresh, juicy and piping hot. Readers' second-place choice was Taxi's.
    Kirk's Steakburgers, 361 California Ave., Palo Alto, 326-6159.

    Chinese Food
    Once again, Su Hong emerged on top. Serving both Mandarin and Szechwan dishes, from chicken salad to duck, 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 - which has a take-out restaurant around the corner -- opened in 1977. Close behind as the second-place winner was Mandarin Gourmet.
    Su Hong, 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, (650) 493-4664; 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 323-6852.

    Coffee House
    Peet's once again percolated to the top of the pack. The popular java hangout, known for its strong coffee and extensive array of teas, also offers classes in brewing techniques. Peet's two Palo Alto locations often has a line of customers so long that they extend out the door in the morning. In addition to coffee, Peet's has sinfully delicious frozen drinks. The mocha freddo, for instance, which is surprisingly similar to Starbucks frappucinos, is particularly popular in the summer, according to the Peet's people. Starbucks on University Avenue, by the way, came in second.
    Peet's Coffee & Tea, 153 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 325-2091; 77 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 328-4471; 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, (650) 325-8989; 367 State St., Los Altos, (650) 941-6722.

    Holding on to its first-place title from last year, Prolific Oven remains the favorite of Palo Alto's sweet tooths, and with a selection of 33 types of cakes, is there any wonder why? For chocoholics there's a staggeringly rich array of choices involving chocolate cake and cream-cheese frosting flavored with such delightful essences as coffee, orange, almond and rum. Fruit-lovers will also find much to enjoy in scrumptious concoctions like mango and strawberry mousse cake. A low-key place that encourages patrons to linger, this friendly neighborhood bakery is a gem. The Peninsula Creamery came in second.
    Prolific Oven, 550 Waverly St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-8485.

    Inexpensive Restaurant
    Serving up tasty, wallet-friendly Thai cuisine since 1993, Palo Alto's Siam Royal got voters' top pick for a good, cheap meal. With homemade curry and menu picks like panang salmon, papaya salad and spicy eggplant with chicken, Siam Royal keeps patrons coming back for more Thai treats. In second place a few votes behind was Fresh Choice.
    Siam Royal, 338 University Ave., Palo Alto, 329-8129.

    Indian food
    Janta has done it again. The cozy restaurant, with its popular Indian dishes, has once again been voted best Indian restaurant. Diners can choose from a wide variety of appetizers, like the spicy meat-and-vegetable filled samoosas and pakoras, and main courses like the ever popular chicken tikka masala and other fiery North Indian tandoori dishes. But the mouthwatering desserts are also not to be missed like the chilled raas malai and the soft gulab jamans, dripping with sugary syrup. Vegetarians can also find a passage to India here, with many meat-free options in the menu. Darbar came in second.
    Janta Indian Cuisine, 369 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-5903.

    Italian Food
    For fairly priced unfussy Italian staples, Weekly readers have once again voted for Osteria. The restaurant, known for its excellent Tuscan-style dinners, is nearly always tightly packed. Its experienced kitchen and highly efficient wait staff run in perfect sync to create a convivial atmosphere.
    Osteria, 247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-5700.

    Mexican Food
    The first place for best Mexican food this side of the border goes to Celia's. Made popular for its great-tasting and reasonably priced food, Celia's mouthwatering beef and shrimp fajitas are not to be missed. The menu also offers scrumptious desserts like the sopapillas, a chip-and-dip dessert made from a deep-fried flour tortilla with ice cream in the middle.
    Celia's, 3740 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 843-0643.

    Thai Restaurant
    Palo Alto's Siam Royal overtook longtime winner Siam Garden this year. The restaurant offers a no-frills atmosphere and authentic mild Thai cuisine with low prices and specials that absolutely can't be beat. Siam Royal offers tons of barbecue and seafood options, and is also favorite among vegetarians. Specialties include hot-and-sour seafood soup, panang salmon, garlic lamb, fried tofu, and yellow curry chicken. Menlo Park's Siam Garden took second.
    Siam Royal, 338 University Ave (650) 329-8129.

    Antique Store
    The Antique Emporium, a Palo Alto fixture since 1977, claimed the title for the second year in a row. A collective of 26 different antique dealers, the emporium specializes in a wide range of collectibles, particularly Art Deco jewelry, furniture of many styles and vintages, as well as lighting and glass. Antique Trove, Asian Antiques, Maria's of Lost Altos, Tea Caddy, and Z Gallery all tied for second place.
    Antique Emporium, 4219 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 494-2868.

    Art Gallery
    The Cantor Arts Center - the popular name for the Iris B. and Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University - occupies a unique place in the hearts of Peninsula art lovers. Closed for 10 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake rendered it seismically unfit, the museum was renovated, expanded and reopened to much acclaim in 1999. Even an hour or two wandering its collections of European, American and Asian art can do much to refresh visitors seeking escape from the whirlwind of Silicon Valley life. The center is perhaps best known for its Rodin sculpture garden, which contains 20 bronzes by the French master, including the monumental "Gates of Hell." Palo Alto's second-favorite gallery is Hang.
    Cantor Arts Center, 328 Lomita Drive and Museum Way, Stanford campus.

    A longtime mainstay of this category, Kepler's continues to thrive as an independent bookstore after several others have gone out of business in recent years. The family-owned independent bookstore has been serving local readers for more than 40 years, in about three different Menlo Park locations. The store is known for its large selection, wonderful children's section and helpful and knowledgeable sales staff. It also has a large selection of magazines. Second place again this year is Border's.
    Kepler's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, (650) 324-4321.

    Celebration Venue
    The Garden Court Hotel in downtown Palo Alto, took top honors for place to party. Whether it was for a wedding, bar mitzvah, or rehearsal dinner, readers preferred the hotel's elegant atmosphere and attention to detail for their recent celebrations. The hotel's spacious ballrooms host events big and small and each offers a flower-laden court yard or terrace to extend events outdoors. In addition to its 62 rooms, the hotel also features Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana restaurant on the ground level for a post-party drink or meal. Chef Chu's in Los Altos took second place.
    Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, (650) 322-9000.

    Dry Cleaner
    Before you know it, there it is: a dribble of coffee down your brand-new white blouse, or a smudge of pasta sauce sneering from your tie. But don't fret, because our readers have long said they trust Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers to get their clothes looking like new. Delia's offers dry cleaning, laundering and even tailoring services at its two stores in Palo Alto and 43 more throughout the Bay Area. Your delicate leather and suede items are also in good hands. Emerson Cleaners came in second.
    Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 321-9190; 2013 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 323-9190.

    Need to smooth over that argument with an exquisite red rose? Or brighten mom's day with a lush bouquet of lilies? Whatever the occasion, Michaela's Flowers in the narrow pink building on Waverley Street has again earned top honors as the place to go for your floral fix. If the colorful selection seems overwhelming, the staff will guide you toward the perfect arrangement. Stanford Florist took second.
    Michaela's Flowers, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 321-5390.

    Framing Shop
    Masterpieces come in all forms - from your toddler's free-form finger-painting to an original Monet - and readers advise treating them like the gems they are with a first-rate framing at University Art Center. The family-owned store, with locations in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento, has been offering knowledgeable service and custom framing since 1947. While you're there, browse the wide stock of art supplies and gifts. Fast Frame took the silver.
    University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 328-3500.

    Furniture Store
    Repeating it's success from last year, Z Gallerie on University Avenue impressed readers once again as being the area's best furniture store. The downtown shop features a plethora of products and furnishings for the entire household -- pillows and throw rugs for the living room, clocks and lamps for the bedroom, or martini glasses and dinnerware for the kitchen, among a wide array of others. Items range from small (candles and coasters) to large (wall art and bed frames). Featuring two floors of goodies to choose from and a helpful staff of informed professionals, Z Gallerie has become a gift-giving haven for Palo Altans year round. Flegel's in Menlo Park won second place.
    Z Gallerie, 340 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 324-0693.

    Shoe Repair
    Robert Babekian at Midtown Shoe Repair can fix nearly anything, from 30-year-old Italian sandals to the zipper on a carry-on suitcase. He can even create leather or suede watchbands, and he's been known to recover an orthopedic back support in leather to match a customer's car upholstery. That's probably why he snagged Best Shoe Repair kudos two years in a row. A close second was Paul's European Cobblery.
    Midtown Shoe Repair, 2796 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 329-8171.

    Sporting Goods
    Whether you're going to hit golf balls on the green or bounce a basketball in your backyard, there is a sporting goods store that carries what you need. Palo Altans agree that the best place in the area to satisfy those athletic urges is Copeland's Sports on University Avenue in Palo Alto. A longtime local fixture, Copeland's features a vast selection of items for the athlete in all of us: running shoes, weight-training equipment, footballs, sports apparel, boxing gloves, and much more. Reputable brands such as Nike, New Balance, Wilson and Titleist highlight the sporty shelves.
    Palo Alto Sport & Toy World scored second. Copeland's Sports, 375 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 321-2277.

    Stationery Store
    Letter Perfect in the heart of downtown Palo Alto ran away with the crown for Prince of the Paperies this year. The store, which aims to provide customers with "an uplifting atmosphere," has been independently owned and operated since 1982. With a huge selection of recycled and handmade greeting cards, elegant wedding invitations, exquisite notepaper and unique gifts, the store proved it can't be beat for stationery selection. Menlo Park's Village Stationers took second.
    Letter Perfect, 384 University Avenue, Palo Alto, (650) 321-3700.

    Toy Store
    One of the most venerable of the old-time downtown Palo Alto retailers, Palo Alto Sport and Toy continues to dominate this category every year. The shop has been open since 1930, and although without the selection of the larger mega-stores, stays on top of the trends. It has its share of Barbie dolls, augmented by the latest educational game, Frisbee, soccer ball and a whole slew of swimwear and other sports clothes and equipment. It has made generations of children smile, even as they grow older and buy toys for their children. Second place goes to Toys R Us.
    Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-8555.

    Travel Agency
    If you've been bitten by the travel bug and want to get away from it all, our readers recommend Bungey and Cardoza Travels. A friendly and experienced staff can help plan that dream vacation, whether it is eating fish and chips in London or trekking through the Alps. This year's second place went to AAA.
    Bungey Travel, 116 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 325-5686. Cardoza Travel Services, 550 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, (800) 654-4746.

    Women's Boutique
    When it comes to gorgeous clothes, friendly service and trendy jewelry, Leaf & Petal is a step ahead of the rest. 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 diminished the popularity of this 22-year-old store. Rounding out the field was Menlo Park boutique Calla.
    Leaf and Petal, 439 California Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 329-8070.

    Venue for Live Music
    If you want to see Eminem, Bonnie Raitt or Michael Feinstein on the Midpeninsula, there's only one place to go: the Shoreline Amphitheatre. The opportunity to catch A-list performers under a beautiful night sky is irresistible to many -- this is the fourth straight year Shoreline topped our poll. Fanny & Alexander came in second.
    Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, (650) 967-3000.

    Local Band
    Whether it's Broadway hits, movie tunes or breezy classics that get your toe tapping, the Peninsula Pops Orchestra is sure to delight, according to readers. Conducted by maestro Kim Venaas, the nonprofit group of musicians of all ages from throughout the Bay Area specializes in captivating the whole family. Eclectic entertainers Uncle Melvin came in at a close second.

    Place to Buy Fresh Produce
    For the third year in a row, readers have once again switched allegiance in produce-shopping -- this time from Sigona's to Whole Foods Market. Known among shoppers for the impeccable quality across all categories of produce -- fruit, veggies, meat, seafood and baked goods -- the Homer Avenue market also has some of the most generous free samples in town. The friendly service makes it a pleasure to shop. In the final tally Sigona's came in second.
    Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676.

    Health Food
    The name says it all. Whole Foods Market on Emerson Street in Palo Alto ranked first place in the best health food category for the seventh year in a row. The market features all-natural foods (meats and cheeses, grains, bakery items, juices, etc.) as well as a vast selection of vitamins, minerals and supplements for overall well-being. But the health side of Whole Foods doesn't stop with their edibles. All-natural laundry detergents, household cleaners, shampoos and deodorants help shoppers stay clean and healthy. Not to mention a variety of greeting cards, incense and chocolates for the gift season. Country Sun grabbed second place.
    Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676.

    Not only did the city of Chicago introduce the world's greatest basketball player, it must also play home to the greatest pizza. Pizz'a Chicago on El Camino Real in Palo Alto was voted best pizza, slicing up former champ Applewood Inn, an 11-year winner. Pizz'a Chicago features a scintillating menu of character-driven pizzas, from the "Air Jordan" (fresh Roma tomatoes, basil and garlic) to the "John Dillenger" (pesto sauce, slivered almonds, roasted red bell peppers, fresh roasted garlic and romano cheese). Soups, salads, appetizers and an array of beverages support the restaurant's vast pizza selection. A diverse variety of Chicago-related images line the walls, and 60-person banquet facilities are available for parties. Just don't be surprised if you leave the eatery rooting for the Bulls and the Bears. Round Table Pizza scored second.
    Pizz'a Chicago, 4115 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 424-9400.

    Power Lunch
    Power lunches and panini sandwiches are synonymous with Il Fornaio. The Italian restaurant is the place where Silicon Valley execs prefer to meet and eat. "The lunch crowd is big," said restaurant manager David D'Alessandro, despite the dot-com bust. "I can't even count the number of business deals that have been made in this dining room," he said. In addition to the authentic Italian food, Italian sodas and Pellegrino water can be seen flowing freely at the tables, especially in the outdoor patio. Tied for second in the power lunch category were Evvia and Spago.
    Il Fornaio, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, (650) 853-3888.

    Restaurant to Splurge
    Even with the Silicon Valley's busted bubble, readers need to splurge on a meal every once in a while. And when they do, they still prefer to do it at Spago. Discerning diners can choose to feast in the restaurant's terraced court yard and patio, modern main dining room, outdoor pavilion, or in one of its private dining rooms. Wolfgang Puck's trademark open kitchen offers creative American cuisine influenced by Asia and the Mediterranean. Mediterranean maven Evvia came in second.
    Spago, 265 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 833-1000.

    There are many local places which will make sandwiches for people needing a bite on the run on a busy day. But the best again, according to our readers, is the Village Cheese House, which has been making them since 1959. So whether it's roast beef on rye or a BLT, it also offers one of the largest selections of gourmet foods and cheeses in the area. A favorite among those in the know. Second place goes to Subway.
    The Village Cheese House, 157 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 326-9251.

    Seafood Restaurant
    If you want fresh fish, readers say The Fish Market is the place to enjoy succulent prawns, wild salmon or swordfish, or clam chowder. Whether you take your fish home and cook it (from the market in front) or sit and enjoy it there, The Fish Market's decor, reminiscent of an East Coast restaurant, will make you almost smell the salt spray. The second-place winner was Scott's Seafood.
    The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 494-9188.

    Singles Bar
    This year's Triple Crown winner? Nola, which also snagged top honors as the best place for a first date and girls' (or boys') night out. Even mid-afternoon, there's flirtin' going on at this colorful Cajun bar. If it's numbers you want (and what single doesn't?), the nightly 25 to 35-year-old crowd is so large it spills out onto the sidewalk, moving into the open-to-the-sky patio area after the diners finish devouring their etoufee. The party usually lasts till 11:30 p.m. on slow weeknights or after 1 a.m. on the wilder weekends. Fanny & Alexander took second place.
    Nola, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-2722.

    Solo Dining
    Sure, it's nice to have dinner with a friend or family, but sometimes we just want to be left alone to eat in peace. Local residents agree that Siam Royal on University Avenue is the best place to do just that. Featuring "authentic Thai cuisine," Siam Royal boasts a menu of many unique and tantalizing dishes, including Fried Tofu, Panang Chicken and Ginger Pork. The desserts include Fried Banana, and beverages such as Thai iced tea and coconut juice are also available. Everything the lone eater needs. New Bamboo served up second place.
    Siam Royal, 338 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 329-8129.

    Sunday Brunch
    They come dressed in bike shorts. You see them lined up outside in their Sunday best. They're all waiting for a table at Hobee's, and according to Palo Alto readers, the food will be worth the wait. The gathering place of choice for those out and about on Sunday morning, Hobee's delivers with first-class comfort food, a homey atmosphere and a generous serving of their famous coffee cake. Pricier but still popular, Il Fornaio placed second.
    Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 856-6124; 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 327-4111; 2312 Central Expressway, Mountain View, (650) 968-6050.

    The schools of hungry locals swarming into Miyake's fishbowl-like restaurant for cheap, tasty sushi have spoken. If you're in the mood for Unagi, Yellowtail or just feel like diving into a Bento box, the quick service and lively atmosphere at Miyake makes sushi seem worth celebrating. Just raise your voice a bit over the din. Down one rung on the food chain, but still a close second:
    Fuki Sushi. 140 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 323-9449.

    From state-of-the-art Internet-connected stationary bikes (if you pedal, you stay online) to a climbing wall and pool, the Palo Alto YMCA offers the gamut of fitness equipment, classes and general ambience for the motivated. With two gyms in Palo Alto - Ross Road and Page Mill Road -- the "Y" offers families and fitness buffs alike a place to sweat off the pounds without walls of TVs or too much lycra. In second place was 24-Hour Fitness.
    YMCA, 755 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, (650) 858-0661; 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, (650) 856-9622.

    Hair Salon
    Well known amongst the Stanford community for great haircuts at a reasonable price, Hair International finally got some recognition when Weekly readers voted it best hair salon. From back-to-school hairdos to the latest cuts and styles, this salon with its 20 stylists does everything related to hair. Second place went to Juut.
    Hair International, 232 Stanford Shopping Center, (650) 324 2007.

    Hardware Store

    The local center for homeowner solar power systems, Palo Alto Hardware is powered up to serve Palo Alto's home repair needs. Friendly, knowledgeable staff, and a great selection of everything from tiny screws to brass outdoor faucet ornaments can be found in this local favorite, now nearly a decade old on Alma Street. The store has won the "Best of" for hardware category every year since 1994. Home Depot won second place.
    Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma Street, Pal Alto, (650) 327-7772.

    The Garden Court Hotel, an intimate 62-room hotel in downtown Palo Alto, once again takes top honors in our survey. With rooms starting at $299 and topping out at $575 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 was Stanford Park Hotel in Menlo Park.
    Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, (650) 322-9000.

    Ice Cream Store
    A newcomer took first place for the best ice cream. Just four months old, Cold Stone Creamery swept the honors. The store offers 16 flavors, all freshly made. Add-ins (mixed into the ice cream on special cold stones) range from Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to blueberries and rainbow sprinkles. Owner Alex Chan says the most popular choice is the French vanilla mixed with brownies and fudge. Something called "chocolate decadence" is a close second. Adding to the delight is the upbeat atmosphere of the ice cream store. Employees have been known to burst into song while serving customers. Second place went to the Midtown Baskin Robbins store.
    Cold Stone Creamery, 9 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, (650) 323-2102.

    Jewelry Store
    A Peninsula tradition since 1931, Gleim Jewelers has grown up with the Palo Alto family, now serving the grandchildren of its original patrons. Gleim's has been a favorite of Palo Altans for several years running. Family-owned and operated, people look to the venerable jewelry store for longevity, buying engagement, wedding and anniversary rings, in addition to other fine jewelry. De Novo is the second-place winner.
    Gleim Jewelers, 322 University Ave., Palo Alto. (650) 323-1331; Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 325-3533; 350 Main Street, Los Altos, (650) 949-1122.

    Men's Apparel
    Once tucked into a corner of Macy's main store on the south side of the Stanford Shopping Center, the Many's Men's Store now stands proudly on its own (northeast) corner, facing El Camino Real and Sand Hill Road. Its expansive three-level interior leaves plenty of room for open displays of all types of men's clothing -- from full dress to casual and sport -- as well as a wide selection of shoes, wallets and other accoutrements to the well-dressed male. The departments are framed by fine wood-and-glass cabinetry and the tasteful displays add a feeling of elegance. Second place was won by the classy Patrick James store in Town & Country Village.
    Macy's Men's Store, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 326-3333.

    Longs and Walgreens tied for first place this year, after finishing a respectable second last year. Fast, dependable service drives customers who want their prescriptions refilled with a quick call to an automated service. For the rest of us, it's the fun and games of strolling the aisles, perusing birthday cards, picking up toothpaste or sampling a new nail polish color.
    Longs Drugs, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 324-1667; 2701 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, (650) 330-0128. Walgreens, 399 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 322-7753; 4170 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 858-1898.

    Photo Developing
    Just back from vacation and can't wait to see your photos? Conveniently located on the perimeter of Stanford Shopping Center, the minimalist, glassed-in Phototime shop provides snappy service and sharp prints. Appealing to Palo Altans' digital sensibility, Phototime also interfaces easily with the latest mega-pixel cameras and offers quick turnaround for developing your film onto CDs. Midtown Longs came in second by one vote: a real photo finish.
    Phototime, 138 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 326-7687.

    Dining with Kids
    When dining with children, parents generally look for three things: quick service, kid-friendly offerings and -- of course -- nutritional value. Fresh Choice, a winner in this category for the second straight year, provides all that and more. The huge salad bar and tasty buffet offerings -- ranging from soup to pasta to pizza, a perennial kids' favorite -- ensure everyone in the family will enjoy their meal. And, of course, there's always the dessert. Peninsula Fountain & Grill, a longtime local favorite, came in second.
    Fresh Choice, 180 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 322-6995; 2540 El Camino Real, Mountain View, (650) 949-4901.

    Watercourse Way is the best place to let off a little steam, Palo Alto voters have said again this year. For the last six years, Watercourse Way has won first place for the best massage. Whether you're in the mood for a little "tubbing," or want a hot stone massage, facial or holistic spa therapy, it's here. Treatments run from as little as $17 for a non-peak-hour hot tub to packages that run $86 for a hot tub and massage. The top package costs $338 for a 4-hour, 45-minute Ayurvedic purification treatment, Shirodhara and rejuvenating facial. The hot tub/massage combination is a customer favorite, said Sheilla Jimenez, nighttime shift supervisor. Body Therapy won second place. Watercourse Way, 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 462-2000.

    First Date
    One way to get over those first-date jitters? Bring her to a casual and fun place. That's the plan of some striving suitors, who voted Nola first in this category. Start with hurricanes from the bar, then move to any of the festively decorated dining rooms. From oversized Mardi Gras masks with giant lips to mini-disco balls that hang like lucky charms, you'll have no problem finding fuel for your conversation. Nosh on baked oysters bubba and alligator-and-crawfish dumplings, or turn up the heat with the voodoo chili. Second place in this category goes to Evvia.
    Nola, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-2722.

    Last Date
    Hey, it's over and he's history. No need to impress him with your savoir faire or ability to choose the right wine at McDonald's, which was readers' first choice for ending a relationship. If you stick to diet Coke and skip the fries, you might still be able to fit into a consolation outfit at Bloomie's, across the walkway. Another suggestion for a give-him-his-walking-papers without splurging was Pizza My Heart.
    McDonald's, 3128 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; (650) 494-7161; 190 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, (650) 327-0560.

    Girls'/Boys' Night Out
    The Mardi Gras party's on at Nola (it stands for "New Orleans, LA"), voted best place for a girls' or boys' night out. Bachelorettes apparently love it -- on any given Thursday or Friday night there are at least four bachelorette parties swinging through, says dining-room manager Roy Ross. Even if you're not getting hitched, Nola's -- with its warren of little rooms and interesting mix of Cajun, Creole, Caribbean and Southwestern fare -- is apparently the place for you and your best buds to let your hair down. As they say at Nola: "Laissez les bon temps rouler!" -- let the good times roll. Blue Chalk Café took second place.
    Nola, 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto, (650) 328-2722.

    Romantic Spot
    Nothing says romance like soaking in a natural pool of hot mineral water before lounging in the glow of a roaring fireplace, readers decided. Nestled in the heart of wine country, Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa draws its sensual serenity from its ancient thermal mineral springs, which first gained popularity among San Franciscans in the 1840s. The picturesque landscapes of Monterey and Carmel tied for second.
    Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, 100 Boyes Blvd., Boyes Hot Springs, (707) 938-9000.


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