The Palo Alto Weekly's Best Of 2009 will publish in print and online on Friday, 8/28.
Welcome to the Palo Alto Weekly’s 23rd Annual Best Of Reader Poll.
The Weekly editorial staff’s informative and lively summary of who our readers think is “Best.”
We are pleased to offer Midpeninsula consumers the results of this popular poll in a variety of useful formats.
Printable 2-page PDF of the winners available here!
Scroll down to see the whole list or use the links below for specific categories.
| Restaurants | Food & Drink | Services |
The Campaign Trail |
the winners grid!
The Best of Palo Alto 2008
Ah, the campaign trail. It's like the overachievers' version of an extended summer camp: late nights, too many donuts, holding hands singing Kum Ba Ya and developing a crush on that cute camp counselor. Oh the drama!
But the trail isn't all camaraderie and team-building exercises. For one, there's the whole public service thing. Whatever. We all know these elite political superstars are preened and groomed and told they are "special" from such a young age they probably actually believe it. Like pampered morning-show hosts, they become a part of our lives under false pretense and end up owning more homes than even they can remember. Ouch.
But maybe that's too cynical. They put themselves in the public eye and open up their lives to the probing of the press and the bloated blabbering of the Blogosphere. They awake to find their daily destiny shaped by news polls. They go to sleep wondering which of their recent comments will morph into damaging headlines. It makes a person wonder, "Who in their right mind would do this?"
It might be the same question Palo Alto's business owners ask themselves from time to time. Running a small business is no cakewalk. And without the benefit of $28,500-per-plate fundraisers to bolster the bottom line, it's a big achievement to get that fledgling business off the ground, much less succeed.
Now, in a shining example of Democracy and free-market economics, Palo Alto voters have spoken. Your voices were heard. Your electronic votes were tallied in a tamper-resistant environment, and you have chosen this year's best.
The Hall of Fame
Businesses who win their category five years in a row are awarded a special honor in the Best of Palo Alto readers' poll: A three-year respite in the Hall of Fame, where they can soak up all the glory of poll winners without having to endure the rigors of the campaign trail. After three years, they re-enter our voting categories. This year's Hall of Famers include, from front left: Anne-Marie Krogh (YMCA), Garland Chan (Prolific Oven), Sarah and Noah Hiken (Village Cheese House); Middle row, from left: Scott Glissmeyer (YMCA), Debra Love (Village Stationers), Eric Hager (Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World); back row, from left: Juan Carranza and Jamelle McDowell (Peet's Coffee and Tea), Georgie Gleim (Gleim Jeweler), Phil Lonardo (Whole Foods), Robert Beisheim (Tamarine) and Pargat Dhillon (Darbar).
As we have in the past three years, we're also honoring those businesses that won their category five years in a row. Those perennial winners go into our "Hall of Fame" for three years. It's no cushy cabinet position for your high school buddy who suddenly becomes Commander In Chief. They've earned the honor through constant campaigning and customer service.
So now, with much fanfare and an obligatory CNN-style "whooshing" sound effect as our 3-D "Decision '08" logo swoops across your television screen and a CGI flag waves majestically in the background, we give you The Best of Palo Alto.
And the winners are...
Ahh, Greece the birthplace of democracy. And in a presidential election year, Evvia Estiatorio, serves up the perfect ambiance, along with the food of the gods Zeus and Hera. The Emerson Street nouveau-Greek restaurant has a rustic, yet elegant setting akin to the warmth and tradition of a Mediterranean country inn. Wooden tables mingle with white linen, presided over by oak casks, hand-made pottery, copper cookware and an open kitchen. The rustic stone fireplace and a wall of colored bottles that glows like stained glass are the perfect setting in which to dine on spit-roasted goat or drink a steaming cup of old-world authentic, sand-heated coffee. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983
Robert Beishiem manager at winning Asian Fusion restaurant, Tamarine, does his best presidential candidate impression for the cameras and the crowds at theis year's Best of Palo Alto photo shoot. Photo by Veronica Weber.
Asian Fusion Restaurant
Politicians take note: If lobbyists are paying for your lunch, there is only one place you'll want to go --Tamarine. Foodies rave that the University Avenue restaurant's shaking beef makes them quiver and that the lemongrass sea bass always has them fishing for more. Attorneys and corporate types often convene for business meals here. Now in its sixth year and still booked solid even for weekday dinners, Tamarine has locked in the votes as the Weekly's Best Asian Fusion Restaurant. Its classy atmosphere, with contemporary art and gallery spotlighting on the walls, exudes a feeling of coolness but not in a snobby way that would make a patron feel under-dressed. Known for its sublimely seasoned yet also pricey cuisine, Tamarine is the kind of restaurant some deem "special occasion" -- but everyone considers a must-try. 546 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-325-8500
Reason to celebrate: Nola's Amanda Flores, John Paiz, and Jason Shull cheer for victory. Photo by Veronica Weber.
In business since 1996, Nola has established itself as the top party place in Palo Alto. Whether you're looking to mingle in an unforgettable atmosphere or enjoy great New Orleans cuisine, Nola (an acronym for New Orleans, La.) has you covered. Experience the feel of 'N'awlins" without actually booking a ticket to the Crescent City. The menu is a mix of Cajun 'con'fusion with traditional favorites such as gumbo, seafood jambalaya and the famous Beignets Du Monde for dessert. The ambiance at Nola is reminiscent of the colors, art and music of New Orleans, and the layout of the bar in three floors and several different dining areas makes it an interesting experience. 535 Ramona St, Palo Alto; 650-328-2722
Hamburgers for the masses: Melina Trejo, Jorjann Johnson, Peter Katz, Carnell Stone and Alex Pe–a from The Counter hold a press conference for winning the 'Best Burgers' category.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
Years ago, one Weekly reporter remembers, a crowd of kids packed an auditorium at Encinal School in Atherton, watching one student after another go up to the podium and give a speech in hopes of being elected student-body president. The election-year promises were forgettable -- Longer recesses? More tetherball courts? --> but one oration stands out in memory. One kid strode onto the stage and bellowed the ad slogan that was then sweeping the nation: "Where's the beef?" Raucous laughter filled the room, and he won by a landslide. The best answer to that youthful pol's question is, of course, The Counter. There are a handful of things besides burgers on the menu, but mostly The Counter does build-your-own burgers and does them remarkably well. 369 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-3900
Whether trying to describe to hungry, puzzled visitors just what "California cuisine" means or simply searching for a tasty dish, turn to local favorite St. Michael's Alley. The restaurant's emphasis on fresh ingredients and mix-and-match flavors defines California food at its best. In summer, a zucchini tart or heirloom tomato salad showcases the sumptuous tastes of in-season produce. Main dishes range from sea scallops with Asian slaw to Italian-inspired risotto with veggies and herbs. The ever-changing menu is likely to keep one munching happily, and curiously, all year long. Dinner reservations are recommended. 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-2530
Hail to the Chef! Lawrence C. Chu, owner of Chef Chu's, is ready for his balloon drop.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
It's not just about the enduringly popular chicken salad -- Weekly readers undoubtedly vote for Chef Chu's year after year for other reasons. Perhaps it's getting to watch 25 chefs hard at work in the glassed-in kitchen, or savoring a meal in the nicely remodeled, 120-seat main dining room. Or it could be the enticing menu and host of weekday lunch deals. Anyway, something is working, because the busy two-story restaurant has been serving up meals since 1970, with no term limits in sight. 1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos; 650-948-2696
Mixing it up, Malcom Urquhart of Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill takes the top honor for this year's 'Best Milkshake' and 'Best Dining with Kids.' Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
Dining with Kids
It's easy to understand why the Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill has been voted the best place to dine with kids. The extensive menu boasts tons of kid-friendly items (scrumptious shakes, the world's best onion rings, self-proclaimed giant cookies, etc.,) and kids can be as boisterous as they want without their parents worrying about disturbing fellow diners. The '50s-throwback décor makes eating a fun time-travel trip. Did I mention the ice cream and retro soda selection? The casual yet playful vibe of the Creamery can bring out anyone's inner child. Mine is requesting a chocolate milkshake right now. 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-3131; 2A Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-327-3141
There's no Cuban embargo at La Bodeguita del Medio, Ernest Hemingway's favorite Havana hangout, which brings the flavors and ambience of Cuba to Palo Alto's California Avenue. The tropical atmosphere, fresh seafood, Cuban specialties, rum cocktails and cigars ooze "ethnic." A permanent and rotating exhibit of Cuban art complements the cuisine. The Cigar Divan, a retail tobacco shop and separate smoking lounge, offers a chance to inhale fine hand-rolled Graycliff cigars from Avelino Lara, the private "torcedor" (cigar-roller) to Fidel Castro, along with a cocktail or glass of aged rum. 463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-326-7762
Whether your politics lean liberal or conservative, you'll feel right at home at Left Bank. Well, "at home" if you're from la France, because the restaurant is this year's winner for Best French Restaurant. Named after one of Paris' most romantic districts, the Rive Gauche, this bustling brasserie boasts a convivial atmosphere and classic French cuisine, from coq au vin to moules frites. If that is not enough to entice in an election year, patrons can ponder the Left Bank's spirit of democracy: "Rive Gauche" was the name designer Yves Saint-Laurent chose for his groundbreaking 1966 apparel line, which sought to democratize fashion by introducing lower-class clothing elements (think leather jacket) to high-class fashionistas. 635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-473-6536
|Hall of Fame, First Year: Darbar
It's not the generous all-you-can-eat lunch buffet that has folks raving -- although rows of fragrant dishes can't hurt -- but the flavor-packed fare that truly wins Darbar fans. The downtown staple, open weekdays for lunch and daily for dinner, offers a range of Indian specialties, from doughy Southern Indian dosas stuffed with vegetables or meat to popular favorites such as biryanis. The biryani, a rice, nuts and veggies or meat combination, is the Indian answer to stir-fry and best savored with fluffy, fresh naan bread. Vegetarians will appreciate specialties such as aloo gobhi, a cauliflower-potato dish served up in a cumin-infused curry. 129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-6688
Restaurant critics Bay-Area wide, and more importantly, Weekly readers, have crowned Mountain View's Amber India the best place around for Indian food. Amber India, which serves northern, Moghlai and Tandoori Indian cuisine, tantalizes the tongue with a variety of spices and flavors, including plenty of vegetarian offerings. A lunch buffet and catering options increase the ways in which you can eat your fill of these Indian delights. If you can't swing the airfare to India, there's no excuse not to at least fit a trip to Mountain View into your schedule. 2290 El Camino Real #9, Mountain View; 408-248-5400
Paul Siefer of Osteria toasts to reclaiming the title of 'Best Italian' after three years in Hall of Fame. Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
Homey and simple, Osteria lives up to its name, which translates into "tavern" from Italian. A steaming plate of house-made pasta, straight-up Tuscan-style cuisine and a glass of Chianti -- what more could one ask for? Osteria Cucina Toscana returned to Best of contention this year after three years in the Hall of Fame and that was after six consecutive years of first-place wins. Readers again say Bravissimo! 247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-5700
|One campaign promise you can count on: the 'Best Martini' around, courtesy of Sundance the Steakhouse's Galen Fletcher. The restaurant also won for 'Best Steak.'
Photo by Veronica Weber.
You don't have to wait until election results are in to celebrate -- or drown your sorrows -- in a martini at Sundance The Steakhouse. A robust 6 ounces, they come in nine different incarnations: peartini, Sundance cosmo, blue agave, green appletini, lemon drop, Caribbean, Milky Way (with Godiva chocolate), dirty gin (with three olives) and, for purists, the original. 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-321-6798
Meal under $20
Even if you had to spend all your fundraising efforts on TV ads that ran in obscure places, you'd surely have enough for a fine meal at Pluto's. Here you can choose from hand-carved turkey (on a plate or in a sandwich), grilled chicken or steak with a variety of sides (mashed potatoes, sauteed seasonal vegies, potato or onion rings) or the soup of the day. For the Green Party, there's grilled Portobello mushroom or eggplant with roasted red peppers. Salads come with choice of seven toppings, from red (beets, plum tomatoes) to blue (crumbled blue cheese). You might have enough money left over to take a friend. 482 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-853-1556
Got katsiki yiouvetsi? If that's Greek to you, don't worry. The pleasant staff at Evvia Estiatorio can help newbies choose from any of dozens of innovative Mediterranean and Greek dishes. Every night, there's a different rotisserie dish to choose from, including whole spit-roasted goat. From eggplant cakes with roasted pepper and cumin yogurt to Kakavia -- traditional fisherman's stew with mussels, clams, octopus, squid and shaved fennel -- Evvia ranks a sumptuous favorite with Weekly readers. An extensive list of Old- and New-World wines enhances the gustatory experience. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983
So, NAFTA turned out to be more controversial than you hoped, and you need to bone up on your Spanish before heading south of the border for a trade meeting. Where better to do cultural and culinary research than Palo Alto Sol? The trip to the California Avenue destination might do more for your state of well being than your political career, but who cares? After a Mole Poblano -- a sauce of sun-dried chiles, spices, a dash of chocolate over chicken -- and a shot of one of Palo Alto Sol's rare, hand-selected tequilas (can you say Herradura Seleccion Suprema?) you may be convinced to make Mexican-American relations a top priority. 408 California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-8840
John Karbowski, Executive Chef for Pampas, does that presidential "vision thing." Pampas won this year's 'Best New Restaurant' category.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
In these trying financial times, some can't even afford a fast-food burger, but if you're hungrier for meat than you've ever been before, Pampas is well worth the splurge. You could buy two-dozen Whoppers for the price of admission -- access to the all-you-can-eat side bar costs $27 and the similarly unlimited spit-roasted meat sampling is an additional $17 -- but a meal at Pampas isn't just about the food. In addition to the 14 types of top-notch meats and 30 unique, flavorful side dishes offered, there's also a certain ambiance -- a sort of mod-meets-sports bar feel -- that makes diners feel comfortable and pampered at the same time. 529 Alma St., Palo Alto; 650-327-1323
Whoa there, tiger. How are you going to win in November if you're always hiding in smoke-filled rooms? Time to let some sunshine light up that telegenic mug of yours. Time to bask under the pergolas and enjoy the calamari, babbling fountain and foliage-filled atmosphere on the Empire Tap Room patio. And lose the cigar -- it wouldn't go with the white tablecloths. If you sit close enough to Emerson Street, you might even be able to reach out and shake some hands of passers-by. 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-321-3030
Politicians and pizza share some common bonds. Both can be incredibly cheesy, are dependent on a certain amount of spin and have plenty of dough. And if comparisons persist, Applewood Pizza would be the Abraham Lincoln of the local pizzeria world. The Menlo Park restaurant has been voted "Best Pizza" 13 times in 15 years and features a diverse menu that includes the Florentine (marinated artichokes, mushrooms, bell peppers and fresh tomatoes), the Athens (marinated eggplant, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and green onions) and the Menlo Combo (pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives and red onions). Regardless of your political party, Applewood can satisfy your particular appetite. 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-324-3486
Restaurant to Splurge
Results are in -- you've won by a landslide! Time to limo over to Evvia Estiatorio to live it up -- that is, if your "people" remembered to book a table a couple of weeks ahead. This is a great place to compensate for months of rubber-chicken dinners. Think succulent lamb riblets, crisp salads under grilled octopus rings, whole fish with lemon-oregano vinaigrette and braised greens, a fine wine and, if you've got room, a hot fudge sundae to die for. Let's hope you've left enough in the campaign coffers to cover the tab. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983
Politicians get all the perks. St. Michael's Alley co-owner Mike Sabina, center, is offered wine by CJ Hammer, Rigel Erlich, Pamela Hayes and Gabriel Monte. The restaurant won this year's 'California Cuisine' and 'Sunday Brunch' categories.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
Love is in the air at St. Michael's Alley, repeated winner of Palo Alto Weekly's "Most Romantic Restaurant." Couples can relax in the intimate setting as they share distinctly California cuisine and selections from an extensive wine list. On weekends, the restaurant offers a brunch service, featuring traditional dishes with St. Mike's twist. The former coffeehouse is a charming downtown venue for couples to enjoy classically romantic dining, and the company of one another -- just not on Mondays, when the restaurant is closed. Reservations are recommended. 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-2530
There's no backroom at The Fish Market, but something's definitely fishy there -- as in fresh fish, delivered daily. Choice is rampant on the menu, from classic Oysters Rockefeller and a Seafood Louie to dozens of skewered kabobs or mesquite-charbroiled fish entrees. Still undecided between the cherry tomatoes and parsley potatoes? You don't have to vote for only one. Every entree comes with two sides. Be careful about the temptation to "stuff" yourself with sourdough bread. 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-279-9190
Rose and Roy Borrone, right, and Josh Pebbles enjoy a cup of coffee on the runway before boarding Airforce One to celebrate their win in the Weekly's 'Best Coffee House' category.
Photo illustration by Darlene Bouchard and Weekly staff.
Whether it was intended or that cute, new girl you met last weekend stood you up, the Café Borrone dining experience makes being alone a pleasure. With people-watching to last a lifetime, an attentive and attractive staff and Kepler's to wile away the hours until you realize she just isn't going to show, a solo meal at Café Borrone may replace Yoga when you just need some "me" time. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-327-0830
On the campaign trail in 2004, presidential candidate John Kerry sported a Boston Red Sox cap and applauded his home-state team for winning the World Series. If Kerry had been in the Bay Area for those games, it would have been no surprise to find him at The Old Pro in downtown Palo Alto. Voted "Best Sports Bar" for the second year in a row, the popular bar and restaurant features 20 flat-screen televisions, every NFL and NCAA game in high definition, private dining rooms, happy-hour specials and even a mechanical bull. And presidential hopefuls who want to wet their whistles while watching their favorite teams can pick from an array of draft beers (including Guinness, Samuel Adams and Old Pro Pale Ale), spirits, wine, sodas and more. 541 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 650-326-1446
Rare or medium, charred or juicy, steak is as American as apple pie. Sundance The Steakhouse delivers with hand-cut, certified Angus beef. Slow-roasted prime rib is their presidential dish. Sundance won "Best place for a carnivore" in 2001 and has been the consistent champion for beef among readers since 1990. Finish up with one of Sundance's many single-malt whiskeys, bourbons or cognacs. For non-red-meat eaters, there's pasta, chicken and succulent Australian lobster and a number of fresh fish dishes. 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-321-6798
|Hall of Fame, Second Year: Hobee's
Hobee's is in the Hall of Fame yet again -- would you expect any less from a restaurant that's so cool it has its own Facebook page? Best in show is the ever-popular blueberry coffeecake, but the banana-toffee version certainly has its takers. Plop that fluffy square atop any of the Hobee's favorite breakfast main courses, which include the Stanford Cardinal Omelet (with chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, spinach and cheese), the Tofu Scramble and the catchy-named BDBIT (Best Darn Breakfast in Town: Think two eggs, hashbrowns, and the aforementioned coffeecake or toast). You'll likely wait outside to be seated at brunchtime, but it's worth the wait. Plus, you'll probably see someone you know. 4424 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-493-7823; 855 El Camino Real #67, Palo Alto; 650-327-4111; 2313 Central Expressway
Visions of sugarplums will be quickly supplanted by dreams of blue-monkey pancakes after a hearty brunch at St. Michael's Alley. But why stop with the infamous blueberry-banana flapjacks? Additional visits are needed to sample the range of savory options, including spicy, tasty chilaquiles -- a traditional Mexican egg dish -- and refreshing, fresh Salad Nicoise, for those craving lighter fare. It's no secret, however, that brunch here is scrumptious. Expect to wait for a table during the no-reservations weekend mornings for as long as 20 or 30 minutes if you come with a large group. 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-2530
|Hall of Fame, First Year: Fuki Sushi
Sure, world leaders can hammer out policies in air-conditioned state rooms around the globe. But everyone knows that true international relations take place over food. And for a little training in the art of Japanese cuisine, aspiring politicians should duck into the elegant Fuki Sushi, now in its first Hall of Fame year. Patrons can choose to sit in the spacious back dining room or the tightly packed front room (think Japanese subway). In either locale, the establishment boasts three authentic menus, and non-Japanese-speaking diners are sure to learn a new word or two: from kobachi-mono (traditional small side dishes) to uni tsukidashi (sea urchin). Kanpai! 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-494-9383
Some people say Palo Alto isn't a real college town. After all, "The Farm" is sequestered from its nearest neighbor by a mile-wide swath of palm trees and gnarled oaks. But Stanford students find their way to University Avenue anyway. And most of them seem to find their way to Miyake, which is as famous for its atmosphere as it is for its sushi. Skewing on the young side, the clientele clearly appreciates the social aspect of the culinary experience. It also appreciates sake bombs. And prices don't cost a fin and a tail. 140 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-387-6506
Wanna and Tom Vongampai of Thaiphoon. Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
If you have a hankering for an exotic vacation, there's no need to visit your travel agent -- a trip downtown to Thaiphoon should satisfy your craving. The popular restaurant takes diners on a journey to a land of delectable dishes, including the well-liked green-papaya salad, satay and an assortment of curry dishes. The sense of paradise is enhanced by the enchanting décor, featuring Thai reliefs on the walls, an outdoor dining patio and a charming Buddha fountain. 543 Emerson St, Palo Alto; 650-323-7700
With the Bay Leaf Café gone, vegetarians may be wondering where they will have to forage for their next non-meat entree. Not to fear, owner Jesse Cool at Flea St. Café, has been cultivating a sustainable, locally-grown menu just for you. Even die-hard meat eaters will enjoy dishes like the portabella mushroom Wellington made from the freshest organic ingredients. The Midpeninsula's answer to Chez Panisse, Flea St. Café and Cool's other regional creations are the perfect options for today's enlightened environmentalist. Even if you drive a Lincoln Navigator with an Enron bumper sticker, you won't like it any less. 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; (650) 854-1226.
|Hall of Fame, First Year: Tamarine
The décor of Tamarine is perhaps best described as bamboo-chic, with subtle greens and natural textures dominating the interior. Even the deliciously smooth chopsticks suggest the wood of some exotic tree. The wide range of Asian-inspired fare comes as no surprise in such a setting. Their best dishes highlight simple but lively flavors that suggest discreet preparation. Favorites include the fresh spring rolls and rotating soups, as well as coconut rice that comes wrapped in a shiny banana leaf. The spot, which features a bar and extensive seating options, attracts a young business crowd. Well-coiffed customers can be observed chatting serenely, their blue-tooth headsets set aside for a quiet lunch. This year, Tamarine entered the Hall of Fame, where it will be seated for three years before going back on the ballot in 2011. 546 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-325-8500
Tucked away off Bryant Street, Three Seasons is easy to miss -- but impossible to forget, once you've dined here. Housed in a historic, high-ceilinged building -- now festooned with Buddhas and bamboo -- the restaurant offers meticulously flavored dishes and spotless service. Start with succulent sea scallops dipped into tangy curry sauce before moving on to the catfish-in-a-clay-pot, a mouthwatering little cauldron that's peppery-sweet. Then wash it down with a lycheetini, a refreshing twist on the classic drink. 518 Bryant St., Palo Alto; 650-838-0353
Joe Merlino of 'Best Wine List' winner, Zibibbo, explains the difference between red and white. Photo by Veronica Weber.
Okay, so we're on our second round of Hollywood wine movies. Nobody can deny the cachet "Sideways" lent to Pinot Noir. Poor Merlot is still reeling from that slap upside the head. Now "Bottle Shock" takes us back to the 1976 Paris tasting that put California wines on the map. Not surprisingly, many of those famed bottles can also be found on the wine list at Zibibbo. But it doesn't stop there. As the name would suggest, wines of the Mediterranean are well represented here. Their attention to getting their wine list right has won them not only a Best of Palo Alto first place, but a Wine Spectator magazine award of excellence. 430 Kipling St., Palo Alto; 650-328-6722
Food & Drink
East Coasters visiting Palo Alto need not worry. Their precious New York-style bagels can be found right here in town at Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels. Not only do they boil and bake the perfect, chewy bagel that you'll swear is no different from your Yonkers favorite, but they also have the perfect Jewish deli-style ingredients to sandwich in the middle. At the same time, Izzy's is a friend to the granola-crunching West Coaster, providing plenty of fresh, non-processed vegetarian options. No wonder this bagel shop is a hit with both locals and tourists alike. 470 S. California St., Palo Alto; 650-329-0700
The only bummer about winning the presidency is that there is no Hobee's coffee cake in Washington, D.C. Jose Valencia represents the restaurant, which is a 'Hall of Fame' winner in the 'Sunday Brunch' category and tied for first place in this year's 'Best Breakfast' competition.
Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
First Place Tie
Outdoor seating on a quaint bustling street, munching on a croquet madame and watching Sunday shoppers gather fresh produce from the market. Those with an untrained ear might be forgiven for momentarily thinking they're passing the time in a small brasserie off Boulevard Saint-Germain. Fortunately, it is just breakfast as usual at Joanie's Cafe. A good meal, a nice atmosphere and if the croque madame isn't your thing, you can have your fill of waffles, corned beef hash or eggs Benedict, all for a lot less than that ticket to Paris. But Palo Altans like their Americana, too. There's something magical about scarfing down a spread of eggs, bacon, and butter-drenched, syrup-laden flap jacks on a slow Sunday morning. But there is something slightly scandalous about doing it at 7 p.m. on a Thursday. Tying for first on the breakfast beat, Hobee's was made for that sort of scandal. Who needs a sensible salad with wheat germ and barley when there are hashbrowns, omelets, and French-toast sandwiches? If only there were a Best Blueberry Coffeecake Category.
Joanie's Café: 447 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-6505;
Hobees: 4424 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-493-7823; 855 El Camino Real #67, Palo Alto; 650-327-4111; 2313 Central Expressway, Mountain View, 650-968-6050
Celebrating their win in the 'Best Burrito' category, Raquel Munoz and Leo Munoz take a snapshot in front of the nation's capitol. Photo illustration by Veronica Weber & Paul Llewellyn.
Now celebrating 20 years of business, this family-owned restaurant is no stranger to the voting public. La Bamba Taqueria serves traditional Mexican and Salvadorian dishes including the famous nearly foot-long burrito. A model of political transparency, you can watch your burrito as it is made, starting with the bare tortilla and finishing with a tightly wrapped totable lunch. No "mystery meat" here! Don't let the long lines fool you, the staff is quick to handle the masses, proving that the concepts of open government and the Palo Alto Process are not mutually exclusive. Lastly, caution with the salsa, it may not look intimidating but boy, does it bite. 2058 Old Middlefield Road, Mountain View; 650-965-2755
|Hall of Fame, Second Year: Peet's Coffee and Tea
The pace is killing as the finish line is near, but you need to be ALERT!, PERKY! and POSITIVE! Where better to get that blast of caffeine than at Peet's Coffee and Tea. Make that a latte and you can get some of your daily required dose of calcium. No time for a meal while on the campaign trail? Splurge on a Dark Chocolate Mocha Freddo (made with Scharffen Berger chocolate) or sample the baked goods, from lemon poppy-seed muffins to vegan apricot scones. Winding down late evening, you can switch to decaf, or try some of the herbal or decaf English Breakfast teas. 153 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-2091; #77 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-248-4771; Charleston Center, 3904 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-433-0500
It's surprising more California cafes don't take advantage of the indoor-outdoor lifestyle our temperate climate affords us. Feeling much more like a sprawling Berkeley coffee house than a typical suburban Starbucks, Café Borrone serves as the unofficial meeting place of the Midpeninsula. Offering a variety of sandwiches, salads and (gasp!) beer and wine, the venue serves up far more than just the perfect, frothy latte. But it does coffee -- and ambiance -- with excellence. And while it's impossible to totally escape the wheelings and dealings of Silicon Valley, it's far enough from Facebook headquarters that you'll probably be in a Zuckerberg-free zone. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-327-0830
In a dark corner in the far reaches of a quaint suburban shopping center, there lies a fabled place that exudes wafts of exotic cheeses and European treats. This hallowed ground where any neophyte will emerge as a newly converted cheese connoisseur is commonly known as the Village Cheese House. The new owners have gone to great pains to maintain the quality of this neighborhood fixture, but in updated, more modern digs, and they have succeed in assuaging the fears of locals who were wary of any changes to their oversized sandwiches overflowing with cheese, meats and all the fixin's. #157 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; 650-326-9251
|Hall of Fame, SecondYear: Prolific Oven
You can get a sugar high just walking into the Prolific Oven. Weekly readers have continually named this Waverley Street bakery the best dessert spot in town, with the richest, moistest chocolate cake and enormous soft cookies. This year, the bakery enters the coveted "Hall of Fame" in the category. The bake shop also serves a host of sandwiches on freshly baked breads, and soups and salads. It's almost always full of people getting their fix or picking up a fancy dessert for a special occasion. Best of the lot is the carrot cake, smothered in a cream-cheese frosting that would make even the most liberal dentist wince. 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto; (650) 326-8485.
First Place Tie
One in the hand is worth ... well, an award-winning dessert. Madison Dias, Yesenia Ramirez and Melissa Olivera collect the win for Satura Cakes, who tied with Fraiche Yogurt for 'Best Desserts.'
Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
You've seen the line out the door. You've passed the downtownies with their orange-and-white containers and wondered at their serene smiles. And by now, you probably know why. With its groundbreaking on-site pasteurizer, its Apple-store aesthetic and its unique handmade approach, Fraiche Yogurt knows how to do yogurt right, even taking the time to toast the almonds to top your dessert. Is a more solid confection your preference? Satura Cakes, tying for first place, has something for every craving. These European-style desserts made with Japanese techniques include a light and spongy strawberry shortcake, multi-layered chocolate cake, and the popular brioche donuts. Palo Alto voters picked both this year, so who are we to suggest a runoff? Satura Cakes: 320 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-3393;
Fraiche Yogurt: 644 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-566-0055
Some of the most notable Joes are far from average. Joe Montana, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Perry -- and the 2008 winner for "Best Grocery Store." Trader Joe's in Menlo Park makes most markets seem, well, average. Designed to resemble a trading post, Trader Joe's features a rotating inventory of coffees, cheeses, wines, chocolates, beers, international items and enough whimsy to keep you coming back for more. And instead of stuffing your mailbox with 10 pounds of grocery inserts every month, TJs publishes a humorous, educational "Fearless Flyer" -- further distinguishing itself from the mass-market grocery chains. 720 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; 650-323-2134
They all scream for ice cream: in this case, Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream. Owner Gary Schoen gives the people what they want.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
It may be because they have heard tales of the rich, creamy taste of each spoonful, or because they really want to know what's in the "Sideways" flavor, but regardless of why people walk into Rick's Ice Cream, they almost always come out raving. Rick's boasts a full spectrum of ice cream flavors, from the traditional French vanilla to the archaic Bluemoon, and a sorbet and frozen yogurt section to boot. Something about the place -- perhaps its olde-time atmosphere that reminds me of times when every word ended in the letter "e" -- makes me feel, if only temporarily, that life is just peachy. 3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; 650-493-6553
Demonstrating the health benefits of handmade yogurt are Jessica Gilmartin and Patama Roj of Fraiche, who tied for first place with Satura Cakes for 'Best Desserts,' and handily won the 'Best New Food/Drink Establishment' category.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
New Food/Drink Establishment
Just as presidential candidates promise a new, sincere brand of politics, this café presents a fresh take on the traditional yogurt shop, with decidedly greater success. Fraîche Yogurt fit seamlessly into downtown life the moment it appeared, serving home-made organic yogurts with fresh fruit and add-ins in an immaculately modern space. They also serve standard café fare, but devoted customers come primarily for the tangy, if expensive, natural frozen yogurt that just tastes green. Tucked into a spot on Emerson St., the spot still manages to attract a crowd. It's not uncommon to see a sprinkling of customers perched atop improvised seating along the block, cradling those unmistakable white-and-orange cardboard bowls. Don't bite down too hard on the spoons, though, or you might taste a hint of the potato starch they are made from. 644 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-566-0055
There is no excuse for a poor milkshake. I mean, really, what is it but a whole lotta ice cream blended (nay, shaken) with some milk? And yet, when you try to make one at home it never really works, does it? The chocolate chips get smooshed at the bottom, or there are awkward lumps throughout. Most restaurants can't even get it right. But maybe that's because we're holding them to the standard set by the Palo Alto Creamery, Fountain and Grill 's creations. They're so thick and creamy you can't use a straw, so smooth and lumpless you don't need teeth, so large and plentiful you can't drink it all, but so rich and luscious you don't want to share ... all with the requisite dribble down the chin. Could be just the ticket for your sore throat after kissing up to all the attendees at that $4,000-a-plate fundraiser you had in San Francisco last night. 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-3131; 2A Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-327-3141.
|Hall of Fame, First Year: Whole Foods
One local shopper admiringly refers to Whole Foods Market as "the museum of food." An especially popular exhibition is the produce section. Whole Foods boasts a colorful crop of locally grown fruits and vegetables, with a seasonal slant, and has a particular fondness for small family farms. Sweet sample slivers abound for those who like to try before they buy, and the perfectly constructed towers of produce are works of art that just may become permanent fixtures in the produce Hall of Fame. 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-8696
In this buy-fresh, buy-seasonal, buy-local atmosphere, there are tomatoes and then there are Sigona's Farmers Market tomatoes. Whether you want local, organic, pesticide-free, red, green, orange, purple, fuchsia, mauve, overripe, underripe or practically perfect in every way, if it's in season, Sigona's has it. With an amazing variety of mouth-watering fruits, vegetables and bulk items on display, the "farm stand" is both a visually and gastronomically beautiful place to shop. Street Marketplace, Stanford Shopping Center, 650-329-1340; 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, 650-368-6993
|Hall of Fame, Second Year: Village Cheese House
Sitting on the sidelines can be challenging for those dealing with term limits, but it doesn't seem to have impacted the Village Cheese House, now in its second "Best Of" Hall-of-Fame year. Need to send out for a hearty working lunch? Think meat-and-cheese sandwiches with a third slice of rye in the center, slathered with a secret sauce. Choices can be daunting -- 17 kinds of meat, nine breads, eight cheeses, all reflecting a global economy. Tucked into a rear corner at T&C, VCH's outdoor tables are an above-board place to make backroom deals. #157 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-326-9251
JJ& F Market sure knows how to make sandwiches right. Fresh bread holds the finest meat, cheese and greens around. Each bite takes you back in time to your school days, chomping into that mom-made sandwich, except this one is better. The staff is always friendly, providing swift service and a pleasant experience. Forget all those mass-produced $5 foot longs and go get yourself a real sandwich. 520 College Ave., Palo Alto; 650-857-0901
Just because you don't have time to sit down doesn't mean you have to settle for less, right? Well of course not. Su Hong restaurants have let people enjoy their popular Chinese food in take out form for more than 30 years. This is the second year in a row Su Hong has taken first place in this category but has also been voted best Chinese restaurant more than half-a-dozen times in recent memory. Looking for Americanized Chinese food? Head somewhere else. Su Hong takes the road more authentic. It's a journey worth taking. Su Hong To-Go: 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park, 650-322-4631; Su Hong: 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-323-6852
There are cars you use and there are cars you love -- the stolid commute car with the bumper sticker "my other car is a ...", and the "other" car. Any body shop might be satisfactory for the functional commuter vehicle, but Ole's Car Shop, Inc. is where you take your "other" car. Palo Alto native Ole is the owner of the eponymous shop, painted bright orange and adorned with whimsical mosaics. He'll fix your Camaro's clutch, adjust your Desoto's drive belts and replace your Saab's suspension. Or, most importantly, he won't do anything if nothing is needed. He's like a local Click and Clack in our own fair city. 801 Alma St., Palo Alto; 650-328-6537
You may think that all starches are created equal, and the Atkin's Diet may substantiate that, but as any good politician knows, when it comes to dress shirts, the need can be pressing. Charleston Cleaners can give you that clean, pressed look with crisp collars and sleeves that still let you raise your arms above your head, should you have the occasion to do so. The owners of this local family-owned business know their customers and, if you work it right, you'll walk off with a chocolate treat in addition to your clean, perfectly starched garments. 3900 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; 650-424-1113
Nobody's going to frame them if they've already gone to the trouble to do it themselves. Charlie Affrunti and Todd Ayers will frame you, too, if you take your artwork in to University Arts.
Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
In politics, framing is everything. What kind of spin to put on the newest tax proposal? How to make the budget cut more palatable to your constituents? For framing expertise, politicians may want to wander over to University Art, voted Best Frame Shop in the area. They've got all manner of off-the-shelf, desktop picture frames, plus a whole host of larger beveled wood and sleek metal borders. If you're overwhelmed by the selection and can't decide which frame is the right one (is that really a tax hike? Maybe it's a critically needed investment in our quality of life!), the knowledgeable sales staff will walk you through choosing a mat and a frame that's just right. The result? Picture perfect. 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-3500
|Hall of Fame, Final Year: YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula
Not just a place to work out your body, the YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula is also a great place for teens to build their civic engagement, participating in a six-month model court and legislature program, capped by a trip to Sacramento, or in the Model United Nations program, where teens can debate global hunger, trade sanctions and peace-keeping. That said, the YMCA has been a perennial favorite as a place for Palo Altans of all ages to swim, lift, work out, dance, play sports or just meet with their neighbors. The Y also offers volunteer opportunities, perfect to attain physical as well as mental health. On weekdays, the Y is open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., making it possible for even busy Palo Altans to find time to work out. So the competition might want to watch out: This is the YMCA's last year in the Hall of Fame before it gets term-limited back out onto the regular Best of Palo Alto ballot for 2009. 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto; 650-856-9622
Speaking out for muscle tone, Brian Hemedinger of Equinox Fitness Club took this year's win for 'Best Gym.' Photo by Darlene Bouchard
Equinox Fitness All fitness centers are slightly intimidating. I think they're designed that way on purpose. I mean you wouldn't go to a fitness center that was just like your home, would you? And Equinox is most definitely not like your home; it's smooth and sleek and almost decadent, everything you hope to be when you leave your spinning class or step off one of the dozens of machines. And yet beneath the shiny surface, Equinox is a fitness center where you can feel comfortable. With dozens of classes for all skill levels and fitness proclivities, it's a place where you can get your sweat on with a smile. 440 Portage Ave., Palo Alto; 650-319-1700
Rocking the vote for 'Best Hair Salon,' Celeste Green, Klaudia Mike, Silvana Kaltcheva, Thao Nguyen, Maria Rivera, Klara Turner and Katie Voong accept this year's award for Los Salonez.
Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
If you've had a less than perfect experience with a DIY highlight kit, or you haven't gotten a haircut since the last time Arnold Schwarzenegger was known as an actor, perhaps you should give Los Salonez a call. For several years in a row, the salon has kept its number one spot on our "Best Of" list when it comes to hair and nails. The Menlo Park establishment is a Mecca for hair care as people come from all over the Bay Area to get the latest hairstyle and be pampered. Los Salonez typifies great service, efficiency and great results with the salon's highly trained and friendly staff. 1010 Alma St., Menlo Park; 650-328-0735
The Garden Court holds court: Antonio Guzman, Lourdes Jennie, Julian Quintero, Sanli Yang, Lora Ion, Jeffrey Phillips, Barbara Gross, Josh Swan, Jose Sandoval, Jesse Bresnahan, Cara Laveman, Betty Terrado, Patricia Lavgesen and Kelly Tsutsumi accept their award for 'Best Hotel.'
Photo by Veronica Weber.
From gardenias on the nightstand to cotton balls in the bathroom, employees at the Garden Court Hotel think of every possible amenity their guests might need or want. Out-of-towners who stay the night here rave about its quirky charm, simple elegance and ideal location off University Avenue; locals like using the hotel's beautiful meeting rooms for business and eating at its in-house Italian restaurant. The Garden Court's valet parking service and foliage-covered courtyards attest even more to the accolades it regularly garners, but what sticks most readily in guests' minds is the ceremonial glass of port they receive at check-in. 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto; 650-543-2211
Manicure and Pedicure
At a certain point in a presidential race, it's all about image. What kind of cuticles does a strong future president have? He (or she) should certainly not sport nail-bitten fingers and unsightly calluses. To maintain an appearance in tune with the public's desired image, hopefuls might consider traipsing down to either branch of the LaBelle Day Spa for an expert mani-pedi. There, they might feel hidden from the travails of the outside world in a quietly efficient setting. Customers enjoy the rose-petal footbath and small snacks offered before a treatment. 95 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-327-6964; 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650-326-8522
Dorian Leslie and Suzanne Gahs stage a demonstration for relaxation.
If there was such a thing as a stress-free campaign, Watercourse Way could probably figure out how to do it. Photo illustration by Darlene Bouchard and Weekly staff.
Stress seems to attack with impunity. It randomly finds an unsuspecting citizen, claws past any sense of serenity and settles in the neck and shoulders. It debilitates with a daunting weight and refuses to relent. Enter multi-time "Best Of" winner Watercourse Way. No local method can conquer the stress beast like a Watercourse Way massage. The peaceful establishment features a number of modalities, ranging from Swedish to deep tissue, as well as hot stone massage and a new massage room for couples. Stress beware ... 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto; 650-462-2000
Styling their way to the oval office, Valerie Martinez, Sandie Lang, Luke Rivest, Alma Marquez, Jiji Kim, Pam Decharo, Eric Xa, Sharon Nandan, Tracy Nguyen, George Alvarado, and Heather Hunt collect this year's award for Hair International in the 'Best Men's Haircut' category. Photo by Veronica Weber.
When a guy wants his hair cut, he wants it, well, now. That works just fine at Hair International in the Stanford Shopping Center, which offers evening and weekend hours and welcomes drop-ins. And a basic men's do will only set you back $27 -- considerably less expensive, and less controversial, than a typical Clinton-era 'do. For most men, a cut is all they need. But Hair International also offers perms, coloring, highlights, relaxers and pays plenty of attention to a guy's special needs. Hair International isn't just for men, however. Its stylists will snip most anyone's hair, including women, teens or kids and they offer specials for weddings and proms. Student rates are also available. Sorry, no specials for members of Congress. 232 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 650-324-2007
A photo finish ... Jennifer Varno and Michelle Tsui of My Director's Cut take the win for 'Best New Business.' Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
New Service Business
When I was a kid, the family photo album was like a short-term genealogical reference book for me. Being the youngest of three children, it was my guidebook to what had come before my own age of awareness. What did my perfect older brother look like as an awkward sixth-grader? Perfect, of course. What were my parents like before they became parents? The answer to these questions was in a green leather-bound book that was gargantuan and heavy. In this digital age, we have more svelte solutions. My Director's Cut is like your own family media manager, helping Palo Altans share and protect their digital photos, videos and even bringing your old-school photo album into the 21st Century. 430 Sherman Ave., Ste. 314, Palo Alto; 650-328-4336
Robert Babekian revs up the crowd after sealing a win for Midtown Shoe Repair.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
Shoe Repair Nothing says loser quicker than down-at-the-heels shoes. Yes, you've walked the precincts -- and you've got proof! -- but take those puppies down to Robert Babekian at Midtown Shoe Repair quickly for a re-sole job. Or, did you stupidly check your luggage and when it finally showed up, it was broken? Babekian can likely do that repair (or replace the suitcase entirely) before your next campaign stop. And, even a shoestring operation can afford new laces. Midtown Shoe Repair was termed out as a "Hall of Fame" winner for three years, but won this year easily. 2796 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; 650-329-8171
Picture- and Pore-Perfect: Best Skincare winners Stacey Yates, Kira Moore and Sarah of Skin Spirit get ready for their close-up. Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
Beauty may be only skin deep, but a healthy glow reflects what's inside. SkinSpirit pampers the whole body, with physician-designed body treatments for health and beauty. From mud to detoxifying body wraps, SkinSpirit offers treatments that draw out toxins and leave the skin nourished and cleansed -- and the spirit feeling relaxed. Massage therapists will dissolve away the day's stresses with a classic Swedish, deep tissue and La Stone massage. Expectant and new moms welcome the calming effects of SkinSpirit's pre- and post-natal massage. 701 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-324-9600
The political season is chock full of stress. Candidates travel from city to city, fielding questions from frustrated citizens while aspiring to offer change and promises of a bright future. They are threatened and cursed at by some while revered and praised by others. It's a rollercoaster. But any tense politician swinging though the Bay Area need make only one stop to ease his or her overwhelming strain: Watercourse Way. The 28-year-old Palo Alto mainstay is an oasis for those suffering from a lack of relaxation. The spa features nine tranquil private hot tub rooms (some of which include steam rooms or saunas), skin care, massage and spa treatments. Inspired by the natural hot springs of Carmel Valley's Tassajara retreat, even the soothing atmosphere at Watercourse Way is enough to make any candidate forget all about campaign-trail woes. 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto; 650-462-2000
Planning a quick whistle-stop campaign trip to Silicon Valley? Or just paying a visit to your buddies at the Hoover Institute for a round of golf between VC funding meetings? With its proximity to Stanford, Caltrain, the Marguerite Shuttle and the California Avenue shops and restaurants, Hotel California would be a great value even if it weren't so darn affordable. With rates ranging from $97 to $147, the inn is a downright bargain, featuring all non-smoking rooms, complimentary breakfast, a central guest kitchen, free high-speed wireless Internet and a sunny California courtyard. 2341 Ash St., Palo Alto; 650-322-7666
Brian Maxwell takes a break from the podium to greet Summer Holmstrand-Irmiter, Jennifer Diwa and Megan Hacker. The team represents Adobe Animal Hospital, which won again this year in the 'Best Veterinarian' category. Photo by Veronica Weber.
If pets could vote, they'd surely name Adobe Animal Hospital "Best in Show." I now have twice as many pets as I did when I wrote about Adobe for last year's "Best of" edition. Luckily, Adobe continues to serve furry friends of all varieties with compassion and efficiency. No matter what kind of a pet you have, it's likely that Adobe has a vet who specializes in just what your little Fluffy or Fido needs. It's also open 24 hours a day, so when emergencies strike someone at Adobe is there and ready to help. And it's still the only vet office I know of that dedicates an entire holiday to chinchilla health. 396 1st St., Los Altos; 650-858-7700
Serene as a lotus blossom, Catherine De Los Santos is one of the main reasons why Darshana Yoga garners so many votes. (It topped Weekly readers' lists in 2006 and 2007, too.) Darshana's owner and director is perpetually welcoming, with a gentle teaching style that will have you doing shoulder stands before you know it. The studio's other instructors are popular, too, teaching an array of classes at many levels and offering periodic special programs such as yoga for cyclists and restorative yoga. 654 High St., Palo Alto; 650-325-9642
|Hall of Fame, First Year: Palo Alto Bicycles
With gas prices at $4.50 and doping rife throughout the Tour, for cyclists, it truly is the best of times and the worst of times ... This is even more apparent after a few minutes of strategic eaves-dropping at Palo Alto Bicycles. With its wide-open floor space, smiling and helpful shop guys and mouth-watering collection of sleek new bicycles, this isn't just a bike shop, it's a place for cyclists to meet, gather, swap war stories and compare road rash. You can't help but leave with a sentiment similar to Master Twist's ..."Please, Sir..." 171 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-7411
Just because the Tour of California is skipping Palo Alto next year doesn't mean it isn't time for a shiny new bike. Mike's Bikes, which has several stores throughout the area, has been a vendor of fine bicycles since it opened in Marin County in 1964. That many years of experience clearly counts, as it is now the West Coast's largest independent bike dealer and Weekly readers' favorite bike shop in town. What makes Mike's and its staff the best? According to its website, the reason is simple: "Because we know bikes and we care. We live to create cyclists." 3001 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-948-9661
Accepting the nomination for 'Best Bookstore,' Kepler's Books & Magazines owner Clark Kepler stacked the votes with his stacks of books.
Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
Beloved local independents Printers Inc, Megabooks and Wessex Books & Records may no longer be with us, but Kepler's Books & Magazinesendures. It no doubt helps to have the popular Cafe Borrone as a next-door neighbor, but Kepler's has myriad charms of its own. After briefly closing in 2005 and then re-opening buoyed by community support, the bookstore continues on, with its array of books accompanied by popular author events for adults and kids. Children's story times take place on Sunday mornings, and there are in-store book clubs, staff recommendations and other items for sale, such as gifts, greeting cards, games and puzzles. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-324-4321
Addressing the crowds on behalf of award-winning boutique Leaf & Petal, Catherine Costa knows the clothes make the woman.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
For a calm, color-coordinated shopping experience, female consumers say Leaf & Petal is the local place to go. This straightforward but also fashion-forward boutique located near downtown and Stanford University carries simple, airy pieces from designers such as Theory and Diane von Furstenburg; its clothes aim for the high-end comfort Palo Altans crave. The store's employees are dedicated to finding the customer's perfect outfit, but they won't push anything on the casual window-shopper. 439 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-329-8070
Good vision for all ... it's a promise 'Best Eyewear' winner For Eyes can make with confidence. Bill Felices isn't just the owner, he's a client.
Photo by Veronica Weber.
A bespectacled person since the age of 2, there are some important things I've learned about eyewear. Glasses help you see. When you're as blind as I am, this point can't be stressed enough. But everybody knows this already. The thing nobody realizes until they start wearing glasses is that these things become a permanent part of your visage. My parents used to get frustrated with me because I was incredibly picky about choosing the right frames. But even as a kid, I realized the importance of making the right spectacle statement. Have a round face? Try some angular frames. Have a square jaw and high cheek bones? Maybe the classic John Lennon look is for you. Going for retro-chic? Slip into some Buddy Holly specs. You get the picture. At For Eyes Optical, so do they. You'll be in good hands with their expert opticians and their selection would satisfy even a picky kid like me. Who needs the headache of contact lenses when you can have something so much cooler! #83 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; 650-329-0557
Michaela's Steve Wong demonstrates award-winning bouquets. Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
Standing before the narrow, pink building on Waverley Street, it's easy to pretend that LBJ and Goldwater, not Obama and McCain, are battling it out for the presidency. The store-front's yellow flowers and loopy font, along with an "I love Stapleton's" neon sign, only add to the shop's time-capsule effect. But one step through the door lands you in an intimate space almost choked with flowers and the heavy perfume they give off. The store's owners are invariably at work in a small back room, clipping and arranging flowers for the numerous orders they receive from around the area. Customers rave about Michaela's Flower Shop's personable and professional service, as well as the reasonable prices they offer. 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto; 650-321-5390
To call IKEA merely a "furniture" store would be like saying the human brain is "interesting." The blue-and-gold behemoth in East Palo Alto looms like a Pandora's box of Swedish minimalism, waiting to change your mind and unleash "Ideas" that could most certainly be dangerous. Fictional family rooms, conceptual kitchens and imaginary interiors flow into one another like a dreamscape of consumerism. And it is beautiful. If you say you don't like IKEA, you might just be resisting your inner modernist. It's OK. Embrace it. You're in California now, baby. This ain't no Cape Cod enclave! 1700 E. Bayshore Rd., East Palo Alto; 650-323-4532
It's packed. It's exploding with color. It's The Annex, owned by University Art, and it's bound to have the perfect supplies for any party, holiday, art project or whim. Need a birthday gift? There's a dazzling array of kitchenware, bath products, jewelry and cards. Is it holiday time again? The dizzying selection of wrapping paper never runs out. Looking for a new clothing accessory? Browse the store's displays of scarves and handbags. The Annex is a one-stop shop for, well, everything -- and it's conveniently located in the center of downtown Palo Alto. 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-3500
Working for you! Palo Alto Hardware's Scott Norman says 'Mission Accomplished' for winning both 'Best Hardware' and our new 'Green Business' categories. Photo by Veronica Weber.
You're on the campaign trail and you've got to walk the talk.
When it isn't enough to promote energy conservation, you can turn to Palo Alto Hardware for inspiration on how to achieve it. Earth-friendly products range from biodegradable trash bags to compact fluorescent light bulbs and rechargeable batteries, as well as solar attic fans and tank-less water heaters. One of the first local businesses to go solar, PA Hardware features a Green Citizen kiosk where you can recycle batteries, toner cartridges, CDs and DVDs as well as cell phones. Oh, and don't forget to pick up a few re-usable totes, to replace either paper or plastic. 875 Alma St., Palo Alto; 650-327-7222
With a history of more than 50 years and a staff made up of generations of Hassetts (Larry, the current owner, is the son of co-founder Bob and runs the store with sons Eric and Richard), Palo Alto Hardware is truly a local gem. It has all the charm of a small-town family-run business, but it packs the punch of a big chain store -- probably because it joined forces with ACE Hardware in 1965. You'll always see sincere smiles on helpful employees' faces, and you'll also find everything you need for that big remodeling project at incomparable prices. 857 Alma St., Palo Alto; 650-327-7772
|Hall of Fame, Final Year: Gleim Jewelers
When I was a kid, I used to pore over a field guide to rocks and minerals, oohing and ahhing in particular over the glossy pictures of shiny gems. Nowadays, I just go to Gleim Jewelers, where dazzling emerald rings, diamond-encrusted necklaces and gold-and-pearl brooches leave me swooning. The historic family-run business, founded during the Great Depression, epitomizes the classic American success story. Frederick and Cora Gleim opened their shop as watchmakers in 1931; two generations later, granddaughter Georgie Gleim runs the show. The business is nationally recognized, earning the American Gem Society's highest honor twice. Gleim continues to sparkle in the Weekly's "Best Of," too: It is now in its third Hall of Fame year. 322 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-323-1331
If a visit to Diamonds of Palo Alto's third floor showroom -- replete with treats for dogs, toys for kids and roses for women -- doesn't convince you this is the spot to buy an engagement ring, diamond earrings or other jewels, then a few minutes with owner Israel Zehavi is sure to. As it says on his business cards, Zehavi genuinely wants to be your jeweler for life. "I mean that," he said recently. Zehavi pledges to provide quality, service and competitive prices and he stands behind his jewels. His friendly salespeople are glad to work with anyone, from a young grad with $500 in his pocket to a millionaire tech executive. And, Zehavi has even hand delivered rings to customers in Sweden and Japan. "We'll go out of our way," he said. Ninety percent of those who walk through the doors buy something and nearly all his customers return, he said. "We take pride," Zehavi said. 261 Hamilton Ave., Suite 320, Palo Alto; 650-322-1200
Presidential moment ...Ruth Bravo takes the podium to the great joy of Shara Smith , right, as they accept Palo Alto voters' nomination for the 'Best Jewelry Store.' Photo by Veronica Weber.
Rachel Kassar (left) and Ani Kevvani strike a pose for Gitti's Lingerie. Photo by Darlene Bouchard.
People have been flocking (albeit some on the QT) to Gitti's Lingerie in downtown Palo Alto for years, drawn by its selection of European luxury lingerie and its tranquil environs. From silks and lace to finely embroidered satins, Gitti's camisoles, bras and panties are a shopper's delight -- especially for those who've been wearing workaday American brands for years. If selection isn't enough, Gitti's helpful, friendly sales associates apparently pass the real test of a quality lingerie store: Even men feel comfortable here picking out special gifts for the women in their lives. The lingerie is on the pricey side, but Gitti's fans know that craftsmanship is well worth it. 547 Bryant St., Palo Alto; 650-323-7979.
Why pick up a tie here and a pair of dress socks there when there's one department store that has it all? Few men like to take more time than necessary picking out clothing, so they head to Nordstrom, where every shirt, shoe and slack they need is under the same roof and right near home. It's not all about convenience, though; local men like the quality this department store delivers in all its brands, whether the attire is business casual or gym chic. #550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 650-323-5111
New Retail Business
It's 3 p.m. Your children are home and hungry. Now aren't you glad you bought that $37 mini-brownie pan? (You can save the $61 cocktail shaker for later.) Sur La Table, the new kid on El Camino, has impressed Weekly readers with its mix of expensive and affordable baking and bar tools, housewares and cookware, electrics and cutlery. There's a $600 six-rack food smoker, as well as $10 reusable baking cups with feet for making particularly whimsical cupcakes. And the shop sells plenty of cookbooks, in case you run out of kitchen brainstorms. #57 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; 650-289-0019
Looking to transform that dead patch of grass into a succulent oasis? Summer Winds Garden Center makes it easy to turn that problem area into a haven. Create your own White House-worthy rose garden with the spectacular selection of plants and accessories. Well known for their organic products, imports, reasonable prices and customer service, the staff will know just what to say when our new first lady goes looking to spruce up the grounds. 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto; 650-493-5136
Pet Food Depot is the perfect place for Republican nominee John McCain to shop for all his dogs, cats, guinea pigs and reptiles. In the race for most pets, he trounces Obama 22-0. This family-owned pet store sells food and other products for large animals such as horses to tiny hamsters. Both you and your pet will feel like celebrities with the great customer service. The well-informed and friendly staff is on hand, always welcoming and ready to help. Pets drool over the variety of toys while owners salivate to the great prices. After seeing all the products Obama might just break down and get his daughters that dog he has been promising them. 3127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-852-1277
|Hall of Fame, Second Year: Long's
With a slogan that encapsulates the American dream better than the Declaration of Independence -- "Live Healthy, Live Happy, Live Longs" -- Longs Drugs is in its second year as Hall of Fame winner in the pharmacy/drug store category. It's got three (count 'em -- three) locations in Palo Alto and stays open till 10 p.m. every night -- perfect for those emergency evening trips to get Theraflu or your wife's birthday card (which she reminded you about over dinner, ahem). Though many pooh-pooh national chain stores, locals find Longs clean and dependable, bursting with a variety of goods that make the shopper in you go "Ahhhhhh" the minute you set foot inside the store. 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-324-1667; 2701 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-330-0131; Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-322-2150
A trip to pick up cough syrup, a birthday card or vitamins shouldn't require too much effort. It should also be pleasant, as Walgreens 's founder Charles Walgreen realized when he purchased his first store in Chicago in 1901. Well-lit stores, goods that customers really want and helpful salespeople -- plus lots of hard work -- were the keys to his success: qualities that Walgreens continues to emphasize today. Two of the corporation's 6,727 locations are in Palo Alto, as well as a pharmacy on University Avenue purchased to replace the store torched in July 2007. And Obama fans take heed, the Walgreen Co. Political Action Committee has supported home-state candidate Barack Obama in the past. 2605 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-566-9720; 4170 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-858-1898
Hiking the campaign trail could benefit from a visit to this year's winner for Best Sporting Goods, REI. The massive retailer is a merchandise paradise for those who adore the outdoors. Clothing, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, climbing ropes, cruiser bikes, water bottles, skis, snowboards ... if it's an activity that takes place outside, REI is the spot to get prepared. And with two local locations -- in San Carlos and Mountain View -- there are plenty of opportunities to ready yourself for fun and sun. 1119 Industrial Road, Ste. 1B, San Carlos, 650-508-2330; 2450 Charleston Road, Mountain View, 650-969-1938
|Hall of Fame, First Year: Village Stationers
Sometimes e-mail just isn't appropriate. There's nothing like a personal thank-you note to acknowledge a major campaign gift. And, Village Stationers has scads of choices, from formal Crane's to Blu Canary recycled cotton paper notes. Looking for ways to recognize donors on their special days? Choose a card and personally sign it, in blue, red or green. The shop also carries tons of business forms, day planners, file folders, labels and nametags -- everything you'd need to keep track of donations or election-related expenses. Village Stationers was out of the running this year, as it enters the first year in the "Best Of " Hall of Fame. 310 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7970; 719 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650-321-6920
Need some inspiration for that dull Senate Bill you're drafting? Sometimes composing with a Bic on Xerox paper just doesn't cut it. The fine papers and pens at Letter Perfect might give you the tactile lift you need to make history. Need a birthday card for a specific age? They have cards for ages 1 to 100. Letter Perfect also features environmentally friendly products, local and independent artists and handmade cards. Those cultural holiday cards that can be tricky to find in other stores are right as you walk in. If it is still not enough, make the perfect custom invitation with the help of the staff. 384 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-3700
|Hall of Fame, Final Year: Palo Alto Sport and Toy World
Children's eyes widen at the large selection. Even adults are caught exploring the aisles. We are, of course, inside Palo Alto Sport Shop & Toy World. So many different toys are gathered here -- from traditional train and railroad sets to the latest Barbie doll -- you just might find yourself reliving your childhood. Learning toys, arts and crafts, puppets, board games, live happily alongside jump ropes and hula-hoops. For all you dress-up fanatics, majestic costumes invitingly hang in the far-away land located in the back of the store. 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto; 650-328-8555
Anna and Dexter Chow celebrate a fist-bumping win for Cheeky Monkey in this year's 'Best Toy Store' race. Photo by Veronica Weber.
In an age when the press continually spouts dour proclamations, it's nice to see that some people are still dedicated to light-hearted fun. Cheeky Monkey serves up a quality of toys almost forgotten amid the "Made in China" craze. The store's new and larger location on Santa Cruz Avenue still features a thoughtful and vast selection, now with wider aisles even more conducive to browsing. Kids will quickly pounce on the large-scale toys, including themed play structures and tyke-sized trucks. But most items also sport a daunting price tag, making the store ideal for special-occasion purchases. 640 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-328-7975
Who says the best duds are in the tiniest, most exclusive local boutiques? The huge department store Nordstrom once again won voters' hearts, and why not? It has everything a fashionista could need, and prices range from budget to boutique-worthy. When the semi-annual sale fires up, area residents swarm the racks for on-sale merchandise from big names like Marc Jacobs and Missoni. To avid shoppers, there's nothing better than a sea of racks full of the hottest clothes at affordable prices -- something they'll never find at a swanky University Street shop. #550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 650-323-5111
The Campaign Trail
Best Place for a Back-Room Deal
What better place for a back-room deal than a place with a smoke-filled back room? Walking past the bar at La Bodeguita del Medio will take patrons to the Cuban eatery's secluded cigar divan (smoking lounge). There political strategists and spin artists can puff on hand-rolled cigars while sipping rum and talking tactics. Once a surreptitious deal is done, negotiators can emerge from the divan and order one of La Bodeguita's flavorful menu items. 463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-326-7762
Best Place for a Political Rally
Get out your campaign buttons, megaphones and protest signs and bring them all to Lytton Plaza, the best place in the city to hold a political rally (at least until it undergoes its proposed renovations). A little slice of Berkeley in the heart of downtown Palo Alto, the plaza at Emerson Street and University Avenue is a gathering place where all types of Palo Altans can hang out and speak their minds. The benches helpfully provide platforms -- no need for a soapbox! -- and the University Avenue locale means you're sure to get your message heard by a good number of people passing through. The corner of Lytton Street and University Avenue
Best Place to Lunch With Lobbyists
You said you'd be different. You fought for campaign reform. You worked across the aisle. Your ideas are NOT for sale. Yet here you are, lunching with lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry at MacArthur Park. Last week, it was Il Fornaio, and before that, Evvia. So by the time you found yourself at Mantra yesterday, the gig was up. You're eating well, but at what cost? Turns out those ideals are pretty hard to swallow, even washed down with a Screaming Eagle Cabernet chaser.
27 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-9990
520 Cowper St., Palo Alto; 650-853-3888
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0983
632 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-322-3500
Place to Make a Stump Speech
If Barack Obama or John McCain were to make a surprise visit to Palo Alto for a vote-swaying speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Plaza would be the place. The recently dedicated area outside of Palo Alto City Hall borders Hamilton Avenue and is flanked by Ramona and Bryant streets. Trees and grass keep the plaza cool, and the American flag can be seen fluttering in the foreground. Had famous words from past presidents been uttered in Palo Alto (think "Four score and seven years ago" or "Ask not what your country can do for you"), King Plaza would have been the ideal locale. 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
Best Place to Meet an Anonymous Source
The men are hiding under fedora brims, the dames are dangerous, and that's just on the screen. What more atmospheric place can there be to meet an off-the-record source than the Stanford Theatre balcony, preferably during a film noir classic? Pick an obscure flick so you've got plenty of free seats, and slink up to the top row. The dim light ensures everything will stay on the QT. And that extra-large box of Junior Mints gives you a place to hide a microphone. 221 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-324-3700
Best Place to Picnic With Campaign Volunteers
Everyone is running on fumes. Tempers are flaring, ulcers are burning and the campaign is heading into the home stretch before the convention. Time to take a collective time out. Tell the driver to turn west on Page Mill Road and go directly to Foothills Park. Stretch out along the 7.5 miles of trails, boat or fish on Lake Boronda and fry up the catch at one of seven picnic areas. The 1,400-acre preserve should provide plenty of room for even the biggest egos to coexist in peace. After a few hours in the native landscape, you'll remember why you set out on the campaign trail to begin with. 3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto; 650-917-9647
Best of Palo Alto 2008 Raffle Prize Winners