Evvia Estiatorio has been serving fine Greek food in a sophisticated setting for almost two decades, managing to weather the constant storm of restaurant change that has caused many of its downtown neighbors to fall. Chef Mario Ortega, who came down to Palo Alto from Evvia’s San Francisco sister, Kokkari, claimed in a recent interview with the Weekly that Evvia’s consistent quality and signature dishes isolate the restaurant from competition. “We’re not necessarily a restaurant that fights to keep up with the times or change ... to make it seem very different or new,” he said. “We have certain things that we do (and) that’s why people come here.” For some, it might be the spanakotiropita or the insanely buttery, rich baked gigantes beans; for others, the arnisia paidakia (mesquite-grilled lamb chops with lemon-roasted potatoes) paired with a glass of “old world” Greek wine. The ambiance also can’t be beat; it’s just nice enough for special occasions but also comfortable enough for a business lunch or indulgent week-night dinner.
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
La Bodeguita del Medio channels the neighborhood bar atmosphere of its Havana namesake with fresh seafood, traditional Cuban fare, specialty rum cocktails and fine cigars. Cuban melodies circulate through the airy, cabana-like dining room, accentuated with rustic tables and folk art. Take note of one of the enormous collection of rums and Collins glasses loaded with muddled mint and sugar, ready to hold La Bodeguita’s signature cocktail. Drink in hand, head to the Cigar Divan, La Bodeguita’s tobacco shop and smoking lounge, to enjoy a hand-rolled cigar from only the finest labels. It is the only Bay Area establishment to offer Graycliff brand cigars, created by the private Torcedor (cigar-roller) to Fidel Castro.
463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7762; labodeguita.com
A fresh take on California cuisine, dishes from Calafia Café and Market A Go Go boast natural and locally sourced ingredients selected by head chef Charlie Ayers. Previously a top chef at the Googleplex cafeteria, Ayers opened his own restaurant to “go public” with his vision of nutritious, sustainable, artisan-style cuisine at affordable prices. Calafia Café’s farmhouse dining room, featuring a soft filament glow from exposed-bulb light fixtures, serves food in a relaxed format, while the Market A Go Go next door offers a salad bar and pre-made, grab-and-go items for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant and market offer a multitude of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices.
130 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-322-9200; calafiapaloalto.com
Chef Chu’s has hosted the likes of Margaret Thatcher, George Bush the Elder and even The Biebster, whose photos are proudly hung — along with those of dozens more celebrities — on the walls of the celebrated Chinese food emporium. Known for specialty dishes like Mao Tai Quail Flambe and Eight-Treasure Duck and signature dishes like Baked Miso-Glazed Sea Bass and Sichuan Village-Style Clay Pot, Chef Chu’s offers fare unusual enough to tickle the taste buds of adventurous diners. But traditionalists can eat heartily as well, chowing down on such Cantonese standards as Broccoli Beef and Tangy Lemon Chicken.
1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 650-948-2696; chefchu.com
There’s often a line to order — and a bit of a scramble to get a quiet, corner spot — but it’s worth the wait at Coupa Cafe, which offers single-estate, organic and fair-trade coffee from Venezuela, coupled with morning and French pastries and traditional Venezuelan fare. People may come because Coupa is a Wi-Fi hotspot, but they definitely stay for those Venezuelan specialties (including arepas, a sandwich facsimile made with cornmeal griddle cakes) and the chocolates, bonbons and truffles. Oh yes, and the amazing aroma.
538 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-322-0193; coupacafe.com
Dining With Kids
Kids dropping while shopping? You can always take them to California Pizza Kitchen, with a zillion choices for kids 10 and under that includes complimentary drink refills — even of milk or chocolate milk. In addition to the ever-popular pizzas (Original BBQ Chicken, Hawaiian and traditional cheese, among others), you’ll find Curly Mac ’n’ Cheese (with edamame), three kinds of fusilli, crispy or grilled chicken and salads. Sweets are available with purchase of a kids’ meal. And while they’re waiting, kids can do a word search, sudoku, color by number, connect the dots and more.
136 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650-325-2753; cpk.com
Left Bank prides itself on its Mediterranean cuisine served in the atmosphere of a true French brasserie. Local diners appreciate its authentic cuisine, lively happy hour, handsome interior and outdoor sidewalk seating. Chef Brendy Monsada serves classic brasserie items, such as onion soup, escargot, steak frites and mussels, along with seasonal specialties such as heirloom tomato salad and sweet corn fricassee. The restaurant has been hosting “Tap Takeover” beer events during which a local brewery’s offerings are served from all the restaurant’s taps for a weekend. In May, the restaurant’s fried-in-duck-fat French fries were named as one of the country’s top 15 fries by People magazine.
635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650-473-6543; leftbank.com
See complete listing for Calafia Café & Market a Go Go under California Cuisine.
A consistent winner in its category, Darbar offers both northern and southern Indian cuisine. Can’t decide what to order? Try the lunch buffet, with its sampling of four meat and four vegetarian dishes daily; come on different days to maximize choices. Still open to experimenting? At dinner, you can try the assorted chicken tikka, seekh kabob and Tandoori prawns appetizer, followed by Kheema Masala Dosa (crisp potatoes stuffed with ground lamb), Bengan Bhurtha (baked eggplant cooked with onion, tomato and spices) or Lamb Biriani (cubes of lamb cooked with lightly spiced nuts and rice). Still have room? Try Gulab Jamun (fried milk balls in rose-flavored syrup). Delish.
129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-6688; digi-net.ws/cus1163
An old favorite in downtown Palo Alto, Osteria serves wholesome, traditional Italian food in a cozy atmosphere. The restaurant’s loyal customers adore the consistently dependable cuisine — and many have 20 years of Osteria memories to prove it. Seating is pretty snug, and you may bump elbows with your neighbors a few times, but many consider this cozy and consistent with the homestyle feel. Yelpers say it’s like “grandma’s cooking” and rave about the salmon carpaccio, papardelle and spaghetti carbonara.
247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-5700; theosteriaavanti.com
Latin American Restaurant
See complete listing for La Bodeguita Del Medio under Bar/Lounge.
Meal under $20
For those who love sustainable living, promoting local farms and eating delicious meals at decent prices, LYFE Kitchen is an essential stop. In the midst of the restaurant’s light, modern decor, customers can enjoy a diverse menu (fish tacos, corn chowder and antipasto salad are a few plates) while feeling good about organic fruits and veggies and responsibly raised meats. With gluten-free choice and vegetarian dishes, customers of all types can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner.
167 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-5933; lyfekitchen.com
See complete listing for Evvia Estiatorio under Ambiance.
There’s always a buzz when you step into the cheerful high-ceilinged dining room of Reposado. Yet even when the place feels packed, the staff usually can squeeze you in. The trendy bar features booths, and there is a fabulous array of appetizers, including a plate of four different street tacos or three different ceviches. Full plates come with house-made tortillas and offer inventive twists on vegetables, chicken, seafood, steak, pork and tofu.
236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-833-3151; reposadorestaurant.com
It didn’t take long for Sam’s Chowder House to win over Palo Altans. Less than a year after opening its second brick and mortar location on University Avenue, Best Of voters have declared Sam’s the best seafood in town. Though the vibe of the restaurant is relaxed and casual, Executive Chef Robert Holt takes Sam’s menu quite seriously — serving up delectable clam chowder, lobster rolls, fish and chips, and a rotating assortment of fresh, seasonal and often locally caught items. Co-owner Julie Shenkman said she thinks her restaurant’s “New England style,” which emphasizes natural flavors and super-fresh ingredients, is the secret. “There’s really nothing like it in the downtown area,” she said.
185 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-614-1177; samschowderhousepa.com
A regular name in the Best Of awards, Café Borrone claims the title of best outdoor dining, which speaks to its appeal to the Menlo Park community and beyond. Opened by Roy and Rose Borrone, the restaurant is now under the guidance of their daughter, Marina, and her husband, Chef Josh Pebbles. “It has become an institution,” Borrone said. “We take serving the community of guests and our staff seriously and have worked hard to continue to keep it fresh with new offerings while keeping the cafe favorites.” Hot chocolate with real whipped cream and scones are breakfast staples, while soups, salads and Italian entrees round out lunch and dinner. And when not on tour, the All-Stars jazz band can often be found playing at the cafe on Friday nights.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-327-0830; cafeborrone.com
Restaurant to Splurge
See complete listing for Evvia Estiatorio under Ambiance.
See complete listing for Saint Michael’s Alley in the Hall of Fame.
See complete listing for La Bodeguita Del Medio under Bar/Lounge.
Lifting a pint of suds at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant gets an A-rating from Palo Alto customers, where hand-crafted, German-style beers are paired with delectable dishes such as coconut shrimp, house-made pizza, lobster and shrimp seafood tacos, ahi tuna and greens, flame-broiled ribeye steak, Marzen barbecue chicken, pasta dishes and burgers. If beer is not your thing, try the wines and cocktails. The restaurant offers everything from jovial sit-down dining to private and semi-private rooms seating 10 to 500 people. Year of the Beer events range from special happy hours to beer tastings and beer-and-food pairings.
640 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-7723; gordonbiersch.com
Wake up to Mayfield Bakery and Cafe’s gourmet pastries and organic farm-to-table brunch menu. “We make ingredients the focus,” head chef William Roberts said of the restaurant’s local, high-quality ingredient sourcing. He consistently pushes culinary education in terms of both preparation and presentation — and his kitchen turns out food with confidence and expertise to show it. Brunch classics like the hotcakes, beef hash and French omelet are served year-round, while other entrées are seasonal, creating variety and “staying current” with Mayfield’s partner farms, General Manager Alexis Estep said. Exposed wooden beams, sparkling white tile and an emphasis on natural light create an ambiance that is at once earthy and refined. Estep called it “casual elegance.” And it’s kid-friendly, too.
Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-853-9201; mayfieldbakery.com
Fuki Sushi pays attention to detail. With decor that gives the feeling of being transported to Japan, and a menu that carefully honors authentic traditions, it’s little wonder that Weekly readers have identified the restaurant as the best place around for sushi. Lumi Gardner, general manager, believes her restaurant keeps guests coming back because of their focus on quality and refusal to bow to the more Americanized sushi trend of giant rolls filled with ingredients like cream cheese. “Sushi is supposed to be a bite-sized meat cuisine,” she said. “That’s the whole point!”
4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-494-9383; fukisushi.com
Back from its three-year reign in the Hall of Fame, Thaiphoon edges out the competition with its Thai favorites, choice Pan-Asian dishes and inventive cocktails. Located in downtown Palo Alto, Thaiphoon's outdoor patio and stylish interior make for a joyous ambiance. Diners can enjoy everything from lamb to chicken, prawns and tofu in flavorful curries, coconut milk and other sauces made from scratch. The lunch menu also provides a variety of reasonably priced choices for those taking a well-deserved break from office chaos.
543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 408-391-2880; thaiphoonpaloalto.com
See complete listing for LYFE Kitchen under Meal Under $20.
Sitting down for a glass of wine at The Wine Room on Ramona Street downtown is less like being at a restaurant and more like lounging at a Tuscan villa with a great wine selection. The interior is filled with couches and plush chairs, creating an intimate setting to chat and snack on fine cheese, olives, charcuterie and chocolate truffles over a glass of white or red vino. The Wine Room is also available for private events.
520 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-462-1968; thepawineroom.com