Take a trip to Greece with a visit to Evvia Estiatorio in downtown Palo Alto, known for quality food and even higher quality service. The longtime restaurant manages to combine fine dining with comfort as an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven turns out traditional Greek fare. Be prepared to be treated not as a diner but more like a long-lost relative when you walk through the doors.
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
See complete listing for Calave Wine Bar under Happy Hour (Food & Drink).
Hall of Fame: Second Year
With a name that the business translates to "the little bar in the middle of the block," La Bodeguita del Medio certainly exceeds expectations. Modeled after an establishment of the same name in Havana, Cuba, La Bodeguita del Medio is known for traditional Cuban fare, a lively atmosphere and, certainly not least, its mojito cocktails. While the original bar was a known hangout of visionaries such as Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda, you're sure to meet someone interesting over great food and drinks at this California Avenue location.
463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7762; labodeguita.com
One of the best things about living in California is all the great food, with its delicious, multicultural melting pot of flavors and styles with a fresh-and-healthy twist. In Palo Alto, Calafia Café & Market A Go-Go best typifies California cuisine, featuring items with a range of influences, such as sesame-udon noodles, papas con ajo and bacon tacos. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans, and if California makes you think of kale, avocados, quinoa and tofu, you're in luck. Calafia has those on the menu (and much more).
Town & Country Village, #130, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-322-9200; calafiapaloalto.com
In the mood for hot, spicy and finger-licking good Chinese food? Jing Jing is your answer. A Sichuan and Hunan gourmet restaurant, Jing Jing serves a variety of Chinese specialties, including seafood, vegetables, beef, lamb, rice and noodles. Their "hot and hotter" options add some zesty spice to the equation, such as twice-cooked pork, eggplant in spicy garlic sauce and Hunan tofu. "Best ultra-spicy hot Chinese food on the peninsula," writes one Yelp reviewer, and it would be hard to disagree.
443 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-328-6885; jingjinggourmet.com
Hall of Fame: Second Year
Chef Chu's has been a favorite of Mountain View residents since it was first established by Lawrence Chu in the 1970s. Praised by longtime customers for its hospitality and attention to detail, Chef Chu's offers both gourmet lunches and traditional Chinese noodles, catering both to those just developing their taste buds and the more adventurous. The tangy lemon chicken, made with Chef Chu's famous lemon sauce, is a boneless chicken breast dipped in batter, deep-fried and glazed with the sauce. Other signature dishes include the South Sea-style stir-fried barbecue pork and the kung pao calamari, demonstrating the restaurant's wide variety of regional specialties.
1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos; 650-948-2696; chefchu.com
Now, this is a place to tomar un café! Tracing its origins back to 1990 with the Arabica Coffee Company in Venezuela, Coupa Café opened its doors in Palo Alto in 2004 with its 100 percent Arabica brews. Since then, the business has expanded to include two Palo Alto locations (and a lounge that can be rented out) and five Stanford University spots. In addition to its creative drink selection — spicy maya hot chocolate, yes please — the food options are healthy, sustainable and mouth-watering: savory and sweet crepes, appetizing salads, capresa and rosemary chicken paninis — the list goes on. The top-quality joe and bites, served on stylish ceramic ware, make it no wonder Coupa Café is part of the coffee drinker's parlance in the Palo Alto/Stanford area.
538 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-322-6872; 111 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-741-0713; plus five Stanford locations; coupacafe.com
Dining with Kids
See complete listing for Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill under Milkshake (Food & Drink).
No passport? No problem! France is right at your fingertips at Pastis bistro. From the patio seating to the garnishes that adorn each dish, this restaurant is Palo Alto's getaway to Paris. The kitchen offers brunch, lunch and dinner menus, with each item bearing a French name. Many dishes feature creative uses of cheeses and sauces, and dinner entrees include salmon, steak and duck. Although there is no Eiffel Tower, the friendly customer service and broad wine selection compensate for it beautifully.
447 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-324-1355; pastispaloalto.com
Contemporary Vietnamese cuisine shines at the downtown Palo Alto restaurant Tamarine, which marries Vietnamese ingredients with the culinary culture and abundant produce of California. The modern upscale restaurant's flavor-packed dishes are sophisticated and inspired. Try the irresistible taro dumplings or the aromatic Kobe beef pho while you admire the exhibit of Vietnamese paintings displayed on the restaurant's walls.
546 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-8500; tamarinerestaurant.com
Small Darbar Indian Cuisine offers a big and savory menu of fine multiregional Indian dishes. From chicken tikka masala to roti, lentils and saffron rice, this place offers a wide range of options for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Staff is accommodating and friendly, and the restaurant, with its bright colors, offers an enjoyable dining experience. Don't forget to snag a pinch of fennel seed to sweeten the breath and aid digestion after devouring all of the delicious food.
129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-6688; facebook.com/DarbarCuisine
See complete listing for Terún under Pizza (Food & Drink).
Latin American Cuisine
In the Bay Area, good Latin American cuisine is not hard to find, but some establishments stand out from the crowd. The downtown Palo Alto Mexican mainstay Reposado's motto is "eat, drink, relax" and, with its selection of delectable gourmet dishes such as chile poblano and queso fundido and a huge tequila and specialty-cocktail menu, it has no trouble attracting customers to blissfully do just that. And though it's a bit swankier than the average taqueria, Reposado strives for an atmosphere of fun over fancy, making it a welcoming spot to hold a party or take a date.
236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-833-3151; reposadorestaurant.com
Hall of Fame: Second Year
See complete listing for La Bodeguita del Medio in the Hall of Fame under Bar/Lounge.
Meal Under $20
See complete listing for Asian Box under Takeout (Food & Drink).
See complete listing for Evvia Estiatorio under Ambiance.
At Palo Alto Sol Restaurant, the vibrant colors, hanging metal stars, delicate lighting and Latin rhythms mix together for a warm and lively atmosphere: a recipe that mirrors the piquant and satisfying flavors on the restaurant's menu. Inspired by the cuisine of Puebla, Mexico, the offerings are both familiar and enticingly new. Tortilla chips come with three salsas (options for the spice-philic and -phobic); Mexican rice and refried beans are made just right; and main dishes span from the chile relleno, rich and served in a tomato sauce, to enchiladas in a mole sauce, tasty and sophisticated. One lunch or dinner at Palo Alto Sol is enough to rekindle and nourish one's knowledge and love of Mexican cuisine.
408 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-8840
A whole avocado, split in half, grilled and topped with ponzu sauce. Fried chicken thigh with green curry, egg yolk and smoked uni. Julia Child coming over the speakers in the bathroom. Newcomer Bird Dog has been hailed for bringing an inventive concept to the sometimes monotonous Palo Alto dining scene. Chef-owner Robbie Wilson, most recently of Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos, has culinary experience forged at some of the best establishments, including The French Laundry in Yountville and Nobu in New York City.
420 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-656-8180; birddogpa.com
What makes Cafe Borrone an "institution" in Menlo Park and beyond? Maybe because it's been around long enough for people to grow up in it, and those that move away make a point to return when they're in town, said owner Marina Borrone. The business has deep family ties: Marina's parents, Roy and Rose, started the business in Redwood City, where it stayed for 10 years before moving to Menlo Park. Her husband, Josh Pebbles, is the cafe's executive chef. As for the food, Borrone said that all dishes are house-made from scratch, from minestrone soup to pappardelle. In addition to seasonal art exhibits, the cafe also hosts jazz and other live music events, causing some to dance outside on the wide patio.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-327-0830; cafeborrone.com
Restaurant to Splurge
See complete listing for Evvia Estiatorio under Ambiance.
The term "alley" has been redefined as an intimate, welcoming and romantic atmosphere by Palo Alto's Saint Michael's Alley restaurant. The care and details put into ensuring that every customer leaves with a pleasant experience can be seen from the flowers delicately arranged on each table to the intricate presentation of each meal. So even if your date is a dud, rest assured that you at least made one good decision that night by choosing Saint Michael's Alley.
140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-2530; stmikes.com
The vibe in the cocktail bar and lounge area is lively, the dining room bustling — just what you expect and want at Palo Alto's always popular, always busy tribute to freshly caught, well-cooked sea fare. The 40-year-old Fish Market offers fish and chips — of course — but if that's all you think they serve, you haven't been in a while. In addition to fish tacos, sushi, pasta dishes and angus steak, the menu includes gourmet (dare we say foodie?) offerings, like truffled rosemary scallops on a bed of polenta with sauteed apples and mushrooms. All this and you don't even have to go to the wharf.
3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-493-8862 (TUNA); thefishmarket.com
See complete listing for Coupa Café under Coffee House.
The Old Pro manages to be everything one looks for in a sports bar, and then some. With 24 flat screen TVs, local craft beers and California wines, and food made from fresh ingredients, the eating and drinking experience is top notch. As for ambiance, The Old Pro features tons of sports memorabilia covering the walls, as well as a mechanical bull for a very authentic sports bar feel. The space is packed during big game days, adding to the thrill of watching the home team.
541 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-326-1446; oldpropa.com
Sundance The Steakhouse has been a culinary constant in Palo Alto since 1974. The family-owned restaurant exudes old-school charm, both in feel and food. Don't miss the house specialty, prime rib slow roasted for eight hours, or any of the prime-graded steaks. Fresh seafood, chicken or appetizers meet Sundance standards. Wash it all down with your drink of choice at the lively bar.
1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-312-6798; sundancethesteakhouse.com
In searching for a restaurant that does the basics very well, look no further than Mayfield Bakery & Cafe, known for traditional American food with a slight modern twist, served alongside perfectly baked bread. In addition to the food, Mayfield Bakery & Cafe also has excellent coffee offerings, with generously portioned lattes served in bowls. With bread, pastries, coffee and entrees on the menu, the Mayfield Bakery & Cafe is many local residents' go-to spot for brunch in the area.
Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-853-9200; mayfieldbakery.com
Hall of Fame: Third Year
See complete listing for Saint Michael's Alley under Romantic Restaurant.
Sushi House, this year's winner for best Sushi/Japanese restaurant, has so many combinations and tasty options that you'll be coming back to try them all. Of course, there's the classic California roll, but there are also unique and creative choices in the ika maki (squid, tobiko) and the unaakyu roll (eel, cucumber). Located in the busy Town & Country Village near Stanford University, Sushi House offers take out, along with bento box options and noodle, salad and other side orders.
Town & Country Village, #158, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-321-3453; sushihousepaloalto.com
Hall of Fame: First Year
Located on El Camino Real, Fuki Sushi offers a traditional yet upscale sushi experience. From the cuts of fresh fish arranged elegantly to authentic soups and other appetizers, served alongside sake, the food is sure to impress. Bare wood interiors and waitresses wearing kimonos add to the uniquely Japanese atmosphere. Despite the somewhat upscale feel of the establishment, chefs as well as service staff are friendly and accommodating.
4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-494-9383; fukisushi.com
It's a tropical storm of flavor! The cleverly named Thaiphoon, located in downtown Palo Alto on Emerson Street, has some of the best Thai food in the area, according to Palo Alto Weekly readers, and is a must-try for anyone looking for something just a little bit different. Specializing in all sorts of seafood, curries and made-to-order Thai tea, Thaiphoon is always bustling. A beautiful outdoor seating area is the finishing touch that makes this restaurant truly something special.
543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-7700; thaiphoonpaloalto.com
LYFE Kitchen is a health-centric restaurant in Palo Alto that won't leave you compromising on taste when ordering from its extensive menu of meatless options. The informal eatery offers vegetarian and vegan dishes featuring fresh locally grown ingredients, with every dish under 600 calories. From the spicy Vietnamese lettuce wraps with Gardein beefless tips and quinoa crunch bowl to the veggie burger and garlic Parmesan sweet-potato fries with a chipotle aioli, there's something to satisfy every non-meat eater.
167 N. Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-5933; lyfekitchen.com