Palo Alto's bohemian culture may have faded a bit since St. Michael's Alley opened as the first coffeehouse along the Peninsula — attracting emerging artists from the burgeoning psychedelic scene, including the Grateful Dead, Grace Slick and Ken Kesey — but the now, the American-style restaurant (which has expanded its original footprint) hasn't lost its appeal. St. Michael's still feels like a hidden gem. White chair-rail molding, floor-to-ceiling curtains, and hardwood floors, all lend a homey, elegant warmth. The bar features a large and naturally preserved slab of wood with undulating edges, and white tablecloths drape tables decorated with fresh-cut flowers. Framed paintings line the dining room, which feels like an actual dining room at home.
140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-2530; stmikes.com
See complete listing under Happy Hour (Food & Drink).
Hall of Fame: La Bodeguita del Medio (inducted 2015)
If you're looking for a menu that embodies the very essence of the word "California," then Calafia Cafe & Market A Go-Go is the place. From pizza, to tacos to chow mein, this sit-down restaurant has all the influences of a multicultural society, while still being quintessentially American. Calafia has two separate menus for meat eaters and "plant" eaters, ensuring that everyone can find something they want here. And if you're short on time and "need to make tracks," head to the Market next door and order a salad or sandwich.
855 El Camino Real #130, Palo Alto, 650-322-9200; calafiapaloalto.com
Runner-up: St. Michael's Alley
OK — so are you ready for some wicked kung pao or out-of-sight chow mein? Longtime chief server Haru and her fellow staff members will make sure it's done up right at Jing Jing Szechwan & Hunan Gourmet. Aficionados of hot and spicy food have voted these downtown veteran digs number one for hot cuisine since 1995. All of the classics are there: Mongolian beef, mu shu, orange peel chicken, fried rice, wonton soup, but you can get almost everything vegetarian with the same awesome flavors. Try some lesser-known but fab fish dishes, such as the steamed rock cod fillet with a light savory ginger, cilantro and garlic sauce. It's the ultimate. The big dining room is equally cool with couples and loners as it is with banquets, and it won't cost you too much scratch.
Runner-up: Su Hong
Hall of Fame: Chef Chu's (inducted: 2015)
Coupa Café has many mouth-watering selections at seven locations where you can hang loose. Their Venezuelan origins shine through their arepas, a griddled cornmeal cake, spin on empanadas and guayoyo, a variation of an Americano. This family-owned business is the only one outside Venezuela where you can have your cup of joe made from fair trade, Arabica coffee beans with enough caffeine to help your get-up-and-go through the day. You can feel the organic vibes down to their hot chai latte decorated with hearts, animals and patterns that will lift your spirits.
538 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-332-6872; 111 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-741-0713; plus five Stanford locations; coupacafe.com
Runner-up: Philz Coffee
Dining with Kids
Is there anything better than slurping a thick, velvety milkshake from a chilled glass at Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill's old-school soda fountain (and refilling said glass at your leisure from the metal cup your waiter brings you)? Consistent diner food, friendly service and those milkshakes make this longtime downtown restaurant ideal for all ages, from kids to college students to seniors. Endearingly known as "The Creamery," the decades-old, '50s-style diner is a stalwart reminder of a Palo Alto of the past. Eating here is like experiencing the ultimate flashback.
566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-3131; paloaltocreamery.com
Silicon Valley may not boast Paris' unrivaled cafe culture, but Pastis French Bistro offers up a little slice of authentic French food in a mellow-vibed bistro setting where diners can sit back and percolate. A popular brunch destination, the le petit déjeuner or "little breakfast" menu offers classics like croque monsieur, omelette au fromage and saumon bénédicto, while the Spécialités FranÁaises dinner menu features dishes with duck, braised rabbit, mussels cooked a variety of different ways, foie gras and, of course, escargot.
447 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-324-1355; pastispaloalto.com
Runner-up: Douce France
There's no confusion with this fusion at downtown Palo Alto's rad Tamarine Restaurant. This mod Vietnamese-cum-California winner offers thoughtfully crafted small-plate cuisine that makes every dish a work of art. Zagat reviewers dig this place and say it is worth the hype. From ginger-beef broth pho and wok-flashed rice noodles to steamed wild snapper in banana leaves, it's a happenin' place for the ultimate in fine dining experience. The cool, well-lit mod vibe also offers private dining facilities for Silicon Valley deal makers and intimate parties.
546 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-8500; tamarinerestaurant.com
Runner-up: Rangoon Ruby
Why go all the way to India for enlightenment? People who are in the know make their pilgrimage to Darbar Indian Cuisine, where taste buds are routinely transported to Paradise. The faithful praise the paneer do pyaza, tandoori chicken, vindaloo, kebabs and, of course, the soft and delicious naan that mystically appears on your table. Order off the menu or partake of the lunch or dinner buffets at the Lytton Avenue restaurant — and your inner self will smile.
29 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-6688; www.facebook.com/DarbarCuisine
Runner up: Amber India
See complete listing under Pizza (Food & Drink).
The Beatles thought that all you need is love, but some tequila and guacamole with freshly made corn tortilla chips don't hurt either. Downtown Palo Alto's Reposado, whose slogan is "Eat, Drink, Relax," is an island of happy in the sea of busy. A smartly crafted menu offers a range of small plates, salads, soups, traditional plates and sandwiches, from tacos de la calle (street tacos) to cochinita pibil (slow-braised pork with creamy jasmine rice). But naturally, it's the selection of more than 50 artisanal tequilas that give Reposado its name and fame. While you're there, try the killer desserts as well.
236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-833-3151; reposadorestaurant.com
Runner-up: Coupa Café
Hall of Fame: La Bodeguita del Medio (inducted 2015)
Meal Under $20
See complete listing under Coffee House.
Runner-up: Sancho's Taqueria
If you've got extra scratch to spend and a special occasion, Palo Alto's Evvia Estiatorio is the ultimate when it comes to local Greek cuisine, readers voted. This upscale Mediterranean restaurant is a magical mystery tour of Mediterranean and Hellenic specialties fit for the gods. Let's not forget that Evvia is the island where Greek cuisine was mythically born for the wedding banquet of Zeus and his bride, the goddess Hera. Dishes include citrus-marinated roasted beets with whipped manouri, pickled shallots and toasted pistachios; grilled octopus with lemon, oregano and olive oil; chicken souvlaki, delicate lamb selected for its mild flavor as served on the Greek islands, and the ever-classic moussaka all expertly prepared and served in a lively atmosphere with a generous and varied wine list.
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
Runner-up: Oren's Hummus
In a world of taco trucks and grab-and-go taquerias, Palo Alto Sol on California Avenue offers lovers of Mexican food something refreshingly different: a chance to slow down, chill out and savor. Its menu is filled with south-of-the-border staples like quesadillas, chalupas, burritos, tortilla soup and enchiladas covered with melted cheese, guajillo sauce or a dark, sweet mole that will most certainly blow your mind. Can you dig it?
408 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-8840
Runner-up: Sancho's Taqueria
"Big Brother" is watching from every table at Yayoi. Diners at this modern and innovative restaurant order from iPads on each table and can use the device to track their food as it is prepped, cooked and served. This place isn't your typical "beef teriyaki-California roll" Japanese restaurant, either. Meals are served in the traditional "teishoku" style— a set meal that includes a main dish accompanied with steamed rice, miso soup, vegetables and pickles. Each item comes in its own bowl or plate. The menu also has a large selection of hot teas and a kids' "teishoku" menu.
403 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-494-4437; yayoi-us.com
Runner-up: Aroy Thai Bistro
Cafe Borrone provides much more than handmade scones, quiche, Italian torta and soups prepared from scratch each day. Dining around the fountain in the piazza at this European-style cafe is a social event akin to the coffee houses from an earlier era where creatives would engage in lively debates and listen to folk artists such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Since 1979, the family-owned cafe has served as a gathering place for locals to enjoy food, drink, music, rotating artwork and lively conversation. Patrons say it's hard to beat the ambiance, especially when enjoying a specialty coffee drink outdoors while soaking up rays in the morning sunshine.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-327-0830; cafeborrone.com
Runner-up: Coupa Cafe
Restaurant to Splurge
See complete listing under Mediterranean Restaurant
Runner-up: St. Michael's Alley
St. Michael's Alley
See complete listing under Ambiance
Runner-up: Evvia Estiatorio
Locals flock like sea birds (not to be confused with '60s rock band The Byrds) to the Fish Market Restaurant because they know that's where they'll get the freshest catches. The El Camino Real mainstay serves up traditional fare that would satisfy the hardiest of sea-faring souls — fish and chips, cioppino and clam chowder — as well as dishes for the edgier palate. Think misoyaki-glazed Alaskan king salmon, on-trend ahi poke in spicy sesame marinade, and a fish crostini trio of smoked salmon, trout, albacore with artichoke tapenade. The family-friendly restaurant also gives kids their own special menu and an activity book and crayons to keep them amused.
3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-493-8862 (TUNA); thefishmarket.com
Runner-up: The Sea By Alexander's Steakhouse
See complete listing under Coffee House
Runner-up: Cafe Borrone
Downtown Palo Alto sports a wealth of watering holes, from divey pubs to boisterous sports bars. The Old Pro is loud, proud, bright, crowded and — according to our readers — the best of the bunch. Featuring an expansive menu that includes pizzas, burgers, s'mores, calamari and a killer selection of brews on tap, the Ramona Street fixture has long been the go-to spot for sports fans seeking the craziest party in town.
541 Ramona St, Palo Alto, 650-326-1426; oldpropa.com
Runner-up: The Dutch Goose
Sundance The Steakhouse has been in business for more than four decades and has the steak to show for it. Their succulent, juicy and aged beef is served in an upscale setting with walls adorned with sports memorabilia that makes the meal all the more enjoyable. The highly regarded establishment made the "100 Best Steakhouses in America for 2016" list by online reservations website OpenTable. Don't feel pressed to come in all decked out, you can get away with casual attire at this steakhouse. The quality demands for high prices, but it will be a meal you'll rave about for the ages.
1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-321-6798; sundancethesteakhouse.com
Runner-up: Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Mayfield Bakery & Cafe is the primo place to spend your bread on Sunday brunch. The artisan bakery makes fresh-baked, hand-shaped bread daily that's served on the cafe menu (pastries, warm morning buns, avocado toast, beignets, flatbread, French toast) along with hyper-seasonal dishes prepared by Chef Mark Sullivan (of the Michelin-starred The Village Pub) using custom-grown produce and other local ingredients from a private five-acre farm in the hills above Woodside. Depending on the season, brunch can include anything from the standard breakfast fare to carrot soup and a grilled grass-fed cheeseburger to pacific cod.
855 El Camino Real #110, Palo Alto, 650-853-9200; mayfieldbakery.com
Runner-up: St. Michael's Alley
This is the place to go for those who feel like experiencing some classic "Rock n' Roll" ... or assorted tempura, spicy tuna rolls and bento boxes. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, Sushi House serves a variety of sushi (including its special "Rock n' Roll" with eel and avocado) and other traditional Japanese dishes for take out or on-site dining. The restaurant provides party platters for large groups. Loyal patrons say the authentic Toyko-style entrees, good service and friendly atmosphere keep them coming back.
855 El Camino Real #158,Palo Alto, 650-321-3453; sushihousepaloalto.com
Runner-up: Jin Sho
Hall of Fame: Fuki Sushi (inducted 2016)
It's easy to liberate your taste buds at this Thai spot, where the menu can be altered to the spice level of your choice. Whether you feel like having it hot or mild, just ask your server to lay it on you. Since 2005,Thaiphoon has been a Palo Alto fixture. You can sit outside on the patio near the Buddha fountain when it's nice, or sit inside when it's not. From chicken coconut soup to fried tofu or braised lamb, there is something for everyone. The Thai basil chicken is another standout, along with the pad thai.
543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-7700.
Runner-up: Siam Royal Authentic Thai
You're likely to hear yums rather than yucks from diners at LYFE Kitchen, where its balanced meals will leave you feeling nourished in no time with its quick service after you order behind the planters of herbs on display. This "health casual" restaurant downtown has something to please everyone in your party, from a Parmesan-crusted chicken to a gluten-free turkey meatball martini to a vegan black bean burger. LYFE's wicked banana date is a must-have — here's the skinny: you can hardly taste the dates! The sleek interior and bright lighting invites customers to come in, go with the flow and get the most out of LYFE.
167 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-5933; lyfekitchen.com
Runner-up: Calafia Cafe & Market A Go-Go