Restaurants

Initially founded as the area's earliest coffeehouse in 1959, Saint Michael's Alley is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Photo by Michelle Le.

Ambiance

The Cuban-influenced menu at La Bodeguita del Medio offers robust meat dishes, fresh seafood, flavorful vegetarian entrees and specialty cocktails inspired by the legendary La Bodeguita in Havana. Besides lunch and dinner, the restaurant also offers a midday menu and late-night plates until 10:30 p.m. 463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7762; labodeguita.com
Runner-up: Saint Michael's Alley

Bar/Lounge

La Bodeguita del Medio See Ambiance

Runner-up: Calave

Featured: California Cuisine
Saint Michael's Alley

Originally founded as a coffeehouse with a bohemian vibe when it opened in 1959, Saint Michael's Alley has since developed into a refined restaurant with upscale ambiance and a menu rooted in local, fresh ingredients that includes entrees such as roasted sea bass, red curry roasted duck breast and pan-roasted halibut.
—Saint Michael's was reportedly the first coffeehouse to open along the Peninsula during the beatnik era and attracted numerous musicians and writers, including the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Grace Slick, Ken Kesey, Robert Hunter and Jefferson Airplane, who all performed there in their early days.
—Founder Vernon Gates closed the coffeehouse in 1966 and reopened as a restaurant in the current Emerson Street location seven years later. In 2009, current owners Mike Sabina and Jennifer Youll added a second location around the corner on Homer Avenue.
—The restaurant is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-2530; stmikes.com
Runner-up: True Food Kitchen

Chinese

Since opening in 1970, Chef Chu's specialty dishes, including its homemade pot stickers and Beijing duck cooked in a cast-iron Chinese oven, have attracted a who's who list of diners from near and far, including Serena Williams, Steve Young, Justin Bieber and JFK Jr.
1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 650-948-2696; chefchu.com
Runner-up: Chef Zhao Kitchen

The Coupal family has operated Coupa Cafe in downtown Palo Alto for 15 years. Courtesy of Coupa Cafe.

Featured: Coffeehouse
Coupa Cafe

— For the past 15 years, founder and CEO Nancy Coupal and brother-and-sister duo Jean Paul Coupal and Camelia Coupal have operated Coupa Cafe, which serves certified organic and fair-trade coffee as well as a variety of menu items including pastries, paninis, salads and Venezuelan specialties like white cornmeal griddle cakes called "arepas," tequeÃ’os and empanadas.
—Besides its coffee and food menu, the Venezuelan cafe is known as a hot spot for Silicon Valley's techies — from budding entrepreneurs to powerful venture capitalists. Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google co-founder Sergey Brin are among those who reportedly frequented the place.
— The cafe has served as a testing ground for more than 20 products from local startups and is one of few places downtown to accept Bitcoin.
—Founded in downtown Palo Alto, the cafe is preparing to open its 11th Midpeninsula location in Redwood City.
538 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-322-6872; coupacafe.com
Runner-up: Philz Coffee

Dining with Kids

Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill See Food & Drink, Milkshake

Runner-up: Hobee's

French

Zola is owner Guillaume Bienaime's modern take on a classic French bistro. The dishes at this small, seasonal French restaurant include roasted button mushrooms with escargot butter, rillettes de saumon and short rib bourguignon.
565 Bryant St., Palo Alto, 650-521-0651; zolapaloalto.com
Runner-up: Left Bank

Fusion

From ginger-beef pho and wok-flashed rice noodles to steamed wild snapper in banana leaves, Tamarine Restaurant serves thoughtfully crafted Vietnamese cuisine that makes every dish a work of art in this fine dining establishment. 546 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-8500; tamarinerestaurant.com
Runner-up: Go Fish Poke Bar

Zareen Khan, chef of Zareen's, cooks chicken in the restaurant's kitchen. Photo by Natalia Nazarova.

Featured: Indian
Zareen's

— Zareen's serves traditional and fusion-style Pakistani and Indian food, including samosas, kebabs and a Punjabi chicken burger with spicy fries.
—Demand for the food at Zareen's is so great, employees work at the Palo Alto restaurant around the clock making everything on the menu in small batches, including the naan, which is made to order in a clay oven.
— Cooking is a second career for owner Zareen Khan who spent the first 12 years of her career in corporate America. The Pakistani native got her start in the food industry by making kabobs at home, freezing and packaging them to sell to other women — busy mothers who, like her, would turn to the freezer at the end of the long day for an easy meal for their families. The kebabs turned into a catering company, then a busy brick-and-mortar restaurant.
— Khan opened her first Zareen's restaurant in a tiny space in a Mountain View strip mall in 2014. She opened her Palo Alto location in 2016.
365 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-600-8438; zareensrestaurant.com
Runner-up: Amber India

Italian

Terun See Food & Drink, Pizza

Runner-up: iTalico

Latin American

La Bodeguita del Medio See Ambiance

Runner-up: Reposado

Meal Under $20

Oren's Hummus See Mediterranean

Runner-up: Asian Box

Mediterranean

Famous for its fresh, direct-from-Israel hummus, flavorful meat skewers and stuffed-to-the-gill pita sandwiches, the menu at Oren's Hummus is full of Israeli staples that also are served at a new "express" version of the restaurant, which focuses on quick, grab-and-go service.
261 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-752-6492; orenshummus.com | Oren's Hummus Express, 855 El Camino Real, #162, Palo Alto, 650-563-6736;orenshummusexpress.com
Runner-up: Mediterranean Wraps

Mexican

Owned and operated by Hector and Helena Sol, Palo Alto Sol serves up sopas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and other regional dishes from Puebla, Mexico, that are based family recipes. In recent years, the restaurant has been moving toward sustainability by supporting local farmers and ranchers.
408 S California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-8840; solrestaurantsca.com
Runner-up: Reposado

New Restaurant
Taverna

With casual fine-dining in a Greek-style tavern, Taverna restaurant exudes Hellenic hospitality. The menu, split into bites, small plates and entrees, is an education in Greek cuisine.
800 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-304-3840; tavernarestaurant.net
Runner-up: Ramen Nagi

Outdoor Dining

Pizzeria Delfina offers its Neapolitan-style pizza in a 65-seat patio, where trellises, wisteria, Japanese maples and a wall of ivy cool the summer nights and heat lamps await for chillier weather.
651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-353-2208; pizzeriadelfina.com
Runner-up: Terun

The French Laundry alum Dennis Kelly (master sommelier) and Anthony Secviar (chef) opened Protege in Palo Alto in 2018. Photo by Natalia Nazarova.

Featured: Restaurant to Splurge
Protege

— Protege is an approachable yet impressive neighborhood restaurant with a casual a-la-carte lounge and a dining room that serves a four-course prix fixe menu that features New American cuisine such as white peach gazpacho, ricotta dumplings, romesco-crested lamb loin and Alaskan king crab "chateaubriand." For dessert, there's a cart piled high with pastry chef Eddie Lopez's chocolate chip cookies and pies.
— Co-owners Dennis Kelly (master sommelier) and Anthony Secviar (chef), are alums from the three-Michelin-star The French Laundry in Yountville.
—Wine & Spirits Magazine named Kelly one of the best young sommeliers in America in 2010.
— In November 2018, just nine months after opening in Palo Alto, Protege won a Michelin star.
— Protege is a training ground for the next generation of culinary standouts: The restaurant's name reflects the owners' commitment to mentoring other chefs.
250 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-494-4181; protegepaloalto.com
Runner-up: Saint Michael's Alley

Romantic Dining

Saint Michael's Alley See California Cuisine

Runner-up: La Bodeguita del Medio

Seafood

For nearly 43 years, The Fish Market has been an El Camino Real mainstay serving 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.
3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-493-9188; thefishmarket.com
Runner-up: The Sea by Alexander's Steakhouse

Solo Dining

La Bodeguita del Medio Ambiance

Runner-up: Coupa Cafe

Best Sushi/Japanese: Fuki Sushi

Sports Bar

The Old Pro is the best place to watch the big game on the big screen. Instantly recognizable by its pennant-covered interior walls, this sports bar is known for its happy hour deals and eclectic menu, which includes garlic Parmesan tater tots and cook-em-yourself s'mores.
541 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-326-1446; oldpropa.com
Runner-up: Antonio's Nut House

Steakhouse

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar serves prime beef, chops, seafood and chicken, as well as 100 wines by the glass in a contemporary dining room at Stanford Shopping Center.
180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-329-8457; flemingssteakhouse.com
Runner-up: The Sea by Alexander's Steakhouse

Sunday Brunch

Breakfast is so good at Joanie's Cafe that the California Avenue restaurant offers it at lunch and dinner as well. Favorite brunch items include pancakes, waffles, French toast and omelets, crepes, scrambles or just plain eggs — all served with hash browns, home fries or fruit.
405 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-6505; joaniescafepaloalto.com
Runner-up: Saint Michael's Alley

Sushi/Japanese

With chefs trained in Japan, Fuki Sushi executes delicately crafted sushi rolls with well-cooked rice and fresh seafood served at a lively sushi bar, casual tables or private tatami rooms in the back of this dine-in restaurant.
4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-494-9383; fukisushi.com
Runner-up: Jin Sho

Best Thai: Thaiphoon

Thai

Whether you feel like having it hot or mild, the menu at Thaiphoon can be altered to the spice level of your choice. From chicken coconut soup to fried tofu or braised lamb, there is something for everyone.
543 Emerson St, Palo Alto, 650-323-7700; thaiphoononline.net
Runner-up: Indochine

Vegetarian/Vegan

The menu at True Food Kitchen draws from an anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, seafood, healthy fats and other items, which are sourced locally and regularly rotated on the menu with the seasons.
180 El Camino Real, #1140, Palo Alto, 650-272-5157; truefoodkitchen.com
Runner-up: Garden Fresh