Best of Palo Alto 2020

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Food and Drink

Minimizing customer interaction: '180 degrees from our natural inclination'
With caviar still on the menu, Michelin-starred restaurant turns to takeout

A masked server clears plates from a table on the patio at The Village Pub in Woodside on July 6. To make up for lost tables indoors during new social-distancing regulations, the restaurant added the outdoor patio. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

When Village Pub servers, line cooks and dishwashers clock in to work these days, they immediately have their temperature taken. They sign a form that states in English and Spanish: "I certify that I am in good health and have had my temperature checked and recorded accurately at the beginning of my workday." They deposit the pen they used into a sleek silver container labeled "used pens," put on a mask and start their shift.

The Village Pub, located at 2967 Woodside Road in Woodside, reopened for both indoor and outdoor dining in June. While many of the signature touches of the 19-year-old Michelin-starred restaurant returned — the staff still uses handheld irons to steam wrinkles out of white tablecloths before setting the tables, caviar is still on the menu and service is paramount — much has changed in the age of COVID-19.

Diners can order on their smartphones from a digital QR code or physical menu, and the latter is sanitized after every use. The menu was scaled down from 60 dishes to just 15, which are now offered in a $75 per person pre-fixe model to reduce the time waiters spend at tables. Customers can only take their masks off when seated, and employees keep them on at all times. Only one employee is allowed at a table at a time unless it's to drop off dishes and leave.

The overarching goal, said Tim Stannard, founder of Bacchus Management Group, which operates The Village Pub, is to minimize the amount of interaction between employees and diners — a counterintuitive "180 degrees from our natural inclination, which is to spend as much time as we can (with customers)."

Reconfiguring The Village Pub's elegant dining room to allow for at least 6 feet of distance between tables meant operating at 50% capacity. The restaurant quickly secured the necessary permits to build an outdoor patio — which cost $50,000 — that makes up for the lost tables. On a recent Monday evening, every table on the patio was full while a scarce number of parties sat inside. Stannard said the split between outdoor and indoor seating requests is about 70/30.

Plenty of people still want the traditional dine-in experience, he said. When Bacchus was discussing whether to resume indoor dining, they talked to staff, investors and customers. There was a "pressure — not a pressure," he corrected himself, "but interest" from the community in reopening the dining room. It's sold out nearly every night since reopening, Stannard said in July.

The pandemic forced a major shift for The Village Pub, an upscale restaurant that places high value on the experience of dining in, into takeout. Pre-coronavirus, to-go orders generated less than 2% of sales for the restaurant, Stannard said. Now, delivery accounts for about 30% of sales — a number that's held since the restaurant reopened for indoor and outdoor dining.

E.K.

Scroll down to find out how last year's winners have responded to the pandemic.

Armadillo Willy's

Nearly all of the Texas-inspired grub at Armadillo Willy's is cooked over an oak-wood fire. This locally owned BBQ joint offers traditional items like ribs and brisket, as well as more adventurous options, like jalapeno-cheese sausage. The restaurant is open for take out and delivery.
1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 650-941-2922; armadillowillys.com
2019: Best BBQ

Asian Box

Inspired by Vietnamese street food, Asian Box offers diners a 100% gluten-free menu with comforting staples like pho and curry chicken, as well as more eclectic options such as caramel catfish. During the pandemic, Asian Box is offering a lunch and dinner program enabling customers to donate meals to local healthcare professionals on the front line. The restaurant will match every box donated.
855 El Camino Real #21, Palo Alto 650-800-7043; 142 Castro St.
Mountain View, 650-584-3947; asianbox.com
2019: Best Take Out

Douce France

Douce France features a stunning array of desserts — from bite-sized strawberry tarts to delicate eclairs — all made from fresh ingredients and based on recipes that originated in the Alsace region of France over half a century ago. Menu items can be ordered online.
Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real #104, Palo Alto, 650-322-3601; cafedoucefrance.com
2019: Best Bakery/Desserts

Hobee's

Founded by Paul Taber in 1974 and now operated by a new generation of owners, Hobee's remains an iconic Silicon Valley chain known for its funky vibe and ample breakfasts — including its legendary blueberry coffee cake with crumbly streusel topping — and assortment of healthy menu items. The restaurant is open for curbside pickup and delivery (and its blueberry coffee cake can be shipped nationwide.)
4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-856-6124; hobees.com
2019: Best Breakfast

House of Bagels

Tucked away in Edgewood Plaza, House of Bagels is a New York-inspired establishment that features all the bagel basics — the savory spreads, the soft lox, the mouth-watering deli sandwiches — along with cookies, pastries and other baked goods. Bagels are freshly baked daily and can be ordered online.
2190 W. Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, 650-322-5189; houseofbagels.com
2019: Best Bagels

Calave

The pandemic may have put an end to the traditional happy hour, but Calave is still the go-to place for locals looking for a pre-dinner snack or a light meal with their cocktails. The wine bar serves wine by the glass or the flight, house-made sangria, beer by the glass, signature cocktails and select bar bites on its outdoor patio on California Avenue with new health standards in place.
299 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-521-0443; calave.com
2019: Best Happy Hour

Chef Chu's

Since opening in 1970, Chef Chu's specialty dishes, including its homemade potstickers 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
2019: Best Chinese Restaurant

Coupa Café

Coupa Café 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," taqueros and empanadas. The cafe now offers curbside pickup, contactless outdoor dining and delivers a wide range of products from its online grocery store.
538 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-322-6872; coupacafe.com
2019: Best Coffeehouse

Darbar

According to Palo Alto Weekly readers, nowhere does Indian quite like Darbar, the unassuming fixture on Lytton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto that's been serving up biryani, curries, tandoori, samosas and wickedly good naan for years. There's even more on the menu for dinner.
29 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-6688; digi-net.ws/cus1163/
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Indian Restaurant

Evvia Estiatorio

Evvia Estiatorio is famous for whipping up an unforgettable Greek feast. The Michelin Guide has dubbed the restaurant's modern Greek menu the "best Hellenic fare in the entire Bay Area." Its specialties include everything from lamb chops served straight from the mesquite grill to grilled octopus with lemon juice and olive oil to sea bass, served whole. The restaurant is serving lunch and dinner in its outdoor garden dining terrace seven days a week. Takeout also is available.
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Restaurant to Splurge
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Mediterranean Restaurant

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

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. Take out, delivery and indoor/outdoor dining are available.
180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-329-8457; flemingssteakhouse.com
2019: Best Steakhouse

Joanie's Cafe

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. Outdoor dining available on California Avenue.
405 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-6505; joaniescafepaloalto.com
2019: Best Sunday Brunch
2017 Hall of Fame: Best Breakfast

La Bodeguita del Medio

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. The restaurant is open Tuesday - Saturday for take out and outdoor dining on California Avenue.
463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7762; labodeguita.com
2019: Best Ambiance
2019: Best Bar/Lounge
2019: Best Latin American Restaurant
2019: Best Solo Dining

The Market at Edgewood

The Market at Edgewood is a family-owned neighborhood market that offers a large variety of hand-selected produce from local farms and producers, as well as baked goods, a diverse meat section and a dedicated cheese specialist. The market is offering curbside pick up and delivery. 2170 W Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, 650-665-7590; marketatedgewood.com
2019: Best Produce
2019: Best Grocery Store

Oren's Hummus

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. Patio dining, take out and delivery are available.
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
2019: Best Mediterranean Restaurant
2019: Best Meal Under $20

Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill

Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill is an old-school diner that has been serving shakes since 1923. Everything here is made from scratch, including the 20-plus milkshake flavors on the menu.
566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-3131; paloaltocreamery.com
2019: Best Dining with Kids
2019: Best Milkshake

Palo Alto Sol

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 on family recipes. In recent years, the restaurant has been moving toward sustainability by supporting local farmers and ranchers. The restaurant is now open for outdoor dining and take out.
408 S California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-8840; solrestaurantsca.com
2019: Best Mexican Restaurant

Pizzeria Delfina

Pizzeria Delfina offers its Neapolitan-style pizza in a spacious patio, where trellises, wisteria, Japanese maples and a wall of ivy cool the summer nights and heat lamps await for chillier weather. Patio dining and takeout are available.
651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-353-2208; pizzeriadelfina.com
2019: Best Outdoor Dining

Protégé

Protégé is an approachable yet impressive neighborhood restaurant that features New American cuisine. Just nine months after co-owners Dennis Kelly (master sommelier) and Anthony Secviar (chef), alums from the three-Michelin-star The French Laundry in Yountville, opened in Palo Alto in 2018, the restaurant won a Michelin star. Protégé is open Thursday through Sunday. Take out and patio dining are available.
250 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-494-4181; protegepaloalto.com

2019: Best Restaurant to Splurge

Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream

For more than 40 years, Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream has been churning out small-batch ice cream handmade daily at the back of the shop. The menu boasts more than 48 flavors, including creations such as coffee molasses chip and rose and white chocolate ginger. Customers can order ahead to pick up Ice cream scoops, milkshakes, sundaes and other items to go. The shop is also accepting online donations to "help us stay afloat," according to its website.
3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-493-6553; ricksicecream.com
2019: Best Ice Cream/Gelato

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. The restaurant is open for take out and patio dining.
140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-2530; stmikes.com
2019: Best California Cuisine
2019: Best Romantic Dining

Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw was born in Oregon but has made a name for itself on the West Coast with creative flavors made in small batches using local, organic ingredients. Each outpost is of the place it's located, so the Palo Alto shop, which opened in November 2018, serves flavors unique to the Bay Area, such as freckled mint chip made with chocolate from San Francisco's TCHO and another flavor made with Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam cheese, Acme Bread and sour cherry jam. The shop offers onsite pickup, delivery and orders through its online shop.
250 University Ave. #110, Palo Alto, 650-656-9224; saltandstraw.com
2019: Best New Food/Drink Establishment

Sancho's Taqueria

The variety of burrito options served at Sancho's Taqueria is well worth savoring. The sky's the limit when it comes to portions and ingredients. Choose from 12 different kinds of burritos with eight different meat options, as well as vegetarian fare.
491 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-322 8226; sanchostaqueria.com
2019: Best Burrito

Sprout Cafe

With a menu that includes made-to-order custom salads, Japanese somen noodles, grilled chicken breast, sandwiches and soups, Sprout Cafe proves that healthy fast food does exist. During the pandemic, the restaurant is offering pickup and delivery.
168 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-323-7688; cafesprout.com
2019: Best Salad

Sundance the Steakhouse

Opened in 1974, this steak-lover's restaurant serves specially aged prime-graded steak, to-die-for slow-roasted prime rib and the freshest catches from the sea, like New England sea scallops, Scottish salmon, Australian lobster and Chilean sea bass. Open for indoor and outdoor dining and takeout.
1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-312-6798; sundancethesteakhouse.com
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Steakhouse

Tai Pan

Tai Pan features an extensive menu that includes more than 80 different kinds of Hong Kong-style dim sum, classic dumplings and specialty rice-noodle rolls. Indoor and outdoor dining is available daily and the dinner menu is available for take out during the restaurant's open hours.
560 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 650-329-9168; taipanpaloalto.com
2019: Dim Sum

Tamarine Restaurant

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. Take out and indoor and outdoor dining are available.
546 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-8500; tamarinerestaurant.com
2019: Best Fusion 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. Patio dining and take out are available.The restaurant also offers a family meal menu.
250 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-494-4181; tavernarestaurant.net
2019: Best New Restaurant

Teaspoon Palo Alto

Teaspoon Palo Alto offers a variety of specialty drink flavors — from toasted marshmallow to a virgin mojito — made with all-natural golden cane sugar. The shop also offers shaved snow desserts that come in flavors like banana. Items are available for in-store pick up.
2675 Middlefield Road, Suite C, Palo Alto, 650-272-6734; teaspoonlife.com
2019: Best Boba Tea

Terún

With Neapolitan-style pies baked in a wood-fired oven, Terún provides diners a slice of Italy in Palo Alto. The pizzeria offers a virtually endless choice of creative combinations with toppings like burrata, zucchini, grilled eggplant, artichokes and pears. Terún is offering take out, delivery and restaurant dining on California Avenue through the city's outdoor dining program.
448 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-600-8310; terunpizza.com
2019: Best Pizza
2019: Best Italian Restaurant

Thaiphoon

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. The restaurant offers Patio dining and take out.
543 Emerson St, Palo Alto, 650-323-7700; thaiphoononline.net
2019: Best Thai Restaurant

The Counter

No two burgers at The Counter are the same. The popular restaurant on California Avenue puts a premium on letting you custom-build your burger down to the last detail. The possibilities are endless. The restaurant is offering outdoor dining, pickup and delivery.
369 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-3900; thecounter.com
2019: Best Burgers

The Fish Market

For nearly 43 years, The Fish Market
has been an El Camino Real mainstay serving up traditional fare to satisfy the hardiest of sea-faring souls — fish and chips, cioppino and clam chowder — as well as dishes for the edgier palate. The restaurant and retail market reopened Sept. 3. Take out and curbside service also are available.
3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-493-9188; thefishmarket.com
2019: Best Seafood Restaurant

Fuki Sushi

With chefs trained in Japan, Fuki Sushi executes delicately crafted sushi rolls with well-cooked rice and fresh seafood. Until its sushi bar and private tatami rooms are reopened, the restaurant is offering take out and delivery.
4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-494-9383; fukisushi.com
2019: Best Sushi/Japanese Restaurant

Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels

Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels offers a wide selection of pastries and challah. The stars of the show here, however, are the bagels, which are made fresh every day. Locals know that it's important to come in early so that popular flavors are still available. Even during the early months of the pandemic, customers could be seen waiting (a safe distance apart) outside for their morning bagel after the shop pivoted to curbside service.
477 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-329-0700; 2220-B University Ave., East Palo Alto, 650-322-5700; izzysbrooklynbagels.com
2018 Hall of Fame: Best Bagels

The Old Pro

Instantly recognizable by its pennant-covered interior walls, The Old Pro is known for its happy hour deals and eclectic menu, which includes wings, crispy brussel sprouts and garlic Parmesan tater tots. The restaurant is open and menu items are available for take out and delivery.
541 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-326-1446; oldpropa.com
2019: Best Sports Bar

Tin Pot Creamery

What started as an Ice Cream of the Month club expanded to several storefronts famous near and far for serving thick-and-creamy organic ice cream. The menu includes classic flavors as well as more innovative ones like salted butterscotch and sweet cream with honey balsamic swirl. Ingredients are locally sourced. Menu items are available onsite and for pickup and delivery.
Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real #121, Palo Alto, 650-327-1715; tinpotcreamery.com
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Ice Cream/Gelato

True Food Kitchen

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. The restaurant has made adjustments to its dining room to accommodate for social distancing and other safety measures as it reopens.
180 El Camino Real, #1140, Palo Alto, 650-272-5157; truefoodkitchen.com
2019: Best Vegetarian/Vegan Cuisine

Zareen's

Zareen's is a Michelin Guide restaurant that serves traditional and fusion-style Pakistani and Indian food, including samosas, kebabs and a Punjabi chicken burger with spicy fries made in small batches around the clock. The Palo Alto restaurant is open for outdoor dining and takeout.
365 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-600-8438; zareensrestaurant.com
2019: Best Indian Restaurant

Zola

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. The restaurant is offering Take & Bake items on Fridays and Saturdays. Weekly to-go menu is posted each Wednesday.
565 Bryant St., Palo Alto, 650-521-0651; zolapaloalto.com
2019: Best French Restaurant