Reality Bites (Food & Drink)



The line out the door every Sunday morning attests to House of Bagels' popularity -- plus its location as the place to schmooze while ordering a shmear. The bagels are authentic -- boiled, then baked -- but they're not so hide-bound as to exclude pesto cheese or raisin cinnamon. Early birds can score all-in-one bagels with their lattes; slugabeds have to settle for one of the other 20 flavors. Can't decide? Maybe branch out to a sandwich or pastry -- and on weekends, the coveted black-and-white cookie. 526 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-322-5189.

Hall of Fame: First Year

Gruff Brooklyn charm meets California creativity. Everyone seems to love Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels: the kosher connoisseurs savoring the whitefish spread, the execs chomping on power bagels, the casual neighborhood diner who wants extra avocados. Purists can savor the Lox Special, a comforting non-nonsense star that proudly boasts no vegetables. Those with a hankering for adventure can line their toasty offerings with olive, jalapeno, basil or cucumber-and-scallion spreads. 477 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-329-0700.


Woven cafe chairs, Cinzano umbrellas and small round tables help give Douce France that Continental feel ... and it doesn't hurt that often there are actual French people here speaking actual French. In this European milieu, bakery options cover all manner of pastries, cakes and crepes, including delicate pastel macarons and tarts just big enough to be crowned with a single strawberry. 855 El Camino Real #104, Palo Alto; 650-322-3601.


When you see an armadillo wearing cowboy boots, you know you're in Armadillo Willy's. The BBQ joint has served up Texas-style barbecue in various Bay Area locations since 1983. Three types of ribs and nearly everything else are cooked over an oak-wood fire. Armadillo Willy's barbecue sauce will stick to your insides, in a good way. 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos; 650-941-2922.


When yet another bowl of cereal makes you want to skip the a.m. meal, locals recommend Hobee's. The Bay Area chain of homey cafes serves a range of lunch and dinner items, but it's best known for its omelets and scrambles, hashbrowns and coffeecake, with breakfast served all day. Joanie's Cafe came in a close second with readers. 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-856-6124; 67 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-327-4111; 2312 Central Expressway, Mountain View, 650-968-6050.


The burgers at this bustling hub are as complex and tasteful as the diners who design them. The Counter offers its customers a vast array of crispy toppings and flavorful sauces, including the trendy (basil pesto and chipotle aioli) and the exotic (tzatziki sauce, Russian dressing and ginger soy glaze). Though burgers are the main draw, the sweet-potato fries are guaranteed to make anyone's short list for Best Supporting Dish. 369 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-321-3900.


Despite its relative infancy (the Palo Alto restaurant opened in November 2009), Chipotle has already found its way into Palo Altans' hearts -- and stomachs. The Chipotle burrito, simple yet savory, earned top honors from Weekly readers. This appetizing offering features enough southwestern ingredients to make even Clint Eastwood's mouth water (think cilantro-lime rice, vegetarian black beans, braised carnitas and more). 2675 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-462-9154.


Despite two remodels in the past three years, the Village Cheese House in Palo Alto's Town & Country Village retains its standing as a much-loved local sandwich place. Those who remember the old days will be surprised to find the place cozier and more focused on sandwiches. After 48 years, Frank and Donald Staehnke sold the business to Palo Altans Noah and Sarah Hiken in 2007. But classic favorites -- old-fashioned Swiss, pickle, house spread and meat on Dutch crunch, for example -- haven't really changed. 855 El Camino Real #157, Palo Alto; 650-326-9251.


Anyone who's ever reluctantly volunteered to do the weekly grocery shopping and ended up wandering the aisles aimlessly, overwhelmed by the sea of products, can appreciate the unusual set-up of Trader Joe's. The grocery chain is popular for its prepackaged frozen foods and individual meals for the most clueless of cooks. It also has an extensive selection of wines and specialty items. 855 El Camino Real #140, Palo Alto; 650-327-7018.

Ice Cream/Gelato

Folks line up for Gelato Classico -- after a movie at the nearby Aquarius Theatre, before the movie, perhaps even during the movie. It's that good. Flavors that win particular praise include creme brulee, ginger, spumoni and espresso. On a hot day, you might also go for a fruity sorbetto. 435 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-327-1317.

Hall of Fame: First Year

Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream has been churning out 48 handmade ice cream delicacies for 35 years, creating old favorites and exotic, unusual flavors. Rose, lavender mocha fudge, frappes, shakes and sundaes can all be had at Rick's micro-creamery. Fudge is another specialty at Rick's, including orange creamsicle and mocha fudge. 3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; 650-493-6553.


La Bodeguita del Medio also took top honors in the Cocktail Lounge category. Cruise on that way to see the full listing.


It's likely that this sweet concoction also helped the Palo Alto Creamery score a Hall of Fame in the Dining With Kids category. Read the full write-up there.


Pizza is a meal of choice for movie lovers the world over, and local diners have picked Ramona's as the top spot for a tasty pie. The popular eatery offers pizzas whole or by the slice, not to mention a bevy of other menu choices (such as sandwiches and calzones). You can't expect to find Julia Roberts or Matt Damon behind the counter (a la their 1988 comedic charmer "Mystic Pizza"), but you can expect to find a delicious meal. 2313 Birch St., Palo Alto; 650-322-2181.

Hall of Fame: First Year

The fresh ingredients and unusual varieties make Applewood Inn the Hall of Fame choice for pizza for Weekly readers this year. Diners can choose from a list of signature pies that include the Scandinavian, which features smoked salmon and sour cream; and the Budapest, rich with Hungarian sausage. 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-324-3486.


Ever wonder why, when you're sleuthing out a new outfit at Stanford Shopping Center, you suddenly crave a peach? It could be the free samples at Sigona's Farmers Market, where locally, organically grown produce is just a few steps away. If you're overwhelmed by choice, check out the online recipe section for what to do with half a flat of strawberries, or how to make corn-on-the-cob amazing (think: parsley, basil, tarragon, chives, sage and chervil). 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 650-329-1340.

Hall of Fame: Third Year

Technicolor tangerines, tomatillos and tubers bring more color to fruit- and veggie-lovers' worlds than any Turner-ized classic film. Whole Foods Market in downtown Palo Alto has long been popular for its bright pyramids of produce greeting visitors at the front door. Even the grumpiest Hollywood producer might green-light a few bags' worth. 774 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-0539.


You don't have to be a star chef to build your perfect salad at Pluto's. Its buffet of toppings -- which includes beets, bleu cheese, jicama and sweet walnuts -- caters to every palate. Carnivores can supplement their leafy creations with slices of turkey, chicken or tri-tip steak, while diners looking for something warmer may opt for Neptune's Stuffing or the Pan-Cooked Vegetable Galaxy. 482 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-853-1556.


The Fish Market is not the place for the indecisive: Hundreds of items on the menu lure Weekly readers to sample something new on repeat visits. It's unusual to stop by and not run into someone you know. And what draws people? The extensive array of seafood, including classic chowders, oyster bar, fish 'n' chips and fresh mesquite-grilled fish. And for the cook-it-yourselfers, the retail market offers a school of fresh fish choices. 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-493-8862.

Sunday Brunch

Your mouth will be forgiven for watering when you step inside St. Michael's Alley and your eyes lock onto the fluffy omelets and saucy Eggs Benedict already on other diners' plates. For here is a Sunday Brunch deserving of the capital "S" and capital "B." Regulars say the friendly staff is one of the attractions, along with the Blue Monkey pancakes -- with blueberries and bananas tucked inside. (Although St. Mike's has mostly moved to Homer Avenue, it still serves brunch on Emerson.) 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-326-2530.


Formerly on El Camino Way, Palo Alto's Su Hong Eatery & Restaurant recently reopened in the old Denny's on El Camino Real. Regardless of the location, the restaurant has long been a take-out favorite for local families, and now many dishes come in two sizes. In a recent review, Weekly food writer Sheila Himmel noted that Su Hong might have healing powers as well: Many folks swear by the hot and sour soup for easing head colds. 4256 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-493-4664.


It should come as no surprise that one of downtown Palo Alto's most popular places earned the top accolade this year. Fraiche, a magnet for hungry yogurt lovers both young and old, features homemade, organic yogurt made with top-notch (and often local) ingredients. Not to be confused with Mel Brooks' olive-skinned sage in "Spaceballs," the fare at Fraiche is always fresh and full of flavor. 644 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 650-566-0055.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.