Hall of Fame: Second Year
At Evvia Estiatorio , you'll swear the Palo Alto sun is as warm as the Mediterranean's — or maybe that's just the restaurant's award-winning ambiance. Light glints from the copper cookware that adorns the walls and shines off the restaurant's large polished wood tables. With the kitchen partially open to the dining area, cooks are not shy to show their stuff as they whip up authentic Hellenic cuisine. This cozy spot gives a taste of class and a tang of classic Greek flavor. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
La Bodeguita del Medio's quiet, relaxed environment evokes a balmy evening in downtown Havana and so does its food. The Cuban-inspired fare includes juicy steak, fresh seafood and mouth-watering appetizers. Each dish can be paired or preceded by one of La Bodeguita's signature cocktails, including the ever-popular Hemingway. Patrons can come and finish off the night as the Cubans do — with a sweet dessert, a glass of rum and a rich, hand-rolled cigar. 463 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7762; labodeguita.com
Fan-favorite restaurant La Bodeguita del Medio also earned accolades as a Latin-American restaurant, a romantic restaurant and for its unparalleled ambiance. See the complete listing under Ambiance.
Quintessential Palo Alto. St. Michael's Alley has roots dating back to the pre-counterculture days of the late 1950s, when the place was launched as a coffee house on University Avenue and hosted aspiring singers like Joan Baez and Grace Slick. Original owner Vernon Gates, who died last fall, closed the coffee house 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 food — weekend brunch on Emerson, lunch and dinner on Homer — is unbeatable in either venue. 140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-2530; stmikes.com
Chef Chu's is a longtime local favorite for its great service, quality ingredients and consistency. Owner Larry Chu Jr. says that everybody enjoys the selection of specialty dishes such as potstickers, Peking duck and wok-seared rack of lamb, adding that vegetarians will find a parade of entrees to enjoy, including tofu and noodle dishes. 1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 650-948-2696; chefchu.com
Perennially packed Coupa CafŽ has become a Palo Alto gold-medal winner and destination spot, offering Venezuelan coffee, artisan chocolates and arepas (white cornmeal griddle cakes filled with meats and other savory fillings). In addition to salads, quiche and French pastries, Coupa serves up Venezuelan specialties like empanadas, cachapas and pabellon. The saltillo-tiled interior includes a cozy room with a fireplace — or opt for outdoor dining in the protected alcove. Readers also voted Coupa best Solo Dining and best Wi-Fi Hotspot. 538 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-322-6872; coupacafe.com
Dining With Kids
Hall of Fame: Third Year
What youngster wouldn't want to dine at a family-friendly restaurant that features comfy booths, savory food and delicious milkshakes? Kids (with parents in tow) frequent Palo Alto Creamery Fountain & Grill in droves, which has earned the '50s-style eatery a place in the Best Of Hall of Fame. Tyke-friendly menu items include buttermilk pancakes (part of the Creamery's breakfust menu — yep, that's breakfust with a "u"), fresh fruit, baked macaroni and cheese, apple juice and a wealth of other options. 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-3131; 2A Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650-327-3141; paloaltocreamery.com
Little ones love Peninsula Creamery at the corner of Channing Avenue and High Street, a family-owned Palo Alto tradition since 1923. Peninsula Creamery also iced the milkshake competition. See the complete listing under Milkshake.
Maybe it's the delicious blend of California cuisine and southern French cuisine that makes CafŽ Brioche the 2012 Best Of Palo Alto winner; or maybe it's the restaurant's comfortable ambiance in the heart of vibrant California Avenue. Either way, Palo Altans know that there is always something tasty to be had at the cozy bistro-inspired restaurant, whether it's an artichoke-heart omelet for brunch, a jerk-crusted tuna sandwich for lunch or a rich beef bourguignon for dinner. 445 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-8640; cafebrioche-paloalto.com
A touch of class. For special occasions or a regular hangout, Tamarine Restaurant is hands-down favorite in this category, with a large and loyal following. With a sleek elegance on the eastern end of University Avenue downtown, this establishment offers the cutting edge in Vietnamese cuisine, with influences from China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and France. Tamarine exhibits contemporary Vietnamese art and offers private dining as well as a Lunar New Year event. 546 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-8500; tamarinerestaurant.com
Whether looking for an upscale dining spot, a place to meet for drinks or to chat in the coffee bar, Il Fornaio offers it all. White-linen dining is paired with pastas, pizzas, specialty meat dishes and salads. There are classic desserts, such as zabaglione and tiramisu, and specialties such as coffee with grappa. Fresh pasta — including gluten-free — is made on site. The restaurant offers monthly special regional cuisines, from Sardinia to Sicily and Piedmonte to Calabria. Il Fornaio was awarded the 2011 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Reservations recommended. 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 650-853-3888; ilfornaio.com
When a curry craving strikes, Darbar is the deliciously dependable Indian restaurant to beat. From paneer to tikka to vindaloo dishes, Darbar has cuisine for spice-seekers and mild-flavor lovers alike. Darbar also provides smooth mango lassis and cozy chai lattes to top off an Indian feast that's sure to leave you asking for seconds. 129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-6688; darbarcuisine.com
Latin American Restaurant
Readers also favored La Bodeguita del Medio as a romantic restaurant, for its bar/lounge and excellent ambiance. See the complete listing under Ambiance.
Meal Under $20
Cheap and healthy Sprout Cafe wins in this category for its variety of inexpensive and tasty salads, sandwiches and appetizers. Sprout also flourished for its fresh salads. See the complete listing under Salad.
Hall of Fame: Second Year
Evvia brings both traditional Mediterranean food and delicious interpretations of Greek favorites to Palo Alto. The restaurant uses fresh, seasonal ingredients and aims to provide top-notch customer service. Its simple dishes boast signature flavors and textures, bringing fresh ingredients to the forefront of each meal. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
Mediterranean Wraps offers traditional favorites of Middle-Eastern cuisine. Its simple but flavorful falafel wraps, shawermas and hummus plates are tasty and healthy. Catering is also available for any event that needs some Middle-Eastern spice. With two Palo Alto locations and an easy way to order online, Mediterranean Wraps is always a convenient stop for authentic Mediterranean food. 425 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-321-8189; 209 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-289-0866; mediterraneanwraps.com
Hall of Fame: Third Year
A Mexican restaurant with a distinctly warm, family feel, Palo Alto Sol serves food cooked with the owners' family recipes and recipes from Puebla, Mexico. Cool down a spicy mole with a chilly margarita or stick some fresh guacamole on your juicy carne asada. Palo Alto Sol's bright, festive environment and tasty food has earned it a spot in the Best Of Hall of Fame. 408 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-8840; paloaltosol.biz
For those who are tired of hole-in-the-wall burritos and looking for something a little more upscale, there's Reposado. You won't find greasy tacos in foil here, but you can find raw yellowtail with fresh orange Serrano salsa and the much-loved ceviche de huachinango (Pacific Snapper in agua chile cucumber sauce, jicama, mango and red onion). Reposado, which also features a dizzying array of tequilas and wines, is fine dining with a traditional feel. 236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-833-3151; Reposadorestaurant.com
Triathalon champion LYFE Kitchen manages to strike the delicate balance between the three key components of a good restaurant: affordable, healthy and delicious. LYFE Kitchen's diverse menu offers sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads and desserts — all in a fresh, clean, sit-down dining area. The restaurant also caters to vegans and vegetarians with diverse options. LYFE's food is sure to please your taste buds as well as your bathroom scale. 167 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-325-5933; lyfekitchen.com
Outdoor Dining (first place tie)
This year, Cafe Borrone shares the spotlight for exceptional outdoor dining (with Caffe Riace; see below). Borrone offers its patrons a wealth of outdoor seating — beneath the sun and in the shade. Owner Marina Borrone says that customers regularly comment on the high quality of food and service, too, as well as the restaurant's community feel. "They say they absolutely love the people that work here," she says. "They love that it's family and it's community. It has a very special place in their heart." 1010 El Camino Real #110, Menlo Park, 650-327-0830; cafeborrone.com
The welcoming ambiance of Caffe Riace provides the perfect outdoor dining experience. Warm, delicious Italian food coupled with the cafe's elegant, European architectural decor allows you to enjoy your delectable lunch or dinner on the great outdoor patio under the beautiful Palo Alto sunshine or moonlight. 200 Sheridan Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-0407; cafferiace.com
Restaurant to Splurge
Hall of Fame: Third Year
Warm and classy. With its wood-fire aroma and chattering crowds, Evvia was an instant hit when it arrived on the Palo Alto scene in 1995 and has been a perennial favorite. A project of Greek-born real estate developer George Marcus of Los Altos Hills, Evvia offers a wide-ranging menu of fresh and delicious Hellenic cuisine. 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-326-0983; evvia.net
Whether it's a Bong Su Aperitif, Drunken Octopus, Hoisin Lamb Chops or Chili-Lime Aubergine, Tamarine Restaurant is an elegant place to go big for a special occasion. This sophisticated establishment was also voted a fusion favorite. See the complete listing under Fusion.
Hall of Fame: Third Year
Piety and romance don't necessarily go hand in hand, but Palo Alto's top romantic-dining destination is a saint. St. Michael's Alley has been charming guests for years, earning it a spot in the Best Of Hall of Fame. The soft-glow ambiance, enticing menu (including summer zucchini tart, seared wild sea scallops and tiramisu) and robust wine selection help set the table for a truly romantic outing both you and your date will savor. 140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-2530; stmikes.com
Romantics also swooned over La Bodeguita del Medio as a Latin-American restaurant, for its bar/lounge and excellent ambiance. See the complete listing under Ambiance.
Hall of Fame: Third Year
When it comes to eating alone, Best Of Hall of Famer Cafe Borrone is the place to be. One of these reasons is Chef Josh Pebbles, who started working at Borrone when he was 18. He now heads up the kitchen, delivering a constantly changing but always delicious menu. Pebbles says that his dinner specials are the most popular, from in-house-made pasta to ratatouille with polenta. 1010 El Camino Real #110, Menlo Park, 650-327-0830; cafeborrone.com
Top solo-dining spot Coupa CafŽ was also praised as a Wi-Fi hotspot and the best coffee house. See the complete listing under Coffee House.
Hall of Fame: First Year
After five years of scoring the top spot in the Sports Bar category, The Old Pro has earned its way into the Best Of Hall of Fame. The honor comes as no surprise to Palo Alto-area sports fans that have long been frequenting the downtown bar/restaurant. Where else can you find 13 HD plasma-screen TVs, a cornucopia of menu options, thirst-quenching beverages and a mechanical bull? In the sports-bar category, this place truly is a pro. 541 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-326-1446; oldpropa.com
One of Menlo Park's most popular establishments has won over Palo Alto Weekly readers as the area's top sports bar. People flock to The Dutch Goose, founded in 1966, not only for its flavorful food (the deviled eggs are heavenly) and diverse beer selection, but also for its inviting atmosphere and sports-viewing opportunities. "The Goose" boasts eight plasma televisions and the walls are decorated with sporty dŽcor featuring local faves like the San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants. And the restaurant's latest addition — a new back-patio bar dubbed "The Duck Blind" — makes it easy to enjoy a ball game and the sunshine simultaneously. 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park, 650-854-3245; dutchgoose.net
The venerable St. Michael's Alley does not accept reservations for weekend brunch, but it's a brunch worth waiting for. St. Mike's also won for best California cuisine, which is served for lunch and dinner in its second location around the corner on Homer Avenue. See the complete listing under California Cuisine.
Walking into Fuki Sushi you know instantly that you are in for a treat. The traditional Japanese dŽcor and clothing worn by the waitresses accentuates the delicious sushi on the menu. Try the fire dragon roll for a smoky taste of sushi that will leave you wanting more. Fuki Sushi also has tatami rooms for traditional Japanese dining and a plethora of sake options. 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-494-9383; fukisushi.com
Hall of Fame: Third Year
Start with fresh ingredients, combine with 25+ years of chef Wanna Vongampai, and voila: You've cooked up a major winner and a well-earned entry into the Hall of Fame for Thaiphoon. The menu is a tad overwhelming, chock full of standards (Green Papaya Salad, Mongolian Beef, Pad Thai) but with a few twists all their own (Ruby Grapefruit Salad, Spicy Lamb Saag, Noodles Green Curry). And there's no MSG. 543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-323-7700; thaiphoonrestaurant.com
Going to Rice Thai Cuisine alone would be like trying to run a relay race without an entire team. The joy is in tasting the exquisite variety of dishes, and sharing the experience with friends. Even the spice-aversive can find much to adore: Here's a suggestion for a can't-be-beat dinner: Start with Chicken Dumplings and an order of Chicken Satay with a tangy peanut sauce; then move on to Papaya Salad; then to a stretch from traditional Pad Thai — Pad See-ew, flat noodles with broccoli and a black soy sauce; Sizzling Duck; and one of the many curries, served with veggies and tofu. Don't forget to bring four friends. 3924 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-812-0139; ricethaipaloalto.com
Chef Charlie Ayers took all he learned from feeding the techies at Google and turned it into Palo Alto's top pick for vegetarian grub: Calafia CafŽ and Market A-Go-Go. Calafia, located in Town & Country Village, offers a wide variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options — and makes every option a pleasure to dine on. The extensive menu puts new spins on old favorites and includes some meat dishes for the non-vegetarian patrons. 130 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-322-9200; calafiapaloalto.com
The hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley can be draining, but there are a few Palo Alto gems that help make it easy to unwind. One such place is The Wine Room, a quaint and inviting wine bar in downtown Palo Alto. The cozy atmosphere and diverse selection of wines have made The Wine Room a Peninsula favorite. The Room's options include white wines from Sonoma County, Austria and France; reds from Toscana, Mendocino and San Luis Obispo; and sparkling wines from Oregon and Italy, among others. And there are plenty of tasty appetizers — such as "Fromage du Jour" (domestic and imported cheeses) or marinated olives — to complement the variety of vino. 520 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 650-322-1292; thepawineroom.com