Worth a Look
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 32, 1995

Best of '95

Epicurean delights

Year after year, no single category draws more votes than this one. And this year, readers decided on a new champion. The relative newcomer on the bagel block, Noah's New York Bagels, located at Bryant Street and University Avenue--Palo Alto's so-called "hot (coffee) corner"--toppled the three-time consecutive champion Bagel Works. Noah's, which offers 14 varieties of freshly baked bagels each day, drew 190 votes. Bagels here cost 50 cents each or $5.45 per dozen (one free with each dozen). Handmade bialys are available for 75 cents. Mini bagels go for 35 cents or $3.60 per dozen. Or get an onion schtick for 50 cents. Lots of cream cheese shmears, knishes and smoked fish and salads available as well. This place offers a genuine Manhattan menu, including a Sunday New York Times for $3.50. House of Bagels came in third.

Noah's, 278 University Ave., Palo Alto, 473-0751

Peninsula natives John Berwald and John Carroll made a serious research tour of Texas before opening Armadillo Willy's in 1983. The restaurant features "real Texas BBQ," including Willy's Famous Baby Back Pork Ribs and the award-winning St. Louis cut spareribs. The Los Altos location (there are also AWs in Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and two in San Jose) sports shiny aluminum-siding walls, a big stone hearth and southwestern scenes on the walls. Even if you've never been there, you still may be familiar with their food from one of the many events they regularly cater. And who is Willy? An actual armadillo, of course--the winner, in fact, of an armadillo race that Berwald and Carroll read about in a local newspaper while they were on that research trip to Texas way back when. Armadillo Willy's topped last year's winner, MacArthur Park, as readers' choice for "Best BBQ." Tied for third were Goldie's and Tony Roma's.

Armadillo Willy's, 1031 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos, 941-2922

By the time this issue hits the streets, Phil Nasr should have reopened Harmony Bakery. The home of Palo Alto's best bread is moving to 2750 Middlefield Road. Nasr says the new location is bigger and better, and will be more accessible to his customers, who buy between 500 and 1,000 pounds of bread from the bakery every day. Although Harmony Bakery has been around for 40 years, Nasr has only been in charge for seven (he used to work as the pastry chef at Barbarossa European Restaurant in Redwood City). Nasr brought to the bakery a commitment to all-natural excellence. "We have no doughnuts, no preservatives and no artificial colors," the 38-year-old, lifelong Palo Alto resident says. But the real secret to his great bread is its freshness, Nasr says. "I use the best ingredients I can get my hands on. All of our doughs are fresh doughs. Nothing is frozen." Second place went to Il Fornaio, and last year's winner, Le Boulanger, netted third place.

Harmony Bakery, 2750 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 323-1815.

Once again voters have spoken, and they say that when it comes to any morning meal, the place to go is Hobee's, a four-time winner in the category of best breakfast with 137 votes. Hobee's also received 52 votes and won for the second year for best brunch, nudging out Late for the Train, which received 35. All the usual breakfast options are available at Hobee's, including such delectables as the Stanford "Cardinal" omelets containing chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, spinach and cheese, topped with tomatillo sauce for $6.95. A variety of scrambles--featuring everything from turkey to garlic--are also available for around $5. And don't forget the BDBiT (Best Darn Breakfast in Town) for $3.95. Of course, topping it all off is the the famous "Hobeemade" blueberry coffeecake, which has a bigger following than many major political figures. On weekends, Hobee's doles out samples of the coffeecake to people waiting for their waffles, scrambles, toast and eggs. Runners-up for best breakfast were Late for the Train with 30 votes and the Peninsula Grill and Fountain with 27. Coming in third for best brunch was Holiday Inn with 21 votes.

Hobee's, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 856-6124, and 67 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-4111

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's clearly the voters' take when it comes to deciding the winner of the best burger contest each year. The favorite once again is perennial champion Kirk's on California Avenue. Kirk's does it simple and does it best. The meat is ground locally and seasoned by Kirk's employees with tomato soup and bread crumbs, then molded into one-third-pound patties and barbecued over hot coals. You can top off your burger with just about anything you want. They've been doing it that way since 1949 when Kirk's first opened. One of the most popular offerings is the Pineapple Burger for $4.20, which you have to try to appreciate. The Kirk's Burger--which is actually a steak burger--is also a favorite for $4.05. Kirk's garnered 129 first-place votes. The Oasis in Menlo Park was second with 38. The Peninsula Grill and Fountain was a close third with 35.

Kirk's Restaurant, 361 California Ave., 326-6159

The favorite burrito again this year was Pollo's which beat out Andale and Una Mas in a race that each year seems to have more competitors. Pollo's Rotisserie Chicken, which also won for best meal under $5, has built a reputation for its giant burritos which range from the Senor Veggie chico for $3.39 to the carne asada (steak) supremo for $5.99 which includes guacamole, sour cream and fresh hand-cut salsa. You choose white or whole wheat tortillas. This place also offers slow mesquite roasted chicken, chicken quesadillas, chicken tacos and stuffed baked potatoes with chicken. If you are in the mood to drink something new, try horchata, a Mexican drink made of rice, meal, water, sugar and cinnamon. In the burrito category, Pollo's received 61 votes, Andale garnered 49 and Una Mas was a close third with 43. For cheap eats, Taco Bell and Andale tied for second place while Una Mas came in third.

Pollo, 543 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 473-0212, and 683 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 853-1200

Extra-frothy cappuccino is what makes Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park the choicest entry on the espresso menu for the fourth year in a row. The flagship of the cappuccino fleet, this large venue has indoor and outdoor tables to seat its massive clientele. The people-watching opportunities are unlimited, and there is plenty of foam for all. Second place for was awarded to the stylish Caffe Verona in downtown Palo Alto on Hamilton and third place went to Starbucks.

Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 327-0830

The runaway choice for Best Cake is The Prolific Oven. Owned by Menlo Park resident Harriet Spier, the bakery specializes in cakes, breads, muffins and cookies of Spier's invention. But it is best-known for its cakes--chocolate cake, carrot cake, fresh strawberry cake--the list goes on. The bakery's best-sellers are chocolate cakes with variations: chocolate cake with rum cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake with coffee cream cheese frosting, chocolate orange almond, chocolate on chocolate. Wedding cakes, a specialty, come adorned with gorgeous sprays of fresh flowers. At Passover the bakery makes specialty cakes using matzoh meal, and recently introduced the new chocolate Passover Decadence cake. Spier also has a reputation for being one of the most environmentally conscious businesswomen in town. She recycles or composts everything from newspapers to banana peels to coffee grounds, and donates leftovers to local food closets. Runners-up in this category were Just Desserts and a third-place tie between Draeger's and the Palo Alto Baking Co.

The Prolific Oven, 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-8485

Su Hong, which won again for Best Chinese Restaurant, has built its reputation on familiarity--all the traditional favorites are here--and convenience, offering takeout service that is utilized constantly by workers and students on tight budgets and tighter schedules. The menu is standard as far as Chinese restaurants go, but location and quality make Su Hong a favorite among many. Mandarin Gourmet was second once again. Jing Jing was third.

Su Hong Restaurant, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852; 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 493-3836

Black and white, tried and true, the winner in this year's new category of "best chocolate fix" was See's Candies. Started in Pasadena in 1921 by Canadian immigrants Mrs. See, 71, and her son, the company next year will mark its 75th anniversary of "making people smile." See's has been in Palo Alto since the 1940s, and opened the Stanford Shopping Center store in 1956. The chocolatier does nearly half of its business volume during the Christmas season, but Palo Alto fans come any day of the year for all-time favorites like Bordeaux creams, chocolate butter and, of course, boxed assorted chocolates. Runners-up in the chocolate category were Prolific Oven and Just Desserts.

See's Candies, 123 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-8274

Is it any coincidence that the restaurant that swept the comfort food category last year and this year also consistently takes top honors in the milkshake division? Ah, the Peninsula Fountain and Grill, where even vegetarians have been known to consider the virtues of a carnivorous existence. Where some of the most devoted calorie counters have stopped their tabulating. Where many a cholesterol-phobe has come to believe--over a "breakfust" of bacon and eggs, or a mountainous helping of meatloaf and mashed potatoes (extra gravy)--that it's all in the genes anyway, so we might as well indulge. (In moderation, of course.) It's comforting just to walk in the doors of this downtown establishment, with its marbled Formica table-tops, '50s-style decor and nostalgic advertisements on the walls. The grill easily beat out its closest competitors in the Comfort Food category: Good Earth received second place, and Hobee's was third. Just be prepared to wait for a coveted booth. This divine diner is packed night and day.

No matter how long the wait, though, you can always go straight to the register and order one of the finest milkshakes in the dairy-drinking world. This is no hyperbole. Just look at the margin by which the Fountain and Grill consistently wins this category every year. It took first place this time with 268 votes, followed by Baskin-Robbins in second place with seven votes and Rick's in third with six. With ice cream purchased from the Peninsula Creamery, the Fountain and Grill concocts its icy ambrosia from three to four scoops of ice cream mixed with syrup and milk and blended to the right consistency. It's as old-fashioned a milkshake as you'll find in this frozen yogurt world, and it comes in 18 flavors, including pineapple. Or you can order a low-fat sherbet freeze. But why kid yourself? After the roast beef special, you might as well just go for one more taste of comfort-food heaven.

Peninsula Fountain and Grill, 566 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 323-3131

At Fresh Choice, kids 5 and under eat free. Youngsters 6-12 can chow down for half of what grown-ups pay. And, best of all, the soft-serve ice cream is unlimited. (Don't worry, mom, so is the spinach salad.) It's hard to get more family-oriented than Fresh Choice, a chain with outposts at the Stanford Shopping Center and in Menlo Park. You might not want to head to this all-you-can-eat soup and salad mecca on a first date, but if it's the evening to give mom (or dad) a break from the kitchen, Fresh Choice gets the nod from Weekly readers as the top family restaurant. Last year, the restaurant tied for first place with perennial favorite, Hobee's, and this year it moves ahead by 16 votes. With row upon row of kid-friendly nourishment, from Jell-O cubes to pizza, blueberry muffins to chicken soup, Fresh Choice offers something for even the pickiest little palate. And between pasta with pesto and Caesar salad, there's bound to be something to satisfy the bigger stomachs in the family as well. The Peninsula Fountain and Grill netted third place.

Fresh Choice, 379 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 322-6995, and 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 323-4061

It may be the fastest fast-food restaurant on Earth, but McDonald's beat out the cream of Palo Alto's fine dining scene in the race for the best french fries. It should come as no surprise. Everyone knows that McDonald's makes the tastiest, saltiest french fries. Forget about Shamrock shakes and Happy Meals. McDonald's biggest draw will always be the small, frozen potato strips that high school-age employees fry throughout the day. Even peerless gourmet chefs can't compete, although three other hamburger restaurants mustered enough votes for runner-up status. Second place went to Peninsula Fountain and Grill, and third was a tie between Burger King and Chili's.

McDonald's Restaurant, 190 Stanford Shopping Center, 327-0560; 3128 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-7161; 1100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 321-1813; and 2401 University Ave., East Palo Alto, 326-6090.

If food is your passion and you are looking for only the very best ingredients for that special meal, Draeger's Supermarket is the place to find them. From saffron to specially imported Greek olives or fresh brie cheese, this Menlo Park mainstay has what you need. At the full-service deli counter you can buy anything from roast turkey with all the trimmings to lasagna, ambrosia salad or a fresh made-to-order sandwich. The spectacular produce presentation will make your mouth water as your eyes skim over photogenic rows of tomatoes, bright green peppers and Fuji apples. Helpful and very knowledgeable staff can help you pick the perfect bottle of wine from the store's connoisseur wine collection to go with the right cut of meat from the butcher shop. Beautiful wood columns rise to the opulent cafe upstairs which offers table service for breakfast and lunch, or a place shoppers can pause for a glass of wine or a cappuccino. Draeger's rates A-plus in every department, and easily won accolades from the most Weekly readers for best grocery, edging out Whole Foods and Safeway, which came in second and third.

Draeger's Supermarket, 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park, 688-0677

This is a new category this year, but the winner is already a hot spot among Palo Alto's tastebud-searing set. Who else but Jing Jing, the Chinese restaurant where eyes have been known to water just upon entering the establishment? One has to wonder, after a bowl of their hot and sour soup, why they even bother with the "sour" in the name. The kung pao chicken, chock full of peanuts, is another fiery favorite here. Ask for lots of water, bring something to mop that brow, and settle in for some of the spiciest culinary sensations this side of the Szechwan province. Or ask for one of their milder alternatives. There's plenty here, even for non-chili-heads. Mango Cafe, with its piquant Caribbean menu and motto of "mo hotta, mo betta," came in second. Siam Garden was third.

Jing Jing, 443 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 328-6885.

When that craving for something sweet, creamy and cold with some whipped cream on top takes over, Weekly readers flock to Baskin-Robbins' two locations in Palo Alto. Both stores are favorite places to drop in at any time of the day, whether it's for a cappuccino blast, a single scoop of one's favorite delight or an imaginatively decorated ice cream cake for a last-minute celebration. This is the place for chocoholics, peachoholics, butter toffee swirloholics, or those who prefer frozen yogurt. Whether it's mint chocolate chocolate chip, or fat-free raspberry sorbet for those who insist on dieting even in an ice cream store, this popular chain emerges on top. Double Rainbow, last year's winner, came in second while Rick's was a close third.

Baskin-Robbins 31 Ice Cream and Yogurt Store, 2615 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 327-1636; 267 University Ave., Palo Alto, 325-2100; and 863 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 323-9335.

Tucked away in a small corner of Stanford Shopping Center, Gaylord Indian Restaurant is an oasis of savory Indian cuisine. Their lavish selection of spicy Indian recipes a la Tandoori (yogurt dipped and roasted) is complemented by a wide array of breads. It is easy to taste why Weekly readers have chosen Gaylord for the fourth time. Though spices--ground by the chefs themselves--are applied generously to most dishes, tall cold Taj Majal beer reinforcements are kept not far from the dining room. All of the chefs were trained in India and have been at the restaurant since its inception 13 years ago. Enjoy your meal in Gaylord's luxurious dining room. Janta came in second, and Swagat was third.

Gaylord Indian Restaurant, 317 Stanford Shopping Center, 326-8761

If you're in the mood for a luxurious pasta dinner in an authentic Italian setting, take the recommendation of Weekly readers who voted for Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante as best Italian restaurant. You can watch the chefs prepare your meal right in front of you at the counter while you munch on crusty bread dipped in olive oil and sip a glass of chianti. If linguini or cannelloni doesn't strike your fancy, there is a delicious selection of pizza, or an oakwood-roasted meat may be what you're looking for. The mirrored walls, authentic Italian bar and patio dining area work together to add taste to the environment as well as the food. Every month, the restaurant adds special dishes to its menu, highlighting a specific region of Italy. Palo Alto's Osteria was second in readers' minds, and Carpaccio in Menlo Park came in third.

Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana Restaurante, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 853-3888

This was a new category this year, but by the response of voters, you'd think this has been on the ballot for years. The clear favorite was the popular Juice Club at Town and Country Village, which garnered 164 votes to 24 for Whole Foods. Third place was Country Sun with four votes. This new establishment, which started in San Luis Obispo in 1990, has become a mecca for those interested in healthy fast food. The Juice Club offers a variety of smoothies ranging from the orange, strawberry and banana-filled "The Ironman/woman" for $3.95 to the guava and pineapple laced "Guava Gulp" for $3.10. With each smoothie customers are also given their choice of two additional ingredients, including protein powder, ginseng, calcium bee pollen, oat bran, wheat germ and a nutrient powder known as the "Juice Boost." Fresh orange and carrot juices are also available, as well as healthy snacks, health books and juicers.

Juice Club, 69 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto 325-2582

For cinco anos running, Chevy's, just across the Atherton border in Redwood City, has garnered the most votes in the Mexican restaurant category. This efficient "Fresh Mex" chain offers speedy service, huge steaming plates of enchiladas, sizzling fajitas, super-fresh tortillas made every 30 seconds and salsa that should be classified as an addictive substance. Lively, friendly and big enough to accommodate the largest party, Chevy's is a popular after-work margarita spot, as well as a bustling place for lunch and dinner. In second place was Andale in downtown Palo Alto, while Compadres Mexican Bar and Brill was third.

Chevy's, 2907 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 367-6892

The shell of a vintage building decked out in brasserie style is pleasant place to enjoy a wonderful meal and a glass or two of fine Napa wine. Stars Palo Alto, the Southern outpost of chef Jeremiah Tower's San Francisco eateries, serves up new-American meals at reasonable prices, starting with crab cakes with remoulade and a Belgian endive and cucumber salad at $9.75 and moving on to poached halibut with chanterelles at $19.50. This is one restaurant that will please the palate without breaking the bank. Taking second was Mike's Cafe Etc., followed by Left at Albuquerque.

Specializing in California cuisine, Stars offers a range of dishes including fillet mignon, rack of lamb and salmon for that special occasion meal. With an outdoor setting and a Mediterranean feel, Stars sets no dress code, but sees patrons with styles ranging from formal tuxedos to the "casual chicness" of blue jeans. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Be sure to call for reservations. Voted second place for special occasions was Chez T.J., with Chantilly in third.

Stars Palo Alto, 265 Lytton Ave., 321-4466

When you're looking for that cozy place to take someone special and enjoy dining al fresco, look no further than the Empire Tap Room. Formerly the location housed Le Mersault, but the menu and decor have changed from the previous wine-and-crepes selections. Now there's a wide selection to choose from, whether it's fish & chips, an 18-ounce grilled New York steak or a smoked salmon pizza. There's also a good variety of salads and sandwiches, chops and chili, potatoes both herb-roasted and french-fried, plus some scrumptious desserts and an interesting wine list. For those who don't wish to enjoy the quiet tables outdoors, there are roomy, high-backed booths inside the tastefully appointed establishment. The most publicized new restaurant in town, Stars, was well back in second place, with Il Fornaio a close third.

Empire Tap Room, 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 321-3030

Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market rolls over the competition once again in the Best Pasta category. One reason is the giant, well-stocked refrigerator displaying fresh sauces and Florentine's homemade pasta, all packaged nicely and ready to take home. This San Jose-based chain, owned by the Del Monaco family, serves up all the traditional Northern Italian pasta dishes, pizza with toppings like prosciutto and fresh basil, and a great bag lunch special for $5-$5.75, depending on the sauce you choose. When dining in the restaurant, try not to fill up on the divine garlic bread and creamy butter-cheese spread. You'll need to save room for the hearty portions--and maybe a tastefully presented tiramisu. Finishing second in the pasta category was Il Fornaio, while Osteria came in third.

Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Market, 560 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 326-5295

Only the chef knows for sure what goes into the rich crust and special spices of the pizzas at Applewood Inn, but that's good enough to make it the most popular pizzeria for five years in a row. Customers can get their pizza with exotic toppings or the traditional kind. Either way, hungry lovers of this cuisine keep coming back for more, despite prices you won't find at a cook-it-at-your-place establishment. Applewood again won by a margin of more than 2-1, with Round Table edging Ramona's for second place this year.

Applewood Inn, 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-3486

Fish lovers know there's nothing like fresh fish, and there's also no shortage of places to find it around here. But Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park tops the poll again this year by a wide margin, with more than 40 varieties of fresh local fish sold from its sparkling-clean facility. Founded 66 years ago by Bill Cook, the market specializes in fresh fish bought from local fisherman. Whether you are planning to barbecue Hawaiian ahi, deep-fry calamari or toss a crab salad, our readers say Cook's is the place to go. In second place was The Fish Market in Palo Alto, while Draeger's Market in Menlo Park was third.

Cook's Seafood Market, 751 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-2231

Getting fresh produce is easy, and now there are more choices than ever. But those who fret about not being able to find crisp carrots, perfect peaches or scrumptious strawberries will find gastronomic happiness at Monterey Market. The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables in this Stanford Shopping Center magnate of markets will color for your table and health to your diet. But while Monterey Market was the top vote-getter again this year, the local weekend farmer's markets in Palo Alto and Menlo Park maintained a solid following in second. Whole Foods finished third again this year.

Monterey Market, 399 Stanford Shopping Center, 329-1340

This is a competitive category, but for the fourth year in a row, passing up Country Sun and Mollie Stone's, Whole Foods Market is the clear winner. The market's aisles are filled with freshly milled unbleached flour, millet, barley and other grains, and bulk dispensers containing fresh olive oil and tamari. The vitamin and herb sections are stocked with a gold mine of ginseng, rose hips and multiple brands of vitamins and minerals. This is a combination grocery store, deli, bakery, health food store, salad bar and place to sit and eat lunch. Whole Foods offers a broad selection of organic foods, from bananas to frozen macaroni and cheese dinners made with all natural ingredients. If you have a question, the friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff is at your service.

Organically grown produce from local farms, recycled paper products, biodegradable detergents, hormone, steroid and antibiotic-free meat and lots of recycle bins in front of the store--is it any wonder our readers also chose Whole Foods Market as the best environmentally conscious store? As part of its health and civic-mindedness, the store offers many services such as lectures on health issues and free pamphlets on topics such as vitamins, recycling and sports nutrition. For diversity, there is Zen party mix, papaya spears, and Guatamala Antigua coffee. Store hours are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Runners-up for most environmentally conscious store were Earthsake and Nature Company.

Whole Foods Market, 774 Emerson St., 326-8676

Whether it's marinated steak or fresh shrimp, Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry has the winning combination of quality, friendly and helpful service. Besides the wide array of meats, they also have a delectable selection of spices, dressings and gourmet dishes like Thai chicken salad and fresh bread. This upscale meat market is far from a typical butcher shop, with freshly cooked turkey, chicken, ribs and sausages available daily. Schaub's is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Draeger's in Menlo Park again finished second, while JJ&F Market in Palo Alto was third.

Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry, 395 Stanford Shopping Center, 325-6328

Wine connoisseurs agree on the best place to go when looking for a bottle of fermented grapes. Whether it is a Jordan cabernet or Gallo table wine from 1994, people know to go to Beltramo's Wines and Liquors. Beltramo's, founded in 1882, has 4,000 different selections of wine, a tasting room, in-house wine consultants--and if that isn't enough, there is a store in Sharon Park too. Finishing second was Trader Joe's while third place went to Vin, Vino, Wine.

Beltramo's Wines and Liquors, 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 325-2806; 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park, 854-7545

If you're trying to impress that special someone, our readers agree that the best place to take a first date is MacArthur Park Restaurant. This 14-year-old restaurant, which is located in a historical landmark, was the site of a U.S.O. Center during World War I. The restaurant's specialties range from pork baby back ribs and grilled fresh fish to dishes such as duck and lamb chops. If afterward you crave something sweet, MacArthur's Park has desserts to satisfy the sweetest of sweet tooths. Judy's mud pie is a special coffee and chocolate ice cream filling in a chocolate cookie crust served with hot fudge and nuts. Their turtle pie is a chocolate and cream filling in a pecan and butter crust sitting in a pool of hot caramel. For those seeking something especially intimate, the restaurant has loft seating upstairs which offers a private dining room atmosphere with an open balcony. Behind by just one vote was Gordon Biersch, while Chantilly and Stars tied for third.

MacArthur Park Restaurant, 27 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9990

Wouldn't it be nice to sit down for a meal in a restaurant and not have a waiter coming by every five minutes to ask if everything is OK, especially when you have your mouth full? Well, Dal Baffo European Cuisine in Menlo Park offers just such a courteous atmosphere with old-fashioned service. Apart from their exquisite continental cuisine and their different daily specials, Dal Baffo boasts a spacious dining room and tableside service. The tables are set a good distance apart so it is possible to have an intimate conversation without hearing the conversation going on at the next table. Instead of wallpaper, Dal Baffo has Laura Ashley prints on the wall with padding behind it to absorb noise. Furthermore, Dal Baffo schedules seatings at each table of between two and 2 1/2 hours so guests can take their time to enjoy their meal. Reservations are required. Coming in for a close second was a three-way tie between Osteria, Siam Garden and Su Hong. Chantilly, Hobee's and Il Fornaio took the third-place spot.

Dal Baffo European Cuisine, 878 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 325-1588

So you're tired of tuna sandwiches and fish sticks--what about New Zealand's John Dory fish, or the Hawaiian native Opakapaka? When is comes to seafood, Weekly readers know to go to The Fish Market in Palo Alto. For the fourth year in a row, this restaurant was chosen as the place to go for seafood. This is so because not only does the restaurant carry mahi mahi, trout, tropical fish, clams, mussels and oysters, but it carries rarer varieties other restaurants don't bother with. Plus, the fish constantly is being sniffed and checked for freshness. If the fish even threatens to smell bad, it is thrown out. Scott's was second, and Pearl's finished in third place.

The Fish Market, 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 493-9188

Hey, we can't all be health-conscious. Somebody has to eat the steak. And according to Weekly readers, the best place to eat a steak, for the second year in a row, is the Sundance Mine Company. The restaurant won again because the chefs buy only properly aged Angus beef and then hand-cut it at the restaurant. The mine company also features fresh-daily seafood, shellfish, chicken and three kinds of pasta including pasta primavera that has no eggs or cream in it. MacArthur Park finished second, followed by Charley Brown's in third.

Sundance Mine Company, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 321-6798

Call it the battle of the tekka maki. After being narrowly unseated by rival Fuki Sushi last year, perennial favorite Miyake is back on top of the rice heap again this year--by three votes. Both have great sushi--the difference is atmosphere. Miyake attracts a younger crowd to its loud, festive University Avenue location, with decorations and waiters' costumes that change every month or so. Fuki Sushi has a more sedate, classical Japanese atmosphere. The good news for those who have shied away from the shoebox-sized Miyake because of the lines: In December, it will move down the street to 140 University Ave. Toshi's Sushi Ya came in third.

Miyake Restaurant, 261 University Ave., Palo Alto, 323-9449

Try the lunch special at Siam Garden starting at $5.95, and you will know instantly why it is the area's perennial favorite Thai restaurant. Appetizers feature curry-laden chicken, pork or beef, as well as scads of vegetarian dishes. With reasonable prices--the jumbo prawns top the menu at $12.95--and the combination of various menu choices, the number of people who feast on the fare at the Siam Garden is growing every day. Thai City and Bangkok Cuisine finished second and third, respectively.

Siam Garden, 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 853-1143

Burger King may have a salad bar, Carl's Jr. makes baked potatoes and McDonald's offers salads, but our readers still prefer their vegetarian food from a place that has a little more history in the field of healthy food. For the third year in a row, Weekly readers chose Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery for its vegetarian fare. The restaurant certainly has endured: Good Earth has been blending smoothies and stir-frying vegetables in Palo Alto since 1976. Besides ubiquitous salads, vegetarians can sup on exotic vegetarian mixtures like polenta and black beans, magic eggplant, Guatemalan rice and tofu and walnut mushroom au gratin. The Good Earth is also home to the fragrant Good Earth cinnamon tea. Fresh Choice was second in the voting, and Hobee's took third.

Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery, 185 University Ave., Palo Alto, 321-9449

The right stuff

If you are a person who likes browsing through antique stores, then you're probably familiar with Karen's Antiques in Menlo Park. Unfortunately, the store has closed and will not reopen. A consistently popular spot for antique collectors, this is the fifth year in a row the store has won this category. Clean, well-lighted and exquisite, Karen Weibel's emporium possessed an atmosphere more akin to a museum than an antique store. It had 4,000 square feet of everything the novice or most advanced collectible hunter would covet: china, formal and country furnishings, glass, silver and many other decorative items. Antiques Unlimited and Maria's Antiques were second and third, respectively, in the voting.

Karen's Antiques, 712 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 326-9404

If you're looking for a bear to set by your fireplace or a moose to mount on the wall of your den, chances are Tom Mangelsen has already shot it and you can get it at Images of Nature. Images specializes in limited edition prints of Mangelsen's nature photography. It's worth a look just to see the playful side of notoriously savage wildlife. Z Gallery placed second, followed by Gallery House and Smith Andersen in third.

Images of Nature, 227 University Ave., 325-4387

With 8,000 square feet of classy, high-ceilinged space, Wheelsmith bears little resemblance to the tiny garage on Alma Street where owner-brothers Ric and John Hjirtberg built wheels and repaired bikes 19 years ago. Now Wheelsmith carries more spandex than a girdle shop and has TV screens that show videos of races. But some things never change: Wheelsmith still builds wheels, does repairs, displays groovy old bikes and plays KJAZ on the radio. The user-friendly store is an upstairs-downstairs affair, with a workshop and parts sold downstairs and accessories, videos, bikes and magazines sold upstairs. "At least we don't have a talking diorama," said co-owner Ric Hjirtberg. Palo Alto Bike Shop was runner-up in the voting, and Garner's Pro-Bicycle Shop took third.

Wheelsmith, 201 Hamilton St., Palo Alto, 324-0510

Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park once again has won this category, and Printers Inc. in Palo Alto has once again finished second. Both stores feature knowledgeable staffs, great depths in the various popular categories and personalized service. Both also feature extensive programs of readings and book signings each month, so you can meet your favorite authors in person. Plus newspapers and magazines from around the country and the world. Kepler's opens at 9 every morning until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Stacey's in downtown Palo Alto, which is renovating its facade, finished third.

Keplers's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 324-4321

Finding a good car mechanic is always something that people have strong feelings about. There are a surprising number of choices locally, but Ole's Car Shop remains the readers' favorite, again by a wide margin. Personal service--they're remember your name and your car's quirks--and a convenient downtown location are just two of the attractions at Ole's. Say Ray Foreign Auto Service in Palo Alto finished second, and Hudson Shell in Menlo Park was third.

Ole's Car Shop, 801 Alma St., Palo Alto, 328-6537

If your clothes are stained and you don't trust yourself to clean them up, our readers say the best place to go is Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers. Hey, that's what our readers said last year, too. And Delia's does more than clean and launder ordinary clothing. The dry cleaner, which was founded in San Jose in 1969 and has 44 stores between there and here, also does leather, suede and, of course, draperies. And if you've lost a little weight around the beltline, the tailors and seamstresses at Delia's also do alterations. Exquisite Cleaners in Midtown was second, and Town and Country Cleaners was third.

Delia's Cleaners and Drapery Centers, 2790 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 321-9190; 2103 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 323-9190; and 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 321-7551

There is nothing like fresh flowers to bring the outside in, and according to our readers, there is no florist around quite like Stapleton Florist, in its narrow, pink building on Waverley Street. From round-eyed cosmos to irises, lilies, roses and fragrant stock, you can find the perfect arrangement. Buckets brim over with colorful blossoms, and the hanging chalkboard tells you names and prices. Just hand your choice to Mrs. Stapleton or her assistant, who will surely wrap it in tissue and a matching colored ribbon. The Palo Alto Farmer's Market finished in second place.

Stapleton Florist, 453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 321-5390

If you're looking for an evening of entertainment and you're tired of big-budget Hollywood fare, try a foreign film on video from Blockbuster Video. With 150 to 200 foreign titles to choose from, almost anyone should be able to find something worth watching. Blockbuster Video does not carry videos with ratings more restrictive than NC-17, so those looking for something more damaging should look elsewhere. Midtown Video and Videoscope placed second and third respectively.

Blockbuster Video, 4102 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 424-1362; 102 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-7582; and 1365 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 326-4797

Whether it's your child's fingerpainting masterpiece or an original O'Keefe, our readers say they prefer to take their art to University Art Center for framing. In business for 46 years, the store, with locations in San Francisco and San Jose, is known for its knowledgeable staff, who can help you choose from the seemingly infinite frame and mat styles available. Don't forget to browse through the rest of the store, including the Corner Gallery next door. In second and third places, respectively, were the Great American Framing Shop and Richard Sumner Frames and Prints.

University Art Center, 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 328-3500

The high-quality furniture at Flegel's Home Furnishings keeps Weekly readers coming back to this store for big purchases. Not only do the employees take pride in delivering the goods quickly, but each salesperson is a certified interior designer who can give advice on which coffee tables go with which sofa. Like last year, Scandinavian Designs came in second with its more contemporary, affordable furniture. But the store may not be in Palo Alto much longer. The company is relocating to an unknown Midpeninsula spot from its University Avenue store, which will close by early November. The trendy Z Gallerie came in third with 13 votes, compared with 18 for Scandinavian Design and 25 for Flegel's.

Flegel's Home Furnishings, 870 Santa Cruz Ave. Menlo Park, 326-9661

As evidenced by its crowded parking lot every weekend, Woolworth Nursery is a popular spot to get everything from trellises to trees, from aphid spray to annuals. The nursery offers a large selection of plants, especially unusual perennial varieties, at low prices. The upscale Smith & Hawken placed second. The catalog spinoff store mainly deals in tools, garden ornaments, books, and clothing. And in third place, readers chose Menlo Park's Roger Reynolds Nursery, an independent nursery with instructive sales people and orchid houseplants.

Woolworth Nursery, 725 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, 493-5136

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Yosh for Hair is again the favorite of Weekly readers. Haircuts cost between $39 and $62, but if you want to see Yosh himself, it will cost $85. The tony Palo Alto salon puts its "hair designers" through a rigorous training program before they consult and cut hair for full-paying customers. The color specialists who do tints and highlights also go through a training program. If you're on a limited budget, sign up for a $10 haircut by the trainees. Call Thursday mornings to sign up for the following Wednesday's class. And on bad hair days, anyone can drop by for advice. At the other end of the scale, Supercuts--where all haircuts are only $9 (shampoo and blow-dry extra)--ranked second. The 2-year-old Hairshaper's Club at Town & Country took third place.

Yosh for Hair, 240 University Ave., Palo Alto, 328-4067

One of newest kids on the block now is the best. Palo Alto Hardware, a member of the Ace Hardware chain, has caught on quickly since opening in January 1993. Many customers have remarked to the courteous staff that it's nice to have a local, convenient hardware store now that Hubbard and Johnson has closed. While Palo Alto Hardware doesn't carry the volume of wood that H&J did, it carries everything else, from light bulbs to chain saws. Nationally advertised monthly sales also have proven popular. Orchard Supply was second in the voting, while Menlo Hardware and Peninsula Hardware tied for third.

Palo Alto Hardware, 875 Alma St., Palo Alto, 327-7222

Mediterranean architecture, 61 guest rooms overlooking a flower-filled courtyard and excellent service are just some of the reasons the Garden Court Hotel came in first place with our readers. Rooms include VCRs with complimentary videotapes, terry cloth robes, down pillows and comforters, and a Wall Street Journal and local newspaper delivered to your door every morning. Some rooms also have fireplaces, whirlpool baths and wet bars. To make your stay a completely memorable experience, the hotel offers catering by Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana, Palo Alto's famous award-winning restaurant. Readers chose the Stanford Park Hotel in second place, and the Holiday Inn Palo Alto was the third place winner.

Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, 322-9000

Still towering over the competition, readers overwhelmingly picked Tower Records as their music store of choice. The Mountain View mecca serves as a teen hangout, concert ticket outlet, and source of new albums, whether classical, jazz, imports, New Age, country, rap, pop or show tunes. There's also a video department, a healthy selection of CD singles and a bookstore next door. Best of all, if you feel compelled to go out and buy the Pink Floyd retrospective CD set at 11 p.m. Christmas Day, you can head on over to Tower. The store is open from 9 a.m. to midnight every day of the year, holidays included. Hear Music came in second with 30 votes (Tower got 87). At the Stanford Shopping Center store, you can actually listen to a CD before you buy it. Melody Lane, the downtown Palo Alto sheet music institution, came in third with 18 votes from those who like to play it themselves.

Tower Records, 630 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, 941-7900

When it comes to outdoor gear, Peninsulans don't mind making the trek to REI, which they voted the overwhelming top choice in this category. REI has two outlets nearby, one in Cupertino and the other in San Carlos. These cavernous establishments offer everything known to nature in the way of backpacking and mountaineering equipment and supplies. The second- and third-place finishers are closer to home: The North Face and Pacific Mountaineer in Palo Alto.

REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), 20640 Homestead Road, Cupertino, (408) 446-1991; and 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, 508-2330

When it comes to buying prescription drugs, the Longs Drug Store chain gets the nod again this year by a big margin in the Best Pharmacy category. At Longs outposts all over the Midpeninsula, you can drop off both your prescription order and film in one stop--and pick up some shampoo and sunglasses while you're there. Coming in second was Walgreen, and just a few votes behind that was the Town and Country Pharmacy.

Longs Drug Store, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1667

For the first time, readers chose the Long's Drug Store photo department. The store offers a variety of developing options from one-hour to Kodak processing. The department also has a selection of film, photo albums and camera equipment. Keeble and Shuchat on California Avenue was second and Photo Time was third.

Long's, 352 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1583

Focusing on movies from Hollywood's "Golden Era," the Stanford Theatre offers an opportunity to escape to a fantastical, romantic world, all for the price of a movie ticket. Located within a classically elegant building on University Avenue in Palo Alto, the theater runs such all-time greats as Hitchcock's "Notorious" with "Casablanca." Upcoming offerings include "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Death Takes a Holiday." Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children.

Stanford Theatre, 221 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-3700

The hallmark of the Peninsula's greeting card business for 1995, according to our readers, is Papyrus, located near the clock tower at Stanford Shopping Center. Since its opening five years ago, this store has become recognized for its inventory of cards and stationery of every design and shape for every occasion. Although cards are its calling, Papyrus also offers wrapping paper, wedding invitations and the like. Finishing second and third were Paper Chase in Menlo Park and Longs Drugs in Palo Alto.

Papyrus, 365 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 328-7016

Monette Pet Shop's crown has been restored, after a brief upset last year. In the store window, Monette proudly displays the "Best of" certificates it won from Weekly readers in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Inside, the crowded shop sells everything from hamsters to iguanas and all the supplies needed to care for the creatures. The knowledgeable co-owners, Joe Olfat and Saeed Namdar, provide friendly service and fair prices, and even do a side business in holistic health for animals. The store celebrated its 45th anniversary this year. "Over 1 million goldfish sold," Olfat says proudly. Loro the green parrot has lived in the shop for 25 years. For second and third place, readers turn to non-profit organizations: the Palo Alto Humane Society and the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Both organizations help find homes for stray and homeless animals.

Monette Pet Shop, 461 California Ave., Palo Alto, 327-3801

When it comes to shoe repair, you want a place that wears well. So readers knew what they were doing when they decided their top choice was Paul's European Cobblery a locally owned and family-operated company serving the Palo Alto area since 1943. Paul's has three local shops, all of which are known for their quick and friendly service. Shoes are repaired while you wait. Paul's also offers a selection of Swedish clogs and Negev-Sabra footwear and many footwear accessories. Paul's received 60 votes while Midtown Shoe Repair received 49. The Cobbler Shop was third with 14 votes.

Paul's European Cobblery, 410 California Ave., Palo Alto, 323-0409; 390 University Ave., entrance on Waverley Street, Palo Alto, 323-3045; and 993 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 322-6911.

Need a good warm coat that doesn't come with 48-month financing? Want a television but don't want something that requires a high-beamed ceiling and a security guard? One doesn't need to look further than the Goodwill Industries outlet in Palo Alto, voted by our readers for the fourth year in a row as the area's best thrift store. The prices are reasonable, the racks are well-organized and the merchandise changes almost daily. So if you don't find that tweed coat this week, come back tomorrow. Goodwill received 52 votes. Runners-up in this category were Afterwards in Menlo Park with 15 votes and Savers in Redwood City with 10.

Goodwill Industries, 4085 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 494-1416

How about some organic catnip for $8? Or a colorful dog visor for $5.50? Or maybe a $600 weather vane? These are all to be found in Spirals Gallery in downtown Palo Alto which for the fourth year in a row has won as Best Store to Browse In. Spirals, which received 36 votes, specializes in a variety of items, from decorative dishes to ornate glassware. All of it is artistic, and most of it is available at reasonable prices. Be sure to check out the Polly Frizzel clocks featuring a breakfast plate with two strips of bacon which serve as the clock's hands. This timely meal costs $150. Coming in a very close second was Z Gallerie, located on University Avenue in Palo Alto, with 35 votes. Third was Kepler's in Menlo Park.

Spirals Gallery, 367 University Ave., Palo Alto, 324-1155

If it's a $21 Bill Clinton Halloween mask you need or a game of Chutes and Ladders, the readers' choice for the place to go is Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. This 65-year-old Palo Alto establishment offers everything from rubber rats for 59 cents to $8.49 Magic 8 Balls to a pair of Rollerblades. Remember Twister? You can still find the game here for $16.99. You can even buy the store--if you buy the game PaloAltopoly and land on the Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World square. You can buy the store for $2,300 and rent it out to those who land on your property. Sport and Toy received 105 votes this year. Coming in second was Imaginarium at Stanford Shopping Center with 46 votes. Third was Toys-R-Us in Redwood City with 40 votes. Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, 526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 328-8555

It's the fourth time around as best travel agency for Bungey Travel Inc., a downtown institution since 1931. The Bungey world view can zoom in on everything from deluxe steamer tours to Southeast Asia to the college student's tour of Europe on $4 a day (well, maybe not exactly $4). Second place was a tie between Council Travel on University Avenue and Dale Johnson on California Avenue. Third place went to Small World Travel on El Camino Way.

Bungey Travel Inc., 116 University Ave., Palo Alto, 325-5686

The area is blessed with excellent bookstores, and that includes stores selling used books. This year, Know Knew Books just managed to edge out the always popular Bell's Book Store in downtown Palo Alto. Know Knew Books has been in Palo Alto for about seven years and has a strong science fiction and fantasy section, as well as older, collectable paperback books, with 80,000 titles all told. Chimera Books and Records on University Avenue finished third.

Know Knew Books, 415 California Ave., Palo Alto, 326-9355

YMCA Fitness Centers are the readers' choice for the best workout in Palo Alto. Whether you're into racquetball at the Page Mill Road center or swimming in the new pool at the Ross Road Y, they both offer free weights, weight machines and various aerobics and occasional yoga classes as well as sauna and Jacuzzi for unwinding afterward. A $150 initiation and $48 monthly fee ($46 at Ross) will get you the run of the place, so get out and get fit. Last year's winner, Reach Fitness, placed second and Fitness 101 made a showing in third.

YMCA, 755 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, 858-0661, or 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, 494-1883 Local color

What's the most impressive building to look at around here? In the first year for this new category, Stanford Memorial Church was the clear winner, with the Main Quad that surrounds it in second place. The non-sectarian Protestant church, at the literal heart of the campus, is impressive from a distance and even more majestic from inside. The church was almost destroyed in the 1906 earthquake as the 80-foot spire it had then fell into the church. It was rebuilt without the tower, only to suffer significant damage again in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The church was reopened in 1992 after $10 million of repair work and strengthening.

Stanford Memorial Church, Main Quad, Stanford campus

Sixteen miles of thigh-building hills, thrilling descents, orchards and open space. What more could anyone want from a bike ride? Apparently that suffices for our readers, who chose the Stanford Loop (but please, call it "the Loop") as the best bike ride for the umpteenth year in a row. To take the best bike ride (if you're not already out there), pedal north along Junipero Serra Boulevard from Stanford Golf Course to Sand Hill Road. Turn left at Sand Hill, climb the big hill past I-280 and descend into Portola Valley. Ride along Portola Road until you reach Alpine Road. If you have a few nanoseconds to spare, stop for a cold one at the Alpine Inn, then coast on down to Arastadero Road. Turn right at Arastradero, left at Page Mill and left at Junipero Serra arriving home a far tauter, tighter person than you were an hour before.

Music and food, that's the winning combination for our readers, who selected the noontime Brown Bag concert series as the area's best free entertainment. Of course, it could also be the sun, the setting (Cogswell Plaza) and the price. Run by the Recreation Department, the 12 summer concerts showcase lilting Celtic tunes one week, then classy jazz standards the next. Keep time with the band by munching potato chips and rustling lunch bags on the two and four count. Second place went to Concerts in the Park, also sponsored by the Recreation Department, while third place went to the hot but venerable Stanford Summer Jazz series.

Watch the Weekly early next summer for schedules for all three concert series.

He's handsome, he's a family man, he looks good in his underwear. Oh, and he can throw a football. He's none other than football legend and Atherton resident Joe Montana, the celebrity our readers like rubbing shoulder pads with the most. The man with the arm beat out the woman with the voice--Joan Baez--who ranked second as favorite local celeb. But the woman with the voice beat out the other man with the arm. That's right, 49er quarterback Steve Young came in third.

Sorry, we can't give you their addresses or phone numbers.

Is it the pastry, the mile-high chocolate cake, the intimacy or just that St. Michael's Alley remains a great place to hear some of the area's best local musicians for the price of a cup of coffee? The cozy Palo Alto institution (never forget that the Grateful Dead played here first) beat out giant, acoustically sophisticated Shoreline Amphitheatre as best place to hear live music. (Of course, Shoreline is so acoustically sophisticated that many Palo Altans can hear it right in their own homes). Third place went to Frost Amphitheater, which, one must admit, has an unbeatable view of the heavens on a warm summer night.

St. Michael's Alley, 806 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 326-2530

In this new category, Weekly readers said Blue Chalk Cafe is the place to be to meet singles. The bar and the pool tables, dart boards and shuffleboard are the biggest draws for single 20- and 30-somethings. The fact that the two owners fit those age categories may have something to do with it. The management is happy that their 2-year-old establishment, which specializes in Southern food, is one of the hot spots for the young Palo Alto bar-hopping crowd. Another bar on the circuit, just one block over, is Gordon Biersch Brewery, which serves microbrewed beer and came in second. A bartender there has seen people get together, but hasn't met anyone himself. The British Bankers Club attracts singles who are older, professional and more sophisticated. The BBC came in close third, with five votes to Gordon Biersch's six. The Blue Chalk Cafe won hands down with 24 votes.

Blue Chalk Cafe, 630 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 326-1020

From its sweeping bay views to its remote hiking trails, Weekly readers chose Foothills Park as their favorite spot to pop the question. Whether you choose the cool pine forests or a hill at sunset, make sure you have proof of Palo Alto residency to get into the park or you may have to have a backup plan. Tied for second place were the Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford University, Skyline and Windy Hill. In third place was the Palo Alto Baylands.

Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, 329-2423 (reservations)

Tucked away on Waverley Street near Embarcadero Road, the Gamble Garden Center is a throwback to more gracious days. The 1902 mansion and grounds were left to the city by Elizabeth F. Gamble (as in Procter and Gamble), and a non-profit group has painstakingly restored the gardens--some for strolling, some that produce flowers for the arrangements that adorn the house, some for demonstrating how to grow better veggies. The gardens are divided into several areas: a rose garden, a wisteria alley, a lawn with a fountain, and so on. There are also two patio areas. Wedding receptions cost $800 for eight hours; most are limited to 50 people, with one 75-person wedding allowed each month. Music must be live and quiet, and no hard liquor is allowed. A wedding coordinator helps plan your event and can provide referrals to caterers, musicians, photographers and florists. But the gardens almost make a florist superfluous--something is in bloom year-round. The Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto came in second, and Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton was third.

Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 329-1356

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