Almanac

Cover Story - August 28, 2013

The Almanac's Readers' Choice 2013 winners

Almanac readers name their favorite restaurants, shops and services

In an age when many expect instant results from their digital devices, we often find that the most gratifying moments are when we unplug from the Internet and enjoy person-to-person contact. That's one of the reasons the quality of personal service we receive from local restaurants, shops and other businesses is so important. The Almanac's annual Readers' Choice poll is an opportunity for you to take your hat off to your favorite businesses that have provided that personal service, from traditional winners such as Cafe Borrone to newcomers on the list like Moses Hairstyling. On the following pages, we name the winners of the Almanac's 2013 Readers' Choice Awards.

CASUAL DINING, INDEPENDENT COFFEE/TEA HOUSE, OUTDOOR DINING, PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE, LIVE MUSIC

As the winner in five categories, Cafe Borrone is Menlo Park's "go to" place, the local equivalent of the town square. There's a lot of family pride in the restaurant that Roy and Rose Borrone founded almost 24 years ago. Daughter Marina, and her husband, Chef Josh Pebbles, are carrying on the tradition. By the end of the year, the restaurant will be expanding into the space formerly occupied by Cedro restaurant. The new addition will be known as Borrone's Market Bar. "It's going to be beautiful, very European," says Ms. Borrone. Chef Pebbles' kitchen is known for its organic and seasonal dishes. Patrons rave about the house-made pasta and the late summer salads, such as heirloom tomato and mozzarella served with balsamic dressing. And for a sweet touch, what could be better than custard made from Rose Borrone's original recipe? 1010 El Camino Real, #110 | (650) 327-0830

AMERICAN RESTAURANT, PLACE FOR A DATE

In just two years, Menlo Grill Bistro & Bar has become a solid favorite with local diners for American comfort food served in stylish surroundings. New chef Erik Romme has introduced seasonal specialties, such as sweet corn chowder, summer melon salad and strawberry gazpacho, along with cedar-brined pork chop and homestyle roast chicken. Try impressing your date with Sunday night supper featuring house-smoked prime rib. A new addition is brunch served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in addition to full breakfast, luncheon and dinner menus. With emphasis on being a friendly neighborhood restaurant, Menlo Grill does not charge for corkage if you bring your own wine. 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 330-2790

FRENCH RESTAURANT Left Bank has the expansive, happening look of a true French brasserie. Local diners appreciate its authentic cuisine, lively happy hour, handsome interior, and outdoor sidewalk seating. Chef Steven Catalano serves classic brasserie items, such as onion soup, escargot, steak frites, and mussels, along with seasonal specialties of heirloom tomato salad and sweet corn fricassee. Brunch at Left Bank, served until 3 p.m., offers a variety of choices: French toast, crab cakes, Basque sausage and eggs, omelets, and, of course, eggs Benedict. 1635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 473-6543

ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Carpaccio, which just celebrated its 25th year, is once again our readers' choice for "Best Italian" restaurant. Regular patrons have their favorite dishes, such as eggplant Parmesan, Caesar salad, cannelloni, lasagne and cannoli. However, chef Jorges Cortes constantly offers new weekly specials, says managing partner Ciya Martorana. Recent specials include gnocchi with tomato vodka sauce, rack of lamb with roasted vegetables, and grilled rainbow trout. Diners enjoy the Tuscan atmosphere of the Pat Kuleto-designed restaurant interior highlighted with colorful oil paintings done in Italian art poster style. 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park | (650) 2322-1211 |www.carpaccios.com

TAKE-OUT, CHINESE RESTAURANT

Su Hong To-Go won the Readers' Choice vote for both Best Take-Out and Best Chinese Restaurant. The Su Hong business, including the former restaurant on El Camino Real, has been around for 36 years and has held the title of Best Chinese Restaurant in the minds of Almanac readers for two decades now. Owner Bee King said that diners enjoy the quality food and reasonable prices. "We use quality ingredients and make our items fresh every day," she said. Among some of the most popular items on the menu are the Chinese chicken salad, pot stickers, orange chicken and Mongolian beef. Su Hong To Go, 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 322-4631

HAMBURGER, DINE WITH KIDS

Almanac readers have named Jeffrey's Hamburgers — the family-friendly, old-fashioned hamburger diner — their favorite place to go for a hamburger and to dine with kids. Manager Stephen Friebel said that customers enjoy the choice between traditional hamburgers on the menu, or having the option to build their own by choosing the type of meat, toppings and cheese. The restaurant grinds meat on site daily for its hamburgers, and recently added the burger bowl option for those who have gluten-free diets. Kids are a fan of Jeffrey's as much as adults. "Our menu is totally kid appealing, because we have the milkshakes and the French fires," Friebel said. "They love it." 888 El Camino Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 322-1959 | www.jeffreyshamburgers.com

JAPANESE RESTAURANT

It's no wonder that Fuki Sushi has almost 70,000 likes on Facebook and took this year's Best Japanese Restaurant award. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had the restaurant cater his private wedding ceremony in May 2012 (and even had a Fuki Sushi branch installed on Facebook's new Menlo Park campus). Fuki Sushi, which opened in 1978, has an extensive menu from appetizers (beef asparagus roll anyone?) to nigiri sushi, sashimi, rolls and entrees. Thirsty sushi-goers can also indulge in Fuki Sushi's cocktail menu, whiskey list, sho chu or liquid dessert menu. 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto | (650) 494-9383

MEXICAN RESTAURANT

The fresh, colorful, artwork-filled Cafe Del Sol has won the vote of Almanac readers for Best Mexican Restaurant. The menu has modern Mexican food, from classic favorites like fajitas to unusual options such as spare ribs and chicken entrees. The restaurant offers a wide variety of soups, appetizers and salads, all which can be ordered for dine-in, take-out or delivery. Cafe Del Sol recently launched a colorful and musical website — www.cafedelsolmenlo.com. 1010 Doyle St., Menlo Park | (650) 326-2501 | cafedelsolmenlo.com

NEW RESTAURANT

LB Steak is a welcome addition to the downtown Menlo Park dining scene. Its concept is that of a modern American steakhouse, featuring USDA prime beef. However, Chef Brendy Monsada also prepares a fine selection of seafood entrees. The signature dish is the 32-ounce Tomahawk Chop steak with a choice of sauces. There are eight other steak choices and several non-steak options. Side dishes include Yorkshire pudding, cream of spinach and seasonal vegetables. Save room for dessert, including rhubarb strawberry crumble. 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 321-8980

ROMANTIC RESTAURANT

This is a sad story. Bella Vista restaurant, nestled in a grove of redwood trees on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, recently closed. But it went out a champion, once again winning the Readers' Choice Award for Best Romantic Restaurant. Built in 1927, it combined rustic beauty with a dazzling view of the city lights below. Generations considered it the perfect place to pop the question and, of course, it was packed on Valentine's Day. The luxurious menu offered such retro favorites as oysters Rockefeller, escargot, steak Diane (flambeed by your waiter), abalone with almonds, veal scaloppine, cherries jubilee and Grand Marnier souffle. "After 35 years, we've decided to call it a day," says owner John Ward on the restaurant's answering machine. "It's been a great experience, but it's time to go. Thank you for all the great years." We will miss you, Bella Vista. 13451 Skyline Boulevard, Woodside | (650) 851-1229

BAKERY

Angel Heart Cakes has expanded its offerings to include not only angel food cakes, but carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, coconut cake with cream cheese frosting, and a rich devil's food chocolate cake. Business is good since the bakery opened two years ago, says co-owner Chris Rivera. Wedding business has doubled, breakfast service is gaining in popularity, and "compost cookies (chocolate chip cookies with pretzels and cornflakes) are flying out the door," says Ms. Rivera. Another big hit is "munch boxes" shipped to college kids or for holiday gifts. New staff includes Betsy Davos, Molly Wantuch and Stephanie Sanchez.3716 Florence St., Redwood City | (650) 363-2253

BREAKFAST

Ann's Coffee Shop has served up simple food done well in Menlo Park since 1946. Opening at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday (7 a.m. on Sunday), it's a popular spot for breakfast, which is served all day, with 16 types of omelettes, hash browns, pancakes and all the other classics on the menu. Cash only.772 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | 322-0043

DESSERT

Sweets are certainly trending at The Prolific Oven, the 2013 Readers' Choice winner for Best Desserts. Since 1980, locals have been heading to one of the most prolific bakeries in town. Prolific Oven offers multiple styles of cakes to order, plus other desserts from cannoli to cupcakes, and cheese-swirled brownies to holiday pies. "We are ECSTATIC," Regina Chan, daughter of Prolific Oven owner Henry Chan, says in an email response to the news about winning the award. "We''re thrilled to receive this award because it means we are still doing something right." 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto | (650) 326-8485 | www.prolificoven.com

BEST ICE CREAM/FROZEN YOGURT

Pinkberry at the Stanford Shopping Center has won the 2013 Readers' Choice Award for Best Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt. The simple yogurt store with outdoor seating offers traditional frozen yogurt, Greek yogurt, smoothies, shakes and cones. The choices are even greater for toppings, which includes fruit, chocolate, cereal and more. "We use the highest quality ingredients possible," general manager Esther Chun says. "We make sure our fruit is cut every single day by hand." The store offers seasonal flavors. 180 El Camino Real # 14, Palo Alto, CA | store0079@pinkberry.com | pinkberry.com | (650) 322-6030

PIZZA

With seemingly endless combinations of sizes, toppings and premade pizzas, Applewood Pizza has again won the vote of Almanac readers as their favorite pizza place. At Applewood, customers can make their own pizza, or select a favorite on the menu, such as the Menlo Combo, Prawn or Hawaiian. The topping choices range from pepperoni and cheese to Canadian bacon, BBQ beef and marinated eggplant. Pastas, salads, and 37 imported beers help create a diverse menu at the family-style restaurant. Customers can dine in the restaurant, or order online or by phone. 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 324-3486 | applewoodpizza.com

PLACE TO BUY MEAT

Schaub's Meat Fish and Poultry at the Stanford Shopping Center has won again for Best Place to Buy Meat. Fred's marinated sirloin, fresh poultry chicken sausages, prime beef and sandwiches are among the most popular items on the menu. Beyond the food, people enjoy the service as well, says Manager Danell Street. "We give good quality customer service and we're willing to help meet the customers' needs," she said. 395 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304 | (650) 325-6328

BEST SANDWICH

The staff at Woodside Deli in Redwood City "puts more in sandwiches than most people do," owner Dan Gallinetti tells the Almanac. "We load them up." The deli is in its 45th year and specializes in all things Italian, as long as it's deli. "If it comes from Italy, we've got it," Mr. Gallinetti says. "I appreciate being voted best sandwich place." 1453 Woodside Road, Redwood City | (650) 369-4235

FLOOR COVERINGS

Stephen Miller Gallery's museum-worthy collection includes hand-woven carpets from Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Tibet. The extensive inventory might be overwhelming in another store, but not here, says owner Stephen Miller. "We're not just a retail store, we're a design resource," he says. Mr. Miller and his staff work with each customer to choose a rug that harmonizes with the room. Customers can even take a rug home for a few days to test drive it. "We emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to sales," says Mr. Miller. "We want customers to feel entirely confident." 800 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025 | (650) 327-5040

BIKE STORE

From commuters to racers to casual weekend riders, Menlo Velo Bicycles has a bike for every lifestyle; however, this small specialty shop is perhaps best known for its personalized approach. "We interact with every person who comes in the door," says owner Rainer Zaechelein. "We're a small shop, but we strive to provide the very best customer experience." This year Menlo Velo has expanded its already-diverse offerings to include electric bicycles, and Mr. Zaechelein invites Peninsula residents to come by and try one. An electric bike owner himself, he says, "Everyone who goes on a test ride comes back with a huge smile. It's a matter of time before they catch on in Silicon Valley." 433 El Camino Real Menlo Park, CA 94025 | (650) 327-5137

BOOKSTORE, GREEN BUSINESS

Now in its second year of yet another new chapter in its life, Kepler's has expanded its inventory of books and its selection of events even as it has squeezed into a smaller space, moving from 10,000 to 6,440 square feet at the same location. The revamped decor turned back the clock to the radical 1960s for inspiration. "My Beloved World," a memoir by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was the local bookstore's bestseller this past year, and led to a sold-out author event as well. But looking beyond what's on the shelves, readers also appreciate Kepler's efforts to promote green, sustainable practices, leading to two Readers' Choice awards in 2013. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | 324-4321 | keplers.com

BOUTIQUE

Alys Grace offers a distinctive assortment of upscale clothing, accessories and gifts. Each piece is selected to maintain the right blend of elegance and edge, and the friendly and attentive staff are always willing to offer a second opinion. "We love our customers and enjoy helping them find the perfect outfit, girlfriend gift, or hostess gift," says owner Tiger Bachler. Loyal customers flock  to Alys Grace from all over the Bay Area, but those who live farther away aren't out of luck. The popular boutique has an online store, alysgrace.com, which ships their merchandise to women nationwide. 899B Santa Cruz Ave.,  Menlo Park 94025 | (650) 322-5524

PICTURE FRAME SHOP

Old-world craftsmanship meets state-of-the-art equipment on Santa Cruz Ave, where The Great Frame Up has resided for the past two years. At this long-time local favorite, owner Marcy Magatelli and her staff provide customers with design expertise and years of experience. "We aim to give customers exactly what they want, when they need it," she says. She recently installed a computerized camera setup that allows customers to easily visualize their projects and compare different looks. This year, she is particularly excited about two new frame options: a classically elegant line of handmade 22k gold frames, and an ultra-modern plexi-frame line popular with designers. 865 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 323-1097

TOY STORE, GIFT AND NOVELTY

Once again, Cheeky Monkey has won honors as Best Toy Store and Best Gift & Novelty Store in the eyes of Almanac readers. Anna Chow, who co-owns the store with her husband Dexter Chow, says that retro items are popular right now: paper airplanes, craft kits, bubbles and basic toys. The store has been trying out a "tween" section to appeal to children, ages 10-14, who have outgrown other toys in the store. This summer, Cheeky Monkey partnered with YogiBirds, a kids yoga program, to provide free kids yoga classes in the store. "It's a lot of fun," Ms. Chow said. "It might be a little hard for kids to focus sometimes in the store, but I think it's been a great experience." 640 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park; (650) 328-7975 | info@cheekymonkeytoys.com | cheekymonkeytoys.com

GROCERY STORE

Shopping at Draeger's Market has become a way of life for generations of local residents. The family-owned store, founded in 1956, features a vast selection of grocery items, from caviar to corn flakes. There are 500 varieties of produce, top-quality meat and fish departments, gourmet cheeses, fine wines, foreign beers, and a bakery known for luscious cakes, cookies, tarts and pies. The hungry shopper can order a sandwich from the well-stocked deli, dish up a salad at the lavish salad bar, or trek upstairs for a coffee and pastry or a bowl of soup at the cafe. 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park | (650) 324-7751

HARDWARE STORE

Voted favorite hardware store among Readers' Choice voters for eight years in a row, it's clear that Menlo Park Ace Hardware is doing something right. Manager Mihail Chivari attributes the store's success to the community. "We're so thankful to have such a loyal customer base," he says. His business strategy is as simple as "listening to what customers want," and delivering it promptly, keeping the shelves well-stocked with everything from year-round goods to seasonal staples such as barbecue equipment and gardening tools in the summer, and "Back to School" and Halloween-related products in the fall. 700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025 | (650) 325-2515

HOME DECOR & FURNISHINGS

Known for its fine furniture and interior design services, this is the 21st year that Flegels Home Furnishings has won a Readers' Choice award. Three generations of the Flegel family have made the Menlo Park store, founded in 1954, a benchmark for quality that attracts not only Silicon Valley titans, but a world-wide clientele. Customers appreciate seeing prestige furniture lines, such as Stickley, Baker, McGuire and Henredon, on display instead of having to choose items from a catalog. A professional staff of 10 interior designers is on staff to help shoppers, at no additional cost, find the right accent piece or a full suite of furnishings. 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | 326-9661

NURSERY

Ladera Garden & Gifts expanded its business five years ago to include home and garden accessories, but the nursery is the heart of the business. Owners Juan and Mercedes Navarro know the nursery business and they know their Portola Valley neighbors. The couple has worked side by side for 33 years and their three children have gown up in the business, helping out after school or during vacations. Known for its selection of heat-loving, deer-resistant and butterfly-attracting plants, the nursery offers a type of personal service you don't find in "big box" stores. Employees are happy to plant containers, suggest what to grow where, and diagnose your ailing plants. 3130 Alpine Road, Portola Valley | (650) 854-3850

PET STORE

The Pet Place owners Lynn and Marc Macy, lifelong Menlo Park residents, are dedicated to the welfare of animals, and that's reflected in the service they and their staff provide. With its comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, the store offers a wide selection of products and goes the extra mile, whether it's in helping solve a behavioral problem, finding the right food, or referring a customer to a veterinary specialist, sitter or trainer. The Pet Place hosts rescue groups and shelters, and helps with adoptions and in finding temporary and permanent homes for animals in need. 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 325-7387

PRODUCE

This open-air market is nestled in the middle of the bustling Stanford Shopping Center, but entering Sigona's Farmers Market feels like taking a step back in time. Wander among baskets overflowing with tree-ripened fruit, or pick up something special for tonight's dinner from the rows of fresh organic veggies. Sigona's is a family business, and is dedicated to supporting local growers and small farms. In addition to its outstanding produce, Sigona's offers a large selection of specialty foods. Its flavored olive oils and balsamics are well known among local foodies. Lydia, a frequent Sigona's customer, recommends the balsamic fig vinegar with the blood orange fusion olive oil. Try her combination, or find your own favorite. 399 Stanford Shopping Center Palo Alto 94304 | (650) 329-1340

SHOE STORE

Customers at Fleet Feet Sports don't just come for the quality shoes and the personalized customer service. The store, which has won for Best Shoe Store, also offers programs to help people train for races. "We do whatever it takes to get someone in the right gear to help them keep running or walking and enjoy it," said Jim Gothers, co-owner with his wife Lisa Taggart. The business has weekly "fun runs" on Thursdays for anyone, and monthly "pub runs" when beverages are served at the store after a 3- to 6-mile run. In the fall, the store offers discounts for high school cross country runners and gives a percentage back to schools. "We want to get people interested in running at a young age," said Mr. Gothers. 859 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 325-9432 | fleetfeetmenlopark.com

SPECIALTY STORE

Beltramo's Wines and Spirits, founded in 1882 by Giovanni Beltramo, remains a Menlo Park favorite that's still run by the family. The store carries international as well as domestic wines and other beverages (and chocolate). Sample wine on Saturdays, or beer and spirits sampling every other Friday. Customers can find a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon for less than $15 or a single malt scotch for $17,000. No stranger to the Readers' Choice Awards, Beltramo's has also been recognized by Market Watch, the National Liquor Stores Association Food and Wine Magazine, and the New York Times. 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | 325-2806 | beltramos.com

AUTO REPAIR

The award for best auto repair goes to Portola Valley Garage, a specialist in the repair of European vehicles since 1948. Owner Tom Ramies has a message of thanks for his customers: "It's because of you that we're number 1 and we'll continue to strive to do our best." The garage is in its second year of offering two-year, 24,000-mile warranties. "There's not a lot of people that offer that," Mr. Ramies says. In March, Portola Valley Garage became a Star Test and Repair smog station, meaning the full range of smog test services is available, including fixing older vehicles that don't pass. 4170 Alpine Road, Portola Valley | (650) 851-7442

BARBER

Readers awarded Best Barber honors this year to Moses Hairstyling in Menlo Park, where Moses Mareno has been principal for 24 years. "I have been coming to Moses off and on ... for over 20 years," says one customer who now lives in Morgan Hill. "I would never think of going anywhere else." Another customer recalls living in five other states and finding no one to compare with Mr. Moreno: "Moses is a great barber, in fact the best we know of anywhere." 1110 Crane St., Menlo Park | (650) 322-8822

Day Spa

Life is already stressful, so chill out. Sometimes you need a break and time to relax. With hot tub rooms, full-hour Swedish massage (either deep tissue or prenatal), skincare and spa treatments, Watercourse Way may be the perfect place to do just that. It's got the Readers' Choice chops to prove it. 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto | (650) 462-2000

DRY CLEANER

For the fifth year in a row, Menalto Cleaners claims the award for best dry cleaner. "Our business is your dirty laundry," according to its website, and since E. Gary Smith opened the business 25 years ago, he's offered services such as pickup and delivery, hand-finished shirts, alterations and even shoe repair. Mr. Smith, who lives around the corner from his store, said the willingness to go the extra mile contributes to the popularity of Menalto Cleaners. Customers come from Menlo Park as well as from referrals through other Bay Area businesses, such as Neiman Marcus and Ann Taylor. 1921 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park | 323-7001 | menaltocleaners.com

FITNESS CLASSES/YOGA

A community feel and friendly staff is what customers enjoy at Studio Rincon, which won 2013 Readers' Choice Awards in two categories: Best Fitness Classes and Best Yoga. Among some of the most popular classes offered are Zumba, Cardio kickboxing and Aligned Vinyasa Yoga. Owner Bill Petrin says that customers enjoy the positive atmosphere. "The most common feedback I get from people is how friendly and positive our staff, teachers and community is," he says. "It's a great place to be." The business recently doubled its space to offer childcare within classes, a bigger studio, retail, drinks and more. This year will be the fourth year that Studio Rincon will offer youth dance classes in the fall, beginning in September. 3536 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Menlo Park | (650) 861-0242 | studiorincon.com

FLORIST

Fresh, locally grown flowers are what keep customers coming back to Twig and Petals, voted Best Florist by Almanac readers this year. Along with colorful arrangements of flowers, the store sells eco-friendly products such as cards, candles, and containers made from recycled bottles. Owner Bella Hicks says that customers enjoy the personal service they get for events. "We do weddings and events," she said. "We always get to meet with the bridge and groom for weddings." The store keeps up with seasonal flower arrangements to fit customer needs and keeps its store stocked with new items, such as vases and containers. "We're looking forward to more events, holiday parties, and new products," Ms. Hicks said. 1927 Menalto Ave, Menlo Park CA 94025 | (650) 241-4377 | twigandpetals@gmail.org

BEST GYM

Every guest enjoys a customized experience at AXIS Personal Trainers, which won the 2013 Readers' Choice Award for Best Gym. "Our clients get results," owner Scott Norton says. "They feel like they are part of a great community at AXIS." The AXIS team of more than 40 trainers is focused on a common goal: to give clients more than they ever thought possible, and to do so through continuous professional development, and by creating an exceptional experience for everyone who walks through our doors, Mr. Norton says. In the past two years, AXIS has remodeled the entire facility, from the locker rooms and reception area to the workout equipment. "It's essentially a brand new gym," he says. 550 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 463-1920| axispt.com

HAIR SALON

Olive Hill Salon has won the 2013 Readers' Choice Award for Best Hair Salon. Clients at the boutique enjoy the friendly environment, says owner Danielle Casa. "Our stylists and receptionists know clients by name, and an appointment is an opportunity to catch up on life, family, and friends," she says. The business is environmentally friendly, using products that are not tested on animals and others that are sulfate-free; it recently added a hair color system free of chemicals. The boutique works with nonprofit organizations, such as Locks of Love. "Above all, we keep in mind that every client is an individual," she says. 2920 Woodside Road, Woodside | (650) 851-1150 | olivehillsalon.com

HOTEL

Rosewood Sand Hill, winner of "Best Hotel" for the fifth year, has become a center of the Peninsula social scene since its opening in 2009. Locals, as well as hotel guests, enjoy the hotel's relaxed California ranch atmosphere, Madera restaurant, the terrace for sunset cocktails, and the lounge for a lively scene in any season. New this year are Saturday jazz nights in the hotel lobby lounge and the in-house chocolate line (used for desserts, wedding favors and turndown services), launched by executive pastry chef Mellisa Root. There is also a new treatment "menu" at Sense spa. 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park | (650) 561-1500.

MANICURE/PEDICURE

A Touch of Elegance, or T.O.E. as it's known to regulars, lives up to its name with its handsome decor, dozens of blooming orchids (for sale), colorful apothecary jars of candies (to taste), and seasonal decorations. The owners, mother and daughter Mai and Hanh Hong, are friendly and efficient. They will remember your name and make you feel welcome for your manicure and pedicure, waxing, eyebrow tint, lash extensions, and other personal care. For 14 years the salon has been the place to go for regular maintenance nail care, as well as for weddings and other special occasions. 1150 Crane St., Menlo Park | (650) 321-0679

PAINTERS 

Over the past 23 years, Avi Decorative Painting Inc. has been recognized often for the quality and professionalism of its work. Asked how he maintains a loyal clientele, owner Avi Lenchner replies: "We take no shortcuts. We actually mean what we promise, and we make it happen." Mr. Lenchner says he and his team strive to provide customers with the best value for every service provided, from color consultation to lead-based paint neutralization. Also, the company is committed to sustainability and the use of environmentally friendly materials. A nonprofit organization, Avi Green Now, aims to raise community awareness about "living green," he says. P.O. Box 51551, Palo Alto, CA 94303 | (650) 329-0770

PHARMACY

Efficiency and convenience is what customers enjoy about Walgreens, which has again won the Readers' Choice award for Best Pharmacy. Because the store is located on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, manager May Man says that local residents enjoy the convenience of stopping by the pharmacy as they pass through the downtown area. They also like the easy process of picking up prescriptions. "Everything is always ready when they get here," Man said. "We try to solve their problems before they get here so that it's already taken care of." 643 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 321-1530

PLUMBER

Customers at Guy Plumbing appreciate the company's trust and reliability, and readers have once again named the family-owned business best plumber. Owner Dave Guy said that customers enjoy the fourth-generation company because not may businesses today focus on face-to-face interactions and customer service. "It's good to see that there's still interest in the hands-on, mechanical aspect of business," he said. The business has responded to city and county water-saving regulations by providing products that both work well and minimize water usage. "We're becoming familiar with how to save water," he said. "Customers are pleased with it." 1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park 94025 | (650) 323-8421 | guyplumbing.com

ART GALLERY

Portola Art Gallery displays the work of 16 Bay Area artists, including photographers, painters and ceramicists. Each month a different artist is featured, and the public is invited to a reception with that artist. The artists' cooperative was located in the Little Red Schoolhouse in Portola Valley before moving, in 2006, to the historic and scenic Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park. Two of the artists, Kristen Olson and Jan Presco, offer painting classes and workshops at Allied Arts and other nearby locations. The gallery offers a wide selection of gift items, such as unframed prints, tiles, silk scarves, greeting cards, books and pottery. Allied Arts Guild, 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park | (650) 321-0220.

HAPPY HOUR

Customers flock to the Dutch Goose because it feels like home, owner Greg Stern said. "It takes a long time to establish that kind of atmosphere and we've been fortunate to have withstood the test of time since the 60s." Happy Hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, with drinks from $3 to $5. Add on unique items such as the deviled eggs or the "choose a flavor" self-serve soda fountain, and it's easy to see why this Menlo Park pub has won multiple Readers' Choice awards. 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park | 854-3245 | dutchgoose.net

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