http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/08/22/the-almanac-2012-readers-choice-awards


Almanac

Cover Story - August 22, 2012

The Almanac 2012 Readers' Choice Awards

We are the champions

Almanac readers name their favorite restaurants, shops and services

DESIGNERS

Shannon Corey, Linda Atilano, Diane Haas, Scott Peterson, Paul Llewellyn, Rosanna Leung

PHOTOGRAPHERS

Michelle Le, Veronica Weber, Kimihiro Hoshino, Sierra Duren

WRITERS

Soo Song, Elena Kadvany, Jane Knoerle, Sandy Brundage

They may not get the spotlight of Olympic contenders, but many of those who own and operate restaurants, shops and service businesses in our area are local heroes, day in and day out, to the readers of the Almanac. Each year, Almanac readers get to single out their medal-winning favorites. Here are the winners of the 2012 Readers' Choice Awards.

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

This year, three Readers' Choice gold medals go to Cafe Borrone for Casual Dining, Independent Coffee/Tea House, and Place to Meet People. Owner Marina Borrone says that customers regularly comment on the high quality of food and service, 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." 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. Borrone says that his dinner specials are the most popular, from house-made pasta to ratatouille with polenta. All ingredients used are local and sustainable, says Ms. Borrone. "People are saying they don't need to go to San Francisco (to eat); they have it here." 1010 El Camino Real #110, Menlo Park; 327-0830.

CHINESE RESTAURANT, TAKE OUT

For 19 years our readers have named Su Hong their favorite Chinese restaurant. (Owner Bee King says the eatery is now closed for remodeling because its 35-year-old kitchen needs updating.) The white-tablecloth establishment has long been known for its gracious service and extensive Mandarin and Sichhuan menu. Diners love the kung pao chicken, sizzling beef, walnut prawns and eggplant in garlic sauce. Su Hong To Go, which also rates tops with Readers Choice voters, is open for business.

Su Hong, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 323-6852. Su Hong To Go, 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 322-4631.

HAMBURGER, DINE WITH KIDS

For a hamburger fit for a champion, head to Jeffrey's Hamburgers, winner of this year's Readers' Choice poll in two categories: Hamburger and Place to Dine With Kids. Owner Serg Karanov says "our dedication to customer service and our product" is what makes Jeffrey's special, along with fun, retro-diner decor and fresh food that can be customized to your taste. The menu features a wide range of sandwiches, hot dogs and salads, not to mention specialty items such as fish and chips, root beer floats and sweet-potato fries. In about a month, Jeffrey's will offer a new menu item for gluten-free or carb-avoiding customers: a burger patty served in a bowl over salad, Mr. Karanov says. 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 322-1959

FRENCH RESTAURANT

Left Bank, an authentic French brasserie, has been popular with local diners since it opened in downtown Menlo Park in 1998. Readers' Choice voters appreciate the charming interior — completely remodeled in 2008 — and the outdoor sidewalk seating. Chef Brendy Monsada offers a menu focused on the cuisine of southern France, featuring many light seafood choices alongside classic brasserie items, such as steak frites, mussels, cassoulet, steak tartare and tarte Lyonnaise. Salad Nicoise and heirloom tomato salad appeal to warm-weather appetites. For a sweet finale, try peach Melba or fresh-fruit clafoutis.

635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 473-6543

INDIAN RESTAURANT

Amber India serves traditional North Indian tikkas, curries and biryanis, enhanced with flavors such as chilies, saffron and rose water. Manager Manjeet Singh says that while the restaurant's most popular dishes are butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, all of Amber's traditional, rich cuisine leaves diners — and Readers' Choice voters — happy and full. Two locations: 2290 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View (650-968-7511) and 150 University Ave., Palo Alto (650-329-9644)

INTIMATE DINING

Flea Street Cafe is the choice for a cozy dinner, whether it be with your husband, latest crush or an old friend. The soft lighting, series of nested rooms, and background music of cool jazz provide a relaxing atmosphere. There is also outside-terrace dining on warm evenings. Gracious service by a knowledgeable staff adds to the ambiance. Proprietor Jesse Cool is a leader in the sustainable-cuisine movement, and her menu includes recipes from her latest cookbook, "Simply Organic." Diners rave about the roasted sardines, duck breast, grass-fed short ribs and butter biscuits. Recent dessert favorites have been buttermilk-vanilla bean panna cotta and rosemary angel food cake. 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; (650) 854-1226

ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Year after year, Almanac readers declare Carpaccio their No. 1 choice for gracious dining in a Tuscan atmosphere. The menu includes classic Caesar salad, lasagne, cannelloni, eggplant Parmesan and tiramisu. These dishes are all available at many Italian restaurants, but at Carpaccio they are prepared to perfection with top-quality ingredients. In addition to offering lunch and dinner menus featuring soups, salads, pizza, pasta and other entrees, chef Jorge Cortes constantly offers new weekly specials, says managing partner Ciya Martorana. Recent specials have included fettuccine with smoked salmon, rib-eye steak, sand dabs and grilled rainbow trout. Diners enjoy the Pat Kuleto-designed restaurant interior and the garden ambiance when the front window walls recede on pleasant days. 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park; (650) 322-1211

JAPANESE

For the second year in a row, Naomi Sushi was the top pick for Japanese restaurant. After a recent remodel, the restaurant's interior walls are covered in beautiful dark wood. Customers can do sake tastings at the new sake bar. A favorite roll on the menu is the Volcano Roll, with spicy tuna and cucumber on the inside and baked salmon and spicy mayo on top. If you're feeling adventurous, ask the chef to make a "chef's roll" — a surprise special roll of his choice. For non-sushi customers, the menu has many meat, salad and soup options. 1328 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-321-6902; naomisushi.com

MEXICAN RESTAURANT

Cafe Del Sol is a Menlo Park favorite for Mexican food. The cafe does the basics well: salsas, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, fish tacos. Appetizers include chips and salsa, as well as taquitos. The restaurant serves takeout customers and also offers catering services. 1010 Doyle St., Menlo Park; (650) 326-2501.

NEW RESTAURANT

Blue Garden Cafe just opened in the spring, but its setting in the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park is familiar to generations of local residents. Having lunch at Allied Arts is a tradition that dates back to the 1930s, shortly after the crafts guild was opened. Our readers like the new eatery, operated by JW Catering of Cupertino, which serves lunch on the enclosed terrace and in the blue garden in nice weather. There is a savory selection of salads and sandwiches, including a BLT mozzarella wrap, couscous salad and mushroom-and-Gruyere sandwich. Luncheon reservations are not required, and the cafe is also open for pastries and beverages in the morning and afternoon. The guild is owned by the Allied Arts Auxiliary, which benefits the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park; (650) 322-2405

BAKERY

Woodside Bakery sees a steady stream of happy customers, from the cycling crowd stopping for morning pastries to the hostess who takes home a spectacular Black Forest cake to wow her dinner guests. The bakery is noted for its European-style creations, such as Napoleons, chocolate mousse cakes and genoise aux fruits, all created by pastry chef Jesus Mendoza. But it's also a full-service bakery, offering cookies, scones, breakfast pastries, breads and fruit pies. "We are using all the beautiful fruit in season now," says manager Jan Sweyer. She also notes that the bakery has expanded its selection of gluten-free pastries. Woodsiders agree that the bakery is the go-to place, whether you're stopping by for a cookie or ordering a beautifully decorated wedding cake. 3052 Woodside Road, Woodside; (650) 851-0812

BREAKFAST

Winning for the third year in a row, the Menlo Park-based Stacks remains a favorite for breakfast with its classic pancakes and variety of morning treats. Regulars pack the place, says general manager Masoud Majdi, drawn not only to the quality of food and service, but to the consistency. He partly attributes the large number of daily customers to the restaurant's positive and comfortable ambiance. The staff also know most of the regulars, he says, which goes a long way. 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-838-0066.

DESSERT

What's for dessert? At Draeger's supermarket in Menlo Park, it's a delicious array of goodies, including miniature red velvet cupcakes and creme brulee. The bakery department is known for its cakes, cookies, fruit tarts and pies, but it also features mini chocolate eclairs, cream puffs, lemon tarts and beautifully decorated petits fours. If chocolate is your thing, treat yourself to a few imported Leonidas truffles, handcrafted Bissinger's chocolates, or hard-to-find candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. French macarons are also a delicious way to end a fine meal. During the holidays, customers flock to the bakery department for pumpkin pies. There is a nice selection of prepackaged baked goods, allowing patrons to "grab and go" on busy shopping days. 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; (650)-324-7751

ICE CREAM / FROZEN YOGURT

With popular flavors like Oreo Creme Filling, Cold Stone Creamery has been named the favorite ice cream store this year. Having the choice to customize their ice cream treats or buy signature Cold Stone creations like Banana Caramel Crunch, customers flood the Menlo Park shop around late afternoon. Cold Stone also offers lower-calorie smoothies and sorbet for those looking for a more healthful boost. 611 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-325-4500.

NEW FOOD & DRINK ESTABLISHMENT

After recently celebrating its first anniversary, Menlo Grill Bistro & Bar is already a solid favorite with local residents. Guests have the option of dining in the bistro, the fireplace bar, or, in nice weather, the outdoor courtyard. New chef Chuck Courtney, who has headed restaurants up and down the West Coast, is bringing flair to the menu with such specialties as cheddar chive biscuits, lobster rolls, kale lasagna, and pork chop with barbecue sauce and Brentwood corn mashed potatoes. In addition to offering full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, the grill is open until midnight for those looking for late-night drinks or desserts. 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 330-2790

PIZZA

Drawn to signature pizzas like the Menlo Combo, readers have once again chosen Applewood Pizza as their favorite pizza restaurant. Applewood offers a classic family-style dining atmosphere for those craving pizzas, sandwiches and pastas. Though regulars crowd the place, manager Attila Varsanyi says, many also visit from other cities and states. Meanwhile, expansion has begun on a local level; a new Applewood Pizza opened in San Carlos two months ago with a full bar and additional food. 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 324-3486

PLACE TO BUY MEAT

Schaub's Meat Fish & Poultry at the Stanford Shopping Center has drawn the top vote for "place to buy meat." The 24-year-old Schaub's carries sausages, Midwest corn-fed beef and the popular Fred's Steak, among other options. All sausages are made in house, owner Dave Schaub says, and a new sausage is coming out in about six months. 395 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; (650) 325-6238

PLACE TO BUY WINE

If the wood terrace that stretches overhead as you walk into Beltramo's Wines and Spirits isn't enough to transport you to thoughts of a California vineyard, the endless rows of fine wines and alcohol inside will do the trick. Beltramo's is known for its wide-ranging wine and alcohol selection as well as customer service. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful, yet low-pressure. And if you want to try out wine before making a purchase, check out the Beltramo's wine tastings every Saturday from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m, with a different theme each week. "We never pour the same wine twice," says store manager Will Sunquist. 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-2806.

SANDWICHES

Grab and go. The Village Cheese House continues its reign in the "classic" category. Noah Hiken and his wife Sarah, owners since 2007 of this 53-year-old Palo Alto institution, have remodeled the shop but retained its most cherished traditions, such as the best-selling Turkey on Dutch Crunch with the Works. Since last fall, an "express register" — for grab-and-go items, phone, catering and Order-Ahead App orders — eases the lunchtime crowding. On a shelf to the right of the entrance, the Hikens have retained some of the most popular of the shop's old gourmet lines — including Marie Sharp's Hot Habanero Sauce from Belize, Palo Alto Firefighters' Pepper Sauce, Vermont maple candies and the Cheese House private-label sweets.855 El Camino Real, Suite 157, Palo Alto; (650) 326-9251

AUTO REPAIR

This year's auto-repair gold medal goes to Portola Valley Garage, a specialist in the repair of European vehicles. Since 1948, this independent garage has been offering quality auto-repair services performed by well-trained technicians. "We will always strive to do the best for our customers, keeping their cars safe and dependable," says owner Tom Ramies, son of original owner Martin Ramies. 4170 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; 851-7442.

BARBER

Since 1963, multiple generations of Menlo Park families have returned to Golden Shears to get their hair cut. It's been voted favorite barber for the 12th year in the row. Owner Louie Arenas says the loyal clients are what keep the barbershop in business. "We're just lucky that we have a good volume of clients," he says. "I've seen a lot of families grow, start from when they're 4 or 5 years old, and now some of them are bringing in their own kids." Next year is the shop's "golden" anniversary. In May 2013, it will have been open for 50 years. 814 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 325-0943

DAY SPA

Nestled in a quiet corner scant blocks away from downtown Palo Alto's bustling University Avenue, Watercourse Way has provided a tranquil respite to residents and visitors for more than three decades. The beautiful day spa with its Zen-inspired motif features enough amenities to soothe an entire football team. Watercourse offers nine unusual, private hot-tub rooms (with names like "Two Stones" and "Six Dragonflies"), many of which include saunas or steam rooms; spa treatments such as the Champagne Chocolate Truffle, Salt Glow and Tropic Tranquility; massage; skin-care services and a shop brimming with stress-busting goodies. 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto; (650) 462-2000

DRY CLEANER

Menalto Cleaners goes for and gets the gold yet again. For the fourth year in a row, Menalto has been named favorite dry cleaners by Readers' Choice voters. Owner E. Gary Smith, a Menlo Park resident, says, "I think we are successful because we are customer-care oriented, we provide a can-do attitude, and I like what I do." Customers on Yelp echo that sentiment with five-star reviews. Menalto's offers dry cleaning with pickup and delivery service as well as laundry, alterations and shoe repair. 1921 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 323-7001

FITNESS CLASSES/YOGA

Whether it's the popular classes like yogaROK or the friendly and fun environment, the 2-year-old Studio Rincon has become a favorite place to get in shape and practice yoga. Many people like coming because they feel welcome no matter what level they are at, owners Bill and Kathy Petrin say. "The thing we value the most about our business is the genuine friendships we have made in our community," the Petrins wrote in an email. The studio maintains a family-friendly environment, offering classes that range from pre-ballet to Zumba for folks of all ages. Youth dance and yoga classes re-start in September. 3536 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; (650) 861-0242.

FLORIST

With long-lasting, fresh flower arrangements and superior customer service, Twig and Petals has won a place on the winners' platform. "We always try to exceed expectations and go the extra mile for our customers," owner Bella Hicks says. "We love getting to know our customers and building lasting relationships." Whether the flowers are for special occasions or a simple gift, Twig and Petals offers delivery service. The shop now offers to text customers pictures of the arrangements being delivered. 1927 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 241-4377

BOOKSTORE

As Kepler's, Menlo Park's iconic bookstore, enters a new phase of life under the leadership of entrepreneurs Praveen Madan and wife Christin Evans, it retains a hold on the community's hearts, raising more than $750,000 in three months — and winning another Reader's Choice Award. Peace activist Roy Kepler opened Kepler's in 1955 and it earned a reputation as a place where countercultural minds could gather to share ideas. His son Clark took over in 1980, managing the store through times good, bad and ugly, with the launch of online juggernaut Amazon.com. The new transition team is working hard to keep the community feel of Kepler's alive while updating the store with e-technology and a broader range of events and inventory. The next six months will give the store's supporters a glimpse of the store's future. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 324-4321

GYM

Bulldog Sports and Fitness tops the list of favorite gyms. "We might not be the biggest gym," founder and president Lawrence McNeil says, "but we have amazing trainers and coaches," most of whom are fresh from being student athletes in college. Bulldog offers a range of classes for kids, teens and adults, including "boot camps" and sports-themed birthday parties. Recently, the gym received private funding to provide sports programs for kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, with the goals of helping kids develop strength, speed and healthy eating habits. Currently, there are 12 trainers at three sites. 1610 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 561-4095

HAIR SALON

For the fourth year in a row, Almanac readers have voted Menlo Park-based Los Salonez their favorite hair salon. Customers are attracted by the experienced staff and the fact that Los Salonez is a local, neighborhood salon, says owner Klara Turner, who has been there 20 years. In addition to offering a wide range of trims and styles for people with different hair types, Los Salonez carries Niko products from Canada that are fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and all-natural, she says. 1010 Alma St., Menlo Park; (650) 328-0735.

HOTEL

Opened in 2009, Rosewood Sand Hill wins "Best Hotel" for the fourth year in a row. The hotel has quickly become the place to see and be seen on the Peninsula social scene, and is the setting for many gala charity events. Rosewood Sand Hill has 123 guest rooms including 31 suites, as well as a spa, the Madera restaurant, babysitting services and a grand ballroom. The two-room "Presidential Villa" has 2,372 square feet of luxury, including his-and-hers showers, a sunken tub and views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Guests and locals alike enjoy cocktails and bar food on the terrace at sunset. 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park; (650) 561-1500

MANICURE/PEDICURE

Cindy's Nails tied A Touch of Elegance in the 2012 poll for favorite place to get a manicure or pedicure. TOE's sweet staff and long-lasting polish attract a steady stream of regulars, says manager Hanh Ly. "We remember the clients' names," she adds, and they "feel like a part of our family." Manager Danny Vo emphasizes the teamwork that goes into giving quality service and making customers feel comfortable. "We all work together to always give the best to the customers," he says. Cindy's Nails has two Menlo Park locations: 1012 Alma St. (650-566-1909) and 1702 El Camino Real (650-322-6427). A Touch of Elegance is at 1150 Crane St. in Menlo Park (650-321-0679).

PAINTER

Drawn to its professional and personable service, voters in the 2012 Readers' Choice poll picked Avi Decorative Painting as their favorite painter again this year. "We provide utmost care, demonstrate a strong commitment to our customers, and provide the best service at a fair price," says owner Avi Lenchner. Since 2009, the company has aimed to increase public awareness and action about the environment through its own nonprofit organization, Avi Green Now. It's dedicated to using up-to-date, safe and sustainable products, while providing customers "the right solution the first time," he says. P.O. Box 51551, Palo Alto, CA 94303; (650) 329-0770.

PHARMACY

With multiple refill options and health services such as wellness tests and immunizations, Walgreens has won again as the favorite pharmacy to keep readers in shape for the game of life. The pharmacy aims to make the prescription process as painless as possible, offering automatic refills, text alerts and adjustable prescription settings online. Loyal customers can join a savings club that gives them discounts on medications and store items. 643 Santa Cruz Avenue Menlo Park; (650) 321-1530.

PLUMBER

The family-owned Guy Plumbing, where the fourth generation of the Guy family now works, has once again been named favorite plumber in the Almanac's poll. Customers like dealing with a company where most employees are committed to long-term relationships. Many customers have used Guy Plumbing for decades. The business aims to provide a simple, consistent and reliable service. "People trust us," owner Dave Guy says, "which has kept us alive for all these years." 1265 El Camino Real Menlo Park; (650) 323-8415

TRAVEL AGENCY

AAA Travel was voted the favorite travel agency in the 2012 Readers' Choice poll. "People like this agency because of the personal attention they get," says AAA staffer Jennifer Ehinger. "Members feel like family." The two travel agents in Palo Alto have 30 years of experience combined. "The people here are all really good friends," she adds. "People pick up on that." 430 Forest Ave, Palo Alto, CA; (650) 798-3200

BICYCLE SHOP

Consistency and customer service have wheeled Menlo Velo Bicycles to victory as favorite bicycle shop again this year. Though it's a small shop, it aims to exceed customer expectations, owner Rainer Zaechelein says. In addition to boasting a loyal customer base, the shop attracts a stream of people who rent bikes to tour Stanford and Silicon Valley sights. 433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 327-5137.

BOUTIQUE

If you want to be an champion, dress like a champion. Head to Alys Grace, Menlo Park's go-to shop for women's fashion. A small boutique feel and quality selection make Alys Grace the top pick of voters. Alys Grace offers such clothing designers as Joie, Vince and Trina Turk. The store is also home to jewelry, shoes, belts, scarves and gift items. 899B Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 322-5524

CHILDREN'S BOUTIQUE

When you see young children better dressed than you, there's a good chance their parents have shopped at Janie and Jack, voted this year's favorite children's boutique in the 2012 Readers' Choice poll. The store offers high-quality, chic children's clothes for ages newborn to 12. Accessories such as headbands and shoes are available as well. Sign up for the mailing list to find out about frequent sales and events. 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; (650) 473-1966

FLOOR COVERING

For the second year in a row, Abbey Carpet came in as the favorite for floor covering in the Readers' Choice poll. Eugene Perez, Abbey's manager for eight years, says customers appreciate the quality of service provided by this local business. "They like our attention to detail, and that we have our own installers," he says. Abbey Carpet also offers "Smart Strand," an eco-friendly carpet that is 40 percent corn and 60 percent petroleum and comes with a lifetime warranty. 905 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; (650) 462-0800.

PICTURE FRAME SHOP

The Great Frame Up in Menlo Park aims to meet picture-framing needs, from a child's art project to an expensive, original work of art. "We do it all," says owner Marcy Magatelli, a 30-year resident of Menlo Park. A year ago, the Great Frame Up moved to a new and bigger location on Santa Cruz Avenue that has allowed Ms. Magatelli to expand the store's frame selection. Additions include two lines of pre-made frames, one of which is made out of eco-friendly rubber wood or bamboo. What makes the Great Frame Up special? "The creativity, the design and ideas that we offer to people," Ms. Magatelli says. "The quality of the workmanship and my sense of community and the fact that we always see to it that everyone is extremely happy with what we've done." 865 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 323-1097

TOY STORE, GIFT AND NOVELTY

Cheeky Monkey Toys won this year in two categories: Toy Store and Gift & Novelty. The brightly colored store is appropriately named after a British term that means a "fun-loving, rambunctious child," says Anna Chow, who owns the store with her husband, Dexter Chow. "Kids should be energetic and interactive and have fun," she says. "We work really hard to find new and different things for all ages, as well as focusing on the quality and the scalability of the toys." Since 2007, Cheeky Monkey has occupied a 4,000-square-foot store on Santa Cruz Avenue. The store offers a "Ten Wishes" birthday program, where a child can come in and choose 10 items, place them in a box and then let friends and family search for a birthday present they know the birthday child wants. 640 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park; (650) 328-7975

HARDWARE STORE

Menlo Park Ace Hardware, voted best Hardware Store for the seventh year in a row, has championship-level service and product selection, according to voters in the 2012 Readers' Choice poll. "Customers can find everything they expected and more," says manager Mihail Chivari. The most popular products right now are barbecue and gardening tools, but novelty items make browsing the store's well-stocked aisles fun for customers of any age. 700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 325-2515

HOME DECOR & FURNISHINGS

This is the 20th year that Flegels Home Furnishings, known for its fine furniture and interior-design services, has won a Readers' Choice award. The professional staff of designers is there to help shoppers find the right accent piece or a full suite of furnishings at no additional cost. Prestige furniture lines include Stickley, Baker, McGuire, Jessica Charles and Matsuoka from Japan. Since the 1950s, three generations of the Flegel family have made the downtown Menlo Park store a benchmark for quality. 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 326-9661

JEWELRY STORE

Since 1931, Gleim the Jeweler has won a reputation for a wide selection of quality jewelry and expert staff. "Our customers like the quality of our jewelry and watches, as well as the fact that we have very knowledgeable and experienced colleagues to help them," says owner Georgie Gleim. "They also know us for our extensive selection of estate and antique jewelry, which sets us apart from other stores for both unique selections and good values." She says the store is always working on expanding its estate collection. If you want beautiful jewelry with a more affordable price tag, check out the store's sale case, where items that have been in stock too long are offered at half price. Other services include jewelry and watch repair, custom design, appraisals and free cleaning and inspection. 111 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; (650) 325-3533. (Appraisals: 540 University Ave., Palo Alto; 323-1331.)

LINGERIE WEAR

When it comes to spicing up the wardrobe, readers have chosen Victoria's Secret as their favorite place to buy lingerie. From lace to polka dots, the shop offers a wide variety of panties and bras. The silk and cotton wear also features different designs, such as animal print. Rather than compromising fit for comfort, the business emphasizes finding the right match for each customer. Stanford Shopping Center 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; (650) 328-0574

NURSERY

Roger Reynolds Nursery & Carriage Stop is the oldest nursery on the Peninsula and continues to be a Menlo Park favorite. Roger Reynolds founded the nursery in 1919 and today it is run by his granddaughter, Sally Halstead. "Ms. Halstead has insisted on providing only the very best quality in product and service," says the website. "This is a legacy that carries over from when her grandfather was the owner of the nursery. She is proud of how beautiful the nursery is and wants customers to enjoy the garden, redwood grove, and the two stores." Roger Reynolds specializes in Japanese maples, perennial and annual bedding plants, fruit trees, roses, bonsai, cactus, and trees, shrubs and container plants. 133 Encinal Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 323-5612

PET STORE

Independent and locally owned, The Pet Place has again been named the favorite pet store among voters in the Readers' Choice poll. Celebrating both its 20th consecutive win for favorite pet store and 20th birthday, the business remains dedicated to offering personal and reliable service, along with updated pet supplies. Whether the customer is two-legged or four-legged, the business "goes the extra 10 miles," co-owner Marc Macy says. It focuses on one-on-one problem-solving with each customer and pet, even referring customers to other services around the community. In addition to the welcoming atmosphere, "people appreciate our honesty, philosophy, and compassion for the animals," Mr. Macy says. "We are always there for customers." 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 325-7387

PRODUCE

Almanac readers can double their pleasure with two local Sigona's Farmers Markets offering the best fruits and veggies. The beautifully displayed, fragrant produce in both the Palo Alto and Redwood City markets reminds some of the markets in France and Italy. Sigona's offers a wide selection of organic and commercial produce. Do as trendy chefs do: Wander the aisles for inspiration and decide what to prepare for dinner based on what appeals to you. Sigona's offers a wide selection of organic and commercial produce. It also features other tempting products such as Tara's Mediterranean almond cookies, dried Blenheim apricots from Hollister, wines, olive oils, nuts and cheeses. 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto (650-329-1340); and 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City (650-368-6993)

SHOE STORE

Get in the Olympic spirit with a new pair of running shoes or maybe even a 5K training program at Fleet Feet Sports in Menlo Park. "We take the time to treat everyone individually, do an assessment of their feet, and try to help them choose the best shoe for whatever their fitness goals are," says Jim Gothers, who owns the store with his wife, Lisa Taggard. Fleet Feet also goes beyond the retail experience, with a 3-year-old running program called "No Boundaries," which helps people get back into or begin running by training for a 5K race. The program takes place two or three times every year. There is also a half-marathon group for more seasoned runners. "One of the things we enjoy most about what we do is getting community runners together," says Mr. Gothers. "Lots of people make good friends. We run together, talk together, laugh together." 859 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-9432.

ART GALLERY

Featuring a wide range of artwork and styles, the Portola Art Gallery has been chosen the voters' favorite art gallery in the 2012 Readers' Choice poll. The gallery, located at Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, showcases work from 13 artists, including photographers, painters and ceramicists. Many of the artists come from the Bay Area. In October 2012, the gallery plans to host its fourth annual Paint Allied Arts exhibit for the community and local artists. It is accepting artist applications for the event. 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park; (650) 321-0220

HAPPY HOUR

Left Bank in Menlo Park and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse in Palo Alto tied in the Happy Hour category. At Fleming's, Happy Hour extends from 5 to 7 each day and features five varieties of wine, five cocktails and five appetizers. Each item is $6. Favorite cocktails include margaritas and the "bikinitini." Appetizers include baked brie, roasted mushroom ravioli, tenderloin carpaccio, calamari and shrimp cocktail. Left Bank's Happy Hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Wine is $5 a glass; cocktails are $6. Appetizers are $7 and feature oysters on the half shell; tuna tartare; calamari; salmon croquettes; and truffled frites. Happy Hour at Left Bank also extends from 9 p.m. until closing time. Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, 2 Stanford Shopping, Palo Alto (650-329-8457); and Left Bank, 635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park (650-473-6543)

LIVE MUSIC

The diversity of music and customers at Cafe Zoe helped make it the favorite spot for live music in the 2012 Readers' Choice poll. Most Friday nights, the Menlo Park cafe features local artists who perform and create many styles of music and art. Among the performers are school teachers and students who perform in side gigs and open mic nights, says catering manager Jessa Sharkey. The cafe has a relaxed environment, offering free Wi-Fi, lunch items and drinks. Well supported by schools and local businesses, the cafe attracts a range of customers who have become friends with the staff. "Most people feel a great sense of community," Ms. Sharkey says. "They come together and feel at home." 1929 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 322-1926

PLACE FOR A DATE

Once again Readers' Choice voters picked the Village Pub as a favorite place for a date, and it is easy to understand why. The restaurant's elegant atmosphere sets the scene for a special evening. The staff is highly professional, yet friendly, and the delectable food prepared by executive chef Dmitry Elperin makes it a night to remember. Choices range from a luxurious multi-course meal ordered from the regular menu to a burger, available from the bar menu. The Pub emphasizes fresh, seasonal produce, much of it grown at the restaurant's organic farm in the hills above Woodside. Spacious, comfortable seating ensures conversation remains private. 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside; (650) 851-9888

PLACE FOR A CHILD'S BIRTHDAY PARTY

Menlo Park's Color Me Mine has won again as favorite place for a child's birthday party, with its variety of ceramic pieces that children and their parents can paint and decorate. The business offers two party packages that include all paints, glazing, firing and invitations. Also, kids can host themed parties and choose their ceramic pieces accordingly. After finishing their masterpieces, customers leave them temporarily with the studio, which fires them in the kilns. 602 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; (650) 328-4486

Comments

Posted by registered user, KT, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Yay Bulldog Sports and Fitness! That's the gym I go to and the trainers have helped me lose 26 pounds and 20+ inches in only three months. They truly are THE BEST!