Readers' Choice 2011: Singing their praisesWriters: Alison Myoraku, Rebecca Wallace, Renee Batti, Jane Knoerle, Dave Boyce, Sandy Brundage
Almanac readers name their favorite restaurants, shops and services
If you don't feel much like singing the blues and want to head to the sunny side of the street, you won't do wrong by checking out some of our readers' favorite local restaurants, shops and services.
Based on voting by Almanac readers, these are the winners of the Readers' Choice 2011 Awards.
CASUAL DINING, DESSERT, INDEPENDENT COFFEE/TEA HOUSE, PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE, LIVE MUSIC
Locals just don't stop believin' in Cafe Borrone, which has won five Readers' Choice Awards: Casual Dining, Dessert, Independent Coffee/Tea House, Place to Meet People, and Live Music. No matter the time of day, the endless line of customers that often extends into the patio area of the cafe is a good indication of its stable popularity. Locals frequent the family-owned cafe for its delicious Taylor Maid coffee and hot sandwiches, or the recently added dinner specials, served from 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. General manager Marina Borrone, who owns the cafe with husband and chef Josh Pebbles, as well as her parents, remarks that, "Our guests always comment on the vibrant, uplifting energy that our environment offers." The cafe often serves as a stage for Clint Baker and the All Stars, who play New Orleans-style jazz and "who have stirred it up [there] for over 20 years," she says. So, whether you're scheduling an interview, or hoping to hang out with friends, Cafe Borrone will not disappoint. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-327-0830
CHINESE RESTAURANT, TAKE OUT
Su Hong has been a Menlo Park favorite since it opened in 1977. No wonder it has been named best Chinese restaurant by our readers for 18 years. Diners love the walnut prawns, rolling lettuce chicken, dry sauteed string bean, and sizzling seafood platter served in white tablecloth dining rooms by a gracious staff. "Most of our employees have been working here for over a decade," says owner Bee King. Su Hong To Go also rates tops with Readers' Choice voters.
Su Hong, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852. Su Hong To Go, 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park, 322-4631.
HAMBURGER, DINE WITH KIDS
The promising scent of mouthwatering burgers and French fries wafts from the door of Jeffrey's Hamburgers, winner of this year's Best Hamburger and Best Place to Dine with Kids awards. The fun continues even after Daddy takes the T-bird away at Jeffrey's, where the 1950s atmosphere provides the perfect place for families to enjoy their burgers and milkshakes. Although it came to Menlo Park just four years ago, the locals have embraced Jeffrey's Hamburgers and its wide selection of burgers, sides, shakes, and sandwiches. The option to order online is coming soon to the restaurant's website as well. 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 322-1959
The Left Bank is a classic French brasserie with a California twist. Its late summer menu is filled with the bounty of seasonal produce from local farmers, such as sweet peas, corn, stone fruit and berries, says Chef Brendy Monsada. This is the time of year to enjoy a salad nicoise or grilled salmon entree, he adds. In warm weather, diners take to the sidewalk seating. However, the recently remodeled interior is attractive all year round. Regular patrons enjoy stopping in the bar during happy hour for oysters on the half shell and a glass of wine. For a sweet finale, try the profiteroles or fresh fruit clafouti. The Left Bank, 635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 473-6543.
Vegetarians get treated especially well at Darbar Indian Cuisine, where the menu's wealth of non-meat entrees allows spinach, farmer's cheese, garbanzo beans, okra and eggplant to star. Dishes with a South Indian flair include dosas with potatoes. But Darbar's offerings come from both North and South, appealing to both vegetarian and non-vegetarian palates, which means chicken, prawns, lamb, fish, beef and other offerings. A lunch buffet is served up weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with dishes changing daily. 129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto; 321-6688.
INTIMATE DINING, PLACE FOR A DATE
"Our staff appreciates romance," says Andy O'Day, general manager of the Village Pub. The Woodside restaurant is once again our readers' favorite spot for intimate dining and place for a date. Karey Walker of parent company Bacchus Management Group notes that the overall ambiance at the Pub — with its burgundy colored mohair walls, dark wood accents, oversized limestone fireplace, antique bar, and, of course, candlelight — lends itself to an intimate dining experience. "From the moment our guests arrive, until the time they leave, they are guided through an unforgettable dining experience," she says. That experience includes the delectable offerings of executive chef Dmitry Elperin, whose culinary talent has led to one-star ratings in the Michelin guide three years running. Diners' choices range from "a luxurious multi-course tasting menu that highlights ingredients from our farm ... with wines paired by our sommelier team, to a Pub burger with a bottle of wine from our extensive award-winning wine list, enjoyed on the veranda," Ms. Walker says. 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside; 650-851-9888; thevillagepub.net
Some locals complain that the area has too many Italian restaurants, but a stalwart set of diners appears to have no complaints about Carpaccio, which year after year has been Almanac readers' No. 1 choice for Italian cuisine. In addition to lunch and dinner menus featuring soups, salads, pizza, pasta and other entrees, chef Jorge Cortes offers weekly specials, says managing partner Ciya Martorana. Recent specials have included risotto with smoked muscovy duck and mushrooms; and grilled prawns and scallops with prosciutto, served with Tuscan beans. The decor evokes the charms of bella Toscana, and on pleasant days, the window-walls in front of the restaurant open up, providing the feel of open-air dining. 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park; 650-322-1211; carpaccios.com
The Almanac's readers chose Naomi Sushi in Menlo Park as their favorite Japanese restaurant this year. Sushi lovers can choose from a menu that includes a "49er roll," with white tuna and avocado on top and spicy yellowtail inside; East Coast black sea bass; and "omakase," the chef's changing creation. But sushi is only part of the restaurant's offerings: Chicken, grilled fish, and noodle dishes are also on the menu. The restaurant also offers sake tasting. 1328 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-321-6902; naomisushi.com
Lulu's on the Alameda, winner of best Mexican restaurant, is one of the most popular restaurants with locals. It's the creation of Bay Area native Natalie Richardson and Lourdes (Lulu) Lopez, an expert in Mexican cuisine. Ms. Richardson, who owns the restaurant with husband Bracken Richardson, says customers value the freshness of the ingredients. The long menu, compiled by head chef Ms. Lopez, offers 10 meat options and varieties of fajitas, burritos, and enchiladas, not to mention a new, gluten-free section. Lulu's expects to open a fourth restaurant shortly, on Main Street in Los Altos. The other locations are at Town & Country shopping center in Palo Alto and 876 Laurel St. in San Carlos. 3539 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 650-854-8226
There hasn't been much time for diners to discover the charms of Menlo Grill, which opened at the Stanford Park Hotel in mid-June, replacing the Duck Club. But the new kid on the block must be doing something right, because six weeks after opening it was voted best new restaurant by Almanac readers. "Locals love the new Menlo Grill because it's a warm, friendly bistro and bar that serves approachable and familiar dishes prepared uncompromisingly well," says Josh Keller of parent company Woodside Hotels. Describing the ambiance as "comfortable and cordial, yet sophisticated," Mr. Keller says diners can choose to sit in the newly designed bistro, the fireplace bar, or the outdoor courtyard. In addition to full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, the restaurant offers over 30 wines by the glass, and a large selection of American craft beers. And there's no corkage fee if you bring your own wine. "Happy hour is perhaps the best deal in the area, with half-priced drinks and delicious small plates," Mr. Keller says, adding that Menlo Grill is open until midnight for those looking for late-night drinks or desserts. 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-330-2790; menlogrill.com
Luscious cakes, as well as tarts, pies, breads, and meringues, make Woodside Bakery a Readers' Choice favorite. The cakes, including genoise aux fruits, Black Forest cake, double and triple chocolate mousse cakes and raspberry ganache, all created by pastry chef Jesus Mendoza, are as delectable as those found in a Parisian patisserie. Customers also keep coming back for the meringues and biscotti. Owner Mark Sweyer and his sister, Jan, who is bakery manager, are native Woodsiders. Woodside Bakery, 3052 Woodside Road, Woodside, 851-0812.
If you see a long line at Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino Real in Menlo Park, don't assume it's folks queuing up for a concert. More likely it's customers waiting for their names to be called for a table at Stacks restaurant, where regulars love the omelets and Stacks famous homemade pancakes, as well as a variety of lunch fare. Owner Geoffrey Swenson describes the staff as "dedicated, committed, industrious, and fun." Their sense of camaraderie is strong, he says, and it often bubbles over, creating a family atmosphere in the restaurant. 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-838-0066
After only two years in business, The Mix, a Frozen Yogurt Treatery has established itself as a hot spot in the community for a cool treat. The idea behind the treatery was to think of it as a neighborhood spot first, and a frozen yogurt shop second, according to co-owners Jamie Schein and Susannah Albright. "Customers love our all-natural yogurt, our wide variety of toppings, and our clean and bright store," they say. Customers can enjoy regular flavors such as peanut butter, coffee, or original tart, or create their own flavor with the special Mixer. The Mix is set to introduce "Topping Tuesdays," when customers can top their frozen yogurt for free. 3536 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 650-854-6491.
Applewood Pizza has once again been selected for best pizza by Readers' Choice voters. The impressive menu offers numerous signature pizzas, as well as the opportunity to concoct your own pizza. The bar flaunts 37 imported beers, yet the restaurant maintains a family-friendly atmosphere where people can go to relax and enjoy a flavorful meal. Some of their lesser-known specialty sides include Hungarian goulash, and langos, which is Hungarian fried bread. The restaurant also has the option of ordering online, which comes with the choice of take-out or delivery. 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-324-3486
PLACE TO BUY MEAT
This year, Almanac readers have again chosen Draeger's as the best local butcher. Co-owner and vice president John Draeger says his family-run business has "kept traditional quality standards in place" over the years. The market sells Midwest pork, USDA Choice and Grade Midwest grain-fed beef, and dry aged American lamb in its downtown corner location. "We taste what we are buying to be sure," he said. He added that it helps to have good people, describing meat manager Tom Henning as experienced, capable and just plain nice. 1010 University Dr., Menlo Park; 324-7733
PLACE TO BUY WINE
With its pretty wood-paneled ceilings and rustic displays of baskets above rows and rows of bottles, Beltramo's Wines and Spirits could be described as a museum of wine. But no docent tours are needed here. The Beltramo's wine section is neatly laid out, with signs pointing visitors from country to country and region to region. One aisle spans the vineyard miles from Germany to Australia — and the price range from a $5.99 Greek retsina to a $450 Hungarian Tokaji that comes in a special box. There's a tasting room in back, with recent evenings dedicated to Austrian wines, California chardonnays and new-arrival pinot noirs. If you do find you need a docent, just ask. Clerks are friendly and knowledgeable. 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-2806.
Finding the best fruits and veggies can be difficult, but Almanac readers are lucky. They have two local Sigona's markets, their favorite places for produce in the 2011 Readers' Choice voting. Sigona's offers a wide selection of organic and commercial produce. It also serves as a regular grocery store and carries a line of products branded with its own Sigona Signature label. Our voters says that with fruits and veggies from Sigona's, you are guaranteed to be in for good eating. 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 650-329-1340; and 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City; 650-368-6993
A good sandwich can make your taste buds sing, but a great sandwich elicits an orchestra of savory sensations. Enter The Village Cheesehouse, the Mozart of sandwich-makers. With a cornucopia of breads, meats, cheeses and veggies to choose from, the Village Cheesehouse has the right deli delicacies to satisfy a clientele as diverse as the Village People. 855 El Camino Real, #157, Palo Alto; 650-326-9251
The Readers' Choice favorite in the auto repair category is Portola Valley Garage, a specialist in the repair of European vehicles. In a phone interview, owner Tom Ramies had a message for his customers: "Thanks for all your support and we will strive to always be the best," he said. "A big hug to all the Almanac readers who voted us number 1." 4170 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; 851-7442.
If you have long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming and streaming, the Golden Shears is the place to get it cut. Voted best barber by faithful locals for 11 years, Golden Shears has been serving its clients since 1963. Owner Louie Arenas says that customers feel relaxed, comfortable, and part of the family when they come to his barbershop. "We're serving clients from the fourth generation here," he comments. There is a vintage, nostalgic feeling about the place, according to Mr. Arenas, and people like knowing that the Golden Shears has been the same since their parents were little children. 814 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-325-0943
Patrons at Watercourse Way may leave the spa with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads — especially if they've gotten a sugarplum facial masque after their dry-brush skin exfoliation and cranberry-pomegranate sugar scrub. Life is sweet for Almanac readers at serene Watercourse Way. They've voted it their favorite day spa for these and other services, which include hot-tub soaks, facials, paraffin treatments and massages. 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto; 650-462-2000
If Lady GaGa needed any of her spectacularly outrageous outfits dry cleaned, she could depend on the professional services of Menalto Cleaners, which landed the best dry cleaner laurels from Readers' Choice voters. The heart and drive of the business come from owner E. Gary Smith, who says he "loves clothes and loves people." Customers compliment the business, saying they receive "great service with a smile" from the staff, and can count on careful handling of their clothes. The website offers an explanation of all of the services, including dry cleaning, laundry, alterations and shoe repair, as well as a price list for each service. Menalto Cleaners is preparing to automate its sale and invoicing system to accommodate the growth of the business, according to Mr. Smith. 1921 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park; 650-323-7001
You can get Physical like Olivia Newton-John after attending classes at The Dailey Method, which won the Readers' Choice Award for the Best Fitness Class. The studio, owned by Erin Paruszewski, provides a "toxin-free environment for clients while it minimizes its carbon footprint," she says. Of the actual workout, she says, "It's efficient, it's effective, it's evolving." The instructors "aspire to personally connect" with their customers, who tell her that the moves are invigorating without being jarring, the instructors are inspiring, and the music is great. The Dailey Method provides childcare services, enabling parents to enjoy a workout without worrying about their children. Ms. Paruszewski says she hopes to "keep the citizens of the greater Menlo area long, lean and strong." 3528 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 650-854-8361
Under the ownership of Bella Hicks, Twig and Petals Floral Boutique, which opened on Menalto Avenue in Menlo Park last December, has blossomed into a blooming business that won Readers' Choice voters' pick this year for favorite florist. "Mixing textures, colors and unique flowers are what we do best," the shop says on its website. Customers rave about Ms. Hicks' flower-arranging talent. "They like our quality of work, the fresh flowers we use, and the uniqueness we provide," she says. The shop offers services for an assortment of events, specializing in weddings. Twig and Petals makes an effort to buy locally grown flowers, and works to keep its environmental impact minimal. An online ordering system enables customers to place their orders with ease. 1927 Menalto Ave, Menlo Park; 650-241-4377
BOOKSTORE, GREEN BUSINESS
Kepler's Books and Magazines made a big change recently to its popular author-talks program. No longer able to offer free admission to the talks, Kepler's began requiring audience members who are not store members to buy the event book or a gift card. Owner Clark Kepler said this change hasn't hurt attendance. "Anecdotally, we have heard comments from customers like: 'It makes sense; people ought to be willing to pay something,' and 'That's a fair amount to ask,'" he said. And Kepler's remains well-liked with Almanac readers, who once again voted it the best local bookstore. Readers also singled out the shop for its green practices, which include repurposing and reusing boxes and shipping materials, and selling products made from recycled materials. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 324-4321.
There are no "Fat Bottomed Girls" at Fitness 101, only healthful workouts and sociable staff members. "We are very low pressure and we have no pretense," says Gordon Bliss, president of Fitness 101. These qualities create a community and family feel, he says. The gym will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October 2011 with the opening of its new studio, the Evolution Training Center in Redwood City. At its current Menlo Park location, trainers offer the intense RAW (Real Athletic Workout) program for $100 a month. "[The workouts] are so efficient and challenging you don't need to take more than two or three classes a week," explains Mr. Bliss, who takes these classes himself. The gym is now offering a new weight-loss program, which is capped at 12 participants to allow trainers one-on-one time with each individual. 40 Scott Drive, Menlo Park; (650) 321-7900
If Rihanna ever wanted to lose her red do, she would only have to step into Los Salonez on Alma Street in Menlo Park, where the hairstylists specialize in color corrections and emphasize the natural. Owner Klara Turner says the salon focuses on personal hair care, offering haircuts for all ages and a multitude of hair services, including a new Keratin Smoothing Treatment for frizzy hair. Hairstylists Celeste Green and Isra Albander bring the staff to three. Los Salonez sells products from Euphora, Alterna, DermaOrganics and Redken. The salon has a retail section that sells jewelry and currently displays the works of two local artists, Lisa Maloney and Lisa Dimaggio. 1010 Alma St., Menlo Park; 650-328-0735
The third time's the charm for the Rosewood Sand Hill, which opened in 2009 and wins "Best Hotel" yet again this year. Sited near Interstate 280 with plenty of hilly vistas, Rosewood has 121 guest rooms, a spa, the Madera restaurant, babysitting services, and a ballroom for inviting over 285 of your closest friends. A particular splurge is the two-room, 2,372-square-foot "Presidential Villa." There are his-and-her showers in case the sunken tub gets old, and wall-to-ceiling glass so there's no way to miss the views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park; 561-1500.
PYTs can get some TLC for their nails at Cindy's Nail Spas, which was voted the best place for a manicure or pedicure for the third consecutive year. With three locations in Menlo Park and reduced prices for teens and children, locals of all ages are never without quality nail care. Owner Danny Do explains, "We do the best we can, and the customers are always number one." The staff always appreciates feedback from their customers, says Mr. Do, so that the spa can continue to refine its services, which include manicures, pedicures, waxes, and other special services. Three Menlo Park locations: 1702 El Camino Real, 322-6427; 1012 Alma St., 566-1909; and 3530 Alameda de las Pulgas, 233-9317.
The knowledge and professionalism of the employees at Avi Decorative Painting has landed it another Readers' Choice Award for best painters. "Customers enjoy the help we provide before, during, and after the service," says president Avi Lenchner. Avi Decorative Painting prides itself on being an environmentally conscious business, offering better quality and healthier solutions to homeowners. Its employees take the time to "paint sizeable paint samples, enabling the customer to observe results in various lights to achieve the desired effect," according to the website. So if you "see a red door and want it painted black," you know where to go. P.O. Box 51551, Palo Alto; 650-329-0770
Walgreens,which has won again for best pharmacy, offers not only prescriptions, but weekly deals on all sorts of essentials. The pharmacy, in particular, provides customers with several refill options (phone, online, automatic), and will even send text messages to customers to let them know their prescription is waiting. A reminder system via email can also be arranged. Walgreens also sells food, cosmetics, gift cards, and assorted school supplies while giving customers access to photo labs. 643 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-321-1530
"We're thrilled," said David Guy, owner of Guy Plumbing, when told that his outfit was the top choice among readers once again. "Most of our customers we've had for 20, 30, 40, 50 and even 60 years. We're blessed to stay busy in the hard times right now." Mr. Guy said he builds his business through referrals, word of mouth and giving to the community, such as through school auctions and baseball sponsorship. 1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 323-8415.
If you're flying first class, up in the sky, it could be thanks to Ladera Travel, which has once again won for best travel agency. "Our team has extensive first-hand travel experience, which is critical to providing customized international and domestic itineraries for our clients," says president and co-owner Les Burger. The agency has been serving locals for over 45 years, whether they are leisure or corporate travelers. As a Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Ladera Travel can offer its clients special benefits such as spa treatments, golf outings, and lunches, according to Mr. Burger. 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 650-854-3222
Recently opened in its new location on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, Menlo Pilates and Yoga has won the support of Readers' Choice voters. The studio, owned by Fran Philip, is "dedicated to human movement," and "tries to provide a refreshingly positive experience and change the way people view health and fitness," its website says. Menlo Pilates and Yoga offers various classes, including pilates for all levels, Vinyasa yoga (more active and fast-paced), Zumba, and yogilates, the ultimate combination of yoga and pilates. Ms. Philip, who has been involved in the fitness industry since 1997, teaches a number of the classes herself. More information can be found at menlopilates.com. 1011 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 408-480-8977
Menlo Velo Bicycles will add a 2011 plaque to its wall to join some 13 others there, said owner Rainer Zaechelein. "When the customer chooses you as their favorite, that's the nicest gratification you can get," Mr. Zaechelein said. Asked about new trends, he noted the increase interest in commuting by bike and shopping around town, "which is good to see," he added. 433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-5137.
After a fire damaged the Calla boutique in downtown Menlo Park, owners Phil and Tiger Bachler decided to take the opportunity for renovation, and returned to business as Alys Grace, which has won the Readers' Choice vote for best boutique. With "extraordinary women inside and out" as their selling phrase, Alys Grace supplies fashionable locals with clothes from countless designer brands, as well as accessories and shoes. Customers enjoy the "fact that we welcome special orders when we are out of stock in sizes or when we custom-order jewelry for them, and that we have a range of styles for both the classic or conservative gal, as well as the hipster gal," says Ms. Bachler. Alys Grace is currently receiving fall orders of cashmere sweaters and a great assortment of denim, according to Ms. Bachler. 899B Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-322-5524
Whether it's newlyweds or the family mutt, the place to frame up that glam shot is University Art. The mainstay of Hamilton Avenue is a favorite place for frames from gilded to inlay. For 60 years, University Art has helped customers design the finest setting for art and memorabilia — including three-dimensional objects such as sports medals and jerseys. All of the work is done in-house and University Art uses only archival materials to last. 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-3500
TOY STORE, GIFT & NOVELTY
If children want to view paradise, they simply have to look around at Cheeky Monkey Toys, which has claimed the award for Best Toy Store for the 11th year in a row. It also won this year for the best Gift & Novelty shop. "People seem to enjoy our customer service and our selection of toys," says manager Dexter Chow. Both of these qualities contribute to the colorful, outgoing atmosphere of the store. "We have toys out on display for the customers to look at and play with," which keeps the children engaged and entertained, he says. The store also holds a number of in-store events, including music lessons and a birthday program known as "Ten Wishes." 640 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-328-7975
Menlo Park Ace Hardware has won the Readers Choice' award as best hardware store for the fifth year in a row. The store recently finished a year-long plan to expand by 1,400 square feet. Along with more room comes more inventory, as the store adds an array of batteries to power everything from a boat to a cell phone and a laptop. Friendly staff, easy parking, and now a wider selection keep the customers coming back. 700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-325-2515
HOME DECOR & FURNISHINGS
Reader's Choice stalwart Flegels is a winner for the 19th year. The downtown Menlo Park store is a longtime purveyor of furniture and interior-design services, and style choices are broad. Shoppers might opt for the Stickley Colonial Williamsburg collection, with a cushioned settee, mahogany-framed mirror, silver chest and chiming clock. Or they can go more modern with a zippy zebra-print chair designed by Jessica Charles. The Flegels interior-design staff can provide advice — just in case you're wondering whether that turquoise gourd vase really does go with that Georgian armchair. 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 326-9661.
Gleim the Jeweler has remained family-owned since it opened its doors on Palo Alto's University Avenue in 1931. Now located in Stanford Shopping Center, Gleim remains a favorite with Almanac readers, regularly appearing in the Readers' Choice section. Visitors may be shopping for an emerald-cut engagement ring or an Art Deco brooch. Gleim also services and sells watches, does appraisals and creates corporate gifts. 111 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 325-3533. (Appraisals: 540 University Ave., Palo Alto; 323-1331.)
Ela Lingerie, where customers like the selection and attention to personal service, was voted best lingerie store in the 2011 Readers' Choice balloting. The store offers European designs, several of which are only sold by Ela in the U.S., according to co-owner Marcia de Lima, who says she aims to provide "the highest quality and most beautiful lingerie, sleepwear and hosiery, coupled with a great customer experience and professional fitting." Customers praise the saleswomen, who are "exceptional in their attention to the customer, and their ability to size you," she says. 1139 Chestnut St., Menlo Park; 650-325-2965
A visit to Roger Reynolds Nursery & Carriage Stop is no simple tiptoe through the tulips. Since 1919, the nursery has truthfully promised visitors a rose garden, because this is where all the flowers have gone, from azaleas to zinnias. A piece of the original redwood grove remains in the nursery's 2.5 acres, as familiar as the green, green grass of home; and the Victorian cottage contains a plant and gift shop. Special events are periodically planned; earlier this month the nursery offered a tomato-tasting, with recipes, tips on how to save seeds, and salsa with plenty of tomatoes and tomahtoes. 133 Encinal Ave., Menlo Park; 323-5612.
Henry the Horse would dance the waltz in celebration of The Pet Place and its 19th consecutive win for best pet store. This family-owned neighborhood store has won the hearts of pet lovers all over the Peninsula for its exceptional customer service and highly knowledgeable staff. Owners Marc and Lynn Macy are "lifelong animal people," says Marc, with the commitment to provide an "honest, compassionate pet supply store." They know regular customers by name, and refer pet owners to animal experts around the Bay. Pictures of pets line the walls, and the shelves are often stocked with new and engaging products. The Pet Place staffers take part in rescues for all sorts of animals, including rabbits, cats, dogs, birds, and guinea pigs. 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-325-7387
You can find some boots made for walking at Kicks, named best shoe store this year by Readers' Choice voters. Owner Lee Murphy says customers enjoy the selection of shoes, jewelry and gifts offered by the store. The store sells products by Merrell, Lilly Pulitzer, Tretorn, Jack Rogers, Heather B. Moore, MZ Wallance, Donald J Pliner, Kate Spade, Rebeca Minkoff, and Stuart Weitzman. Kicks is now receiving shipments of fall boots by designers such as Cole Haan and Hunter. During the next couple of months, Kicks will host a number of jewelry shows, which display accessories made by local artists. 1060 Evelyn St., Menlo Park; 650-328-5425
PLACE FOR A KID'S BIRTHDAY PARTY
Even if it weren't a Friday, Rebecca Black would party at Color Me Mine, which won the Readers' Choice award for the best place to host a kid's birthday party. The wide array of objects to paint and the dizzying number of colors to choose from are enough to get any kid's creative juices flowing. Manager Ali Greene remarks that customers like the "personal aspect of the business, and the fact that it combines the activity and the product, resulting in something that is one of a kind." In addition to birthday parties, for which the business is always adding new packages and deals, Color Me Mine offers summer art camps. 602 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 650-328-4486