AMERICAN RESTAURANT, HAPPY HOUR
The awards for both favorite American restaurant and place for "happy hour" go to the Menlo Grill Bistro and Bar located in the Stanford Park Hotel. Patrick Lane, the vice president and general manager of the Stanford Park Hotel, said that the food offered at the grill "all harkens back to that California passion for the greatest ingredients and not over-manipulating them so the ingredients speak for themselves." In addition to its Californian roots, Mr. Lane says, "the American food is something customers can relate to. It's not a lot of foreign words or preparations. It's really good fresh and locally sourced food that people like to eat." Happy hour is offered between 3 and 5 p.m., when the grill offers five drinks that are sold for $5 each, along with shareable food items, also sold for $5. Menlo Grill offers two specialty drinks — one, a white sangria, often made around a particular fruit, and the other, a specialty batch cocktail that "allows the flavors to mature together, and create more depth," Mr. Lane says.
100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 330-2790 | menlogrill.com
CASUAL DINING, OUTDOOR DINING, INDEPENDENT COFFEE/TEA HOUSE, PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE
What makes Cafe Borrone an "institution" in Menlo Park? Maybe it's that it's been around long enough for people to grow up in it, and those that move away make a point to return when they're in town, said owner Marina Borrone. Whatever draws people in, she said, the cafe has gathered a dedicated cohort of regulars. The business has deep family ties: Marina's parents Roy and Rose started the business, which was in Redwood City for 10 years before moving to its Menlo Park location. Her husband, Josh Pebbles, is the cafe's executive chef, and her brother-in-law, Jeff Frey, is the general manager. As for the food, Ms. Borrone said that all dishes are house-made from scratch, from minestrone soup to pappardelle. The cafe also runs seasonal art exhibits (which shop co-founder Roy Borrone still oversees) and hosts jazz and other live music events.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 327-0830 | cafeborrone.com
New name, same food, has been the mantra of this year's winner for best Chinese restaurant, Chef Kwan's, since ownership transitioned and the restaurant's name changed from Su Hong To Go last September. Jason Kwan, the store's owner, says people like the restaurant's attention to the basics of food service, offering satisfaction in taste, service, quality and portion sizes. The most popular dishes are General's chicken, Chinese chicken salad, and potstickers. He says the won ton soup, orange peel chicken and Mongolian beef are also popular. Eventually, he says, he wants to expand the appetizers and dessert offerings at the restaurant, but he is currently busy working to open Yum Cha Palace, located at 1039 El Camino Real, formerly Su Hong, which is being remodeled. The restaurant will serve dim sum when it opens, which could be as soon as September, he said.
630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 322-4631 | chefkwans.com
DINE WITH KIDS
With an alligator carpet lining the floor and a 6-foot-tall Statue of Liberty welcoming guests as they open the door, Buck's of Woodside entices children of all ages to a dining experience like no other. This year, Buck's of Woodside won the award for favorite place to dine with kids. Young visitors are enticed by the whimsical feeling of the restaurant, attributed to its extraordinary decor, and some of the items featured on the children's menu, such as "pizza for pizza heads." Jamis MacNiven, who, with his wife Margaret, owns Buck's, says that "parents sometimes tell us we ruin kids for other restaurants because we let them run wild. We give them a treasure hunt and put gummy frogs on every plate. What's not to love."
3062 Woodside Road, Woodside | (650) 851-8010 | buckswoodside.com
Left Bank French brasserie in downtown Menlo Park is even more popular with local diners since it expanded its outdoor sidewalk seating. Opened in 1998, the restaurant was completely remodeled in 2008. Classic brasserie items, such as steak frites, onion soup, steak tartar and cheese fondue are available year-round. However, Chef Brendy Monsada changes his seasonal menu items every month with local and organic produce, sustainable seafood and natural meats. A $20 prix-fixe lunch will get you in and out quickly and the $40 prix-fixe dinner is a great value. On Sundays, bring your own bottle of wine and your $15 corkage fee will be donated to the Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation.
635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 473-6543 | leftbank.com
Carpaccio's is once again the Almanac readers' choice for favorite Italian restaurant. Award-winning interior designer Pat Kuleto has designed the downtown Menlo Park restaurant's interiors, including seating near a wall of windows that open in fine weather for al fresco dining. In addition to the Italian classics, how about a smoked salmon and caviar pizza (Salmone affumicato e Caviale) or an appetizer of Eastern oysters baked with fresh spinach and Asiago cheese (Ostriche Asiago), or weekly specials that have recently included a salad of seasonal pears, endive, radicchio & arugula with imported gorgonzola, candied walnuts and house-made champagne vinaigrette (Insalata con Pera)? And, for dessert, how about fresh seasonal berries and chilled zabaglione topped with passion fruit sorbet (Bacche fresche di Stagione e Zabaione con Sorbetto)?
1120 Crane St., Menlo Park | (650) 322-1211 | carpaccios.com
Located on El Camino Real, Fuki Sushi offers a traditional yet upscale sushi experience. From the fresh cuts of fish arranged elegantly to authentic soups and other appetizers, served alongside sake, the food is sure to impress. Bare wood interiors and waitresses wearing kimonos add to the uniquely Japanese atmosphere. Despite the somewhat upscale feel of the establishment, chefs as well as service staff are more than willing to accommodate most any requests.
4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto | (650) 494-9383 | fukisushi.com
Featuring colorful decorations and a sunny atmosphere, Cafe Del Soltakes the prize for favorite Mexican restaurant this year. Owner Leonel Diaz says visitors are "in love" with the restaurant's poblano relleno — roasted poblano peppers stuffed with grilled seafood — and camarones al mojo de ajo — shrimp sauteed with garlic, lime, wine and butter, served with mango salsa. "Our food has a lot of flavor," he says. It's fresh, he said, and the restaurant takes special pride in its "juicy" meat dishes. The restaurant has the same cooks it began with when it opened 13 years ago. Visitors can look forward to minor changes in the restaurant's decor, and the addition of a couple of new entrees and appetizers to the menu as soon as September, he says.
1010 Doyle St. #1 Menlo Park | (650) 326-2501 | cafedelsolmenlo.com
NEW RESTAURANT, DESSERT
Mademoiselle Colette prides itself in bringing the true essence of France to Menlo Park, with traditional French pastries, brunch, and lunch items. Opening in Menlo Park last October, the patisserie has been named favorite new restaurant and favorite place for dessert by voters in the Almanac's Readers' Choice poll. "We make it all from scratch, from organic products," says owner Debora Ferrand. Her customers, she says, "feel like they are in France because it's the same quality and ingredients." In addition, "we put so much love and energy into our cakes," she says. Customers can taste the love, especially in the raspberry eclair and chocolate croissants, which are customer favorites.
816 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 644-8469 | mademoisellecolette.com
The Village Pub, with deep-burgundy walls and white-linen-covered tables glowing with candlelight — and set far enough apart for intimate conversation — has been chosen by Almanac readers as their favorite romantic restaurant, whether for a "getting to know you" date or an anniversary celebration. Beyond the handsome decor, the Pub offers impeccable food and professional service that make it one of the Bay Area's highest-rated restaurants. Fresh produce from its private 5-acre SMIP Ranch in Woodside, as well as high quality meat, fish and ingredients, is prepared by executive chef Orlando Pagan. A recent menu offered such entrees as almond wood-grilled Rancho Llano Seco pork with stone fruit and Sicilian pistachios, and pan-seared big eye tuna with sweet peas and green garlic bagna cauda.
2967 Woodside Road, Woodside | (650) 851-9888 | thevillagepub.com