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Readers choose their favorite shops, services

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Another year, another list. Almanac readers have again told us where they go when they're in the mood for great Italian, Japanese and Mexican food. Whom they turn to for a super cut or perfect nails. Which plumber they call when the pipes back up, or where they take their car for servicing and repair. What follows is the list of their top picks in these and other categories, along with first runners-up.


BAGELS

With 24 flavors, ranging from cheese to chocolate chip, there's a bagel to please everyone at The Posh Bagel. A cream cheese "schmear" makes the bagel taste even better. Plain, tomato basil and veggie cream cheese are favorites. The morning crowd likes breakfast bagels, or "eggwiches," with eggs, ham or cheese. After school, kids go for pizza bagels.

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The Posh Bagel 869 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-7674.

Runner-up: House of Bagels 526 University Ave., Palo Alto; 921-9575.


BREAKFAST

Loyal customers swear the bacon is crisper, the pancakes are fluffier, and the omelets are tastier at Ann's Coffee Shop in downtown Menlo Park. The folks at Ann's must be doing something right, because the coffee shop has been a beloved Menlo Park institution since 1946. Saturday is Ann's busiest time. Maybe that's because breakfast is served all day.

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Ann's Coffee Shop 772 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park; 322-0043

Runner-up: Stacks' 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 838-0066.


CHINESE RESTAURANT/TAKE OUT

Almanac readers have chosen Su Hong as their favorite Chinese restaurant for the 15th year. The service is swift and smooth, and white tablecloths add a touch of class. Su Hong regulars go for the chicken salad, walnut prawns and "Spicy General's Chicken," but give the "Seafood Deluxe in Bird's Nest" or "Mongolian Lamb" a try. Since almost everything on the in house menu is available to go, it's no surprise that Su Hong To Go also won the prize for best take out.

Su Hong 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 323-6852.

Su Hong To Go 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; 322-4361.

Runner-up, Chinese Restaurant: Mandarin Gourmet 420 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 328-8898.

Runner-up, Take Out: LuLu's 3539 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-8226.


COFFEE, ESPRESSO, TEA

Peet's Coffee and Tea has been a landmark in downtown Menlo Park since 1966. With its recent remodeling, it's even better, providing plenty of room for indoor seating. Fans swear by Peet's lattes, but for something new, try a blended ice drink, such as the pomegranate or mango tea freddos. Another summer favorite is lemon-lime, made with jasmine green tea, lemonade and limeade.

Peet's Coffee and Tea 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-8989.

Runner-up: Starbucks Various locations.


DESSERT

Everybody loves dessert, especially at the Prolific Oven, a perennial favorite with our readers. The bakery and coffee house offers dozens of delicious cakes, with the four varieties of chocolate cake the most popular, according to store manager Adrian Ortiz. Creamy French-style cakes come in such flavors as lemon rum cream, apricot brandy and mango mousse. During the holidays, the yule log, fruit cake, and pumpkin cake are traditional favorites. The bakery also offers cookies, pastries, individual cake slices and luncheon items.

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

Runner-up: Woodside Bakery 3052 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-0812.


FRENCH RESTAURANT

A renovated Left Bank will open around Oct. 1 in downtown Menlo Park. General manager Gerald Murphy says changes were prompted by a desire for an upgraded look. Booths will be replaced by curtained coves. The second floor will be converted into a mezzanine with seating that looks down on the ground floor. The menu will still feature classic favorites, such as mussels Florentine, steak frites, salad Nicoise and duck with cherries. For a final touch, along with creme brulee and clafouti, you may opt for a petite dessert, such as one profiterole instead of the usual three.

Left Bank 635 Santa Cruz Ave.; 473-6543.

Runner-up: Marche 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 324-9092.


BEST HAMBURGERS

Although a newcomer to the Menlo Park restaurant scene, Jeffrey's Hamburgers already has lots of enthusiastic fans. They like the 1950s diner feel. They rave about the hamburgers and appreciate the extensive condiment, which includes lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, sauerkraut and other goodies. Turkey and vegan burgers are also on the menu. Garlic fries are a "must-order." Milkshakes come in a tall old-fashioned glass with the "extra" in its frosty container.

Jeffrey's Hamburgers 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 322-1959.

Runner up: Dutch Goose 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-3245


ICE CREAM

The Cold Stone Creamery folks say there are "millions" of possible combinations of their "mix-ins" of nuts, candy, fruits, and other goodies that are folded into the ice cream on a frozen slab of granite. Customers can create their own concoctions, or if that's too confusing, try one of Cold Stone's signature or classic combinations. "Cake batter" flavors of ice cream are all the rage, including the new chocolate cake batter. During the holidays, candy cane and dark chocolate peppermint ice cream will be featured. The ice cream is made fresh daily.

Coldstone Creamery 611 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-4500.

Runners-up (tie): Peninsula Creamery 900 High St., Palo Alto; 323-3175.

Baskin-Robbins 863 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 323-9335.


INDIAN RESTAURANT

Amber India is known as one of the Bay Area's top Indian restaurants, and our readers agree. The restaurant features top-quality food with professional service. The extensive menu lists such favorites as butter chicken, rack of lamb marinated in yogurt, several types of kebabs, vegetable samosas, Madras seafood curry, and tandoori mixed grill. There is also a lunch buffet that features 15 to 20 dishes, from salad and fritters to entrees of vegetables, meats and seafood.

Amber India Restaurant 2290 El Camino Real, Mountain View; 968-7511.

Runner-up: Darbar 129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto; 321-6688.


INTIMATE DINING

A comfortable booth in Marche's quietly elegant dining room would be an ideal setting for dinner for two. The food, created by Chef Kolin Vazzoler, has a refinement you rarely see in Peninsula restaurants. His menu changes with the seasons. Some recent favorites have been roast squab breasts with pearl onions, morels, and haricot vert; and pistachio-crusted pork loin with apricot chutney and onion fondue. Fried squash blossoms are a unique vegetable offering. Edgier creations can be found in the special chef's menu. Desserts include creme brulee and panna cotta with a lime-mint granita and Earl Grey ice cream.

Marche 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 324-9092.

Runner-up: The Village Pub 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-9888.


ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Carpaccio once again, has been voted our best Italian restaurant. No wonder. It has many things going for it: consistently good food, handsome decor, and a gracious host, managing partner Ciya Martorana, who knows everybody in town. Ms. Martorana even supplied her personal recipe for the lasagna, which is available on Wednesdays and Fridays. Crispy fried calamari and portobello mushroom appetizers are favorite starters, and of course, there is the signature carpaccio. Cannelloni, rack of lamb, veal piccata, prawns sauteed with lemon and garlic, and pizza from the wood-burning oven, all have their devoted fans. Panna cotta or zabaglione are finishing touches to a fine meal.

Carpaccio 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park; 322-1211.

Runner-up: Il Fornaio 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto; 853-3888.


JAPANESE RESTAURANT

If sushi is all you know about Japanese cuisine, you're in for a treat at Kaygetsu. Although in a modest location in the Sharon Heights Shopping Center in Menlo Park, Kaygetsu is a kaeseki restaurant, regarded by the Japanese as the finest of specialty restaurants. Its cuisine is rooted in the ancient tea ceremony. Small dishes are served in sequence and include many courses. The kaeseki dinner is available Wednesday through Saturday. The a la carte and sushi offerings are served Tuesday through Sunday. Food is beautifully presented and the service is smooth and professional.

Kaygetsu 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 234-1084.

Runner-up: Naomi Sushi 1328 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 321-6902.


JUICE BAR

Fruit is nature's perfect food. What better place to enjoy it than Jamba Juice, whose luscious smoothies are, once again, our readers' favorites. Jamba's "jamba light" varieties, such as "mango mantra," feature a lower-calorie dairy base. There are also all-fruit smoothies for those who want an alternative to sherbet or yogurt-based smoothies. The classics, "citrus squeeze" and "aloha pineapple," still have plenty of fans.

Jamba Juice Town and Country Village, Palo Alto; 325-2582.

(No runner-up)


MEXICAN RESTAURANT/DINING WITH KIDS

Everybody loves LuLu's on the Alameda so much that the restaurant is expanding into space next door. Almanac readers also voted it the best place to dine with kids. If you don't believe that, stop by for lunch on Saturday or dinner on Friday night. Kids have their own menu, featuring quesadillas, burritos and tacos. Lulu's features all the Mexican favorites, but why not try chicken mole with red or green sauce, or the posole? They are authentic recipes from LuLu's chef, Lourdes Lopez. If all goes according to plan, owner Natalie Richardson will expand her enterprise into Palo Alto, opening LuLu's at Town and Country by year's end. It will be take-out-only Mexican food, located in the Town and Country Village.

LuLu's on the Alameda 3539 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-8226.

Runner-up, Mexican Restaurant: Cafe del Sol 1010 Doyle St., Menlo Park; 326-2501.

Runner-up, Dining with Kids: Dutch Goose 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-3245.


PLACE TO TAKE MOM AND DAD

The folks will enjoy taking in the outlandish decor at Buck's, but what will make their visit really special is the food. Chicken fried steak, Margaret's pork chops with applesauce, and baby back ribs make for down-home eating, to say nothing of peach cobbler and strawberry shortcake for dessert. If their tastes are more sophisticated, the menu also features a large artichoke garnished with shrimp on one side, crab on the other, a hot Dungeness crab sandwich, and a Harry's Bar steak sandwich. Specials, such as shellfish risotto or baked halibut with grilled pineapple, change every week.

Buck's of Woodside 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-8010.

Runner-up: John Bentley's 2991 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-4988.


PIZZA RESTAURANT

Applewood Pizza is once again our readers' favorite pizza palace. High-quality ingredients go into its international array of pizzas. Take your pick: order a Florentine, Roma, Budapest, Scandinavian, Milano, Nice or Athens. If the Milano (spinach, portobello, goat cheese and roasted peppers) isn't to your taste, try sticking close to home with the Menlo (pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives, red onions). You may also design your own pie.

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

Applewood 2-Go 989 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 328-1556.

Runner-up: Round Table 1225 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 321-6861.


PLACE TO HAVE A CHILD'S BIRTHDAY PARTY

Color Me Mine was this year's pick for kids' birthdays. The shop, owned by Suzanne Little, features the classic paint-your-own ceramics, along with mosaics, glass fusing, and tie-dye. For parties, you bring the kids and the snacks, and the studio will provide the balloons, the bisque items ranging from boxes to animal figurines, and all the supplies the kids need to decorate their item how they want it. Participants wait a week then pick up their finished items. The birthday child also receives a commemorative birthday plate, decorated with the fingerprints of party-goers.

Color Me Mine 602 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 328-4486.

Runner-up: Malibu Castle and Grand Prix 320 Blomquist St, Redwood City; 367-1906.


SANDWICH SHOP

When it comes to a hearty sandwich, Almanac readers head to Lutticken's, a Menlo Park landmark for 27 years. Owner Bob Lutticken points to the first-quality products, freshness, and family atmosphere to explain the deli's consistent popularity. He also notes some of Lutticken's unique items include home-roasted turkey, specialty flat breads, and a wide variety of sandwich choices. In addition to sandwiches, customers enjoy side orders like French fries and onion rings. For dessert, there's ice cream, shaved ice and smoothies. The deli also offers catering services for many local events.

Lutticken's 3535 Alameda de las Pulgas; 854-0291.

Runner-up: Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.


SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

After 80 years in the business, Cook's Seafood is consistently Almanac readers' favorite. Started by Bill Cook as a fish market in 1928, it added on a restaurant and plans to expand once more into the adjacent plot with a "to-go patio" by spring 2009. General Manager Mike Crumrine says that Cook's gets local, sustainably caught fish and processes on-site, which makes for fresher fish and lower cost at both the market and the restaurant. The current restaurant set-up is a "casual, quick-serve" without any waiters. "The way we serve it to people, there's not a lot of fanciness, but you're going to get a great piece of fish," says Mr. Crumrine.

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

Runner-up: Fish Market 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 493-9188.


SUNDAY BRUNCH

Weekend brunch-ers have chosen St. Michael's Alley for the second year in a row. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can choose from a variety of made-to-order breakfast and lunch menu items, from Belgian waffles to sandwiches and salads. Owner Jennifer Youll says the eggs Benedict are a very popular choice. St. Michael's Alley integrates fresh, local ingredients into its California cuisine and changes its menu seasonally.

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

Runner-up: Stacks' 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 838-0066.


THAI RESTAURANT

As Bangkok Bay celebrates 15 years in business, Almanac readers singled it out as their favorite place to go for Thai food. Founded in 1993 by four sisters, the restaurant emphasizes authenticity and service. "If you walk in the restaurant you feel the Thai atmosphere," says co-owner Neena Sueng. Every August, Bangkok Bay celebrates its anniversary with Thai dancing and music on the weekends, and a 15 percent discount for customers during the week. Also on display during August is a show of Thai fruit carvings that Ms. Sueng says are popular at their catered parties. Popular menu items include rack of lamb with panang curry, and "tango mango" sauteed with prawns.

Bangkok Bay Thai Cuisine 825 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 365-5369.

Runner-up: Siam Garden 1143 Crane St. # D, Menlo Park; 853-1143.


BAR/LIVE MUSIC

For nine straight years, the British Bankers Club has been picked by Almanac readers as the best bar and live music venue. Currently a restaurant and lounge, the BBC building has been occupied by different organizations in the last 80 years — from the American Trust and Savings to the Menlo Park police department and jail, with the public library upstairs. The BBC serves dinner until late in the evening, and has weekly offerings of DJ dance parties and karaoke. Bands perform on Saturday and Sunday. British Bankers Club 1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-8769.

Runner-up, Bar: Oak City Bar & Grill 1029 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 321-6882.

Runner-up, Live Music: Lavanda 185 University Ave., Palo Alto; 321-3514.


GROCERY

Some shoppers think of Trader Joe's as paradise for the epicurean on a budget. Almanac readers think of it as the best grocery store around. From the staples — such as bread, crackers, cereals and milk — to organic produce and specialty foods, this popular spot offers the goods to fill the happy pantry and fridge. It also is known for its range of relatively inexpensive wines and beers. The ever-changing inventory attracts food-lovers with a craving for new taste experiences.

Trader Joe's 720 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; 323-2134.

Runner-up: Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.


BUTCHER/BAKERY

Draeger's market in downtown Menlo Park is our readers' favorite place to buy meat and bakery goods. The family-owned grocery store took first-place for its meat department last year as well, and it's not hard to figure out why. Whether it's burgers or chicken to throw on the grill, a roast to stuff or a filet mignon to serve for an elegant meal, Draeger's can provide. It also offers a range of house-made sausages.

A walk past Draeger's long bakery cases at the south end of the store is a treat for the senses. Beautiful cakes and luscious-looking confections and pastries, colorful fruit tarts and rich chocolate tortes — they all make it difficult to just walk past without stopping.

Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.

Runner-up, Butcher: Roberts 3015 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-1511.

Runner-up, Bakery: Woodside Bakery 3052 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-0812.


PRODUCE

Our readers have again chosen Sigona's Farmers Market as their favorite place to buy produce. With two locations, Sigona's makes it convenient for shoppers to pick up the freshest fruit and vegetables, both organic and conventionally grown. The market was founded in 1975 by the three Sigona brothers — John, Mel and Paul — who still help operate it. Much of the produce is grown locally and bought directly from the farmers. The market also stocks a range of specialty foods, and offers gift baskets of fresh produce and gourmet items.

Sigona's Farmers Market 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 329-1340; and 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, 368-6993.

Runner-up: Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.


WINE & LIQUOR STORE

Beltramo's Wines and Spirits again tops the list of Almanac readers' choices for wine and liquor store. Offering wines from around the world — from California to the best regions of Italy and France and increasingly impressive regions of Australia, New Zealand and South America — Beltramo's is a destination for Bay Area wine lovers. The store, founded in 1882 by Giovanni Beltramo and still family-owned and operated, also stocks a full range of spirits. A schedule of Saturday wine tastings can be found at beltramos.com.

Beltramo's Wines and Spirits 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-2806.

Runner-up: K&L Wine Merchants 3005 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 364-8544.


AUTO REPAIR (three-way tie)

Menlo-Atherton Shell shares the limelight this year, after nine consecutive wins as our readers' choice for auto repair. Explaining his success, Dan Bajada said, "Forty years of business, honesty and good service is all of it." The family-owned business offers convenient options for busy schedules, such as after-hours drop-off or pick-up and towing directly to the shop 24 hours a day. Appointments are recommended.

Menlo-Atherton Shell 1400 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-1280.

Another top-pick for auto repair is Portola Valley Garage. "We have five guys here that are all highly trained," manager Tim Harris said when asked why his 52-year-old outfit was a favorite. The service offered by the shop includes everything from routine maintenance to complete engine repairs. When it's available, customers can use a loaner car while theirs is in the shop.

Portola Valley Garage 4170 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; 851-7442.

M&R Automotive also tied as our readers' top pick for automotive care. "All good company," said owner Wes McNay when informed of the tie vote. He praised his employees' training and their longevity during his 40 years of business. "All of my employees are longtime employees," he said. "They know people and people know them." The shop offers up-front estimates and top-quality parts. There is also a 12-month or 12,000-mile warranty on repair work.

M&R Automotive 1281 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-3900.

Runner-up: Planet Auto Repair 301 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 328-0287.


BANK

Almanac readers this year again chose Wells Fargo as their choice for top-notch banking. In its 56th year in downtown Menlo Park, the bank offers a variety of services, including online banking, checking and savings accounts, financial consulting, retirement and investment plans, student, home and auto loans, and foreign currencies. Other branches are in Sharon Heights and Woodside. Also, there is an ATM in the Ladera Professional Center, corner of Alpine Road and La Mesa Drive, Portola Valley.

Wells Fargo downtown branch, 735 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 289-1036.

Runner-up: Washington Mutual 650 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 853-2655.


FRAME STORE

The Great Frame-Up in Menlo Park has reached our readers' winners' circle again. Owned by Marcy Magatelli, the 17-year-old business offers an extensive selection of frames and framing styles for anything one might want framed: from artwork and family portraits to certificates and diplomas, three-dimensional art pieces, textiles, and mirrors. On-site custom framing and a diverse selection of frames and prints are available. The Great Frame-Up 1047 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-1097.

Runner-up: University Art 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 328-3500.


FURNITURE STORE

Flegel's Home Furnishings has been named the favorite furniture store by Almanac readers for the 16th consecutive year. The family-owned store has been in Menlo Park since 1954. Popular brands at the store include Baker and Stickley, but Flegel's also carries several exclusive lines from Europe. The store has a team of interior designers who work with clients on everything from window treatments to cabinetry. Flegel's is headed by president and CEO Mark Flegel, son of founders Arthur and Cleora. "When you maintain our level of customer service, and high-end furnishing it really makes a mark on the community," says Mark's son Brian Flegel, who recently joined the company. Flegel's Home Furnishings 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 326-9661.

Runner-up:Traditions 850 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-4849.


GREEN BUSINESS

Almanac readers have proved once more that the name Cool means "green" by singling out jZCool Eatery and Wine Bar for the new "Green Business" category. Known for her commitment to organic, local and seasonal food, owner Jesse Cool lists a variety of other ways her company is sustainable: It composts 92 percent of its waste, uses all planet-friendly cleaning agents, puts in low-voltage lights, gives out to-go packages made of vegetable product, and plans to supply chefs with organic cotton chef coats. Located in downtown Menlo Park, the restaurant has live music three nights a week. Ms. Cool's company, which also operates two other restaurants, also does catering for local events.

jZcool Eatery & Wine Bar 827 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-3665.

Runner-up: Kepler's 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 324-4321.


HARDWARE STORE

Menlo Park Ace Hardware has once again reached the Almanac winners' circle. The store started up three years ago in the same location as the landmark family-owned store Menlo Park Hardware, which closed in 2001 after 77 years in business. Employee Marc Woodcox chalks up the store's popularity to customer service: "We spend as much time as needed with the customer." The owners, Vasile and Adriana Oros, live in Menlo Park and also own Handyman Hardware at Market and 16th streets in San Francisco.

Menlo Park Ace Hardware 700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-2515.

Runner-up: Palo Alto Hardware 875 Alma St, Palo Alto; 327-7222.


NURSERY

Family-owned Roger Reynolds Nursery and Carriage Stop reaches the winners' circle for the eighth year in a row. The nursery has a wide variety of plants in stock, as well as knowledgeable staff who can offer gardening advice. Next door, the Carriage Stop designs arrangements of everything from orchids to lilies. The store delivers throughout the Bay Area and accepts special orders. Annual events include a Halloween pumpkin carving competition and a Carriage Stop open house featuring refreshments and free gift drawings — this year, it's on Nov. 7.

Roger Reynolds Nursery and Carriage Stop 133 Encinal Ave., Menlo Park; 323-5612.

Runner-up: Wegman's 492 Woodside Road, Redwood City; 368-5908.


ORIENTAL CARPET

The Stephen Miller Gallery carries rugs from all over the world — from Nepal to Romania to Egypt. "I don't think you can go anywhere and find as many different high-quality hand-woven rugs in the entire Bay Area," says owner Stephen Miller. The gallery's selection of hand-woven carpets includes antique, traditional and contemporary designs, and also offers hand-cleaning and restoration. "We do our utmost to provide the best possible service," Mr. Miller says, adding, "We welcome picky buyers."

Stephen Miller Gallery 800 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 327-5040.

Runner-up: Menlo Rug Gallery 648 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 322-7672.


PAINT STORE

Almanac readers searching for a new look can find every paint color from "Buxton Blue" to "Tyler Taupe" at family-owned Gray's Paint and Wallpaper. Gray's wide selection of brands includes Benjamin Moore, Pratt & Lambert, and Fuller O'Brien. Bob Gray says especially popular are the two-ounce sample paint pots: "People act like it's the best thing since sliced bread," he says. "Our cash register's ringing all day with people buying six at a time." The Menlo Park location is a small store that does not carry wallpaper, but the Redwood City store offers a wide range of wallpaper as well.

Gray's Paint and Wallpaper 717 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, 322-2238; and 1411 Woodside Road, Redwood City; 365-6222.

Runner-up: California Paint and Wallpaper 360 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 326-9285.


PAINTERS

Once again, Rubens Custom Painting has joined the Almanac's winners' circle. The company focuses on painting exteriors, and can also apply heat-reflective waterproof coatings that conserve energy. Inside the house, Rubens does color consultations, uses low-VOC paints, refinishes woodwork, and repairs walls. "We do not come just to paint; we look at every project as a complete restoration process with paint finishes [that last," says owner Ruben Citores.

Rubens Custom Painting 1259 El Camino Real, No. 333, Menlo Park; (800) 554-7655.

Runner-up: Tom Neylan Painting 14 Greenwood Place, Menlo Park; 325-8018.


PLUMBER

When Almanac readers need a plumber, they call Guy Plumbing and Heating in Menlo Park. The company was founded by David Guy in 1948, and has remained an "all in the family" enterprise. Today, it's co-owned by David's son, Alan Guy; and Dave Guy, son of retired owner Roger Guy and grandson of the founder. Guy Plumbing offers a range of services — from remodeling and installation to repair. The store has a show room displaying a range of fixtures available for installation.

Guy Plumbing and Heating 1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 323-8421.

Runner-up: Redwood Mechanical/Plumbing Co. 1590 Tacoma Way, Redwood City; 363-7370.


BARBER

For 45 years, Golden Shears, the barber shop in downtown Menlo Park, has served the whole family, from tykes to grandpas. "That's something to celebrate," says owner Louie Arenas. His classic shop is the top choice of Almanac readers for the eighth year. It offers its clientele contemporary looks as well as traditional do's in a friendly, comfortable setting.

Golden Shears 814 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-0943.

Runner-up: Sharon Heights Barber Shop 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 854-4762.


BICYCLE SHOP

Menlo Velo pedaled to the front of the pack again this year as our readers' favorite. Its inventory includes mountain, racing and commuter bikes, and it's the country's biggest retailer of Breezer commuter bikes. Menlo Velo also offers bike repair services and rentals. "More people are getting out of their cars and using bikes for errands, going to work, and transportation" because of rising gas prices and the growing emphasis on "going green," said Velo owner Rainer Zaechelein.

Menlo Velo 433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-5137.

Runner-up: Performance Bicycles 2535 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 365-9094.


CLEANERS

Country Club Cleaners on the Alameda in Menlo Park is Almanac readers' favorite stop for one-day dry cleaning and laundry service and one-hour pressing service. Mia Park is the new owner, buying the business after working there for several years. The shop offers alterations, sewing, and special care for wedding gowns and formal dresses. The dry cleaning process is organic, hydro carbon cleaning, without any chemicals in its cleaning supplies.

Country Club Cleaners 3536 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-5474.

Runner-up: Hoot 'n Toot Car Hop Cleaners 875 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 324-2920.


DAY SPA

Watercourse Way Bathhouse Spa is a tranquil oasis inspired by the natural hot springs of Tassajara. It is also Almanac readers' favorite day spa. Offering eight private hot tub rooms, several types of massage including hot stone, spa treatments and European facials, Watercourse Way has been soaking and soothing away the stress of the Bay Area since 1980. Gift certificates and discounts are available.

Watercourse Way Bathhouse Spa 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto;.462.2000. www.watercourseway.com

Runner-up: La Belle Day Spas & Salons 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 326-8522.


HAIR SALON

For about 21years, Images of Woodside has offered everything from a simple trim to "the works," as well as manicures, facials and waxing. The staff of 11 hair stylists, manicurists and aestheticians has years of experience and impressive qualifications, keeping their faithful clientele coming back for more. Located near Buck's restaurant.

Images of Woodside 3040 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-7103.

Runner-up: Los Salonez 1012 Alma St., Menlo Park; 328-0735.


MANICURE

When it comes to elegant hands with glossy nails and well-tended cuticles, Almanac readers say their fingers prefer the attention of manicurists at LaBelle Day Spas. LaBelle offers specialty manicures to treat dry hands and problem nails, coddles customers with snacks and beverages, and offers long hours, seven days a week, to make appointments convenient, says corporate manager Mila Recania.

LaBelle Day Spas 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 326-8522; and 95 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-6964.

Runner-up: Touch of Elegance 1150 Crane St., Menlo Park; 321-0679.


FITNESS FACILITY

Personal trainers at AXIS Performance Center in Menlo Park guide ordinary women and men to fitness. They put together an individualized program to help clients reach their goals, stay motivated, and fight exercise boredom. Training sessions are by appointment. Founded by Scott Norton 12 years ago, the center requires no membership fee.

AXIS Performance Center 550 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park; 463-1920.

Runner-up: YMCA of the Midpeninsula centers in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Redwood City and Mountain View.


PHARMACY

For the seventh time in eight years, readers say Preuss Pharmacy is the best place to get their prescriptions filled. "Customer service has always been our hallmark," says owner John Celedon, whose family has owned and operated the pharmacy in Menlo Park for 19 years. The pharmacy delivers prescriptions to customers as far north as Daly City and as far south as San Jose. Preuss also offers diabetic supplies and prescription compounding for hospice, pain management, and veterinary use. Refills can be ordered either by phone or online at PreussPharmacy.com.

Preuss Pharmacy 844 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-8045.

Runner-up: Longs Pharmacy 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 854-4642.


BEST LINGERIE STORE

For intimate apparel, readers chose Ela Lingerie in downtown Menlo Park for its selection of hard-to-find European lingerie, sleepwear, hosiery and accessories. Ela specializes in individualized fitting and service featuring both everyday and fashion lingerie from the world's top designers, including Celestine, Rossella, Prima Donna, Marie Jo and Aubade, according to owner Marcia de Lima and her business partner David Nagel. Ela also has a store-within-a-store featuring lingerie from Dutch designer Marlies Dekkers. "It turns out that most women buy and wear lingerie that's not the right size," says Mr. Nagel. Getting the right fit at Ela makes a huge difference, and makes the two-year-old business unique, he says.

Ela Lingerie 1139 Chestnut St., Menlo Park; 325-2965.

Runner-up: Victoria's Secret 139 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 328-0574.


BEST PLACE FOR A DATE

Once again, the cozy Village Pub in Woodside swept the competition as the best place for a romantic tete-a-tete. Chef Dmitry Elperin's menu changes seasonally to showcase the produce that comes from the Pub's own farm on Skyline, and it usually features a dish for two to share — currently, it's osso buco, says general manager Kevin Biggerstaff. The Pub is featuring heirloom tomatoes with burrata cheese now through the end of tomato season in September, he says. The sumptuous surroundings and friendly, unobtrusive service add to the intimate atmosphere.

The Village Pub 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-9888.

Runner-up: Chantilly 3001 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 321-4080.


BEST PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE

Cafe Borrone may be the most happening spot on the Midpeninsula. Tables spill from the cozy cafe, filling the plaza with people busy noshing, sipping, chatting or reading. It's no wonder the family-owned, European-style cafe has been drawing crowds to the Menlo Center plaza for 18 years. The popular dining spot offers breakfast, and an all-day menu of salads, sandwiches, cheese plates and more. It's open until midnight on Friday and Saturday for the late-night coffee and dessert crowd. There's live music every Friday evening, and the cafe's walls feature the work of many local artists, with exhibits changing monthly, said manager Cristi Borrone.

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

Runner-up: Peet's 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-8989.


WEIGHT LOSS

Readers said Weight Watchers is the way to go when it comes to trying to losing those extra pounds and keeping them off for good. The national program, known for its weight-loss points system, has meeting centers in Palo Alto and Redwood City, giving local residents the chance to meet and talk with other people making changes to their everyday diets.

Weight Watchers 350 Cambridge Ave., Suite 50, Palo Alto; 260 Main St., Redwood City; WeightWatchers.com.

Runner-up: Lite for Life, 713 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park; 323-5483.


BOUTIQUE

Calla is still very much in style: Almanac readers have voted the upscale women's clothing store the best boutique for the 10th straight year. Located in downtown Menlo Park, Calla offers a wide selection of clothes, accessories and gift items for shoppers to browse, and Calla Kicks, the boutique's shoe store, is located around the corner on Evelyn Street.

Calla 895 Santa Cruz Ave. Menlo Park; 322-5524.

Runner-up: Pink Tangerine 883 Santa Cruz Ave. #4, Menlo Park;327-7900.


FLORIST

J Floral Art, voted by Almanac readers as best florist, has been delivering flowers and decorating events for 18 years, and now it's also getting into the event planning business. "We're all about doing every level of business that a florist does," said co-owner Craig Kozlowski. "Now we're getting into event planning by hiring bands, building stages, and providing tenting and security for events in addition to the flowers." J Floral Art delivers flowers daily, and provides flowers for larger events.

J Floral Art 3489 Edison Way, Menlo Park; 363-0313.

Runner-up: Cindy's Flowers 558 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-4864.


HOTEL

For the seventh straight year, readers have named the Stanford Park Hotel the best in the area. The European-style luxury hotel offers 24-hour room service and a fitness center for guests. It also hosts special events such as conferences and weddings, and is home to the Duck Club Restaurant. Located in Menlo Park near the Palo Alto border, the hotel is still in the midst of an expansion effort, looking to build a new conference center to allow for larger business seminars and catered events.

Stanford Park Hotel 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 322-1234.

Runner-up: Westin Palo Alto 625 El Camino Real, Palo Alto;.328-2800.


JEWELRY STORE

On the cusp of celebrating its 15th year on Welch Road in Palo Alto, Darren McClung Estate and Precious Jewelry has been named best jewelry store by Almanac readers. The store offers modern jewelry from the United States, France, England and Italy, as well as antique and custom pieces. Owner Darren McClung said 98 percent of the store's business is thanks to good word of mouth. "I love people and I love jewelry," said Mr. McClung. "My joy in this is literally matching the right jewel to the right individual. ... We make a point of allowing people to walk in here and feel comfortable — they're never pressured."

Darren McClung Estate and Precious Jewelry 700 Welch Road #102, Palo Alto; 321-5994.

Runner-up: Edith Schneider Jewelry & Accessories Alled Arts Guild, 75 Arbor Road #J, Menlo Park; 327-2545.


BEST WOMEN'S SHOE STORE

Nordstrom is the two-time winner in this two-year-old category. Well-known for its customer service and friendly return policy, Nordstrom has huge selection of women's shoes, including hard-to-find sizes. Members of the sales staff are certified in fitting, and regularly meet with vendors, says assistant manager Richard Fofberg. The store regularly holds special events featuring expanded lines from top brands, and is known for selling "intentional mis-mates" to people with one foot that is at least one-and-a-half sizes larger than the other foot.

Nordstrom 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 323-5111.

Runner-up: Calla Kicks 1060 Evelyn St., Menlo Park; 328-5425.


BEST TRAVEL AGENCY

Even in the Internet age, there are plenty of people who appreciate a full-service travel agency, and those who read the Almanac chose Meridian World Travel in Menlo Park as their favorite. Founded in 1964, the business has grown, with offices in San Mateo and San Francisco, says managing partner Ed Phillips. Meridian is Northern California's regional American Express affiliate, and specializes in matching clients to travel counselors with expertise in everything from African safaris and round-the-world cruises to Disneyland holidays and Aussie odysseys, Mr. Phillips says.

Meridian World Travel 830 Menlo Avenue, Suite 110, Menlo Park; 800-950-2030.

Runner-up: AAA Travel Agency 430 Forest Ave., Palo Alto; 798-3218.


BEST STATIONERY STORE

Perennial winner Village Stationers in downtown Menlo Park once again proved to be Almanac readers' favorite place for office supplies, stationery, greeting cards and gifts. A family business for more than 30 years, Village Stationers keeps customers happy with good service and good product selection, says owner Kerry Hoctor. Through Sept. 30, customers can have 10 percent of every purchase they make donated to the local school of their choice, as part of the store's annual SOS Save Our Schools program, Mr. Hoctor says.

Village Stationers, 719 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-6920.

Runner-up: Paper Chase 861 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 322-9074.


TOY SHOP

Cheeky Monkey Toys has been a big hit with kids and their parents since opening in downtown Menlo Park nearly nine years ago. Last year, the popular store moved a couple of blocks east on Santa Cruz Avenue to a more spacious location. With a large inventory of toys appropriate for kids from newborn on up, Cheeky Monkey offers complimentary gift wrapping. The store also sponsors free events for kids, including "Page to Play" book readings and play activities every Wednesday morning. A schedule of in-store activities and events can be found at cheekymonkeytoys.com.

Cheeky Monkey Toys 640 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 328-7975.

Runner-up: Palo Alto Sport Shop & Toy World 526 Waverly St., Palo Alto; 328-8555.


BOOKSTORE

Our readers' longtime favorite bookstore, Kepler's Books and Magazines, is open for business — though not quite as usual — as construction work and merchandise-shifting take place to change the interior of the store. The project, which should be concluded in the next couple of weeks, was undertaken to make Kepler's more open and inviting, owner Clark Kepler says. The store offers an extensive selection of books and magazines, as well as a gift section, which it is expanding. Author readings and book-signings are regular events at the 53-year-old bookstore, which also hosts several reading clubs.

Kepler's Books & Magazines 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 324-4321.

Runner-up: Barnes & Noble 1091 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 299-0117.


PET STORE

Year after year, Almanac readers name The Pet Place the prince of pet stores. Owned and operated by husband-wife team Marc and Lynn Macy, the store in downtown Menlo Park is a magnet not only for pet owners needing supplies for their charges but for locals needing a place to post announcements: Both front and back doors are covered with fliers asking for help finding a lost cat, dog or bird; and notices of pets of all kinds in need of a new home. The well-supplied store carries a range of food, toys and other items for all pet needs.

The Pet Place 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-7387.

Runner-up: Petco 520 Woodside Road, Woodside; 364-6077.

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Readers choose their favorite shops, services

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 27, 2008, 7:39 am
Updated: Fri, Aug 29, 2008, 6:07 pm

Click on pictures for larger images and captions.

Another year, another list. Almanac readers have again told us where they go when they're in the mood for great Italian, Japanese and Mexican food. Whom they turn to for a super cut or perfect nails. Which plumber they call when the pipes back up, or where they take their car for servicing and repair. What follows is the list of their top picks in these and other categories, along with first runners-up.


BAGELS

With 24 flavors, ranging from cheese to chocolate chip, there's a bagel to please everyone at The Posh Bagel. A cream cheese "schmear" makes the bagel taste even better. Plain, tomato basil and veggie cream cheese are favorites. The morning crowd likes breakfast bagels, or "eggwiches," with eggs, ham or cheese. After school, kids go for pizza bagels.

The Posh Bagel 869 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-7674.

Runner-up: House of Bagels 526 University Ave., Palo Alto; 921-9575.


BREAKFAST

Loyal customers swear the bacon is crisper, the pancakes are fluffier, and the omelets are tastier at Ann's Coffee Shop in downtown Menlo Park. The folks at Ann's must be doing something right, because the coffee shop has been a beloved Menlo Park institution since 1946. Saturday is Ann's busiest time. Maybe that's because breakfast is served all day.

Ann's Coffee Shop 772 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park; 322-0043

Runner-up: Stacks' 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 838-0066.


CHINESE RESTAURANT/TAKE OUT

Almanac readers have chosen Su Hong as their favorite Chinese restaurant for the 15th year. The service is swift and smooth, and white tablecloths add a touch of class. Su Hong regulars go for the chicken salad, walnut prawns and "Spicy General's Chicken," but give the "Seafood Deluxe in Bird's Nest" or "Mongolian Lamb" a try. Since almost everything on the in house menu is available to go, it's no surprise that Su Hong To Go also won the prize for best take out.

Su Hong 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 323-6852.

Su Hong To Go 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; 322-4361.

Runner-up, Chinese Restaurant: Mandarin Gourmet 420 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 328-8898.

Runner-up, Take Out: LuLu's 3539 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-8226.


COFFEE, ESPRESSO, TEA

Peet's Coffee and Tea has been a landmark in downtown Menlo Park since 1966. With its recent remodeling, it's even better, providing plenty of room for indoor seating. Fans swear by Peet's lattes, but for something new, try a blended ice drink, such as the pomegranate or mango tea freddos. Another summer favorite is lemon-lime, made with jasmine green tea, lemonade and limeade.

Peet's Coffee and Tea 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-8989.

Runner-up: Starbucks Various locations.


DESSERT

Everybody loves dessert, especially at the Prolific Oven, a perennial favorite with our readers. The bakery and coffee house offers dozens of delicious cakes, with the four varieties of chocolate cake the most popular, according to store manager Adrian Ortiz. Creamy French-style cakes come in such flavors as lemon rum cream, apricot brandy and mango mousse. During the holidays, the yule log, fruit cake, and pumpkin cake are traditional favorites. The bakery also offers cookies, pastries, individual cake slices and luncheon items.

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

Runner-up: Woodside Bakery 3052 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-0812.


FRENCH RESTAURANT

A renovated Left Bank will open around Oct. 1 in downtown Menlo Park. General manager Gerald Murphy says changes were prompted by a desire for an upgraded look. Booths will be replaced by curtained coves. The second floor will be converted into a mezzanine with seating that looks down on the ground floor. The menu will still feature classic favorites, such as mussels Florentine, steak frites, salad Nicoise and duck with cherries. For a final touch, along with creme brulee and clafouti, you may opt for a petite dessert, such as one profiterole instead of the usual three.

Left Bank 635 Santa Cruz Ave.; 473-6543.

Runner-up: Marche 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 324-9092.


BEST HAMBURGERS

Although a newcomer to the Menlo Park restaurant scene, Jeffrey's Hamburgers already has lots of enthusiastic fans. They like the 1950s diner feel. They rave about the hamburgers and appreciate the extensive condiment, which includes lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, sauerkraut and other goodies. Turkey and vegan burgers are also on the menu. Garlic fries are a "must-order." Milkshakes come in a tall old-fashioned glass with the "extra" in its frosty container.

Jeffrey's Hamburgers 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 322-1959.

Runner up: Dutch Goose 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-3245


ICE CREAM

The Cold Stone Creamery folks say there are "millions" of possible combinations of their "mix-ins" of nuts, candy, fruits, and other goodies that are folded into the ice cream on a frozen slab of granite. Customers can create their own concoctions, or if that's too confusing, try one of Cold Stone's signature or classic combinations. "Cake batter" flavors of ice cream are all the rage, including the new chocolate cake batter. During the holidays, candy cane and dark chocolate peppermint ice cream will be featured. The ice cream is made fresh daily.

Coldstone Creamery 611 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-4500.

Runners-up (tie): Peninsula Creamery 900 High St., Palo Alto; 323-3175.

Baskin-Robbins 863 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 323-9335.


INDIAN RESTAURANT

Amber India is known as one of the Bay Area's top Indian restaurants, and our readers agree. The restaurant features top-quality food with professional service. The extensive menu lists such favorites as butter chicken, rack of lamb marinated in yogurt, several types of kebabs, vegetable samosas, Madras seafood curry, and tandoori mixed grill. There is also a lunch buffet that features 15 to 20 dishes, from salad and fritters to entrees of vegetables, meats and seafood.

Amber India Restaurant 2290 El Camino Real, Mountain View; 968-7511.

Runner-up: Darbar 129 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto; 321-6688.


INTIMATE DINING

A comfortable booth in Marche's quietly elegant dining room would be an ideal setting for dinner for two. The food, created by Chef Kolin Vazzoler, has a refinement you rarely see in Peninsula restaurants. His menu changes with the seasons. Some recent favorites have been roast squab breasts with pearl onions, morels, and haricot vert; and pistachio-crusted pork loin with apricot chutney and onion fondue. Fried squash blossoms are a unique vegetable offering. Edgier creations can be found in the special chef's menu. Desserts include creme brulee and panna cotta with a lime-mint granita and Earl Grey ice cream.

Marche 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 324-9092.

Runner-up: The Village Pub 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-9888.


ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Carpaccio once again, has been voted our best Italian restaurant. No wonder. It has many things going for it: consistently good food, handsome decor, and a gracious host, managing partner Ciya Martorana, who knows everybody in town. Ms. Martorana even supplied her personal recipe for the lasagna, which is available on Wednesdays and Fridays. Crispy fried calamari and portobello mushroom appetizers are favorite starters, and of course, there is the signature carpaccio. Cannelloni, rack of lamb, veal piccata, prawns sauteed with lemon and garlic, and pizza from the wood-burning oven, all have their devoted fans. Panna cotta or zabaglione are finishing touches to a fine meal.

Carpaccio 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park; 322-1211.

Runner-up: Il Fornaio 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto; 853-3888.


JAPANESE RESTAURANT

If sushi is all you know about Japanese cuisine, you're in for a treat at Kaygetsu. Although in a modest location in the Sharon Heights Shopping Center in Menlo Park, Kaygetsu is a kaeseki restaurant, regarded by the Japanese as the finest of specialty restaurants. Its cuisine is rooted in the ancient tea ceremony. Small dishes are served in sequence and include many courses. The kaeseki dinner is available Wednesday through Saturday. The a la carte and sushi offerings are served Tuesday through Sunday. Food is beautifully presented and the service is smooth and professional.

Kaygetsu 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 234-1084.

Runner-up: Naomi Sushi 1328 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 321-6902.


JUICE BAR

Fruit is nature's perfect food. What better place to enjoy it than Jamba Juice, whose luscious smoothies are, once again, our readers' favorites. Jamba's "jamba light" varieties, such as "mango mantra," feature a lower-calorie dairy base. There are also all-fruit smoothies for those who want an alternative to sherbet or yogurt-based smoothies. The classics, "citrus squeeze" and "aloha pineapple," still have plenty of fans.

Jamba Juice Town and Country Village, Palo Alto; 325-2582.

(No runner-up)


MEXICAN RESTAURANT/DINING WITH KIDS

Everybody loves LuLu's on the Alameda so much that the restaurant is expanding into space next door. Almanac readers also voted it the best place to dine with kids. If you don't believe that, stop by for lunch on Saturday or dinner on Friday night. Kids have their own menu, featuring quesadillas, burritos and tacos. Lulu's features all the Mexican favorites, but why not try chicken mole with red or green sauce, or the posole? They are authentic recipes from LuLu's chef, Lourdes Lopez. If all goes according to plan, owner Natalie Richardson will expand her enterprise into Palo Alto, opening LuLu's at Town and Country by year's end. It will be take-out-only Mexican food, located in the Town and Country Village.

LuLu's on the Alameda 3539 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-8226.

Runner-up, Mexican Restaurant: Cafe del Sol 1010 Doyle St., Menlo Park; 326-2501.

Runner-up, Dining with Kids: Dutch Goose 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-3245.


PLACE TO TAKE MOM AND DAD

The folks will enjoy taking in the outlandish decor at Buck's, but what will make their visit really special is the food. Chicken fried steak, Margaret's pork chops with applesauce, and baby back ribs make for down-home eating, to say nothing of peach cobbler and strawberry shortcake for dessert. If their tastes are more sophisticated, the menu also features a large artichoke garnished with shrimp on one side, crab on the other, a hot Dungeness crab sandwich, and a Harry's Bar steak sandwich. Specials, such as shellfish risotto or baked halibut with grilled pineapple, change every week.

Buck's of Woodside 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-8010.

Runner-up: John Bentley's 2991 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-4988.


PIZZA RESTAURANT

Applewood Pizza is once again our readers' favorite pizza palace. High-quality ingredients go into its international array of pizzas. Take your pick: order a Florentine, Roma, Budapest, Scandinavian, Milano, Nice or Athens. If the Milano (spinach, portobello, goat cheese and roasted peppers) isn't to your taste, try sticking close to home with the Menlo (pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives, red onions). You may also design your own pie.

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

Applewood 2-Go 989 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 328-1556.

Runner-up: Round Table 1225 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 321-6861.


PLACE TO HAVE A CHILD'S BIRTHDAY PARTY

Color Me Mine was this year's pick for kids' birthdays. The shop, owned by Suzanne Little, features the classic paint-your-own ceramics, along with mosaics, glass fusing, and tie-dye. For parties, you bring the kids and the snacks, and the studio will provide the balloons, the bisque items ranging from boxes to animal figurines, and all the supplies the kids need to decorate their item how they want it. Participants wait a week then pick up their finished items. The birthday child also receives a commemorative birthday plate, decorated with the fingerprints of party-goers.

Color Me Mine 602 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 328-4486.

Runner-up: Malibu Castle and Grand Prix 320 Blomquist St, Redwood City; 367-1906.


SANDWICH SHOP

When it comes to a hearty sandwich, Almanac readers head to Lutticken's, a Menlo Park landmark for 27 years. Owner Bob Lutticken points to the first-quality products, freshness, and family atmosphere to explain the deli's consistent popularity. He also notes some of Lutticken's unique items include home-roasted turkey, specialty flat breads, and a wide variety of sandwich choices. In addition to sandwiches, customers enjoy side orders like French fries and onion rings. For dessert, there's ice cream, shaved ice and smoothies. The deli also offers catering services for many local events.

Lutticken's 3535 Alameda de las Pulgas; 854-0291.

Runner-up: Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.


SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

After 80 years in the business, Cook's Seafood is consistently Almanac readers' favorite. Started by Bill Cook as a fish market in 1928, it added on a restaurant and plans to expand once more into the adjacent plot with a "to-go patio" by spring 2009. General Manager Mike Crumrine says that Cook's gets local, sustainably caught fish and processes on-site, which makes for fresher fish and lower cost at both the market and the restaurant. The current restaurant set-up is a "casual, quick-serve" without any waiters. "The way we serve it to people, there's not a lot of fanciness, but you're going to get a great piece of fish," says Mr. Crumrine.

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

Runner-up: Fish Market 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 493-9188.


SUNDAY BRUNCH

Weekend brunch-ers have chosen St. Michael's Alley for the second year in a row. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can choose from a variety of made-to-order breakfast and lunch menu items, from Belgian waffles to sandwiches and salads. Owner Jennifer Youll says the eggs Benedict are a very popular choice. St. Michael's Alley integrates fresh, local ingredients into its California cuisine and changes its menu seasonally.

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

Runner-up: Stacks' 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 838-0066.


THAI RESTAURANT

As Bangkok Bay celebrates 15 years in business, Almanac readers singled it out as their favorite place to go for Thai food. Founded in 1993 by four sisters, the restaurant emphasizes authenticity and service. "If you walk in the restaurant you feel the Thai atmosphere," says co-owner Neena Sueng. Every August, Bangkok Bay celebrates its anniversary with Thai dancing and music on the weekends, and a 15 percent discount for customers during the week. Also on display during August is a show of Thai fruit carvings that Ms. Sueng says are popular at their catered parties. Popular menu items include rack of lamb with panang curry, and "tango mango" sauteed with prawns.

Bangkok Bay Thai Cuisine 825 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 365-5369.

Runner-up: Siam Garden 1143 Crane St. # D, Menlo Park; 853-1143.


BAR/LIVE MUSIC

For nine straight years, the British Bankers Club has been picked by Almanac readers as the best bar and live music venue. Currently a restaurant and lounge, the BBC building has been occupied by different organizations in the last 80 years — from the American Trust and Savings to the Menlo Park police department and jail, with the public library upstairs. The BBC serves dinner until late in the evening, and has weekly offerings of DJ dance parties and karaoke. Bands perform on Saturday and Sunday. British Bankers Club 1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-8769.

Runner-up, Bar: Oak City Bar & Grill 1029 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 321-6882.

Runner-up, Live Music: Lavanda 185 University Ave., Palo Alto; 321-3514.


GROCERY

Some shoppers think of Trader Joe's as paradise for the epicurean on a budget. Almanac readers think of it as the best grocery store around. From the staples — such as bread, crackers, cereals and milk — to organic produce and specialty foods, this popular spot offers the goods to fill the happy pantry and fridge. It also is known for its range of relatively inexpensive wines and beers. The ever-changing inventory attracts food-lovers with a craving for new taste experiences.

Trader Joe's 720 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; 323-2134.

Runner-up: Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.


BUTCHER/BAKERY

Draeger's market in downtown Menlo Park is our readers' favorite place to buy meat and bakery goods. The family-owned grocery store took first-place for its meat department last year as well, and it's not hard to figure out why. Whether it's burgers or chicken to throw on the grill, a roast to stuff or a filet mignon to serve for an elegant meal, Draeger's can provide. It also offers a range of house-made sausages.

A walk past Draeger's long bakery cases at the south end of the store is a treat for the senses. Beautiful cakes and luscious-looking confections and pastries, colorful fruit tarts and rich chocolate tortes — they all make it difficult to just walk past without stopping.

Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.

Runner-up, Butcher: Roberts 3015 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-1511.

Runner-up, Bakery: Woodside Bakery 3052 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-0812.


PRODUCE

Our readers have again chosen Sigona's Farmers Market as their favorite place to buy produce. With two locations, Sigona's makes it convenient for shoppers to pick up the freshest fruit and vegetables, both organic and conventionally grown. The market was founded in 1975 by the three Sigona brothers — John, Mel and Paul — who still help operate it. Much of the produce is grown locally and bought directly from the farmers. The market also stocks a range of specialty foods, and offers gift baskets of fresh produce and gourmet items.

Sigona's Farmers Market 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 329-1340; and 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, 368-6993.

Runner-up: Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7700.


WINE & LIQUOR STORE

Beltramo's Wines and Spirits again tops the list of Almanac readers' choices for wine and liquor store. Offering wines from around the world — from California to the best regions of Italy and France and increasingly impressive regions of Australia, New Zealand and South America — Beltramo's is a destination for Bay Area wine lovers. The store, founded in 1882 by Giovanni Beltramo and still family-owned and operated, also stocks a full range of spirits. A schedule of Saturday wine tastings can be found at beltramos.com.

Beltramo's Wines and Spirits 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-2806.

Runner-up: K&L Wine Merchants 3005 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 364-8544.


AUTO REPAIR (three-way tie)

Menlo-Atherton Shell shares the limelight this year, after nine consecutive wins as our readers' choice for auto repair. Explaining his success, Dan Bajada said, "Forty years of business, honesty and good service is all of it." The family-owned business offers convenient options for busy schedules, such as after-hours drop-off or pick-up and towing directly to the shop 24 hours a day. Appointments are recommended.

Menlo-Atherton Shell 1400 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-1280.

Another top-pick for auto repair is Portola Valley Garage. "We have five guys here that are all highly trained," manager Tim Harris said when asked why his 52-year-old outfit was a favorite. The service offered by the shop includes everything from routine maintenance to complete engine repairs. When it's available, customers can use a loaner car while theirs is in the shop.

Portola Valley Garage 4170 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; 851-7442.

M&R Automotive also tied as our readers' top pick for automotive care. "All good company," said owner Wes McNay when informed of the tie vote. He praised his employees' training and their longevity during his 40 years of business. "All of my employees are longtime employees," he said. "They know people and people know them." The shop offers up-front estimates and top-quality parts. There is also a 12-month or 12,000-mile warranty on repair work.

M&R Automotive 1281 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-3900.

Runner-up: Planet Auto Repair 301 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 328-0287.


BANK

Almanac readers this year again chose Wells Fargo as their choice for top-notch banking. In its 56th year in downtown Menlo Park, the bank offers a variety of services, including online banking, checking and savings accounts, financial consulting, retirement and investment plans, student, home and auto loans, and foreign currencies. Other branches are in Sharon Heights and Woodside. Also, there is an ATM in the Ladera Professional Center, corner of Alpine Road and La Mesa Drive, Portola Valley.

Wells Fargo downtown branch, 735 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 289-1036.

Runner-up: Washington Mutual 650 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 853-2655.


FRAME STORE

The Great Frame-Up in Menlo Park has reached our readers' winners' circle again. Owned by Marcy Magatelli, the 17-year-old business offers an extensive selection of frames and framing styles for anything one might want framed: from artwork and family portraits to certificates and diplomas, three-dimensional art pieces, textiles, and mirrors. On-site custom framing and a diverse selection of frames and prints are available. The Great Frame-Up 1047 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-1097.

Runner-up: University Art 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 328-3500.


FURNITURE STORE

Flegel's Home Furnishings has been named the favorite furniture store by Almanac readers for the 16th consecutive year. The family-owned store has been in Menlo Park since 1954. Popular brands at the store include Baker and Stickley, but Flegel's also carries several exclusive lines from Europe. The store has a team of interior designers who work with clients on everything from window treatments to cabinetry. Flegel's is headed by president and CEO Mark Flegel, son of founders Arthur and Cleora. "When you maintain our level of customer service, and high-end furnishing it really makes a mark on the community," says Mark's son Brian Flegel, who recently joined the company. Flegel's Home Furnishings 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 326-9661.

Runner-up:Traditions 850 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-4849.


GREEN BUSINESS

Almanac readers have proved once more that the name Cool means "green" by singling out jZCool Eatery and Wine Bar for the new "Green Business" category. Known for her commitment to organic, local and seasonal food, owner Jesse Cool lists a variety of other ways her company is sustainable: It composts 92 percent of its waste, uses all planet-friendly cleaning agents, puts in low-voltage lights, gives out to-go packages made of vegetable product, and plans to supply chefs with organic cotton chef coats. Located in downtown Menlo Park, the restaurant has live music three nights a week. Ms. Cool's company, which also operates two other restaurants, also does catering for local events.

jZcool Eatery & Wine Bar 827 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-3665.

Runner-up: Kepler's 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 324-4321.


HARDWARE STORE

Menlo Park Ace Hardware has once again reached the Almanac winners' circle. The store started up three years ago in the same location as the landmark family-owned store Menlo Park Hardware, which closed in 2001 after 77 years in business. Employee Marc Woodcox chalks up the store's popularity to customer service: "We spend as much time as needed with the customer." The owners, Vasile and Adriana Oros, live in Menlo Park and also own Handyman Hardware at Market and 16th streets in San Francisco.

Menlo Park Ace Hardware 700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-2515.

Runner-up: Palo Alto Hardware 875 Alma St, Palo Alto; 327-7222.


NURSERY

Family-owned Roger Reynolds Nursery and Carriage Stop reaches the winners' circle for the eighth year in a row. The nursery has a wide variety of plants in stock, as well as knowledgeable staff who can offer gardening advice. Next door, the Carriage Stop designs arrangements of everything from orchids to lilies. The store delivers throughout the Bay Area and accepts special orders. Annual events include a Halloween pumpkin carving competition and a Carriage Stop open house featuring refreshments and free gift drawings — this year, it's on Nov. 7.

Roger Reynolds Nursery and Carriage Stop 133 Encinal Ave., Menlo Park; 323-5612.

Runner-up: Wegman's 492 Woodside Road, Redwood City; 368-5908.


ORIENTAL CARPET

The Stephen Miller Gallery carries rugs from all over the world — from Nepal to Romania to Egypt. "I don't think you can go anywhere and find as many different high-quality hand-woven rugs in the entire Bay Area," says owner Stephen Miller. The gallery's selection of hand-woven carpets includes antique, traditional and contemporary designs, and also offers hand-cleaning and restoration. "We do our utmost to provide the best possible service," Mr. Miller says, adding, "We welcome picky buyers."

Stephen Miller Gallery 800 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 327-5040.

Runner-up: Menlo Rug Gallery 648 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 322-7672.


PAINT STORE

Almanac readers searching for a new look can find every paint color from "Buxton Blue" to "Tyler Taupe" at family-owned Gray's Paint and Wallpaper. Gray's wide selection of brands includes Benjamin Moore, Pratt & Lambert, and Fuller O'Brien. Bob Gray says especially popular are the two-ounce sample paint pots: "People act like it's the best thing since sliced bread," he says. "Our cash register's ringing all day with people buying six at a time." The Menlo Park location is a small store that does not carry wallpaper, but the Redwood City store offers a wide range of wallpaper as well.

Gray's Paint and Wallpaper 717 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, 322-2238; and 1411 Woodside Road, Redwood City; 365-6222.

Runner-up: California Paint and Wallpaper 360 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 326-9285.


PAINTERS

Once again, Rubens Custom Painting has joined the Almanac's winners' circle. The company focuses on painting exteriors, and can also apply heat-reflective waterproof coatings that conserve energy. Inside the house, Rubens does color consultations, uses low-VOC paints, refinishes woodwork, and repairs walls. "We do not come just to paint; we look at every project as a complete restoration process with paint finishes [that last," says owner Ruben Citores.

Rubens Custom Painting 1259 El Camino Real, No. 333, Menlo Park; (800) 554-7655.

Runner-up: Tom Neylan Painting 14 Greenwood Place, Menlo Park; 325-8018.


PLUMBER

When Almanac readers need a plumber, they call Guy Plumbing and Heating in Menlo Park. The company was founded by David Guy in 1948, and has remained an "all in the family" enterprise. Today, it's co-owned by David's son, Alan Guy; and Dave Guy, son of retired owner Roger Guy and grandson of the founder. Guy Plumbing offers a range of services — from remodeling and installation to repair. The store has a show room displaying a range of fixtures available for installation.

Guy Plumbing and Heating 1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 323-8421.

Runner-up: Redwood Mechanical/Plumbing Co. 1590 Tacoma Way, Redwood City; 363-7370.


BARBER

For 45 years, Golden Shears, the barber shop in downtown Menlo Park, has served the whole family, from tykes to grandpas. "That's something to celebrate," says owner Louie Arenas. His classic shop is the top choice of Almanac readers for the eighth year. It offers its clientele contemporary looks as well as traditional do's in a friendly, comfortable setting.

Golden Shears 814 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-0943.

Runner-up: Sharon Heights Barber Shop 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 854-4762.


BICYCLE SHOP

Menlo Velo pedaled to the front of the pack again this year as our readers' favorite. Its inventory includes mountain, racing and commuter bikes, and it's the country's biggest retailer of Breezer commuter bikes. Menlo Velo also offers bike repair services and rentals. "More people are getting out of their cars and using bikes for errands, going to work, and transportation" because of rising gas prices and the growing emphasis on "going green," said Velo owner Rainer Zaechelein.

Menlo Velo 433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-5137.

Runner-up: Performance Bicycles 2535 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 365-9094.


CLEANERS

Country Club Cleaners on the Alameda in Menlo Park is Almanac readers' favorite stop for one-day dry cleaning and laundry service and one-hour pressing service. Mia Park is the new owner, buying the business after working there for several years. The shop offers alterations, sewing, and special care for wedding gowns and formal dresses. The dry cleaning process is organic, hydro carbon cleaning, without any chemicals in its cleaning supplies.

Country Club Cleaners 3536 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-5474.

Runner-up: Hoot 'n Toot Car Hop Cleaners 875 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 324-2920.


DAY SPA

Watercourse Way Bathhouse Spa is a tranquil oasis inspired by the natural hot springs of Tassajara. It is also Almanac readers' favorite day spa. Offering eight private hot tub rooms, several types of massage including hot stone, spa treatments and European facials, Watercourse Way has been soaking and soothing away the stress of the Bay Area since 1980. Gift certificates and discounts are available.

Watercourse Way Bathhouse Spa 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto;.462.2000. www.watercourseway.com

Runner-up: La Belle Day Spas & Salons 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 326-8522.


HAIR SALON

For about 21years, Images of Woodside has offered everything from a simple trim to "the works," as well as manicures, facials and waxing. The staff of 11 hair stylists, manicurists and aestheticians has years of experience and impressive qualifications, keeping their faithful clientele coming back for more. Located near Buck's restaurant.

Images of Woodside 3040 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-7103.

Runner-up: Los Salonez 1012 Alma St., Menlo Park; 328-0735.


MANICURE

When it comes to elegant hands with glossy nails and well-tended cuticles, Almanac readers say their fingers prefer the attention of manicurists at LaBelle Day Spas. LaBelle offers specialty manicures to treat dry hands and problem nails, coddles customers with snacks and beverages, and offers long hours, seven days a week, to make appointments convenient, says corporate manager Mila Recania.

LaBelle Day Spas 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 326-8522; and 95 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 327-6964.

Runner-up: Touch of Elegance 1150 Crane St., Menlo Park; 321-0679.


FITNESS FACILITY

Personal trainers at AXIS Performance Center in Menlo Park guide ordinary women and men to fitness. They put together an individualized program to help clients reach their goals, stay motivated, and fight exercise boredom. Training sessions are by appointment. Founded by Scott Norton 12 years ago, the center requires no membership fee.

AXIS Performance Center 550 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park; 463-1920.

Runner-up: YMCA of the Midpeninsula centers in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Redwood City and Mountain View.


PHARMACY

For the seventh time in eight years, readers say Preuss Pharmacy is the best place to get their prescriptions filled. "Customer service has always been our hallmark," says owner John Celedon, whose family has owned and operated the pharmacy in Menlo Park for 19 years. The pharmacy delivers prescriptions to customers as far north as Daly City and as far south as San Jose. Preuss also offers diabetic supplies and prescription compounding for hospice, pain management, and veterinary use. Refills can be ordered either by phone or online at PreussPharmacy.com.

Preuss Pharmacy 844 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-8045.

Runner-up: Longs Pharmacy 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park; 854-4642.


BEST LINGERIE STORE

For intimate apparel, readers chose Ela Lingerie in downtown Menlo Park for its selection of hard-to-find European lingerie, sleepwear, hosiery and accessories. Ela specializes in individualized fitting and service featuring both everyday and fashion lingerie from the world's top designers, including Celestine, Rossella, Prima Donna, Marie Jo and Aubade, according to owner Marcia de Lima and her business partner David Nagel. Ela also has a store-within-a-store featuring lingerie from Dutch designer Marlies Dekkers. "It turns out that most women buy and wear lingerie that's not the right size," says Mr. Nagel. Getting the right fit at Ela makes a huge difference, and makes the two-year-old business unique, he says.

Ela Lingerie 1139 Chestnut St., Menlo Park; 325-2965.

Runner-up: Victoria's Secret 139 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 328-0574.


BEST PLACE FOR A DATE

Once again, the cozy Village Pub in Woodside swept the competition as the best place for a romantic tete-a-tete. Chef Dmitry Elperin's menu changes seasonally to showcase the produce that comes from the Pub's own farm on Skyline, and it usually features a dish for two to share — currently, it's osso buco, says general manager Kevin Biggerstaff. The Pub is featuring heirloom tomatoes with burrata cheese now through the end of tomato season in September, he says. The sumptuous surroundings and friendly, unobtrusive service add to the intimate atmosphere.

The Village Pub 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-9888.

Runner-up: Chantilly 3001 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 321-4080.


BEST PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE

Cafe Borrone may be the most happening spot on the Midpeninsula. Tables spill from the cozy cafe, filling the plaza with people busy noshing, sipping, chatting or reading. It's no wonder the family-owned, European-style cafe has been drawing crowds to the Menlo Center plaza for 18 years. The popular dining spot offers breakfast, and an all-day menu of salads, sandwiches, cheese plates and more. It's open until midnight on Friday and Saturday for the late-night coffee and dessert crowd. There's live music every Friday evening, and the cafe's walls feature the work of many local artists, with exhibits changing monthly, said manager Cristi Borrone.

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

Runner-up: Peet's 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-8989.


WEIGHT LOSS

Readers said Weight Watchers is the way to go when it comes to trying to losing those extra pounds and keeping them off for good. The national program, known for its weight-loss points system, has meeting centers in Palo Alto and Redwood City, giving local residents the chance to meet and talk with other people making changes to their everyday diets.

Weight Watchers 350 Cambridge Ave., Suite 50, Palo Alto; 260 Main St., Redwood City; WeightWatchers.com.

Runner-up: Lite for Life, 713 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park; 323-5483.


BOUTIQUE

Calla is still very much in style: Almanac readers have voted the upscale women's clothing store the best boutique for the 10th straight year. Located in downtown Menlo Park, Calla offers a wide selection of clothes, accessories and gift items for shoppers to browse, and Calla Kicks, the boutique's shoe store, is located around the corner on Evelyn Street.

Calla 895 Santa Cruz Ave. Menlo Park; 322-5524.

Runner-up: Pink Tangerine 883 Santa Cruz Ave. #4, Menlo Park;327-7900.


FLORIST

J Floral Art, voted by Almanac readers as best florist, has been delivering flowers and decorating events for 18 years, and now it's also getting into the event planning business. "We're all about doing every level of business that a florist does," said co-owner Craig Kozlowski. "Now we're getting into event planning by hiring bands, building stages, and providing tenting and security for events in addition to the flowers." J Floral Art delivers flowers daily, and provides flowers for larger events.

J Floral Art 3489 Edison Way, Menlo Park; 363-0313.

Runner-up: Cindy's Flowers 558 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-4864.


HOTEL

For the seventh straight year, readers have named the Stanford Park Hotel the best in the area. The European-style luxury hotel offers 24-hour room service and a fitness center for guests. It also hosts special events such as conferences and weddings, and is home to the Duck Club Restaurant. Located in Menlo Park near the Palo Alto border, the hotel is still in the midst of an expansion effort, looking to build a new conference center to allow for larger business seminars and catered events.

Stanford Park Hotel 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 322-1234.

Runner-up: Westin Palo Alto 625 El Camino Real, Palo Alto;.328-2800.


JEWELRY STORE

On the cusp of celebrating its 15th year on Welch Road in Palo Alto, Darren McClung Estate and Precious Jewelry has been named best jewelry store by Almanac readers. The store offers modern jewelry from the United States, France, England and Italy, as well as antique and custom pieces. Owner Darren McClung said 98 percent of the store's business is thanks to good word of mouth. "I love people and I love jewelry," said Mr. McClung. "My joy in this is literally matching the right jewel to the right individual. ... We make a point of allowing people to walk in here and feel comfortable — they're never pressured."

Darren McClung Estate and Precious Jewelry 700 Welch Road #102, Palo Alto; 321-5994.

Runner-up: Edith Schneider Jewelry & Accessories Alled Arts Guild, 75 Arbor Road #J, Menlo Park; 327-2545.


BEST WOMEN'S SHOE STORE

Nordstrom is the two-time winner in this two-year-old category. Well-known for its customer service and friendly return policy, Nordstrom has huge selection of women's shoes, including hard-to-find sizes. Members of the sales staff are certified in fitting, and regularly meet with vendors, says assistant manager Richard Fofberg. The store regularly holds special events featuring expanded lines from top brands, and is known for selling "intentional mis-mates" to people with one foot that is at least one-and-a-half sizes larger than the other foot.

Nordstrom 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 323-5111.

Runner-up: Calla Kicks 1060 Evelyn St., Menlo Park; 328-5425.


BEST TRAVEL AGENCY

Even in the Internet age, there are plenty of people who appreciate a full-service travel agency, and those who read the Almanac chose Meridian World Travel in Menlo Park as their favorite. Founded in 1964, the business has grown, with offices in San Mateo and San Francisco, says managing partner Ed Phillips. Meridian is Northern California's regional American Express affiliate, and specializes in matching clients to travel counselors with expertise in everything from African safaris and round-the-world cruises to Disneyland holidays and Aussie odysseys, Mr. Phillips says.

Meridian World Travel 830 Menlo Avenue, Suite 110, Menlo Park; 800-950-2030.

Runner-up: AAA Travel Agency 430 Forest Ave., Palo Alto; 798-3218.


BEST STATIONERY STORE

Perennial winner Village Stationers in downtown Menlo Park once again proved to be Almanac readers' favorite place for office supplies, stationery, greeting cards and gifts. A family business for more than 30 years, Village Stationers keeps customers happy with good service and good product selection, says owner Kerry Hoctor. Through Sept. 30, customers can have 10 percent of every purchase they make donated to the local school of their choice, as part of the store's annual SOS Save Our Schools program, Mr. Hoctor says.

Village Stationers, 719 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-6920.

Runner-up: Paper Chase 861 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 322-9074.


TOY SHOP

Cheeky Monkey Toys has been a big hit with kids and their parents since opening in downtown Menlo Park nearly nine years ago. Last year, the popular store moved a couple of blocks east on Santa Cruz Avenue to a more spacious location. With a large inventory of toys appropriate for kids from newborn on up, Cheeky Monkey offers complimentary gift wrapping. The store also sponsors free events for kids, including "Page to Play" book readings and play activities every Wednesday morning. A schedule of in-store activities and events can be found at cheekymonkeytoys.com.

Cheeky Monkey Toys 640 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 328-7975.

Runner-up: Palo Alto Sport Shop & Toy World 526 Waverly St., Palo Alto; 328-8555.


BOOKSTORE

Our readers' longtime favorite bookstore, Kepler's Books and Magazines, is open for business — though not quite as usual — as construction work and merchandise-shifting take place to change the interior of the store. The project, which should be concluded in the next couple of weeks, was undertaken to make Kepler's more open and inviting, owner Clark Kepler says. The store offers an extensive selection of books and magazines, as well as a gift section, which it is expanding. Author readings and book-signings are regular events at the 53-year-old bookstore, which also hosts several reading clubs.

Kepler's Books & Magazines 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 324-4321.

Runner-up: Barnes & Noble 1091 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 299-0117.


PET STORE

Year after year, Almanac readers name The Pet Place the prince of pet stores. Owned and operated by husband-wife team Marc and Lynn Macy, the store in downtown Menlo Park is a magnet not only for pet owners needing supplies for their charges but for locals needing a place to post announcements: Both front and back doors are covered with fliers asking for help finding a lost cat, dog or bird; and notices of pets of all kinds in need of a new home. The well-supplied store carries a range of food, toys and other items for all pet needs.

The Pet Place 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-7387.

Runner-up: Petco 520 Woodside Road, Woodside; 364-6077.

Comments

Joanna
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 28, 2008 at 6:12 pm
Joanna, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 28, 2008 at 6:12 pm

I know for a fact that AXIS fills out surveys for their clients.


skeptic
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 28, 2008 at 11:33 pm
skeptic, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 28, 2008 at 11:33 pm

There's some pretty heavy stuffing of the ballot box all around.


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