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From new businesses, such as the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel and the Village Doctor's Wellness Studio, to the historic, such as Flegels Fine Furniture & Interior Design and Draeger's market, a common theme runs through the winners in the Readers' Choice balloting. All are taking those extra steps that make clients and customers come back for more and rate these winners among the superheroes in the community.
Menlo-Atherton Shell did it again. For the 10th straight year, it has been chosen as the Readers' Choice favorite for auto service. The care, attention and courteous service recalls the good old days, say customers. As Dan Bajada says of his family-owned business: "Forty years of business, honesty and good service is all of it." 1400 El Camino Real (at Valparaiso Avenue), Menlo Park; 366-1199.
Wells Fargo again topped the Readers' Choice charts among local banks. In its 57th year in downtown Menlo Park, the bank offers the full range of banking services, both online and in-person, plus financial consulting, help with retirement and investment plans, and foreign currencies. Other branches are in Sharon Heights and Woodside. Plus, there is an ATM in the Ladera Professional Center, corner of Alpine Road and La Mesa Drive, Portola Valley. 735 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 289-1036.
Golden Shears continues to be the gold standard among Readers' Choice voters for local barber shops. Since 1963, Louie Arenas has owned the shop at 814 Santa Cruz Ave., where generations of local families, from tikes to senior citizens, have found barbers and hair stylists to their liking. This is the ninth year Golden Shears has won this category. 814 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-0943.
New customers are impressed with the quality of service offered by owner E. Gary Smith and his Menalto Cleaners. But that's nothing new for him. Since he opened the business on Dec. 1, 1988, he has been offering such personal service as pickup and delivery to residences and businesses. Customers aren't just a number to Mr. Smith. When he recognizes customers driving up, he has their clothes ready to pickup by the time they enter the shop. E. Gary Smith, who lives just around the corner from his store, is a true local hero. 1921 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park; 323-7001.
What do customers like about La Belle Day Spa? It's the essentials: the quality of service, the ability and knowledge of the technicians, and the fact that La Belle gets results -- "the instant gratification that helps us retain our client base," says Mila Recania, corporate manager for the three La Belle locations at Stanford Shopping Center, Town & Country Village shopping center in Palo Alto, and San Francisco. The hero is owner Bella Schneider, who started the business with nothing and has sustained it for 33 years, says Ms. Recania. "We have three thriving locations employing about 200 people," she says. Three locations: 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 326-8522 | 95 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; 327-6964 | 233 Grant Ave., San Francisco; (415) 433-7644.
To become your own personal hero, check out AXIS Personal Trainers, once again the favorite fitness program in The Almanac's Readers' Choice poll. Want to get in better shape for a specific sport, say riding, skiing or golfing; or want to lose weight; or just want to improve your stability and balance for everyday living? AXIS has trainers equipped to help you reach your goal, say readers. AXIS trainers customize training programs to the specific needs and wants of each client, often helping that client reach results they never thought they could, says Scott Norton, owner and founder of the 13-year-old business. ==I 550 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park; 463-1920.
"All our staff are super-heroes," says Cindy Smith of Cindy's Flowers & Gifts, winner of the 2009 Readers' Choice vote for best florist. "The staff tries really hard to take care of people, to make arrangements that are exactly what they want," she says. The emphasis is on freshness. And Cindy's delivers all along the Peninsula. 558 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-4864.
Los Salonez knows how to appeal to its customers, as it has for 18 years under the ownership of Klara Turner. It does it all, from hair cuts (including for men) to coloring and styling. "Our customers prefer a more natural style, a low maintenance look," she says, and that can help them stretch their dollars. Los Salonez is a friendly, neighborhood salon, with lots of regular customers. "There's just four of us here," she sys. "We're easy to talk to." 1012 Alma St., Menlo Park; 328-0735.
It didn't take long for the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel to top the charts with voters in The Almanac's Readers' Choice poll. The luxury hotel, owned by Stanford University and operated by Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, just opened in April. The complex, spread over 16 acres on Sand Hill Road at Interstate 280, has 123 guest rooms, including 32 suites of up to 2,372 square feet. There is a spa and gym, the Madera restaurant, several meeting rooms, and a ballroom. Among comments from patrons: "My husband and I have traveled the world and I honestly believe our stay was far superior to any other hotel we've stayed at in a very long time. It was such a pleasant surprise to find a hotel of such caliber just 20 minutes away from home. From the bell person to the waiters, from the welcome cookies for our boys to the amenities for our baby, and from the cleanliness of the pool to the decor of our room -- BRAVO!" 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park; 561-1500.
Keith Willig Landscape Architecture & Construction, with projects in all four Almanac towns, is the Readers' Choice winner in the landscaping category this year. Clients like the fact that Keith Willig, in business here for about 15 years, both designs and builds, eliminating finger-pointing between designer and builder. They like how the firm can articulate their ideas, and make the landscaped area a logical extension of their interior living. Keith Willig does projects for the children, too, including custom playgrounds and tree houses. A respecter of the environment, he uses reclaimed materials whenever he can. 885 Santa Cruz Ave., Suite D, Menlo Park; 326-2294.
Cindy's Nail Spa, with three locations in Menlo Park, has won the vote of confidence in the 2009 Readers' Choice poll. Cindy's opened its third location, named the Green Nail Spa, in October on the Alameda de las Pulgas, next to Blockbuster in West Menlo Park. "We called it Green because we don't do artificial nails there, just natural nails, and it getting busier because the clients like the idea of going green," says CEO Cindy Nguyen. Three Menlo Park locations: 1702 El Camino Real, 322-6427; 1012 Alma St., 566-1909; and 3530 Alameda de las Pulgas, 233-9317.
The family-owned Avi Decorative Painting Inc., in business for 23 years, provides a broad range of painting and home improvement services. Its customers, from homeowners to construction contractors, like its focus on quality materials and workmanship, return on investment, and delivering on time and on budget, says Michal Lenchner, co-owner of the business with her husband Avi Lenchner. The company offers a number of "green" alternatives to customers and supports a nonprofit organization, Avi Green Now, which gives talks to community groups on living green. Phone: 329-0770; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pharmacy staff at Walgreens in Menlo Park will go to great lengths to meet customers needs, says assistant manager Dhaval Patel. If a product is not available at the store, the staff will go to another store to pick it up. For customers who are immobile, Walgreens staff will deliver the product to a residence. "I've done that myself," says Mr. Patel. Most of all, customers like the fast and friendly service, he says. Often, the pharmacy can fill an order in 10 minutes. Walgreens has been in downtown Menlo Park, at Santa Cruz Avenue and Chestnut Street, since 2002. 643 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-1530.
Guy Plumbing, a three-generation family business, has been a Readers' Choice staple for years. But not nearly as many years as its been around. Founded in Menlo Park in 1948, it still focuses on service and repair, but it also sells plumbing fixtures to customers over the Internet (www.guyplumbing.com) and runs a showroom where customers can examine the merchandise. The staff, headed by David and Alan Guy, will help with remodels, and will replace and repair water heaters, furnaces, toilets, sinks, faucets, shower and bath products, garbage disposals, and kitchen accessories. 1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 323-8415.
Frustrated by trying to plan a trip over the Internet? That's when one-on-one help from a travel professional comes as a relief. Readers' Choice voters have once again picked Meridian World Travel, in business in Menlo Park since 1964, as their favorite travel agency. Managing partner Ed Phillips says the values on cruise and land travel this year are the best he's seen in his 21 years in the business. On Sept. 26, Meridian -- an affiliate of American Express and owned by Summit Travel Group -- will hold an educational program at the Stanford Park Hotel, where representatives of 12 cruise lines will answer questions. 830 Menlo Ave, Menlo Park; 328-2030.
Atherton Antiques & Consignment just celebrated its first anniversary in its downtown Menlo Park location, although its owner, Christal Hassun has been in the business for about 30 years, with other stores in the Atherton vicinity. The store makes a point of frequently changing its offerings, so people like to drop by to see what's new, says Julie Williams, granddaughter of the owner. The business conducts estate sales, and has a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, at 940 Commercial St., Suite G in San Carlos, where people can peruse more items from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Saturday. The store specializes in unique or unusual items, including European pieces, from 18th century to modern, Ms. Williams says. Among the items: dining tables and chairs, artwork, religious statutes, desks, china, lamps, and a really nice select of chandeliers. 877 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 322-1600.
In the race to be No. 1, Menlo Velo has once again come out on top. The independent bike shop is committed to catering to cyclists of all kinds, whether casual, commuter, or serious racer. Besides selling a variety of commuter, racing and mountain bikes, Menlo Velo also offers bicycle repair services and rentals. 433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-5137.
BOOKSTORE, GREEN BUSINESS
One of the linchpins of Menlo Park's downtown, Kepler's is a long-time favorite of Almanac readers, with its ample selection of books and magazines, helpful staff and airy accommodations. Kepler's brings a steady stream of high-profile authors to the Peninsula for book signings and readings, and is a key part of the Shop Local campaign to keep independent businesses thriving. There's a cozy children's area, and an expanded selection of gift items. Kepler's also cultivates the community through book clubs, family events, children's story times and fundraisers for local schools. Readers also appreciate Kepler's efforts to promote green, sustainable practices. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 324-4321.
A devastating fire that shut down Calla in March didn't stop Readers' Choice voters from naming it best boutique for the 11th consecutive year. The fire started in the utilities closet of an upstairs office in the building at the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and University Drive, causing about $1 million in damage and ruining much of the store's stock. Owners Tiger and Phil Bachler plan to re-open as Alys Grace at 1131 Chestnut St. in October, and intend to move back to Calla's old location when the building is repaired, according to the city's business development department. 1131 Chestnut St., Menlo Park (temporary location, opening in October); 322-5524.
Even superheroes require spare time to reflect. Batman is rumored (in some circles) to spend hours browsing art shops for fabulous frames to preserve pictures of friends and foes alike. His trusty art supply store, University Art, stocks quality brushes, three grades of canvasses, paints and, most essentially, a collection of intricate frames. The family-owned chain has its flagship store in Palo Alto, where it is also equipped with a gift gallery, the Annex, stuffed with jewelry, journals and other knick-knacks. Word has it that Batman bought Catwoman an exquisite heart necklace there last Valentine's Day. 267 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 328-3500.
For as long as The Almanac has been handing out Readers' Choice awards, Flegels Fine Furniture & Interior Design has been raking them in. In the 17th Readers' Choice awards this year, voters named Flegels their favorite furniture store for the 17th year in a row. Arthur and Cleora Flegel founded the family-owned store in 1954. Brian Flegel, a store manager and the son of President Mark Flegel, attributed the store's longevity to a commitment to high-end furniture, and an effort to building long-term relationships with customers. A team of interior designers works with clients on everything from window treatments to cabinetry, and Flegels repairs and reupholsters furniture. "The short-term expense is negated by the long-term viability, because of the craftsmanship of the item you have," said Brian Flegel. "It won't break down, or start to fall apart." The layout of the store is meant to "inspire" people, he said. "In the late 1970s or early 1980s, my father made the decision to take it to a high-end level. That's really the reason we're still around." 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 326-9661.
For the third consecutive year, Menlo Park Ace Hardware was voted the favorite hardware store. The store moved into the same location as the landmark family-owned store, Menlo Park Hardware, which closed in 2001 after 77 years in business. It shares a building with Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, which has a meeting space behind the hardware store. The owners, Vasile and Adriana Oros, live in Menlo Park. 700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-2515.
With the belief that every piece of jewelry tells a story, Gleim Jeweler's takes good care of its customers. Whether customers are shopping for engagement rings, a necklace to give to Mom on her birthday, or a timepiece for a son who just graduated from college, Gleim's has something special for each person who walks through the door. Although Gleim's has closed its University Avenue location, the Stanford Shopping Center location is open for business. 111 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 325-3533.
Pink, lace, girly stuff and great mirrors in the dressing rooms. These words describe perfectly the queen of the lingerie stores, Victoria's Secret in the Stanford Shopping Center. From the Pink collection dominating the front of the store to the swim collection, from the naughty lacy selections to the everyday essentials, and from the sexy summer styles to sleek fall fashion, Victoria's Secret seems to have just what many readers are wearing out or in. 180 El Camino Real, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 328-0574.
The Village Doctor Wellness Studio offers complementary alternative medical therapies and fitness programs. It is open to both Village Doctor patients and the general public, and offers such therapies as acupuncture, nutrition, physical therapy, and therapeutic massage. The fitness programs include the "contour method" for shaping a lean, firm body, as well as Pilates and Yoga. Clients like the fact that the studio is owned by a doctors' office and that referrals for therapy can sometimes be covered by insurance, says Jane Munro, manager of the Wellness Studio. They also like the convenient location for Woodside residents, and that many of the instructors also live in the community. For more information, go to wellnessstudio.com. 2920 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-4708.
It's safe to say that Roger Reynolds Nursery and Carriage Stop is a local institution -- it's the top choice of Readers' Choice voters for the ninth year in a row, and it is celebrating its 90th anniversary in September. All month, special events are scheduled every Saturday, including a community celebration on Sept. 19 with children's activities, music and raffles, said manager Antonio Ramirez. Great service and knowledgeable staff keep customers coming back, he said. The store also boasts the best selection of maple trees in the area -- no matter what the size or species, Roger Reynolds probably has it, he said. Next door to the nursery, the Carriage Stop offers a wide variety of flower arrangements and gifts, and the store makes deliveries throughout the Bay Area. 133 Encinal Ave., Menlo Park; 323-5612.
Readers' Choice voters have selected Stephen Miller Gallery as the neighborhood hero for oriental carpets. Opened in 1977, this store has two locations: one in Menlo Park and a showroom in Redwood City. Rugs, both traditional and contemporary, are hand-woven and brands are unique to Stephen Miller. Customers say they enjoy the myriad of services that the store offers, from hand cleaning to custom rug production. 800 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 327-5040.
The recession has squeezed many local businesses, but Gray's Paint and Wallpaper is not among them. The locally owned Menlo Park paint store, one of four Peninsula branches, is starting work on plans to expand into a vacant space next door, said Rich Teele, the Menlo Park store manager. Other than that, not much has changed in the past year, Mr. Teele said. The store still offers a wide selection of paint brands, including Benjamin Moore, Pratt & Lambert, and Fuller O'Brien. The expansion will allow the store to sell more paints, but shoppers will still have to go to the Redwood City location to find wallpaper, according to Mr. Teele. 717 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park; 322-5524.
No surprise. The Pet Place in Menlo Park is the pick of Readers' Choice voters for the 17th consecutive year. The reason is basic: the exceptional personal service offered by owners Lynn and Marc Macy and their staff. In addition to comprehensive pet products, the store offers heart and compassion for animals and is dedicated to education, rescue and adoptions, says Mr. Macy. The Pet Place goes the extra mile, whether it is locating a difficult-to-find product, a referral to a veterinary specialist, a custom harness for a disabled dog, or a toy for your favorite "grandcat." 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-7387.
Readers' Choice voters sure love independent, family-owned businesses, as evidenced by perennial winner Village Stationers. It's the superhero when it comes to office supplies, greeting cards, paper goods and a myriad of little gift items. The array of stuffed animals and Hello Kitty products ensures a steady flow of youthful patrons to the store, browsing alongside their parents. 719 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 321-6920.
For the ninth year, Almanac readers have voted Cheeky Monkey Toys the toy store superhero because of its customer service, wide selection of toys, and free gift wrapping. This year, the toy store began selling children's clothing, offering casual playwear for kids. The store regularly holds free events for children. Every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11 a.m., Cheeky Monkey holds a "Page to Play" program, which includes book readings and play activities. On most Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m., the store has games or arts and crafts for children. The store also periodically brings in performances such as magic or puppet shows to entertain the children, says owner Dexter Chow. 640 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park; 328-7975
Although Nordstrom expanded from a shoe store to a department store in 1966, customers still hail its shoe department as the best. For the third year in a row, in this three-year-old category, Nordstrom has won this award. Nordstrom has a wide selection of shoes from commercial brands to high-end designs. The store also has many hard-to-find sizes 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. 550 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto 94304; 323-5111.
The Posh Bagel has been making bagels for the past 15 years, and now offers more than 24 flavors, from jalapeno to chocolate chip. The store has 12 flavors of creamy gourmet cream cheese, known as shmear, ranging from plain to tomato basil. Customer favorites include breakfast bagels, which have eggs, ham and cheese. The Posh Bagel also serves a variety of other baked goods such as scones and muffins. 869 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-7674.
BAKERY, BUTCHER, SANDWICHES
Draeger's market is a top purveyor of gourmet groceries, and this year Almanac readers have singled out the downtown Menlo Park store as having the best butcher shop, the best bakery and the best sandwiches. Certainly, the vast selection of meats and the staff of affable, knowledgeable butchers sets the Draeger's meat counter apart from the competition. Draeger's specializes in aged Midwestern beef and offers live lobsters, crabs and trout. The bakery's fresh breads, rich chocolate cakes and whimsical iced sugar cookies compete for space with pies, tarts, tortes and petit-fours in the mouth-watering display case. With a huge selection of cheeses and deli meats, including its own fresh-roasted turkey as well as imported delicacies like Spanish Serrano ham, there's a sandwich filling for every taste. 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 324-7733.
COFFEE AND TEA
Peetniks can curb their coffee cravings at two Menlo Park locations, thanks to the opening of a new Peet's Coffee and Tea at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue, in the Safeway shopping center. The competition from a sister store doesn't seem to be hurting the original downtown Menlo Park location, which is still busy slinging lattes and icy Freddos to an endless parade of patrons with a jones for some java. New this summer is Peet's line of bottled iced teas in several flavors, including citrus and Moroccan mint, said spokeswoman Erica Hess. Peet's loyal customers really appreciate the high-quality artisan brews, and the sense of community that each store cultivates, she said. 899 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-8989.
COCKTAILS AND BAR
The historic British Bankers Club is home to the favorite bar, and place for cocktails, of Readers' Choice voters. The history: American Trust and Savings first occupied the building, constructed in 1922. Later, it became Menlo Park's city hall, police department and jail, with a public library upstairs. Today, it is a popular bar and restaurant. The cocktails range from the exotic, such as the Caipirinha (El Dorado 12 Rum/LeBlon Cachaca, lime, and simple syrup) to the familiar, such as the Bloody Mary (the BBC starts with Russian Pepper vodka, but the rest is its secret). 1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 327-8769
Everyone -- superhero or just regular folk -- knows that Prolific Oven is all about the cakes. With chocolate mocha, orange with almond, carrot (oh yes, with cream-cheese frosting), strawberry cream and more, even non-heroes can be feted in style. For smaller parties, there's a mouth-watering array of French pastries, from custard-filled eclairs and Napoleons to decadent lemon and fruit tarts. Oh yeah, and mounds of cookies. 550 Waverley St., Palo Alto; 650-326-8485. www.prolific-oven.com
Maybe it's the cheerful aloha shirts worn by the staff, maybe it's the international array of tempting foods, maybe it's the well-priced selection of wines, beers and spirits. Or perhaps it's all of those things that makes Trader Joe's a favorite among Almanac readers. From grocery store staples to ready-made foods, imported cheeses and exotic specialties, the grocery chain is known for its low prices and for constantly introducing new things, with unpopular items getting dropped in favor of newer, cheaper or more interesting items. 720 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park; 323-2134.
With a 1950s diner ambiance, fresh hamburger patties and creamy milkshakes, Jeffrey's Hamburgers has won over Menlo Park. Jeffrey's, which started in San Mateo and still has a restaurant there, opened in Menlo Park in 2007. The condiments bar offers many items such as freshly sliced tomatoes, onions, sauerkraut, pickles, and salsa. Customers also love the savory garlic fries and the crispy onion rings. Jeffrey's offers turkey and vegan burgers for non-meat eaters. 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 322-1959.
Readers' Choice voters have yet again picked Cold Stone Creamery as their favorite ice cream store, where there are seemingly endless ways to customize your ice cream with combinations of flavors and mix-ins. If choosing your own toppings is too confusing, Cold Stone offers its own creations, such "Cookie Doughn't You Want Some" and "Strawberry Banana Rendezvous." For the health-conscious, Cold Stone has nonfat, no-sugar-added ice cream and non-dairy sorbets and smoothies. The ice cream and the waffle cones are made fresh daily. 611 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 325-4500.
The new Amici's East Coast Pizzeria in Menlo Park serves pizzas baked directly on the hot brick floor of its ovens, resulting in a crisp crust that is darker than the typical American crust. Varieties range from a simple New York (mozzarella and tomato sauce) to the Trentino (mozzarella, parmesan, crumbled feta, spinach, red onions, pancetta and herbs). The stylish interior and indoor-outdoor seating add to the family-friendly ambience. Amici's also offers delivery service. 880 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 329-8888.
Family-run Sigona's farmers market is once again the favorite place to find fresh produce. Founded by the three Sigona brothers in 1975, it's become a local institution. Sigona's carries lots of locally sourced fruits and vegetables, most purchased directly from the farm. Besides fresh produce, Sigona's other specialty is its vast selection of dried fruits. Two locations: 399 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto; 329-1340 | 2345 Middlefield Road, Redwood City; 368-6993.
WINE AND LIQUOR STORE
Beltramo's Wines and Spirits is an integral part of Menlo Park's history. The store was founded in 1882 by Giovanni Beltramo and is still family-owned and operated. Beltramo's, which Readers' Choice voters have declared their favorite wine and spirits store year after year, offers wines from around the world and has a savvy staff that is happy to assist customers in their selections. Betramo's spacious store stocks an extensive selection of California wines, as well as those from the best regions of Italy and France, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Learn more about its offerings at Saturday afternoon wine tastings. The Almanac is not the only newspaper to laud Beltramo's. According to the store's Web site, the New York Times has named it a "top wine shop." 1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 325-2806.
BEST BREAKFAST, SUNDAY BRUNCH
Open in Menlo Park since 2002, Stacks' has made a name for itself among Readers' Choice voters as a great place for breakfast and Sunday brunch. It prides itself on serving comfortable, old-fashioned American food. Some Stacks' specialties include its banana macadamia nut and coconut pancakes, the crab crepes and the bacon waffle. Manager Bryan Godfrey emphasizes that Stacks' has a great lunch menu, too, which includes burgers, sandwiches and salads. Customers also love the friendly and professional staff. 600 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 838-0066.
BEST CAFE, LIVE MUSIC
After Cafe Espresso 1929 switched ownership in 2008, it took on a new name, Cafe Zoe, and a new face. Cafe Zoe is The Almanac readers' choice for best live music, and it tied with Cafe Borrone for best cafe. Cafe Zoe uses organic ingredients from local vendors and serves espresso, pastries, paninis and salads. Customers love the community-oriented atmosphere, the friendly staff and the free wi-fi. Families are welcome: the cafe has a kids' menu and a kids' house in the back patio to entertain children. Cafe Zoe also serves ice cream from Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream in Palo Alto. Every Friday night, local artists perform at Cafe Zoe. Performers have included African drummers, jazz musicians and The Bell Brothers, a country band that has toured with artists such as Tim McGraw. Cafe Zoe also extended its hours, so customers have more time to enjoy the food and the atmosphere. 1929 Menalto Ave., Menlo Park; 322-1926.
CHINESE RESTAURANT, TAKE OUT
Su Hong is a "golden oldie" with Readers' Choice voters, rated their favorite Chinese restaurant for the 16th year. For many families, Sunday night supper or Saturday lunch at Su Hong is a tradition that goes back even further. They enjoy the smooth service, classic white tablecloth atmosphere, and, of course, the Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine. The extensive menu has many favorites, including "rolling lettuce chicken," "sizzling seafood platter," and "Mongolian lamb." Since almost everything on the in-house menu is available to go, it's no surprise that Su Hong To Go was also named the best take-out restaurant. Su Hong, 1039 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 323-6852. Su Hong To Go, 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park, 322-4631.
DINING WITH KIDS
Kids love the Dutch Goose mainly because they "don't have to worry about messing the place up," says owner Greg Stern. Nobody bats an eye at the legions of mud-caked baseball and soccer players who come in with cleats on. Mr. Stern says he's fortunate that the Goose is "within a three-mile radius of at least 30 schools," but it's not as if the restaurant doesn't make an effort to cater to kids. They'll tape sporting events for free so the team can come back to watch it on the plasma televisions afterward, and they're expanding their kids' menu, Mr. Stern says. He's fixing up the patio area out back to allow for a second counter, where people can order food or drinks; it will be known as "The Duck Blind." "It will help us space things out" when the front area gets too crowded, he says. 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park; 854-3245.
The outdoor sidewalk cafe seating evokes a Parisian atmosphere in the newly remodeled Left Bank brasserie in downtown Menlo Park. The decor is new, but the classic dishes that diners crave -- such as onion soup, duck a l'orange, cassoulet, beef bourguignon, coq au vin, and steak frites -- are featured, as well as seasonally changing specialties. Along with Francophile favorites, Left Bank serves a terrific hamburger. For a sweet finale, diners may opt for a regular serving of creme brulee or strawberry rhubarb crisp or a petite dessert, such as a single profiterole. 635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 473-6543.
INTIMATE DINING, PLACE FOR A DATE
When Tim Stannard opened the totally renovated Village Pub in 2001, he envisioned the restaurant as "a living room for the community." The Pub, an integral part of the Woodside community since it opened in 1958, provides an ideal setting for intimate dining or as a place for a date. The decor is luxurious and evokes the feeling of being a guest in a private club. In 2009 the Pub received its first listing in the one-star category in the Michelin guide for the San Francisco Bay Area and Wine Country. The menu features fresh, seasonal food, with many vegetables grown in the restaurant's own organic farm in the hills above Woodside. Guests may order from the regular dining menu or the more casual pub menu, which always includes a hamburger and Caesar salad. Executive chef Dmitry Elperin changes the menu every other week, but some things stay the same. Diners expect to find sauteed veal sweetbreads always available. Another top favorite is lamb three ways: roasted, grilled, and braised. On the lunch menu, lamb kofta (ground lamb meatballs) is a favorite. 2867 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-9888
For more than two decades, Carpaccio has been one of Menlo Park's most popular dining choices. Readers' Choice voters agree, naming it best Italian restaurant year after year. Patrons have their favorite dishes that popular managing partner Ciya Martorana doesn't dare take off the menu. The lasagne, made from Ciya's own recipe, has been served on Wednesdays and Fridays since opening day. Rack of lamb also ranks up there as an all-time favorite, as does the cannelloni. Recent specials include grilled veal chop with roasted banana squash and green beans and risotto with scallops, tomatoes, spinach and truffle sauce. Pizza from the wood-burning oven is a popular lunch-time choice. Save room for dessert. Cannoli, tiramisu, or panna cotta are fitting finales. 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park; 322-1211.
An impressive sushi selection makes Fuki Sushi an ideal choice for novices and connoisseurs. The stylish restaurant offers a range of seating, including a social sushi bar, spacious main dining room, and elegant and private tatami rooms, creating atmospheres appropriate for first dates and business meetings. Sushi newcomers might opt to order the "sushi experience," a selection of sashimi, nigiri, maki and appetizers. 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-494-9383.
For the second year in a row, Lulu's on the Alameda has won the Readers' Choice vote for best Mexican restaurant. Lulu's prides itself on its lard-free food and fresh produce. Favorites include chop salad and burritos. For the more daring, try the enchiladas poblanas de San Miguel, the favorite of owner Natalie Richardson. Lulu's recently added tortas, Mexican-style sandwiches with meat, lettuce, tomatoes and chipotle sauce. On Friday evenings, Lulu's hosts a live Mariachi band at the Menlo Park location. Lulu's has opened a second restaurant at Town & Country Village shopping center in Palo Alto. Menlo Park: 3539 Alameda de las Pulgas; 854-8226 | Palo Alto: 855 El Camino Real, Suite 49; 327-8225.
PLACE TO TAKE MOM AND POP
Customers come to Buck's of Woodside for the atmosphere as well as the food. Owner Jamis MacNiven categorizes the restaurant's decorations as "American wacky": model airplanes hanging from the ceiling and a 20-foot long wooden fish named Woody at the front of the store. Known for serving big portions, Buck's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some favorites include the hot Dungeness crab with melted cheddar cheese and the stuffed artichoke. Specialties change weekly, and include Jacque's filet mignon beef stroganoff over penne pasta and Buck's soft tacos. Other than the varying specialties, Buck's stresses consistency and has not evolved much regarding its menu or decor. "We want to consider ourselves completely non-trendy," Mr. MacNiven said. 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside; 851-8010.
Even Aquaman, superhero of the sea, would approve of B The Fish Market==. Specializing in straight-from-the-ocean freshness, the Fish Market serves a wide variety of seafood. Think panko-style fish and chips, steamed shell fish and mesquite-grilled fish, among others. With a retail section in each restaurant, it's hard not to dive right in. 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 493-8862.
Bangkok Bay is marking its 16th year in business and the Redwood City restaurant is, once again, the Readers' Choice pick for Thai food. The restaurant, founded in 1993 by four sisters, has an extensive menu. The chef's specials include grilled rack of lamb, honey grilled pork and three flavor fish. The many curries range in variety from "Pumpkin to Penang." Try the "drunken noodles," which are rice noodles stir-fried in garlic chile sauce with mixed vegetables and basil. Every August, Bangkok Bay celebrates its anniversary with Thai dancing and music on Saturdays. 825 El Camino Real, Redwood City; 365-5369.
PLACE FOR A KID'S BIRTHDAY PARTY
Color Me Mine has been chosen yet again as the best place for a kid's birthday party. With more than 400 ceramic pieces, pre-designed graphics and 60 paint colors to choose from, Color Me Mine offers an array of options that will please everyone interested in trying their hand at ceramics. Besides ceramics, the store offers mosaics, glass-fusing and tie-dying. The birthday child also receives a birthday plate with the fingerprints of all the guests. Customers must wait a week to pick up their finished items. 602 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; 328-4486.
CAFE, PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE
With people spilling out the doors into the plaza, Cafe Borrone's lively atmosphere and great food has attracted customers for the past 20 years. Almanac readers proclaimed Cafe Borrone as the best place to meet people, and Cafe Borrone tied with Cafe Zoe for best cafe. This family-owned European-style cafe offers specialties such its frosted mocha, which is a coffee milkshake with home-made whipped cream; a chicken salad sandwich on cinnamon raisin toast; and its home-made deserts such as tiramisu and cheesecake. Every Friday night, The Cafe Borrone All-Stars, a 1930s jazz group, performs in the plaza. Cafe Borrone also displays artwork from local artists. 1010 El Camino Real, #110, Menlo Park; 327-0830.
Named one of the top 250 tanning salons in the nation by Looking Fit magazine for the past six years, Sole di Paradiso is also the Almanac's Readers' Choice winner for best tanning salon. Owner David Maselli attributes Sole di Paradiso's popularity to its luxurious ambiance and its top-of-the-line European equipment. Sole di Paradiso offers five levels of European tanning machines, a mystic spray booth and custom airbrushing. The salon gives its customers many different tanning options, such as a full body tanning, a leg tanning or a spray tan. For new customers, the salon offers introductory specials. 65 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; 325-7653.
Readers' Choice raffle prize winners
The following Readers' Choice voters won gift certificates in a raffle:
Patrick Daly, Menlo Park, $50 from Cheeky Monkey
Barbara Kirst, Menlo Park, $50 from Cafe Zoe
Eileen Kornblum, Menlo Park, $50 from Village Stationers
Marta Schermerhorn, Menlo Park, $25 from Kepler's
Ken Brown, Menlo Park, $50 from Cafe Zoe
Chris Moser, Atherton, $50 from Carpaccio
A total of 542 voters participated in the 2009 Readers' Choice through the online balloting.
Among the writers contributing to this story are Amanda Young, Sean Howell, Andrea Gemmet and Richard Hine.