Roll out the red carpet: The spotlight's on the winners of the 2018 Readers' Choice Awards | July 18, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - July 18, 2018

Roll out the red carpet: The spotlight's on the winners of the 2018 Readers' Choice Awards

The paparazzi are not pursuing them, and they won't be found strutting down a red carpet before adoring fans. But some local business owners and their staffs are nevertheless stars in the estimation of Almanac readers who voted in this year's Readers' Choice contest.

The annual Readers' Choice ballot gives you the opportunity to put your favorite businesses under the spotlight — to give a resounding round of applause to owners and staff of the shops, salons, restaurants and other businesses that perform with pizazz, offering outstanding goods and services.

The awards this year go to a number of traditional winners such as the Pet Place, Cafe Borrone, Kepler's bookstore and Flegel's Home Furnishings, as well as to newcomers such as Cafe Wisteria at Allied Arts Guild, which readers chose as best new restaurant.

On the following pages, we name the winners of the Almanac's 2018 Readers' Choice Awards.



Flea St. Cafe has been chosen by Almanac readers as their favorite in two categories: best American restaurant and best place for a date. Owner Jesse Cool says that customers love the restaurant's warm, caring, and professional atmosphere, as well as the contemporary ingredient-inspired menu that changes with the seasons. Flea St. Cafe is about to celebrate its 38th anniversary this August. Cool says that since its opening, Flea St. has created its menu from ingredients gathered from local farms, fisheries and ranches. And what makes Flea St. such a good place for a date? "Our restaurant is not stuffy, and people can hear each other talk while enjoying delicious food and cocktails," Cool says. Flea St. has recently opened an oysterette on its deck, according to Cool. 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park | (650) 854-1226 |


Cafe Borrone is truly a gem of the Menlo Park community with its fresh food and scenic outdoor seating. This year, it is again the winner in the categories of best casual dining, outdoor dining, place to meet people, and independent coffee and tea house. Sergio Fuentes, a general manager, says that Cafe Borrone's customers enjoy the restaurant's family-oriented atmosphere, as well as how all of the meals are baked in-house with only organic ingredients. Fuentes says the most popular dish is the chicken salad sandwich. "It is definitely our number-one order," he says. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 327-0830 |


Carpaccio is our readers' choice for best Italian restaurant once again. Carpaccio has been in its Menlo Park location since 1988, according to owner Sandra Ferer. She also says, "I think our customers feel that Carpaccio is their home away from home." Asked how Carpaccio has managed to maintain its loyal customers, Ferer responded that consistency plays a part."We are very consistent, both in terms of our food and our staff," she says. It's important that customers are able to get a favorite entree if that's what they wanted when they came in, and not discover that it was rotated off the menu. However, the restaurant does offer weekly specials to keep things interesting. 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park, | (650) 322-1211 |


Following a motto of "treat every day like it is grand opening day," Chef Chu's has won over readers with its homemade potstickers and annual Chinese New Year festivities. Serena Williams, Steve Young, Justin Bieber and JFK Jr. are among the many real-life superheroes to have dined at Chef Chu's since its opening in 1970. The Beijing duck, cooked in a cast iron Chinese oven, is popular among patrons. Many of the signature dishes feature fish and shellfish, but there's also lamb, chicken and a vegetarian cold plate on the signature menu. 1067 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos | 650-948-2696 |


Left Bank French brasserie has been a longtime winner in the best French restaurant category, but this year readers have also voted it winner for having the best happy hour. Left Bank is a stalwart in the Menlo Park restaurant community, and this year it is celebrating its 20th anniversary. General manager Wesleigh Stoltz says that one reason Left Bank has been around so long is because it's comfortable, and guests feel that they can truly relax while dining. Regarding happy hour, Stoltz says, "Left Bank's happy hour has always been an unspoken secret." With the recent addition of the outdoor terrace, as well as Left Bank's late happy hour from 9 p.m. until closing, the restaurant has drawn more people, he says. Starting this month, Left Bank is also offering a prix fixe family-style menu every Sunday until the end of year. All of the proceeds are going to different Menlo Park community organizations. 635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 473-6543


The award for favorite Japanese restaurant once again goes to Palo Alto's Fuki Sushi . The restaurant is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Reflecting on how Fuki Sushi has remained successful for so long, co-owner Lumi Gardner says that customers love its atmosphere and consistency, in addition to the diverse menu. "We have five different kitchens inside Fuki Sushi, each one dedicated to a different food type," Gardner says. In the past year, Gardner says, Fuki Sushi has expanded its catering services, and will continue to offer more in terms of catering in the coming year. 4119 El Camino Real, Palo Alto | (650) 494-9383 |


The award for best Mexican restaurant goes to first-time winner Amigos Grill. Chef Julio Hernandez says that people keep coming back for the burritos and enchiladas, but the margaritas are also a customer favorite. "People love our margaritas," Hernandez says. In addition to the food, customers also love the casual ambiance. Amigos Grill has no current plans to change its menu, since customers love its dishes, Hernandez says. 3130 Alpine Road, #290, Portola Valley | (650) 851-3997


The award for the most romantic restaurant goes to The Village Pub. With deep-burgundy walls and white-linen-covered tables glowing with candlelight and set far enough apart for intimate conversation, The Pub offers impeccably prepared food and professional service that make it one of the Bay Area's finest restaurants. Executive chef Steven Pelas works with pristine, organic produce from a private five-acre farm, SMIP Ranch, located in Woodside. High-quality meats, fish, and poultry are also a highlight. A recent menu offered such entrees as almond Coleman pork loin with pearl barley and grilled apricots, and pan-seared ocean trout with sweet corn pudding and chanterelle mushrooms. 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside | (650) 851-9888 |


<Buck's of Woodside is again the winner in the categories of best dining with kids and best breakfast. Co-owner Jamis MacNiven says kids love Buck's because, "they get to run around, and we give them a treasure hunt with over 500 artifacts to find." As for the food, Buck's has seven different menus and is constantly changing its specials. "We are always experimenting and changing our specials, but we keep the favorites," MacNiven says. Buck's is always busy, getting about 600 to 1,000 customers a day, he says. "Don't come; we are too busy," MacNiven, known for his quick wit, deadpans. 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside | (650) 851-8010 |


This year, Cafe Wisteria wins the Almanac Readers' Choice Award for favorite new restaurant. Cafe Wisteria is located at the Allied Arts Guild, surrounded by gardens and flowers. This scenic restaurant offers a California, farm-to-table cuisine in a casual setting. Menu items include a watermelon caprese salad, eggs benedict and apple-brie panini. Customers love the outdoor dining and relaxing environment, complete with the soothing sounds of a fountain. 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park | (650) 838-9002



Kepler's Books, a mainstay of the Peninsula's literary scene, this year made a Lonely Planet list of "bookstores worth traveling for." According to Praveen Madan, CEO of Kepler's Books and a member of the Kepler's Literary Foundation, the Kepler's known to the community is two community organizations: Kepler's the bookstore, a for-profit enterprise, and the Kepler's Literary Foundation, a nonprofit headed by Jean Forstner that hosts hundreds of free and ticketed events each year in the community — many of which happen inside the bookstore. The foundation has an annual budget of about $350,000 a year, Madan says, and is funded through a combination of major donor individuals and grants. It runs a series of literary seminars, author events, book clubs, a radio show called "This is Now" with Angie Coiro, and a program that brings children's authors to meet with students in the Ravenswood City School District. In the store, Madan says, a makeshift office for the shop's book buyers is being relocated across the street to make space to expand the children's section and improve the shop's layout, hopefully by Labor Day. The bookstore has been profitable since the 2013-14 fiscal year, Madan says, and has been able to raise salaries, improve benefits, and implement a profit-sharing program for employees. Open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 324-4321 |


The awards for the best grocery, produce, place to buy meat and sandwiches go to Bianchini's Market in the Ladera Shopping Center. Owner Kevin Bianchini says he's grateful to "all of our wonderful customers. We are honored to receive these prestigious awards." His team is celebrating 20 years in Ladera and looking forward to another 20, he says. Customers know they can fill all of their grocery needs at the market, he says, including gourmet specialty foods, organic foods and everyday items. The produce section, located at the entrance, offers produce from Bay Area farms. And the deli offers a range of specialty sandwiches, the most popular being the Firehouse No. 8, made with roasted tri-tip, roasted red bell peppers, ancho aioli, lettuce, tomato and pepperoncini on a sourdough roll. The award-winning meat department offers quality meats, seafood and organic poultry. 3130 Alpine Road, Portola Valley | (650) 851-4391 |


Menlo Velo Bicycles has long been a favorite of our readers, this year again taking the award as the best bicycle shop. Owner Rainer Zaechelein credits the store's success to the consistency of the shop. "We have had the same employees for a long time, as well as a consistent product on the sale side." Customers keep returning, he says, because "we treat our customers' bikes like we would treat our own." Zaechelein also says that the technology of bikes is changing, and electric bikes are getting more popular. He said his store will continue updating its bikes as technology develops. 433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 327-5137 |


Footwear etc. is known for having great customer service and the most comfortable shoes available, according to the store's website. Footwear etc. is now celebrating over 30 years of business, and has expanded to 12 different locations. Its Palo Alto location has been voted winner of the best place to buy shoes this year by our readers. The store's website states, "Footwear etc. is proud to be a part of such an exhilarating city and we welcome you to stop by." Footwear etc. also prides itself on offering a wide range of shoes for every occasion, as well as orthotic inserts and other footwear accessories. 463 University Ave., Palo Alto | (650) 328-1122 |


From handcarved Zuni necklaces, wood netsuke and luminescent art glass to troll beads, Menlo Park's Shady Lane has one-of-a-kind pieces for that special someone or fantastic you. Don't forget those scarves, specimen rocks and crystals. Owners Alice and Rick Deutscher take pride in providing a showcase for both local and international artisans. 325 Sharon Park Drive, Sharon Heights Shopping Center, Menlo Park | 650-321-1099 |


Ladera Garden & Gifts is this year's winner in three categories: favorite florist, favorite gift shop, and favorite nursery. Mercedes and Juan Navarro have owned the business for 37 years. "We're getting a better selection of flowers and more unusual plants because people want them," Juan Navarro says. "We're growing with the demand." Buckets of fresh flowers greet shoppers outside the entryway, ready to be assembled into custom-made arrangements. Inside, an array of orchids, vases, china, linen, soaps and other "more trendy" gifts fill shelves. A good-sized greenhouse leads into an outdoor nursery, chock-full of plants, shrubs and trees, attracting many repeat customers year after year. 3130 Alpine Road, Suite 380, Portola Valley | 854-3850 |


If you can't find the sign for Menlo Art and Frame in Menlo Park, that's because it doesn't exist. Marcy Magatelli, the shop's proprietor, says she's been in business for 28 years, but began as part of a franchise called "The Great Frame Up." She moved locations eight years ago, she broke her business away from the franchise — but hasn't changed the signs yet. Her knowledge and experience are key to attracting customers wanting their keepsakes and art framed, she says. And what do they want framed? In her experience, many don't purchase art locally, but prefer the "cachet" of being able to say they picked up their art in the south of France, Santa Fe or Hawaii, for instance, she says. Other times, people bring in sentimental family items for framing, like a grandfather's reading glasses or a great-grandmother's doily. "Anything is framable," she says.

865 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 323-1097 |


Flegel's Interior Design & Distinctive Furnishing, a Menlo Park fixture since 1954, is the winner of The Almanac's Readers' Choice Award in the home decor and furnishing category for the 26th year in a row. General manager Brian Flegel, a third-generation member of the founding family, attributes part of the store's success to the confidence customers have in the staff. "Our customers appreciate our knowledge," Flegel says. "They know that our resources are the best, and that we will make customized furniture to fit their homes." Flegel also says that staff considers how the store's customers live by going into their homes and adapting the furniture and designs to their customers, and winning their trust. 870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 326-9661 |


The Pet Place is a community treasure devoted to the welfare of animals. This year the local store is celebrating its 26th year in business, and its 26th consecutive Readers' Choice Award for best pet store. Owners Lynn and Marc Macy are lifelong Menlo Park residents who care deeply for the well-being of animals. The shop is among the first to offer holistic and natural products, to go green, and to host adoption fairs to bring homeless animals into loving homes. Among the food and toys available at the Pet Place, you will find specialized products for disabled animals, and referrals for veterinarians and pet sitters. Check out the website — — for more information and the store's specialized services. 777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 325-7387 |


Penzey's Spices in downtown Menlo Park has a tidy selection of cooking spices likely to add flavor to any culinary concoction. The shop boasts exotic-sounding herb blends like "Tuscan Sunset," "pico fruta" and "Mural of Flavor," plus foreign-sourced ingredients like Tellicherry Indian Black Peppercorns and Madagascar vanilla beans. The shop also offers goods including spice storage items, a selection of cookbooks, mugs and dish towels. And if you're stuck on just what flavor to give to your foodie friends, the shop also offers gift boxes and gift cards. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. 771 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 853-1785 |


The new owners of Portola Valley Hardware, Richard Crevelt and Stig Nybo, are "thrilled" to be voted Best Hardware Store for 2018, Nybo says. "It's 100 percent organic because we were completely surprised by it. We didn't campaign at all." The two most common comments they hear: "You guys have everything," and "Your team is so helpful," Nybo says. The pair plan to continue studying the store's layout, staying with what's been successful, but with an eye to "changing a little bit of the aesthetic" to be more appealing to people, Nybo says. 112 Portola Road, Portola Valley | (650) 851-0116 |


The award for the best floor coverings goes to Abbey Carpet & Floor in Menlo Park. The Diamond Certified recognition for the Menlo Park store, based on an independent and random customer survey, indicates customer satisfaction of at least 90 percent, store salesman and manager John Christensen says. As for the coming year, the plan is to stay flexible and keep up with product trends, he says. Those trend, he notes, include area rugs, stair runners, hardwood floors and high-end wool rugs. 626 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 462-0800 |



Menlo Park's elegant Rosewood Hotel is a classy place — evidenced, if not by the telltale exotic car show in front of the hotel's entrance, then maybe by the on-site Michelin-starred restaurant, Madera, or the Alex Chases Salon and Sense Spa on the premises. Perhaps most impressive, though, is that it's got real cloth squares for drying one's hands in its bathrooms. (Not that we'd recommend going there just for the toilets. That would be uncouth!) Years after being outed in a 2013 Vanity Fair article as a Cougar Night hotspot, the hotel now boasts another "how Silicon Valley" claim to fame: Its on-site jewelry store, Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry, is the first jewelry store in the world to accept cryptocurrency as payment, according to a recent KPIX story. 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park | (650) 561-1500 |


Menlo Park Barber Shop, which opened in November 2015 on Avy Avenue, near Alameda de las Pulgas, has all the fixings of an old-fashioned barber, complete with red-blue-and-white striped pole out front, plush barber chairs arranged in rows and a squad of barbers who go way back: Shop founder Sam Valero and fellow barber Woody Jackson went to the same high school in the Central Valley. They are joined by Yvonne Soliz as three veterans of the now-shuttered Golden Shears barber shop, a Santa Cruz Avenue hair-trimming mainstay that operated in Menlo Park for 53 years before it closed in early 2016. Open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or by appointment. 2100 Avy Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 391-9008 |


Olive Hill Salon has been voted favorite hair salon for the fifth time. Owner Arlene Tascian-Russell says the salon's "clients are the most important part of our business, and we strive to make everyone's experience the best it can be." The Woodside salon features Aveda and Kerastase, specializing in cut, coloring and extensions. The experienced team of stylists is up on the latest trends and designs a personalized look for each client. "Our goal is to create beautiful results and maintain healthy hair," Tascian-Russel says. "We love getting to know our clients and work to build lasting relationships based on trust and integrity." 2920 Woodside Road, Woodside | (650) 851-1150 |


Menlo Park's A Touch of Elegance has won the Almanac's Readers' Choice Award for best manicure and pedicure for the fourth year in a row. In addition to regular manicures and pedicures, A Touch of Elegance also offers waxing and massages. A Touch of Elegance prides itself on its customer service and consistent services. 1150 Crane St., Menlo Park | (650) 321-0679


Bella Schneider's La Belle Day Spas and Salons has won the 2018 Readers' Choice award for favorite day spa. Clients say they love their clinically advanced in-house facials and cosmetic formulations as well as advanced beauty expertise. They also love the familiarity of long-term staff who often know not only them but sometimes their children or grandchildren, by name. From facials to makeup, hairstyling, foot soaks and massages, La Belle offers the full range of spa services. It also offers brides and attendants hair and makeup services, as well as massages to restore calm after all of that last-minute planning. Two Palo Alto locations: 36 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto | 326-8522 | and 95 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto | 327-6964 |


Triple-prize-winning Studio Rincon has what it takes to keep our readers happy year after year. The fitness studio offers all levels of classes from beginner to advanced, and also offers classes based on age group. There's a boot camp, and classes include yoga, pilates, hip-hop and zumba. Studio Rincon recently opened a boutique on Santa Cruz Avenue called Yogarok Living, offering activewear and fitness clothing. 3536 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park | (650) 861-0242 |


It's the fourth year for Ladera Cleaners topping the list in the category for best dry cleaner. Located in the Ladera Shopping Center along Alpine Road for at least 16 years, the dry cleaner has been using eco-friendly cleansers and offers custom tailoring and advice on how to care for clothes and other belongings that need dry cleaning, including coats, comforters, draperies and handmade quilts. Other services include laundry washed and folded, reweaving and cleaning and alteration of wedding dresses. 3130 Alpine Road, Suite 260, Portola Valley | (650) 854-2291 |


Once again, customers of Tom Ramies' Portola Valley Garage have put the facility in the top spot for the Best Auto Repair category. "I want to thank this fabulous community for voting for us to be No. 1 nine years in a row!" Ramies said in an email. "Tom and his team really know what they are doing — and almost even more important, they really like what they are doing!" said Sven B. from Palo Alto in a website testimonial. Portola Valley Garage offers 36-month, 36,000-mile nationwide warranties and repairs of super-car brands such as Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche. 4170 Alpine Road, Portola Valley | (650) 851-7442 |


Guy Plumbing & Heating, a Menlo Park institution that has no shortage of Readers' Choice awards from years past, has taken the prize again this year in the best plumber category. "This is a special year for us as we celebrate our 70th anniversary in business and remain family-owned and operated in Menlo Park," Camille Guy writes in an email. "They are the best," Teresa T. from Palo Verde writes in an online testimonial. "They fixed my broken faucet on my kitchen sink on Xmas eve when I had 26 people coming for Xmas dinner." The company continues to offer water-sense products accredited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whether for DIY or new construction. 1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 323-8415 |

Arts & Entertainment


Lutticken's, situated along Alameda de las Pulgas in West Menlo Park, has long been known as a sandwich spot, plus the place to go for salads, Mexican food and coffee. But over the past few years, the local hub has also developed a burgeoning "After 5" after-hours scene, with a separate menu offering wine, beer and snacks. On Thursday nights, Lutticken's hosts karaoke, and on many Saturday nights, local musicians perform there. According to the shop's owner, Bob Lutticken, people can find out who'll be performing by coming into the shop and asking. "We don't do any marketing," he says. Open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 3535 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park | (650) 854-0291 |

Food & Drink


Great burgers are the hallmark of Jeffrey's Hamburgers, says owner Serge Karanov. The burger meat is ground fresh every day, and nothing is prepackaged or frozen, he says. The restaurant also offers milkshakes and root beer floats, a spectrum of fry options (classic, garlic, sweet potato and chili cheese varieties), and for the health conscious, burger bowls or salads. The menu also offers a garden burger option for vegetarians. Another signature of the restaurant that keeps people coming back, Karanov says, is that there are no surprises. "We just stick with tried and true. They come in, they know what to expect, and that's what they get." Restaurant employees pay attention to detail and are quick to respond to customers' concerns, he says. pen 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 322-1959 |


Chef Kwan's continues to be our readers' favorite takeout restaurant. The restaurant prides itself on serving its customers in a friendly, comfortable environment with authentic Chinese food. Owner Jason Kwan says the most frequently ordered meals are the Chinese chicken salad, the pot stickers and the wonton soup. Kwan took over the takeout establishment from the owners of Su Hong To-Go, and the menu largely reflects that of the earlier restaurant. Chef Kwan's plans to add more dishes to its menu in the coming year, according to Kwan. 630 Menlo Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 322-4631 |


Menlo Park'sApplewood Pizza has been voted favorite pizza place again. Applewood offers a selection of signature pizzas along with customizable pies with a wide range of toppings. In addition, the restaurant also has pastas, salads, soups, seafood, and Hungarian dishes on its menu. Applewood's most popular pizza is the Menlo Combo, which is a classic meat-lovers pie. Its most-ordered pasta is the linguine gamberoni, which is made of jumbo prawns, cilantro, marinara and spices. Applewood Pizza prides itself on being a fun pizza parlor for the family in a comfortable environment, according to its website. 1001 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 324-3486 |


Susie Cakes, on Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park, offers a clean, pastel interior and some seriously fluffy buttercream frosting. The company now has seven locations in Northern California, and an additional 15 in Southern California and Texas. Among the layer-cake offerings are a six-layer chocolate cake, plus lemon, vanilla, coconut, carrot, marble and buttercream cakes, in addition to a spectrum of cookies and dessert bars. The delicacies baked here stand out for their simple ingredients and hand-designed cake decorations, according to the business' menu. Plus, they use recycled paper products, boxes and bags, they say. The dessert shop also offers wedding cakes and local deliveries. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays. 642 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 324-2252 |


Woodside Bakery in Menlo Park, for the second consecutive year, won the award for best bakery. "We're thrilled and honored that people still appreciate our quality and our products," says co-owner Jan Sweyer. "After all these years, it's wonderful. Customers love that we maintain our old-fashioned bakery style, including offering Danish, Napoleons, cannoli and custom cakes," she says. New this year: the floor, the counters, bench seating and the colors, which are now similar to when the bakery was in Woodside. "It looks like the old bakery but with upgraded display cases," Sweyer says. 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park | (650) 854-6207 |


Baskin-Robbins has been named by our readers once again the place to go for the best ice cream and frozen yogurt. In addition to its classic ice cream flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough and gold medal ribbon, Baskin-Robbins also has seasonal flavors. This summer, some of the seasonal ice cream flavors include watermelon splash and caramel macchiato. In addition, Baskin-Robbins also offers sundaes, warm desserts, beverages, and parfaits. Cakes are customizable for birthdays and special events, or come pre-designed. Baskin-Robbins continues to be the world's largest chain of ice cream specialty shops, with more than 7,800 locations in 50 countries worldwide, according to its website. 863 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 323-9335 |


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