Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - August 6, 2010

2010 Readers Choice

The race is over! Find out who our readers named tops in town

By Dolores Ciardelli, Jeb Bing and Glenn Wohltmann

The race is over and readers have chosen their favorite places and things in our annual Readers Choice contest.

Readers voted on a wide range of choices, from the best golfing experience at Callippe, to the best soft serve ice cream downtown at Meadowlark Dairy, to the best Chinese food at PF Chang's at the Stoneridge Shopping Center, and to Trader Joe's at Santa Rita and Pimlico, which readers picked as their favorite grocery store.

With 31,846 confirmed votes throughout the Tri-Valley, readers of the Pleasanton Weekly and pleasantonweekly.com cast their ballots in categories that included best place to get together, to meet new people, to dance and to have an after-work drink. Education, pets, personal care, car care, home furnishings and services top the lists of what appeals to those of us who live, work and shop Pleasanton. They include from small "mom and pop" shops and eateries to larger independents and chains and company-owned stores.

By far, the largest number of votes came in the people-meeting category with the Pleasanton Downtown Association's summertime Concerts in the Park leading the list. With so many saying this is where they go for outdoor fun and entertainment, we wondered what they did the rest of the year.

Not to worry, one reader told us. Main Street and all of the shops and restaurants on the street and side streets are just as popular, winning in the best place to people watch category, as well as having the best yoga (Downtown Yoga), best place to have a first date (Blue Agave), and best in just a good place to get together with friends.

The enthusiasm, the number of categories and Readers Choice candidates far exceeded last year as interest in the annual contest continues to grow. Despite the record-high number of votes, there were only three ties: Little Home Thai and Lux Thai restaurants; Marylou Edwards and Brian LeBars for the title of best mortgage professional; and Tri-City Roofing and Sierra Roofing for best roofer.

Here are the winners of the Pleasanton Weekly's 2010 Readers Choice competition.

Around town

Best Auto Dealership: Lexus of Pleasanton

Combining performance and luxury, Lexus has become synonymous with style, and Lexus of Pleasanton has become synonymous with the best for the third year running.

Best Auto Repair: Precision Auto Repair

Whether you're holding on to your Honda or keeping your Camry, if you want your car around as long as possible, Precision Auto Repair is our Readers Choice . Tell John we sent you.

Best Auto Detail: California Shine Company

Our Readers Choice for the third year straight. Hector will go over your car from top to bottom and make that old car look brand new.

Best Car Wash: Pleasanton Hand Car Wash

For that quick clean, Pleasanton Hand Car Wash will get you in and out in about a half hour. Plus, you can kick back and watch their plasma TV or multi-task and hit Trader Joe's across the street while you wait.

Best Computer Repair: TriValley PC Medic

Ken Cook has 20 years of experience and this marks the fourth straight year his company's been named the best. If your computer's sick, call PC medic. He'll come to your house or business.

Best Golf Course: Callippe Preserve

Owned by the city and named by Golfweek Magazine as one of the top municipal courses in the country, Callippe has a butterfly habitat and walking trails and is one more reason it's great to live in Pleasanton.

Best Mortgage Company: Landmark Mortgage Group

Mortgage companies have gotten some bad press lately, but there are some that still have a good reputation. If you can't tell a Fannie Mae from a Freddie Mac, Landmark and runner up RPM can help you sort them out.

Best Mortgage Professional: Marylou Edwards/Brian LeBars (tie)

When it comes to individuals, two names stand out among our readers. Both Marylou of Diversified Mortgage Group and Brian of Green Mortgage Group offer personalized services and will meet one-on-one to discuss mortgage options. They want to be your "loan arrangers." Hi-yo, Silver!

Best Pet Groomer: Shear Magic

It may be hot, but imagine wearing a fur coat all summer. Get your pooch groomed and not only will you see more tail wagging, but less shedding. Cinda and Michael from Shear Magic are not only our Readers Choice -- they're our readers dogs' choice.

Best Photographer: Bella Luna Studios

Digital cameras are nice but can't compare to a formal portrait from a professional. This makes the third straight year that Bella Luna has won our Readers Choice award; both Christina Gray at Bella Luna and runners up Robyn and Randy at Cazihna Studios can make you look great.

Best Place for Dance Lessons: Jazz N Taps

As its name implies, Jazz N Taps offers lessons in Jazz and tap dancing, but owner Sherri Sweetnam and her staff also teach ballet, modern dance and even hip hop in small classes. Boys too!

Best Place to Get a Traffic Ticket: Anywhere in Pleasanton

No one likes to see those blue lights go on behind them, but Pleasanton police say traffic stops cut other types of crime. Ease up on the gas and let the guy who just flew past you get the ticket instead.

Best Place to Have a First Date: Blue Agave

Offering "alta cocina" -- high cuisine -- owners Alexandro, with more than 25 years in the restaurant business, and his wife, dietician Susan Garcia, blend traditional Mexican flavors and California style. Great tequila drinks and margaritas. Careful though -- a little tequila can go a long way.

Best Place to People Watch: Main Street

Whether it's First Wednesday or after work on Friday or all the times in between, Main Street has tons of restaurants and lots of room to stroll. Bring that iced, double-shot, whipped-cream-covered mochachino outside and watch the world walk by.

Best Real Estate Office: Keller Williams

A real estate firm with a code of ethics, Keller Williams is also one of the fastest growing real estate companies in the world. Ask an agent what WI4C2TS means.

Best Tire Store/Service Center: Big O Tires

Sure, Big O sells lots of tires and does alignments, brakes and oil changes. But did you know that the company also supports pediatric and breast cancer research? In business since 1962, owner Dave Cherry and son Todd work hard to earn your confidence.

Best Tutoring School: Sylvan Learning Center

Sylvan can help improve your child's math, reading, writing and homework skills plus help him or her test better. Ask about a personalized learning program.

Best Veterinarian: Pleasanton Veterinary Hospital

Both our Readers Choice winner Pleasanton Veterinary Hospital and close runner-up Town and Country Veterinary Hospital have been in the community for a long time. Pleasanton Veterinary is celebrating its 25th anniversary -- that's 175 dog years -- while Town and Country has been here for more than 30. Both offer everything from acupuncture to X-rays.

Personal Care

Best Acupuncture: Body in Balance

Does it hurt? The Body in Balance Community Acupuncture Center assures us that acupuncture needles are so fine, they simply glide into the energetic point. The center aims at simple and affordable treatments. No wonder our readers like it.

Best Dry Cleaners: VIP Cleaners

This cleaners must treat its customers like VIPs because it's won for the last five years. All the work is done on the premises and it offers same-day service as well as alterations with quick turn-around available.

Best Hair Salon for Men: Cosmo's Barber Shop

Folks come from far and wide to Cosmo's on First Street for the $10 price tag and the fast, friendly service. Another perennial winner -- and our readers always look great.

Best Hair Salon for Women: Gary Patrick Salon

Enter with hope, exit feeling beautiful. This downtown establishment offers great stylists and is also dedicated to being green, taking measures to use less power and recycling all possible products.

Best Manicure/Pedicure: Bollinger Nails

Relax with a mani and pedi at this popular nail salon that now has eight locations, including one on Main Street. Traditional and "spa" manicures and pedicures are available.

Best Massage: Healthy Necessity Massage

There's Swedish, therapeutic, deep tissue, stretch and massage, perfect hot lava shell massage, hot stone, pregnancy (pre) and pregnancy (post). And these are just a few of the services offered at this Main Street establishment.

Best Medical Spa: MD Spa

Dr. Robert Gray is another favorite in town, offering everything from laser surgery to cosmetic surgery and everything in between. Dr. Gray is in the top 1 percent of Botox practices in the entire country, per his website.

Specialty Retail

Best Art Gallery: Studio 7

Let Studio 7 help you select art for your home, or frame the art you already have. The gallery takes pride in offering the best customer service as well as fine art by well known artists, handmade crafts, jewelry and collectible glass. A must-see on any Main Street stroll.

Best Bicycle Shop: Bicycles! Pleasanton

Let these experts put the exclamation point in your cycling by helping you choose the perfect bike and all the accessories, such as a helmet -- and a rack to get you and your bicycle to your starting point.

Best Bookstore: Towne Center Books

Judy Wheeler maintains this independent bookstore with the best reads and personal service right on Main Street. It has exciting author visits including the popular Read It and Eat, which includes having lunch with a writer.

Best Consignment Store: Savvy Seconds

Be stylish for less money plus be green by recycling clothes. This upscale consignment shop is fun and trendy -- good quality at a good price. And if your closet is already full, Savvy can sell your surplus clothing for you.

Best Florist: Alexandria's

A rose is a rose is a rose and you can say the same about the other flowers, too. This family-owned floral shop specializes in a large inventory of fresh flowers, tropicals, plants and more. Service is its business but it does suggest placing orders one day in advance for holidays.

Best Grocery Store: Trader Joe's

Its image is Joe himself on the back of a mule searching worldwide for natural, healthy foods. Nuts, cheeses and wines are great, and there's always something new. Prices are good, and readymade foods make entertaining easy. Gene's Fine Foods was a close second: Its deli offers 40 salads, made from scratch, and great sandwiches; its meat counter also gets rave reviews.

Best Health Food Store: Valley Health Mill

Eat healthy, be healthy. This store not only has the brands our readers want to buy, it has nutritionists onsite to answer questions and give advice on products. It carries minerals, herbs, gluten-free foods, and natural cosmetics and body care products.

Best Hobby/Crafts Store: Michael's Arts & Crafts

This store in Dublin with its vast inventory appealed to our craftier readers, with supplies for art, framing, scrapbooking, celebrations and floral projects plus beads, bakeware and home décor. Looking for a craft project? Look no further. Check out the classes to learn new skills.

Best Jewelry Store: Cardinal Jewelers

Not only are diamonds a girl's best friend. To bring lasting pleasure to you or your honey, consider investing in fine gemstones -- Cardinal has unique ones. You'll discover sparkle that fits any budget!

Best Pet Store: Murphy's Paw

Animals and those that love them voted this Main Street shop the best. It offers holistic food, all-natural treats, toys, apparel, beds, carriers, collars, leashes and more. It has a Kitty Korner, too. Two bronze Labradors welcome customers.

Best Place to Buy a Gift: Berry Patch

Main Street has many places to buy gifts but our readers named Berry Patch the best with Clover Creek a close second. The Berry Patch provides a place for artisans to show their work - which means unique, handcrafted items.

Best Place to Buy Athletic Equipment: Sports Chalet

This chalet is huge, with everything from clothes to equipment for all sports, summer, winter, spring and fall, from ping pong to mountain climbing, from biking to workout gear. It even offers scuba courses.

Best Toy Store: Golden Apple Learning Center

This store shows that learning is playing and playing is learning for little ones. Current best sellers include Rainbow Ants, an ant farm with colored sand so the insects form colorful designs, and a Fallingwater Lego structure that replicates Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece. Wow!

Best Wine Store: Wine Steward

So much wine, so little time. More than one thousand thoughtfully chosen wines from around the world, to be exact. This Main Street store, located in Pleasanton's old Roxy Theater, also carries good-value wine for under $10. It has a wine club, wine classes and a wine bar Friday and Saturday evenings.

Best Women's Clothing Store: Savvy Seconds

This consignment shop is fun to shop in and its inventory turns over often. A close second was the Passionate Athlete, also on Main. It specializes in active casual wear but offers clothing that is different from that offered at chains.

Epicure

Best American Food Restaurant: Eddie Papa's American Hangout

When our readers chose Eddie Papa's, they knew that American food can mean anything from Southern fried chicken to Hawaiian Ahi. Chef and Culinary Director Glenn Hewitt oversees everything to make sure it's done right.

Best Atmosphere: Blue Agave Club

Whether it's outdoors sipping margaritas, under heaters on the patio or indoors sampling tequila from a brandy snifter, the Blue Agave has a style all its own, and the food is arranged to look as good as it tastes.

Best Bakery: Bibiane Bakery

With fresh and natural ingredients and old world care, Bibiane is the place to go for everything from breads to cakes like Café au Lait, a caramel cake soaked in Kailua, and espresso, an apricot filling and coffee buttercream.

Best Barbecue: Red Smoke Grill

Jim Painter and Ken Hinshaw brought more than 30 years of experience to their concept restaurant here in Pleasanton, and it shows. You really can't go wrong with anything, from the tri-tips to the pulled pork to ribs so tender the meat literally falls off the bone.

Best Breakfast: Jim's Country Style Restaurant

Huge portions, reasonable prices, French toast so good you can skip the syrup, and great omelets. Remember, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you eat at Jim's, you can probably skip lunch.

Best Burger: In-n-Out Burger

What can we say about In-n-Out Burger other than it's a California institution, in the best sense of the word? The secret is simplicity: All they serve is burgers, fries, sodas and shakes.

Best Burrito: High Tech Burrito

Being named best burrito around here is like getting named best New York Strip in Manhattan. High Tech is fast and fresh, and if you can't make it to the restaurant at other times, you can always pick one up at First Wednesday.

Best Chinese Restaurant: PF Chang's

This restaurant at Stoneridge Shopping Center may be a chain but every dish is prepared to order using fresh ingredients, and the results are delicious. Also the décor is always fun. Locally run Chinese Szechwan, which opened in 1987, came in a close second.

Best French Fries: Hop Yard Alehouse and Grill

If you haven't had the garlic fries at the Hop Yard, you haven't had fries. Hot, crispy and just a little spicy, there's a reason our readers have chosen the fries here for eight straight years.

Best Ice Cream/Yogurt Shop: Meadowlark Dairy

Soft-serve ice cream at its best. Our readers love the drive through, which is especially nice on a hot day, and the fact that Meadowlark Dairy has groceries doesn't hurt, either.

Best Independent Coffee House: Peet's

Peet's has been raising the expectations of coffee drinkers since Alfred Peet brewed his first pot in Berkeley in 1966. An East Bay staple, Peet's brews great coffees and teas.

Best Italian Restaurant: La Vite Ristorante

La Vite Ristorante on Hopyard has a seriously huge menu with offerings from both northern and southern Italy. Our readers know authentic Italian cuisine when they taste it.

Best Main Street Restaurant: Blue Agave Club

Relax on the patio, enjoy a cold drink among Blue Agave's eclectic art fixtures, and watch the people on Main Street go by. Did we mention the ginormous selection of tequilas?

Best Margarita: Blue Agave Club

More like 50 of the best margaritas. Not only can you choose from the selection of 50 -- seriously, 50 margaritas -- on the Blue Agave Club's menu, you can tailor your own by choosing a tequila and liqueur to mix with it. More salt, please.

Best Meal Under $20: Eddie Pappa's

You have to love a place that offers great food and does it inexpensively. Our readers love this place on Hopyard.

Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Food: Oasis Grill

Mediterranean cuisine with a modern flair, with everything from kabobs to vegetarian dishes and exotic cocktails. And there really is an oasis of a sort there, with lush greens and summer roses for al fresco dining on a warm night.

Best Mexican Restaurant: Casa Orozco

A family-owned restaurant for more than 20 years, Casa Orozco in Dublin features margaritas with a choice of more than 130 tequilas, a festive atmosphere, and good prices. You can never go wrong with the chicken enchilada soup.

Best Outdoor Dining: Blue Agave Club

If it looks like Blue Agave is getting a lot of mentions this year, you're right. Our readers clearly love it, and the patio is one more reason why.

Best Pizza: Gay '90s Pizza Company

Built in one of Pleasanton's first commercial buildings, this place was a stagecoach stop and a general store before it became a pizzeria. Pizzas made from scratch and sourdough specialty pizzas, and local legend says there's even a ghost on the premises.

Best Place for a Business Lunch: Stacey's Cafe

Stacey's has great décor and linen napkins to impress that big client, and the quips on the menus can make sure you don't take that whole business thing too seriously. Great food, too!

Best Prepared Meal Service: GourMade Cookery

If you hate cooking and don't want to eat out every night, GourMade is a great alternative. Get a month's worth of meals for an average of $4 per serving. Living well really is the best revenge.

Best Romantic Restaurant: Barones

Even Barones calls itself "the most romantic continental cuisine restaurant" and has worked hard at making it true. In addition to the atmosphere and great food, Barones has its own organic spice garden and live music under the stars on summer Thursday nights.

Best Seafood Restaurant: Strizzi's

The Strizzi family has come a long way from its Italian Deli and shoe shop in Greensburg, Pa. In honor of his grandparents, Ray Bartolomucci Jr. opened the first of his restaurants in 1986 and Strizzi's debuted in Pleasanton in 1989. Fresh fish entrees and an amazing seafood fettuccine.

Best Steakhouse: Haps Original Steaks

Haps Original serves certified Angus steaks that have been aged for 28 days, and owners Michael Connors, Paris Connors, James Wilson and Chef Wilson Miller make a point of mingling with guests, just to see that everything's perfect.

Best Sushi/Japanese Restaurant: Sato Japanese Cuisine

This authentic Japanese restaurant serves great classic sushi, sashimi, tempura and teriyaki. Sit at the sushi bar and watch the chef work or just enjoy the room, designed to look like a Japanese home.

Best Take-out Restaurant: In-n-Out Burger

It's hard to beat a Double-Double with cheese and a chocolate shake from In-n-Out Burger after a hard day at work or shuttling the kids to and from practice. Somehow the fries never make it home, though.

Best Thai Restaurant: Little Home Thai/Lux Thai (tie)

It doesn't matter if you like your curry green, red or yellow, hot or mild, Lux and Little Home offer some of the best Thai food in the East Bay. Lunch and dinner specials, too. Try the corn chowder soup at Lux or the Tom Yum soup at Little Home.

Best Vegetarian Cuisine: Sweet Tomatoes

Soups, salads, pasta and more with tons of vegetarian choices. Don't worry -- Sweet Tomatoes also has dishes with meat for the carnivore in your life. Not to mention an array of desserts to satisfy any sweet tooth.

Best Winery: Wente Vineyards

It looks like our readers don't mind the trip to Livermore for a wine adventure, but with five generations of experience, it' not hard to see why Wente is our Readers Choice. Plus you can see everyone from Liza Minnelli to ZZ Top at the winery's summer concert series.

Let's Get Physical

Best Health Club: ClubSport

ClubSport Pleasanton has indoor and outdoor tennis courts and year-round swimming lessons, a state-of-the-art fitness center, kids' activities and even offers wellness seminars and nutrition counseling.

Best Martial Arts Studio: Jue's Taekwon-Do

Master Gordon Jue is a seventh degree black belt who began his Taekwon-Do training in September 1979. He started his Do Jang (school) in Pleasanton in 1993 and has added kickboxing, a great aerobic workout that actually teaches self defense. Get fit, build character, and learn how to break a board with your foot.

Best personal trainer: Daniel Elias

It's not always easy to get in shape by yourself and our readers chose Daniel as the best. He teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and boxing at Crispim BJJ booth. Meet him at their First Wednesday booth.

Best Place to Walk a Dog: Any Pleasanton Park

Our readers know all the parks in Pleasanton are dog friendly. Some are friendlier than others, though, and our favorite is Muirwood Community Park, which is clean and has water, shade and cleanup bags.

Best Place to Walk, Jog or Bike: Pleasanton Ridge

This is truly a spot for all three. You can take a moderate walk or short run the two miles to the top of the ridge and get some great views, or, if you're a mountain biker or are in training for a marathon, go for the whole loop, which is a little over 20 miles.

Best Yoga/Pilates: Downtown Yoga

Kate Coughlin and her staff at Downtown Yoga offer the range of classes, from beginner to expert, retreats and vacations and you can even learn to be a yoga instructor here. Namaste!

At home

Best Carpet Cleaners: Glover's Steam Cleaning

It's amazing what a good carpet cleaner can do to create a "new" house. This family-owned business, open since 1959, also offers protectants, repairs, 24-hour water damage emergency service and mattress cleaning. It specializes in dog and cat odor removal.

Best Carpet Store: S&G Carpet

When it's time to redo your flooring, our readers rave about S&G, and Carpetland came in a close second. S&G stocks hundreds of styles and has thousands available. S&G also will bring carpet selections to your home.

Best Flooring Store: Diablo Flooring

Visit the showroom on Sunol Boulevard. Property managers, Realtors and designers like this store - and so do our readers. Again, Carpetland was a close second.

Best Hardware Store: Workbench TrueValue Hardware

To plan a home improvement project or to pick up a few nails, this hardware store is great. It has plenty of experts are around to give advice or head you to the right aisle. Plus each month it has special bargains.

Best Home Consignment Shop: Home Consignment Center

Our readers like this spot for buying or selling quality furniture. You have to check back often, but that's the fun of it. And such deals -- give one room or your whole house a makeover. It has wonderful jewelry, too.

Best Home Furnishings: Clover Creek

Once the furniture is in place, check out this shop on Main Street for the finishing touches. Clover Creek is known for offering imaginative accessories to create wonderful rooms for your family to call home. And it has one-of-a-kind furniture and lamps.

Best Kitchen/Bath Remodeler: KDC Kitchens

Nothing freshens up a house like a remodeled kitchen or bathroom. KDS can handle the whole project, from choosing what you want to designing it to fit into your home. The Pleasanton showroom offers a free consultation with a designer.

Best Landscaper/Designer: Western Gardens

Why do we live here? For the weather! So making the most of our gardens is important to us. In addition to landscape consultation, design and installation, Western Garden nursery offers fresh, healthy plants, pottery and fountains.

Best Outdoor Furniture Store: Patioworld

The latest trend is to extend your living space into the great outdoors, for an indoor/outdoor lifestyle. Furniture now reflects this fashion, and this store, on Johnson Avenue, offers what you want -- traditional, transitional and contemporary.

Best Plumber: Valley Plumbing

We don't think about plumbing -- until something goes wrong. Then our readers call Valley Plumbing. It is centrally located in the historic building on Rose Avenue off Main. Drop in the showroom to see the latest fixtures and talk to the staff about projects.

Best Roofer: Tri-City Roofing/Sierra Roofing (tie)

Tri-City, located in Fremont, offers a list of its projects on its website so you can check them out before calling for a free estimate. It tied with Sierra Roofing of Dublin, which also has a leak-free 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. Let it rain!

Stepping Out

Best Place for a Picnic: Friday Concerts in the Park

What a combo -- Dinner and entertainment. But dinner is the food and beverages you bring to enjoy in the summer evenings. With the friendliness of fellow picnickers, what could be more fun? Reserve a spot by laying out your blanket at Lions Wayside Park early in the day.

Best Place for an After-Work Drink: HopYard alehouse & Grill

This popular spot at Hopyard and Valley has swept the Readers Choice survey since it began almost 10 years ago. The list of beers on tap is extensive and the appetizers are to die for: parmesan garlic fries, onion rings, buffalo wings, mesquite chicken quesadilla rolls and more. Its motto is, "Come in for the beer, come back for the food."

Best Place for Dancing: Redcoats

This British pub has an extensive menu and welcomes families -- and dogs outside -- during the day and evening. Then at 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays it turns into an adult venue, with dancing until 1 a.m. with DJs.

Best Place for Live Music: Concerts in the Park

Music fills the air each Friday night from 7-8:30 in downtown Pleasanton as popular bands perform at Lions Wayside Park. These weekly events are a great way to start enjoying the weekend, through Sept. 3 this year, with rock 'n' roll, reggae, Latin beat and more.

Best Place to Get Together with Friends: Downtown Pleasanton

Meet you downtown! For coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks or to shop, it's sure to be a pleasant encounter. Farmers market is fun with friends, as are all the downtown events.

Best Place to Meet New People: Main Street

Main Street Pleasanton is the type of place where you can turn to a fellow stroller or shopper and start to talk. Even when alone, you can experience the camaraderie of living in a small town.

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