Readers Choice | May 23, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - May 23, 2008

Readers Choice

We asked: What's your favorite? And you answered

by Danville Weekly Staff

The tallies are in for our Readers Choices. Thank you to the hundreds of people who voted; with so many wonderful restaurants, shops and services in the area, it's hard to single out one as the best.

Opinions can be strong as we've found by discussing our likes and dislikes just within the office. But hopefully reading about the winning choices will help everyone to learn more about the Danville area and what it has to offer.

We welcome feedback on categories, businesses or places or events to include in next year's contest. Contact us at with suggestions.

Around town

Best auto dealership - Cole European

While last year BMW and Lexus tied for the win, this year readers went with Walnut Creek's Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover dealer. Hey, where's the luxury Prius?

Best car repair - Danville Automotive & Tire

The reasons to take your car to the shop are rarely fun, so you can at least make sure it's treated well once you're there. Readers gave the service at Danville Automotive & Tire on San Ramon Valley Boulevard the seal of approval.

Best car wash - Sponges Hand Car Wash & Detail

Car washes are amazing. They're like facials for your car - a little TLC and it looks years younger. For sensitive cars, opt for the hand wash. Sponges, on Camino Ramon in San Ramon, has a quaint gift shop and café, too, so while you're spoiling your car you can spoil yourself. Chamois in Danville was a close runner up.

Best Danville Area real estate office - Coldwell Banker

A home in the Danville area is an investment and there's nothing like a pro to show you the way.

Best financial planner - Summit Financial

Even the most financial savvy among us probably can't compare to a seasoned professional. This is definitely the kind of service that pays off - plan now for the future.

Best golf course - Blackhawk Country Club

Fore! Actually there were nine golf courses named - the seven we listed plus write-in votes for Boundary Oak and Wente. Which means - there's plenty of good golfing out there and people enjoy a day on the green.

Best mortgage broker/brokerage - Countrywide - Jim Black

If step one is finding that dream home, step two is finding the money to buy it. Especially around these parts this can require a little help from a broker, like Countrywide's Jim Black. Stop by and visit him on Railroad Avenue.

Best pet groomer - Best veterinarian - Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center

Some dogs trot into the groomer with tails a-waggin'; others have to be cajoled. (We won't even mention cats.) But they all come out looking beautiful, smelling fresh and happy to be back with mom or dad. Bishop Ranch is a large operation, welcoming for animals and owners alike whether for checkups, to have ailments cured, to be boarded or to be groomed. It has a huge staff of veterinarians, is open long hours and seven days a week so it can't be beat for convenience.

Best pet sitter - Pets Plus

Ever notice how pets know when you're going on vacation? They see you packing suitcases and their face sags and it just breaks your heart. Luckily you can feel less guilty about leaving if you set your dog or cat up with a seasoned pet sitter from Pets Plus.

Best place to get a traffic ticket - San Ramon Valley Boulevard

We've all been there. You spot the flashing lights in the rearview mirror. The sirens start up. You glance reluctantly at the speedometer and think wishfully, maybe it's the guy behind me...

Best place to have a first date - Best romantic restaurant - Bridges

Bridges won in these two categories, which stands to reason. Start here with a first date then you can celebrate all your anniversaries here, too - or just go anytime your relationship needs an infusion of romance. Reserve a seat against the wall under the bridges mural to cuddle up with your honey, then relax and enjoy the superb food and gracious service.

Best place to people watch - Starbucks on Hartz Avenue

One of our staff said the other day that if you sit in front of Starbucks on Hartz Avenue for an hour you'll know everything there is to know about people in Danville. Our readers seem to agree, since they voted it the best place to people watch. Time to grab a triple venti sugarfree-vanilla nonfat latte - or a plain black coffee - pull up a chair, and watch and learn.

Best Senior Living Facility - Villa San Ramon

Choosing a retirement home is an important decision and our readers chose this one. Villa San Ramon advertises itself as "senior living with a smile."

Best swim school - Sue's Swim School

There's something so natural about humans in water, and babies can start learning to swim before they're even a year old. Parents scurry to Sue's Swim School on Stone Valley Road when it's time to get their kids in the pool. A longtime staple in the area, Sue's doing something right!

Best tire store/service center - Big O Tires

Because so much is riding on your tires.

Best travel planner - Danville Travel

They say the best part of taking a vacation is how good it feels to come back home. Sipping mai tais in the Hawaiian sun ain't so bad either, though.

Best tutoring school - On Track Learning

Folks expect nothing less than the best when it comes to education, even when it takes a little extra help to get "on track."

Specialty retail

Best art gallery - Best framing shop - Rick's Place Framing & Gallery

Owner Rick Holcomb understands why he was named best framer but not why he was chosen best art gallery - he himself voted for the Pioneer Art Gallery, run by the Alamo Danville Artists' Society. But Rick does have a variety of artwork covering one wall, which is a nice display to help customers see what frame works well with what. It includes artistic, color-enhanced car shots he took himself. He says although he does some art restoration, his business is mostly custom framing - and readers seem to love his work.

Best athletic apparel store - Forward Motion

Athletic apparel ranges from comfy to trendy and Forward Motion seems to combine the two for running, biking and swimming. How does it keep in style? With a big new shipment every month. On Wednesday evenings year round, a run group heads out for a two to 10-mile run from Forward Motion Sports, for all abilities, and as many as 150 people join in. Perhaps that's why the store carries an extensive selection of running shoes.

Best bicycle shop - California Pedaler

Linda and John Knowles bought California Pedaler on Hartz two-and-a-half years ago, but it's been in business for 32 years. With the spring weather, you can find John in the repair area. This shop has a family orientation, say Linda and John, and it's for everyone from beginning to expert bikers. It's beginning to carry more clothing and accessories.

Best bookstore - Borders

Plenty of people voted for Rakestraw - Danville's independent bookstore - but the vastness of Borders won out. Maybe it's the large selection of different types of books, calendars, sales tables and cards. Maybe it's the café, a place to relax and read and people-watch. The important thing is that people are buying books. (And reading newspapers?)

Best children's clothing store - Snickerdoodles

Looking for cute? Check out Snickerdoodles, the children's consignment shop on Hartz. Those designer baby clothes don't come cheap anywhere but here they cost one-third of retail and some still have the original tags. It's a great place to find everything from Gap jeans to princess items and everything in between, says owner Carol Cordone. What doesn't sell they donate to the Family Crisis Center and Birthright. Snickerdoodles also has maternity clothes, clocks from Timeworks in Berkeley and some furniture.

Best discount store - Tuesday Morning

Tuesday morning, any morning or afternoon, folks like to see what's new at this store on the south side of Danville. It's a chain but the one in Danville is the biggest in the area, four times larger than the store in Walnut Creek. An enthusiastic worker who answered the phone said they do a lot of seasonal sales and right now it is gardening. Bedding sells well all year round. And - be warned - at Tuesday Morning, Christmas comes in July. Rick's Picks is the favorite choice downtown, so mosey on in when you're enjoying Hartz Avenue to see what's new.

Best florist - East Bay Flower Co.

Say it with flowers. Didn't someone say that? Even in this day and age of Costco and supermarket bouquets, there's a lot to be said for the personal service at a real flower shop. Let them help you put together an arrangement for a loved one or a friend to show you care.

Best grocery story - Trader Joe's

Maybe it's the chocolate Joe-Joes or the free samples given out at the back. Or the Two-Buck Chuck. Or perhaps it's those whimsical Fearless Flyers. TJ's was voted the best by our readers and the Danville store is only going to get better: It's expanding to take over the retail space next door - you heard it first here.

Best hobby/craft store - Richard's Arts & Crafts

Even folks who don't like arts and crafts often find themselves in this silk foliage paradise searching for a card, Beanie Baby or picture frame. Take some time to stroll the aisles and spot the treasures. And the personnel have a great rep for being helpful.

Best home accessory store - Best place to buy a gift - Best home furnishings - Elegant Clutter

If there must be clutter, it should be elegant. The word "charming" comes to mind to describe the home settings in this large store in the Livery. The owners say their objective is "to be fun and festive while displaying new styles and themes ahead of trends." Mission accomplished. The store also carries items that would be perfect to give to a friend. Candle snuffers, anyone?

Best health food store - Green Body

This store has you covered from inside to out the natural way - from vitamins, herbs and protein powders to organic cotton and bedding. It recently announced it is closing its Danville location and will be doing its business totally online. Before you reach for the pills, talk to the folks at Green Body. Healthy 4 U was a close second.

Best jewelry store - Smith Jewelers

On second thought, don't say it with flowers. Say it with jewelry. Smith is having a special this month on charms that show the Danville Oak Tree - how charming! Of course it also carries diamonds and other baubles. In the '90s, Smith Jewelers built the Victorian on Railroad Avenue to house the business and installed the olde worlde clock in front. Second place was Christie James, also in downtown Danville.

Best maternity store - Bellies & Babies

The shop was begun by a young mother who had found herself wearing bigger and bigger designer clothes while she was pregnant rather than donning the unflattering maternity clothes on the market. When she discovered that other new mothers felt the same way, she decided to do something about it. She knows it's important for pregnant women to look good to feel good. And expectant moms can buy a baby tog or two while they're awaiting the big event.

Best men's clothing store - Patrick James and Edge Shop for Men (tie)

Patrick James, Purveyor to Gentlemen, is located in Blackhawk and had its beginnings in Fresno where PJ himself pursued his passion for clothing by starting a private label store in a time of manufactured brands. Edge Shop for Men is on Prospect Avenue and Front Street and indeed is on the edge, as in hip, cool, etc. Shop here and you're ready for L.A. or the Big Apple.

Best store for pets - Molly's Pup-purr-ee

Yes, there really is a Molly, a Welsh terrier who "works" at the store four days a week. She's helped pick out a huge selection of collars, harnesses and leashes as well as soft, comfy beds and fun toys. And where else could you find a Burberry coat, wedding dress or tuxedo for your pet?

Best shoe store - Tootsies Shoes & Pedicure

Make your feet pretty with a pedicure and a new pair of shoes, all at one convenient location on Prospect Avenue. But be sure to try on the shoes before the pedicure! This store is fresh and friendly, and the prices are right.

Best wine store - Beverages & More

Why wine? If you have to ask the question, you won't understand the answer. Bev Mo has a wide variety of price selections and a convenient location and parking lot. While you're there, check out the funny, animal greeting cards.

Best women's clothing store - Chico's

Chico's is good for, ahem, mature women. At any age, women like to look good, and Chico's carries basic T's as well as stunning jackets and accessories. Ladies, when you're ready for elastic waistbands, head for Chico's.

Personal care and pampering

Best day spa - Valeria Spa

Put aside some time to pamper yourself. Book the Valeria Clinical Skin Care & Spa for a massage or a combination of rejuvenations and scrubs. The long list of treatments includes hydrating, brightening and firming, calming and soothing as well as other specialties. Upon arriving you will don a luxurious robe and sandals to give yourself up to the calm environment and work of the experts. Several spas got votes but Valeria is the winner.

Best hair salon for women - Tribez

Tribez is a hoppin' trendy salon with friendly stylists, and boutique items that add to the buzz. Its customers don't just enjoy good salon treatment - during the holidays they are treated to an upside down Christmas tree.

Best hair salon for men - Charlie's Barber Shop

Chau "Charlie" Phan was a refugee who left Vietnam in a boat in 1981 and landed in Hong Kong. From there he made it to Las Vegas, and eventually moved to Danville, where he lives with his wife and four children. Men like his haircuts and the fact that he doesn't make appointments. He just installed wireless Internet in case there's a wait.

Best manicure/pedicure - Bollinger Nail Salon

Is it just our imagination or is there a nail shop on every corner? And is this true just in this area or across America? So is the purchasing of nail polish by non-professionals down? So many questions but our readers had an answer: Bollinger Nail Salon.

Best medical spa - Professional Skin Aesthetics

We're talking medical professionals here, whose services include chemical peels, hydrating eye treatments, Botox and treatments for spider leg vein and acne suppression. It all sounds rather like it hurts! but we're sure that somehow they make it pain-free.


Best "assemble your own" meal store - Now We're Cooking

Like to prepare your meals in a big way in advance? This is the place for you. Enjoy a glass of wine, snacking and camaraderie as you assemble meals in the friendly atmosphere of this kitchen extraordinaire on Prospect Avenue.

Best American food restaurant - Best burger - Bighorn Grill

Bighorn won for best American food, and what's more all-American than a big ol' burger? Owner Skip Hinsley says people come to Bighorn Grill in San Ramon because "the food is flavorable and the portions are generous." They especially love the pork chop and prime rib - and the burgers, of course.

Best bakery - Katrina Rozelle Pastries & Desserts

When it comes to best bakery, Katrina Rozelle's in the Alamo Plaza "takes the cake." They custom make special cakes for special occasions - a cake shaped like a wedding dress or a fish, even an armadillo once. They recently got a request for an open casket cake for someone's 50th birthday party! Katrina Rozelle was also a close second in the Best Desserts category.

Best breakfast - Katy's Korner

Can any place with nine versions of eggs Benedict possibly go wrong??

Best burrito - Chipotle Mexican Grill

Our readers can't resist these San Francisco-style burritos. Plus since Chipotle is a chain you can get that burrito just how you like it in San Ramon, Walnut Creek or New York City. El Balazo Crossroads was a close second.

Best California cuisine/innovative dining - Best dessert - Café Esin

Café Esin is consistently named "the best" in local publications, thanks to husband and wife chef team Curtis and Esin deCarion and their inventive use of fresh ingredients. No wonder Danville's new Rose Garden was happy to snag this gourmet favorite. As for desserts, Esin makes them all herself. With six dessert specials a day (on top of the regular choices on the menu!), there's always something new. Some of the favorites keep coming back though, like the peanut butter and chocolate swirl cheesecake.

Best Chinese restaurant - Best takeout - Uncle Yu's

Chinese takeout can be hit or miss for sure so when you find a place that's good, better hold on to the menu. You never know when that hankering for Kung Pao Chicken's gonna strike! According to someone on, Uncle Yu's Szechuan on Crow Canyon Place is "Americanized" Chinese food. What does that even mean? Well, it must be a good thing because Uncle Yu's won for best Chinese restaurant. Just hope no one's eating it with a fork.

Best deli - Domenico's

There's a reason the lunchtime line goes all the way out the door despite six employees hastily making sandwiches - they're so tasty! Plus there are pre-prepared pasta dishes and gourmet treats, and you can eat them while sitting outside in the sunshine on Front Street.

Best French restaurant - Pascal French Oven

Pascal's is cute, conveniently located on Railroad Avenue and satisfying whether you're craving a fresh salad, rich pastry or hot latte. Les croissants sont délicieux et l'ambiance charme!

Best fresh produce - Danville Farmer's Market

There's nothing like fresh food. Heck, if you can pluck it straight from a tree yourself all the better, but it's probably easier to head to downtown Danville on a Thursday or Saturday to buy your produce and fresh flowers - and support local farmers while you're at it.

Best ice cream/yogurt shop - Cold Stone Creamery

Mix the toppings in with the ice cream? Ingenious! It's hard to take a trip to the Livery without stopping in at Cold Stone. Hmm...Maybe black cherry with Oreos next time. Or cookie dough and M&Ms. Or peanut butter with toffee...

Best independent coffee house - Peet's Coffee & Tea

The old-fashioned, sophisticated ambiance makes one feel like one ought to be wearing spectacles and reading Dickens, or engaged in intellectual conversation with a colleague. Perhaps that's why our distinguished readers chose Peet's on Railroad Avenue as the best independent coffee house.

Best Italian restaurant - Best place for a business lunch - Best place for an after-work drink - Piatti Ristorante & Bar

Guess the first two honors mean business lunches are better when they go Italian. Piatti's has a light touch with the pasta, inventive raviolis and spacious settings that make it an enjoyable way to seal the deal. As for the after-work drink? The key phrase here is relaxing atmosphere; Faz ran a close second.

Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern restaurant - The Peasant & the Pear

From lasagna rustica to paella, this eatery believes in fresh, fresh, fresh. It makes every dish special; for instance the menu offers chicken as "Springtime Chicken - Pan-seared Fulton Valley Farms chicken breast, Spring vegetable panzanella, & Grgich Hills chardonnay beurre blanc." The Peasant & the Pear was a close second in the category of Best California cuisine/innovative dining

Best Mexican restaurant - Luna Loca Mexican Restaurant

Location, location, location. Dine outside in the sun at Luna Loca in the Livery and you might just think you're in Mexico.

Best outdoor dining - Faz Restaurant & Bar

With summer on its way it's an especially nice time to dine outside on a warm evening among the redwood trees in the Faz back patio. The location on Hartz Avenue is a plus; the tinkling of the fountain can be enjoyed when there's a lull in the dinner conversation.

Best personal chef - Neil Ruggiero Chef for Hire

A chef that comes to your house, cooks delicious Italian meals for you and friends and family, and cleans up afterwards! I wonder if we can get one for the office...

Best pizza - Zachary's Pizza

Zachary's pizza in San Ramon has inspired an almost cult-like following, with people raving about it all over the Bay Area. Stick to the Chicago-style deep dish is the word around town.

Best sushi/Japanese restaurant - Kane Sushi Japanese Cuisine

The place is downhome, Danville-style, rather than sushi chic - often packed with families and teens. It specializes in sushi rolls and names its rolls after the customers who invented them. Two favorites are Spicy Satan Roll and the Mrs. Lauren Roll. When did Satan drop in?

Best Thai restaurant - Thai House Restaurant

Thai House is in a cute old house on Rose Avenue and its walls are decorated with Thai artifacts to match the tasty food. The service shows why Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, and waitresses are happy to help with ordering and explain ingredients.

Let's Get Physical

Best bike or walking trail - Best place to jog - Best place to walk a dog - Iron Horse Trail

We in the Danville area looove the Iron Horse Trail, which won in three categories. The scenic path used to hold the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad before it became the go-to spot for outdoor activities. If you jog the trail from Dublin to Concord that's 12-1/2 miles; loop back around and it's almost a whole marathon. Now there's an ambitious idea... Whether you're strolling, jogging, biking, rollerblading or being pulled on a scooter behind a bicycle (have seen it), bring pooch along, too.

Best fitness club - Club Sport San Ramon

Country club meets fitness center. If you're gonna work out, might as well do it in the lap of luxury.

Best martial arts studio - Richard Lee's East West Kung Fu

Richard Lee is a world-renowned Kung Fu "grandmaster" who started several studios including this one in Alamo Plaza. (Not to be confused with Bruce Lee, though both are in the World Martial Arts Masters Association Hall of Fame.) Lee invented the "Bok-Fu-Do" system taught here, which strengthens the mind, body and spirit - and is fun!

Best personal trainer - Fitness Together

A personal trainer helps motivate you to get down to the gym. Now if only there were a personal "don't eat that cookie" coach.

At home

Best antiques store - Sophie's at Rue 137

No, this is not a Parisian market, it is a store on Prospect Avenue in Danville that combines objets d'art with chic boutique women's fashions. Customers receive personal attention, a plus for readers.

Best home consignment shop - Home Consignment Center

You never know what you're going to find when you enter this spacious store - and that's half the fun. The other half is finding exactly what you want to furnish your home at half the price.

Best flooring store - Carpet One

Hardwood, tile and stone floors are popular but there's a place for carpeting and folks seem happy with Carpet One. A close second was Abbey Carpet & Floor - which gives wonderful service for all flooring needs.

Best hardware store - Tassajara Valley Ace Hardware

Ace aced out Alamo Yardbirds Home Depot by just a few votes so maybe it's a matter of location. Both pride themselves on being helpful places and both offer large inventories and helpful service whether you're doing a minor fix or a major project.

Best kitchen/bath remodeler - Kitchens of Diablo

Nothing upgrades a home like a new kitchen or bath so this place truly transforms people's lives. Of course such remodeling does have the potential for disaster so it's best to go with the tried and tested.

Best landscaper/designer - Big Dog Landscaping

My dog destroys landscaping but apparently there's a Big Dog out there that's doing things right.

Best interior designer - J. Hettinger Interiors

The designers apparently are as wonderful as this shop, which is a great place to browse for ideas or just enjoy the drama of the showroom. J. Hettinger has been in business for 25 years, growing from 1,000 square feet of rented space on Hartz Avenue to the current 13,000 square feet. It employs 15 designers who are proud to integrate their clients' lifestyles into their environments.

Best nursery - Navlet's Garden Centers

Whether you want to replace that droopy plant on the patio table or redo an entire flower bed, folks recommend you head for Navlet's. The spacious new store that anchors the opening Rose Garden has a huge indoors area featuring statuary, gardening hats, gloves and shoes, and wind chimes; another area has indoor plants; and the great outdoors offers flowers, plants, trellises, fountains and more.

Best Remodeling contractor - Gayler Construction

Gayler specializes in residential remodeling and had one of its creations featured on the cover of Professional Remodeler Magazine. Need we say more?

Stepping Out

Best place for a picnic - Mount Diablo

Picnicking, hiking, camping - we have it all right in our back yard. And don't complain about the bugs - they come with the great outdoors.

Best place for dancing - Shboom

As the song says, "Shboom, shboom, dadada dadada dadada dada..." What a stupid song. But we're sure that oldies hit is not played at this new-age nightclub, which features live music.

Best place to get together with friends - Pete's Brass Rail & Car Wash

It's true, Pete's is a great place to hang - as well as to drink beer. The energy level is high as is the noise level. Which is what makes the front patio a popular place in the nice weather.

Best public event - Hot Summer Nights

This public event draws from near and far, and is a wonderful night out for the whole family, from tots to seniors. But some folks didn't see it that way so this year it will be cut back to two nights this year - July 24 and Aug. 21. The Fourth of July Parade was a close second.