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Walnut Creek Magazine

Best of 2017

Dec 12, 2017 04:55PM ● By Cale Finta

BEST OF 2017

Our annual Reader’s Choice Awards celebrates the things you love about the city. From stylish pet accommodations and racy party dresses to eyelash extensions and steaks grilled to perfection, we present your local favorites. 


Best Handbags

Ask a fashion queen where to buy a handbag, and she’ll tell you NORDSTROM Walnut Creek. Few department stores have the breadth of handbag staples as this upscale Broadway Plaza retailer. What makes this first-floor handbag department superlative, however, is its flair for the extravagant, the quirky, and the classic. From Gucci’s extravagant and kinetic designs, to the timeless lines of Longchamp totes, and everything in between, Nordstrom satiates every price point, look and desire.

Best Second-Hand Shop

Bargain-priced pre-owned couture and other high-end designer goods fill the racks at LABELS LUXURY CONSIGNMENT, the crème-de-la-crème of consignment shops. Glam suits, furs, cocktail frocks, and formal gowns along with chic jeans, sweaters, coats, shoes and purses by designers like Christian Louboutin, Coach, Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, Hermes, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel are among the surprising finds

Best Shoe Repair

Did you ever have one of those days when the heel on your Cole Haan collapses, the strap on your Burberry bag busts, and the wheels on your Louis Vuitton luggage jam? Enter the downtown repair-everything-rescue team. Attention to detail and excellent craftsmanship have customers praising A-1 SHOE REPAIR on Cypress Street as a superior fashion salvage operation year after year.

Best Jewelry Store

Walnut Creek’s shopping district is flush with gorgeous stores and gemstones, but when it comes to fine baubles, SPITZ JEWELERS stands out. From diamond studs to thick gold rings to high-end watches, this family owned and operated business has been serving the East Bay for more than 70 years. Trusted for a long legacy of value, service, and quality, their skilled jewelers can create anything your heart desires, whether it’s a sparkling 4k diamond engagement ring or red ruby pendant necklace.

Best Florist

JR Cude heads to the San Francisco Flower Mart bright and early three mornings each week to select the freshest blooms for his masterpieces at FLOWER BOWL. This family-owned florist has created botanical designs for Bay Area clients celebrating special occasions for more than 60 years. From monochromatic color schemes to striking tropical arrangements, bouquets are made to order with seasonal blooms and breathtaking artistry.   

Best Running Shoes

Want to save your knees and your ankles? Shop at ATHLETIC OUTPOST. No one else in town applies biomechanics to match the right sports shoes to your feet. Owner Tim Kreton and sales manager Shannan Kral, both runners themselves, built buzz about their Bonanza Street business by helping people pound the pavement without pain. Coaches shepherd their star athletes here and physical therapists, podiatrists, and orthopedists send patients.

Best Bike Shop

MIKES BIKES has a simple mission – to get as many people pedaling as possible. That means its staff of cycling enthusiasts will find the right bike for your favored route and terrain whether road, mountain, or electric. Located in the Mercer, the store offers free bike repair and maintenance clinics, or let one of their experienced techs get you up and riding.

Best Dry Cleaners

Even small adjustments in your life can have far-reaching environmental benefits. Consider dry cleaning. You paid a mint for those designer slacks, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave a trail of toxins to keep them clean. DUTCH GIRL CLEANERS on Mt. Diablo Boulevard has been keeping East Bay residents looking good since 1978 with non-toxic, odorless dry cleaning solvents, leaving clothes soft and fresh.

Best Eyewear

Tucked away in an office park off of San Miguel Drive, this under-the-radar boutique wins for its trove of eyewear ranging from cutting-edge independent designs to hard-to-find frames from around the globe. With fab images by Italian photographer Attilio Ruffo on the walls, OCCHI EYEWEAR BOUTIQUE has a gallery vibe. Curated frames from fashionable brands like Mykita, Blackfin, and Swissflex are displayed like works of art. An experienced staff provides honest feedback on your best look.

Best Alterations

Arachne in Greek mythology was such a skilled weaver that jealous Athena transformed her into a spider. Here in this Newell Avenue atelier, the only things being transformed are ill-fitting new clothes and beloved old clothes into flattering well-tailored ones. Customers for decades have relied on ARACHNE’S THIMBLE to do impeccable work on men’s as well as women’s wear. 1487 Newell Avenue

Best Place to Buy a Car

Wheeling and dealing for a new car is never easy, but there are actually salespeople who care about your needs. Customers come from far and wide for the attentive service at MERCEDES-BENZ OF WALNUT CREEK. With one of the Bay Area’s largest inventories of the luxury German brand, this Parkside Drive dealership is committed to putting you in a custom C-class. And depending on your desired level of decadence, they can equip your Benz with hot stone massage seat options and special blends of interior scents.

Best Party Dresses

Whether it’s a prom, or a weekend in Vegas, nothing says party like a show stopping frock. And no one has a better designer dress collection than NORDSTROM. With savvy styles and super service, it’s the top shopping spot to find the perfect fit for any occasion, whether you’re 8 months or 80 years old. For even better service, try on a personal stylist.

Best Pet Lodging

When an out-of-town trip comes up, and your furry friend can’t tag along, owners who want the best for their pets turn to WUNDERBARS PET HOTEL. Here your pooch can lounge in style or play with wild abandon. Single room rates include playtime, gourmet dry food, and cozy comfy beds. Kind and caring staff are on the premises 24/7 at this family-owned pet hotel where nightly turn-down service comes with cookies, and lots of hugs and kisses.

Best Men’s Attire

It would be enough to find a local retailer with a good men’s clothing selection, but after MACY’S consolidated its stores at Broadway Plaza, its first floor men’s department has become a massive shopping extravaganza. Long a destination for preppy sportswear, Gant, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfinger remain staples. Flattering jackets, plaid shirts, and designer jeans capture a trendy vibe. Need a tuxedo, they sell them too.

Best Hostess Gifts

When you need a special gift for a friend fretting over turkey dinner or cocktail party canapes, give them a token of gratitude from WISH. Mother-daughter team Susie and Sasha stock their Boulevard Way boutique with a potpourri of whimsical plates and pillows, scented seasonal candles, and our favorite “Housewives of WC” wine glasses. Part of the fun is exploring the bounty of treasures in vignette-themed rooms, where you just might find a fabulous faux fur vest for yourself.



Best Restaurant (Date Spot & Patio)

In a city bursting with great places to eat, it’s a feat to be named Walnut Creek’s top spot. Is it the gourmet cuisine, the craft cocktails, the alluring lounge, the stunning views, or the lively atmosphere that gives ROOFTOP the edge? One thing is certain, there’s no place like it in town. While the “top of the city” patio is pretty dramatic, the food gives reason to gaze at your plate. Braised short ribs are accompanied by celery root parsnip puree; miso glazed sea bass is served on a bed of baby bok choy and shitake mushrooms. Finish with decadent piece of lava cake for a memorable date.

Best Wine Bar

Come for the pours, stay for the vibes. Both oenophiles and wine novices love the unpretentious atmosphere at this award-winning wine bar. A stellar list, which balances global finds and California innovators, always surprises. Passionate employees help guide guests at RESIDUAL SUGAR through hundreds of bottles, all available by the glass. The new outdoor patio adds much needed space to sip and savor an artisanal cheese and charcuterie plate.

Best Burger & Fries

The quest to find the best burger is a mighty one. A variety of spinoffs to this meaty American classic can be found on most restaurant menus. THE COUNTER takes the win for an eighth year in a row. An unwavering focus on quality and consistency gives this burger bistro an edge. Perfectly grilled grass-fed patties are effortlessly melted with cheese, slathered with sauce, and piled high with your choice of toppings on homemade buns. Devour one with a side of fries.

Best Ribs

Barbecue lovers converge at SAUCED for great food, fun, and a bit of southern charm. Owners and cousins Barrett Gomes and Brenden Scanlon serve up some of the tastiest slow-cooked ribs in town. Creativity is evident in their decadent sides: jalapeno cheese grits and mountains of tater tots topped with cheddar, bacon jam, sour cream, and jalapenos. Test your trivia on Tuesdays, play a little Bingo on Wednesdays, or watch your favorite team on the overhead screens.

Best Steak

No one cooks a steak quite like RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE. Grilled to perfection in 1,800-degree broilers, and slathered with butter, a steak here is a thing of beauty. Filets, ribeyes, and NY strips taste best when accompanied by grilled asparagus, creamed spinach, and potatoes au gratin. The swank interior, with its second floor wrap-around windows, sets a glamorous mood. And large martinis certainly add to the sultry vibe.

Fried Calamari

This fish house has it all—great seafood, excellent service, and a spirited atmosphere. After work, locals gather at WALNUT CREEK YACHT CLUB for the happy hour prices and fried calamari, which many say is the best in the East Bay. Pristinely fresh Monterey Bay calamari is cut fresh then fried with Cajun spices and onion, served piping hot with sliced lemon and a house made creole remoulade.

Best Burrito

This fast-fresh build-your-own burrito chain derives its name from the classic Lynrd Skynyrd rock anthem.  FREEBIRDS WORLD BURRITO gets its fame from plant-based Tex-Mex style cuisine that replaces pork with tempeh—a blend of squash, zucchini, and fresh corn in roasted tomato and chipotle salsa. Pairing well with cilantro lime rice and black beans, Freebirds packs it in their big burritos with mixed greens and guacamole. Grilled chicken, steak, and pork are on the menu too.

Best Curry

If you’re craving comfort food with an exotic twist, curry’s the way to go. Winter nights call for a piping hot dish at BOMBAY INDIAN RESTAURANT made from a savory mix of onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic. Add your pick of protein:  boneless chicken, Australian lamb, tilapia fish or jumbo Indian prawns. Walnut Creek Magazine readers rave about the creamy coconut chicken curry, a house specialty. Try it with a side of naan and raita salad to cool the curry’s fire.

Best Falafel

The affordable menu and casual atmosphere at BABALOUS attracts foodies looking for a Middle Eastern diversion. A highlight here are the falafels—seasoned chickpeas ground to a paste then shaped into Ping-Pong-size balls and deep-fried. Delicious alone or inside a lavash wrap topped with yogurt, tahini, onions, and chili sauce. For maximum pleasure add feta cheese, cucumbers, and hummus.

Best Breakfast

If you have to get out of bed, the promise of breakfast at this local favorite may be the motivation you need. Whether you’re meeting up with friends or taking your toast alone, SUNRISE BISTRO is the place to start the day strong. The food here is made fresh every day from scratch. Giant breakfast burritos are topped with house made salsa, poached eggs cover corned beef or brisket sweet potato hash, and plump pancakes are stacked piping hot.

Best Salad

When your day calls for a bowl of produce, LETTUCE serves it big and bold. Salads are made to order, hand-tossed, and topped with house-made dressings. Customer favorites include the Big Cobb, Pink Lady, and Sonoma. But the real showstopper is the Napa Salad—organic spring mix with field berries, rosemary chicken, toasted sugar walnuts, and honey balsamic vinaigrette.  A consistent focus on good food at a great value makes this restaurant a winner year after year.

Best Sweet Spot

If you’re not paying attention, you could easily walk past the tiny LOVE+ CHOCOLATE shop on Main Street and miss out on a chocolate fix. Just like its name suggests, the quaint candy shop is the passion project of owners Kristy and Kent Lincoln who love chocolate and want to satiate every sweet tooth in town with premium, hard-to-find European confections. Chocolate lovers are grateful. Pop in for a piece of Leonidas Belgium chocolate hazelnut fudge or coffee ganache.


Live large on a small budget at MODERN CHINA CAFE. Locals come to this Asian eatery for the sumptuous small plates menu, available at any table all evening long. Try an order of green onion pancakes, seaweed salad, honey walnut prawns, and lemongrass pork ribs. Enjoy your meal with a craft cocktail at one of the outdoor fire pit tables. On a chilly winter night, switch out the salad for a steaming bowl of miso soup with tofu and ginger root. Modern China’s kitchen stays open late making this a great spot for a bite after a movie or show downtown.


Prepare to feel like you’re part of the family at this charming Broadway bistro. Pastas and sauces at BENVENUTI RISTORANTE are made from scratch—pure comfort wrapped in a cozy blanket of primo ingredients. Plump pillows of gnocchi come smothered in creamy pesto; hand cut ribbon pasta and Bolognese sauce revel in the pappardelle ragu; fresh seafood stars in an impeccable fettucine. Solid and flavorful, nothing has changed at this restaurant once called Salvatore, except its name.


At this contemporary bistro, quality ingredients and family recipes unite in Thai food magic. A knock-out dish at KACHA THAI is pumpkin curry; sweet chunks of pumpkin, shrimp, and sole filet in a comforting bowl of spicy, creamy curry. Another good choice is Pad Thai; crushed peanuts, egg, and shrimp, mounted atop a pile of flat rice noodles. Daily specials add to the innovative menu.

Best Latte Art

Its timing was fortuitous. COFFEE SHOP has quickly become the go-to downtown gathering place for hipsters, millennials, or anyone who just loves a good cup. Its cult-like following craves the creatively prepared cappuccinos and lattes foaming with works of art. Whether you’re meeting up with friends or sipping alone, Coffee Shop will help you start the day strong.

Beer Selection

It’s a golden age for beer lovers. The country is experiencing an unprecedented revolution as beer drinkers consume complex blends crafted by local brewers. Modeled after European bottle shops, quality crafts emerge from 18 changing taps and hundreds of fresh bottles at OL BEERCAFE & BOTTLE SHOP. Its cozy vibe and stalwart selection make this little bar a popular destination.


One of the newer entries on the Walnut Creek pizza scene, SLICE HOUSE has quickly become a favorite thanks to Chef Tony Gemignani’s hand-crafted pies and "ancient grain" crusts made from flour, spelt, whole wheat, semolina, and sprouted grain. Pizza toppings run the gamut ranging from “grandma-style” classics (pepperoni, sausage) to the esoteric Cal Italia (fig jam, prosciutto, four cheeses, and a balsamic reduction.)

Deli Sandwich

Satiate your craving for a loaded sandwich at MORUCCI’S DELI, a veritable temple of meats and cheeses. This old school Italian deli has been assembling made to order sandwiches for decades. It’s hard to go wrong with the #6 ¾; roasted turkey topped with fresh mozzarella, roasted red bell peppers, and lettuce then drizzled with olive oil, balsamic and seasonings. Other favorites include the #1 Italian Sub, #2 Cesar, and #7 Reuben. Ask them to toast your ciabatta bread.


Dinner party or weeknight dinner, school lunches or movie snacks, TRADER JOE’S wins for its selection of foods a notch above ordinary. Favorites here include olive oil chips and popcorn, meatloaf and enchiladas, and dark chocolate trail mix. Add an assortment of wine, cheese, flowers, and baked goods to the mix and you’ve got ingredients for the good life right there in your cart. Staff are plentiful, knowledgeable, and friendly.

Farmers’ Market

The WALNUT CREEK DOWNTOWN FARMERS’ MARKET is the winning spot for stocking up on fresh food. Over 40 vendors line Locust Street every Sunday with a luscious array of locally grown fruits, colorful veggies, fresh meats, extra virgin olive oil, and farm fresh eggs. Bring a canvas bag to carry your bounty, grab a coffee, and sample savory baked goods. Purchase some fragrant fresh-cut flowers and vegan soaps. Listen to live music while you shop. The market is open year-round, rain or shine.

Best Sushi: SASA

                                                                                                      In a town full of amazing eats, sushi is no exception. There are plenty of fusion fried rolls to go around, but when it comes to pristine sashimi and luxe ingredients like Uni, belly albacore, and roe, SASA stands out. Chef/owner Philip Yang focuses on sustainability, serving a variety of fresh sea-friendly options at his hip, historic restaurant on Main Street. Savor it with a chilled glass of sake.



Best Place to Workout 

Why do people love FORMA GYM? It’s a chic stylish gym that manages to feel homey. It’s a big gym that manages to feel intimate and welcoming. There are outdoor and indoor workout spaces, a pool with cabanas, and hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms. Founded by Robert Jackson, who started out as a personal trainer, Forma prides itself on high octane fitness classes that cover the gamut—barre, stationary cycling, qi gong, tai chi, Pilates, yoga, boot camp, TRX suspension, and Zumba.

Best Yoga Studio

Hot yoga is hot right now. And at COREPOWER, they’ve made it cool. The Denver-based chain takes a serious work-out approach to yoga, so don’t expect to meditate. Classes leave you dripping, with rooms of varying temperatures for devotees who believe high degrees open and strengthen the body. Beginners get a cooler flow in Vinyasa yoga, and if you want an extra-challenge, use free weights in Yoga Sculpt.

Best Spray Tan

Spray tanning may be the final frontier for natural organic beauty products.  And Amy Staubitz has conquered it at her Bont Lane studio, AURORA ORGANIC SPRAY TANS which specializes in tanning formulas made from natural, eco-certified pigments that give your skin a sun-kissed glow. What’s more, Aurora’s spray tanning spritzes are oil-free, alcohol-free, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and dermatologist approved. Custom blends match any complexion.

Best Place for a Meeting

Talk about a building fulfilling its mission. The WALNUT CREEK LIBRARY, which opened in 2010, was envisioned as a community space for learning and meeting, as well as a print and digital media center. Today groups of six to 16 reserve the upstairs Las Trampas Room, others snag one of four smaller rooms that grace this downtown gem. All available to cardholders at no cost.

Best Apartment Complex

Rising above California Boulevard is THE MERCER, a distinct apartment community in the heart of the city, symbolizing Walnut Creek’s new downtown neighborhood. Residents here love the city’s walkability: five minutes to BART, Lesher Center for the Arts across the street, and mere blocks to Broadway Plaza’s retail mecca. But luxe living comes with a price: a 2 bedroom, 2 bath is advertised on The Mercer’s site for $3,130 - $4,210 per month.

Best Barbershop

While most old school barber shops have morphed into unisex salons, DI MAGGIO’S remains. Its red and white pole spins in silent vigil on Main Street. Inside, haircuts remain as classic as the basic décor. Professional barbers wield scissors and buzzers with a precision that has earned them a loyal clientele. Venerable owner Sal Di Maggio, a cousin of Yankee great Joe Di Maggio, still greets every customer. This is your father’s barbershop, your grandfather’s too, and that’s what makes it awesome. 1379 N. Main Street

Best Public Art

Watch out Fountainhead, the BULLMAN WITH BULLDOG is in town! The city welcomed the whimsical, life-sized sculpture with a series of selfies, Instagram posts, and a lot of fanfare. Donated by local developer, Brian Hirahara, the cast bronze “humanimal” sculpture captivates from its post on the corner of Main and Mt. Diablo. A longtime art aficionado, Hirahara commissioned the piece by artist Gerald Heffernon to grab people’s attention and put a grin on their face. He appears to have succeeded.

Best Botox

Personal attention, a discreet and welcoming environment, and knowledgeable specialists keep SKINSPIRIT at the top of the aesthetic skin care game. Located at the Mercer, the med spa gets rave reviews for its facial treatments. Whether you’re a longtime Botox fan or a first-timer, the pros here will reveal the possibilities of this favored injectable treatment that leaves patients looking relaxed and refreshed.

Best Community Event

If anything is certain, it’s that people love to come together and dance, party, and drink at summer festivals. In Walnut Creek, the annual ART & WINE FESTIVAL brings out the crowds—some 100,000 over two days—who fill the grassy lawns at Heather Farm Park listening to live music, sipping premium wines and craft beers, and celebrating the start of summer. Produced by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, this community event is truly a stand out.

Best Hair Salon

This vibrant salon on Locust Street brings an LA vibe to Walnut Creek. Owner Elizabeth V keeps her team on top of the latest color, cut, and style trends with frequent visits to SoCal’s top celebrity hair icons. A Master Colorist trained in Los Angeles, Elizabeth opened STEM SALON in 2012 with some of the East Bay’s top talent. Together they have a built a stellar reputation for giving client’s great looking hair.

Best Public Park

We have some great parks here. If you’re looking for one to take your kids or your camera, head to CIVIC PARK. Its tranquil swath of green lawn with majestic trees, rose garden, and quaint gazebo sit in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the downtown. Some of the city’s most treasured events happen here: Christmas Tree Lighting, Fourth of July concert, Movies Under the Stars, Walnut Creek on Ice, and Turkey Trot. Plus there’s a playground, picnic tables, and a footbridge to the Iron Horse Trail. 1375 Civic Drive

Best Place for a Kid’s Birthday Party

Ahoy, matey! There’s a big pirate ship, a pint-sized climbing wall, and a bounty of colorful slides. Add swings and bridges for a fabulous birthday party surprise. A soft bouncy surface ensures happy landings and rainbow-hued canvas awnings protect kids—and their parents—from sun and rain. This 30,000-square-foot, all-abilities playground at HEATHER FARM PARK is a coveted place for a party. Ygnacio Valley Road & San Carlos Drive.

Best Facial & Massage

Nestled high above Cypress Street, WOODHOUSE DAY SPA is the definition of relaxed elegance. Open only two years, this private retreat is making a mark for its invigorating skin care treatments. A signature is the Minkyti, an age-defying facial that oxygenates and stimulates the skin with nutrient-rich seaweed products. Massage therapies begin with a foot cleansing ritual and essential oil treatment. The Woodhouse Four-Handed Massage combines two therapists who choreograph movements across the body during 80 minutes of bliss.

Best Lash Extensions
Women bat their lashes for ICANDY, the extension gurus who give an everyday look a bit of glamour. From bambi to bombshell, depending on the length, color, and curvature you choose, extensions are waterproof. Owner Shareen Malik built her lash business in Beverly Hills where she mastered the art of extensions working on some of Hollywood’s top stars.

Best Mani/Pedi

In a town with a plethora of salons, DIVA NAILS on Mt. Diablo Boulevard nailed it. The shop can handle most requests, whether rhinestone tips or matte ombré polish, but it’s the little extras that set Diva apart. Customers rave about the paraffin wax treatment, included with pedicures at no extra charge. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments ensure top-level service. 1952 Mt. Diablo Boulevard

Singles Scene

Forget the dating apps. Head to 1515 RESTAURANT & LOUNGE for the best singles scene in town. An eclectic mix of ages means there’s someone for everyone at this popular spot. A warm and inviting vibe makes it a great place for people watching, but don’t be surprised if it’s the tasty food and cocktails that keep you coming back for more.

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