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Walnut Creek Magazine

Reader's Choice Awards: Best Of 2018 Winners

May 23, 2019 01:14PM ● By Cale Finta

Best Of 2018

Our annual Reader’s Choice Awards celebrates the things you love about the city.


Salon Hanover
Best Hair Salon

Krystal Kerkasian’s natural talent for styling hair has taken her on a successful journey from Bakersfield to Beverly Hills to Walnut Creek where Barbara Reyna fostered her career at Raymond Marc. Krystal went on to Phoenix and Caroline’s in Lafayette, before opening her chic Salon Hanover in 2018 on Cypress Street. Top-tier stylists have already built a reputation for stunning cuts and color. “It’s so exciting to work in a positive environment watching each individual stylists’ growth. I dreamed of having a salon like this and now it’s real,” says Krystal.


Best Florist

On quaint Boulevard Circle, in Walnut Creek’s Saranap District, sits an eclectic mix of shops and salons. It’s here Florali opened 15 years ago and became an innovator in floral design as one of the first East Bay florists to treat a bouquet as art. Owned by mother and son team Darwin Harrison and Susan Donley, Florali specializes in dramatic seasonal arrangements created with local bounty from Northern California farms.


Best Jewelry

Walnut Creek is flush with jewelry stores, but when it comes to a trusted favorite, family-owned Spitz Jewelers wins for its legacy of value, service, and quality. From brilliant diamonds to high-end watches, Spitz has adorned thousands of wrists and fingers since 1946 when Anna and Henry Spitz opened their first jewelry store in Oakland. From their Main Street shop, third generation jewelers do custom work and repairs, and if your wallet can handle it, they’ll put a sparking 10-karat yellow diamond ring on your finger.


Best Cosmetics

If you’re into cosmetics, Sephora is your candy store. Not only do they help match colors, they also teach you how to contour and point out the best DIY kit. Celebrating their 20th anniversary, Sephora has found a way to stay relevant and ahead of the curve—introducing interactive on-site beauty classes and creating an experiential makeup wonderland.


The Lounge Nail Shop
Best Mani-Pedi

Pedicure buffs know that a long-lasting polish is nothing without an even longer foot scrub and rub. At the Nail Lounge on Locust, feet are soaked in a hot water lavender bath before techs spend more than 30 minutes making your rough spots disappear. Booking side-by-side appointments is relatively easy, polish is applied meticulously, and prices are reasonable. It’s a winning combination.

Loosen Up Bodywork
Best Massage

This is not your standard massage kind of place. At Loosen up Bodywork, they get to the root of your pain using sports and rehabilitative deep massage techniques. Bodywork includes myofascial release, trigger point, and lymphatic drainage, Founder Gina Tibbs, an instructor/therapist with over 14 years of experience, has brought together a team of massage therapists who share her passion for healing, and a loyal clientele who need to alleviate pain.


Best Spa Treatments for Men

Smooth and glowing. That’s how your skin looks after a lavish facial that cleans, exfoliates, and boosts elasticity with hydrating serums. Since opening in 2003, Skinspirit Skincare Clinic has become a top spot for skin and body care, for guys and gals. Laser resurfacing, hair removal, injectables, chemical peels, and weight loss are on the menu at this hip downtown med-spa.


Woodhouse Day Spa
Best Facial

This Cypress Street retreat has made a mark for its vibe and treatments. Book here when you need privacy and pampering; rumor has it professional athletes do. Once you pass the gift shop—a good one—you’ll enter a luxe space designed for lingering. Try the award-winning Minkyti facial that gets rave reviews for its nutrient-rich seaweed ingredients. It’s 80 minutes of sheer bliss.


Best Barbershop

The revolving red and white pole might be gone, but little else has changed at DiMaggio’s Barber Shop where the haircuts remain as classic as the décor. Every day here is Throwback Thursday—hot shave and all. Professional barbers wield scissors and buzzers with a precision that has earned them a loyal clientele. Sal Di Maggio, a cousin of Yankee great Joe Di Maggio, took over the legendary shop almost 20 years ago that began as Walt’s in 1958. 1379 N. Main Street


Geary Vet Hospital
Best Vet

It always seems like its adding insult to injury when you take your sick or injured pet to the vet. But at Geary Veterinarian Hospital, Dr. David Bjork and his team of docs put your pet at ease. That much dreaded vet visit quickly turns from pants to laps. They offer a full spectrum of medical care—everything from breeding to vaccinating to counseling on


Best Grooming

It’s a national chain but ask almost anyone on the street with a cute pup in tow where they get their dog’s doo done and most say Petco. Apparently, Walnut Creek Magazine readers agree. Located in a non-descript strip center, the vast pet department store caters to every creature comfort plus au courant getups. In the grooming department, a top team of cutters shampoo, clip, trim, brush, and blow-dry beauties all day long.


Best Jeans, Dresses, Handbags, and Men's Apparel

While malls across America are dying, freshly redesigned Broadway Plaza is thriving. Destination retail anchors like Nordstrom draw shoppers from near and far. With savvy styles and super service, it’s a top shopping spot. This year, Nordstrom took home the win in four categories: Men’s Apparel, Jeans, Dresses and Handbags. The latest trends, superior service, and a well-designed layout keep customers coming through the doors.


Best Alterations

Few sounds are as unmistakable as the tearing of designer silk. Locals who need simple alterations or major mending, turn to Lusona, where petite powerhouse and master seamstress Rose snips, tucks, and tailors your clothes.  A new hemline here and a few more pleats there, brings even the most delicate goods back to life. 1270-G Newell


Best Shoe Repair

Laces, luggage, and shredded heals, they do it all here. Seasoned at high-end designer merchandise, A-1 Shoe & Luggage Repair is the downtown go-to for shoes, bags, buckles and so much more. Attention to detail and excellent craftsmanship have customers praising this superior shoe salvage operation year after year. 1399 N. Main


Broadway Eyeworks
Best Eyewear

Eyewear can be a necessity or a fashion statement. Either way it should fit your face and your style. Broadway Eyeworks carries a treasure trove of hip, contemporary designs and hard-to-find frames from around the globe—Chanel, Face à Face, Oliver Peoples, Ray-Ban, Tom Ford. A local favorite for over 25 years, husband wife team, Dr. Mock and Suzi, fit you with precision whether it’s for seeing or for sunbathing.


Hospice of the East Bay
Best Thrift Shop

A cut-above your average thrift shop, an exquisite array of clothing, house goods, art, and costume jewelry are easy to find here. Hospice of the East Bay operates six thrift shops including Walnut Creek’s on Newell Avenue, where sales from donated goods go to support end-of-life care for critical patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.


Best Breakfast

If you must get out of bed, breakfast at this beloved bistro is a good way to start the day. Founded by wellness guru Chef Cindy Gershen, her son Joe Stein and cousin Chef Ty Pearce run the restaurant dishing up freshly made, award-winning, crave-worthy food. Poached eggs cover corned beef sweet potato hash, fluffy yogurt pancakes are stacked piping and a chicken ‘south of the border’ comes on fresh corn tortillas smothered in avocado with black beans. Open for breakfast and lunch, they also run a successful, full-service catering operation.

Walnut Creek Yacht Club
Best Seafood

There are a lot of ways to experience Chef Kevin Weinberg and Ellen McCarty’s award-winning seafood restaurant. Tackle the menu small-plates style: dabbling in mussels, crab cakes, and garlic fries. Satisfy your appetite with a dish of fresh fish, exquisitely prepared to order, a steaming bowl of cioppino or decadent fish and chips. Winter brings the restaurant’s famous crab and lobster feeds, priced to please. This fish house has it all—including the best mai tais in town.


Best Deli

The Italians know their food and Genova Delicatessen is our little slice of heaven. Since 1969, they’ve been slicing salami and prosciutto for loyal customers. Pull a number, pick out a fresh roll from the bin, and order your custom grinder at the counter. Made at a nearby family-run factory, their plump ravioli is a local tradition stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach or pumpkin and topped with decadent house made sauce. You can also find it in the freezer section at Safeway.


Best Coffee

Even with all kinds of new contenders pouring meticulously sourced, roasted beans brewed to order, Peet’s Coffee continues to be the top spot for a caffeine fix. Founded in Berkeley in 1966, coffee beans from all over the world are freshly ground, brewed, and served by skillful baristas who transform a simple cup into a a revelation.


The Counter
Best Burger and Fries

Who makes the best burger in WC? A variety of spinoffs to this meaty classic can be found on most menus in town, but for the ninth year in a row, The Counter takes the win. This Mercer burger bistro offers a dizzying array of ways to top a grilled turkey, chicken, veggie, or beef patty with a delicious mess of everything from Gouda, grilled onion, and arugula to avocado, bacon, egg, and barbecue sauce. You can’t go wrong with a simple juicy grass-fed beef patty—flown in fresh from a family-run Montana ranch—on a bun. Devour one with a side of fries.


Veggie Grill
Best Vegetarian Menu

When Veggie Grill first opened in Walnut Creek, it was a bit risky since vegan food was considered a harder sell in suburbia. Since that time in 2015, the veg food craze has flourished, and the Santa Monica-based restaurant chain has thrived, feeding us tasty, affordable, 100% plant-based food. Menu highlights include meatless burgers, Buffalo wings, tempura green beans, quinoa and black bean bowls, and savory kale Cesar salads. With calorie counts posted on the menu, you can watch your waistline and wallet here.

Best Meat Market

Nobody will deny that big box retailers like Costco have threatened the existence of traditional supermarket meat counters. Don't tell that to die-hard carnivores who turn to the friendly and knowledgeable butchers behind the counter at Lunardi's for high quality meat. For years this neighborhood supermarket, tucked away in the Palos Verde Mall, has been the go-to for a special holiday roast, thick filets, or ribs to barbecue. They also have a killer poultry and seafood selection. This is a top-notch spot for meat and so much more.


Best Italian

With a long legacy of making delicious Italian food, Chef Ermes Paulin opened his popular Walnut Creek restaurant in 1989, on the day of California’s Loma Prieta earthquake. Since then, Chef Pauline has been pleasing palates with his savory, feather weight pastas—cheese ravioli, veal tortellini, and buttery strands of fettucine. The classic tender calamari steak mimics abalone dressed in a luscious white-wine lemon sauce. Plus, they have a serious A+ wine list.

Va de Vi

Best Date Spot

You’ve made it through the online dating checklist: decent text conversations, coffeehouse meeting, drinks at a local bar. Now it’s time for a romantic (not too romantic) dinner under the twinkling lights at Va De Vi. At downtown’s vivacious bistro, share some eclectic international small plates and wine flights under the old oak tree or grab a table in the lively dining room. Chef Mike Fischetti’s menu mixes Peruvian papas bravas, baked burrata, and Alaskan black cod. Tasteful, but not too expensive.


Dragon's Pond
Best Chinese

Walnut Creek is filled with talented Asian chefs who specialize in slippery noodles and fried chicken cubes in sauce. Hunan and Mandarin delicacies are reinvented drawing from executive Chef Xiao Lin's previous gigs in New York City and San Francisco. Hot and sour soup is thick with ribbons of whisked-in eggs, General Tsao’s chicken is spiced to order on a bed of crisp, fresh broccoli. Other favorites are mango chicken, honey walnut prawns, and duck chow mein. Plenty of vegetarian items grace the menu too.


Best Poke

It’s easy to inhale a sticky-rice bowl filled with fresh fish, veggies, and addictive sauces. Locust Street’s Oke Poke leads the pack with crave-worthy, protein-rich seafood bowls and wraps. Customers trick out their fresh cubed, marinated raw tuna or salmon with Maui onion, flying-fish roe, and dried seaweed. Mango, ginger, edamame, nuts and house sauce top it off. Customizability makes poke wildly popular among the fast-casual crowd.


Hick'ry Pit
Best Pie

On an average day, 600 hungry patrons come through the doors at the Original Hick’ry Pit on South Main. They come for the food and simplicity of a bygone era. It’s a home away from home, a tight knit family of coworkers and customers who remember birthdays and stories. When it comes to pie, there is no wrong move here—banana, coconut cream, pecan, apple, San Francisco silk. Sit at the old school counter, eat a slice of pie, sip some coffee, and feel grateful that classic diners like this one still exist.


Best Sushi

Chef Philip Yang and his culinary team turn out the kind of izakaya food you’d find in Tokyo. Eating at this swank Japanese bistro is a culinary adventure, and it’s easy to splurge. Especially on the incredibly fresh, melt-in-your-mouth sushi and seasonal specials resembling works of art. Occupying the century-old building that once housed Lawrence's Meat Market—the atmosphere at Sasa is just as striking as the food.


Best Pizza

Once you've got things right, why change them. Consistency is king at Rocco's Ristorante Pizzeria. This bustling Italian eatery tops the list for hand-tossed dough, rich sauce, and hefty portions. Many of the menu favorites are culled from owner Rocco Biale's own Italian family recipes. Hand-tossed and brick-fired pies range from the Dominator and Dante's Inferno to the Naples-style Via Port Alba. Generosity doesn't stop with the food; Rocco's is an enthusiastic contributor to local fundraisers and schools.


Maria Maria

Best Mexican
 This lively cantina boasts a big creek-side patio and open-air dining room that almost transports you to Mexico. Famous for happy hours, Taco Tuesdays, and innovative food, the inspired menu features dishes like duck tacos in tomato habanero cream sauce, seafood guacamole, and signature shrimp burritos. Tasty margaritas pump up the volume.

Best Ribs

Barbecue lovers converge at Sauced for great food and a bit of southern charm. Owners and cousins Barrett Gomes and Brenden Scanlan serve up the tastiest slow-cooked ribs in town. Dry rubbed pork spareribs are smoked for hours, then caramelized in sweet-spicy homemade sauce. Sides include baked beans, cole slaw, and waffle fries.


Best Salad

The popular Napa Salad—organic spring mix with field berries, rosemary chicken, toasted sugar walnuts tossed in balsamic vinaigrette—has built quite a following. Tuna Niçoise is another hit—sushi-quality fish, haricots verts, and niçoise olives create salty goodness. And any time a salad has as much meat and cheese as greens, it’s a winner. Half an avocado, a fistful of blue cheese, and a whole lot of bacon are piled on the Cobb. Made fresh to order at the counter, salads are piled high with nutrition and flavor.


Renaissance ClubSport
Best Place to Workout

When this upscale health club and hotel opened fifteen years ago, Renaissance ClubSport elevated Walnut Creek’s workout scene. Since then, places to get fit are endlessly opening all over town. Despite steep competition, ClubSport wins time and again for its top-notch amenities, cool vibe, and resort-like service. It’s fair to say, they honestly offer it all—outdoor pools, bocce courts, state-of-the-art fitness center, personal trainers, indoor basketball, squash, and racquetball courts. Studios deliver killer workouts in spin, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, cycling, barre classes, and more. Wellness programs include weight management, nutrition, and Rev32. Add to that a spa, cabanas, a restaurant, a hotel, event space, valet parking, and a bar. renaissanceclubsport/


Rock City
Best Family Fun

For so many, iconic Mt. Diablo State Park represents the heart and soul of our region. Its spectacular views beckon and inspire adventure. A local favorite for people who like to explore, climb big rocks, and campout overnight is Mt. Diablo’s Rock City. At almost 4,000-feet, Rock City's stunning sandstone formations were carved by wind, rain, and time. You can access the trail via the Live Oak Campground, and it’s only about a quarter-of-a-mile hike to Sentinel Rock. Climb up and take it all in. On a clear day, you can see for almost 200 miles. Head to the nearby Wind Caves, Elephant Rock, Lower Rock City, Gibraltar Rock, and the Grotto Picnic area. To get there, access the South Gate off Diablo Road in Danville. Enjoy the beautiful state park. And, as always, be safe and leave no trace.

Shell Ridge
Best Hike

Located in the heart of the city, it’s hard to believe this blissful place is only a short distance from our bustling downtown. A hiker’s paradise, Walnut Creek’s Shell Ridge Open Space captivates with 31 miles of moderate to tough trails on 1420 acres of the Mt. Diablo foothills. The open space area gets its name from the marine fossils left behind when the ocean waters that once covered the area receded. It’s easy to break a sweat hiking at Shell Ridge and the views and valley oaks will leave you breathless. Dogs are allowed off-leash, but you take the risk of running into wild creatures. Multiple trailhead access points include Castle Rock Road, about a ½ mile past Northgate High School, and the end of Marshall Drive near Indian Valley Elementary School.


Bullman with Bulldog


Best Public Art

Move over Fountainhead, the guy who hangs out on the corner of Main and Mt. Diablo took the top spot. The life-size, bronze sculpture, Bullman with Bulldog, was commissioned by developer and philanthropist Brian Hirahara and created by artist Gerald Heffernon for the City of Walnut Creek. A popular selfie spot, the “humanimal” sculpture depicts a man with a bull’s head and his companion—a bulldog. “I like Gerald’s whimsical, humorous artistic approach and Bullman not only grab people’s attention, it puts a lot of smiles on faces. And that was the intention,” says Hirahara. And it sure does.


Gardens at Heather Farm
Best Wedding Venue

For rustic chic to vintage country to modern garden glam, brides and grooms pick The Gardens at Heather Farm as their favorite place in Walnut Creek to tie the knot. Lush garden ceremonies, cocktail hours at the outdoor bar, and unforgettable banquet receptions make this an ideal spot to host weddings, surrounded by a 1000 rose bushes that bloom from spring through fall.  A wedding at this special venue on a picturesque hillside will leave lasting memories.


Art & Wine Festival
Best Community Event

One thing is certain, the Bay Area loves festivals. Walnut Creek kicks-off summer each year at the Art & Wine Festival in Heather Farm Park. During the two-day celebration, close to 100,000 people fill the grassy lawns listening to live music, dancing, sipping premium wines and craft beers, and shopping for hand-crafted gifts. Produced by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, this community event is a stand out.


Heather Farm
Best Public Park

This beautiful 102-acre public park is an easy escape with its alluring activities, sights, and sounds. Just off Ygnacio Valley Road sits Heather Farm Park, home to Clarke Memorial Swim Center—a community aquatics facility that has turned out Olympic champions—a big, bright all-abilities playground, picnic grounds, tennis courts, acres of sports fields for baseball and soccer, a skate park, a fishing pond, and an equestrian center. Add to that serene spaces for long walks, a wild bird habitat, a dog park, and a community event center, and it’s easy to say Heather Farm Park is ground-zero for fun.

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