This year we held the third annual Readers Choice for everyone to vote for their favorite things in Danville and San Ramon. Before that, we held the contest for three years in the Danville Weekly. Ballots were online at www.DanvilleExpress.com and www.SanRamonExpress.com for a month, enabling readers time to cast their votes.
We always like to learn what places and services our readers choose. It's a good chance to hear about new things -- and to remember the old.
Best Financial Institution: Patelco Credit Union. An alternative to larger banks, Patelco provides a wide variety of friendly services.
Best Financial Planner: Wells Fargo Advisors. This California-grown bank provides individuals and businesses with a variety of financial services.
Best Mortgage Company: Alameda Mortgage Co. Countrywide. AMC uses "common sense" to help you obtain the best loan possible. Representing a wide range of "A" rated lenders with first quality rates to private "hardship" lenders.
Best Mortgage Professional: Susie Wingate
Best Real Estate Agent: Mary Jane (MJ) St. Jean. Specializing in residential real estate throughout the Diablo, Lamorinda and Tri-Valley communities, St. Jean has been awarded numerous top sales producer awards.
Best Real Estate Office: Empire. With deep roots in the community, Empire associates are responsive, resourceful and look out for their clients' needs.
Best Travel Agency: Danville Travel. When the Internet just won't do, residents turn to staff at this agency for all their challenging itineraries and unique destinations.
Health and Fitness
Best Acupuncture: Keng's Acupuncture & Herbal. Feel relaxed and at peace with gentle acupuncture services.
Best Fitness Club: ClubSport San Ramon. Pump iron, shoot hoops and cardio kick your way to peak levels of fitness at this luxurious club. Amenities include a pool, spa services and personal training.
Best Massage: Jolie Salon and Spa. Designed to be the ultimate destination for pampering, Jolie Salon offers a variety of treatments, including a herbal foot soak.
Best Martial Arts Studio: Tao Sports. Offers martial arts training for children and families.
Best Medical Spa: Alamo MedSpa. Offering skin rejuvenation, laser procedures and fillers in a tranquil environment.
Best Place to Buy Fitness Equipment & Apparel: Forward Motion. With the latest in gear and gadgets for all your sporting needs, Forward Motion also hosts activities such as the Wednesday night run.
Best Place to Walk, Jog or Bike: Iron Horse Trail. Iron Horse Trail. Skate, walk, bike or run the right of way of the former Southern Pacific Railroad, established in 1891 and abandoned in 1971. Stretching across several counties, this multi-use trail is the most fun you'll have for 33 straight miles.
Best Yoga / Pilates: Tie between M=X Pilates Studio and Danville Yoga Center. Various levels of yogis practice the sun salutation at these serene studios.
Beauty and Style
Best Day Spa: Jolie Salon and Spa. With four rooms, including a couples room, Jolie has created a peaceful, tranquil environment to soothe your soul.
Best Hair Salon for Men: Jolie Salon and Spa. Reasonably priced haircuts in a luxurious setting as well as hair repair services and styling for all occasions.
Best Hair Salon for Women: Jolie Salon and Spa. Reasonably priced haircuts in a luxurious setting as well as hair repair services and styling for all occasions.
Best Jewelry Store: Smith Jewelers. For all things sparkly and shiny, Danville residents trust Smith Jewelers.
Best Nail Care: Bollinger Nails. Get your nails buffed, scrubbed and polished at this relaxing, brightly lit salon. Manis and pedis are relaxing treatments that you continue to enjoy with every glance at your hands and feet.
Best New Retail Business 2011: The Nest. With a wide variety of maternity wear and baby accessories, expectant moms have found their second home at The Nest.
Best Place to Buy a Gift: Elegant Clutter. Now that the basics are in place, head to the Livery to buy those finishing touches for your home. The store is relaxing and well-appointed, just as your home can be. Staff is knowledgeable and friendly.
Best Clothing Store for Men: Patrick James. There's something James Bondish about the name Patrick James, but look for West Coast Classic styles here as well as English tweeds. Patrick and his sons Mike, Patrick Jr. and Clay are building a clothing empire based on quality clothing.
Best Clothing Store for Women: Chico's. Unique prints at reasonable prices, as well as fun jewelry, can always be found at Chico's.
Best Shoe Store: Tootsies. This home-grown downtown business offers cute shoes and accessories as well as pedicures, all in a colorful and relaxing setting.
Best American Food Restaurant: Esin Restaurant & Bar. Café Esin is consistently named our Readers Choice. Kudos to husband and wife chef team Curtis and Esin deCarion, their inventive use of fresh ingredients.
Best Bakery: Katrina Rozelle Pastries & Desserts. This local bakery has served the Bay Area since 1987 and offers custom cakes made with fresh ingredients.
Best Breakfast: Katy's Korner. Who knew eggs benedict could be prepared so many ways? Our readers, who chose this restaurant in San Ramon as their favorite. Corned beef hash also comes recommended.
Best Brew Pub/Sports Bar: Tie between Norm's Bar & Grill and Tower Grill. Situated in the heart of downtown, good grub, drinks and people are never in short supply at Norms at Tower Grill.
Best Burger: Pete's Brass Rail. With dozens of brews on tap and delicious food to compliment libations, you'll soon forget to ask who Norm and Pete are.
B Best California Cuisine/ Innovative Dining:== Esin Restaurant & Bar. Café Esin is consistently named our Readers Choice. Kudos to husband and wife chef team Curtis and Esin deCarion, their inventive use of fresh ingredients.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Uncle Yu's. Traditional Chinese cuisine melded with modern styles, so you can get anything from hot and sour soup and Mongolian beef to contemporary specials like smoked salmon on a bed of cucumber noodle, baby spinach, and sautéed with a shitake mushroom soy vinaigrette. Uncle Yu's had been our Readers Choice for years.
Best Dessert: Esin Restaurant & Bar. Try their six dessert specials a day (on top of the regular choices on the menu).
Best Grocery Store: Lunardi's. For fresh produce and high quality goods, discerning Danville shoppers turn to Lunardi's.
Best Ice Cream / Yogurt Shop: Yogurt Shack. This family-owned shop has expanded to three locations but the one on Hartz at Diablo Road is the favorite here. Its website lists the day's flavors, which always include non-dairy, low-fat and no-sugar.
Best Italian Restaurant: Incontro. In Italian, incontro means encounter, or the coming together -- not a bad start for a romantic night. In this case, though, it means the coming together of the cuisine from northern and southern Italy. While you're there, try a flirtini!
Best Kid-Friendly, Non-Chain Restaurant: Pete's Brass Rail. Danville Express Editor Jessica Lipsky raves about the onion rings and spicy mayo. Sound strange? Order a plate and you'll never go back!
Best Mediterranean / Middle Eastern Restaurant: Faz Restaurant & Bar. Owner Faz Poursohi grew up in Tehran, where he learned to love cooking. Our readers crave the kabobs but in the summertime the redwood grove in the Hartz Avenue restaurant is also a draw.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Tie between Luna Loca Mexican Restaurant and Prickly Pear Cantina. Offering a variety of inventive and authentic dishes, go for lunch and dinner!
Best New Restaurant 2011: Santorini. This casual Mediterranean restaurant offers a great selection of food from the region.
Best Pizza: Ascona Pizza Co. In addition to a great variety of pies, choose from Ascona's variety of hot wings and over 15 different sauces.
Best Place for a Business Lunch: Bridges. Enjoy a good meal while talking business in this quiet setting with good service. Lunch menu includes small plates, salads, sandwiches and more.
Best Romantic Restaurant: Bridges. Day or night, the bridge mural on the wall is a perfect backdrop for couples who want mainly to gaze into each other's eyes.
Best Sushi / Japanese Restaurant: Fish on Fire Sushi Bar & Grill. In Town and Country Shopping Center, Fish on Fire has great sushi as well as tempura and teriyaki.
Best Take-out Restaurant: Uncle Yu's. This restaurant, with three branches including one in San Ramon, offers traditional Szechuan fare plus innovative contemporary dishes.
Best Thai Restaurant: Thai House Restaurant. Enter into the Land of Smiles as you step into this rustic old house on Rose Street in downtown Danville. The food is tasty, and each dish is arranged artistically and delivered with charm.
Kids and Pets
Best Childrens Clothing Store: Snickerdoodles. This upscale children's resale boutique also has a maternity section so you can look great while awaiting the big event.
Best Party Place for Kids: Danville Bowl. Bring on the bumpers or get down with disco bowling.
Best Pet Groomer: Shampooches. "Tails are waggin' and pets are braggin'" at this competitively priced cat and dog salon. Pamper your pet with a custom cut from experienced, professional groomers.
Best Store for Pets: Molly's Pup-purr-ee. Serving discerning dogs and their owners since 1996, this boutique has everything from collars to couture.
Best Place for Dance Lessons: The Next Step Dance Studio. Children, teens and adults can learn to dance hip-hop, ballet, tap, modern, jazz and many more sweet moves.
Best Tutoring School: On Track Learning. Whether your child is falling behind or trying to get ahead, staff promise results.
Best Veterinarian: Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center. Featuring primary care, emergency services, boarding, grooming and much more, Valley residents and their furry friends are in good hands -- or paws.
Home and Vehicle Maintenance
Best Antique Store: Cottage Jewel. This boutique has one-of-akind treasures for the home and to wear. Like any treasure hunt, it goes on and on stop in to this downtown shop often.
Best Art Gallery: Blackhawk Gallery. With a variety of art and artists, this gallery brings culture from the Bay Area and beyond.
Best Auto Dealership: E-Lease Returns. Located on San Ramon Valley Boulevard, E-Lease offers a great car buying experience -- just look at Yelp!
Best Auto Detail / Car Wash: Chamois Hand Car Wash. Sure, you can wash the car yourself in the driveway but who wants to? And don't you always miss a spot?
Best Auto Repair: Auto Care of Danville. "Highly competent, honest and very reasonable rates. What more could you ask for," writes on Yelp reviewer.
Best Carpet / Flooring Store: Diablo Flooring. This place has a wide selection of flooring, from pure wool carpets to stylish tiles to hardwood floors to laminates, bamboo, vinyl and everything in between.
Best Florist: East Bay Florists. Offers a wide assortment of fresh flowers for any occasion with memorable,artfully designed arrangements.
Best Hardware Store: Ace Hardware. Service with a smile, along with everything you need for home improvement and gardening.
Best Home Improvement Contractor: Gayler Construction. Specializing in residential and commercial remodeling and new construction projects, Gayler performs both the design and construction.
Best Home Furnishings: Elegant Clutter. Now that the basics are in place, head to the Livery to buy those finishing touches for your home. The store is relaxing and well-appointed, just as your home can be. Staff is knowledgeable and friendly.
Best Interior Designer: J. Hettinger. These people have ideas galore and solutions for every design problem. Jerry's mission is to bring joy and fulfillment to every client.
Best Nursery / Garden Center: Navlet's. Navlet's has been a local institution for more than 100 years. They're experts in the Bay Area's micro-climates and they offer classes and online how-to guides, too.
Best Senior Living Facility: Diablo Lodge. Lush and plush, this is the best place to relax and enjoy a lifetime of labor. If raucous and rowdy are more your style, one reader suggests visiting Elliott's bar.
Rest and Recreation
Best Golf Course: Blackhawk Country Club. These two 18-hole, par 72 championship courses make dramatic use of natural terrain and water features and keep getting more beautiful as the landscape matures.
Best Hobby/Craft Store: Richard's Arts & Crafts. Head to the back of Richard's in Alamo to view readymade frames and molding for custom frames or to do it yourself, with the help of staff.
Best Kept Secret Treasure of Danville: Tao House. Enjoy the beautiful hillside home of America's only Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Eugene O'Neill.
Best Place for Dancing: Shboom. This place draws a more mature crowd and is great for old school soul, with bachata classes the second Wednesday of the month.
Best Place for Live Music: The Vine at Bridges. It offers more than 350 wines from around the world, which must help its rating, with 35 choices by the glass, happy hour snacks and live music Thursday-Saturday nights.
Best Public Event: 4th of July Parade. This red, white and blue extravaganza is a true community celebration, and the DanvilleExpress.com/SanRamonExpress.com Marching Band always places first.