Are you game for a four-hour meal of venison, boar, pheasant, rabbit, quail, elk, and bear?
The game dinner at T & J Villaggio in Port Chester, N.Y., is an 18-year-old tradition that gathers local hunter friends who contribute their own killed meat.
The annual dinner is in Port Chester, the last New York "village" on Metro-North before Connecticut. The area has seen a resurgence in food and music culture with Mario Batali’s Tarry Lodge and hot musical venues at the Capitol Theatre. It’s an easy 45-minute train ride from Manhattan’s Grand Central.
If you’re lucky, you might catch Bill Murray swinging an imaginary golf club outside the Villaggio after a Capitol Theatre show, or Steve Van Zandt with his Cavalier spaniel in the back room with all his friends eating and praising chef Zumbo’s food.
The annual T & J’s game dinner is the ideal time to visit. This year’s dinner was held Jan. 14 and as always, sold out.
T & J’s is actually two side-by-side restaurants within walking distance from the old Capitol Theatre. The game dinner started with 35 diners at the smaller pizzeria next to the massive Villaggio, but for the last 10 years it has been at the Villaggio in the downstairs banquet room.
"When it began, it grew within itself, and the following year it kept growing to such a large number that we had to move to the bigger Villaggio," said John Muscatella, one of T & J’s owners.
Former owner Jerry Vitiello passed on the tradition to his sons-in-law and nephew, Muscatella, Ray Sassano, and John Ruggiero, respectively.
At $55 a head, this was a manly feast (down to the décor) reserved for males only (even the waitstaff); a taxidermist designed the décor this year. It was a six-course meal that started with antipasti of dried deer and elk meats and various salamis followed by a salad. The third course was venison cannelloni smothered in venison Bolognese. Meatloaf venison and venison cutlets with red peppers and onions and a bear stew followed.
"We’ll do traditional game recipes," says chef Pauly Zumbo, who has been cooking the dinner for the last 10 years, "but we also infuse Italian-style cooking into it, like rabbit scarpariello. We do this with all the game but always with an Italian twist. Every year it changes."
The main incorporated all the small-boned animals: rabbit, pheasant, and quail. Bear has been used in the past but not every year, and boar is one of the favorites.
The dinner concluded with coffee and pastries, not to mention a traditional raffle; the prize: a compound bow or a shotgun. So next year, if you’re game (and male) and can get a ticket, make your way to the game dinner in Port Chester.
15 Best Restaurants in Huntsville, Alabama
Nestled at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in northern Alabama, Huntsville is a high-tech city that has played a vital role in the development of space technology for the past 60 years. Nicknamed the ‘Rocket City,’ Huntsville has a rich history that spans from the 19th to the 21st century, ranging from the heritage of the state’s first English-speaking city and the hardships of the American Civil War to the incredible development of the space industry. When it comes to romantic wining and dining, Huntsville has a great selection of charming and elegant restaurants from which to choose. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
North Jersey Outdoor Dining
Battello – Jersey City
Lining the perimeter of the restaurant, Battello ’s outdoor patio offers expansive pier views of New York City. Lush landscaping surrounds each table with palm trees, bushes and overflowing window boxes throughout. Combined with their natural wood decor, nautical blue umbrellas, and colorful Italian dishes, Batello gives the easy, summer vibes we’re looking for. Boasting Chef Ryan DePersio’s “Italian without borders” menu concept, this waterfront gem is a must-visit.
Manhattan views near Battello’s outdoor dining space in Jersey City, NJ
Blue Eyes – Hoboken
Named after Frank Sinatra, this Italian restaurant is known for its authentic brick oven pizza. And if you take a quick look at their Instagram page, you’ll soon see why. However, what truly distinguishes Blue Eyes from our other favorite pizza joints are the unbeatable views. Thanks to its proximal Hoboken location, the waterfront site sits just across from the Manhattan skyline. Customers can admire their neighboring city while they dine, or move their gaze to the sprawling, tree-lined park located just beside the restaurant.
Cafe Matisse – Rutherford
Inspired by the colors and floral scapes of French artist Henri Matisse, this quaint Rutherford restaurant is home to an enchanting European garden patio. The Provencal-like setting is teeming with greenery and feels like one could be walking right into a painting. Cafe Matisse has restructured its highly-seasonal chef’s tasting menu to four courses which includes three savory dishes and one dessert per person. But remember, you must make a reservation.
The courtyard at Cafe Matisse in Rutherford, NJ l Photo courtesy of Cafe Matisse
Charrito’s – Weehawken
Serving up authentic Mexican cuisine, Charrito’s continues this cultural influence throughout every aspect of their decor. Lining their outdoor seating arrangements are boldly colored paper garlands, traditionally woven tablecloths, hanging flowers and art, bringing the space to life. This aesthetic carries over to the expanded dining area in the property’s parking lot, which is equally as charming with the addition of draped fabric and atmospheric string lights. Of course, their prime waterfront location doesn’t hurt either.
Cornbread – Maplewood
Sometimes it feels good to escape the frou-frou fine dining scene and head to a more cozy, low-key spot. That’s Cornbread in Maplewood. They offer Southern comfort food along with traditional barbeque via counter-service. You can take your meal to their outdoor setup, a wrap-around deck with hanging string lights. Both the food and the vibe here will make you feel right at home.
Corto – Jersey City
Haute cuisine has taken a backseat in 2021, and that’s what makes a visit to Corto in The Heights all the more appealing. This coveted BYOB spot has an open-air courtyard outfitted with firepits and an overhead tent for inclement weather. Here, we recommend picking up a bottle of natural wine and dining on Corto’s rustic dishes in the style of cucina povera—think handmade pasta, polenta with lamb, ricotta toast and more. Reservations are strongly encouraged, especially on the weekends.
The back patio at Corto in Jersey City, NJ l Photo via @corto_jc
Egan & Sons – Montclair
This Montclair restaurant and bar is a prime example of making the most of your space. Egan & Sons has a traditional outdoor deck and patio, both with all of the touches of a homey backyard. In addition to this, the North Jersey venue has expanded into their parking lot to accommodate more socially distanced diners. With varying decor and festivities for each season, this adapted area is an ideal spot known for its beers and casual pub fare.
Elia – East Rutherford
The alfresco setup at Elia in East Rutherford gives new meaning to outdoor dining. The restaurant transformed their parking lot (formerly Park & Orchard) into a Mediterranean oasis complete with Greecian white tents, couches and even gold chandeliers. While it’s hard to compete with the beauty of this Bergen County favorite, Elia’s menu is equally as admirable. The zucchini and eggplant chips alone are worth going for.
Roadside at Elia in East Rutherford, NJ l Photo via @eliamediterraneanrestaurant
Faubourg – Montclair
Everything about the space at Faubourg , Montclair’s modern French brasserie, is designed to impress. From their 10,000-square-foot bi-level dining room and cocktail lounge to their expansive outdoor patio. Towering planters, string lights, canopies, decorative bars and a warm firepit will make you forget you’re tucked away on busy Bloomfield Ave. That is, if Chef Olivier Muller’s array of French and German-inspired dishes don’t transport you across the Atlantic first.
The outdoor patio at Faubourg in Montclair, NJ l Photo via @faubourgmontclair
Frankie – Jersey City
No stranger to our many lists, Jersey City’s Australian-inspired Frankie has a lot to offer delicious coastal cuisine, a broad natural wine selection, and a beach aesthetic perfect for the upcoming season. Their outdoor seating, composed of pastel-colored tables and chairs, matches their impressive store-front mural. On colder nights, this streetside setting transforms into an open-roof enclosure to keep their socially distanced customers comfortable. The restaurant is open only for outdoor seating at the moment.
Sidewalk dining at Frankie in Jersey City | Photo via @frankieeatsjc
Place your order online and schedule your pick up time. Please note our online ordering is managed by Tock, a third party platform, and a $1 fee will be added to your final bill. This fee goes to Tock and is not collected by COVER 3.
With air- high-fives, handshakes and hugs, thank you for all the love and support you have shown us. With the continued help of our community we will weather this storm!
As COVER 3 continues to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances, we're modifying our menu offerings, including weekly fresh seafood dishes, adding on family meal deals and more. To better serve you at this time we've even added online ordering and curbside pick up.
Please know that while we continue to adapt and adhere to all guidelines set forth by the CDC and local health officials, the safety of our patrons and staff is of paramount importance. Our team is committed to doing whatever it takes to protect the wellbeing of our community. Welcome to COVER 3 - it's service with social distancing. Thank you for supporting COVER 3. Cheers to your health!
Best of San Joaquin Magazine 2020
At San Joaquin Magazine, we spend months looking forward to our annual Best Of issue. This year, we’re celebrating with NEW categories throughout, and we can’t wait to share who our readers have voted as their top picks in everything from food to healthcare. We’re also giddy to share with you new winners and untapped local gems, helping San Joaquinians create their itinerary for the upcoming year, filled with new favorites as well as our Best Of mainstays.
Behold, the 2020 winners of Best of San Joaquin Magazine!
Best American Restaurant
When it comes to good old-fashion American cuisine, San Joaquin County chefs know what they’re doing. Market Tavern in Lincoln Center is the gold-medal winner for its scrumptious fare while Midgley’s Public House takes home silver for its imaginative dishes created by Chef Michael Midgley. Porter’s Pub on School Street ties for third for its elevated pub grub while newcomer Brick House Restaurant and Lounge is making its mark.
Quality appetizers are an important part of the dining experience. Get your fill at Midgley’s Pubic House with prime rib sliders and ahi nachos that won’t leave much room for the main course. At Market Tavern, charcuterie is always a good choice, as are furikake fries and deviled eggs. A collection of fried foods and goodies like calzones round out the apps menu at Brick House Restaurant and Lounge. Tied for third, the hearty noshes at West Oak Nosh give us Germany goodness in the form of nosh fries, Bavarian pretzels, sausage poppers, and more.
Dig in to the county’s best BBQ dishes. At Fat City Brew & BBQ, award-winning California-style BBQ is served up alongside ice cold brews. Tin Roof BBQ & Catering is a family-owned Lodi joint specializing in smoked meats and homemade sides. At Shorter’s BBQ in Tracy, fish, prawns, and BBQ sandwiches dominate the menu.
If you have a hankering for something sweet, these local bakeries have got you covered. In addition to over-the-top custom cakes, Fizz Bakery also serves a counter case full of delicious desserts ranging from cookies to brownies, cheesecake to fruit tarts with new surprises constantly popping up. M & W Dutch American Bakery is another favorite, serving up pastries, breads, and sandwiches in addition to its sweet treats. The mother-daughter team behind Corner Scone Bakery bakes its fresh treats daily, offering lunch specials in addition to pastries and desserts.
Best Bar Food
Bar food makes a dish sound primitive, but that’s not necessarily the case. If you’re in search of good grub to go with your drinks, this is the perfect category for you. It’s no surprise that readers are going gaga over Midgley’s Public House’s menu, stacked with hearty full plates including burgers and a lineup of appetizing sliders. At Porter’s Pub, the casual fare includes several kinds of fries and other easy bites to nosh on while you drink. AVE on the Mile has always been a late night destination, and it’s not just tots and fries on the menu. The upscale bar food here is so far elevated it’s barely even bar food.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so don’t skimp. Chuck’s Hamburgers is a local’s favorite offering huge portions to satisfy your appetite. Avenue Grille holds the best breakfast title from multiple places for its combination of breakfast staples and specials. Denis’ Country Kitchen has been serving the community its creative menu of breakfast combinations for more than 20 years, and it’s still a favorite.
Let’s be clear: breakfast and brunch are not made equal. The expansive menu at Market Tavern has a killer breakfast pizza on it that pairs well with a mimosa or bloody mary, plus goodies for the kids. When The Dancing Fox is in full swing, the brunch experience is one everyone should have. Settle at an outdoor table in downtown Lodi and shovel mounds of fluffy French toast oozing with syrup into your mouth. In Stockton, Cast Iron Trading Co. serves us breakfast tachos and avocado toast. Tied in third place, Bud’s Seafood Grille mixes our favorite ocean cuisine with our favorite weekend meal.
Best Buffalo Wings
Steve Smith is used to coming in first. The former-NFL player who owns Smitty’s Wings & Things is the gold-medal winner of this category. Keep it simple at Lord of the Wings, a family-owned eatery, where quality is the key to success. Fire Wings, with locations in Lodi and Manteca, boasts 21 different flavors to satisfy customers.
Best Burger Classic
This is a category we love! If you’re looking for the best no-frills burger, order up a classic from Bob’s at the Marina in Stockton where the view is almost as good as the grub. Flip’s Burgers also turns out classic patties that are cooked to perfection. At Squeeze Burger & Brew, these tasty traditional treats are just the tip of the iceberg.
Best Burger Specialty
If the simple meat-cheese-bun isn’t your style then this list is for you! Grab something a little extra from Market Tavern including the ‘Impossible’ Burger, an animal-free vegan burger that doesn’t skimp on taste. Midgley’s Public House is home to the San Joaquin Magazine burger and other towering options like the new Aloha Burger made with spam and pineapple. Squeeze Burger in Tracy is known for one thing—it’s cheese skirt—but the rest of its burgers are just as divine.
Best Casual Dining
When you want good food without the fuss, these are the restaurants you should be flocking to. Garlic Brothers proffers excellent views of the Delta, and though the atmosphere is laid back the food is kicked-up, including fried raviolis, grilled prawns, and other specialties. Prime Table is a posh eatery in Lincoln Center offering high-end steak cuts without requiring you to dress up. El Rancho Inn – Steak & Lobster House says it right in the name—this seafood and steak restaurant is worth a visit. Tied for third place, The Kitchen at Stonebrier offers eclectic fare in an easy atmosphere.
Best Cajun Restaurant
Cajun cuisine originated in New Orleans but that hasn’t stopped it from migrating to SJC. For the best Cajun grub this side of the Mississippi, or at least this side of Sacramento, readers dine at The Cajun Spot in Manteca. Blazin Cajun in Stockton is a seafood restaurant with a little spice! Grab a bite before heading to the theater next door. If you’re looking to turn up the heat, dine at The Crab Zone where the always-fresh, never-frozen seafood can get pretty hot (but there are non-spicy options, too!)
If you need to serve a party full of people delicious food, a caterer is often the best choice. Angelina’s Spaghetti House is no stranger to this list. Here, big pasta dishes and signature raviolis are the specialty, but there are plenty of other dining option, too. For a casual affair, Fagundes Meats & Catering serves chops and BBQ to events of any size. The specialty at De Parsia’s Restaurant & Catering is Italian fare, served for business lunches, Christmas parties, and more.
When a place has good food, you have to give compliments to the chef. After all, these are the geniuses responsible for your dinner. Celebrity-chef Michael Midgley brought his reality TV roots to Stockton, creating delicious grub to please the masses at Midgley’s Public House. At Brookside Country Club, Chris Isert is the one behind the scenes crafting meals for members, golfers, brides, grooms, and guests. John Surla of Fina in Ripon blends his professional training with his homegrown roots, crediting his mom for much of his cooking skill and passion.
Best Chinese Restaurant
Dave Wong’s Restaurant does it again—taking home the gold for the best local Chinese food and securing its spot as a Stockton mainstay. Next Up, Yen Du takes home the silver again, as well, for its combination of Szechuan, Peking, and Hunan cuisine. Peking comes in third. The Mandarin restaurant has been in Stockton since 1979, and its menu has stayed mostly the same during that time even though as the restaurant itself has undergone renovations.
Best Clam Chowder
This warm, comforting soup is a menu staple at restaurants across the world, mixing a creamy broth with fresh seafood. It’s no surprise that Bud’s Seafood Grille makes the best one in the county—after all, seafood is the specialty here. Midgley’s Public House comes in second with its classic rendition of the crowd favorite. Seafood Express makes a homemade clam chowder soup for lunch or an early dinner, served in a sourdough bread bowl.
Best Cheese Plate /Charcuterie Board
The cool thing about a charcuterie board is that each one is different from the next. And they aren’t all created equal. Praised for its selection of meats, Market Tavern boasts a platter finished with pickled vegetables that diners can’t get enough of. Mile Wine Company knows that a proper charcuterie board is a necessity with a bottle of wine. At Cheese Central shoppers can make their own board using a large selection of goodies available in the shop, and even consult the experts while in store.
A deli serves multiple purposes. Not only can customers grab pounds of meat and cheese from the shop, they are also a good lunch stop, especially for those who enjoy a yummy sandwich. We’ll be honest, this list didn’t experience a shake-up. SJC residents are still certain that Gian’s Delicatessen is the cream of the crop, with a long list of specialty sandwiches no one seems to be able to get enough of. Podesto’s Market offers more of a New York-style environment and sandwiches. In third, Genova Bakery boasts a menu full of goodies to devour, but it’s that bread that has made the Stockton market so popular.
We all have that second stomach. You know, the one that once you’re full still has room saved just for dessert. With monthly specialty flavors, there’s always nothing new at Nothing Bundt Cakes (plus the signature flavors we’ve come to adore). House of Ice Cream scores top marks for creativity where the crazy shakes seem to offer a never-ending supply of dessert inspo primed for our Instagram page. Dream Ice Cream Parlor is more than an ice cream shop. Here, guests drool over specialties like the Dream Bun (a scoop of ice cream between a sliced glazed donut) made with specialty flavors you won’t find just anywhere.
Best Farmer’s Market
We love strolling through rows of tents filled with the county’s best offerings from produce to specialty goods, especially on a warm day. Lodi’s Farmer’s Market is the certified favorite. Usually held downtown, the event is operating a bit differently this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Downtown Tracy Farmer’s Market is the best place to buy fresh fruits and veggies from nearby farmer’s. The Downtown Stockton Certified Farmer’s Market is another crowd pleaser, scheduled for every Saturday under the Crosstown Bridge.
Best Filipino Restaurant
For specialties like lumpia, adobo, and sisig, you have to go to an authentic Filipino restaurant. The proof is in the name for Best Lumpia, which SJM readers seem to agree really is the best of the best. Papa Urb’s Grill offers both authentic dishes and Filipino fusion food. Island Gourmet Restaurant & Market does more than sell fresh Filipino food, patrons can also buy their own ingredients including fresh produce.
Best Fine Dining
For those special occasions and fun nights out, fine dining ups the ante on a regular evening. At Prime Table in Lincoln Center, guests can dine on ribeye, filet mignon, king salmon, and more. Midgley’s Public House, also in Lincoln Center, offers some of the same high-end steak cuts as well as rack of lamb, sweet chili salmon, and scallop risotto. The third eatery on our list is also a Lincoln Center staple. At Papapavlo’s, the ambiance compliments the menu rich in gourmet steaks and Mediterranean dishes.
Best Food Truck
Sometimes fast food is the best food, but we’re not talking your typical drive-thru. These gourmet food trucks have impressive followings. At Port City Burgers the focus is on quality patties and creative concoctions such as a meat-heavy The Barnyard. A Moveable Feast serves up a varied menu of sandwiches, steak, salad, and seafood. If chicken and seafood sound appetizing to you, we have one piece of advice—Chase the Smell. This Stockton food truck’s grub is cooked to order. Can’t find the truck? Utilize social media to track them down!
Best Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt
We’re not exactly short on ice cream shops in San Joaquin County, so take it seriously when someone comes up with a short list of the best offerings. Tigers Yogurt has old-school soft serve in modern and classic flavors that you can mix and match in an assortment of ways. Honey Treat Yogurt Shoppe has 30 years of experience behind its Lodi shop, which also offers smoothies, milk shakes, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, air fried twinkies, coffee, and more, At Segale’s Double Dip Gallery you can get your dessert with a side of art. Browse the works while tasting the best flavors from Gunther’s.
Best Happy Hour
Say cheers! Looking for good drinks and discounted food? Midgley’s Public House is home of the best happy hour around, with 50 percent off select menu items (including some alcohol). At West Oak Nosh you can celebrate the happiest hour of the day with German fare and craft cocktails. In downtown Tracy at Bistro 135, guests can gather for after-work cocktails and shareable plates. Call ahead for hours.
Best Health Food Store
Stop hunting down health foods in your regular grocery store. These specialty retailers are focused on foods free of yucky, unnatural ingredients. Artesian Health Food in Lincoln Center stocks its shop with a little of everything, and if you ever want to know what’s cool in store, check out the company’s Instagram. Sheri’s Sonshine Nutrition Center sells everything you need to get your daily intake of vitamins and minerals. Pick up incense, sage, essential oils, and more at Green’s Nutrition and ask about professional consults while you’re there.
Best Indian Restaurant
When you’re craving good Indian cuisine, turn to Tandoori Nites where the butter chicken may be the best you’ve ever taste and the interior is inviting for small gatherings over good food. The tantalizing smells wafting out of Swagat Indian Cuisine are enough to beckon any hungry soul inside with its aromatic herbs and spices and fragrant garlic naan. Dhaba Indian Cuisine is Tracy’s go-to spot for Indian fare. Here, the portions are big and the sauces delectable enough to douse your whole meal in.
Best Italian Restaurant
When you’re craving deep bowls of seemingly endless pasta and buttery, flaky bread, you know it’s time to order Italian. Pietro’s Trattoria offers a little of everything, including traditional spaghetti, meaty lasagna, and mushroom gnocchi. Angelina’s Spaghetti House serves a delectable asparagus ravioli made with local produce as well as seafood alfredo and flavorful garlic bread. Rounding out our list, DeVega Brothers offers both gourmet pasta dishes and build-your-own bowls where you mix and match noodles, sauces, and protein.
Best Japanese Restaurant
Komachi Sushi is anything but bland. This Japanese restaurant draws crowds to its Lodi shop which serves a large menu of sushi rolls, comforting soups, hearty cooked meats, seafood salads, and more. Mikasa Japanese Bistro is one of three authentic Asian eateries owned by Harry Yu, who brings authentic recipes overseas. Cocoro Japanese Bistro & Sushi is one of the best rated restaurants in Stockton offering some seriously inventive Japanese cuisine.
Best Mexican Restaurant
The Mexican food in San Joaquin County might be second only to Mexico itself. Readers cast their votes and Octavio’s came out on top. With many ways to enjoy the cuisine—from the patio to the banquet room—fresh tortillas are one of Octavio’s claims to fame (and guests can watch them being made from scratch at the tortilla station). El Pazcifico Mexican Grill & Cantina is the perfect spot to grab a bite in downtown Lodi, with a quaint little patio perfect for munching on quesadillas and burritos from the menu. Tied for third place, Nena’s Mexican and Don Luis Mexican Restaurant both offer authentic dishes that will make your taste buds do the mariachi.
Best New Restaurant
San Joaquin County has been exploding with new restaurants left and right. With constant new places to try, our taste buds are loving the variety. If you haven’t made it to these new eateries yet (opened in 2019 or later) we recommend hitting them up in this order. Brick House Restaurant & Lounge welcomed its new location in Lodi in 2019 after the Elk Grove spot proved to be successful. Lord of the Wings is the newest wing joint to hit Stockton and it’s already getting recognition amongst other local mainstays. Tied for third, German Guys serves up its authentic German grub alongside a beer garden while Tasty Pot shows Stockton how to do hot pot Taiwanese cuisine right.
Best Outdoor/Patio Dining
We’ve always loved grabbing a seat outside when the weather is nice, but al fresca dining is more important than ever right now. Garlic Brothers in Stockton is revered for its view overlooking the water. At Pietro’s Trattoria, the charming outdoor space offers the ideal ambiance for an intimate affair. Midgley’s Public House gifts outdoor diners the gift of Lincoln Center as its view from the restaurant’s outdoor space.
Best Pho Soup
First off, it’s pronounces fuh. And if you don’t know, now you know. Mama’s Pho & Sandwiches is the mom and pop shop dreams are made of—turning out the region’s best pho soup in a hole-in-the-wall establishment. Another favorite for the cozy comfort food is Saigon Bay, where pho is just one of many Vietnamese specialties the restaurant is known for. A clever play on words, at Pho Lucky Noodle House you’ll be so lucky to get your hands on a bowl of their steaming soup with one of the best broth recipes around.
Best Pizza Restaurant
The votes are in! David’s Pizza is taking home the gold for its New York-style pizzas, which include specialty flavors like the Da Vinci. Michael’s New York Style Pizza came in second, celebrated for its creative cuisine including Greek Pizza, Pesto Combo, and Chicken Gourmet. At Dante’s California Style Pizza and Café the pizzeria pays tribute to the best geographical areas in the state with pies appropriately named Tahoe Style, The Gilroy, and The San Franciscan.
This Japanese noodle dish is taking the world by storm, and right here in Stockton we have three recommended places to get your fix. Yujin Ramen & Noodle Bar by Harry Yu serves steaming hot bowls of homemade ramen using a perfected cooking process to feed University students and other hungry guests. TOKYO Ramen has a long list of ramen specialties including spicy seafood ramen and vegetable ramen. Misaki Sushi serves more than raw rolls at its Stockton eatery. The ramen here is one of the biggest draws for customers.
Whirlow’s Tossed & Grilled puts the power in your hands, allowing customers to make custom salads using an overflowing salad bar of ingredients. At The Downtowner, good mood food means eating healthy, and the location is perfect for Stockton workers looking for a lunch break nearby. Salad may not be the first food that comes to mind when you think of Bud’s Seafood Grille but you can’t go wrong with the Louie Salad featuring shrimp and succulent crab or the Tomato Shrimp Salad is finished with bay shrimp.
While you’re shopping at Podesto’s Market, don’t forget to grab lunch. The Lincoln Center staple is known for its gourmet sandwiches. The Bolognini family is behind the Northern Italian cuisine at Gian’s Delicatessen, which includes a wide array of signature sandwiches with Italian flair. Genova Bakery has long been celebrated for its perfectly-baked bread, but the sandwiches don’t play second fiddle to anything. Craft a custom sammy from the old world Italian deli’s list of ingredients—you won’t be disappointed!
Best Seafood Restaurant
If you’re looking for a fresh catch in San Joaquin County, stop into Bud’s Seafood Grille. The clear winner of this category uses fresh-caught seafood throughout its menu, turning out soups, salads, appetizers, and mains to satisfy your craving. Ray’s Chicken & Fish Mart sells seafood and chicken to hungry customers to take home and fry up themselves, or for a $1 charge, the staff will prepare it for you. Don’t forget to try the gumbo! Seafood Express is known for its lunch specials as well as its clam chowder. Come in Tuesday through Friday from 11 AM-2 PM to sample the ocean-centric fare.
Best Steak /Prime Rib
When you’re ready to treat yourself, a steak dinner should do the trick. But getting that perfectly cooked cut isn’t always easy. For those who enjoy an evening in Lincoln Center, Prime Table is just the place to order up quality beef. El Rancho Inn – Steak & Lobster House prides itself on using the highest-quality ingredients, which extends to their steak selection, too! Also in Lincoln Center, Midgley’s Public House serves a menu filled with main courses that will make any meat lover smile.
When it comes to nigiri, sashimi, and sushi rolls, choosing one place to be “the best” is no easy task. Mikasa Japanese Bistro came out on top this year. The menu in its entirety is delightful but we’re partial to the SJM roll. In Lodi, Komachi Sushi keeps customers coming back, and there is often a line out the door to get a table in the coveted eatery. Also in Lodi, M Sushi Bistro serves impressive nigiri and sashimi plates to share as well as hand and specialty rolls.
What more do we need in life than a really good taco? This food category often sparks debates but we’re here to settle the score—or at least we’re going to try. Casa Flores, located in Brookside, is famous for many of its taco options but the fish tacos are one of customer’s favorites. Tacos Chapala does tacos right. With ten kinds of meat to choose from, including tongue and tripes, load those handmade tortillas up! The portions are big but the prices aren’t. Don Luis’ Mexican Restaurant offers taco lunch specials and a crispy taco dinner as well as combination plates so you can get your taco fix anyway you want it.
Best Thai Cuisine
Pad Thai, Thai fried rice—whatever you’re craving, Siamese Street Thai Restaurant has got you covered. Stop in for some of the most delicious and complex flavors in the Thai food space including pineapple fried rice and pumpkin curry. On Stockton’s Miracle Mile, Thai Me Up serves quality tapas loaded with Thai flavors from garlic curry chicken to fried pork belly and spring rolls. You can satisfy every Thai craving at Thai Spices in Lodi thanks to its varied menu, which offers soups, salads, curries, noodle and rice dishes, and more. The ingredients are native to Thailand for the best, most authentic flavors.
When it comes to breakfast, sometimes sweet wins out over savory. The waffles at American Waffle Diner offer something for everyone with complex flavors like the s’mores waffle or fruity pebbles variation. For a hearty breakfast dish, the chicken and waffles doesn’t disappoint. Disco’s Waffle on a Stick serves its waffles, well, on a stick. Choose from flavors like red velvet, apple cinnamon, bacon, and pizza. Or, get your chicken and waffles in an easy-to-consume fashion—marinated chicken breast stuffed inside a waffle and served on a stick. Cast Iron Trading Co. doesn’t always do waffles, but when they do, the restaurant does it right. Stop in for Sunday brunch to experience Big Bri’s Chicken & Waffles, served with buttermilk chicken and candied nuts.
Check out Five Window Beer Co. for an assortment of locally brewed beer in their downtown Lodi establishment where you can enjoy a wood-fired pizza, charcuterie platter, and cold brew on the outdoor patio. Or, step into Lodi Beer Co. for beers on tap, tasty pub food, and a room full of locals. At High Water Brewing on Lodi’s industrial side of town, you can sample a beer flight, order off their full menu, or take a six-pack home for safe keeping.
Best Bloody Mary
Is there anything better than a good Bloody Mary on a Sunday funday? Head on over to Market Tavern where the queen of cocktails whips up a world class Bloody Mary for all the senses. At West Oak Nosh, their Bloody Mary is served alongside a killer brunch of avocado toast each weekend. Or you can head to AVE on the Mile where you can guzzle down a Bloody in the sleek lounge while enjoying small plates.
Best Craft Beer Pub
The craft beer scene in San Joaquin county is heating up. Sample fare and beer at Lodi Beer Co. with friends or hit up the patio to knock back a cold one. Just down the street at Five Window Beer Co., order one of the seasonal ales and challenge your friend to a competitive game of cornhole. If you are in Stockton, check out Taps Barrel House on Pacific for their rotating selection of 28 locally brewed beers on tap.
Best Craft Cocktail
If you are looking for cocktails with seasonal flare, Market Tavern is where it’s at. Beautiful libations ranging from tiki drinks to modern takes on classic cocktails, are served up daily. Just across the way is Lincoln Center’s Midgley’s Public House where you can enjoy a serious drink after a long day of work. The Public Punch is just one of their signature sippers. In downtown Lodi, Rosewood Bar and Grill is known for turning out tasty cocktails and a normally raucous bar scene.
Best Local Coffee Spot
Who doesn’t love supporting our local coffee shops? At Empresso Coffeehouse loyal fans sip on quality coffees like Caramella Frappes and Chai Lattes while getting in some work on the laptop. In Lodi, House of Coffees is the local shop to get caffeinated. Their Funky Monkey is to die for and they treat every customer like family. Barista’s in Tracy gets customers going each morning with a jolt of caffeine and a list of blended drinks that is a mile long!
Best Juice Smoothie Bar
One of our favorite ways to start our mornings is with a fresh, in season smoothie. Check out Nekter Juice Bar in Lincoln Center for a nutritious Berry Banana Burst or Turmeric Sunrise. At Dynamic Nutrition in Tracy, opt for something special like the Red velvet cheesecake smoothie. The Healthy Spot is a great spot to pick up a protein smoothie alongside energy boosting teas. Choose from a huge list of sweet and savory flavors for mood boosting good food.
When you are craving tacos and margaritas head on over to Octavio’s for a refreshing margarita made with tequila, lime juice, and agave nectar. It’s simple, satisfying, and out of this world tasty. On the mile in Stockton, hit up La Palma for seasonal margaritas made from a selection of over 50 imported tequilas. But if you are in Lodi, step into El Pazcifico Mexican Grill and Cantina for an oversized strawberry margarita that will make you think you are sitting on the beach in Mexico.
Best Tea Room
Have you ever been to a tea tasting? At The Hidden Tea Room in Lodi guests are treated to High Tea complete with crumbly scones and an assortment of local jams. Take in some tea at the Blossom Tea Room for a wide variety of flavors like Earl Grey, White Peony, and Green Pomegranate. They also offer a Royal Tea, paired with scones, fruit, soups, and more. For something different, be sure to try T4, Tea for U, where you can sip on Taiwanese tea and quality Boba teas. They have a wide variety of refreshing drinks to keep you cool on a hot summer day.
Best Sparkling Wine
A glass of bubbly is the perfect start to any celebration. So why not pick up the OG sparkling of Lodi’s wine country at Weibel Winery in downtown Lodi? Choose from a classic sparkling, almond, mango, or opt for a flight of all three. At Delicato Family Wines, choose a Blanc de Blanc, extra dry, or almond flavored sparkler. And in the small town of Lockeford, Erik Donaldson of LVVR Sparkling Cellars, is racking up accolades for his award-winning sparkling wines made in a variety of styles.
Best Wine Menu
If you are in the mood for wine, these spots should be at the top of your list. At Mile Wine Company, there is a little something for everyone. With over 30 wines by the glass and seasonal small plates, Mile Wine Co. is the spot for wine lovers. At well-known Michael David Winery, the extensive brand boasts a multitude of labels and varieties for the pickiest wine drinker. From estate grown wines to Freakshow and a ton of others, the winery won’t disappoint. Market Tavern also prides itself on having an extensive wine list loaded with some seriously good juice. Woodbridge Uncorked is home to many of Lodi’s boutique producers. The charming wine bar and tap room is the perfect spot to explore the wines offered in the Lodi region.
Best Wine Tasting Room
When you are heading out to Lodi Wine Country for some wine tasting, Oak Farm Vineyards is the first stop for any wine lover. Their expansive tasting room is an architectural jewel, and the wine lives up to the hype. Choose from a patio seating experience, take in some live music, and soak up the setting sun with a stunning view. At Michael David Winery on Highway 12, it’s easy to see why the winery is a huge hit with locals and tourists alike. From the original wine tasting bar, to their open air second tasting room, and patio seating for days, the atmosphere is friendly and fun! Check out Harney Lane Winery for the incredible hospitality, family history, charming tasting room, and award-winning wine.
Best Wine Club
The best kind of club you could ever be a part of—a wine club! Michael David Winery has an awesome wine club where you can get major discounts on wine purchases and you get to feel like part of the family. At Oak Farm Vineyards, the wine club is seriously fun. Attend one of the pick-up parties complete with themed dinners and fun perks. And at Harney Lane Winery, being part of the Wine30 club means you get to eat, drink, and play with the folks behind the wines.
Lodi Wine Country is known for its big and bold Zinfandels as the Zin Capital of the world. Michael David Winery has been pumping out Zinfandel since the beginning and the Freakshow Zinfandel is one of the coolest labels on the market. At Harney Lane Winery, the Zinfandel options are worth every penny. You can choose from Home Ranch, Lizzy James, or Scottsdale Zinfandels. Step back in time when visiting the charming tasting room at Macchia. With dozens of Zinfandels to choose from, you can find one that suits your palate.
Best Auto Dealership
When you’re looking for a new car, you want a dealership you can trust to sell you a quality vehicle at a great price. When it comes to new auto sales, Chase Chevrolet is the best in the business, with a team of sales people ready to make your car buying experience as simple as possible. For a luxury vehicle, Mercedes Benz of Stockton keeps its lot stocked with a variety of new and used models. If you have your sights set on a Ford, Big Valley Ford Lincoln will have you driving off the lot in your dream car in no time.
Best Consignment Shop
Regardless of your reason for shopping second-hand—sustainability, originality, style, or cost—San Joaquin County has super cute boutiques boasting previously loved pieces your closet will adore, plus some items for home. My Best Friend’s Closet feels just like that, going shopping through your best friend’s clothes to find new-to-you pieces to enhance your wardrobe. Spread the love to your little ones with gently used clothes and toys at Once Upon a Child in Tracy. Littles grow so fast, spending a little less on their fashions is certainly appealing! If it’s your home that needs a little sprucing up, turn to New & Again Consignment Furniture Gallery where shoppers can browse an ever-changing inventory of furniture, décor, and more.
Best Designer Eyewear/Eye Glass Store
Looking for cute new shades to frame your face? Great Spectacles specializes in a variety of designer frames, offering every style you could think of in its Lincoln Center shop. Brookside Optometry provides more than a service to patients. Those who come in for a check-up can also take home a pair of stylish glasses, or two. Midtown Optometry provides a similar business model with eye care options as well as a great section of eyewear for shopping.
Best Fashionable Accessories
There are few feelings we like more than strolling through our favorite shopping areas on a warm day looking for new pieces to make us feel fab. Bellissima Boutique is a long-standing customer favorite, stocking unique pieces customers love. Fashion Safari in downtown Lodi is a cute space filled with more than chic clothes. Browse tables and walls filled with goods including scarves, purses, jewelry, and more. FINA in Lincoln Center is at the forefront of fashion, keeping its space stocked with the latest and greatest fashion accessories.
Best Gift Shop
Finding the perfect gift can be hard. Lucky for us, San Joaquin County is home to some seriously adorable gift shops littered with goodies for people with an assortment of interests. Located in Stockton’s Lincoln Center, Best Wishes is our gold medal winner. Inside shoppers can find gifts for everyone on their list from babies to great aunts. The Owl Box in Tracy is another option, offering an eclectic assortment of goods from kitchenware to drinkware, fashion accessories, and more—often served with a little sass. Stockton’s Regalo Bello keeps its store stocked with seasonal specialties including plush pillows, décor, and gift cards.
Best Fine Jewelry
Whether you’re looking for THE piece of jewelry or an everyday piece, Gary J. Long Jewelers has you covered. An expansive collection of jewelry and supportive staff are there to help customers pick pieces to complement their style, or to gift to that special someone. Peck’s Jewelers has history and experience on its side. The oldest family-owned and operated jewelry shop in Stockton has a knack for jewelry selection and care. DeVon’s in Stockton is just one of the chain’s locations, but it is also a favorite of customers, who appreciate the staff’s intricate attention to detail and emphasis on service with a smile.
Best Music Store
This list is music to our ears! Music Go Round takes the gold. Here, customers can sell their old musical instruments and accessories on the spot, and even use that credit toward other goodies in the store. Located in downtown Tracy, Main Street Music not only sells instruments, the shop also offers music lessons for eager students of all ages. Bill’s Music has been serving the community as a family-owned and operated music store since 1965. Stop in to get new instruments ,repairs and tuning, expert advice, music lessons, rehearsal space, and trade-ins, or sell your instruments to the shop.
Best Pet Supplies
Take your furry friend on a shopping spree! Whether it’s new toys or tasty new food, Carter’s Pet Mart is packed with the goods your pet deserves. Petco is another trusted provider of goods for our favorite pals, offering everything from the pets themselves to the supplies they need to survive and thrive at home with you. The pet aisles at PetSmart are packed with nutritious treats, fun and educational toys, and needed gear and services for every type of fun, including training classes!
Best Place to Buy Motorcycles
In a brand new category this year we’re celebrating our county’s need for speed! Motorcycles offer up a lot of adventure, and Eagle’s Nest Harley Davidson is there to sell customers a new ride with function, speed, and safety in mind. In fact, it’s the only certified Harley Davidson dealership in Northern California on Interstate 5, which is why people flock to Lathrop to buy a bike. If you need a tune-up on your Harley Davidson, step into Dream Rides Motorcycle Repair. This Stockton shop is focused on selling everything you need to enjoy a Harley. If your heart isn’t set on a Harley, visit Tracy Motorsports where the focus is on Kawasaki vehicles of all kinds.
Best Shopping Center/Mall
Get ready to shop ‘til you drop! Why visit just one store when you can spend an afternoon shopping, sipping, and enjoying lunch all in one convenient location. Lincoln Center reigns supreme as our reader’s favorite shopping destination, complete with restaurants, an escape room, boutiques, markets, and more. Weberstown Mall draws a crowd for its event offerings but even on a casual day it’s a good place to shop big-name brands like Dillard’s and Forever 21. Close by Sherwood Mall offers a classic mall-going experience for guests, complete with a food court and staple stores such as Best Buy, Macy’s, Claire’s, and more.
Best Vintage Clothing Store
If you’re looking for clothing that can’t be bought in a department store—at least not this decade—look no further than Lilou of the Valley, an adorable vintage boutique that supports every type of fashion sense. Pawtastic Thrift Boutique is a thrift store with a charitable cause—and it’s not limited to just pet stuff. Shop here and benefit local animal rescues. At Crossroads Trading you can both buy and sell fashionable goods.
Best Women’s Clothing Boutique
When you’re closet needs a refresh, FINA is there for you. The Lincoln Center store is constantly refreshing its inventory to stay on top of trends. If that didn’t satisfy your urge to splurge, take the trek over to Bellissima Boutique where it’s easy to build an entire outfit from scratch using the shop’s cute clothes and array of accessories. Still not satisfied? Theadora has gained a reputation as one of the best places to buy lingerie and undergarments in SJC, but the shop also stocks seasonal fashions that will truly elevate your style game.
Best Women’s Shoes Boutique
If Cinderella taught us anything, it’s that a shoe can change your life. Looking for the right pair to fit your feet? Dennis Shea Shoes is dedicated to fitting every princess in town, specializing in hard-to-find sizes in top brands. FINA is a haven for all fashionistas proving you don’t always have to go to a specialty store to find the best shoes. This Lincoln Center shop carries all the top styles. Bellissima Boutique is another great fashion store with an impressive collection of footwear.
Best Specialty Store
This category offers a lot of room for interpretation. What do you consider a specialty boutique? For readers, The Bone Store is the cream of the crop, selling a variety of items from furniture to shoes that focus on spine support and overall bone health. For others, Regalo Bello fits the description, a store that sells accessories, home goods, and more. Last up, Mia Bella’s Boutique prides itself on selling a little of everything, an eclectic boutique for specialty pieces you can’t find everywhere else.
Best Art Gallery
When it comes to art galleries in San Joaquin County, the Haggin Museum consistently tops the list, especially after several updates over the past few years have both expanded the art collections and the hands-on learning opportunities throughout. Double Dip Gallery is another favorite, located in downtown Lodi, where you can grab a cone while viewing the art. Lodi Community Art Center, a 501c3 nonprofit, houses an eclectic collection of art ranging from student pieces to competition works, plus classes and workshops.
Best Local Casino (Within 100 Miles)
When you’re looking to hit the jackpot, residents are in agreeance that Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort is the place to go for playing slots and table games. The casino boasts gaming 24/7, a line-up of entertainment (pre-COVID), and dining. Closet to home, Ione houses the Caesar’s-owned Harrah’s Northern California where boredom will be a distant memory with 950 rotating slot machines, 20 table games, and blockbuster promotions. Last up in the line-up is Lodi’s very own casino, Parkwest Casino Lodi, a smoke-free option focused on card games without the distraction of slots nearby. And just like the other two casinos, Parkwest offers gambling around the clock.
Best Downtown Stockton Hotspot
Where are you going to spend a day in Stockton? With so much to do in this fun-packed city, it feels impossible to choose the best, but our readers delivered with their first, second, and third round picks for free time in Stockton. Gold goes to The Downtowner, a Monday-Friday eatery focused on good mood food that is healthful and fun. The silver is awarded to Cast Iron Trading Co., last year’s gold winner, known for its stellar brunch and charming ambiance. Last up, the Deliberation Room, a unique speakeasy-style restaurant that offers up a law theme in a laidback environment on Stockton’s busy California Street, earns bronze.
Best Golf Course (Private)
Golf fanatics are in agreeance. When it comes to the best private golf courses in the county, these three contenders always hit the mark. This year, voters named Brookside Golf & Country Club’s 18-Hole Championship Golf Course the best private course in the county, revered for its Scottish flair and 14 surrounding lakes. Next up is Stockton Golf & Country Club, a 1920s built 18-hole course located on the San Joaquin River. Coming in third is Woodbridge Golf & Country Club, boasting the longest course of them all at 27 holes. The club, built in 1924, offers gorgeous surroundings, nestled between cherry orchards and grape vineyards along the Mokelumne River.
Best Golf Course (Public)
Swenson Park Golf Course is littered with hazards to challenge even the most experienced player but also offers up an array of courses designed for all different skill levels. The crown jewel of Swenson, however, is the panoramic landscape views stretching over Stockton. Elkhorn Golf Club caters itself to the experienced crowd, offering a social calendar full of tournaments and other engagements to play on the challenging, yet level, 18-hole course. Golfers in Lodi flock to Micke Grove Golf Links, a treasured course amongst the verdant vineyards. Come play a round with eight sparkling lakes, 42 sand bunkers, and countless breathtaking views. Not to mention, there’s a 30-slot driving range ideal for warming up or just hitting some balls when you’re not playing the course.
Best Nightlife Music Hotspot
Looking for some evening tunes to enjoy over dinner or drinks? How about a true nightclub experience without leaving SJC? When you step into Paradise Nightclub, you step into a spectacularly over-the-top dance party complete with a fully-stocked two-sided bar, pool tables, and one of the largest dancefloors in Stockton. Celebrated as a true gay bar 365 days a year, the flashing lights and bumping beats are sure to get you on your feet. Once known as the Grant Bar, LEIA’s Restaurant Longue Nightclub in Tracy gained notoriety on the popular show Bar Rescue. If you’re looking for more late-night dining than nightclub experience, look no further than AVE on the Mile. This open-late restaurant offers a full dining menu along with bar bites and craft cocktails.
From non-stop sniffles to life threatening reactions, if allergies are a part of your daily life you know that those over-the-counter pills sometimes just don’t cut it. If you’re looking to explore other treatment options, trust the experts at Allergy Immunology & Asthma Medical Group to get your allergies under control. Stocktonians also turn to Dr. Dennis W. Delpaine, a trusted expert for allergy, immunology, and rheumatology concerns. Treating both children and adults, Dr. Jun Lu, of Sutter Gould Medical Group is eager to help his patients overcome their pet allergies, food allergies, and everything in between.
Whether you’re facing a recent injury or stubborn back and neck pain that just won’t let up, a chiropractor can help alleviate pain and improve your range of motion. If you’re seeking flexibility of office location, as well as flexibility of your spine, Hayes Chiropractic has two offices in Stockton, as well as one in both Lodi and Galt. For ongoing treatment options, take advantage of Tom Paige Chiropractic’s unlimited chiropractic care membership program or turn to Stockton’s Dr. Edmund Zeiter Jr., for a tandem approach to patient education and treatment.
Best Cosmetic Surgery
When feeling your best means looking your best, you might find yourself in search of a trustworthy plastic surgeon. In San Joaquin County, you can count on Vu Plastic Surgery to employ the best time-tested techniques alongside cutting edge advances to deliver the safest surgery options and stunning results. At McNemar Cosmetic Surgery, board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas McNemar draws patients from as far as the Bay Area to his Tracy and San Ramon offices. Dr. Kimberly Cockerham, offers special attention to your most eye-catching features – your eyes, lips, and face – with services such as eyelash and eyebrow restoration, lip and cheek augmentation, and facial laser resurfacing.
Best CrossFit Studio
Ready to sweat it out? CrossFit is an exercise regimen focused on high intensity interval training for strength and conditioning. When you want to take your fitness goals to another level, look no further than, well, Another Level CrossFit. Recently purchased by Trevor and Erica Phillips of Fulcrum Fitness, both new and experienced CrossFitters are welcome and will have all the expertise and equipment needed at their disposal. Or join CrossFit 209 Sport where CrossFit classes include flexibility training, weight-lifting, power lifting, gymnastics, and endurance activities. In Tracy, you can get your blood pumping at CFT Fitness to target burning calories, shedding weight, and building lean muscles.
Best Day Spa
Forget turning lemons into lemonade and trudging along. When stress creeps into your life, unwind with our county’s best day spas. A long-time staple in Lodi, The Spa at Wine & Roses offers a relaxation experience that is second to none. Choose from an extensive menu of services such as a Himalayan Salt Stone Massage, Honey Bee Good body treatment, Organic Enzyme-Peel, and much more. Make a day out of it and leave feeling like a new person with Perfect Balance Day Spa’s offering of facials, massages, mani-pedis, waxing and tanning services, and hair salon. At Elevate Skincare and Spa by Kym with a Y, you’re invited to mix and match spa services to find your highest form of relaxation.
Best Cosmetic Dentist
Take it from our readers: San Joaquin County’s top cosmetic dentists will give you something to smile about. Dr. Lester Low believes that the best way to ensure his patients leave confident and happy with their teeth it to treat them like family. Maybe it’s something he learned when he worked for his father’s practice thirty years ago – as they say, it’s all in the family. In Lodi, Dr. Todd A. Franklin can help your inner confidence show through by addressing cosmetic concerns such as cracked or broken teeth, discoloration, and enamel and gum shaping. Or turn to the experts at Martin Dentistry, where they specialize in cosmetic and implant dentistry.
Best Pediatric Dentist
At Kids Care Dental and Orthodontics, the proof is in the name. With a focus on tiny teeth, Kids Care has locations throughout the Central Valley so care is always close by. Ronald S. Noriesta, D.D.S emphasizes preventative care to take care of your little one’s pearly whites, but is also there to address existing problems or for dental emergencies. At Martin Dentistry making sure their littlest patients are comfortable is the first priority.
Sometimes that picture perfect smile is just out of your control. Patients of all ages trust Dr. Cameron R. Wheeler of Wheeler Orthodontics to straighten their smile. With two locations (one in Stockton and one in Modesto) Samra Orthodontics’ philosophy is to treat people, not patients, so they are careful to listen to your needs and concerns from your first appointment to your last. With orthodontic professionals accustomed to working with young patients, you can be sure that Kids Care Dental and Orthodontics will make your kids comfortable and well cared for during orthodontic treatment.
Best Dermatologist/Skin Doctor
Fun fact: the largest organ in the human body isn’t actually inside – it’s your skin. And your skin has a big role to play in protecting your body, so don’t skimp on the skin care! With over four decades of experience, Dr. Stuart Jacobs has seen just about every skin-related concern under the sun (including those caused by the sun). The dermatologists at Quail Lakes Dermatology can address concerns ranging from acne to skin legions and cancers. Offering treatment for everything from psoriasis to vitiligo and all conditions in between, Dr. Abdallah Khourdaji customizes skin care therapies to the unique needs of each patient. And to keep your skin looking and feeling its best, you can also look into their medical spa’s range of anti-aging treatments.
Best Eye Care/Optometrist
You don’t have to look far to find expert eye care in San Joaquin County. For the tenth year in a row, San Joaquin Magazine readers have voted Brookside Optometric Group the best in the county. Thanks to a merger that brought together the area’s largest optometry practices in the late 90s, their team of optometrists is able to provide unparalleled flexibility in scheduling without compromising quality. With offices in Lodi, Stockton, Tracy, and Manteca, Zeiter Eye Medical Group offers comprehensive vision exams, as well as more specialized treatments like refractive surgery. For vision therapy options, look to Midtown Optometry, where husband and wife team Dr. Derron Lee and Dr. Leanne Lee offer services specialized in treating and correcting a variety of vision disorders.
The Spa at Wine & Roses offers a variety of therapeutic, exfoliating, and moisturizing facial treatments that can help firm, correct, and clarify the skin. Or, make an appointment at Elevate Skincare and Spa by Kym with a Y, where you will be treated to an anti-aging SkinCeuticals Custom Facial or an Eminence Organics Custom Facial. Meanwhile, the award-winning esthetics team at Perfect Balance Day Spa will customize a facial perfect for your skin type.
Best Family Health Practice
Your family comes first and the county’s top family healthcare providers share your priorities. You’ll be met with convenience and continuity in your family’s care when you opt for the not-for-profit Sutter Gould Medical Foundation where you can find the perfect physician for every member of the family. With Kaiser Permanente your family will have access to a healthcare system of nearly 40 hospitals, 700 medical offices, and 23,000 physicians. Founded in 1986, Dignity Health Medical Group is the largest hospital provider in the state and believes in affordable healthcare, delivered with compassion.
Best Fitness Classes
Break a sweat and maybe make a new friend. At Twin Arbors Health Club members have access to dozens of different types of classes every week and a semi-private F.I.T. club that gives you the best of working out in a group environment with the personal attention of a trainer. With locations
throughout the Central Valley, In-Shape Health Clubs offer classes ranging from classic strength or cardio classes to mind/body classes, dance classes, and even aqua classes. Come for a class and stay for a shake at F4 Fitness in Stockton. Or, connect with your inner cyclist, yogi, or dancer at Shine Cycle +Yoga + Barre.
Hair Stylist (Individual)
Looking to go from brunette to blond? Or maybe something brighter and bolder? Find your way to their chairs and these hair stylists will color, cut, and deep condition their way into your hair-care routine. If you’re looking for those soft, freehanded highlights, Exclusive Beauty Salon’s DeAnjanae Binder has got all your balayage needs under control. Go bold with bright colors or blow it out with a Brazilian Blowout from Sara Gallagher at Pomp Salon. From ombre to orchid, Cecilie Chavarria of Exclusive Beauty Salon is your go-to gal. Tiffany Gomez Bridal Hair and Makeup is ready to give you the braided updo, beach waves, or other bridal style to help you look your best on your big day.
Hair Salon Studio
When those $13 haircuts just won’t cut it, you’ve got to turn to the experts at our readers’ favorite salons. For the bold cuts and colors you’ve been dreaming about, book your chair at the chic Pomp Salon – and have Instagram at the ready! For a returning reader favorite that’s consistently on the cutting edge of style, turn to Exclusive Beauty Salon. Want a cut like no other? Alter Custom Hair has just what you’re looking for.
Best Health Club (MULTIPLE locations)
With multiple locations, long hours, and fitness experts, these health clubs can be as flexible as you are. The 64-location In-Shape Health Club offers members classes geared toward kids, seniors, and every age (and fitness level) in between. Planet Fitness’s more than 2000 locations nationwide means you would be hard pressed to find a locale without a club – it doesn’t get any more flexible than that. And for those late night, can’t-wait work outs, the doors are always open at 24 Hour Fitness.
Starting a fitness routine can be intimidating, but San Joaquin County’s single location health clubs are welcoming, low pressure, and make you feel right at home while you find your workout groove. Proudly touting the title “the only private sport club in Lodi,” Twin Arbors Sports Club offers fitness classes, as well as league and open play sports. With about 80 members, F4 Fitness in Stockton is happy to offer group classes but also has the time to offer private, one-on-one training at any level. Spice up your fitness routine at Shine Cycle +Yoga + Barre where you can find traditional classes or fusion classes like the Ride + Flow class that pairs cycling and yoga.
Best Hearing Center
Tired of the constant shouting? Find yourself maxing out your TV volume on the daily? Then you’ll be happy to hear about San Joaquin County’s best hearing centers as chosen by our readers. Stockton Hearing & Speech Center is more than a hearing aid store. They offer hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings, tinnitus management, and more. At American Hearing Aids in Stockton, Owner and Licensed Hearing Aid Dispenser Debbie Bond has been serving the community for nearly 20 years. The University of the Pacific Hearing and Balance Center provides comprehensive audiological care to make hearing effortless.
When you have an emergency, the last thing you want is to agonize over where you’ll receive the best care. If you find yourself in need of care – for an emergency or scheduled procedure – you can trust our readers’ top choices. Dignity Health’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center offers an online waiting room, patient navigator services, and a variety of classes to keep your health on track. Adventist Health Lodi Memorial Hospital aims to improve physical, mental, and spiritual health with every interaction at their facilities. In Manteca, readers believe the Kaiser Permanente Manteca Medical Center is a step above the rest.
Best Hospice/Palliative Care
For quality care and comfort leading up to those final days, it’s important to find a hospice provider you can trust. For locals, that means Hospice of San Joaquin where your loved ones are guaranteed the best care at their own home or at the Hospice House. Community Hospice of San Joaquin opened its doors in 2014 and has made it a priority to offer superior end of life care ever since. With more than 40 years’ experience and facilities in 14 states, VITAS Healthcare draws on a longstanding network of knowledgeable experts to make those last months as comfortable as possible.
Best Independent Pharmacy
Independent pharmacies can often provide customers with better customer service, shorter wait times, and lower costs. Whether you opt for an in-person refill or delivery, Hammer Lane Pharmacy believes you’ll see the difference in their service. When it comes to customized medications for both themselves and their pets, San Joaquinians trust Pacific Compounding Pharmacy, where medications are made specifically to a patient’s needs. With Herold K. Reich’s Pharmacy, you can choose to have your prescriptions delivered or take advantage of the Medication Synchronization service to make sure you never miss a dose.
Best Lasik Eye Surgery
Lasik eye surgery can change the way you see the world, but you don’t want to trust your baby blues to just anyone. Since opening in 1962, Zeiter Eye Medical Group has helped thousands of patients achieve better vision through optical surgery, including Lasik. According to Heritage Eye, Skin & Laser Center, 94 percent of the eligible population are good candidates for Lasik and they want to make your dreams of clearer vision a reality. Brookside Optometric Group invites you to consider what life without lenses would mean for you, and helps customers take the steps to make that happen.
If you don’t think a good massage is an important part of feeling your best, you’ve probably never had a massage like this. The Spa at Wine & Roses is once again our readers’ top pick and with the variety of massage services they offer, it’s no wonder. At Perfect Balance Day Spa, you can count on the masseuses to customize every massage to your personal preference. Elevate your massage at Elevate Skincare and Spa by Kym with a Y and see just how indulgent a restorative, deep pressure massage can be.
Best Medical Supply Store
If you’ve got pain in your head, shoulder, knees and toes, it’s time to ease the aches and pains with top notch braces, insoles, and ergonomic furniture. For over 20 years, The Bone Store has been the go-to medical supply store from Stockton to Fresno. At Tracy’s Reich’s Medical Supply (owned by Dr. Harold K Reich, owner and pharmacist at the nearby Herold K. Reich’s Pharmacy), the certified staff can help you choose the best equipment for your needs and demonstrate how to use it so there are no surprises when you get home. In Stockton, American Med provides customers with detailed customer service to match each person with the ideal product.
Our OB-GYNs are often an important part of some of life’s most intimate moments, so our standards are high for these healthcare professionals. In San Joaquin County, no one is more trusted than the expert team at Gill OB/GYN Medical Group. Serving the community since 1953, patients can rest assured that their comfort is the top priority. Dr. Bhagya Nakka’s medical practice is specialized in childbirth and women’s health issues and she strives to develop a personal relationship with all patients. At Sutter Gould Medical Group, Dr. Philip Dodd, is a trusted OB-GYN with decades of experience addressing pregnancy complications, breast and cervical cancer preventative care, and more.
You probably don’t spend much time thinking about your bones – until there’s a problem. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, the team at Alpine Orthopaedic Medical Group believes preventative care is just as important when it come to your bones as it is any other part of your body. Or turn to Sutter Gould Medical Foundation’s network of orthopedists throughout Northern California to find an expert close to home. Based out of Manteca, Dr. Bliss W. Clark, M.D. is a trusted orthopedic surgeon with four decades of experience.
Best Pilates Studio
Looking to build strength, increase flexibility, and improve your posture in one low-impact workout? Thank Joseph Pilates for inventing this fitness routine – and thank our readers for sharing the best Pilates studios with you. Focus on your posture, breathing, and flexibility as you ease into Pilates at Now and Zen Yoga Studio or go full steam ahead with Pilates Plus, an intermediate level class. Tap into the barre portion of Shine Cycle +Yoga + Barre for classes that blend Pilates with yoga, dance, and cardio. Or keep it simple with a class at Studio Joy in Ripon.
Best Physical Therapy Company
Physical therapy has a reputation of being a slow and arduous journey, but with these San Joaquin experts guiding you and cheering you on, you’ll be in tip-top shape in no time. Central Valley Physical Therapy has locations in Stockton, Lodi, and Galt, but they aim to present a united front and always provide their patients with the best care possible. At Pine Street Physical & Occupational Therapy patient education plays a large role in the approach to healing and at Golden Bear Physical Therapy and Sports Injury Center the team works to address orthopedic, neurological, musculoskeletal, and sports injuries so you can get on with your life pain free.
Best Skilled Nursing Facilities
Sending your loved one to live at a skilled nursing facility is a difficult decision, but knowing you’ve picked the best facility for them can help ease some of the apprehension. Let our readers make your choice a little easier. At Meadowood, the focus is on helping residents regain their independence by working closely with therapists and providing ongoing support to those who need it. Known for its warm and welcoming atmosphere, Creekside Center excels when it comes to resident comfort. Residents at Somerford Place of Stockton not only have access to 24-hour care, but can also enjoy restaurant-style dining, a range of social and educational activities, an in-house beauty salon, and more.
Best Tanning Salon
Central Valley summers certainly aren’t lacking in sunshine, but for that just-off-the-beach perfect bronze year-round, you’ll have to head indoors. Lincoln Center’s Planet Beach promises no streaks, no orange, and no melanin spray tans or just-right-exposure UV tanning. Stop by Havatan, where it’s always sunny and you can choose between tanning and spray tan options. With locations in Lodi and Stockton, your perfect tan is within reach. Sunny Daze Tanning & Salon not only has several tanning services to offer, but new clients can now receive their first tan for free!
Best Yoga Studio
Yoga is never a bad idea, and now is the time to make your way to the mat. Shine Cycle +Yoga + Barre offers classes that will inspire you from the moment you hear their names until long after you leave the studio. Or find your Zen at Now and Zen Yoga Studio where classes are broken into three experience levels to ensure you get the most out of your class time. Kick it up a notch and break a sweat with True You Hot Yoga’s Hot Vinyasa flow in a cozy 40 percent humidity, 96-degree heat.
Best Urgent Care
When you don’t need to jump right to a trip to the ER, but you can’t wait for an appointment with your primary care physician, the county’s urgent care providers can offer quick care. San Joaquin Magazine’s readers trust Sutter Gould Urgent Care (2545 West Hammer Lane), where patients as young as three months can be treated for non-life-threatening illnesses or minor injuries like the flu, minor burns, cuts, or broken bones. Open from 9 AM-9 PM every day (including holidays), you can count on Trinity Urgent Care to be there when you need it most. Stockton Urgent Care is ready to cure what ails you when you walk through their door, seven days a week.
Best Weight Loss/Control Program
Aside from offering support and encouragement, these weight loss experts can help guide you through your journey and ensure that you reach – and maintain – your goal weight. Weight Watchers. You know the name and you’ve seen the results. Now it’s time to give the program a try for yourself. Lodi’s Diet Center offers diet plans designed by registered dieticians who make it their goal to stay up-to-date with the most recent research while in-center programs help keep customers on track. Physicians Weight Clinic has been helping people lose weight for 30 years – and now they want to help you.
If trying to balance your checkbook or file your taxes gives you flashbacks to math class, it’s probably best to let the experts handle the numbers and save yourself some stress. For all your general accounting and tax needs, turn to Iacopi, Lenz & Co, a firm trust by Stocktonians since the late 1970s. With two offices in the county (Stockton and Tracy), businesses and individuals alike turn to Kemper CPA Group for their accounting, tax, and payroll needs. All About Numbers promises to “add sense to your dollars” when you choose to bring them your bookkeeping, tax, payroll, and estate questions.
Best Animal Rescue/Shelter/Adoption
Thousands of cats and dogs move through Stockton Animal Shelter every year. One – or more – could be your new best friend. PALS is a 501(c) (3) no kill, non-profit organization where the goal is to increase the number of animals adopted and provide humane care until they find their fur-ever home. Before an animal is put up for adoption by the Delta Humane Society, each one undergoes a medical and behavioral checkup, vaccinations, and is spayed or neutered, so you know you’re taking home a happy, healthy animal that can be part of your family for years to come. Or, turn to Lodi’s Animal Friends Connection Humane Society where they house up to 40 cats and 35 dogs at any given time.
Best Auto Body Shop
Dings and dents are no match for these body shops. No matter what you drive, you can trust your ride to All Foreign & Domestic Body Shop where you can be sure repairs will be completed with the highest quality equipment, parts, and materials. For a body shop that runs the gamut from minor door dings, hail damage, and plastic bumper dents to collision repair, roll up to Aurora Collision Center. At American Auto Body in Lodi, you can rest assured that quality repairs will be completed quickly and with a warranty that covers all parts, labor, material, and workmanship.
Best Local Bank
Looking for quality banking close to home? Locals know that in order to get the most customized, personal service you should opt for the home-grown neighborhood bank over their national, billion-branch counterparts. Our readers held fast with their top picks from last year. Bank of Stockton once again came out on top for their offering of checking and savings accounts, auto loans, home refinancing, mobile banking, and more. Headquartered in Lodi and dating back to 1916, F&M Bank customers enjoy the convenience of drive-up tellers and Saturday banking at most locations. BAC Community Bank offers personal and business banking options, as well as investment options.
Best Car Wash
When those summer camping weekends and road trips leave your car in desperate need of cleaning, the next destination on your list is a stop at the car wash. At Kelly’s Car Wash, take advantage of a foam wash, Velocity Clear Coat Surface Protector, and free vacuum service and you’ll drive away with your car clean inside and out. Peruse a selection of seasonal gifts and goodies while your car gets a rub-a-dub-dub at Canepa’s Car Wash in Stockton. For most of the world, “zoom” may have become synonymous with telecommuting, but in Stockton it means a clean car and quality service. At Zoom Car Wash, loyal customers benefit from an unlimited monthly membership program.
Best Credit Union
Non-for-profit credit unions can often offer lower interest rates with less ridged eligibility requirements where their smaller size and local involvement means they become a part of the community they serve. With half a dozen locations throughout the county, Financial Center Credit Union offers its members checking and savings accounts, as well as discounted insurance products, financial planning, and even a legal help hotline. From humble roots as a Sacramento based financial cooperative, Golden 1 Credit Union has grown to have more than 70 locations throughout California, delivering financial solutions and exceptional service to their members. And at Premier Community Credit Union you’ll find a wide variety of lending and mortgage services.
Best Dog Groomer
Pamper your pooch at our readers’ favorite doggie day spas. Open by appointment Monday to Saturday, the certified groomers at Sycamore Lane Kennels offer three different grooming packages to make sure your pup is looking their best. When you trust your dog to Beauty of the Beast, you’ll see that the name is no exaggeration: drop off your beast (all breeds, up to 30 pounds are welcome) and go home with a beauty. Earning rave reviews from lifelong clients, Monique’s Paw Dog Grooming leaves pups and pup parents alike thrilled with the grooming experience.
Best Dog Trainer
New pup that needs leash training? Old dog in need of a refresher? Barking, digging, jumping – almost every behavioral problem can be addressed by a good dog trainer. Bone-a-Fide Dog Training believes the best way to address problem behavior is to give owners the knowledge and skills needed to understand and communicate with their dogs through in-home or group training options. You’ll have plenty of experienced local trainers to choose from when you turn to Bark Busters Home Dog Training. Meanwhile, at Sycamore Lane Kennels dogs of all ages are welcome for group obedience classes, private lessons, or competition practice.
Best Dry Cleaner
No clue what those alien symbols are on your new favorite sweater? Take the guesswork out of laundry and make sure every special-care garment is cleaned correctly with our reader-recommended dry cleaners. Not only can you get your coats and uniforms cleaned at Parkwood Cleaners, but they’re also happy to help with bedding, drapes, and other fine textiles. Proudly serving Lodi since 1947, Guild Cleaners state of the art equipment will have everything from t-shirts to leather looking like new. Fresh Cleaners in Lodi and Stockton has dual priorities: getting your garments clean and keeping the earth green. That’s why they use non-polluting, non-toxic, non-hazardous cleaning chemicals.
Best Family Photographer
It’s all smiles with these family photographers who know how to keep little ones giggling and capture those special moments. Specializing in milestones from day one to that first birthday cake, Sweet Sisters Photography also works with kids, high school seniors, and families. Kevin Richtik, owner and head photographer at Caroline Photography, has photographed thousands of local families over the course of his 30-year career. Building on his parents’ reputation for stunning portraits, Arnold Chin carries on the family legacy of award-winning family portraits at Fritz Chin Photography.
Where would we be without flowers? Probably struggling to find a gift for our sweetheart in February and wondering what we’re supposed to stop and smell now. But fret not! San Joaquinians will never go without blooming bouquets with these top florists around. With a large on-hand inventory of fresh flowers, Silveria’s Flowers & Gifts is always ready to create a bouquet for that special someone. From large events to same-day deliveries, you can count on Charter Way Florists to carefully craft every arrangement to exceed expectations. Opened in 1917 and now run by third- and fourth-generation florists, Belle’s Lodi Flower Shop has a long history of bringing color to weddings and other events.
Whether you have friends in town, are looking to host an event, or just hoping for a relaxing weekend away, you don’t have to go far. Lodi’s Wine & Roses is the perfect place to host a wedding, indulge in an artful meal, or take a kid-free day to unwind at the spa. Located on Stockton’s Waterfront next to the Stockton Arena, Banner Island Ballpark, and the Civic Auditorium, University Plaza Waterfront Hotel offers 179 luxurious guest rooms, fine dining, and 10,000 square feet of event space. Minutes from the University of the Pacific and the Haggin Museum, the Hilton’s Stockton location is the perfect central location for visitors and locals alike.
Best Individual Insurance Agent
Chances are you don’t spend much time thinking about your insurance until you need it – but when that time comes you better hope you did your research. Farmers Insurance Agent Ryan Turner was born and raised in Stockton and is now proud to be serving his hometown community, where he has ranked among the top insurance agents since joining Farmers in 2010. Serving Stockton since 1983, State Farm’s George Azevedo Jr. offers auto, home, property, business, life, and health insurance. Or turn to State Farm’s Jon Rader in Lodi for banking, mutual funds, and annuities in addition to insurance.
Best Law Firm
If you find yourself in need of legal advice, it’s time to turn off Law and Order and look up the county’s top law firms. With community roots that can be followed all the way back to 1903, Neumiller & Beardslee represents individuals, businesses, professional groups, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Meanwhile, the team of attorneys at Shore, McKinley, Conger & Jolley, LLP take on personal injury, family law, and business and commercial law cases. And Kroloff, Belcher, Smart, Perry & Christopherson have highly qualified trial lawyers as well as business, commercial, and real estate attorneys on their team ready to help you navigate legal proceedings.
Best Local Non-Profit Organization
New to Best Of this year, our readers put forward the local non-profits they’re proud to support. Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary is an animal protection organization that focuses on rehabilitating mistreated animals and currently cares for approximately 200 pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and others. Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association has chapters across the nation, including Stockton. Their members have three things in common: they served, they love to ride, and now they help other veterans get back on their feet. Also in Stockton, St. Mary’s Dining Room’s mission is to help the community’s homeless and working poor by providing meal services, addressing medical concerns, and restoring human dignity.
Best Pest Control Company
There’s not much worse than having the creepy crawlies in your home. With 26 locations throughout California and northwestern Nevada, Clark Pest Control are the go-to guys and gals for dealing with ants, termites, rodents, bed bugs, and other common pests. At the locally owned and operated Delk Pest Control, they have the solution to your pest problems. For nearly 40 years, Advanced Integrated Pest Management has specialized in commercial, industrial, and institutional pest management in California.
Best Pet Boarding
Give your pup his own vacation while your out of town. Our readers’ dogs are all wagging tails at these pet boarding facilities where they can socialize and play all day. Sycamore Lane Kennels offers spacious kennels, multiple activity yards, lake walks, cuddle time, and dog playgroups on their 130-acre facility. At The Canine Culture, owners Jack and Kathy Weber know that dogs have a unique culture of their own and work to ensure all pet’s needs are met while you’re away. At Pet Magic Groom & Board in Manteca, you can enjoy your vacation knowing that the staff at the pet hotel will love your furry friend as much as you do.
Best Pet Spa
These pet spas know that people aren’t the only ones who need a little pampering now and then. 209 Club Pet’s Full Grooming Spa Package is available for dogs of all sizes and includes a full body hair cut, bath, blowout, nail trim, and more. Paw My Heart Mobile Pet Spa services San Joaquin County and beyond, offering a “Purrfect Groom” for your feline friends and several grooming packages for the pups, too. Whether your four-legged friend is staying at The Canine Culture overnight or just popping in for a wash, you can take advantage of their top-notch grooming services.
Best Real Estate Firm
With nearly 1,900 agents serving the communities in 26 counties in California, the RE/MAX Gold team has the expertise needed to get you out of your old house and into your dream home. Grupe Real Estate has been a part of the community for decades, so they’re extremely knowledgeable about the county’s markets for buying and selling. With locations in Lodi, Stockton, and beyond, Keller Williams Realty brings your search for a new home into the 21st century.
Best LOCAL Realtor
For personal service you can trust, turn to our readers’ favorite realtors. Lance McHan has in-depth knowledge of the housing market in and around Stockton and aims to build a relationship with clients so all their needs are understood and met throughout the selling and buying process. With a first career in Esthetics, Beth Calder has now applied her passion for working with people one-on-one to the local real estate market. Stockton’s Michelle Haner focuses on getting her clients the facts they need to make an informed decision they’ll be happy with years down the road.
Best Senior Assisted Living Facility
Choosing the best assisted living facility for yourself or your loved ones can seem like an impossible decision, but you don’t have to make the choice alone. Our readers have been there, done that, and can offer their trusted top picks to you. In Stockton, O’Connor Woods offers independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities depending on individual needs. Tracy’s Astoria Senior Living community feels like a mix between a fine resort and a family home complete with landscaped courtyards and gardens so residents can get outside and enjoy the beautiful California weather. Accommodating both short-term and long-term stays, The Commons at Union Ranch boasts a full calendar of events to keep residents active and socializing.
Best Tattoo Studio
Tattoos aren’t easily shed, so make sure you love your studio and artist before committing to getting inked. At Emerald Tattoo & Piercing, custom satisfaction comes first so you’re sure to love their original work. And if you already have a tattoo that falls short of expectations or you’ve fallen out of love with, they also specialize in cover-ups. Since opening in 2017, Union Tattoo & Piercing has a team of tattoo artists who trained around the county and are eager to give you your first tattoo or your fiftieth. For full body tattoos, 12 Monkeys Tattoo has you covered.
Best Veterinary Clinic
Your pets are part of the family, so it’s important to make sure they’re getting the best veterinary care possible. Our readers trust Sierra Veterinary Clinic, where your pet will be met with the best care during regular appointments, vaccinations, and emergency care. Or pull out the leash and take a stroll to Walker Veterinary Hospital for dietary planning, preventative care, dental care, and more. In Tracy, Jules Veterinary Center has been healing dogs, cats, bids, guinea pigs, and other furry friends since 2002.
Best Wedding Supply Rental
When you’re planning a wedding, you might be surprised just how many items aren’t included at your venue of choice. These rental supply companies are sure to have the pieces you’ll need to make your big day next level. Guiffra’s Party Rentals held its place at the top this year for its wide selection of bridal goods. Bella Festa, took over second place, beckoning brides to do more than rent goods, but to hire a party planner, too. In third place, Stockton Supplies wasn’t far behind, offering party supplies for every step of the way from engagement party to big affair.
Best Wedding Cakes
The wedding cake is the centerpiece to your reception, but it’s not always easy to find a creation that tastes as good as it looks. At these three bakeries, you can cross that fear off your list. Lisa Hassett of Frosted Flour puts her passionate spirit into every tier, perfecting cakes for even the pickiest brides. A free tasting at Fizz Bakery, where Tiffany Villafuerte is at the helm, is all you’ll need to jump on the bandwagon. Choose between simple cakes, five-tier masterpieces, and everything in between. In Tracy, at SweetArts, cakes are just the tip of the iceberg. Christina Fry also whips up macaroons.
Best Formal Wear/Tuxedo
Your man has one job come wedding day—look dapper. Ok, maybe two—it’s a plus if he remembers his vows, as well. Get the best big day suit from Tuxedos of Lodi, your one-stop-shop for men’s formalwear. Or, try on options at The Elizabeth Bridal where you can browse dresses at the same spot your man gets his tux, just maybe not at the same time. If neither of those do the trick, JFY Formal in Stockton is stocked with suits to please both bride and groom.
Best Wedding Caterer
No one has even accused San Joaquin County of being short on good grub, and when it comes to the big day, the last thing you want to do is skimp on a good meal. Angelina’s Spaghetti House remains a favorite for all occasions, including that most momentous one. Craft a custom menu to fit your wedding day vibe from a long list of pastas, proteins, and more. If you book a wedding at Brookside Country Club, you’ll benefit from in-house catering, and the food looks—and tastes—as good as the venue. Smokin’ Yankee’s BBQ Catering offers something a little more downhome. The catering company has perfected its high-end barbecue game featuring delectable dishes like bacon-wrapped meatballs, tri-tip, and prime rib.
Best Wedding DJ
The San Joaquin DJ trifecta is back! These three companies will have guests groovin’ all night long. Start your search with a call to Elite Entertainment for reception-only packages or all-day services. If that doesn’t work,readers say your second call should be to Marquis Entertainment (if you want to get real rowdy add karaoke to your party package). After that, there’s just once place left to call. Art of Sound—a company that goes beyond DJ services to offer other cool add-ons including photo booth packages, custom lighting, and more.
Best Wedding Dress/Bridal Shop
It’s the second most important time you’ll day I Do. When it comes to having a memorable experience, Sheryl Giles Bridal doesn’t cut corners. Her shop of gorgeous gowns goes beyond dressing the bride, offering tasteful designs for every member of the wedding party. The Elizabeth Bridal stocks collections by top designers including House of Wu, Lillian West, and Casablanca Bridal. At Maggie’s Bridal & Formal the focus is on customer service, offering an excellent experience to brides, plus a special “I Found the Dress” touch at the end.
Best Wedding Flowers
From big bouquets to decorative floral arrangements, flowers are an important part of the wedding industry. For brides looking to add a dash of design with fresh blooms, there’s no need to look outside of the agricultural hub we live in. Silveria’s Flowers & Gifts came in first this year for big day blooms, selling everything from boutonnieres to bouquets. Anna Sinclair owns runner up Huckleberry Blooms. The expert floral designer puts her passion into every project, crafting arrangements inspired by the seasons with local blooms from Northern California. Charter Way Florist is proud of its local stems, working closely with area flower farms to design seasonal bouquets and more.
Best Limo/Party Bus
It’s your party and you can leave in style if you want to! (And we highly recommend it). Select a limo or town car from Aurora Limousine Service’s fleet of fancy cars, or hook up your whole wedding party in a party bus. Luxor Coach Limousine is never short on seats. In addition to more modest rides, the company includes stretch escalades and other over-sized transportation for big parties. At Vintage Limousine Service, the delight is in the details. Choose fun “just married,” packages to make the most of your big farewell.
This trend has become a wedding mainstay. Rarely now do you attend a wedding where a photo booth isn’t present to grant the best wedding favors there are—memories you may not even remember. Brides love Ro-Sham-Bo, voting it the number one photo booth rental company in the county. Second place went to The Original Selfie Booth for capturing fun moments with an array of custom options. In third place, Picture Me Entertainment has earned a reputation for satisfied brides, thanks in large part to their impeccable customer service.
Best Wedding Photographer
A picture is worth a thousand words—and that’s why brides are willing to shell out thousands for gram-worthy photos. The two lovers behind Briggs Photography bonded over their shared interest of capturing special moments, so it’s no wonder the duo has continued to make their living taking shots of other lovebirds. At Jon & Jess Photography, the husband-wife team share their love with new brides and grooms on the big day. With a signature style, Amanda Collins Photography is celebrated for its dreamy, romantic style—a popular choice for SJC brides.
Best Wedding Rings
Your wedding day lasts just 24 hours, but that metal on your finger promises to be around for a lot longer! Whether you’re getting ready to propose, or need a wedding band for after those vows, Peck’s Jewelers is there to help you find the perfect piece, one you can live with for a lifetime. Gary J. Long Jewelers is a Stockton staple, serving the community as a family-owned business since 1983. If you stop in here to buy a diamond, Gary will tell you all about the four c’s (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight). Step into Danz Jewelers and you’ll have a guide to walk you through ring customization from choosing the setting to selecting the stone.
Best Indoor Wedding Venue
There’s no one-size-fits-all wedding venue for brides, but our readers spoke and we have to say, we’re satisfied with the results. Each of these wedding venues guarantees guests will have a good time. Brookside Country Club took the gold for its gorgeous golf course property and in-house catering. In Lodi, Wine & Roses transports guests to another world where first dances take place under twinkling lights and bride and groom (and all their friends) can stay on-site at the gorgeous property. Stockton Golf & Country Club boasts a large space for even the biggest weddings. Plus its location on the San Joaquin River makes for excellent photos.
Best Birthday Party Spot
When you’re ready to celebrate your littles, there’s no better place to turn than Ginger Bugs for a birthday party bash. At Ginger Bugs, the focus is on the birthday boy or girl and party hosts have three packages to choose from, with details curated to match your party theme. SkyZone is another top choice, featuring oversized trampolines and epic challenge courses for the whole family. Or, transport yourself to fairyland. The long-standing outdoor park dubbed Pixie Woods in Stockton features fun rides and interactive towns plus a vintage carousel.
Best Charter/Private School
Aspire Apex Academy ranked number one this year for best charter school in the county. The K-5 elementary prepares a diverse population of children for the next steps in their educational career, getting every student started on the right foot. For older students, Health Careers Academy focuses on high school students. Here, students looking to pursue a career in the field of medicine are offered curated curriculum to meet the unique needs of the industry. Stockton Collegiate International Schools serves under the mission of offering rigorous, relevant curriculum to prepare them for both post-secondary education and global citizenship.
Best Children’s Ballet
If you’re raising a prima ballerina, feed her desire to dance by enrolling in one of these SJ favorites. Stockton Ballet School not only has a line-up of instructional classes for dancers of all ages and skill levels, the ballet school also focuses on competitions to drive that competitive spirit. At Unique Visions Dance Company, aspiring dancers are under the care of Chelsea Hill, a talented dancer with a mixed background in both dance and childhood education. Kids of all ages can twirl to their heart’s content at Dance Connection. The Stockton studio starts ballet and lyrical dance classes at 4 years old and extends to young adults.
Best Children’s Clothing
Fashionistas get ready! Sassy Pants Boutique is serving up colorful styles for the youngest fashion stars in our life. At its Lincoln Center location, the store is focused on providing the latest trends to even the littlest tikes. If you’re looking to get those goods at a bargain—kids grow fast after all!—step into Once Upon a Child in Tracy, the secondhand store sells fashions in a variety of sizes, gently worn and sold by local families. Rounding out the list is Willow Tree Children’s Boutique, a Lodi shop offering high-end, feel good clothes kids can play in, plus a selection of luxe accessories.
Best Children’s Dance Studio
Ge ready to DANCE! The options are seemingly endless at Unique Visions Dance Studio, serving up fun classes in a variety of disciplines including ballet, hip hop, and jazz. If ballet is your child’s specialty, turn to Stockton Ballet School. At Elevate Dance Studio, kids can participate in multiple disciplines before finding their niche, including lyrical, contemporary, jazz, and hip hop. All three studios invite kids to join their competition teams, too!
Kids will flip for instruction at GymStars Gymnastics! Starting as young as 9 months old kids can get started in movement classes before taking their skills to new heights with high-flying gymnastics and competition teams for artistic performances. At Impact Sports Center everyone is welcome, including non-members during select drop-in times. Come for the fun, not the competition—at Impact it’s all about having a good time in the 9,000-square-foot space. Step into the state-of-the-art facility at Champion Gymnastics where kids of all ages are invited to grow their gymnastics career. From beginners classes that cover the basics to competitive teams for the best of the best, there’s a little something for everyone at this Stockton gym.
Best Indoor Family Fun
Escape the heat and hide out indoors—these places are primed to get the whole family together and having fun. Be hands-on at SkyZone, a trampoline and challenge course built for the whole family. Or, sit back with a cup of coffee while the kiddos play at Ginger Bugs. If the focus is on sports, head to the Stockton Indoor Sports Complex where families can kick, skate, or spike. With an emphasis on roller hockey, it’s a great place to practice your skating skills, or sign up for a league.
Best Martial Arts School
There are so many types of martial arts, how do you know where to start? How about picking a top-rated gym for your kid’s first foray into the sport. Tibon’s Goju Ryu Fighting Arts earned the gold this year in our Best Of poll for its hard and soft style of karate, an expert mix of Chinese Kempo and Japanese straight-line fighting. The silver medal is handed down to Discovery Martial Arts where kids and adults can participate in a combination of self-defense and physical fitness including Muay Thai. Moore’s Martial Arts is taking home the bronze for its Shòu Shù practice, an ancient Chinese form of martial arts aimed at developing proper fighting skills as emulated by animals in the wild.
Best Children’s Photographer
A picture is worth a thousand words and Sweet Sisters Photography is worth its weight in gold. Janda is a pro at capturing those special moments you’ll want to remember forever at every age and stage. Heather Jean at Heather Jean Photography made a name for herself in the wedding space before branching out into family photos and kid shots, as well. Caroline’s Photography offers a little bit of everything from portrait photography to corporate photography, but it’s the company’s family photos that customers are gushing
about. Since 2010, when Caroline retired, it’s been Kevin Ricktik at the helm, an award-winning photographer with strong roots in SJC.
Give your child the best start! Central Methodist Nursery School is a play-based Stockton facility offering a 1:6 adult to student ratio in a half-day, play-centered environment tailored to kids ages 2-5. Another church-based program, Vinewood Preschool in Lodi offers a way to prepare kids for kindergarten while focusing on mind, body, and spirit. Snell’s Pre-Kindergarten is the oldest privately-owned preschool in Stockton and a mainstay on our Best Of list. The school focuses on providing a balanced education with an emphasis on music and movement.
Best Summer Day Camp
Not sure where to send your kids for the summer? Keep boredom at bay with a local day camp to fill your brood’s spare time. Quail Lakes Baptist Church offers an all-inclusive camp for kids ages 3 through eighth grade. Although it couldn’t open this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, it plans to host again in summer 2021.Tied in second place, Brookside Country Club offers a members-only day camp while Cornerstone Christian Preschool in Manteca provides summer care for the youngest campers.
Best Private School
For parents looking to embrace private school education for their brood, SJC offers a variety of choices. St. Mary’s High School ranks high for parents in Stockton who want their kids to have a head start in college prep. Cathedral of the Annunciation is another Catholic school in Stockton that pairs rigorous academics with spiritual teachings. For elementary students (through eighth grade), parents celebrate St. Luke’s School, a long-standing institution, for its continued dedication to tradition, values, and academics.
Best Air Conditioning/Heating
Summer in San Joaquin County is HOT, so when it comes to having your cooling (and heating) needs met, residents put their trust in the experts. Lovotti Inc. has built a report with customers since 2006, serving the Stockton community and beyond with a variety of HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and refrigeration services. Queirolo’s Heating & Air takes pride in its ability to offer SJC residents honest service, comfort solutions, and superior indoor air quality with an emphasis on efficiency and quality. For more than 50 years, Rod Johnson Air Conditioning has been a go-to for Central Valley home owners, offering a slew of related services including AC repair, HVAC needs, and solar panel installation.
Best Antique Store
If you dream of having a house filled with pieces your neighbors can’t buy from the same big box store, then shopping at an antique shop just may be the pastime for you. Voters have spoken and Hubba Hubba Antiques reigns supreme. With collections of art, furniture, and more housed inside the Pacific Avenue shop, collectors will go crazy for the constantly evolving inventory. Secondhand Rose has a reputation for selling vintage furniture, but that’s only a sampling of what the downtown Lodi gem offers. Step in for frames of all sizes, colorful appliances, mis-matched dishes, and more. New & Again Consignment Furniture Gallery takes a slightly different approach to their business model, but the end result is the same—a showroom brimming with hidden treasures.
Best Custom Blinds
Windows are hardly one-size fits all. Add some pizazz to your home with custom blinds. Don’t be stunted by a lack of options. At Discovery Shutters, homeowners can choose from an array of Hunter Douglas products including sheers, shadings, honeycomb shades, shutters, horizontal blinds, vertical blinds, Roman shades, roller shades, and woven wood shades. Budget Blinds sells and installs a collection of custom options with the personal touch of an interior design professional. At Classic Design Interiors, the goal is to make custom blind selection and installation effortless, offering award-winning design and service.
Best Flooring Shop
When it comes to replacing the floors in your home, there are a lot of difficult decisions to make, but choosing a quality flooring shop shouldn’t be one of them. Vineyard Floors offers a unique model—a mobile showroom that brings the flooring shop to you. Embrace technology with the experts at Raphael Hardwood Flooring in Lodi using the online Room Visualizer to help make those tough decisions. Or, call up Classic Design Interiors, the one-stop-shop for all your home needs. With the help of a sales associate, you can browse options ranging from carpet to hardwood and everything in between.
Best Modern Furniture Store
With so many aesthetics to choose from, no two homes are the same, but that can also make finding furniture to match your personal style a big game of hide-and-go-seek. If you’re looking for modern pieces to compliment your décor, turn to Minerva’s Furniture Gallery. The expansive showroom is stuffed with exquisite pieces for every room in your home. C.R. Porter in Stockton’s Lincoln Square is constantly refreshing its charming space, which includes over-sized chairs, coffee tables, end tables, and other eye-catching pieces. At Thornton House Furniture, a team of interior designers help customers choose the best pieces, made to stand the test of time.
Best Garden/Outdoor Store
Just because it’s going outside doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be spectacular. With Garden Flair, the outdoor store doing the most, is all about bringing indoor chic to outdoor spaces from the patio to the garden. Peruse the wide variety of planters, outdoor furniture, décor, gifts, and more. At In Season, locals can grab plants and planting kits to bring their gardens to life. The Stockton business also supports local, bringing organic and natural products to the community. Family-owned and operated Lopez Imports stocks its shelves with everything from clay planters to fountains of every size. Plus, there’s a special collection dedicated to Day of the Dead décor.
Best Home Builder
In the market for a new home? Choose a homebuilder with a great local reputation. Caresco Homes is building new communities in Woodbridge, Manteca, and North Stockton. FCB Homes is selling brand-new family homes in Stockton, Lodi, and Manteca. And, Grupe Homes is building out multiple communities in Lodi.
Best Interior Designer
Making a home look spectacular inside and out is a team effort. Build your team with the best in the business. Kathleen Jennison is at the helm of KTJ Design and locals who have benefitted from her stylings are very verbal about the positive experience. Classic Design Interiors does it all, with designers on staff to help you select the best pieces for decorating a new space or revamping an old one. The owners—and staff—behind C.R. Porter are beloved for their tasteful eye, curating a Lincoln Center showroom to showcase everything from furniture to stemware.
Best Kitchen Remodeling
Did you know that a kitchen is one of the best places to sink money into a home? That’s because kitchen remodels offer perhaps the biggest return on investment when you go to sell. Classic Interior Designs is there to help every step of the way, from new sinks to new countertops. Kelly’s Kitchen & Bath will remodel your kitchen from top to bottom, beginning to end, helping with everything from gutting a space to installing the finishing touches. The masonry contractor Trevizo Tile & Stone is a great place to start when getting ready to redo a kitchen, creating pristine backsplashes with tasteful designs, quality countertops, and more, treating tile installation as a work of art instead of simply a service.
Best Mattress Shop
Catch some ZZZ’s without counting sheep. A quality mattress is one of the key ingredients to sleeping well and staying healthy. At Mancini’s Sleepworld, all major mattress brands are represented, and a guarantee to beat any price by 10 percent makes it a top choice for those in the market for a new mattress. Since 2014, Mattress Firm has served San Joaquin County at multiple locations throughout the region meeting customer needs with a varied inventory of top brands. For an individualized sleep experience—and a mattress created to serve your sleeping needs—Sleep Number rounds out the list of favorites, offering the ever-popular Sleep Number system to San Joaquinians after a good night’s rest.
Best Solar Company
Whether the goal is to reduce monthly energy costs, cash in on tax credits, or simply do something good for the environment, solar companies are outfitting roofs in SJC as fast as they can. Rod Johnson Air Conditioning is installing solar panels and offering free consultations in Stockton, BTA Solar serves both the residential and business communities with their integrated photovoltiac roofing systems, and Vivint Solar is an American solar company with a local branch in Stockton, serving San Joaquin customers focused on renewable energy solutions.
Two Tempting Coastal Culinary Crawls on Alabama Beaches
If you are visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, have you considered where and what to eat?
You want to get the best palette-pleasing experiences, so I have put together a couple of culinary crawls that will not only give you a taste of the town, but a quick tour as well!
Coastal Culinary Crawl #1
We are going to start out at The Wharf with the Italian-based eatery, Villaggio Grille. This Orange Beach restaurant is known for an extensive wine list, making it the perfect place for a pre-dinner vino paired with a tantalizing appetizer. I recommend Devils on Horseback for yumminess and good conversation. I won't ruin the surprise for everyone guessing what exactly this will be.
After appetizers are savored, hit the trail to Bill's by the Beach for entrees that are made with fresh, farm-to-table ingredients. Check out the Gulf Shores sunset time and try to arrange your arrival at Bill's to catch the beautiful and changing evening skies. The fresh catch is always a great pick, but my favorite mainstay at Bill's is the blackened Gulf shrimp with stone-ground yellow grits with parmesan and smoked gouda cheeses. It's always fun with friends to order different entrees and share to get a more diverse culinary experience.
When everyone's dinner has settled, load up and head to Lucy Buffett's LuLu's for amazing key lime pie and live music! If there's a wait, no worries! Waiting is half the fun at this Gulf Shores restaurant. Three bars, a large gift shop and lots of music will entertain your group until a table is ready.
Coastal Culinary Crawl #2
For starters, the Flora-Bama Yacht Club offers spectacular drinks and appetizers. My recommendations include the cherry limeade (nope, it's not Sonic), chargrilled oysters and firecracker calamari! Grab some outdoor seats on the sand and watch a lovely sunset.
Next, head over to Voyagers at Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach and enjoy a white tablecloth dinner entrée of grilled snapper or an aged-to-perfection, hand-cut steak paired perfectly with an amazing libation from the wine wall (which is definitely worth a photograph). This Gulf-front dining venue is outdone only by the culinary masterpieces. But save room for dessert!
Only two minutes up the road from Voyagers, you'll find Cobalt Restaurant, the home of mason jar banana pudding! I cannot explain how wonderful this Southern dessert tops off a fun night of exploring the tastes of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Savor the remainder of the evening with a cup of java and enjoy the reflections of your coastal culinary crawls.
Lucca is over 2,000 years old with medieval walls still intact. It was founded by the Etruscans, but became a Roman colony in 180 BC. You can tell the Romans were here by the organized streets in a rectangular grid.
The walls around the city were originally built as a defensive rampart, but they now are a pedestrian and bike path lined with trees. Below and inside the walls are several public piazzas (squares), palaces, shops, restaurants, and medieval churches. In fact, Lucca is known as the city of 100 churches!
A day trip to this little town is not to be missed if you’re in Northern Tuscany! You’ll really only need one day in Lucca to fall in love with it!
The walled city of Lucca
Things to See and Do in Lucca
Walk or Bike Its Historic Walls
Above the historic center of Lucca are the medieval walls of the town. These walls are famous throughout the world because they are the only walls completely accessible by foot or bicycle. They are also accessible by car, but cars are now forbidden on the walls.
Climb up to the wall and take a peaceful walk along the tree-lined pathways with its panoramic views of the hills and historic architecture of the town. All along the wall are bastions and secret corners of which you can stop and admire.
Beneath the trees are playgrounds and recreation areas with picnic tables. So, pack a lunch, a bottle of wine, and find the perfect spot to chill.
Mom walking the tree-lined wall in Lucca Climbing one of the structures along the town walls in Lucca Climbing one of the structures along the town walls
Lucca is known as the city of 100 churches. There’s no way to see all of them in a day, but the following two were a couple of my favorites.
- Cathedral of San Martino – do not miss Lucca’s beautiful Duomo and the piazza it sits in. This cathedral was built in the 11th century, but redesigned in the 14th century Renaissance. Next to the church is the unfinished bell tower, and inside there is what seems like a never ending amount of gorgeous art.
- Basilica di San Michele in Foro began in the 8th century. It has beautiful, ornate arches and columns in varying colors and patterns, some with carvings of animals.
Piazza del Anfiteatro
Piazza del Anfiteatro is one of the most beautiful in Lucca. This oval piazza was built upon the ruins of the ancient Roman amphitheatre. In fact, the oval shape continues with the buildings that surround the piazza. There are several bars and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine and watch people go by.
Piazza Del Anfiteatro
The Torre Guinigi is one of the historic towers in Lucca. It actually has a garden on its rooftop. It was built in the 14th century and is a great example of Roman/Gothic architecture.
Top Tours for Lucca
Annual Events and Festivals in Lucca
Each year Lucca hosts several events and festivals, including Lucca Comics and Games Festival and is Summer Festival. Check out all events and festivals for Lucca here.
Best Time to Visit Lucca
Like most cities in Italy, Lucca gets very crowded in the Summer months. In addition, some restaurants close in Lucca in the Summer. The best time to visit is from April to about mid-June, when the temperatures are comfortable, there is less rain, and less tourists.
Where to Stay in Lucca
Michael and I stayed just outside of the city center of Florence in a farmhouse, but our friends recently stayed just outside of the town of Lucca for a night in a small hotel that they absolutely loved:
Albergo Villa Marta
The Albergo Villa Marta is a former hunting lodge that has been changed into a gorgeous resort. It is located just outside of the walls in the countryside, but is just a short drive to the heart of Lucca.
However, if you want to stay within the city walls, Booking.com is the place to find your own little apartment or villa.
Where to Eat in Lucca
In this little town of Lucca there are so many great restaurants that you’ll really have a tough time deciding where to eat. In fact, you may want to stay for a few days just so you can try all the great osteria and trattoria in Lucca! With one day in Lucca, we were able to try two fabulous restaurants.
Buca di Sant’Antonio
Lunch at Buca di Sant’Antonio was when we had one of the most enjoyable meals of our two months in Italy. This place is authentic! Yes, it is a little touristy, but the food is worth it. The wine list is extensive, the food tasty and creative, and the atmosphere is completely charming. Try the Fettuccine with Porcini Mushrooms or the homemade Ravioli, but save room for the semifreddo for dessert!
Osteria Da Pasquale
For dinner we went to Osteria Da Pasquale for yet another thoroughly enjoyable meal. This is not your typical pasta or pizza place. It is fantastic Tuscan food with a Sicilian twist! In other words, you can eat rabbit, steak or pork… or you can have a delicious seafood meal! The pasta with truffles is fabulous.
See TripAdvisor or Yelp for other great restaurants in Lucca.
Mom and I with the owner of Buca di Sant’Antonio Enjoying the delicious wine in Lucca
How to Get to Lucca
Michael and I were staying in a little farmhouse just outside of the city center of Florence for a few days. We had a rental car, so we decided to take a few side trips, including the Chianti Road, Lucca, and Pisa. They are all very close and easy to get to from Florence, either by car or by train.
There are several airports you can fly into from anywhere in the world to get to Lucca. We normally fly into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, but the closest international airports to Lucca are:
- The Galileo Galilei International Airport (“PSA”) in Pisa is just a 30 minute drive to Lucca. Flight into Pisa will normally be less than into Rome or Florence. (a/k/a Peretola) (“FLR”) in Florence is about an hour and a half by car to Lucca.
If you happen to already be in Europe and are looking to fly into Northern Tuscany, your best bet would be either EasyJet or RyanAir. Both of these are sort of inexpensive flying buses, but they get you to where you want to go in Europe. See how to get the best deals on flights.
DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT, and make sure your passport is up to date! Most countries will not permit you to enter unless your passport has more than six months remaining before it expires.
Transatlantic Repositioning Cruise
If you don’t mind spending a couple of weeks at sea on a ship, a repositioning cruise may be a good option. These cruises are up to half the price of a normal cruise because the cruise companies are just moving their ship from one port to the other. With some of the companies you can actually cruise for as little as $30 a night per person! Great deal! Check out CruiseDirect for their latest deals.
If you fly into Florence, a train ride to Lucca will take about 1.5 hours as there is no direct train to Lucca. A train ride from Pisa to Lucca will last about 30 minutes. Go to Trainline.com for schedules and fares, and book directly with them for convenience.
I know most of us have heard those horror stories about driving in Italy, but it’s really not that bad. Let me clarify! If you’re trying to drive through any of the big cities (Rome, Florence, Naples), forget about it. Don’t even try it (think trying to drive in New York City)! But, if you’re driving through Tuscany, this is the way to go. It’s a beautiful drive, and not difficult at all. And, bonus… they drive on the right side of the road in Italy! So go ahead and rent a car in Florence or Pisa, or wherever you’re staying, and hit the road. See my tips and tricks for renting a car.
Italy does require an International Driving Permit, which you can pick up at your local AAA. They also require proof of liability insurance.
How to Get Around Lucca
Park your car outside of the town walls and forget about it. In Lucca the best way to get around is to put on comfy shoes and walk (it’s very walkable) or rent a bicycle.
“The English Patient” is a 1996 film starring Ralph Fiennes and Colin Firth. It was a huge hit at the box office, and even went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The move was filmed through Tuscany, including the town of Lucca.
Share Your Travel Tips & Comments
As always, if you have any of your own travel tips to add to this post, any remarks on the article, or if my information needs an edit or addition, please leave your comments below. I value all of your input.
Luxe pool lounge and restaurant make a splash at Woodlands destination
Rising high above The Woodlands Waterway, The Westin at The Woodlands is already a hot destination for business meetings and staycations. The hotel’s location in the middle of shopping and entertainment action make it a natural address for those what to be in the center of it all.
Now, the swank lodging is upping its game even more, with the addition of two new concepts, both drawing heavily from luxe Italian influences: Sorriso, a modern Italian trattoria and the bustling Como Social Club Poolside Terrace and Bar.
Led by EDG Design, a hospitality design firm based in San Francisco and with offices in Dallas, the two spaces should provide hotel guests and drop-in diners alike an opportunity to feel transported from Houston’s high energy into a graceful Italian village.
Located right on the Waterway, Sorriso (which means smile in Italian) is intended to evoke the joy of sharing food with friends and loved ones. Chef Enzo Fargione’s menu blends local ingredients like Texas-raised beef and produce with curated selections from around the country to create regional Italian cuisine.
A daily charcuterie bar allows diners to choose as many cured meats and cheeses as they’d like to create a DIY dining experience. House-made pastas like black spaghetti and tagliatelle highlight the lunch menu, alongside grilled branzino, roast suckling pig, and a seasonal spring veal stew. For dinner, selections include red fish Milanese squid ink cavatelli and a host of shareables, like roasted beet salad, charred octopus, and eggplant parmigiana.
The restaurant’s interior is a blend of neutral tones, rich leather and wood, augmented by industrial touches like metal and steel. Designers note the design elements “bring timeless Italian craftsmanship together with a contemporary flare.” Guests will arrive through a two-story glass entrance, and the restaurant boasts an open-hearth display kitchen to bring diners into the center of the culinary experience.
Meanwhile, from its perch overlooking the Waterway, Como Social Club Poolside Terrace + Bar is inspired by the chic style of Italy’s Lake Como. Utterly Instagrammable, the space is an oasis of glistening blue water, cozy private cabanas, and a menu of fast-casual cuisine like quesadillas and burgers. The handcrafted cocktails arrive with an Italian flair, with options such as a traditional Negroni or a classic Aperol spritz, along with selections such as a Limoncello Mule made with vodka, limoncello and ginger beer.
Sorriso and Como Social Club Poolside Terrace and Bar 2 Waterway Square Pl., The Woodlands. Sorriso is open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and happy hour.
Como Social Club Poolside Terrace and Bar is open Monday through Thursday, 5-11 pm, Friday from 5 pm to midnight, Saturday from 11 am to midnight, and Sunday from 11 am to 11 pm.
Where to Dine on New Year’s Eve and Day 2020: Houston
Take a load off and unstress as 2020 comes to a close—don’t worry about dinner this year! Sit back and relax, and let the pros make it special. We’ve rounded-up some of our favorite spots around town open for dine-in and to-go on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Be sure to call ahead for reservations and orders
A’Bouzy 2300 Westheimer 713.722.6899
Pop goes a’Bouzy! Ring in the New Year with the ultimate New Year’s Eve Party Kit for 4 for $308. Includes ingredients for cocktails with Volcán Blanco Tequila (recipe card + instructional video link included), Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut NV, Moët & Chandon Brut Rosé NV, Moët & Chandon Imperial Ice NV, Moët & Chandon Champagne Goblets, New Year’s Spotify playlist, party hats, tiaras, and noisemakers! Or dine-in with them with their full dinner menu available on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner ’til 10 p.m.!
The Annie : 1800 Post Oak Blvd. Suite 6170 713.804.1800
Don’t miss this chance to finally end 2020 and ring in 2021 with The Annie! Join them on New Year’s Eve, Thursday, December 31st, for an evening of delicious food, specialty cocktails, 2021 swag and LIVE MUSIC from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.! Then cure your hangover on New Year’s Day, Friday, January 1st, for their delicious brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or dinner from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Artisans Restaurant : 3201 Louisiana St., Houston 713.529.9111
Finish off 2020 with a happy note here at Artisans Restaurant! The $120 six-course French menu features dishes like oysters and smoked butter, lobster and salmon, and a sable ice cream yule log, and ends with a Champagne toast. Book your reservations to dine between 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Backstreet Cafe : 1103 S Shepherd Dr., Houston 713.521.2239
Spend your New Year’s Eve at Backstreet Cafe for a three-course dinner complete with a sparkling cocktail midnight toast for $79 per person. Enjoy selections like butternut squash risotto, lobster chowder, and a cast-iron ribeye. Return for brunch on New Year’s Day complete with black-eyed peas for good luck from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m! Backstreet Cafe also offers some of their favorite à la carte items and couples meals which can be pre ordered in advance.
B&B Butchers 1814 Washington Ave., Houston 713.862.1814
Join B&B on New Year’s Eve for a fun, festive evening of delicious food, drinks, party favors, and (most importantly) live music and a DJ from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.! Guests can order off the regular dinner menu and reservations are required. Recover and rehydrate at the “Hangover Cure Brunch” on New Year’s Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Enjoy live music by Jeremy Joseph on the rooftop patio and decadent brunch dishes, including black-eyed peas and greens special, and our specialty cocktails. They will also be open for dinner service that day, which begins at 3 p.m.
Brasserie du Parc , 1440 Lamar Street 832.879.2802
Come celebrate the holiday season and treat your family to a 3-course prix fixe menu. The special dinner, which is $58 per adult and $22 per child, will feature selections like duck confit and New York roast and sticky toffee pudding. Make your reservations at 832-879-2802.
Caracol : 2200 Post Oak Blvd., Suite #160, Houston 713.622.9996
This New Year let Caracol’s kitchen do all the work! Dine-in with them on New Year’s Eve for a four-course special holiday menu for $85. Enjoy selections like a lime-cured red snapper and fire-roasted Gulf shrimp for the main course—just don’t forget to save room for the cream cheese flan for dessert. Please call 713-622-9996 for reservations. Or let them take care of all the fixings for your holiday feast with Chef Hugo’s Couples Feast to-go and more à la carte items can be pre ordered in advance.
Etoile Cuisine et Bar , 1101-11 Uptown Park Blvd 832.668.5808
Etoile will be open on New Year’s Eve for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. serving their regular menu and for dinner from 5 p.m. to midnight, serving a special 4-course menu for $88 person plus beverages, tax & gratuity Reservations are require and can be made by calling 832-668-5808. They will be closed on New Year’s Day.
Fielding’s Local Kitchen + Bar : 26400 Kuykendahl Rd., The Woodlands 281.351.2225
Ring in the New Year at Fielding’s Local! Join them from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. for their annual New Year’s Celebration! They will have features, party favors, and live music to help you ring in the new year in STYLE. You can expect a stellar menu from Chef Edel along with a New Years Cocktail menu with 5 cocktails and 5 martinis that will run through the month of January. Call 281-612-7630 to reserve your seats now & stay tuned for all the exciting details. They will also be open on New Years’ day for brunch a 9 a.m. and dinner at 3 p.m.
The Grove : 1611 Lamar St., Houston 713.337.7321
The Grove Houston will be featuring multiple all-inclusive bars throughout the property, passed hors d’oeuvres and premium food stations, as well as D.J.’s, live music, party favors and anything you can think of to celebrate in style. Learn more and RSVP here .
Hugo’s : 1600 Westheimer @ Mandell 713.524.7744
Hugo’s is celebrating the new year with dine-in and to-go options. Dine-in with them on New Year’s Eve for a four-course special holiday menu for $72 with live guitar music by Viento and complimentary sparkling cocktail toast at midnight. Or stop by for brunch New Year’s Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for their regular a la cart menu. Please call 713.524.7744 for reservations. Or let them take care of all the fixings for your holiday feast with Chef Hugo’s Couples Feast to-go and more à la carte items can be pre ordered in advance.
Jonathan’s The Rub : Multiple Locations
Both Jonathan’s The Rub will be open on New Year’s Eve, serving their full menu plus nightly specials during dinner service. You can make your reservations online .
Kiran’s : 2925 Richmond Ave., Houston 713.960.8472
Join Kiran’s for dine-in or to-go New Years Eve and New Years day! Just for the holiday there’s serving a special menu for $125 per guest with dishes like lobster bisque, seared scallops and cabernet-spiced poached pears. Their adjust hours are as follows: New Years Eve take-out 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and dine-in 4 p.m. to midnight, New Years Day take-out 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and dine-in 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
La Table : 1800 Post Oak Blvd., Houston 713-439-1000
Looking for a chic New Year’s Eve celebration? Celebrate with an exquisite dinner tasting menu for $125 per person featuring delectable dishes like salmon caviar, black angus filet and tarte tatin. Make your reservation today!
Le Colonial : 4444 Westheimer Rd 713.629.4444
Bid adieu to 2020 at Le Colonial, located in the buzzy River Oaks District. The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to midnight on New Year’s Eve, offering prix fixe lunch ($65) and dinner ($85) menus. Diners can elevate the experience and opt for wine pairings at an additional cost. There will be no a la carte options available on New Year’s Eve. Find the full menu available here . The restaurant will be open on New Year’s Day during regular lunch hours (11 a.m. – 4 p.m.) to offer the regular menu with a la carte options.
Loch Bar : 4444 Westheimer 832.430.6601
Join rockin’ River Oaks District seafood tavern, Loch Bar, in welcoming 2021. Guests who dine in on New Year’s Eve can indulge in the chef’s special consisting of Dijon and Herb-Crusted Prime Rib, with au jus and Horseradish Cream, with a choice of two sides. In addition to the upbeat musical stylings of a live band, Mojo Faction, diners present for the midnight countdown will enjoy a complimentary champagne toast, confetti cannons, and other festive amusements. Loch Bar will be open during regular hours of operation. Reservations are encouraged. Loch Bar will also be open on New Year’s Day from 2 p.m. – 2 a.m., serving its full menu with live entertainment.
MAD : 1800 Post Oak Blvd., Houston 713.439.1000
Countdown the New Year the MAD way with a special dining affair. They will have two seatings for dinner available that will include a special chef’s tasting menu, party favors and a champagne toast. Learn more about their special just for the new year here .
Masraff’s : 1753 Post Oak Blvd., Houston 713.355.1975
Celebrate the holidays with family at Masraff’s! Savor selections like colossal crab cakes or sizzling ribeyes. It will be open on New Year’s Eve from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m, but closed on New Year’s Day.
Prego 2 520 Amherst, 713.529.2420
Located in the heart of Rice Village, this comfortable trattoria is a festive space in which to celebrate with family and friends. The restaurant will be open noon to 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, offering their regular menu and nightly specials, including Lobster Fra Diavolo Fettucine, Osso Buco and Veal Chop Milanese. Full bar and award-winning wine list. Reservations highly recommended. They will also be open on New Year’s Day serving brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and serving the lunch and dinner menu until 9 p.m.
Rainbow Lodge 2011 Ella Blvd., 713.861.8666
Rainbow Lodge is Houston’s original lodge restaurant featuring seafood and wild game in a historic 114-year-old log cabin on an acre of beautiful grounds. The restaurant will be open on New Year’s Eve for dinner with reservations from 5 p.m to 10 p.m. serving a special 3-course menu for $79 per person plus beverages, tax & gratuity. The Lodge will also be serving a Southern-style New Year’s Day Brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., offering an a la carte menu with Gulf Coast-inspired favorites. And there will be Black-Eyed Peas for good luck! Dinner will be their regular dinner menu starting at 5 p.m. Live music from 6-9 pm, either in the bar or on the patio depending on the weather, as always on Fridays.
Sambuca : 909 Texas Ave., Houston 713.227.7423
Dance your way into 2020 at Houston’s Sambuca, with a delicious 3-course chef dinner, Elvis variety show and midnight champagne toast. Purchase your tickets here .
Steak 48 : 4444 Westheimer Rd., Houston 713.322.7448
Celebrate the New Year with something sizzling! Known for their impeccable service and buzzy ambiance, River Oaks District’s favorite steakhouse will be open New Year’s Eve from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m is serving its full menu for guests to enjoy! From famous raw bar combinations to sizzling plates and opulent sides there are plenty of options to satisfy every guest in your party!
State of Grace : 3258 Westheimer Rd. 832.942.5080
Ring in 2021 at River Oaks eatery State of Grace, which will be offering a special New Year’s Eve menu for $125 per person with wine pairing options available for $45 and $95. Menu offerings include an amuse for the table, Wagyu Tartare, Scallop Crudo, Black Truffle Triangoli, Braised Lamb Shank, Seared Diver Scallops, Strawberry Sorbet, and more. To make a reservation, visit here or call the restaurant at 832-942-5080.
Sea Dog Brew Pub in Treasure Island is hosting a community-centered event coined "Locals' Fest". The event is an effort to highlight the neighborhoods by the gulf beaches as well as to raise funds for coastal clean-up a portion of ticket sales will benefit Tampa Bay Watch. Locals’ Fest is set to take place on the first floor level of Sea Dog and will feature food booths, beer trucks, merchandise tents, live music, and more. The entertainment lineup includes Seranation, SOWFLO, the lead singer of Passafire, the lead singer of Resinated, DJ Badda Skat, DJ Rollin, and more. The event is dog-friendly and all ages are welcome. There is a $10 entry at the door and early bird tickets can be purchased for $5 at http://bit.ly/2zKc9Cf.
WHAT: Sea Dog Brew Pub presents Locals’ Fest 2018
DETAILS: A family-friendly music fest featuring food, beer, merchandise, and more.
WHEN: October 20, 2018 from 2:00PM - 10:00PM
ADDRESS: 9610 Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island, FL 33706
PARKING: Parking available in Florida Parking lot across from 7-11 with shuttle service provided.
For tickets and schedule: https://www.facebook.com/events/506141576520478/
Drunken Burger Sliders were had by all
Seranation is a reggae-rock band based in St. Petersburg and is the city’s most energetic music group. The band constantly delivers catchy lyrics, tasteful guitar hooks and upbeat tempos making their sound undeniable to anyone who listens. The members of the popular local band became acquainted at the Treasure Island hotspot, Ricky T’s. Seranation was formed in late 2014 by Adam Hooker, Bianca Schlosser, and J. Carter. The band completed its first nationwide “None Escape the Law” tour this past summer alongside Tunnel Vision and Kash’d Out. Seranation also debuted their latest album “Livin’ the Dream” on March 23.
SOWFLO is an original rock/ reggae band from Southwest FL represented by Jacob Dorris (lead vox/guitar), Christian Yacono (bass/vox), Daniel Danger (lead guitar), Nick Grim (trombone), & Wesley James (Drums). Nationally touring since 2012, SOWFLO has built a passionate and ever-growing following that expands far beyond their native shores of Southwest FL. SOWFLO released their debut full-length album "SUCH IS LIFE" on June 30th debuting at #4 on the iTunes Reggae charts as well as #5 on Billboard Reggae charts. The band is also currently working in the release of their second full-length album, “New Shoes”.
TED BOWNE, LEAD SINGER OF PASSAFIRE
Ted Bowne is the lead singer and guitarist of the band Passafire. As a founding member, he has been touring with the band nationally and internationally for over 15 years. When he’s not touring with the band he can be seen playing solo shows at home and on the road. Ted uses a variety of instruments and pedals to create dense loops and add vocal effects.
KENNY MULLINS, LEAD SINGER OF RESINATED
Kenny Mullins, lead vocals/guitar for the band Resinated, is a singer-songwriter from Madeira Beach, Florida. Kenny has released over 2 albums and numerous EP’s with Resinated and has gained national exposure with their most recent EP climbing to the top 100 pop iTunes Charts. Visit ResinatedMusic.com for current status, videos and tours.
ABOUT TAMPA BAY WATCH
Tampa Bay Watch is working to preserve the delicate ecological balance that exists in Tampa Bay. A nonprofit organization established in 1993, Tampa Bay Watch performs a variety of habitat restoration and protection activities throughout the year, utilizing thousands of volunteers to help the bay recover from its environmental problems.