Wallins sure is conveniently located for mid-Peninsula divers and its a big, well stocked store. But they are VERY expensive and I can't remember being treated worse in a retail environment. A truly bad attitude, almost downright hostile by many of the staff - very superior and acting like they're annoyed by your desire for service. While I was leaving, I was aware of an altercation of the parking lot - a man screaming at some kids on skateboards (there's a board shop in the same shopping center). Turns out, it was the owner of Wallins Dive Center. A second visit merited a similar experience - bad treatment. I guess I might go back for convenience, but I'll try to avoid it.
As the name suggests, Windy City serves a Chicago-style, deep dish pizza and they're good ones. There's also a good selection of beers on tap and in bottles; cider and wine, too. The place is decorated with Chicago-ana and is a family friendly place. They also serve good ribs and BBQ sandwiches as well. Conveniently located at 92 and El Camino with plenty of parking.
PROS: good deep dish pizza, family friendly, Guiness on tap!
A Menlo Park institution for 50+ years, Keppler's is that great bookstore we all crave. It doesn't have *everything*, but oh the experience. Its a place to go and enjoy books, to learn about new authors, to steep in the revelry of books and enjoy the experience of shopping for them. So wonderful, that as the business started to go under as folks starting buying more from Amazon, et al, locals have stepped up to underwrite the business to keep it open. Sometimes love beats profit and its that good a bookstore.
PROS: a great book buying/browsing/discovery experience
CONS: Can be crowded on a weekend - oh well!
Its "just a local wine store" - but what a knowledgeable and helpful staff. Every wine in there has been tasted by some of the staff and if the person helping you hasn't tasted it, they'll grab the one who has. They are extremely helpful and they learn and remember your tastes. They do have reasonable prices and many bargains, particularly if you buy a case or more. If I'm throwing a dinner party, going to Weimax becomes one of the real treats in the experience.
PROS: good selection, knowledgeable & helpful staff, reasonable to good prices.
CONS: parking can be a challenge some days
I love this store - its designed for pro photogs and serious enthusiasts. You won't get talked down to because you're not a pro, unlike K&S or Gasser. They have a very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly staff. They don't always have what you want, but will get it. They do have good prices and its the kind of store you develop a relationship with and they meet your needs. If you are a budding photography enthusiast or student in the area, its a great store. And certainly worth a visit if you're a pro (good lighting gear, etc).
PROS: helpful, knowledgeable, pleasant to shop
CONS: inconvenient hours
Easily the best high-end and professional photography stores (one digital, one film - across the street from each other) in the Bay Area. Why anyone would shop Adolph Gasser instead is beyond me.
That said, they aren't a bargain - you can find cheaper prices, but unlikely you'll find a better selection outside of mail order or the web. They do have a knowledgeable staff who are helpful but don't suffer fools lightly. But you'll likely find what you need there, including information. Their used camera sub-store is well stocked and run.
PROS: good selection, very good pro store
CONS: sometimes haughty staff, no bargains
If you need professional audio equipment, Leo's is your best retail bet in the Bay Area. From mixers to ADAT to controllers, microphones, speaker systems - they've got the best brands and the full range as well. Not just for pros, but really the only place to shop for selection and price.
PROS: great selection, very knowledgeable and helpful staff, reasonable prices
An family run market that originated in San Mateo 50+ years ago (originally on 25th), Draeger's returned around the year 2000 with the newest of their upscale stores (they have one each in Menlo Park and Los Altos, too) with a gorgeous new store in downtown San Mateo. An amazing deli, with precooked foods, a type flight meat and fish department and fruits and vegetables to make Whole Foods embarassed. Need tamarind paste or black vinegar? They've got it. Veal demi-glasse? Yeah, that, too. Top flight wine selection to match the produce!
They've also got a cooking school and house the top-flight restaurant Voigner (where Gary Danko was the original chef). Its city block devoted to culinary pursuits. NOT cheap, but they are a wonderful store.
PROS: truly well stocked gourmet food and wine, plenty of parking downtown
Remember long ago, before dinasours roamed the earth, before Toys R Us and the other chains had swallowed up the well run, well stocked, local toy store? You know, the one that had the great selection of model trains in every guage, the well stocked plastic model department and an amazing collection of Corgi toys? The one that had a doll department with so many dolls of all varieties that it made a little girl's head spin? The one that had a great selection of kids books and old fashioned board games? Well, that family run toy store still exists in downtown San Mateo and it's Talbot's.
No Nintendos or Playstations, but an abundance of wooden toys and rockers, a well stocked bike department (they'll build 'em for you) and a nice selection of yard toys like playhouses and jungle gyms. You'll see the big ferris wheel of made of K'Nex in the window or the 8 foot tall Bear (from the Big Blue House). On the corner of B and 5th in downtown San Mateo.
Oh, yeah.... and they'll hold your Christmas gifts until Christmas Eve!
PROS: fantastic selection, great service, not a chain
CONS: no discounts, save on bikes.
We've happily eaten breakfast at Peter's Cafe for a dozen years, enjoying a constantly good quality and very friendly service there the whole time. Frequently voted the "Bay Area's" or "The Peninsula's" best diner by various publications, its simple diner fare, fresh and well prepared. Its clean, has good service and is very kid friendly. Its a great place for an omlette, a dutch baby, BLT or burger.
Peter and Tiffany Liu have run Peter's cafe for 15 years, and they've pretty much had the same staff working for them, with very modest turnover. I've always found that a happy staff is a reasonable indicator of a decent restaurant.
PROS: clean, good service, great diner food, right next to Millbrae BART/Caltrain