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santa cruz

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We'll be in Santa Cruz from 10/4 thru 10/7. Any suggestions for Seafood and/or Italian that are not tourist traps but where the locals go. Thanks much.

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  1. "are not tourist traps"???

    To me, the whole town except UC Santa Cruz is for/of tourists. If you want good seafood, in my opinion, you should drive to Montrey.

    Italian food? I do not know not-for-tourists Italian food restaurants on the coast of Central California.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Hiko Ikeda

      I don't know if this place is "not for touists" but I can attest to its quality and authenticity.

      *Star Bene Ristorante Italiano*

      2-1245 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      Open nightly from 5pm to 10pm

      (831) 479-4307

      Link: http://www.star-bene.com/aboutus.htm

    2. Try using the search engine typing "Santa Cruz" and you'll get several good threads. Although this ain't seafood or Italian, my picks are Pearl Alley Bistro and Tacos Moreno. Ristorante Avanti gets good reviews, so that's probably a good place to try. Unlike Hiko Ikeda, I've always thought of Monterey as a tourist trap and Santa Cruz as a college town.

      1. c
        Caitlin McGrath

        I agree that the tourist/local ration seems much higher in Monterey than Santa Cruz, something that might not be clear if you've only been to the touristy parts of Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, most of the seafood-specific places are on the tourist-oriented wharf. Ristorante Avanti on Mission near Bay is a good local Italian spot for lunch or dinner, definitely not on the tourist path.

        1. Well I live in Santa Cruz and am neither a student or (obviously) a tourist. I definately second the Avanti suggestion. Great homey feel, wonderful owners, great wine list and delicious seasonal cuisine. Oswald is neither a seafood or Italian place, but does make the best food in town and often features several seafood specials. The pastry chef was just written up in the Merc last Wed. Pearl Alley is a great place for a glass of wine (huge list, every bottle just $8 over retail) The bouilabaisse is the best bet in my opinion. El Palomar taco bar makes it's own tortillas, has great salsa and carne asada. La Cabana in Davenport (10 miles north) has best tacos overall (al pastor and nopales to die for). Speaking of fish, Shogun serves huge sushi portions of immaculate fish. Get the Nigiri rather than the Maki. There's a few, feel free to e-mail me if you have any other questions.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Detlef Chef
            Caitlin McGrath

            Thanks for posting. Eric Eto and I both used to live in Santa Cruz, and I for one get so sick of hearing people say "Santa Cruz is just a tourist town, there is no good food/upscale restaurant/Shadowbrook is the best in the area" and so on, when they clearly have no idea about Santa cruz food.

            1. re: Detlef Chef

              mr D Chef,

              Thank you for your recommendations. My partner and I will be heading down to beautiful Santa Cruz on thursday...ON BUSINESS! You wouldn't believe it.

              Anyhoo, El Palomar sounds grand, as does Pearl Alley. I have one wine-related question that I hope you can answer. Is the Bonny Doon vineyard/winery worth a visit? We love wines from the DOONominazione controllata and have always wanted to hit the winery for a tasting, but as it would add several hours to our journey I thought I would take advantage of the vast knowledge available to me here on chowhound and ask you what you thought of it.



              1. re: patrick

                As it turns out, Randall is a friend of mine, and I always enjoy stopping by to see what they are pouring. Cigar Volant, Old Telegram, the Pinot Menuier, the Malvasia, and the desert wines being my favorites. That being said, in truth I'm not a fan of the entire selection. In particular, his lower priced wines are unremarkable at best and are often, well, overpriced for what they are. If you're lucky enough to go there when they've just had some VIPs taste, they might have some of the better stuff open. If you go back to an early september posting I made for someone else coming this way, you'll find some other winery recommendations. One must stop is right downtown; Storrs Winery. I actually work there from time to time because I like their wine so much. It's one of those all-to-uncommon wineries where everything is great. They make a large selction of small lot, single vineyard bottlings. They are open Thurs-Mon from 12-5 and I'll actually be there this weekend (both Sat and Sun). I should also ammend my taco suggestion. I still like El Palomar especially if you're looking for the full restaurant experience. They do the typically fun "California full-bar Mexican" deal with good food to boot. However, since I posted the first time, I had a taco there and at Taqueria Santa Cruz and enjoyed Santa Cruz better. JUST FOR THE TACOS, the burritos have too much rice and beans and come off rather dry, but the tacos are just meat, salsa, and chopped onion. The Lengua was extry good. Keep in mind that Pearl Alley can get a bit carried away with culinary whimsy and turn out some down right strange food, so tread lightly. That's why I often end up at Oswald for it's clean, pure food. All three (Palomar, Oswald, and Pearl Alley) are within walking distance and you should be able to walk-in this time of year (The hundreds of thousands of tourists have left and there's only like 10 or so of us remaining in town).

                1. re: Detlef Chef

                  Detlef Chef, I love that handle. I have to dissent about El Palomar, however. It's fine for what it is, but not a destination spot IMO. Frankly, I used to love El Palomar when it was just a restaurant in that great old ballroom. The sopes were exceptional. How did they get the masa that light? I found it went downhill on my last two visits, my last visit being this past May. It was quite a disappointment. Have you been to Tacos Moreno? That is usually my first destination when I arrive in town, but I haven't heard anyone else comment on this place. They make the best salsa picante.

                  1. re: Eric Eto

                    Dude, I hear you on Tacos Morenos. I guess I just still resent them for dropping Lengua from their menu. None the less, their salsa is great (quesadillas too) and I still enjoy the place alot. What I like about the Palomar, is that they're good at what they do. I love the light shining through the roof, they make a good drink, I do think the food is tasty, and my wife and I ALWAYS have a good time when we go there. BTW If you're a Morenos fan, check out the one on Beach St., they have a larger menu. The moniker was given to me by an old friend. I was a Sonics fan (I still am to the extent that I can tolerate the NBA in general(not much)) when Detlef Schrempf was playing for them and he started calling me that. Eric Eto, why do I remember that name? did you go to Harbor High?

                    1. re: Detlef Chef

                      After recovering from the initial shock from discovering that Morenos dropped lengua from the menu, I felt much better after biting into a quesadilla. Since I'm a New Yorker now, I don't get much of a chance to cuise over to SC, except when I'm on vacation. For something like 5 years, I was deprived of my Tacos Moreno because the only time I was in the SC area was during the winter holidays and Estaban Moreno always closes shop for a month to take the entire extended family down to Mexico. That was pure torture. I guess I'll give El Palomar another chance, when I get the opportunity.

                      Never went to Harbor High. I'm from LA: University High, class of '84, and UCSC, Stevenson College, class of '89.

                    2. re: Eric Eto

                      I agree - Palomar is faded at best, while Moreno is a bit of "hole in the wall" (ie, ain't fancy!) the food is truly fab.

                      They have these "quesadillas" which are a taco w some melted cheese and a bit of crisp-ness, some cabbage, salsa... OMG I want to go eat some now!!

              2. Cafe Campesino! This place is my favorite chow palace in Santa Cruz... there's no question that this is the best mexican food in SC. It's "Mexican Farmouse" food, and it's a little bit different than the usual cali-mexico faire.

                Don't let its looks decieve you, the little Kiosk in front of New Leaf on Pacific (the main drag) is consitently serving up some of the finest dishes you could ever hope for. There's plenty of patio seating and great people watching to be had while you wait for your order.

                Burritos and tacos are forgone for Patcharellas... basically tortillas stuffed with the ingredients of your choice. My usual patcharella consists of organic chicken, beans, mexican cheese, tomatoes, guacomole (very spicy watch out), and lettuce.

                They have plenty of dishes which are quite large portions. I highly recommend the Enchiladas Verdes which is a deal a $7.95.

                Also, their iced drinks are positively delicious! Try the lemon iced tea on a hot day. It's a potent flavor.

                Trust me, this place is the all time Chow Hound discovery of Santa Cruz.

                1. I love Aldo's fish sandwiches and calamari.

                  I'd stay away from the mediocre restaurants downtown...

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: yehfromthebay

                    Yeh... I agree with you that downtown is NOT what I love about santa cruz. In fact, I'd rarely spend time there if I didn't work just a block away from pacific. And many of the restraunts on pacific are overpriced and mediocre. But that said, Campesino is neither. It's the real deal. Just try the enchiladas verdes plate (or anything else) and perhaps an iced tea and you'll be one happy chowhound.

                    Also, please be patient... its a small kiosk with two devoted (and sometimes overwhelmed) chefs, and you probably will have to wait 10 minutes for your order. Just do what I do and enjoy watching the passerbyers as you wait.

                    They are open Wednesday - Sunday (for sure) from 11-7 (roughly)

                    I got this info off the net, i hope its correct

                    Cafe Campesino @ Pacific and Soquel
                    1130 PACIFIC AVE
                    SANTA CRUZ, CA

                    My other favorite SC MX haunts are Tacos Morenos (soquel and seabright), La Cabana (old san jose rd. N of Soquel), the TACO BAR @ El Palomar (not the sit down fancy restraunt, the taco bar) (Pacific N. of Walnut) , and Los Pinos (Pacific N. of Mission). Also check out the saffron shrimp @ Fiesta Tepa Sahuayo on 1st St in Watsonville if you are feeling adventerous. Watch out... If you order a beer you might get a bucket of 6!

                    Some other Santa Cruz El Cheapo Favorites:

                    WOW! Dianna's Italian Deli (old San Jose Rd. 1-2 blocks S. of Soquel Dr.). Surfin Bird Club... yumm... Pesto Chicken... (with some salt and pepper) yummm! Broke? Order one of those cheaper $6 sandwiches without a fancy name... they are also amazing.

                    Pizza My Heart (Pacific, S. Of Soquel Dr) - Damn good pizza, try the cheese, delex, and veggie. Better than anything I had growing up in LA, but be sure whatever you choose, pick out a fresh and crispy slice... don't judge them by an occasional floppy something that's been around for a few hours. I usually go for a Salad + Slice + Drink combo for $5.75. (some salads are more expensive, but FOGET ABOUT IT)

                    Charlie Hong Kong... yeah the Laughing Pheonix Curry is pretty good, and so are a lot of things at this Organic Cali- Chinese restraunt. But forget about what you've tried... there is one thing here that is the BEST THING... and hardly anyone ever orders it. If its salmon season order SALMON SANDWICH! It's a filet on delicious fresh baked baguette with their signature hoisin sauce and veggies. Be warned... If you order this out of season, your salmon will be teeeny. In fact... this sandwich is always a little bit teeny, so go for a bowl of rice or something else too. If you like the sandwich try the Carnitas or Shrimp Tortas at La Cabana.

                    More favorites soon...

                    1. re: yehfromthebay

                      The kids wanted to eat by the water - usually not our choice since eating near the water means one is paying for the view and not the food, but Aldo's did a nice calamari fritta, the chowder was respectable, The seafood dishes were grilled just right, and the service was very accomodating. We arrived about 30 minutes before close time, but the waiter and staff were still very gracious. It was a little cold to be sitting on the deck that night but we still got a great show from the pelicans diving into the harbor for their meals...

                      As touristy as some feel this place is, for tourists like us, we enjoyed it.

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        For seafood I'd do Cafe Rio (Aptos) or Riva's on the SC wharf. I love the Crow's Nest for the locale and while some may believe it is "too touristy" believe me there are plenty of locals who eat there too. For casual & pastry go to Gayle's in Capitola and Kelly's in SC. There are several good threads about SC restaurants recently.

                        1. re: drucie

                          Cafe Rio? You obviously haven't been there since Pat sold it to the new owners. Cafe Rio went downhill and went fast. Went twice since sold and can't imagine it ever improving both service and food.

                          Local eateries still tops on my list (always great food always great service), Caruso's in Capitola, Ambrosia in Aptos, Tacos Morenos in Santa Cruz, Resturant Italiano in Santa Cruz.

                          If you're coming to Santa Cruz you're probably better off staying away from downtown. Lot's of low life (drunks and druggies) hanging around asking (sometimes insisting) for money. Real depression seeing all these creeps ruining a nice downtown area.

                    2. I used to live in the area and still visit often. And I second the recommendation of The Crow's Nest. It has a great location by the yacht harbor, great views, and very good fish (and the best salad bar in the area). I also like Aldos, but it is more laid-back and does not have as good a view. El Palomar is also good (their corn tortillas are amazingly light, like flour tortillas anywhere else). And if you want a great muffin for breakfast while you are there, check out Rebecca's Mightly Muffins (if it is still there; I have not checked in a while). I used to get muffins and coffees to go and take them to the beach for an unbeatable breakfast (well, you could also add champagne)!

                      1. I started to reply "Gabriella!" because of young Chef Sean Baker. (My SD chef husband and I had had a very memorable meal there a few years ago-- really just about perfect in every way.) But I read that Chef Baker has left Gabriella and moved to the dining room at Bonny Doon. If eating there is an option, that's where I'd head.

                        1. For my visits to Santa Cruz I've relied on this great blog: http://christinawaters.com/ Check current posts, but the archives are good too. Lots on the surrounding wine area as well.

                          1. I may not be considered a local, but I have lived here for 10 years now. I have to admit that there aren't any seafood places that I would recommend, but in terms of italian both Avanti (as recommended above) and La Posta are excellent.

                            1. Better late than never, there are some great restaurants in Santa Cruz. Realizing the initial post was many years ago, wanted to update. Seafood: Sandabs in Scotts Valley, fish is the freshest in town, owner has his own fishing boat and good relationships with all commercial fishermen. has the best crab pasta in Santa Cruz county. Oak Tree Ristorante in Felton, has a beautiful outdoor patio, Italian chef/owner Sebastian makes the most wonderful homemade pasta, grilled meats and fish, look for the black cod in marinara sauce. Ristorante Avanti, probably best restaurant overall in Santa Cruz, small farmer and organic products, fabulous wine list, loved by the locals, wild mushroom risotto to die for, great little cookies come with the check. Gabriela, even though has been change of chefs, Paul the owner strives to produce high quality, local small farmer and organic products, had wonderful Christmas eve dinner there, delicious leg of lamb and beet salad, great wine list and service is typical Santa Cruz, a bit slow and maybe a bit spacey but hey its Santa Cruz., Gabriela is small and intimate, I think a romantic restaurant. La Posta another wonderful Italian restaurant, serves great Italian style pizza as well as a great menu and wine list and is across the street from the other best pizza joint in Santa Cruz, Engford Pizza works, try the hot Coraltios Nights pizza. Two very different styles but great food.

                              Ristorante Avanti
                              1711 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                              La Posta
                              538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                              11 Camp Evers Ln, Scotts Valley, CA 95066

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: hobiecat


                                I'll be visiting Aptos next weekend with two college friends and we will probably go out for some meals. Can you suggest a place for Sat B'fast (if rain cancels the Cabrillo Farmer's Mkt) or lunch, and Sat dinner? One of us is vegetarian, the others are either adventurous or nearly so.

                                I like the looks of Ambrosia if it is still around.

                                1. re: toodie jane

                                  Have you tried Cafe Brasil?

                                  Cafe Brasil
                                  1410 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                                  1. re: toodie jane

                                    Highly recommend Sunrise Cafe for breakfast - in Soquel - one of our favorites. Nice range of traditional brekkie items, plus some w lots of veggies and special flair. Great eggs benedict!

                                    Sunrise Cafe
                                    4718 Soquel Dr, Soquel, CA 95073

                                    1. re: eqjosh

                                      Is Zachary's still going?
                                      They used to do a good breakfast

                                    2. re: toodie jane

                                      PS. Ambrosia is still around.

                                      Avanti, mentioned above, is on the north side of town and is definitely one of the best in the area. La Posta is good, but I prefer Soif Wine Bar, same owners, Soif has a more eclectic menu and a bit more vibrant energy.

                                      Soif Wine Bar & Retail
                                      105 Walnut Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                                      La Posta
                                      538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                                      Ristorante Avanti
                                      1711 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060