cafe cruz is amazing, expecially their calamari salad... if you want something really funky (like crazy dancing and neon lights in a family atmosphere that is breathe taking if you ask to sit outside in the grove of redwoods) and good italian is Ciao Bella in Ben Lomond... Tad the owner is quite the character and is quite the happening spot on the weekend...
but i agree that o mei is fantastic as well
I think both Avanti and Omei can be missed. But if your into large wine selection along with the completely organic meals I guess you can go see whats up about Avanti. but, I wasn't impressed the first time I went. Omei, is the closest thing we have to chinese and Omei is americanized as you can get with a santa cruz twist.
If your coming with a family the following may be more appropriate recs:
are you interested in a nice harbor side meal in the morning or for lunch? try Aldo's at the santa cruz harbor. its american/italian food.
Try Gayle's in capitola for a refreshing snack, or pick something up for dessert or breakfast in the morning.
Tacos and buritos ect. scene is decent here:
La Cabana on Mission st. next to Omei has a great mole, and tacos ect. try the tacos crispy and try them with desembrada.
Taqueria Vallarta, has the best salsa fresca in SC in my opinion.
Avoid sushi in SC, I'm almost positive where your coming from has better sushi.
Go up the 1 alittle bit, and look for Swanton berry farms its about 12 miles up. after you pass Omei and La cabana. At the farm you can pick your own strawberries or if your in a rush, you can pick up a couple baskets. they also have homemade goodies which include pies, jams, and ice cream. The scenic route up to the farm and around it is just worth it alone. Warning: strawberry picking is a dirty job, (unless its done with extreme grace) and it gets uncomfortable especially in this hot weather and they only have portable potties there for guests. swantonberryfarm.com for more info.
Sushi On the Run in Aptos, in an old gas station office/bay across Soquel Ave from Safeway. Japanese owners "retired" from their very popular trad. place to open this grab 'n go venue. Very fresh and very good.
I haven't eaten at Avanti in a few years, but in my monthly visits over one year (2002) their food was consistantly delicious, well-presented and reasonable. I mourn the closure of the breakfast service. Creamy/crispy french toast was the ultimate. Great Italian coffee.
I think Avanti and Omei are over-rated and over prized.
Tacos Moreno on Water St. would be a good taqueria in Mexico. I don't see the attraction of Vallarta unless you just like a huge burrito filled with rice and beans plus whatever meat you ordered.
Gayle’s is expensive but god. I like Kelly’s on the Westside.
For ice cream DO NOT miss Mariane’s on Ocean St.
Riva on the wharf, stick to the fried or grilled items.
I think Tacos Moreno is pretty horrible-maybe I have always ordered the wrong items. (not sure what makes "a good taqueria in Mexico")...and to me the Buttery beats Gayles in every way, better sandwiches and better baked goods. Gayle's is ridiculously expensive. I really like Avanti and O'Mei. They maybe pricey but they are worth it. Avanti uses local, seasonal produce, and I believe they use organic produce for the most part. Guess it all depends on your taste buds. Naka Sushi over on 41st at Portola is wonderful and fresh, although the rolls are so huge, you almost have to take them apart to eat them. Great neighborhood atmosphere, if you are looking for something more than the typical tourist experience. If you want to eat like a tourist, by all means go to Gayles or go eat on the wharf. It really depends on what kind of experience you want.
Mainly the salsa. Anybody can make a decent taco, but making great salsa is an art-form. It is very hard to find Mexican food similar to what you would find in Mexico in the U.S. Moreno is pretty authentic, Vallarta is not. Gayles is an "institution" like it or not. Their bread is very good. I love the Buttery’s cakes, but their bread is made for them by Golden Sheaf.
Avanti has not figured-out that when making Italian food, one "goldens" the garlic, not burn it. (pretty basic technique, horrible mistake)
Omei is for pompous UCSC professors pathetically trying to pick-up grad students with a nice hot meal.
Agree with you 100% on Naka, best sushi in these parts.
Easy on the tourists. At least they were eating at Gayle’s and not just bringing a six-pack of Bud light from over the hill. We can use their $’s.
Opinion is what it’s all about!
re: aureliano buendia
'Omei is for pompous UCSC professors pathetically trying to pick-up grad students with a nice hot meal.'
This is one of the funniest things about SC that I've read/heard in a long time! :-P Thanks for the laugh...
That said, I'm in the camp that believes O'mei can be missed. It may be the best Chinese food for locals, but if the OP is coming from a place w/ good Asian food, then I say to avoid the Asian food here. It's hard for me to give recs of "must-visits" w/ so little info from the OP. It depends on where you're from and what gets you excited...
Some general recs that I can offer:
Shopper's Corner for groceries
Wed. downtown and Sat. Cabrillo College farmer's markets
The Buttery: croissants, tartlets, cookies
Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport
For old-fashioned ice cream: Marianne's on Ocean St.
For gelato: Gelatomania on Pacific in downtown
I liked Avanti the one time we've eaten there, but prefer Soif in that pricepoint. Naka has a great neighborhood and mom-and-pop vibe, but the sushi was just too HUGE to enjoy. Much prefer Miyuki in Watsonville or Sushi on the Run in Aptos. No Santa Cruz taqueria has me excited at the moment (I've been down on Moreno), but I still need to try La Cabana!
Hey don't get me wrong, I am pro-tourist. I was once a tourist here myself. I live in Capitola (just up the street from Gayle's Institution-ha ha) and I know their $ is our bread & butter. I guess I am saying if you go to Gayle's on a weekend, you will be surrounded by out-of-towners, it's not a very "local" vibe. If you want a real Santa Cruz county experience, a neighborhood place that is not on every tourist's list maybe more to your liking.
And I second the Gelatomania, Cabrillo Farmer's Market & Shopper's Corner recs...totally awesome.
On the Chinese front: I like King Chuan on Ocean. Great ambiance (just kidding). If you order the more esoteric items you can eat well. I recommend ginger & scallion chicken with bone, garlic sautéed string beans, Singapore style noodles, hot dumplings.
Otherwise you really need to go to at least Santa Clara or Saratoga.
Zacharys in downtown Santa Cruz is a great breakfast place with fresh juices, homemade muffins and rolls...oatmeal pancakes and much more.
For great ambiance drive south to Capitola (it's a short drive 15 min. or so)to the Shadowbrooks. It's a very romantic setting. You ride a cute red tram down a hill to the restaurant nestled along a creek. The landscaping is lush. You can also just stop by for a drink outside by the creek.
For great food and great wine Soif and Avanti are your best bets. The food selection and portions are bigger at Avanti so if I'm more interested in eating that's where I head. Soif on the other hand stands out for it's huge selection of wines by the glass, and they also offer two ounce pours, so you can really pack in a lot of tasting in an evening. (Their food is great also) I think Omei is overpriced and the last time I was there the service sucked. The food is good however. Another option is their little sister place Xin Asia Bistro across the street in the Almar shopping center. Very casual, but good food. I would pass on Mexican unless you're willing to drive to Watsonville. I like Sawasadee in Soquel for Thai. The Shadowbrook is very picturesque, I might stop in for a drink just to see the gardens, but the atmosphere inside is pretty uninspired. Bella Roma in Capitola village used to be my favorite Itallian. If you find yourself in Capitola village this would be a good option.
A few notes from a Santa Cruz local. Most of these will be downtown, as that's where everyone winds up. Oswald's is our premier restaurant and not out of line pricewise. It's on the north end of the Pacific Av mall in the alley behind Lulu Carpenter's coffee house. One block north of Pacific on Cedar St corner of Locust above Planet Fresh is Red also called the Red Room. Entrances on both Cedar and Locust. This being SC it is accessible by elevator on Locust. Also further down Cedar at Carthart is 515 . Around the corner from the Santa Cruz Multiplex is Clouds. Check the local entertainment papers for the $34 coupon that gets you dinner for 2 and a bottle of wine. Try telling the waiter that you misplaced the coupon. Nice people there have been known to honor coupon in the breech. Also know for their martinis. Bar can be noisy. On Pacific itself, Hoffman's, with live diner jazz, Aqua Blue and new Vida. Upstairs, also elevator, above the Dakota, is The Attic, lighter food, intresting and diverse entertainment. On Front St one block west of Pacific are the Jumping Monkey, vegetarian, Raw,what the name implies and the L8 Chinese buffet, funky, but one of the only places in town that serves octopus. On Thursday's the Kumuba Jazz Center on Cedar off Laurel has a jazz and diner special, runs about $21-24 for both music and diner. Food's goood so is the music usually. Also on Sunday's at Bocci's Cellar( out of the way on Esconal St) you'll have to ask, the SC Jazz Society has an open mic. From 4-8pm. Local talent, house menu, and $5 jazz diner. On this one stick with the chicken or order from the menu. A zillion Thais' in town, if you're on Mission where the Avanti and Omei are, you might skip them and try the little noodle house in the strip mall opposite Safeway or the Xian in the Safeway shopping center. The Sabing Thai on Mission one block north of Laurel does a nice job too. Live on the westside near downtown so don't know the eastside that well, but here are some suggestions The Afgan next door to the Rio Theater on Soquel. Also on Soquel the Crepe Place, Sri Lanka and the Malabar. On the Wharf Riva's has a local following and gelato. I prefer Carnigula's or the Ojha's Mexican upstairs. Mexican in this town is like recommending brain surgery, everyone has their favorite(doctor/restaurant) that can't be beat. If you're downtown try the taco bar or restaurant in the Palomar Hotel. You can enter throuth SC coffee . Enough already. This is an eating out town, as most overpriced rentals here are rooms w/o kitchens. Not mentioned were Gabriella's, Soif, Walnut Ave Cafe, 99 Bottles of Beer, Jack's, Zocolli's Italian Deli, Dharma's in Capitola, Theo's and Mikes in Soquel and probably a thousand more. Not to get into the pizza thing, its like Mexican, but Pizza of my Heart on Pacific may live up to its name.
I agree about Shadowbrook, sadly their food isn't the best thing about it, but the "experience" is wonderful. You can sit in the bar area with the big fire place and order from the bar menu... great appetizers, and "bar food". It's first come- first serve seating, but it's my favorite way to eat now when we go. Also, you CAN order from the bar menu in the dining room, but you have to ask for the menu. If it's warm, at least go for a drink in the evening out on the patio. You won't regret it.
I am a born and bread local and and quite amused at some of the recommendations noted.
'shadowbrook - no unless you stay in the bar and have snacks on a night they have live music, Gayles - only if you want food to go and not on a weekend.
Cafe Cruz - yes - always good, great atmosphere and it smells great when you walk in - great specials every night.
There is a new place in Capitola called Blue Water Steakhouse - that is really good with great service.
Riva on the wharf is good too
If you do the walk on Pacific Avenue you should try Zoccoli's - its been there forever and their food is great.
Always recommend Bella Roma for italian in Capitola. Very small and friendly with good food & wine
The only sushi place worth eating in is Paradise in Capitola, but when picking up sushi to go definitely try Sushi on the Run in aptos - they close very early tho - 7PM i think.
If you go to Marianne's Ice Cream on Ocean Street - try the 1020 flavor - its the best. They also sell it at Deluxe Foods in Aptos, which is a store very similar to Shoppers Corner - if looking for a great bakery - try the Buttery - near Shoppers Corner.
re: Carb Lover
I do know that the chef at Theo's, the esteemed and talented Nicci Tripp, consulted with the Blue Water Steak House. That gives it an advantage over an "ordinary" restaurant, in my book. (Theo's is a treasure in this county, and should always be mentioned in any "best of Santa Cruz county" groupings.
Everyone forgot Cafe Brazil! its awesome and on mission.
Also, theres a new mexican place on river and water which is excellent. the al pastor was fantastic and they had good salsas. my new favorite mexican place in SC.
Also the afghani place next to the rio is a real treat, a great addition a town surprisingly lacking in ethnic foods.