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Lillian's Kitchen in Santa Cruz

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I haven't seen a review of Lillian's Kitchen on Soquel, so I thought I'd start a thread...

I went to eat there last week, and I'm glad that we decided to venture to a new place instead of going to an old stand-by. It's a small place in the old Malabar Cafe location. The vibe is casual, like a neighborhood restaurant. There was a regular next to us who seemed to know the staff by name. It's that kind of place where you expect regulars.

They only offer penne as a pasta choice, and their menu is limited. But what they offer is very delicious. Granted, all of us at the table ordered the same sauce on our dishes, but we all really liked it. The Sunday Gravy, a slow-cooked tomato-based sauce with several different kinds of meat, was excellent. It was very meaty and satisfying, not sweet and tasted like my Italian friend's grandmother's cooking. I'll have to bring him there.

I wanted the lasagna, which is also made with the Sunday Gravy, but they were out of it. They offered me ravioli with Sunday Gravy instead. They brought me a large bowl of cheese ravioli that was way too much for me to eat. It's not on the menu, but I'd order it again if I could.

We also ordered side salads, which were refreshing. I had a basil dressing instead of the vinagrette; that alone would make me go back to the restaurant.

The prices are reasonable. Corkage fee was $8, I believe.

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  1. Thanks for your report. I drive by all the time but still haven't tried it. My husband has eaten lunch there a couple of times and liked it. They have some lunch deals. He's tried the meatball sub, house minestrone, and Sunday gravy. He grew up w/ East Coast Italian, so I think it sorta reminds him of that. I believe they make cannoli in house; any word on that? Have they acquired their liquor license?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Carb Lover

      They do have their liquor license--they have a short beer and wine list. My mom had a Stella Artois since she's allergic to wine. We didn't try the wines since we brought a bottle in case they didn't have their license yet.

      We also tried the cannoli. I'm not a big fan of it, so I've only had it a few times. I don't know how Lillian's's (how many 's?) compares to others. My mom didn't like it, but she might just not like cannoli. Sorry that I can't be more helpful with that.

      1. re: mixmastermidori

        Thanks for your reply. Good to know their license came through. I'm not a cannoli fanatic, but it's something that I don't make, so it's nice to know where to get one when the mood strikes. Coincidentally, the Metro and Good Times both gave positive reviews on the place this week. They'll probably be packed the next week...

    2. I had a lunch special with a meatball sandwich and soup. I enjoyed it. For the price, I thought the sandwich was on the small side, but the food itself was very good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Matt of Aptos

        I have driven by as well and haven't tried it...always skeptical to try new Italian places. My biggest complaint is when these restaurants don't have websites!!! I would like to get a glance at the menu...

        1. re: Matt of Aptos

          I went back a second time and had a sausage sandwich with soup. My experience was the same: good food, but the quantity was small for the price. I don't know about the pasta, but the sandwiches are $3 or $4 more than they should be.

        2. Just adding an up-to-date review of Lillian's. My SO, my father and I stopped in for dinner tonight around 6:15, and the place was already bustling. No wait though -- we were seated at the last available table before people had to wait. Plenty of folding chairs are set up inside and outside, as there is often a line.

          The bread they serve looks like Watsonville sourdough -- it's very good. There are cruets of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the table for dipping.

          We started with the sauteed mushroom antipasto ($4.95), which consisted of white button mushrooms, sliced and sauteed with olive oil, maybe some butter, garlic, and red pepper flakes, served under a grilled piece of toast, topped with some roasted red pepper strips and parmesan cheese. The dish arrived very hot, and was simple and tasty. We all enjoyed it.

          I had the Eggs Siciliano, over polenta for an extra $4, which put the dish around $11. I was presented with an enormous brick of polenta (probably 2" by 4" by 6", no kidding), surrounded by marinara sauce and topped with two poached eggs, all sprinkled with parmesan. The eggs were poached just right, with tender egg whites and oozy yolks. The marinara was great -- not sweet and well-seasoned, and the polenta was surprisingly light in texture. I still can't believe I ate the whole thing . . . oof.

          SO had the Prawns Diavola over penne, and thought it was "good." A pretty basic dish, prawns and pasta in a spicy marinara-like sauce. The prawns looked properly cooked from my vantage point.

          My dad was over the moon about his ravioli in pesto cream sauce. Plenty of sauce, plus dense, ricotta-stuffed ravioli . . . very much well-executed, typical Italian-American fare.

          Can't recall the prices of my dining mates' dishes, but I think they were around $11 for the prawns and $10 for the ravioli. All the prices here are very reasonable, the portions are generous (not perversely huge, but enough to go home stuffed for sure), and our server was very friendly and attentive.

          The one downside to Lillian's is that when it's packed, it's very loud! There doesn't seem to have been any attempt at sound buffering -- the place is a study in hard surfaces. We had to speak very loudly to hear each other. If you don't like loud restaurants, I suggest going pretty early or getting take-out.

          1. We just started going to Lillian's recently. I'm Italian and really, really picky, since I make it all myself. I think Lillian's is good. Not great, but good. It is satisfying when I don't want to cook. My husband likes the lasagna, says its of course not as good as mine (smart man), but it does seem to curb his craving when I'm not in the mood to cook. The Sunday gravy is well blended and mild. Not sweet or nutmeggy (?) as some place seem to believe is necessary. Raviolis are good, and you get plenty.
            Soup is nice and homey. The bread is basic. Everything is good basic food, for a reasonable price. They are also very consistent. Service is pleasant and they are on top of things. These days it seems a lot to ask of a restaurant, but this neighborhood spot seems to deliver on it.

            1. I've dined there with family and friends twice in the last 3 wks. It is delicious and priced right. I had a pasta dish with mozzarella cheese and a spicy shrimp dish---can't wait to go back. All of us loved it!

              1. Ate there a couple of times from October to December 2009. The pasta-e-fagioli soup was very good. I enjoyed the Sunday gravy on another visit. My companions liked their food too, but I forgot what they ordered.

                The big downside is the roaring noise level. In October on a Friday night my dining companion and I couldn't hear each other across a small table. On a Wednesday night in November it was somewhat better. Dear Lililan's, PLEASE ADD SOME FABRIC so the noise level is a little diminished.

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                Lillian's Italian Kitchen
                1116 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062