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Dec 3, 2008 11:47 AM

Trip Report: Santa Cruz

Thank God my husband has college-aged kids enrolled in universities located in beautiful communities! It gives us places to go and new foods to try. In October my husband & I spent a weekend in Santa Cruz visiting his son at UCSC. We rolled into town Saturday morning with my list of Chowhound suggested eateries in hand. After extracting my stepson from his dorm, we decided to brave the wait at Café Brasil. Every time we drove by over the weekend, there were throngs of people waiting outside. A word to the uninitiated; the clipboard with the sign in sheet for a table is at the cashier’s counter. This isn’t clearly indicated. Once you push your way through the crowd you may have dig as the clipboard could be covered with miscellaneous stuff. But don’t let that deter you. Be brave. Breakfast is amazing! The boys each started with small acai bowls and loved them. I had the Gallo Pinto, which the menu proclaims is a Costa Rican favorite. Hmm, it may be my new favorite. “Mixed rice w/ yellow onions, parsley, red bell pepper, black beans and original Costa Rican sauce. Served w/ 2 eggs any style, corn tortillas and fried plantains.” I had it with poached eggs (yes, they do know how to poach eggs properly!) and it was a great blend of seasonings that were complex but not necessarily spicy with the sweetness of the plantains for balance. My stepson had the Cocota, which offered two soft poached eggs topped with a Cocota sauce, which is white sauce seasoned with Tabasco and Worcestershire. Again, it was well seasoned without being overly spicy. I’m at a loss to remember what my husband ordered, but he I do remember he liked it. We will totally be back. In fact, if I could go right now, I probably would. My in-laws visited my stepson a few weeks after us and they ended up here for breakfast and loved it as well.

We stayed full for a very long time. After the requisite parentally sponsored shopping trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on snacks, my stepson politely ditched us for a few hours to work on homework. My husband had never been to the boardwalk, so I had to show him what he was missing. We stopped at the Surf City Grill near the entrance so I could get a snack. The Italian sausage sandwich was cooked to order and nestled in a large sourdough roll. Expectations were exceeded. It was fun to wander around the boardwalk with a large, greasy, flavorful sausage sandwich.

I was pleasantly surprised when my stepson picked La Posta for dinner. We didn’t have a reservation, but they were so gracious and after a brief wait, squeezed us in. It was a very warm, relaxing environment. We weren’t all that hungry, but we each got salads, which were good. My stepson had the pear and prosciutto pizza which he liked quite a bit. I had the potato gnocchi with duck ragu. It was a nice sized portion, which left me full but not achingly stuffed. The gnocchi were light and a good balance against the richness of the ragu. My husband had the Bolognese, which was also very good. The wine list is very interesting, and I appreciate the option of both a half glass and a full glass. It was fun to try some of the different Italian varietals. The guys did gelato for dessert, which was delicious. I had the panna cotta, which was creamy good, but I like mine better. Theirs had just a tad too much gelatin for me, and mine has bit of tangy buttermilk for zing. We will definitely be back.

For breakfast the next morning, we headed to Walnut Avenue Café. My stepson enjoyed his French toast. My husband had the waffle and I had the huevos rancheros con carnitas, which was really quite good and not too spicy. This was our second visit to Walnut Avenue, as we stopped for breakfast on move-in day. Again, the food was good, the service timely and the atmosphere homey. We will be back.

My stepson chose Falafel House (just across the street from Walnut Avenue Café) for lunch, perhaps missing the shawerma back home at Small World in Napa. My husband had the juicy chicken shawerma; my stepson had the gyro and enjoyed it. I went for the combo plate, with a little of each of the meats. It was all very good, with subtle spice. Judging from the posters and décor, it must be Syrian owned. The tv playing Arabic music videos - think Bollywood meets hip-hop - was hugely entertaining. The lady at the counter got a big kick out of my very waspy husband trying to dance to the music. We’ll be back for the food, or even just to sip a Turkish coffee and watch tv.

Thanks Santa Cruz Chowhounds for all your wonderful posts and inspirations about where to eat. You give us lurkers plenty to salivate over. We had a great time, gave the kid a break from dorm food (pizza-burgers-salad-cereal), and can’t wait to explore some more in the spring.

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  1. I say thank god you've got smart stepkids! Good to see you posting about your travels, I've missed your reports.

    I'll keep Falafel House in mind, as I've been passing through Santa Cruz occasionally in hopes of catching some of my friend's baked goods for sale at a downtown cafe, but they're always gone. I need back ups.

    Cafe Brasil
    1410 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    La Posta
    538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    Walnut Avenue Cafe
    106 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    Falafel House
    113 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    9 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Can you elaborate on which baked goods your friend makes and where they are sold?

      Unfortunately, the state of baked goods (bread, pastries, etc) in Santa Cruz right now is not good. I feel like the Buttery has really gone downhill, and I don't really like any of the local bread out there. I've never been to Beckmann's and will check out their pies since rworange praises their pumpkin pe. I've heard a little rumor that an artisanal bake shop will open downtown so I'll see if that rumor materializes into anything...

      The coffee scene has improved w/ the addition of Verve roasters in Capitola near Pleasure Point. They are getting their coffee out there, and The Abbey (a newish cafe) along Mission St. carries their coffee and was trained by them to properly make it. Perhaps a good pick me up on your next drive down the coast...

      1. re: Carb Lover

        I can't really elaborate since I don't want to violate site rules, plus I haven't had a chance to taste any of the offerings. But here's the blog link if you want to learn more,

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I had a feeling that's what you were alluding to, Melanie. I've stopped by Lulu's at the Octagon a few times when I've been downtown to no avail; their supply dates seem pretty random. I just signed up for alerts on their website so maybe that will increase my chances.

          On the bakery/cafe topic, has anyone tried Original Sin Desserts on Portola at Pleasure Point? I've heard some good things about their sweets and savories. They specialize in cheesecake but I'm not a huge cheesecake fan. Will check it out when I'm down there next...

        2. re: Carb Lover

          Have you tried Kelly's French Bakery? I've enjoyed everything I've had from there, especially the francese rolls.

          1. re: operagirl

            Yes, I've eaten at Kelly's but it's probably been at least over a year. Like all of the popular bakeries in the area including Gayle's and The Buttery, I wish that they would focus on what they do best and not spread themselves out too thin. We recently sampled brioche, croissants, and some danishes from The Buttery and they were quite frankly inedible.

            I've bought Kelly's francese rolls from Shopper's Corner, but they aren't my favorite. Kelly's bread is above average (I like the 4-seed sliced), but I prefer Gayle's francese (harder crust, more chewy and airy) and other bread selections overall. I've heard that Acme makes certain loaves for Trader Joe's so I will usually buy their levain and walnut wheat which tastes better than bread from local bakeries to me.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              Makes sense that you'd prefer the Gayle's francese -- I prefer it softer. To each his own =).

              What do you think of the Sumano's sourdough that's in most of the grocery stores around here? I like it quite a bit.

              1. re: operagirl

                I haven't tried Sumano's sourdough but I'll take a look at it next time I'm in Shopper's. I used to buy one of their sliced loaves (ciabatta?) for sandwiches and such but haven't bought it in a long, long time. When I'm feeling naughty, I'll splurge on Gayle's cheese rolls at Shopper's. Good for snacking and served alongside a warming bowl of soup.

              2. re: Carb Lover

                As I mentioned in this thread:


                I really liked the items I've had from Kelly's, both sweet and savory.

                Kelly's French Bakery
                402 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz, CA

                1. re: susancinsf

                  Thanks for linking that here, susancinsf. I need to get an updated taste on Kelly's. SC Mountain Brewing (in that same complex) also serves a selected menu from Kelly's. They just phone in the order for you and someone delivers it. I love the cooperative spirit! Am hoping to check out Bonny Doon's new tasting room soon.

        3. Great report, RL, and thanks for the menu tips for items we haven't tried at Cafe Brasil. We tend to get in a rut with our favorites such as the feijoada, killer pancakes, and a couple of others I can't recall at the moment.

          1. Thanks so much for your report, Ruby Louise! I'm so glad to hear that you had a good visit w/ good food. Sounds like your stepson ate well! Your post reminds me that I should revisit Cafe Brasil during UCSC's upcoming winter break when the crowds thin out a bit. I just cannot brave those lines and mobs of people otherwise.

            Since you appreciate wine, you should check out the Swift Street Courtyard on your next visit. That area is shaping up nicely. There are now a number of local wineries w/ tasting rooms anchored by Bonny Doon Vineyard's new tasting room w/ attached cafe. I've not been since it opened mid-Nov. but I've heard great things and their wines are wonderful. The SC Mountain Vineyard also does a great pinot noir and some good value-priced grenache. I've heard that Equinox does superb bubblies.

            More info about vintners:

            If you like beer, then check out SC Mountain Brewing's organic beer:

            Kelly's Bakery is in the same complex. I haven't eaten there in a long time, but I used to like it for a sweet treat or light snack. There is a year-round farmers market just one long block west on Sat. from 9-1. I've been going there lately instead of the Aptos market at Cabrillo since it's less crowded and has really good vendors. The Aptos market still has more stuff, but I like the relaxed feel and spaciousness of the westside market. There is a Mexican food stall that has tasty chicken tinga gorditas and refreshing agua fresca (see photos below). And Oswald downtown should be opening any day now...I look forward to future reports!