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Feb 27, 2011 10:29 AM

Santa Cruz: taste treats for new resident?

Good morning Hounds.
I just spent my first night in a new home in Santa Cruz . . . I'm returning after 30 years in the SF and Napa areas and am excited to get to know Santa Cruz all over again. I'm used to a Chowhound board for a smaller area! (SF bay area). I am glad to see some good info for Ambrosia in Aptos which got me thinking . . . what other tasty (especially ethnic) places are currently topping the list of recommended places in SC or local to SC areas? A few places I have enjoyed in recent visits: Thai food at Sabieng on Mission last night - really enjoyed the chicken green curry, pad thai, and beef salad with a refreshing Singha. Loved that they have a complex and tasty brown rice option. (but needed to add some heat to the food with the fish sauce and chiles). I also have enjoyed Pink Godzilla for sushi - especially love their poke, the bar and bar food at Oswald, the bar and food at Johnny's, Gail's Bakery, and Agave on Soquel in SC for carnitas tacos. Tried Laili for Afghan food recently, and though I'm no expert on Afghan food, I have had it made for me by a friend before, and thought Laili was incredibly bland and uninteresting. I'm looking for suggestions for all kinds of tasty options in all price ranges.

Pink Godzilla
830 41st Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

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  1. Here's my brain dump. Probably incomplete since I won't remember every place.

    1. List of places are legitimately good, i.e. they would be good even if they were someplace with competition (say, Mountain View or Berkeley):

    Soif - I swear Soif is one of the top two wine bars I've ever been to anywhere, period. The other is Volpe e L'Uva in Florence. Better than the widely acclaimed AOC (LA), and any I've tried in the Bay Area.

    La Posta - Italian. Chef Stern is at the top of her game. Incredible stuff these days.

    Taqueria La Cabana - most consistent and best tacos. Carnitas, cabeza (essentially braised beef cheeks), camarones and chicharrones all generally very good to excellent. About one time in three the carnitas are spectacular, and downgrades modestly to very good on the rest of the days. Cabeza is almost always really good.

    Cellar Door - food is still very well-executed despite Charlie Parker moving on. Maybe long term the menu creativity will suffer. We'll see. Not a huge fan of their wine, though. Brussel sprouts and pizza (best crust in Santa Cruz, IMO) often stand out to me, but most things are good.

    Ristorante Avanti - I'd say 2 out of 3 times I order it the special entree will be outstanding. Calamari is also not to be missed when available.

    Buttery - excellent bakery, at least for the cakes, cookies, macaroons...

    Linda's Seabreeze - best breakfast in town; lunch is underrated as well, IMO.

    Ambrosia - good Indian food. Their meat dishes not always quite as good as the vegetarian options in my experience. I do think their Monterey branch is a bit better, which is too bad.

    Penny Ice Creamery - excellent and creative. I do also like the other new place, Mission Hill Creamery. Different style so they're both worth visiting to me.

    2. Places I like but not sure they'd stand out someplace with more competition:

    Pizza My Heart - I have a soft spot for it, but maybe it's not for everyone.

    Shun Feng - only edible Chinese food in the area that I've tried. But I'm picky. Not great but many dishes are decent. Pea shoots are excellent. Don't get the dumplings. The "special menu" which is in both Chinese and English is a safer bet in general, though there are decent items off the regular menu.

    Sawasdee - definitely a level above most other Thai places in the area. I've heard good things about Star of Siam as well, but never tried.

    Cafe Brasil - I rarely go but have enjoyed my meals there

    Oswald - I loved its previous incarnation. This one seems slightly more expensive and execution is not quite as sharp. Strange, since the chef is the same.

    SmoQe BBQ- very popular these days. Can be very good on some days, but consistency is a bit lacking (common, IMO, for BBQ places). Portions have gotten dramatically smaller since they opened so value not quite as good anymore.

    Aptos St. BBQ - less polished than SmoQe but meat can be their equal. Tri-tip seems to be one of their specialties.

    Places on my to-try list:

    Laili (despite uneven reviews)
    Mr Kebab and Falafel
    Ma Maison
    Au Midi
    Sushi on the Run - I have heard good reports from very reliable sources.

    Ma Maison Restaurant
    9051 Soquel Dr Ste K, Aptos, CA 95003

    Cafe Brasil
    1410 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    La Posta
    538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    Au Midi
    7960 Soquel Dr Ste E, Aptos, CA 95003

    Shun Feng Restaurant
    420 River St Ste A, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    Taqueria La Cabana
    2332 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    Linda's Seabreeze Cafe
    542 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    Star of Siam
    3005 Porter St, Soquel, CA 95073

    Ristorante Avanti
    1711 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    The Penny Ice Creamery
    913 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    Mission Hill Creamery
    504 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    Laili restaurant
    101 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    1 Reply
    1. re: bouncepass

      Thanks for the thoughtful post bouncepass! I will look forward to trying lots of them.

      BTW, I had the lunch buffet at Ambrosia yesterday and thought the food was quite good and a good value at $10. They had a delicious butter chicken on the buffet, as well as a curry chicken and tandoori chicken. Also good tandoori roasted vegetables, rice, a (rather tasteless) yellow dal, some sort of corn fritter, another vegetarian dish I didn't try, and a rather soup-y rice pudding for dessert along with some fresh watermelon. The service was adequate, but nothing special. I ate lots of the butter chicken which was in a nicely balanced sauce. Will return to explore the regular menu as well in the future.

    2. I know you didn't mention seafood, but we really enjoyed Aldo's. Good seafood and a nice deck for dining. Also Riva Fish House, though it is located on the wharf, it seems to be a local place. We had a great dinner. They do fish on a mesquite grill. No frills, just good fish with a nice tartar sauce. Oysters on the half shell were wonderful and fairly priced.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gail

        Will have to check out Riva Fish House:-) Thanks!
        I like the location of Aldo's, but my only meal there was just OK. Still, it's very pleasant to sit out on the deck on a nice day, and I'll most likely go back.
        Anyone tried Au Midi recently?

        Au Midi
        7960 Soquel Dr Ste E, Aptos, CA 95003

        Riva Fish House
        500 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060