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Another week (and a half) of vacation with the family in Santa Cruz

We enjoyed our stay in Santa Cruz last summer - so much so that we're slated to come back for another week and a half starting in the second week of August. Here's my report from last summer:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/725645

Now that we have a better feel for the lay of the area, we plan on revisiting many places. We are staying a little further north from our first trip - around Wood's Lagoon. We're hoping to be a little more centrally located around Santa Cruz. I've read through a couple of Santa Cruz-related threads:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/369233

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/797988

The second was recently started by poster emglow101, who recently finished an extended stay in LA. He posted extensively about Mariscos Chente, a Mexican eatery specializing in seafood from the Sinaloa/Nayarit area along the Pacific coast. He appreciated the focus that chef Sergio Penuelas had to his kitchen, and was wowed by the results. I think all of us Hounds appreciate such efforts in those who create in their kitchens, breweries, bakeries, cellars, etc. I'm getting that vibe from El Salchichero. Are there any other places that come to mind?

We will have a similar profile as last summer. Our four-legged kid - now 14 1/2 years young - will be with us again. Our two kids are still kids but are good when it comes to food. We will be hitting the Boardwalk at least once, and plan on hitting the beaches, probably the mountains, and hoping to have a lot of down time in between to soak up local food and drink. I splay myself open to any and all suggestions. Thanks!

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  1. 20 min south of S.C. on hwy 1 is Phils Fish Market in Moss Landing. Best in the bay. Not to miss is the Central Texan BBQ.30 mins south from S.C. Hwy 1 Don Haskins has been smoking his meat over oak for many years. Large plates of food. $ 20 This is one of a kind.

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    Central Texan BBQ
    10500 Merritt St, Castroville, CA 95012

    1. Day One: We arrived in Santa Cruz a lot later than expected - around 4PM on Tuesday. We're staying adjacent to the harbor (Crow's Nest, Aldo's). After settling in and doing a little shopping for sundries, it was already dinner time. We didn't want to hit the places by the harbor, we didn't want to drive around, so we walked to Seabright Brewery - about five minutes or so - because our kids were pining for burgers and our dog needed to stretch his legs after the hours in the car.

      We visited Seabright Brewery on our last trip. The food is above average, the service is relatively quick and friendly, parents can settle back and choose a good to great brew, the menu is kid-friendly and our dog is presented with his own bowl of water. Like on our last visit, the place delivered what we wanted. The one caviat from our perspective is that this place is very popular, so the wait for a seat can be long, even midweek. Seabright has a special on their beers on Tuesdays so I think this kicks up business even more. We waited about 20-25 minutes and it was only 6PM.

      We had the steamed clams, baked brie w/ roasted garlic and cranberries, a few burgers and the fish tacos. No complaints, and the brew is still good to great. My wife had the amber, I had the stout - okay, two - and we all walked back to our place happy and satisfied. Seabright's stout is very good IMHO.

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      Seabright Brewery
      519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      3 Replies
      1. re: bulavinaka

        Seabright Brewery has always been solid. Real nice for lunch when the sunshine is out. I have heard nothing but good from La Posta across the street. I have yet to try. Plenty to try with all the other input.I still love Phils Fish Market in Moss Landing. The large bowl of cioppino with salad. This has always been my favorite Excellent for these foggy days. Go for lunch and avoid the weekends. Plus I have seen people with their dog's sitting near the entrance of the covered porch. Big menu, easy drive, why not.

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        La Posta
        538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        Seabright Brewery
        519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        1. re: emglow101

          I really liked the stout at Seabright Brewery. solid flavors, nice mouthfeel and ABV not too high. The burger meat is grilled to doneness as well. Seabright has a lot going on by this intersection. We were planning on going to La Posta, but we were pretty beat after mountain biking in Aptos. We all felt like something simple where we could chill out in t-shirts and shorts. We had noticed both La Posta (their posted menu looks great) and Engfer Pizza Works after having breakfast at Linda's Seabreeze yesterday and gave Engfer a whirl. Their pizzas are very good - not artisan stuff where they're following some strict Italian guidelines but good local organic ingredients with tasty pizza dough baked in a wood-fired oven. Great beer selection - both tap and bottled - and wines to boot. Enjoyable local place. It's very casual and families make up about half of the tables here, so having an intimate dinner isn't in the picture.

          We hope to make it to Phil's in the next few days. Since we were already south in Aptos, Phil's was on our list, but a nice cold pint at Britannia Arms won out our midday plans - they are directly adjacent to the road that heads into the the State park. All the jokes about food at British pubs don't apply here. It's not crazy good gastropub stuff, but the fish and chips are actually very serviceable and the steamed mussels tasted like they were just picked off the rocks.

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

          Britannia Arms
          8017 Soquel Dr, Aptos, CA 95003

          Seabright Brewery
          519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

          Engfer Pizza Works
          537 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      2. Day Two: After getting a good night's sleep, we went to breakfast at Linda's Seabreeze Cafe on Sseabright. The places to eat around Seabright and Murray seems to be growing since last summer. It's to our good fortune since this intersection is about five to 10 minutes walk from where we are staying.

        We like the vibe of these local breakfast houses and cafes. Many of the customers are regulars, service is always friendly and attentive, and the food is very good to great. All of the above applies to LInda's. Great coffee to start with - definitely more heft and flavor than the standard restaurant coffee. We ordered The Greek Scramble, The Little Bit, and specials; omelet with plantains, black beans and rice, and the oat/cornmeal waffle topped with fruit. All of the dishes were quite good, but The Greek Scramble stood out. The fresh basil was stellar and abundant, and the feta and olives pulled the dish together. The eggs in general tasted fresh. I've mentioned this in the past about so many of the places we've enjoyed here - the agricultural components often seem to be at a much higher level than what one typically finds in LA. Even the slice of orange garnish was sweet as candy here. I totally get why this place is popular.

        After hearing that El Salchichero was in full operation and poster emglow101's stamp of approval, we headed over to Swift Street for a quick revisit to one of my favorite food centers. El Salchichero is a serious butcher shop that excels in charcuterie. The relatively small storefront and counter is not to be dismissed. The depth of this unit is fully utilized for their artisan endeavors. To many, jewelry can seem the same no matter where it is offered. For those that have an eye for detail and quality, a typical jewelry store in the local mall probably won't do. The offerings in the case at the front counter of El Salchichero are similar in my mind. Like many of the respected food providers here, El Salchichero is very particular about their sourcing. Terms like, "organic", "sustainably raised and pastured" and "local producers and farmers" came up often while talking with one of the gentlemen who served us. Add this with the time and effort that goes in behind the counter, plus a couple of dashes of whim and creativity,. and the result of all of this shines in their products. You won't find case after case piled with foam trays of commodity meats. This place is the real deal. Two modest cases display trays of supertb meats cut and trimmed with an expert hand. The rabbit - whole carcass - could have been hopping around in alfalfa a couple of hours ago. The sausages, pate, rillettes and torchon are offered either by the pound or in pre-apportioned amounts that seem just right for about four eaters.

        We picked up a "Chicken Torchon," Pate Campagnola and two flavors of beef jerky. So far, we've tried and really liked the Chicken Torchon and the beef jerky. This chicken is basically a whole deboned chicken that is stuffed with seasonings, rolled and cured. Preparation for serving is pretty simple - brown all sides in a saute pan until the skin is browned and crisp, and the bird is warmed through. This is one of the best birds I've enjoyed in a long time. The skin was so flavorful, the meat moist and succulent, and the seasonings inside complemented but didn't overpower the qualities inherent to this tasty bird. One of the seasonings used was mandarin orange peel - really nice touch. The bird will give off some juices. Save the juices and make a simple sauce to serve with the bird. The jerky is very tasty, but be warned that the spicy version is exactly that. We hoped to enjoy the pate some time this weekend and I will report back. By the way, since El Salchichero does their own smoking and curing (of course), this opens them up to some creative license. We were told that they are starting to put some of their pate and rillettes in the smoker to add an additional flavor dimension. The pate Campognola has some of that smoke treatment so we are very curious about trying this. El Salchichero regularly appears at the local Farmers Markets - I encourage you to stop by their stall or head to their brick & mortar. Santa Cruz is so fortunate to have this level of a local provider.

        http://www.elsalchichero.com/

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

        El Salchichero
        402 Ingalls St #5, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

        1. Day Two Continued: After enjoying our visit to El Salchichero, we visited a few of the shops including the yarn shop in the courtyard by Kelly's French Bakery (my wife is a knitting demon). Of course, she was lost amongst all of the yarny things, so the kids and I went to Kelly's for lunch.

          For those who haven't been to Kelly's, it's probably the de facto epicenter of Swift Street, offering just about all types of baked goods and doing it well. They also serve food for most of the day, closing in the early evening. With its high ceilings and spacious courtyard, Kelly's is a comfortable place to visit. The food is very good, the baked selection has lots of gems, and sitting around enjoying a cuppa with a nice meal or pastry in either their courtyard or their dining area is a simple pleasure.

          We ordered a couple of sandwiches, the obligatory burger and fries for my daughter (she's still working on developing a broader taste spectrum), a kale salad, some cookies and a strawberry rhubarb tartlet. I hate to keep repeating myself, but it's so obvious that agricultural components from local Santa Cruz providers really shine. Couple this with people who are deft in the kitchen and know how to play the ingredients and the results are going to impress - at least this Angeleno. The apples in my grilled cheese and apple sandwich were tasty and just tart; the kale salad was alive with freshness; the strawberries and rhubarb danced on my tongue. The lunch was a great first lunch for our vacation. We grabbed one of their popular compagnon for dinner to go with the chicken torchon from El Salchichero for the basis of a nice meal.

          Swift Street had a few changes and alterations from our first visit. Kelly's ice cream window seems to have retracted into Kelly's proper, but the biggest change I noticed was the addition of New Leaf Community Market on the corner of Fairview and Ingalis. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, they are a nice alternative to Whole Foods - as much as I enjoy WF's beer and cheese selections, I disdain their prices in general and the corporateness of a market niche that should be anything but that. New Leaf has a similar feel and product lines - probably a bit more abbreviated. I am hoping that the local neighborhood appreciates their presence as it seems to fit and will hopefully give the WF on Mission a run for their money. I only gave the store a quick look over, and noticed the wine department covers a fair amount of floor space, the beer selection is relatively small but filled with a fair amount of serious beers, the cheese department is about on par with the average WF, as are the meat and seafood departments. My only concern is that this New Leaf overlaps with many of the businesses that make Swift Street what it is. The wine tasting rooms, Kelly's, El Salchichero, and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing are in direct competition with the various departments of New Leaf. If I had my way, the type of store that would have been a nice complement to Swift Street would be something akin to Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. Wonderful cheeses, a simple food counter offering foods ideal for picnicking, and a produce stand to round out a meal. After that, I think a fish monger might be the final piece to complete the puzzle. I guess time will tell if this new addition works out with the much smaller businesses on Swift Street.

          www.newleaf.com

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

          1. Day Two continued: After gathering up the basics for a good meal (Chicken Torchon @ El Salchichero, compagnon @ Kelly's), we went to the Wednesday Downtown Farmers Market on Cedar. This FM is huge, covering the whole block at Cedar and Lincoln. The market organizers here have such a great problem: how to edit the list of various farmers, producers and craft folks down to the best of the best. Outstanding produce was obvious at every stand. We didn't try the food since it was a couple hours from dinner, but we could have easily pulled together an impromptu dinner here.

            Stone fruits are in high gear right now. The depth is unbelievable - some stands offered up to six varieties of white nectarines, four of the yellow, and multiple varieties of peaches, pluots, etc. If you haven't hit the local FMs in a while, it's really time to do so.

            We looked over as many stands as we could, purchasing produce for the next couple of days from the names I recognized like Swanton Berry, Kashiwase and Frog Hollow. Just to attest to the depth of the FM, we also found three or four stands that offered Padron peppers - all certified organic or at last practicing organic - which we thought was amazing. It seems this type of pepper is very popular up this way - we love them but rarely find any in LA, even at the local FMs. The closest type of pepper we find regularly are the shishito, which are very similar but slightly different in flavor (more smoke, slightly firmer). We grabbed a couple of baskets of those as well.

            The bounty we came home with made for a nice dinner made up of nothing but local ingredients (even our olive oil is from Frog Hollow). This was a nice day for food.

            1. Day Three: Thursday was already committed to a bike ride up the trail at Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos. We hit the road early by first grabbing breakfast at Harbor Cafe on 7th. We liked the food here on our last visit, and we liked it again this time. Nothing special to report here other than the service was much more attentive than our previous visit and that locals still embrace this place. I think I'd give Linda's Seabreeze the nod between the two, but Harbor Cafe still is a good place to choose from.

              We hopped on some bikes and headed up the trail that goes through Nisene Marks Redwood Park. This area was clear-cut by a lumber company back in the day and the forest has regenerated itself with lots of smaller but beautiful second growth redwoods. After emerging from the trail, we dropped by the pub, Britannia Arms for a pint and some lunch. The beer here is a mix of British pub standards and a few local and American brews as well. They do know how to pour so don't hesitate to drop in. The food is also pretty good. We enjoyed the fish & chips, steamed mussels and Scottish meat pie.

              Wanting to keep things simple for dinner, we dropped by Engfer Pizza Works on Seabright by Murray. I don't recall seeing this place last summer, but it was close to where we're staying and the folks who own this eatery seemed Chow-conscious. The couple who started up this place really seem to want to offer as good of a product as possible. Like so many places we've enjoyed here, they source locally/organic as much as possible, they work tirelessly behind the counter, with the oven and on the tables. The beer and wine lists are very good and fairly priced, and lots of joy and creativity has gone into their menu and restaurant to hopefully create a fun and interesting dining experience.

              Pizza can be a hot if not very controversial subject on the LA board. To give you an example, check out these two threads:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/790453

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/57860

              Folks will argue to the death as to who is great, who sucks, what particular component makes or breaks their vision of what pizza should be, etc. I don't consider myself beholding to any particular scripture in any pizza bible or protocols of a specific regional code. I don't claim one region's pizza is better than another. Give me good pizza, and I will shut up and be happy. On the same note, please do not douse a well-made pizza with ranch dressing. Save this for Domino's - they don't care. I think respecting what the owners envision is important, particularly when a place like Engfer puts in the time, effort and heart into their dream.

              The pizza crust has a nice char, is subtle in flavor and and has a good chew. The sauce is really good. Of all the components to pizza, I tend to neglect the sauce, but for me, this sauce was deep, viscous and flavorful - hard to ignore and very enjoyable for me. We also ordered the soup (quinoa spinach corn chowder w/ feta & jalepenos on request) and the organic green salad. As substantial as the soup sounded, it was light enough not to dissuade our appetites from the pizza, and the salad was lightly dressed with a light balsamic vinaigrette and was very fresh with the obligatory occasional holes in the leaves indicating the bugs had their share but weren't sprayed for it. Engfer knows beer as well. You can order from five different taps or grab one of many craft or respected foreign beers from their huge beverage case. The sodas and other drinks are quite extensive as well - pretty much on the same level of the beers. Many specialty and craft choices along with the usual suspects. Anything you choose to take in for consumption outside of the counter is on the honor system. They tally up what's on your table at the end. Engfer is very casual - lots of families, groups of guys and gals - not a place for a romantic dinner. For that, head across the street to La Posta which we hope to squeeze in over the next few days.

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              Engfer Pizza Works
              537 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

              Harbor Cafe
              535 7th Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

              6 Replies
              1. re: bulavinaka

                Very nice description. Sounds like your having a great time. I have a new place to try. It's called Burger @ 1520 Mission St. Corner of Bay and Mission. Bay st. will take you to the Boardwalk. I have heard good things about it. Extensive menu of burgers with pizza's also,super beer selection on tap or in the bottle. I Checked out their website. Love that El Salchichero.

                1. re: emglow101

                  Hi emglow101,

                  This our fifth full day in SC, and we're trying to fit in more food and drink. We enjoyed burger on our last visit. The beers on tap were abundant. The burgers were very good - cooked to your preferred doneness. We hope to get back there hoping that they've been maintaining their tap lines and zeroing in their burger menu.

                  We got a late start today - tried out Cafe Brasil for the first time. This place is very popular - wait was over 30 minutes. Tried their feijoada, a a few of their breakfast dishes. We liked it and enjoyed their unique breakfast offerings but still would gravitate to Linda's on Seabright.

                  We hit up the Westside FM today. Abbreviated version of the mega-FM on Cedar. Still, lots of great produce and prepared food vendors. We picked up more stone fruit, strawberries, shishito peppers, onions, flowers (the dahlias are amazing) and some baked goods.

                  We dropped by El Salchichero again today and picked up some smoked ribs, some Cali-inspired chorizo and chicken-bacon sausages. Their case looked wonderful as usual - really hard to pick just a few things. The rabbit rillettes were just finished yesterday and the lower left part of the case has some easily overlooked gems - guanciale, Spanish chorizo, etc. The guanciale was talking to me but I may wait until we are heading back to LA. I think I could do it better justice out of my own kitchen. They appear to be pretty busy on the weekends. After we left and peeking back at their shop during our second trip to Swift Street, I noticed quite a bit of foot traffic heading over their way.

                  We tasted and picked up a couple bottles of port from Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards - bringing that back home for gifts - and some nice brews from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. We sat down for a bit in their tasting room and enjoyed their seven beer sampler. Nice folks, nice little bar area and great brews!

                  We also stopped by New Leaf to fill the gaps - mainly cheese. Oh yeah, another loaf of compagnon from Kelly's...

                  http://www.santacruzmountainvineyard....

                  http://www.santacruzmountainbrewing.com/

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                  Cafe Brasil
                  1410 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                  El Salchichero
                  402 Ingalls St #5, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Hey, Bulavinaka -- It's been decades since I did grad school and taught at UC Santa Cruz. But I have fond memories of the Saturn Cafe, and I just checked and they are still there on Laurel. The thing to get is the chocolate madness -- choc brownie, choc ice cream, choc mousse, and much more. Hope you get to try it and it matches up to my memories.

                    Also, if you haven't checked out the Mystery Spot it surpassed expectations for me.

                    1. re: nosh

                      Hi nosh, good to see you on the Cali board and thanks for the rec. I think we drove right by it on our way to Cafe Brasil on Mission. Santa Cruz is a great town - I'm surprised you ever left. We went to the Mystery Spot last summer - while I got a kick out of it (and our guide who did some great stand-up), my poor wife's equilibrium got all thrown out of whack and nearly gave back her lunch! The kids and I want to go again, but I think my wife will sit out any future visits!

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                      Cafe Brasil
                      1410 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                    2. re: bulavinaka

                      Had lunch At the Seabright Brewery this afternoon. Nice sunshine finally ! Burger with a house salad and a Pelican Pale Ale. It was great There is another F.M. tomorrow. This one is smaller.(Live Oak) It's on Portola Ave. It's towards 41st Ave about two miles from you. Chris the owner of El Salchichero is usually out there running his stand. I'll stop by tomorrow to pick up some goods. I'ts close to me. Something for the grill some veggies stay local it's the weekend.

                      1. re: emglow101

                        The weather was perfect for Seabright Brewery - glad you enjoyed your lunch. I will definitely keep the Sunday FM in mind - thanks again for the tip.

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                        Seabright Brewery
                        519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                2. Day Three Continued: Back tracking a bit, I forgot to mention that we revisited Corralitos Market and Sausage Company. Nice little market at the intersection of a small hamlet. Their meat department is outstanding and draws customers from far and wide. We ordered five different varieties of sausages, two of their marinated meats and an ollallie berry pie. We are obviously picking up way too much food, but the smoked and marinated meats should keep. Capitola Village Produce usually has some very nice produce so we completed our meal list there.

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                  Corralitos Market & Sausage Co
                  569 Corralitos Rd, Watsonville, CA

                  1. Day Four: Friday was reserved for The Boardwalk. My daughter has been pining for weeks about going there - she is fearless when it comes to the rides. Needless to say, the food there is not what a Chowhound typically looks forward to.

                    We pulled together a nice breakfast at home, consisting of produce from the Wednesday FM and Capitola Village Produce and Corralitos Market.

                    We skipped lunch, and after a whole day at The Boardwalk, we were pretty hungry. Somehow, we ended up choosing Mexican food. I wanted to go to Tacos Moreno (I recall a rec by poster E Eto last summer - he's a solid Chow Hound/UCSC alum) but I was voted down - we ended up at Leo's Taco Bar on Brommer. My wife wanted to give yelp a try for recs on this category and I personally thought this place was okay, regardless of the four and half stars by yelpers. The servings are huge. Each of my kids ordered a burrito, and they would have easily been able to share one with leftovers. My wife ordered the camarones diablo which was actually pretty good. I had a taco w/ al pastor which was okay but smothered in guac and crema - couldn't even pick up the thing to eat it. This is the kind of place that if you're looking to fill up an empty stomach, don't want to spend much and are in a hurry, Leo's will do. Personally, it was overload for me.

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                    Tacos Moreno
                    1053 Water St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                    Leo's Taco Bar
                    1710 Brommer St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      I hope you get a chance to check out Tacos Moreno. They're definitely not your cookie-cutter taqueria and they are doing their own delicious thing. That said, I don't suggest getting tacos on your first try. Get the burritos (I really like their lengua, green chile, and al pastor) and make sure to order their quesadillas. Whatever it is about the food at Moreno, I still get a hankering for it, even after eating at the many great Mexican places in LA, NYC, SF bay area, or wherever else. I haven't been there in a few years now, but on my last visit, the food tasted exactly like it did in the mid-80s when I first started eating at Moreno, when abuelita Moreno was in the kitchen, and seeing Mrs Moreno through two pregnancies (those children are adults now! yikes!). I should add that it's better to go during an off-hour (like after prime lunch hour) so you don't wait in the long line or have to jockey for table space, though it is much friendlier than say, Father's Office in Santa Monica (sorry I had to bring that up).

                      I miss a lot about Santa Cruz, but Moreno is surely at the top of the list. Those turmeric-laced potatoes at Zachary's might be up there too.

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                      Tacos Moreno
                      1053 Water St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                      1. re: E Eto

                        I think we're going to miss Tacos Moreno again. I really regret not lobbying harder last Friday when the family felt like having Mexican cuisine. I know your bar is a high one, and I've always given your recs serious consideration. I swear the next time we are up this way, we will make it one of our first meals.

                        Zachary's was on my radar last weekend for breakfast. This is another eatery that I will give a try. After trying a fair amount of cafe-type places and other small eateries, it seems we've only scratched the surface in Santa Cruz.

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                        Tacos Moreno
                        1053 Water St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                    2. Day Six: Lazy Sunday, so we made breakfast at home. The chorizo from El Salchichero was excellent, as were the various fruits and pastries from the Westside FM. El Salchichero's version of chorizo, was full of fresh flavors but far less in fat and a course grind (and no salivary gland-stuff). The pastries from River Cafe are rustic and full of flavor. We remember their stand from last year's visit and like their style of baking. Their cinnamon buns are scones are amazing and their current fresh fruit crumble is full of berries and I'm thinking some plums or pluots - delicious.

                      Scotts Valley hosted an arts and wine festival this weekend that offered a decent amount of wine as well as a handful of beers. The standouts for us were Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery's Hef, Uncommon Brew's Siamese Twin dubbel, and Sones Cellars 2008 Cancion del Mar.

                      It seems a lot of beer drinkers returned to Uncommon Brew's Siamese Twin dubbel. Uncommon Brew appears to be a local fledgling brewery with some skills in the brewing department, no lack of daring and slow food-conscious to boot. The beer we tried out of the tap was deceptively drinkable considering the 8.5% ABV. We followed up by picking up a couple of cans of the same brew at Shopper's Corner, along with a couple of bottles of the Cancion del Mar.

                      We had dinner at Phil's Fish Market in Moss Landing. I thought it would be a quaint fish market with food on the side - Wrong! Unlike the tiny places up along the coast in Marin, this place is huge. Depending on what you're ordering, the servings can be large enough for two eaters. I mistakenly ordered four entrees and two appetizers for the four of us. We left behind enough food for another two or three people. The seafood in the dishes we had were very fresh tasting, and the execution was average. I think they'd better serve their customers with smaller servings and better execution and more focus on the recipes, but the niche they are shooting for might be more about quantity.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Sorry,I should have warned you about Phil's . You are correct . They have gotten big. Big, Big Big. The cioppino is all I ever get.I go there once every three months with a blind eye. But I love sitting at the bar having oysters on the half shell with a Big Sur pale ale, Also you may come upon the live Monterey Bay spot prawns. Cook them in the shell on salt . Yum. Wonderful threads you have been writing. Where in Santa Cruz is seafood the prime item on the menu ? Fresh, not breaded and fried or frozen,and fresh from the bay. Not that Phils is. I'll keep searching. But for now I think I am out of luck.

                        1. re: emglow101

                          Dont get me wrong about Phil's. They have a gold mine there. Their seafood is very fresh, they don't overcook it, and their service is efficient and quick. I think their business model works for them as so many will flock there even on a Sunday night. We liked their oysters as well, and the scallops and rock shrimp in my wife's huge pasta dish were cooked perfect. I think if they put a little more focus on the other ingredients and execution, they'd be top notch. I think if we return, I'd get some grilled fish - the simpler the better at a place like this. And I do like the fact they are concerned about their sourcing - says a lot about a place this large.

                      2. We went to Verve for some great coffee and pastries. Verve takes a lot of pride in their coffee. They roast their own coffee next door, they french press their "regular" coffee, preheat just about anything that touches or holds coffee, and the baristas devote their full concentration to all of the methods and practices at hand. I think for coffee snobs, this place is The Place. The coffee and espresso have some chewy winey notes, which tells me that they are very selective in their beans and are fastidious in their roasting. We ordered a macchiato, americano, mocha and hot cocoa - all delivered nice drinking experiences. Their pastries are top notch as well. Everything in their case by the order counter looked wonderful. Whoever bakes their goods is as committed to creating as good of a product as Verve is. I'm only a casual coffee drinker but do appreciate a good cup - this would be my go-to place.

                        We decided to picnic up in Henry Crowell State Park. We had already accumulated some cheeses and fruits from our previous days as well as some wine, so we dropped by River Cafe for some sandwiches. We ordered their bacon lettuce avocado, pulled pork and pastrami. The bacon and pulled pork sandwiches were great, while I felt the pastrami could use more umph. We also had their quinoa salad which was very good. The Santa Cruz area keeps endearing itself to us. The nice people, great food and drink, and the surrounding beauty has been perfect for our vacation.

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                        Verve Coffee
                        816 41st Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                        River Cafe & Cheese Shop
                        415 River St Ste K, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          I almost forgot to mention about the great ollallie berry pie we enjoyed. While getting our meat fix at Corralitos Market we stumbled upon a bunch of pies made by Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville. They did have ollallie berry so we brought it back, heated it up and really liked it. My daughter doesn't usually like berry pies but she scraped every last bit of this pie off of her plate. The season is definitely over, but the supply of frozen must still be around. Great pie...

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                          Gizdich Ranch
                          55 Peckham Rd, Watsonville, CA

                          1. re: bulavinaka

                            Please, please, pretty please work in a Chocolate Madness for me!

                          2. re: bulavinaka

                            I figured out where the Verve's pastries are from - Kelly's. My hat's off to both Verve and Kelly's.

                          3. Day Eight: Casual day for the most part - our daughter was sitting on our promise that we would visit The Boardwalk at least twice during our stay, so we had a quick breakfast at home and spent a few hours at monitoring the kids while they scrambled from The Fireball to the Big Dipper and so on.

                            For lunch, we stopped by Betty's Burgers on Murray and Seabright for the first time. This place gets crowded, which is one reason it's taken us so long to find the right time to drop in. The burger meat is simply seasoned that brings out a nice beefy flavor, but Betty's isn't afraid to pile on the toppings. I ordered their burger iteration with the blue cheese, and the amount they put in was staggering - they're not shy.

                            After spending the rest of the day at the beach, we settled in on a couple of pizzas we ordered at Engfer along with some brews that we accumulated along the way.

                            Nosh's mention of Saturn Cafe's Chocolate Madness got our kids' minds going for ice cream - we headed to Marianne's Ice Cream - a local institution known for their broad list of flavors. Flavors like Macapuno (coconut/young coconut), lavender, pistachio cardamom and pumpkin sit along side mandarin chocolate and cookie dough. Old school setting, nice staff and also like the old days, cash only. A nice visit to another era in Santa Cruz. Don't give up Nosh - I'm still plugging for a stop at Saturn Cafe...

                            http://www.bettyburgers.com/

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                            Marianne's Ice Cream
                            1020 Ocean St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                            1. Day Nine: I couldn't get Verve off of my mind after having their coffee, but I needed more than pastries for breakfast. We remembered a place a few doors away from Verve called, "Chill Out Cafe," where folks kept walking out with something looking like wrapped burritos. We figured a breakfast burrito with our coffee would work as breakfast, so we ordered four different burritos to go. They were good enough and definitely filling - I wasn't feeling any pangs of hunger until 5PM.

                              Across the street from Verve is a Japanese restaurant - Naka Sushi. It looked quaint enough and we were strangely feeling like having some sushi (we rarely go out for sushi in LA), so we figured this would work. LA is pretty thick with the whole range of sushi counters from barely resembling sushi to sushi nazi-type places - we were hoping for something in between. Naka is owned and operated by a Japanese couple from the old country. They've adapted some of their menu items to fit some of the local market, but still have the skills behind the counter to make some nice sushi and sashimi. Our family mostly ordered just that (except our daughter who is still stuck on chicken teriyaki-like things). While not up there with the better places in LA, I'd rate them as very good. If one is familiar with LA eateries, Naka would be there with Hide Sushi, which is a pretty respected place for quality fish at a reasonable price - Naka is right there. The fish was very good, particularly the hamachi, and I'd go back for the nigiri-style sushi, Naka-san executes very well.

                              We didn't see any desserts listed on the menu at Naka, so to investigate a rec by LA poster nosh, we headed to Saturn Cafe and ordered the Chocolate Madness. Saturn Cafe is located around the outer perimeter of Downtown SC in a kinda sketchy neighborhood. It's got a kitschy 80s feel to it (I think) by necessity, and offers mostly vegetarian and vegan options with some organic and local food and drink providers mixed in. We ordered a scoop of strawberry ice cream for my son (which was actually pretty good) and the infamous Chocolate Madness. The name fits the bill. Honest to goodness, if you want some serious chocolate immersion, this dessert is the one. McConnell's dutch chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse, Saturn Cafe's house made fudge, chocolate syrup, squares of house made brownies and whipped cream with chocolate chips - an assembly by a chocolate-obsessive for the chocolate-obsessed. I could see a young couple sharing this over small talk and smiles, a UCSC student wrapping himself around this as a self-indulgent reward after finals, or a family capping off a day of fun. Geez, this thing's over the top!

                              Chill Out Cafe
                              860 41st Avenue
                              Santa Cruz, CA 95062
                              (831)477-0543

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                              Saturn Cafe
                              145 Laurel St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                              Naka Sushi Restaurant
                              851 41st Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                Yay! Glad the Chocolate Madness is still in its decadent glory.

                              2. bulavinaka, I just have to chime in to say that, while I have no SC updates for you this year, I love your reports and hope that Santa Cruz will be your annual vacation destination! (taking notes for my next visit...)

                                1 Reply
                                1. Our last full day: We headed down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium this morning, so breakfast was at home. I did no research on Monterey eats and frankly I was just wanting to get back to SC after the trip. We decided to give burger. a revisit to see how it measured up to our initial memories. The place has a huge menu written on a wall behind the register counter, as well as the wall adjacent to it and the wall facing the counter. I personally think it's very confusing and overkill. Of course it ain't my place, but if it were, I think I'd edit the menu at least by half - I think the focus on the food would increase.

                                  The burgers are probably smaller than the average-sized burger we've tried here. The beef is sourced from grass-fed steer in Humboldt. I think this lends to mixed possibilities. I appreciate their efforts in sourcing but the window for error in going from just cooked to overcooked seems relatively small. The beef patties were on the dry side.

                                  I personally ordered their veggie patty which is actually pretty good. Good spicy taste, substantial in body, and they grill it to a nice patina. This went very well with "The Dude" burger, which includes bacon and avocado. I'm not a vegetarian, but I figured that a veggie burger would be a little lighter than beef - we were eating lunch mid-afternoon and didn't want this meal to encroach on dinner. I really enjoyed it and would order it again. The fries are very good - shoestring or sweet potato cut slightly thicker and are also prepared well.

                                  The beer list at burger is very impressive - more impressive than my memory recalled. I didn't count but I think there must be a good forty or so taps, and just about all of the beers listed are either craft or respected European brews. From my perspective, burger. is more beer. - great beer. So if beer is an important factor in your burger equation, this place is pretty hard to beat.

                                  Donnelly Chocolates is located across the street from burger. and should be seriously considered for those who enjoy good chocolate. Everything is made in-house and dark chocolate confections dominate the offerings. They always offer samples which sucks me in to purchasing a bagful of their products - great stuff.

                                  Our last dinner in SC was at La Posta on Seabright. La Posta is owned by the same folks at Soif (pronounced, "swaf"), a wine bar and small plates eatery high on many Chow lists here. We rarely eat out at Italian eateries but knowing that even seemingly "average" places around SC bless their food with lots of local/organic/seasonal/sustainably raised goods, we had a strong suspicion that we wouldn't be disappointed at La Posta. This place is about 99% Italian, and does it well. Their menu is somewhat abbreviated, which I personally enjoy - it hints to me that the ingredients will be seasonal and strong, and the focus in the kitchen will be strong and well-rehearsed. We ordered six different plates from various parts of the menu and left the plates clean. The heirloom tomato salad and crostini with fresh mozzarella was a perfect start. The pizza is the thin type associated with more traditional Italian eateries that use wood-fired ovens and use the topping sparingly. The sauteed shelled beans tasted fresh with a nice slightly firm texture. The gnocchi tonight was made of yukon gold potatoes and was dressed with a nice savory sauce of spicy sausage and butter - the spices in the sausage were so aromatic with coriander being a surprising but nice high note. Pork dominated our protein choices, and we ordered their pork chop with escarole (tonight's special) along with the slow-roasted pork belly. Both of these entrees were spectacular. The enjoyability of all of these dishes is that nothing was overdone in any way. Each of the major ingredients were able to present themselves but at the same time worked very well together. I think of all the dishes, everyone voted for the gnocchi to be at the top, while the pork belly was very close.

                                  The desserts are all Italian as well - semifreddo is not something I see often, so we ordered that along with some gelato. Heaven. Dont' skip dessert here. La Posta's wine list is expectedly deep. Again, 100% Italian, and don't be afraid to ask for recs or clarification on the various choices. We decided to keep it simple with a couple of quartinos of the house white and red to go with our meal, and those held up nicely with our meal. Two adults with two kids limits our wine expectations at a restaurant, but if you show up here with a group of adults, I think the possibilities of a fw bottles of wine paired with a nice meal here would be ideal.

                                  -----
                                  Donnelly Fine Chocolates
                                  1509 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA

                                  La Posta
                                  538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                                  burger
                                  1520 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                    Thanks for another delicious recap of your food adventures here in Santa Cruz. I'm very glad you made it to Donnelly Chocolates. It falls off my radar but it is such a gem. Also Verve coffee, LaPosta, etc., all great choices. Your review reminds me of the places I need to get out to more often. Safe travels home to you and your family.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      I totally agree with you about Burger. I ate there for the first time this week. Way to confusing, and way to big of menu. Also the decor was lacking.The food was just OK. I think if I went back I would get the pizza during happy hour.
                                      I hoped you enjoyed your stay here. I guess this is not a bad little town. Being here so long you have opened my eyes. We do have some good food. All of your fantastic threads will be the poster child for tourists coming to Santa Cruz. Your descriptions and reviews are amazing. I Will miss these.
                                      Anyway thanks again. I wll be in LA 9/16 for one night and will be heading to Marisco Chente.

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                                      Marisco's
                                      718 S San Jacinto Ave, San Jacinto, CA 92583

                                      1. re: emglow101

                                        Thank you for the kind words, spiltinky and emglow101. We just got back to LA with mixed feelings. Glad to be home, but so sad to leave Santa Cruz so far behind. We did have a safe trip back albeit a fair amount of traffic - a whole convoy of heavy hearts leaving your wonderful town I guess...

                                        Santa Cruz is a small city, and I'm sure you Santa Cruz area hounds get jaded about the many gems that leave visiting hounds like me excited and hungering for more, just as I can be the same about my town. We stopped by Peoples Coffee on the way out of Santa Cruz because it was convenient, and lo and behold - we stumbled upon another great place. Where Verve excels at focusing on the coffee experience, Peoples excels at wrapping its arms around the neighborhood by way of pouring a great cup. Not only do they have very very good coffee, great pastries (I suspect many from Kelly's as well), nice folks and a community vibe, the owner's dog who patrols the general strip mall was a complete ham - nothing like that in LA. He rubbed noses with our dog, played with our kids and sat at the outdoor table with us hoping to mooch a crumb or two. It's these kinds of quirky things that, coupled with the great culinary experiences, make your town so wonderful from an outsider's perspective. Peoples was a nice way for Santa Cruz to send us off.

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                                        Peoples Coffee
                                        1200 17th Ave Unit 130, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          Bulavinaka,
                                          Thanks for your great series of reports on your Santa Cruz holiday this year. My great-aunt and her family lived in Santa Cruz from the early 1960s, and as a kid I and my family would go from Sacramento to visit them. Of course, all I remember was the beach and the boardwalk, but reading your reports has given me the impression that the whole town has really evolved food-wise. I enjoyed reading everything, and look forward to seeing reports of your next holiday there.

                                          1. re: Tripeler

                                            Thanks, Tripeler. My timeline in Santa Cruz starts back only a few years ago with a brief overnight stay as part of a NorCal hop-around. Last year was our first real visit here, and what we enjoyed is the nice balance between the good food, relaxed vibe and the beautiful scenery where nature, people and the arts all interplay in relative harmony.

                                            Those I spoke with in LA were kinda stumped as to why I would take the long drive up here for vacation when I don't even surf (anymore). In a way, I'm glad that they are, because as much as I'd like to be a poster boy for tourism here, those that don't understand the appeal of this town probably either know nothing about it, or just aren't a good fit if they do.

                                            Folks here have a strong sense of pride for localism. This plays out well for hounds. Supporting local brewers, wineries, farms, ranches and artisans is standard here, and this relationship over time evolves the food culture. Someone bites into a really good ripe nectarine and their world is changed. The local farmer who grows and tends to his nectarine trees is now inspired to grow more varieties, and in time now offers not one but maybe a dozen varieties of nectarines, each having its own flavor profile that is subtly different and unique. Restaurants develop relationships with the local providers, cross-polinate their knowledge, wants and possibilities, and before you know it, these eateries are offering menus, products and dishes that are seasonal, locally sourced and fresh. And so the process continues to evolve.

                                            I don't know if Santa Cruz will ever develop a reputation for fastidious obsession with food like the reputed food capitals of San Francisco, Paris, New York, Singapore or Tokyo - I honestly would hope not. I think a lot of this town's charm would be lost in the process. Santa Cruz for the most part feels like it's for the people, not so leaning toward the privileged. I can only imagine what areas like Yountville were like pre-Keller - I'm guessing I'd prefer the former. Again, it's all about balance.