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Amazing Dinner Options in Santa Cruz, CA?

Anyone have any suggestions? A friend of mine and I are celebrating our birthdays with a day in Santa Cruz and so far, none of the restaurants look promising for an amazing dinner.

We'd travel within 20 minutes or so of Santa Cruz from something (anything) great. Doesn't have to be completely upscale (though that's okay). Inspired and yummy. Anyone?

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    1. As an occasional visitor to Santa Cruz, I haven't tried many restaurants, but being a foodie, did some research before going. We thoroughly enjoyed Ristorante Avanti. The wild mushroom pasta special last fall was outstanding. Oswald was good. Next time I go back, I'm going to make a special effort to go to Manresa in Los Gatos. It's a bit more than 20 minutes away, a bit over the top, but sounds like a special experience worth the effort and expense. For lunch, I'd highly recommend Cafe Campesino which serves terrific authentic Mexican food. We returned day after day and loved everything we tried. It's located in a kiosk on Pacific Avenue.

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      1. Look up 515 Kitchen and cocktails. The menu may not seem upscale but the the food is great and cocktails are inspired! Also the BoonyDoon cafe can be up or down but they have a new chef which can only be good.

        1 Reply
        1. re: budnball

          Oh great. Will check it out. Thank you!

        2. Definitely Avanti on Mission.

          LaiLi (not sure about the spelling) just off of Pacific is unique & good, great atmosphere & great outside dining.

          Cafe Cruz is always high energy and a great place for celebration.

          Scopazzi's in Boulder Creek is surprisingly & consistently good .. great caesar made at the table and nice size glasses for your cocktails!

          1 Reply
          1. re: randej

            This past Valentine's Day we dined at Hoffman's Bistro. It was recently featured on Restaurant Impossible. The food was fantastic and the decor is beautiful! We also really enjoyed our meal at Aquarius @ The Dream Inn. Very contemporary ambiance, beautiful views and great food and service. In nearby Capitola there is The Shadowbrook Inn which has a trolley car that takes you down to the dining room. We dined at Caruso in Capitola this past Wed. night. It is a small Italian venue with good food tho the dining room was drafty the night we dined there. Paradise Beach Grill in Capitola is also very good. :)

          2. Adding 2 more exceptional go-to restaurants:
            Gabriella's & La Posta.
            Hands down two of the best in Santa Cruz.

            4 Replies
                1. re: randej

                  We went to Oswald. Food was great, but we were starving by the time we got there and portions were pretty small. We were both still hungry by the time our entrees were gone.

                  That's my only complaint thought. The food was really great.

                  1. re: randej

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/798872

                    Scroll down to my last full day in SC. REALLY love this town...