Santa Cruz Restaurants, Downtown
One of the benefits of staying at the Adobe on Green Street is that you can take a quick walk to downtown Santa Cruz restaurants. We have prepared this review of places to eat downtown. All these establishments are within six blocks of the Adobe.
Cafe' Campesino (831)425-5979. Real Mexican farm food served from a tiny kiosk in front of 1128 Pacific Avenue at Lincoln. This is the real thing with authentic tasty dishes made by Chef Dina in an impossibly small space. Fresh home made cheeses and authentic ingredients are what this place is all about. No pasty beans with shiny jack cheese here. The Calibacitas is our favorite. Take food to go or sit at a sidewalk table and watch the world file by. Whatever they make, it is always fresh and flavorful. Give them a try if you're in the mood for outdoor casual dining. Mon-Tues, Thurs-Sun: 11am-6pm (weather permitting). Closed Wednesday.
Cafe' Limelight (831)425-7873. A wonderful and warm cafe for locals on Cedar Street near the corner of Locust. They serve up salads and Panini sandwiches along with fresh cheeses, house made soups and humus. We like the feeling we get here; like we're invited to best friend's living room. Owner Farouk's collection of good jazz music is always playing. Italian soda, loose-leaf tea, espresso and desserts round out the offerings. Indoor and outdoor seating. Reasonable prices. 1016 Cedar St. Tues-Fri 11:30am to 2:30pm and 5:30 to 8:30pm. Sat 12-3pm and 6-8:30pm. Closed Sunday.
Center Street Grill (831)423-4745. Brothers Danny and Nick Voutos are gifted and creative culinary practitioners. Their Center Street Grill is a big, beautiful space with a relaxed feeling and interesting artwork on the walls. Danny studied at culinary school in northern Italy and his pizzas and Mediterranean dishes are wonderful. Popular Saturday and Sunday brunch with six kinds of eggs benedict all made from scratch. Steaks, seafood, pasta...it's all good here. The banana carmel bread pudding is a specialty. Lunch every weekday. Dinner every night except Sunday & Monday. This place can seat 125 so it's a local favorite for large parties and events. Special events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week. 1001 Center St. at Union St. Lunch Mon-Sat: 11:30-2:30, Dinner Tues-Sat: 5:30 to close.
Chocolate (831)427-9900. Can you resist a place that has eight different varieties of hot chocolate? Coffee, tea, desserts and light lunch and dinner. The chicken mole is excellent. Great warm comfort food on the menu like fondue. Outdoor seating protected from the sidewalk is always available. House made chocolate truffles. 1552 Pacific at the corner of Locust. Shares a building with the popular Bookshop Santa Cruz. Daily 11am-11pm.
El Palomar Taco Bar (831)425-7575. This large restaurant has a fast, fun and tasty taco bar for a quick lunch or dinner. (We are not referring to the sit-down restaurant associated with this little taco bar). Hand made corn tortillas go into each taco here. Fill them with chicken, fish, beef or prawns. For under $4.00 they can't be beat. The guacamole burrito is excellent. Order a couple of fish tacos and watch a soccer match on the TV behind the bar. Located in the arcade at 1336 Pacific. Just walk through the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company shop to get to the taco bar. Great Happy Hour Prices Mon-Thurs: 4-6pm. Daily from 11am till 11pm.
Gabriella Cafe (831)457-1677. Tucked into a tiny mission style cottage with a wee courtyard, Gabriella cafe brings new meaning to the word cozy and serves up new American meals using organic ingredients from local farms. Lunch and Dinner every day. At 910 Cedar between Church and Locust. Mon-Thur, Sun 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30-9pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30-10pm.
Laili (Silk Road Flavors) (831) 423-4545. Laili is in a beautiful soaring space with a show kitchen and a well protected outdoor courtyard. The simple menu brings us fresh and organic interpretations of traditional dishes found along the silk trade route from the Mediterranean to China through Afghanistan and India. Opened in October of 2010, the experienced owners are starting out small and adding dishes and regions to the menu over time. Many dishes are vegetarian or can be prepared so on request. The pumpkin boranee with yogurt and mint pesto is a delicate savory turnover that must be tried. The lunch menu includes chicken kabobs in a pomegranate molasses reduction with roasted potatoes and mixed lettuces. A small wine list and local beer on tap. Dinning room can be quite noisy. 101B Cooper St. between Pacific and Front. Daily: 11:30am-3pm & 5pm-close.
Little Shanghai (831)458-2460. Consistently good Chinese food from owners Jack and Sue and their growing children. Try the Gan Pong chicken or the Family Style Tofu for vegetarians. Lunchtime steam table is a fast and tasty bargain. On the corner of Cedar and Locust. Mon-Fri: 11:30am-1:30pm. Mon-Sat: 5-9pm.
Malabar Restaurant (831) 458-3023. Owned and staffed by an extended Sri Lankan family, you owe it to yourself to try this all-vegetarian establishment. The flavors here will leave you wanting more and wondering why others can't make vegetarian food this good. Favorites include Pizzetta Arugula: a flatbread with caramelized fennel, kalamata olives, apple and tomato chutney , Baked Butternut Squash Ravioli with sauteed mushrooms, saffron curry and a dollop of pesto. This is a blending of Sri Lankan tastes with a California twist and the result is delight. Most orders can be served vegan on request. No beer or wine served. Open for lunch with a limited menu. Full menu at dinner. 514B Front St. Mon-Sat 11:30-2:30pm and 5-9pm. Sun 5:30-9pm.
Mobo Sushi (831)425-1700. Quality sushi and Japanese fare in the Cooper Street Plaza at the corner of Front and Cooper streets. Many in town believe this is as good as sushi gets around here. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30pm. Dinner Mon-Th 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm, Sun 4-10pm.
Oswald (831)423-7427. This noisy and bustling bistro consistently serves some of the best meals in Santa Cruz. Locally sourced and organic ingredients. Active full bar. Wonderful wine list and attentive service. Owner and Chef Damani Thomas had a glass wall built in his kitchen facing Front Street. A bold gesture of confidence in the cleanliness of his kitchen. Dinner Tues-Sun 5:30-close. Lunch served Friday only 11:30am-2pm. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended. 121 Soquel Ave at Front Street in the corner of the parking garage. Lunch Tues-Fri 11:30-2:00pm. Dinner Tues-Sun 5:30 till closing.
Red (831) 425-1913. Upstairs in the old Santa Cruz Hotel you will find a lively bar scene and a slow, relaxed restaurant that serves good comfort food. Seafood, steaks, small pizzas, burgers and salads all beautifully presented and at reasonable prices. The decor is dark and very red. This is the kind of place that envelopes you. You can disappear into this place for hours and forget that the outside world exists. Service can take a while, so don't go ready to eat immediately. As the night wears on the adjoining bar scene creeps in and takes over the restaurant space. Definitely a late-night favorite, Red serves dinners until 1:30am. Reservations recommended on weekends. 200 Locust St. at the corner of Cedar (above Planet Fresh Burritos). Red don't have a sign identifying themselves. From the corner of Locust and Cedar walk down the right side of Locust St heading west (away from Pacific Ave.) and you'll see red staircase to the second floor. That's it. Daily from 5:30pm-1:30am.
Shogun (831)469-4477. Fresh Japanese fare and some say the best sushi in town. Larger portions than in a typical sushi place. Gets crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, but you can beat the usual rush before 6 and after 9pm. Located at 1123 Pacific near the corner of Lincoln. Good parking in back. Lunch Mon-Fri 12-2:30pm. Dinner: Mon-Wed 5-9pm, Thu-Fri 5-10pm, Sat 3-10pm. Closed Sunday.
Soif Wine Bar (831)423-2020. Pronounced "swaf" (french for thirst) this place has struck a chord with food and wine enthusiasts. Soif offers small plates to compliment their large wine selection (over 50 wines are offered by the glass). Dishes are made with local ingredients that are seasonal and organic. All meats and poultry are from sustainable farms. A wine shop adjoins the restaurant and has a wonderful selection. This establishment is a feast for the eyes as well as the palette thanks to local architect Mark Primack's interior renovation. 105 Walnut Ave. Sun-Thu 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm. Closed for 10 day winter holiday in early January each year.
Surfrider Cafe (831)713-5258. This places gets our vote for the best burgers in town. Owner Stephen also owns the Boulder Creek Brewing Company and Surfrider serves local micro brews from their brewery on tap. The Redwood Ale is the most popular and oh....so smooth. Don't miss their culinary invention: fried avocados served with a home made jalapeno aioli. A very casual atmosphere, fresh baked sourdough buns and friendly servers makes this a favorite place with the locals. Regional specials change with the seasons. 429 Front Street at the corner of Cathcart. Sun-Thurs: 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat: 11:30am-11pm.
Walnut Avenue Cafe (831)457-2307. Civilized and refined breakfast and lunch with continental flavors. Yummy waffles, pancakes, eggs and traditional American breakfast and lunch fare. Their eggs benedict is particularly good. Breakfast served all day. At 106 Walnut Avenue between Pacific and Cedar. Mon-Fri 7am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm.
Zachary's Restaurant (831)427-0646. The classic California breakfast house featuring huge omelets, home fries, and homemade pancakes. The coffee cake changes daily and is worth the upgrade with your omelet. Get there early on the weekends if you want a table. A downtown tradition, and one of a handful of long-time businesses that define Santa Cruz culture. Located at 819 Pacific Avenue between Laurel and Maple. Tues-Sun 7am-2:30pm.
99 Bottles (831)459-9999. 99 Bottles has a giant beer and ale selection and a popular trivia night every Wednesday evening at 8:00pm. Walk down and join a team and you could win free beer. Located at 110 Walnut between Pacific and Cedar. Sun-Thur 11:30am-1am, Fri-Sat 11:30am-1:30am, Sun 11:30am-12:30am.
Cafes, Desserts, Coffee
The Bagelry (831)429-8049. The original Santa Cruz bagel makers. Their cafe serves bagels with every possible combination of fresh and delicious spreads. Don't miss the great homemade soups that change daily. These are real bagels...boiled before baking. Located at 320 Cedar St between Maple and Laurel. Mon-Fri 6:30am-5:30pm, Sat 7:30am-5:30pm, Sun 7:30am-4pm.
Verve Coffee Roasters (831)600-7784. Excellent coffee, tea and pastries in a clean, modern and hip space. Great baristas and carefully selected beans that are roasted at Verve's roaster in the seabright Cannery building. 1540 Pacific Ave. Daily 6:30am-10:30pm.
Lulu Carpenters (two locations) (831)429-9804. Lulu's roasts their own every day and are very particular about the beans they use. They have two locations in downtown. The first location is at 1545 Pacific Avenue near the junction of Front St. A very civilized coffee house with fine art on the walls and many clients with laptop computers. Full lunches and breakfast pastries. Everything is good at Lulu's. Their other location is called Lulu's at the Octagon and serves coffee, espresso, and pastries, no food. It is in the historic Octagonal County Records building on the corner of Front and Cooper Streets. This location is a must for tea lovers, over 36 varieties available by the ounce. The Octagon location has a special vacuum french press machine to make each cup of coffee. Those who know say it's the best coffee available just about anywhere. Outside seating at both locations.
The Penny Ice Creamery (831) 204-2523. Step into this tidy business on Cedar street and enter a world of culinary organic seasonal ice cream goodness. Before opening the ice creamery chef Kendra Baker was the pastry chef at celebrated Los Gatos Restaurant Manresa. Her philosophy is simple: the freshest organic ingredients from scratch. She starts with 100% organic milk, sugar and eggs. Local farms bring in cultivated and wild fruits and ingredients to create some of the most unusual and wonderful ice cream available. Flavors change daily. There are always two dairy-free sorbets. On a recent visit the list included: Creme Fraiche Date, Brown Butter Sage, Winter Squash, Peanut Brittle, Celery Raisin, Wild Fennel, Ginger Snap, and Chocolate Sorbet. Served in cups or on home made waffle cones. Limited indoor seating. 913 Cedar St. near the corner of Locust. Open Noon - 11pm every day. These folks also sells ice cream and hot drinks from a sidewalk kiosk in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz on Pacific Avenue at Locust Street.
Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company (831)459-0100. Long-time Santa Cruz coffee house in the heart of downtown. A local favorite with indoor and outdoor sidewalk seating. The largest selection of coffee in SC. Located at 1330 Pacific Avenue between Church and Walnut. Mon-Thur 6am-10pm, Fri 6am-11pm, Sat 6:30am-11pm, Sun 6:30am-10pm.