Santa Cruz is known for its natural beauty, world class waves and being the location for The Lost Boys vampire movie. The sleepy Northern California town also has some of the most delicious restaurants along the Monterey Bay coastline. Here are the ten best places to eat in NorCal’s favorite surf town.
What appears to be a small American diner is in fact a hand crafted gourmet establishment called Linda’s Seabreeze Café. The small one room restaurant sits alongside railroad tracks in the Seabright neighborhood of Santa Cruz. You can often see a line of people waiting for a table at this popular venue. With breakfast and lunch items like chicken apple sausage scramble, curry eggs and turkey club sandwiches, Linda’s Seabreeze Café is the perfect brunch spot. Be sure to try the cinnamon rolls, which can be ordered as a side dish, or for take-out by the dozen.
With two locations in Santa Cruz, El Palomar is a staple for Mexican cuisine. Located in downtown on Pacific Avenue, the restaurant affords patrons a small taco bar and a large atrium room, including a bar and weekend entertainment. El Palomar at the Santa Cruz Harbor offers al fresco seating and a small indoor space with an ocean view. Watch the sailboats race on Wednesday evenings while enjoying a shrimp taco, fish taco, or either equivalent in burrito form. Accompany the meal with a traditional well poured margarita or a beach friendly Anchor Steam microbrew in a plastic bottle.
Home to sake bomb dominos, Mobo Sushi has been serving the city of Santa Cruz the freshest sushi selections since 1988. Located in The Galleria Plaza near the San Lorenzo River in downtown Santa Cruz, Mobo Sushi derives its name from the 1920s Japanese youth who wore Western clothes and had Western ideals and were known as modern boys or mobo. The Bento Box, a weekday lunch special, offers a creative sushi sample platter. On weekend nights restaurant guests receive a free sake bomb and entertainment. Recommended sushi rolls include the NorCal roll, the spider roll, and Kat in the Hat.
Santa Cruz has been called the Hawaii of California, and Aloha Island Grille is representative of this. Owned and operated by Bruddha Timmy Hunt, a Hawaiian from Maui armed with secret family recipes, Aloha Island Grille offers aloha spirit and an ohana (family) mentality, along with poi, taro, and other traditional Hawaiian dishes. With indoor dining areas and a spacious deck that catches sunshine after the morning fog disappears, Aloha Island Grille is a great place to convene after a morning surf session. Try the Pork Lau Lau, cubed pork with butterfish and Hawaiian salt, wrapped in taro and ti leaves.
Located in the Pleasure Point neighborhood of Santa Cruz, close to a famous surf spot called ‘The Hook’, Chill Out Café has been serving breakfast burritos to surfers and locals since 1997. This little shack near the water has grown to be so popular that they’ve expanded their menu to offer lunch items and expanded their property to offer a beer garden with live entertainment. Chill Out is known for producing humongous breakfast burritos like the Number 3, which comes with bacon, egg, potato and avocado, or Veggin’ Out, which consists of tofu, tomatoes, spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, green onions and artichoke hearts.
The premiere vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Santa Cruz, Dharma’s was founded in 1981 as a fast food option for the health conscious. The community driven restaurant, with a name that means ‘virtue’ in Sanskrit, offers classic American dishes, authentic Thai dishes, home-style Mexican food and Japanese miso soups. Organic food from local purveyors with in-season ingredients can be enjoyed in doors at Dharma’s or on their outdoor patio. The brahama burger, dharma dog and the Portobello artichoke sandwich are all great choices.
Charlie Hong Kong has been open for business on the busy midtown street corner of Soquel and Seabright since 1988. Charlie Hong Kong’s menu is based on food served from street stands in Southeast Asia, with a focus on organic, locally purchased ingredients. Heat lamps and an enclosed awning provide the setting for patrons who choose to eat-in before catching a show or film at the nearby independent Rio Theatre, or for those who just want to relax and enjoy a conversation and delectable food. Meanwhile, take out is just as popular as the food is created and served quickly. Order the spicy dan’s peanut delight.
This popular Brazilian Café put acai on the menu before it became an international food trend. Café Brasil offers guests traditional food and juice items from the South American continent. Founded by Joao Luiz in 1990, the café was shut briefly due to a fire, reopening in 2004 with a new façade and interior, but keeping the yellow and green color theme, akin to the Brazilian flag. For breakfast order the orfeu negro, which consists of black beans served over a baguette, topped with poached eggs, mozzarella cheese and brazilian salsa. For lunch, the traditional Brazilian feijoada is quite a treat.
This tiny Thai Restaurant in Capitola Village has only five tables for dining, but offers some of the best tasting Thai food in Santa Cruz. The interior of Pad Thai is dressed in shimmering silk cloth with live bamboo plants and golden Thai Buddhas. The traditional Thai décor complements the traditional Thai food. The owners of Thai Basil also recently opened the Lotus Asian Market, offering Asian groceries, food, snacks, decor and sushi. Favorites on Thai Basil menu include the pad Thai, tom kha soup, pad kee mao and pineapple curry.