Santa Cruz Good Times

Oct 01st
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Best Food & Drink

best5_food_soifAppetizer, Wine Bar, Wine List
Soif offers an interesting array of choice appetizers. Especially good are the pan-seared scallops with potato risotto and black trumpet mushrooms, and the pan-fried local sardines served with lacinato kale from Route 1 Farms in Santa Cruz. Entrees include spinach gnocchi, stuffed quail and braised lamb shank—each and every dish paired with a suggested wine, and all of it fresh, local and organic. Soif prides itself on its eclectic variety of wines from California and all over the world. As well as featuring the well-known wine countries of Spain, Italy, France and Germany, there are also wines from Australia, New Zealand, Austria and Portugal. There is even one from an area that most people don’t think of particularly as a wine region, the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Cozy up to the fabulous wine bar and taste some of their eclectic assortment of wines by the glass or by the bottle. And the helpful staff will suggest something if you don’t know what to get. BRAIN CANDY: If you’re looking for that special bottle of wine, try Soif’s retail shop right next to the wine bar. | Josie Cowden
Runners-up (Appetizer) Paradise Beach Grille, 515 Kitchen, Crow’s Nest (Wine Bar) Cava, Bonny Doon, Vino Primo (Wine List) Shadowbrook, Paradise Beach Grille, Cava

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Bar, Cocktails
best_intro515 KITCHEN & COCKTAILSBestOof2010icon
Yeah, it’s hard to resist this magical little haven. For starters, its address adds up to 11. (My favorite number.) But it’s your favorite place, mostly because of the variety of cocktails and the originality found in them. Beyond the bevy of Kenwood Champagne cocktails are a kick—literally. Try “Death in the Afternoon” (that pernod absinthe in it rocks) and other hitters like the morimoto soba ale and the delirium nocturnum are also a kick. Of course, there’s plenty to love about some of the place’s bar food. Try prosciutto-wrapped asparagus  or The Halfjoun  (spiced ground lamb, feta cheese and pine nuts on baked flatbread) next time you’re there. Cheers. BRAIN CANDY: Try these $7.75 Signature Cocktails: Holly Golightly (citron vodka, limoncello, fresh raspberries, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice), Le Pamplemousse (grapefruit vodka, rhubarb aperitif, fresh lemon, orange and grapefruit juice), The 515 Cocktail (reposada tequila, pomegranate-infused tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice and a sugar rim). | Charlie Price
(Bar) Red Room, Motiv, Clouds (Cocktails) Clouds, The Red, Motiv

There is a bagel to fit almost every mood—sweet, spicy, bitter, and sumptuous. The Bagelry understands this, which is probably why you voted them Best Bagel once again. To turn my blues to bliss, I like to have a blueberry bagel, lightly buttered. When I’m feeling fiery, I bite into a jalapeño bagel with tomato herb cream cheese. And if I’m especially hungry, nothing fills me like a guacamole bagel sandwich. When you can have one at your lips for anywhere between .80 cents to $7, the things you can do with a bagel at The Bagelry are endless. BRAIN CANDY: Best-selling bagel: Garlic. | April Short
Runners-up Noah’s Bagels, Main Street Bagels, Bagel Café

Bakery, Dessert
Um, this isn’t exactly a surprise here. Recently, I ate an entire, decadent, unbelievably delicious chocolate cupcake from the The Buttery. To. Die. For. Calories be damned, the cakes, cupcakes, and baked goods from your favorite bakery and dessert shop are nothing short of genius. For a birthday, try the Devil’s Whipped Cream Cake, rich chocolate cake filled with ganache and iced with whipped cream. Divine. For a Mother’s Day party, order the Tiramisu, rum and espresso-soaked sponge cake layered with mascarpone, marsala sabayon and chocolate mousse, iced with whipped cream. And while you’re there, you might as well grab a baguette to go, and top off your sugar coma with an espresso. It doesn’t get much better than this.
BRAIN CANDY: Employee Andy Williamson says: “I eat about 10 pastries, cookies, a few pieces of cake, a few cupcakes a week, and I still fit through the door.” | Christa Martin
Runners-up (Bakery): Gayle’s, Kelly’s, Black China Runners-up (Dessert): Chocolate, Gayle’s, Bittersweet Bistro

COLE’S BAR-B-QBestOof2010icon
One day, I was out with a friend of mine. It was lunchtime, and he was determined to get Cole’s Bar-B-Q. Nothing would stop him. He left me (and a few others) in the car, as he hurried into Cole’s for his barbecue lunch. Out he came with a steaming bag full of deliciously smelling food. Everyone instantly resented him, because there was no way in hell he was about to share. I could practically taste the dripping barbecue sauce as he pulled out a meat sandwich, and proceeded to gobble it down in front of everyone. It made my salad from the local health food store look pathetic. Apparently, this is the norm. People get a craving for Cole’s and they can’t help it. They must get there. Immediately. And now I know why: the menu offers a tasty array of typical barbecue, including the classics like fries, coleslaw and beans. Hungry? Keep swinging by. BRAIN CANDY: It used to be called “Adam’s Ribs,” under prior ownership. | CM
Runners-up Bruno’s, Aptos Street, SmoQe

Walnut Avenue’s delicious breakfasts are no secret: just try going on a weekend morning, when a large crowd spills out of the downtown restaurant, filling the sidewalk out front with hungry patrons eager for one of their famously scrumptious morning meals. But once the wait is over, everyone in your party is sure to be satisfied, whether they choose a scramble, omelet, benedict, waffles or pancakes—all of which are as comforting as can be and come in generous, down-home portions. And remember, no Walnut Avenue breakfast is complete without a cup of their tasty joe or espresso drink. BRAIN CANDY: Was named Best Breakfast in Santa Cruz by Sunset Magazine. | Elizabeth Limbach
Runners-up Linda’s Seabreeze, Silver Spur, Harbor Café

It’s the mid-town hot spot where you can get your game on while watching the game, with enough beers on tap to satisfy your favorite lush. Pouring regular brews, seasonal specials and world-famous standards to fill the pints of the masses, the brewery also sports the outdoor patio with gaslamps as a favorite Seabright summer destination. Happy hour runs from 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Friday, perfect for the post-work wind-down. Friday night sees live bands revving locals to sweat out their alcohol intake, while Tuesday’s infamous Neighborhood Night has long been a standard for the young, single and ready to mingle. BRAIN CANDY: The brewery has taken names for its beers from punk band The Supersuckers, The Simpsons, The Big Lebowski, and its current beer name from Spinal Tap—St. Hubbins Red. | Linda Koffman
Runners-up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, Santa Cruz Brewery, Boulder Creek Brewery

You can’t beat this brunch. Eggs Florentine? Sure. Eggs Benedict? You bet. Domestic cheeses? Hell yeah. Impressive entrees like specially made ravioli or Spinach-Stuffed Chicken Breast also pepper the menu. You’ll be stuffed but damn, it’s worth it. BRAIN CANDY: The pastry chef table is always loaded—with yummy delights and calories, too. | CP
Runners-up Walnut Ave Café, Café Brazil, 515 Kitchen

best5_food_bettyBETTY BURGERS
Part vintage beauty, part pin-up girl, and all-around burger temptress, Betty has nailed the title of best burger and fries once and for all. But the real honor goes to owners Laurie Negro and Juan Valledor, the husband-and-wife team who owned Costa Brava, the taqueria that previously stood where Betty’s does now on the corner of Murray Street and Seabright Avenue. When the tacos got old, they sought a more adventurous venture and got to work bringing Betty to life with illustrator Eli Roe and developing a scrumptious menu with Mimi Snowden, a local restaurateur, consultant and chef. From the get go, the team decided that Betty’s would be a step above your average fast food joint. They use hormone- and antibiotic-free, high-quality meats from grass-grazing cows, the meat is seasoned with a secret blend of spices before being cooked, and is made to order and grilled for the customer. While their most popular item is the Basic Betty (1/3 lb beef, with Betty’s secret “lube”—and, yes, fun innuendos like this are sprinkled throughout the menu)—there are a variety of delectable signature burgers and sandwiches also offered. One of the most popular is the Point Grinder, which includes sautéed mushrooms, blue cheese and bacon. But as meaty as Betty’s is, it’s also home to one of Santa Cruz’s most sought-after veggie burgers—a handmade concoction of wheatberries and vegetables, grilled to a perfect crisp (called Tracks in the Grass). More good news:  you can enjoy a burger with “Betty Boop gone bad” at BB’s new 41st Avenue location, which opened in March. BRAIN CANDY: The owners used pictures from vintage adult mags found at the Flea Market to decoupage the bathrooms at the new Capitola location. | EL
Runners-up Jack’s, Aptos Burger, Saturn Café

TACOS MORENOBestOof2010icon
When G. Love wrote “My Baby Got Sauce,” he could’ve been serenading the best burrito in town from Tacos Moreno. With a line of loyal customers known to wind outside its door, the taqueria dishes out a famous homemade salsa that adds the completing touch to its heavenly burrito. Packed with your choice of savory meat (BBQ pork is a hit) and veggies, the Supreme burrito—yes, it’s supreme—costs only $5.45; the flavor is big but the cost isn’t.
BRAIN CANDY: The Santa Cruz Motorcycle Resource Guide calls the Tacos Moreno quesadilla its favorite fuel. | LK
Runners-up Vallarta, Planet Fresh, El Palomar

Butcher, Cheese Selection, Grocery Store, Wine Store
Because there are plenty of Santa Cruzans who don’t want to purchase the goods in their shopping cart via some sterile self checkout scanner—opting for a human face and helping hand instead—Shopper’s Corner remains your favorite hometown market. Holding on to the magnetic appeal of a neighborhood grocer, the Santa Cruz landmark since 1938 retains the personal touch while stocking up on all the fresh and gourmet products you could ask for. Knowledgeable on the array of wines, cheeses and meats, the helpful staff will help you pick out the best pairings to have your next dinner party guests oohing and ahing. BRAIN CANDY: Emmett Beauregard and Vincent Williams bought the market in 1939 for $1, and took on its $6,000 debt. | LK
(Butcher) Corralitos Meat Market, Staff of Life, New Leaf (Cheese Selection) New Leaf, Deluxe Foods, River Café 
(Grocery Store) New Leaf, Staff of Life, Deluxe
(Wine Store) Soif, Vinocruz, Trader Joe’s

Calamari, Comedy, Happy Hour, Outdoor Dining
best5_food_CROWSNESTCROW’S NESTBestOof2010icon
It is no wonder that the Crow’s Nest is one of the Monterey Bay Area’s most popular restaurants. Surrounded by sandy beach and the Santa Cruz Harbor, the restaurant offers gorgeous ocean views from most of its tables. Their famous smoked salmon alone will keep you coming back, but the menu boasts of other memorable dishes, including upscale entrees like the Herb-Crusted Filet Mignon, the Broiled Australian Lobster Tail, and tasty appetizers like Dungeness Crab Cakes and Calamari (lightly fried in Parmesan herb breading), which holds the honor of best calamari in town. On a nice Santa Cruz day, there isn’t anywhere better to be than relaxing on the scenic upstairs patio (dubbed The Breakwater Grill), enjoying one of the restaurant’s delish cocktails (like the Guava Rita) or taking advantage of their popular happy hour deals, which are offered Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and all night on Wednesdays. Appetizers are half-off, as are well drinks, and you can snag a glass of house wine or a draft beer for only $3.30. But the appeal doesn’t stop there: the Crow’s Nest is also this year’s winner for best live comedy—a role they’ve grown into nicely in the past few years. The sidesplitting begins at 9 p.m. every Sunday night, featuring three comics for a cover charge of $7. BRAIN CANDY: The establishment’s famous, expansive upstairs deck was added in 1999. | EL
(Calamari): Riva’s, Stagnaro’s, Paradise Beach Grille (Happy Hour)
El Palomar, Paradise Beach Grill, Clouds 
(Outdoor Dining) Crepe Place, Seabright Brewery, Café Cruz
(Comedy) Planet Cruz, Blue Lagoon, Ciao Bella

Chinese Restaurant
This place satisfies the palate with creative food, whether you’re into spicy dishes (try red-oil, pork-filled dumplings) or mild food (rice smoked Chilean sea bass is delectable). I have recently enjoyed O’mei’s lunch offerings. You can choose from noodle- and rice-based entrées (both vegetarian and meat) at affordable prices, and these are served in hearty portions. Plus this includes a “small plate” (such as seasoned beans) to share with your dining companions and a cup of soup for each person. O’mei’s food is well prepared, from traditional Chinese such as Mu Shu to less traditional such as chicken with black dates and sweet potatoes. BRAIN CANDY: Owner Roger Grigsby is a UC Santa Cruz alum; his studies included Chinese. He also lived in Taiwan for two years. | Tara Fatemi Walker
Runners-up Little Shanghai, Canton, Panda Inn

Chips and Salsa, Margarita, Mexican Restaurant, Tacos
EL PALOMARBestOof2010icon
Your downtown gem. Inside the historic Palomar Inn, the restaurant offers fine dining in its large dining area, where a nice, authentic Mexican meal can be had. One room over is the Cantina, where flat screen televisions keep tabs on the night’s big games, and happy patrons enjoy El Palomar’s famous margaritas (Ultimate, Top Shelf, or Fresh Fruit) and impressive selection of fine tequilas. And if it’s tacos and cervezas you’re after, go one more room over to the Taco Bar, where you’ll find a crowd of hungry taco lovers munching—an especially happening place on Tuesdays when tacos are only $2. BRAIN CANDY: All of the recipes have been handed down from generation to generation in the owners’ family, the Espinozas. | EL
(Chips & Salsa) Vallarta, Manuel’s, Olitas  (Margarita) Olitas, Acapulco, Palapas  (Mexican Restaurant) Manuel’s, Tortilla Flats, Tacos Moreno

Clam Chowder
STAGNARO BROS.BestOof2010icon
It’s the best New England clam chowder in town. Thick soup with tender clams—and you can order it by the cup, bowl, or served in a bread bowl when you’re in the mood (Who doesn’t love a good bread bowl?) BRAIN CANDY: Stagnaro’s sells thousands of servings of Clam Chowder per month. For example, in February 2010 the restaurant sold 900 regular bowls, 477 bread bowls, and 806 cups. | TFW
Runners-up Riva’s, Crow’s Nest, Gilda’s

Coffeehouse, WiFi
The need for a local coffee-slinging haven never ceases, and your hot spot for hot brews remains LuLu Carpenter’s. An old school hangout for students and artists at the northern end of Pacific Avenue, plus its sister Octagon branch neighboring the Museum of Art & History, LuLu’s supplies indoor and outdoor seating at both locales for times when you want to breathe in fresh gourmet grinds or fresh air. Yes, there will likely be a line, and yes, the cozy nooks will be bustling with customers, but a calming atmosphere remains—making it the primo place to focus (on studying or people-watching). Get down to business, and get your coffee buzz on. BRAIN CANDY: The historic downtown building was originally a saloon. | LK
Verve, The Abbey, Peet’s

Comfort Food, Late-night Dining
SATURN CAFÉBestOof2010icon
Nothing says “comfort” like a big warm plate of food at 2 in the morning, complete with sweet potato fries and the knowledge that zero animals were harmed in the making of your meal. Even meat-lovers find it hard to deny that Saturn is tough to beat. The late-night diner offers items like their California Burger topped with jack cheese and avocado for $9.50 (fries or soup included),  a soup and salad combo for $7.95, and the vegan Peanut Royale entree of seasoned veggies, beans, and tofu topped in a special peanut sauce for $8.50. Saturn Cafe’s ability to console continues to offer you that otherworldly trip. BRAIN CANDY: After a fire on New Year’s Eve of 1999 burnt a hole through the roof of the long-time home on Mission Street, they moved to the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz. | AS
(Comfort Food) Santa Cruz Diner, Gayle’s Bakery, Michael’s on Main (Late-night Dining) The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz Diner, Manuel’s

Continental Restaurant, Continental Cuisine
CAFÉ CRUZBestOof2010icon
Standouts here include rotisserie chicken (natural Rocky the Range, with honey cure or garlic aioli), moist and flaky Maryland crab cakes, and Harris Ranch filet mignon with natural bacon and roasted mushrooms (Harris Ranch beef is naturally raised in California). When I’m at Cruz for dinner and in the mood for one of its large entrées, I order the chilled artichoke as one of my two accompaniments. It’s an unusual, tasty alternative to traditional side dishes. Cruz has won many accolades, not just from GT. In January 2010 it participated in Santa Cruz’s seventh annual Wine & Crab Taste-off. The restaurant’s first time as a contestant, Cruz won the categories Best Dish Overall (consumers’ choice) and best experience (judges’ choice). I got to taste the award-winning crab slider, a simple yet decadent dish that paired ocean-fresh Dungeness crab with sharp white cheddar and avocado. The flavor/texture balance was perfect. Santa Cruzans appreciate the many details about Café Cruz. These include serving complimentary wine with entrees during its February 2010 Anniversary Week, and showcasing Bay Area products, including Laura Chenel’s Sonoma County goat cheese, and eggs from Aptos-based Glaum Ranch. BRAIN CANDY: Two of the most popular items are smoked pork chops, and grilled skirt steak with fettuccine. | TFW
Paradise Beach Grille, Oswald, Santa Cruz Diner

Deli Sandwich
Family-owned and still making you happy, Zocoli’s in Downtown Santa Cruz is an institution. Their sandwich section features three categories: Special Sandwiches, Vegetarian Special Sandwiches, and Hot Special Sandwiches. It serves up everything from a turkey cranberry sub that tastes like your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers, to the Santa Cruzer, which is made up of whole wheat bread stuffed with hummus and veggies. (Yes, it’s that good.) Originally opened in 1948 by the Zocoli family from Italy, the shop quickly evolved to become a local haven for homemade sandwiches, salads, and soups. BRAIN CANDY: The most popular sandwich is the Chicken Pesto. | AS
Runners-up (Deli) Erik’s DeliCafé, New Leaf, Garden Deli (Sandwich) Erik’s DeliCafé, New Leaf, Garden Deli

Dive Bar
If it’s a true blue dive bar you’re after, Brady’s is the place. Nestled in the quaint Seabright neighborhood, the joint has everything one looks for in a worthy dive bar: thirsty regulars, all-day happy hour (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.—seriously!), pool, a roaring juke box and trademark drink specials (almost every night of the week!). BRAIN CANDY: In the late 1950s, the City of Santa Cruz installed coin parking meters in the Seabright neighborhood. Old Man Brady didn’t agree with the decision, and so he had all of the meters cut down between Day’s Market and Brady’s Yacht Club. | EL
Runners-up Asti, Rush Inn, Castaways. 

Exotic Dining, Exotic Drinks
Unbelievably delicious, it’s no surprise that Hula’s has won this category again. The restaurant offers a smart, healthy menu with favorites like the Cocojoe’s Chicken Plate for $15, which includes, “boneless chicken breast encrusted with coconut spices, topped with tropical lilikoi sauce, served with fried plantains, black beans and rice,” and the Duke’s Luau Pork Plate for $15, which features, “slow roasted pulled pork with a soy glaze and pineapple, served with sticky rice and coleslaw.” While you’re there, it’s a must to try an exotic drink like the Zombie or Pink Bikini Martini. Who needs to go to Hawaii when you have sun, surf, and Hula’s here in Santa Cruz? BRAIN CANDY: Our faves are the Zombie Cocktail and the Lilikoi Margarita. | CM

Runners-up: (Exotic Dining) Malabar, Drunk Monkeys, Pearl of the Ocean (Exotic Drinks) 515, Clouds, Motiv

Farmers Market
On any given Saturday a visual feast is set up at Cabrillo College, where three aisles of booths are staffed by farmers. The plethora of red and blue berries, colorful flowers and emerald produce stimulates my culinary creativity. Little round Asian eggplants, scented fresh and potted herbs, and picked-at-the-peak-of-ripeness fruits come and go with the seasons. You will also find locally made jams, olive oil, honey, and bread. Both fresh and locally canned fish join olives and sauces in the prepared foods section where you can also have your knives sharpened while you shop. BRAIN CANDY: Open year-round, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. | Karen Petersen
Runners-up Downtown Santa Cruz, Westside, Live Oak

Ice Cream
Boasting more than 70 flavors at any given point, perhaps the strangest of which is their garlic flavored ice cream that is supplied to the Stinking Rose in San Francisco and the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Marianne’s is still your fave. This charming local shop with dancing cow wallpaper also happens to be the primary provider of ice cream to many regional restaurants. Open until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Sweet. BRAIN CANDY: The best-selling scoop is the “1020,” with its  caramel ice cream, fudge and Oreo cookies. | AS
Runners-up Marini’s, Polar Bear, Coldstone

Italian Restaurant
Just two years ago GT readers voted Lillian’s the best new restaurant. In the meantime, this little jewel on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz has stolen our hearts on a grander scale for numerous reasons. There’s the unique call-ahead waiting list and new infrared heaters above the sidewalk waiting area. There’s owner Joe Moreno’s hearty greeting and infectious smile and the friendly front of the house including Joe’s son Matt.  My personal favorites are the fish specials, hearty pasta fazool soup, black truffle gnocchi, Sunday Gravy meat sauce over polenta or pasta, and lasagna. BRAIN CANDY: Chef Chris Moreno leads his team preparing his Grandmother Lillian’s New York Italian family recipes alongside his own. | KP
Runners-up Avanti, Ristorante Italiano, Kianti’s

Japanese Restaurant/Sushi
MOBO SUSHIBestOof2010icon
Mobo Sushi is a perfect choice for most dining situations: birthday dinners, date nights, big groups, family outings, and when anyone in your party is one or more of the following: a sushi lover, foodie, vegetarian, or sake drinker. The restaurant is a big, stylish and happening place—oh, and did we mention delicious? The extensive menu boasts countless tasty sashimi options, hot dishes, sushi rolls (including a whole page of vegetarian roll choices), and more.  BRAIN CANDY: “Mobo” comes from the 1920s slang word for young Japanese men, or “MOdern BOys,” who dressed in Western attire. | EL
(Japanese) Shogun, Takara, I Love Sushi (Sushi) I Love Sushi, Shogun, Takara

Kid-friendly RestaurantBestOof2010icon
This unique Soquel haven captures our hearts for a number of reasons, but I’m sure that kids dig for the “dogs” and oh, my guilty pleasure, those shakes—some of the best around town. Great atmosphere doesn’t hurt, either. Munch away.
BRAIN CANDY: Its pies—apple, olallieberry, cherry and peach—are homemade. | CP
Kianti’s, Santa Cruz Diner, Saturn Café

Is it a drink or a dessert? It’s both at Clouds, where this famous and again favorite beverage goes far beyond your granddad’s definition of the perfect martini.  Compelling also is the standing-room-only, vibrant environment were fancily dressed patrons mingle at this nightly cocktail party. Pucker up with an Absolut Citron vodka Lemondrop in a sugar-rimmed glass. Break all the rules with a Beach Bum, where mango and pineapple rums take you to the tropics, or a Big Louie tequila Rita.  For the sweeter side of life, check out a chocolate-rimmed Cloudy Mint Chip or Espresso shaken with chocolate and liqueurs. BRAIN CANDY: The Clouds Lemon Drop is a killer but we also suggest the Chocolate Martini—vanilla, dark, and Dutch chocolates, accompanied by a chocolate rim. | KP
Runners-up 515, Motiv, Paradise Beach Grille

Meal for a Deal
This organic Asian wonderland is downright orgasmic. Great meals at affordable prices. Signature “big bowls” are still under $6. Salads are under $5. Heck—the most expensive sandwich is $7. Sweet.  Thanks, Chuck! BRAIN CANDY: The eggless wheat noodles are delish. | CP
Runners-up El Palomar, Carpos, Santa Cruz Diner

Natural Food Store
At New Leaf, which serves Boulder Creek, Felton, Capitola, Half Moon Bay, Downtown Santa Cruz and Westside Santa Cruz, it’s about much more than shopping for healthy and environmentally conscious groceries. Prepared meals such as roasted hormone-free chicken, house-made soups, and salads are yummy time-savers for busy households. Many locally made foodstuffs are prominently displayed in the well-stocked aisles. And the new Westside location is a unique community-gathering place with cafe tables and a classroom kitchen which offers wellness, natural cooking and numerous specialty food courses. BRAIN CANDY: You can download a gluten-free shopping guide at | KP
Runners-up Staff of Life, Whole Foods, The Food Bin

New Restaurant
best5_food_pearlPEARL OF THE OCEAN
What used to be called Sri (short for Sri Lanka) on Water Street is now Pearl of the Ocean. Sri Lanka is said to be the “jewel” of the Indian Ocean—situated as it is like a gem off the south coast of India. Owner Ayoma Wilen has carried on the tradition of Sri by preparing mostly vegetarian/vegan food—and some meat dishes as well. Actually, I love Indian and Sri Lankan food— and all the delicious spices that go along with it—and it makes a change from a pork chop and mashed potatoes. The prices are very reasonable, too. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Monday. BRAIN CANDY: There’s also a wonderful selection of teas, exotic drinks, and wine and beer. | JCBestOof2010icon
Runners-up SmoQe, Lillian’s, Drunk Monkeys

Where else can you descend after hours to enjoy sizzling slices of award-winning pizza that has been served in this town for more than 30 years? Where else can you win gift certificates merely by sending in pictures of yourself adorned with their oh-so-soft T-shirts as you travel? Yeah, your undying love for this place is so understood. BRAIN CANDY: The Big Sur pizza has 40 cloves of roasted garlic on it. | AS
Runners-up Woodstock, Engfer’s, Pleasure Point

Restaurant Ambiance
It’s hard to match the impact of Shadowbrook. There is, of course, the food, which continually impresses with its high standards. But then, you also have the unforgettable ambiance here, which continues to attract your attention. Is it the beautiful Soquel Creek, which the Capitola restaurant overlooks, that makes it so unique? Yes. But there’s more. Whether you’re arriving into Shadowbrook through its own cable car or heading down the steps of its lush garden path, every layer is steeped in a rare beauty and history. Empowering our palates for more than six decades now, owner Ted Burke’s distinctly oringal culinary destination dazzles the senses. Upstairs, the Rock Room is delightfully casual, with an extensive bar, a fireplace and ample room for Winemaker Wednesdays, as well as weekly entertainment. But each room has its own old-world feel. But you already know that. And you already know you can’t find better ambiance than this locally. (Read more in this week’s dining section.) BRAIN CANDY: A revered establishment since 1947, the soul of the place was originally an old cabin, built in the early ’20s. | Greg Archer
Runners-up 515, Paradise Beach Grille, Gabriella’s

Restaurant (Aptos)
You have chosen Rio Del Mar’s Bittersweet as best Aptos restaurant four years in a row. One reason? Since 1996, chef/owner/Culinary Institute of America alum Thomas Vinolus has dedicated himself to creating gourmet-yet-casual food in a comfortable atmosphere. One recommended starter: the prawn martini, containing prawns, organic greens, candied lemon zest and homemade cocktail sauce. Another reason Bittersweet’s the bomb: recession buster specials ($6 food, $5 drinks) and 2-for-1 happy hour pizzettas in the lounge. Pizzettas include savory toppings like Bittersweet’s homemade sausage. BRAIN CANDY:  Vinolus is also a successful community activist. He helped save the county’s restaurant composting program in March 2010 when it was about to be terminated due to cost. He called local newspapers to get the word out, and people voiced support,ensuring the program’s continuation. The program picks up about 100 tons of food scraps monthly; 50 participants include dining halls at UCSC and Dominican Hospital (and Bittersweet which sends about six cubic yards of food scraps weekly). | TFW
Runners-up Café Sparrow, Manuel’s, Zameen

Restaurant of the Year
GT readers awarded Paradise two honors: Capitola restaurant and restaurant of the year. Paradise contains many excellent elements and the sum is even greater than its parts, resulting in a top destination for both locals and out-of-towners. The restaurant’s beachside location is prime, whether you’re sitting on the patio or enjoying the view from inside the mural-covered dining room. Chef Stephen Hanecak designs delectable dishes like seafood ravioli in cioppino sauce and guava-soy-marinated skirt steak with cheese tortellini and Gorgonzola cream. Hanecak’s high standards include using hormone-free beef from Kansas-based Creekstone Farms. Popular appetizers include these cheese-centered goodies: the cleverly named Beach Blanket Breadalon (a large sourdough bowl filled with smoked gouda, mozzarella, garlic, scallions, and olive oil) and the fruit and cheese platter featuring Danish Bleu, double cream French Brie and New York Black Wax Sharp Cheddar. The cheese is successfully enhanced by accompaniments including fruit (grapes, sun-dried cranberries, apple), salami, and garlic crostini. One of the ways Paradise supports other local businesses is by featuring many Santa Cruz and Monterey wines, including Bargetto and Burrell School. The comprehensive wine list contains more than 20 by the glass, perfect if you want to try something new without investing in a bottle. BRAIN CANDY: Paradise, which prides itself on being a family-friendly restaurant, serves all kids’ entrees on pink and green Frisbees, which the kids then get to take home. The restaurant goes through 4,000 Frisbees each year. | TFW
(Restaurant of the year) Oswald’s, Café Cruz, Lillian’s  (Capitola) Shadowbrook, Café Cruz, Dharma’s Restaurant (Santa Cruz)

best5_food_AvantiRISTORANTE AVANTIBestOof2010icon (Santa Cruz)
Consistently serving food that is beautiful in both appearance and flavor, Avanti is the go-to restaurant for many GT readers. Avanti uses only seasonal produce, cage-free eggs, and meat from humanely raised animals. Chef Ben Sims, who joined the restaurant in 2005, creates impressive dishes whether using vegetables, meat, pasta, or all of the above. His San Francisco culinary school training and experience working at a top Berkeley restaurant (or should I say one of the best restaurants in the country), Chez Panisse, has obviously paid off. Each season I can’t wait to taste what he’s come up with. I enjoyed a recent spring lunch with perfectly cooked gnocchi. And of course, there’s the bread dipped in olive oil—oil so delicious that I, along with many other customers, wish I could take it home by the bottleful. Avanti’s menu might have butternut squash ravioli in the winter (garnished with toasted hazelnuts and sage brown butter), a dish with fresh Brussels sprouts from winter to early spring, and a Santa Cruz favorite, cardoons—sometimes with Manchego— during the summer. Other ravioli varieties include beet with walnuts and greens, and wild nettle with black trumpet butter. No matter what season you visit, you’ll find dishes made with absolutely fresh, local ingredients. Chef Sims is currently using Marin Sun Farms grass-fed meats. Highly recommended: Pappardelle with baked Marin Sun Farms meatballs, spinach salad with pancetta-wrapped homemade croutons, and any risotto that appears on the menu as a daily special.
BRAIN CANDY: One of the most popular dishes is Chicken Fusilli. The entrée includes roasted chicken, fusilli pasta, pancetta

Restaurant (San Lorenzo Valley)
Celebrating 55 years, Scopazzi’s retains its old-school charm providing polished service, antipasto plates and Caesar salads made tableside. Snack on Oysters Rockefeller or ahi sashimi with a signature cocktail in the lounge, savor perfectly prepared steaks, roast venison or cannoli oozing cheese by the cozy fireplace, or a traditional turkey club on the sunny patio. BRAIN CANDY: The extensive wine list is heavy with California’s finest, as well as select European varietal. | KP
Runners-up Ciao Bella, Mama Mia’s, Tyroleon Inn

Restaurant (Scotts Valley)
It’s no surprise that 2-year-old Sandabs repeats as this category’s winner. The restaurant’s marvelous service, creative mingling of ingredients, exceptional presentation and an extensive wine list make every meal memorable. Enjoy fresh fish from the sunny dining room, the wine bar, or a sofa beside the glowing fireplace. The veggie burger features a Portobello mushroom with pesto, blue cheese and sweet caramelized onions. And those little crème brûlées—to die for. Dinner reservations are highly recommended. BRAIN CANDY: Weekday lunch specials are just $8. | KP
Runners-up Rumble Fish, Jia Tella’s, Malone’s  

Restaurant (Soquel)
Our favorite seats at Michael’s are on the deck overlooking tree-lined Soquel Creek. Whether warmed by the midday sun or patio heaters at dinner we find romance under the living canopy. Others prefer the glowing fireplace.  Either way, the wide range of food from brick oven pizza or pot roast tacos, to Towering Pork Ossobucco with grilled Caesar salad is delightful. Wednesdays are karaoke nights, and live music can be heard Thursday through Saturday. BRAIN CANDY: On Tuesdays, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., a marvelous buffet dinner is created to pair with wines of a local vintner. | KP
Runners-up Tortilla Flats, Star of Siam, Sawasdee

Restaurant (Watsonville)
The restaurant’s stellar menu is upscale and diverse. Two of Green Valley’s appetizers that are definitely recommended: Kobe burger sliders and pancetta bacon-wrapped grilled prawns. The sliders have highest-quality beef, white cheddar, caramelized onions, and a delicious Dijon mayonnaise. The prawns are always cooked just right, and the jalapeño aioli adds a great punch. If you want to try the prawns with several other appetizers plus tri tip, try the GVG platter. Green Valley cooks up meat like no other Watsonville restaurant, with a prime rib that’s absolutely succulent, and steaks including wood-grilled filet with a fabulous sauce containing 18-year-old balsamic. Even the salads showcase a chef with enormous attention to detail: the GVG house salad contains ingredients like yummy spiced walnuts. Combine this cuisine with top-notch service and you have a winner. The waitstaff is attentive and knowledgeable, even willing to tell you how certain dishes are made if you ask—all the while remaining gracious.  If you dine on a weekend night, you can listen to live music by local bands. And if your early evening schedule is flexible, and you order between 5 and 6:15 p.m., you can take advantage of GVG’s early-bird specials with good discounts and smaller-but-still-filling-portions. BRAIN CANDY: Executive chef Jim Hughes has worked with world-famous chefs including Wolfgang Puck. | TFW
Runners-up Cilantro’s, Jalisco’s, Miyuki’s

RIVA FISH HOUSEBestOof2010icon
During crab season I often enjoy a late lunch with half of a local Dungeness as the bright autumn sun shines warmly through the windows here on the wharf. I also love the broiled Oysters Verde, with salsa and molten pepper jack cheese. Pasta dishes tossed with clams or prawns and brightly colored fresh vegetables are served with a considerably sized fresh salad. BRAIN CANDY: In addition to the extensive menu of fish entrées, the specials board is also brimming with fresh catch exclusives. | KP
Runners-up Stagnaro’s, Crow’s Nest Paradise Beach Grille

Slow-roasted prime rib, eight ounce filet mignon, and 22-ounce Texas T-bones are just a few of the favorites that have earned Hindquarter the GT readers’ recommendation for 22 years running. At this carnivore’s paradise, the free-range chicken, St. Louis center-cut BBQ pork ribs, Texas BBQ beef back ribs, apple wood pork chops, and Chicago-style baby back ribs are all house-smoked. Even the half-pound hamburger is sensational. The bartenders are knowledgeable about the wonderful wine list, which includes many selections by the glass. BRAIN CANDY: Numerous vegetarian pastas and salads are also served. | KP
Runners-up Bluewater, Café Cruz, The Point Chophouse

Asana is more than just a teahouse. It can easily become a cleansing experience for the mind, body and soul. The aesthetics of the place alone will likely cure most of your stress. Art always lines the walls, and the music is relaxing and oftentimes live. They have wholesome treats to tantalize the senses including a chili lime shrimp panini and focaccia bread pizza. And of course they offer a selection of teas to aid any ailment.  BRAIN CANDY: The tea menu expands several pages and includes a detailed description of each of their black, green, white, oolong, tisanes, puerh and blooming teas. | AS
Runners-up Chaikhana, Bloomsbury Tea Room, Asanti

Thai Restaurant
A calming respite from the bustle of busy Mission Street, Sabieng’s extensive menu of tropical specialties includes sweet and sour BBQ, roasted duck, noodles, sautés, and mildly spiced curries, including yellow curry with lamb. BRAIN CANDY: For lunch, 27 specials ($6.25) make favorite study companions for UC students catching the bus up to campus. Favorites include the seasonal mango sticky rice, and Pad Se Ew, which blends your choice of protein with broccoli, eggs and black bean sauce. | KP
Runners-up Sawasdee, Star of Siam, Bangkok West

Vegetarian Cuisine
Tofu, tempeh, seitan—oh my! Dharma’s has been serving natural and organic fast food-style vegetarian food to the Santa Cruz community since 1981. The cafeteria-style restaurant has become a vegetarian institution for locals and visitors, offering a mind-blowing array of tasty vegetarian and vegan options one might be hard-pressed to find elsewhere: burgers, sandwiches, desserts, sautés, pasta dishes, desserts. Now for the hard part—how to choose! BRAIN CANDY: Ninety-five percent of the menu is vegan. | EL
Runners-up Saturn Café, Malabar, Charlie Hong Kong

Winery (local)
BONNY DOON BestOof2010icon
Although Bonny Doon is a local winery, it’s now known far and wide. With Randall Grahm at the helm, it’s no wonder. This forward-thinking winemaker is also out to have fun whilst he’s doing what he loves best—making superb wines. One of his most famous is Le Cigare Volant, a voluptuous red blend. I remember sipping on some in a restaurant—and not caring that my friends were running 30 minutes late. When Grahm moved his tasting room to its present location on Ingalls Street on the Westside, it was an instant success. And much of that success is due to the innovative Cellar Door restaurant with Manresa alum Charlie Parker as executive chef at the helm. Here is where you’ll find not only gorgeous wine, but also inspired food to go with it. Everything served is fresh, organic and totally wholesome. So take my advice and get yourself a glass of Ca’ del Solo and try something from Parker’s kitchen—and guaranteed you’ll be in hog heaven. BRAIN CANDY: Randall Grahm has written a book entitled “Been Doon So Long” and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. | JC
Runners-up Beauregard, Bargetto’s, Storrs

Best of 2010 Index:
Best of Santa Cruz Shops
Best Arts, Entertainment & Nightlife>
Best Health & Fitness>
Best Professionals>
Best of the Rest>
Critics’ Picks>

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Susie Ayala, July 30, 2011
Can someone PLEASE give me the ingredients for the Beet soup they used to make at Staff of Life before it was a mega store?????
It was the most memorable beet soup I have ever tasted and am afraid will never taste again... they cant or wont give it out any longer.. saying they dont make it anymore....please help! thank you

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Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX


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Thomas Kruse Winery, a participant in the new Santa Clara Wine Trail, has been around for a long time—since 1971, to be exact. When our little group arrived to try some wine at the Kruses’ low-key tasting room, Thomas Kruse and his wife Karen were there to greet us. Theirs is a small operation, and they’re proud to offer quality wine at affordable prices. “Because we are small and low-tech, it’s easy to relate to the whole winemaking process,” says Karen—and the Kruses take pride in making wine “just like it has been made for centuries.”