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Oct 01st
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

Welcome back to Rio

Welcome back to Rio

Good times are once again rolling at Cafe Rio

We couldn't get a dinner reservation until 7:30 on a Tuesday night, demonstrating that Cafe Rio has opened with a bang. Laughter filled the air as families finished their meals, while the numerous servers and staff members buzzed around the large dining area.

I sipped house cabernet ($5) from Butterfield Station, full of ripe berries, while dipping pieces of soft-crusted baguette in olive oil which was gently seasoned with bits of garlic and herbs.

B. & B. Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) appears as an appetizer at dinner and also on the bar menu. Strips of fish with smoky charred surfaces and watermelon-pink interiors were served with searing soy mustard dressing on a bed of sautéed onions and multicolored bell peppers.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Midtown Marketplace

Midtown Marketplace

I first met Chef Joshua Server in 2008 at the Live Oak Farmers Market where he was cooking brunch from his Conscious Creations Catering booth. I feasted upon his bright, fruit-topped, muffin-like Coconut-Kahlua Banana Pancakes with natural maple syrup.

In May, the name Conscious Creations Cafe appeared on the door of the old Black China Bakery Cafe on Soquel Avenue, and I've been eagerly awaiting the chance to sample more of Chef Joshua's organic specialties.

The patio is furnished with pale blue sofas, and inside, an attractive wraparound service counter with prep and display area has been added. The cafe will double as a market featuring local products. On this day there were beautiful candies from Ashby Confections of Aptos and Fruitful jellies made from central coast produce.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Sampling Sichuan Spices

Sampling Sichuan Spices

The popular O'mei on Mission continues to dazzle diners with its array of flavors

For more than 30 years O'mei Restaurant has served its classy renditions of Chinese cuisine on busy Mission Street. It had been some time since I had visited, and was looking forward to its special brand of spiciness.

We were offered a dinner menu, a specials menu which included seasonal Chinese vegetables, and the express menu which included noodle bowls, sautées and chow mein.

We chose two appetizers ($3) from a tray of six. String beans were mixed with plenty of garlic. Tanned and lacquered cashews were polka dotted with black and white sesame seeds for a sweet and salty snack.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Dog-friendly

Dog-friendly

There's a new Dog in town on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Laurel Street. Surf Dog serves mainly burgers and hot dogs, and you can design your own from a selection of ten meats and 19 toppings

The finishes are upscale for this small, late-night joint, with mosaic tile floors and a Corian-style marble table which matches those at Khyber Pass, the owner's other restaurant.

This isn't necessarily fast food: it took 20 minutes for a Juicy SC ($5.95), made to order. But it was hot, and even though cooked through, plenty moist. The fat sesame-seeded bun, spread with tart orange Surf Sauce was filled with a thick grill-marked patty with sautéed red bell peppers, crisp-textured onions and mushrooms. The orange cheese quickly melted until lusciously gooey, although the described garlic flavor was not apparent to me.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Prodigious Pantry

Prodigious Pantry

The menu at the reinvented Casablanca Bistro offers novel ingredients to complement the fabulous view

The new owners of Casablanca Bistro and Inn have enlisted Jon Carder as Executive Chef. With an extensive multi-ethnic culinary background, his menu brings numerous unique and unfamiliar ingredients to the table.

Lunch is served downstairs in the Bistro bar’s Sea Level Room and on its Beach Street patio. The menu includes a selection of small plates, salads, and sandwiches.

Build your own Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($6) with a familiar flavor, or investigate Spain’s rich Manchego or Italy’s Burrata, a fresh mozzarella with creamy center. Then choose vegetables, meat and a spread such as fig jam or spicy Tunisian harissa. Other sandwiches ($11-$15), served with salad or fries, include France's famous ham and cheese croque monsieur or Grilled Coulotte steak with blue cheese, and Chinese heirloom pink watermelon radishes.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Treats on Beach Street

Treats on Beach Street

I remember fondly our family picnics at various local beaches. Nothing ever tasted as good as the sandwiches my mom made on her blanket in the sand with freshly sliced sourdough bread, salami, cheese, tomatoes and dill pickles. Were they marvelous because of impending hypothermia, or because they were healthy and freshly made?

The Picnic Basket, a new endeavor by the folks at Penny Ice Creamery, brings a fresh and healthy taste of Santa Cruz to Boardwalk-area visitors. The menu includes food products from a venerable local list of who’s-who, with an emphasis on sustainability.

For breakfast ($3 to $8), begin with organic, brick oven breads and pastries from Mission Street’s Companion Bakers, or hot cereal from the 70-year old South San Francisco mills of Giusto’s Specialty Foods. You'll find all-natural bacon or ham from the family farms of Niman Ranch, Heidi Schlecht’s Santa Cruz Plumline organic jams, and sweet and savory turnovers made in-house.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Here and There

Here and ThereSanta Cruz Pizza Company offers eat-in, take-out, bake-it-yourself pies and more

Santa Cruz Pizza Company is a family-run restaurant that resides in the busy Victor Square shopping center near Scotts Valley Market. With televisions and a menu that offers more than pies, it's the perfect destination for a family night out.
Surfboards with beer logos ride the vivid blue walls surrounding tables and upholstered booths with roughly hewn seatbacks smoothly varnished to reflect soft light.
Sandwiches ($6.50 to $7.50), which are served on house-made focaccia bread, include Mama's Meatballs and Philly Cheesesteaks. Plates of pasta ($5.95/$9.95), fresh from Santa Cruz Pasta Company, are served with either marinara or Alfredo sauces and garlic cheese bread.
For snacks, the Kickin' Cajun Wings ($6.05 per half pound) sauces range from regular to hot to BBQ.
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Dining - Dining Reviews

Bus Stop Burritos

Bus Stop Burritos

On a concrete island smack in the middle of Santa Cruz's downtown metro center, fragrant sauces simmered in a tiny but well-equipped kitchen where two women were busily rolling burritos. It's a perfect location for good fast food; right on Front Street and at the stop for the heavily ridden Highway 17 Express.

Quesadillas ($3 to $6) include Sea and Land. Surprisingly thick with its edges sealed like a turnover, plump shrimp and steak joined tomatoes, pickled jalapeños and plenty of cheese within the browned tortilla.

New on the menu is Dandy's Synchronizada ($6), which combines chewy pieces of chopped steak with ham, onions, jalapeños and cheese.

El Dandy's tortas ($4.50 to $6) are very transportable—including the Torta Cubana ($6). In an oblong airy bun, thinly sliced ham, steak, chorizo, griddled, sliced hot dogs, tomato and hot pickled jalapeños made a satisfying lunch.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Brit on the Beach

Brit on the Beach

Britannia Arms expands to Capitola with bay views, breakfast and a few surprises

As it does in Aptos, Capitola’s Britannia Arms offers a combination of British, American and pub fare. Although decorated with a series of classic Guiness posters, from the architecture and view exuded a California beachfront aura.

Behind the fully occupied bar, bottles sparkled in impressive wooden shelving. From the elevated cupola room we could watch the Giants game while bright alternative rock from XM radio brightened spirits on a drizzly Tuesday evening.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Stuffed!

Stuffed!

Gallos means rooster in Spanish and at Taqueria los Gallos, you will find portraits and statues of the colorful fowl. Now with a second Scotts Valley location on Mt. Herman Road, their well-flavored Mexican family specialties including tortas, fajitas and vegetarian preparations are more attainable than ever.

The aroma of chilies and masa swirled from the container holding an Enchilada ($2.50). The 5-inch corn tortilla covered with a classic bright red sauce and a generous amount of melted cheese held finely shredded chicken.

By the time I got home, the cardboard box was greedily absorbing the sauce of an egg-battered Chile Relleno ($4.25). The meaty, sweet, cheese-stuffed fresh poblano chili was topped with a purée of green chilies and fresh tomatoes.

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