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Apr 24th
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

A+ Pho

A+ Pho

Can't decide between Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese food? At Capitola's new Asian Express you can enjoy all three. As an added bonus, they make an exceptional bowl of pho (which approximately rhymes with duhhh), a Vietnamese noodle soup.

At Asian Express, nestled between Starbucks and Togo's in the Ross building of the Capitola Mall, various appetizers, entrées and side dishes wait in warming trays at the counter. Choose from a single entrée and side ($4.50), two entrées ($5.49), or three ($6.39).

The chow mein noodles were mixed with vegetables and pieces of omelet. Rice was fried with peas, carrots and eggs. Chili-flecked beef and carrots in a dark sauce were topped with roasted potatoes, and lollipop chicken drumettes were coated with a sweet, caramelized sauce. Two long Fresh Spring Rolls ($2.95) were stuffed with parsley, mint leaves, lettuce, green onions, noodles and a couple of big shrimps.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Nibble, Savor and Indulge

Nibble, Savor and Indulge

Fresh, flavorful ingredients bring color to the menu at Cafe Limelight
Whatever your appetite, the simple but inventive menu at Cafe Limelight meets numerous needs. A loveseat and plump upholstered chairs surround a coffee table, creating an ideal ambiance for an after-work wind-down with nibbles and a beverage. Local Bargetto Rosso ($6) paired nicely with a Single-cheese Plate ($5.95) and Salami ($4.50). French Comté, called the Gruyère of France, is a classic, hard, flexible cheese with nutty undertones. The earthy, dry Molinari salami was flecked with black peppercorns. The plate included dried cranberries, large kalamata olives, points of crisp, griddle-toasted bread, and glazed cashews encrusted with tiny sesame seeds.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Same, Yet Different

Same, Yet Different

Kickback Coffee House and Eatery slid into the Seabright neighborhood offering free wi-fi, organic coffee, and a mostly familiar menu. A bit of renovation created a comfortable space, where local art is for sale on the cleanly painted walls.

You'll recognize the long list of breakfast burritos from Kickback's predecessor Chill Out Cafe (which still operates its store on 41st Avenue) including numerous vegetarian offerings.

The hefty No.18 Spicy Bird ($7.05) is swaddled in a large, supple flour tortilla. Real cubes of flavorful roasted turkey are combined with scrambled eggs, grated potatoes, tomatoes, tart green chilies, mashed avocado and Swiss cheese with their signature spicy sauce.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Piece of Cake

Piece of Cake

Freedom's Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill serves up huge plates of fresh, flavorful comfort food
It had been a decade since I last met friends at the Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill. The place had been described to me as a dive bar. But this 30-year old establishment is bright, with natural light from real windows. And from the boisterous laughter spilling into the adjacent restaurant as we waited for dinner, I could tell it was a welcoming neighborhood bar, the kind where everybody knows your name.

The restaurant seemed to be an addition, as rough-hewn timbers supported weathered bricks forming an open doorway from the bar. The decor was rather Pacific Northwest mountain cabin-style with moose wallpaper borders, carved wooden totems, and a mounted pair of antlers. On each table was a full complement of condiments including three styles of Beaver brand Oregonian mustard and A.1. Steak Sauce. Under the glass that protected the tablecloth, I was surprised to see a full-page wine list.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

A Handful — Period

A Handful — Period

The small parking lot on the corner of Mission and Bay streets was surprisingly full for a midweek lunch, and inside the new restaurant named burger followed by a period, (there are no capital letters anywhere on the menu), tables were filled with people enjoying World Cup Soccer on two large flatscreens.

Behind the counter (located at the Bay Street entrance) multi-colored chalk lettering describes the menu. Humboldt grass-fed beef from small, free-range, northern Californian farms is featured, but the house-made black bean-based veggie burger ($6.75) is popular.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

For the Birds

For the Birds

Little Caricias Café offers healthy alternatives to fast food on Beach Hill
Caricias Café sits on the small patio in front of Boca Del Cielas, a mauve Victorian bed and breakfast just up the First Street hill from the Boardwalk Bowl. Tico, the resident scarlet macaw, shimmied up the pole to her perch and surprised us with a loud squawk. The immense parrot then climbed down the backside of the wrought iron fence behind my daughter's chair, nibbled playfully on her sweatshirt, and gently grasped her elbow with zygodactyl feet.

On the whiteboard which describes the menu, I was surprised to see a fruit Pico de Gallo ($3). Spears of pineapple, honeydew melon, mango and cucumber were served with Tajin Clasico, a brand of slightly tart seasoning that includes powdered chilies and salt. I learned that dried chilies are enjoyed on everything in Mexico, especially fruit. Even better than Tajin was the spicier house-made version based on toasted, dried Japanese red chilies.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Spot o' Tea?

Spot o' Tea?

Scones bring to mind tea time, crumpets and treacle. Since 1999, John and Yvette Bilanko have been selling mixes for these sweet breads to retail customers and restaurants alike. Now they return to their roots with a cafe, showcasing not only their baked goods, but savory fare as well.

Family photos line a wall of the cafe and store. Yvette, a first generation American, is shown on a Vespa outside of her Grandfather's Tuscan home. Raised in Chicago, the Bilankos married, had children and careers, and in 1991 opened an espresso bar and cafe. They used a scone mix, developed and sold by a group of graduate food science students, which was easily made with just heavy cream instead of butter and eggs. The resulting moist breads were hugely successful. Eventually the Bilankos bought the mix company and moved to Santa Cruz. Three weeks ago they were finally able to open the cafe.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

North Coast Ghost

North Coast Ghost

Whether it's fine dining or a snack, at Moss Beach Distillery marvelous ocean views are on the house
During Prohibition, under the cover of darkness and fog, Canadian rum runners landed just north of Half Moon Bay at Moss Beach to unload their contraband. While most of their cargo was destined for San Francisco speakeasies, some of it made its way up the cliff to Frank's Roadhouse, a restaurant frequented by well-heeled celebrities and civic leaders. Today, the white building is home to Moss Beach Distillery and perhaps also to the charming but ghostly Blue Lady.

It was a pleasant stroll to the restaurant from the Seal Cove Inn, where our overnight package included a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant. Above the bar, which serves nice Bloody Marys, is a stamped tin ceiling. The overstuffed swiveling barstools, each with its own footrest, are fixed to the floor.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Top o' the Mornin'

Top o' the Mornin'

Breakfast has returned to the little restaurant at the tip of the Seabright neighborhood where Bea's Koffee Kup once thrived. Today, Backstage Lounge, which now prepares dinner only for private parties, serves a unique array of breakfast and brunch specialties daily.

The stunning Crème Brûlée French Toast ($8.50) was an incredible treat. On two fat slices of golden brown bread with the airy texture of challah, custard was poured and drizzled with a swirl of dark molasses. Joining the main course was a pretty piped cone of butter, the texture of whipped cream, and a mix of bright berries, bananas and pineapple. The side of bacon ($3) was extra crisp.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

On a Roll

On a Roll

Sam's Chowder House brings New England-style seafood to Half Moon Bay
Perched on a cliff just south of Pillar Point Harbor, eco-friendly Sam's Chowder House offers sensational views and a respect for seafood that allows its flavors to shine. Voted Best Waterfront Dining last year by SF Gate's readership, its award-winning Executive Chef and partner Lewis Rossman seeks sustainable and local ingredients for his seasonal menus.

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Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.

 

Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

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Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management