Top Ten Restaurants in Santa Cruz

iseyz presents: Santa Cruz Restaurant Review – Guide to fine-dining in Santa Cruz. Having lived in Santa Cruz for a good part of the past 12 years, I’ve had the opportunity to try out some of the restaurants available in the area. The following is a list of the top ten restaurants I have been to. There are mini-reviews and map directions to each of the ten restaurants. If your favorite Santa Cruz restaurant isn’t mentioned, be sure to list it in the comments. You can also subscribe/unsubscribe to be notified anytime a new restaurant is added.

In no particular order:

1: 515

515 is a somewhat undiscovered gem of fine-dining in Santa Cruz. You won’t have trouble finding it since the name is the address. This is the best place to get brunch on a weekend. Head on upstairs and choose a seat either inside by the fireplace or outside on the open air balcony.

The coffee and cuisine is superb. By far the richest most flavorful coffee I’ve ever experienced at a restaurant. It arrives in a French press. When you drop a sugar cube in your cup of coffee, a miniature geyser of bubbles erupts on the surface. I notice and appreciate this kind of stuff. The food is outstanding, laced with fresh herbs and delicious. To top it off, the prices are no more expensive, and sometimes even less expensive than other places that serve brunch in downtown Santa Cruz. Highly Recommended!

Map directions to 515:

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2: Star of Siam

Star of Siam has consistently good Thai food and is located in Soquel, about 5 miles south of Santa Cruz on highway 1. There is also a sushi bar if you feel like having a few rolls. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is friendly. If Mike, the owner, is there just tell him Sean said hello. He won’t know who you are talking about, but tell him anyways. Order the Tom yum or Tom kha soup with your meal. Mandatory taste sensation.

Map directions to Star of Siam:

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3: Crepe Place

Who could possibly complain about crepes? Crepe place is a tavern style restaurant and has some of the best outdoor seating in Santa Cruz. You will not walk out of this restaurant feeling unsatisfied. There is a secret crepe not listed on the menu. If you ChipIn, I’ll tell you how to order it 😉

Map directions to Crepe Place:

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4: Charlie Hong Kong

Right across from Crepe Place is Charlie Hong Kong, a healthy fast food restaurant. Delicious rice bowls and noodles served up with organic vegetables. I recommend the Gado Gado, a delicious stir-fry packed with shitake mushrooms.

Map directions to Charlie Hong Kong:

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5: Attic

Attic is located upstairs in the heart of Santa Cruz. There is an excellent (although pricey) selection of gourmet tea. There is also a decent selection (not so pricey) of food on the menu if you are feeling hungry. Terrific ambience, comfy couches, and sometimes there is live music. A great place to sip tea and have get some work done since wi-fi is available.

Map directions to Attic:

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6: Jumping Monkey Cafe

Decidedly funky Santa Cruz style, no I’m not going to say “Hippie Food” (oops I just did), Jumping Monkey serves up some terrific Dosas. Authentic lime pickles, fresh salads, and khichiri. The menu is sparse, but what they offer is done right. If you feel like eating healthy, check out Jumping Monkey. Don’t be deterred by the drumming in the background, that is probably just African dance class or Capoeira lessons in session.

Map directions to Jumping Monkey Cafe:

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7: Chocolate

Death by Chocolate!? If you want to treat yourself to some of the most sinfully succulent deserts in Santa Cruz, be sure to check out Chocolate. Indoor and outdoor dining. Quirky and controversial decor. Great dinners too. The desserts will rock your world. ‘Nuff said.

Map directions to Chocolate:

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8: Ciao Bella

Speaking of quirky, you just haven’t experienced quirky until you’ve been to Ciao Bella on a good night. I went there for my birthday several years ago and was serenaded by a trumpet player. But he wasn’t actually playing the trumpet, as that would’ve been obnoxious. He was humming happy birthday through it as if it were a kazoo. Later on, there was a choreographed dance performance cabaret style with four dancers up on the stage! Located in Ben Lomond on highway 9, everyone should experience Ciao Bell at least once in their life.

Map directions to Chocolate:

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9: Paradise Sushi

Serving up a creative fusion of sushi ingredients, Paradise Sushi is not to be missed. On the menu, there used to be what is called “Satan’s Handroll”. Last time I was there, I noticed it was crossed off the menu. When I asked the owner why, she told me that a guy who ordered the Satan’s Handroll had a heart attack and they had to call an ambulance. I believe it. Never in my life have I experienced a spicier food. I’m not a wimp when it comes to spicy, but when my friend ordered one I tried just a tiny bite after pushing out all of the secret sauce with my chopstick and my mouth was still on fire. Even though Satan’s Handroll is gone, there are plenty of other delicious and innovative maki rolls to choose from. Paradise Sushi is located in Capitola and offers a view of the ocean.

Map directions to Paradise Sushi:

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10: Shadowbrook

Also located in Capitola is Shadowbrook. I haven’t been there in a long time or often because it is on the expensive side. If you are feeling like treating yourself or want to impress your date, Shadowbrook is a good place to go. Shadowbrook sports incredible facilities (including its very own cable car) and gardens. The building is huge and there are plenty of interesting and varied places to be seated. Shadowbrook has been around since 1947 and it is obvious why.

Map directions to Shadowbrook:

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13 thoughts on “Top Ten Restaurants in Santa Cruz

  1. Thanks for this review! I’ve been to a few of these restaurants and agree they have great food and service.

    I just thought I would toss out Sawasdee as another awesome Thai restaurant. Located at 5050 Soquel Dr. in Soquel. Been going there since they opened a few years ago and the food is always consistently great. I especially like the chicken satay skewers and the noodles and shrimp cooked in a clay pot.

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  2. I can’t believe I forgot to put El Palomar on the list!! Since I moved back to Santa Cruz in April, this is easily the restaurant I’ve eaten at the most.

    Tuesday night is “College Night” and represents the best deal for dinner in Santa Cruz. $1.50 tacos and $2.00 pints. An incredible deal for the best tasting tacos I’ve had anywhere in Santa Cruz. The staff there is awesome. They work so hard and do such a good job. The bartender Shayne is cool. Zen of mixing drinks. El Palomar is a tight ship.

    It can get a bit noisy. Just bring some earplugs if the sound bothers you, the tacos are worth it.

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  3. Best pizza I’ve had in Santa Cruz is at Kianti’s. I’m a crust connoisseur, and Kianti’s does crust right. World class tossers provide entertainment. Pesto pizza is highly recommended.

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  4. Kianti’s, Charlie Hong Kong, and Cafe Brazil? Did someone cut your tongues off before you ate at these places? I think these places ride on hype and have nothing note worthy on their menus. Just a guess, but maybe your pallet isn’t attuned to good food yet. You’re only limited to what you’ve eaten so far. There are places much greater than these 2 or 3 star eateries.

  5. Walnut Avenue Cafe, Sushi Garden in Capitola, the cream cheese and cilantro burger at 99 Bottles, Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant in Aptos, Clam Chowder and/or Crab Quesadilla’s at Stagnaro Brothers (on the wharf), Pastries at Kelly’s off Swift St., Sourdough Bread at Hoffman’s Bakery, Sampler platter at Acapulco Mexican restaurant, Bangkok West Thai Restaurant in Soquel… that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

  6. Walnut Avenue Cafe is one of the few breakfast places I’ve been to that actually gets hollandaise sauce right. If you need a hollandaise fix, you’ve got to try the shrimp and tomato benedict. It’s at the top of the menu.

    I find it strange that embedding is disabled for Walnut Avenue Cafe on Google maps. Here’s the website:

  7. Great places! I agree fully!
    I would like to add that upstairs of Crow’s Nest is another topper. Mostly because of the view and the food is enjoyable and the bands are always a fun time! Another place I love is the Thai House in Soquel. I used to soley be dedicated to Star of Siam until I found this great place! I love their soups!! Lastly, Bean and Cheese burritos (for the hangover days) at El Chipotle’s in Soquel… Best cure I mean B&C out there! ohhh can I add one more? While on the hangover cure… Stockton Bridge has the MOST AMAZING Bloody Mary’s in the WORLD… I am telling you. I know my Bloody Mary’s and whatever it is they do to this it is UNFORGETTABLE!!

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