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The 7 Best Restaurants To Check Out in Santa Cruz
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The 7 Best Restaurants To Check Out in Santa Cruz

Eating out can be challenging at times. This curated list of the best restaurants in Santa Cruz will help streamline that process.

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7 min read

January 16, 2023

Genie Lawless is an experienced real estate agent in the Santa Cruz area. Her love for beautiful Santa Cruz and her devotion to great customer service will make your move to the region a breeze. She is a member of the California.com Business Program.

Situated on the northern edge of scenic Monterey Bay lies Santa Cruz, a storied metropolis replete with Spanish architecture, a magnificent beach boardwalk, and no shortage of wonderful surfing spots. This seaside resort destination is also well-known as a college town, home to the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.  With such a prominent University in Santa Cruz, this has partially influenced the growth of the impressive culinary scene in town.  In truth, the list of all the best restaurants in Santa Cruz would be too long to list in a single article, so we’ve picked out the best of the best for your consideration. Here are seven of the best restaurants in Santa Cruz you’ve absolutely got to check out the next time you’re in Surf City. 

Enjoy delightful authentic pizzas made fresh every day in a wood-fired brick oven at Bantam.

Bantam 

Location: 1010 Fair Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060. 
Working Hours: Closed Sundays and Mondays, Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 5 pm-9 pm.
Takeout hours: 4-8 pm on open days. 
Parking: Limited frontage parking, street parking. 

The only thing better than pizza is a fresh, organic pie straight out of an authentic wood-fired brick oven. Located not far from the iconic Santa Cruz Wharf, Bantam is a family and community-oriented restaurant that specializes in exactly these kinds of gourmet pizza pies. Ever open to innovating and keeping things fresh, Bantam is constantly evolving to keep up with the times. 

In addition to producing some of the best pizzas in town, their menu changes daily to keep in tune with Santa Cruz’s seasons, and all ingredients are sourced from the surrounding region. All of this means that when you dine with Bantam, you’re getting more than just a regular taste of pizza. At Bantam, you get to experience the wide variety of vibrant flavors the beautiful Santa Cruz region has to offer.

Mentone specializes in a combination of Genoan cuisine and flavors from the French Riviera.

Mentone 

Address: 174 Aptos Village Way, Aptos, CA 95003.
Working Hours: Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays 5-9 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 12-2:30 pm, and 5-9 pm. 
Parking: medium-sized parking lot, street parking. 

Given its moderate climate and its beautiful seaside atmosphere, it’s little wonder that Santa Cruz is a home away from home for Mediterranean flavors. In line with Santa Cruz’s tradition of shaking things up, Mentone offers a truly dynamic menu.  The restaurant seeks to infuse the best of Genoan cuisine with a French Riviera influence, in a quintessentially Californian setting.  After a visit to this restaurant, it will come as no surprise that Mentone is one of the city’s essential top attractions

What the carefully crafted mix of Genoan & French Riviera flavors translates to is beautiful artisanal pizzas, a wide array of antipasti from fried eggplant to marinated olives, and glorious mains such as Genoan gnocchi. All that makes for absolutely divine dinners that can’t be matched. Mentone gets pretty busy at dinnertime, so we recommend calling ahead to reserve a table. 

Imagine the unique experience of dining in a luxurious California mansion perched on the hills of Santa Cruz.

Shadowbrook Restaurant 

Address: 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola, CA 95010
Working Hours: Open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 3:30-10 pm, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays 12-10 pm. 
Parking: Large dedicated parking lot. 

Those who appreciate the kind of fine dining that only a charming old-world atmosphere can provide will love Shadowbrook. Going strong since 1947 as one of the best restaurants in Santa Cruz, Shadowbrook has long positioned itself as an establishment that seeks to bring “romance in dining”. Everything about this unique restaurant is ensconced in a rich history. 

The building Shadowbrook currently occupies was once a summer home built in the 1920s, and then enlarged into a Swiss chalet-style mansion.  The restaurant's founders bought the house in 1944 and worked to completely restore it to its extravagant glory. Today, Shadowbrook is the Santa Cruz spot for high-class dining and features luxuriously reimagined Haut cuisine favorites. It is also known as one of the best seafood restaurants in Santa Cruz thanks to its tasty fresh offerings such as clam chowder and fried calamari. Patrons are required to wear business casual and may choose to be shuttled to the restaurant in a beautiful vintage California cab. 

As a casual dining spot, Vim Dining offers creative yet approachable interpretations of American classics.

Vim Dining & Desserts 

Address: 2238 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Working Hours: Closed Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Open Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 5-8 pm. 
Parking: Dedicated parking lot.

Brought to you by Chef Jesikah Stolaroff, Santa Cruz native and an experienced culinary artist, Vim is a local restaurant that pioneers New American cuisine. Stolaroff has come back to her hometown and employed her rich experience in Haut cuisine to reimagine American fare for a dining experience that’s approachable yet delectable. 

With culinary innovations such as ginger soy steak, maple Aleppo pork tenderloin, and Acorn squash burrata Vim hopes to inject some newfound energy and vitality into local classics. Indeed, the name Vim was meant to embody this dynamic casual elegance. You can relish in a multi-course dinner here, or just come to indulge in one of their decadent desserts. However, we think the absolute best way to enjoy Vim Dining is after spending a serene afternoon at Westlake Park, watching the sunset, and then capping off the day with a mouthwatering meal.

Using quality ingredients sourced locally, La Posta has faithfully recreated the sophisticated Italian restaurant dining experience in Santa Cruz.

La Posta Restaurant 

Address: 538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062. 
Working Hours: Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays 5-8:30 pm, open Fridays and Saturdays 5-9:30 pm. 
Parking: Small dedicated parking lot. 

For a straightforward Italian dining establishment with nothing but the best in the heart of Seabright, La Posta is the place to go. This culinary experience is the closest you’ll get to dining in a true Italian restaurant short of catching a plane to Genoa. La Posta proudly features a full menu complete with authentic Italian pasta, salads, seafood, gelato, and “pizze” (Italian for pizza). 

As one of the best restaurants in Santa Cruz, La Posta is particularly famous for its bread.  The “La Posta Bread” is made in-house from a thirty-year-old starter, so you know it’s a tried and true tradition. To ensure that they use only the best and freshest ingredients, La Posta sources all the ingredients that go into their flavorful meals from local farms. Whether you have some fruit of the sea or glorious carpaccio you know that you’re in for a quality farm-to-fork experience. 

Meat lovers will love Oswald’s burgers, skirt steak, duck breast, and their famed pub grub meals.

Oswald Restaurant 

Address: 121 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. 
Working Hours: Closed Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Open Wednesdays and Thursdays 12-2:30 pm and 5-8:45 pm, open Fridays and Saturdays 12-2:30 pm and 5-9:45 pm. 
Parking: Located in a parking garage. 

If you’re a fan of comfort food, you’ll be happy to know that Oswald is one of the best restaurants in Santa Cruz for high-end Californian comfort cuisine. The wide array of meat selections makes this an especially good place for the carnivorous foodie. The restaurant excels at putting a sophisticated focus on its “Pub Grub", while also offering a quite diverse main menu.  At Oswald, you can enjoy BBQ classics, fresh seafood, or an impeccable chocolate souffle.  This exceptional restaurant will keep you coming back for its flavorful, yet comforting California dishes. 

Oswald’s Restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining available, and reservations are encouraged if you want a guaranteed spot here for dinner. Oswald also offers gift certificates, which make for the perfect holiday/birthday gift for Santa Cruz foodies. This restaurant has a somewhat unique schedule, in that it closes at the owner’s discretion. After giving Oswald’s a try, it will be clear why it’s recognized as one of the best restaurants in downtown Santa Cruz

Enjoy great food in a charming outdoor dining atmosphere at Cafe Cruz.

Cafe Cruz 

Address: 2621 41st Avenue, Soquel, CA 95073. 
Working Hours: Open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 11:30 am-9 pm, open Sunday 5-9 pm. 
Parking: Dedicated parking. 

Another one of the best restaurants in Santa Cruz, CA, and last but not least on our list, takes its name from Surf City itself. Cafe Cruz has been a go-to dining spot for locals and visitors alike. It’s the kind of cool place where you can enjoy distinctive gourmet appetizers by an adobe-style fireplace and savor sumptuous meals served on beautiful reclaimed wood tables. 

In other words, Cafe Cruz is a place of charm and sophistication, where community and creativity come together to make great food for a lively restaurant. Cafe Cruz has solidified its brand of quality by providing excellent service and fresh, well-prepared delicious foods that are sourced from local farms. One of the best parts of Cafe Cruz that really embodies its charm is the outdoor patio dining area that has a cozy & romantic atmosphere complete with heaters to keep the evening chill at bay.   

While Cafe Cruz is most famous for their French-style chicken rotisserie, they also offer delicious vegetarian options such as avocado toast with whipped feta, grilled asparagus with truffle pecorino, and a beautiful 3 Beet Salad. As a trendy spot, Cafe Cruz fills up fast at dinner time so be sure to make a reservation and arrive early to easily find parking.  




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