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Photograph by CURTIS CARTIER
Raw Raw Raw!: Head chef Ricky Tateno (seated), owner Joon Kang and the readers agree--Santa Cruz's favorite sushi is Mobo Sushi.

Food & Drink

Readers Picks

It must be something in the water. From venerable institutions like Marianne's, Gayle's and Vasili's to fresh upstarts like Lillian's and Au Midi, Santa Cruz is home to dozens of unique restaurants and casual eateries, and our readers have conducted in-depth independent studies of the menus. Our roving critics have thrown in the results of their treasure hunts, too, making this a thorough guide to local gustatory excellence, soup to nuts.

Best Bar Food

The Red
This ruby-hued nest upstairs in the old Santa Cruz Hotel offers sophisticated sustenance for a night out. The menu leans toward sharing, whether it be the Li'l Mac Platter of organic sliders with truffled fries or late-date nibbles of artisan cheese and handmade rigatoni. Throw in top-shelf cocktails and an impressive beer selection, and the Red suits all.
200 Locust St., Santa Cruz. 831.425.1913.

Best Breakfast

Clanking forks, steaming mugs and the din of conversation fill this stupendous local landmark from open to close. Zachary's has everything a breakfast destination should, from the well-worn floors to the strong coffee, and of course heaping plates of signature specialties. Mike's Mess, sourdough pancakes, house-made breads and turmeric homefries give us reason to return again and again and again.
819 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.427.0646.

Best Cookies

Pacific Cookie Co.
What began as the Pearson Family's little bakeshop in 1980 has turned into a well-established cookie empire. With a helpful push from daughter Cara, now vice president, all cookies are now made without hydrogenated oils. If the sweet smell wafting out the door isn't enough to coax you in, Rachel Ray just named these little gems the "Snack of the Day."
1203 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.429.6905.

Best Dessert

The Buttery
If you walk into a party and spot those little frosting carrots offering themselves up, you'll soon be in for a great carrot cake experience. And rejoice when a bride says her cake is from the Buttery, because it means you won't be enduring another dry industrial slice. Really, if you haven't had a pecan sandie yet--go.
702 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.458.3020.

Best Innovative Menu

Asian Rose by day, Malabar by night, unique combinations all the time. Now that the newer location has really settled in, we know where to go for longtime favorites of basil eggplant or hot pan. But the vegetarian menu has enough twists and turns to sample something new, too, like a stuffed avocado with cherry rose sauce or saffron banana lassi.
514 Front St., Santa Cruz. 831.423.7906.

Best Mediterranean

Few restaurants have consistency nailed like Vasili's does. The outstanding fries dusted with oregano taste exactly the same as they did 10 years ago. Ditto for the moussaka. Even the bewildering side of peas and carrots hasn't changed. Sometimes predictability is perfect, and a gigantic lunch special served until 6pm never hurts.
1501A Mission St., Santa Cruz. 831.458.9808

Best Microbrewery

Seabright Brewery
A post-beach-day beer on the patio of Seabright Brewery is quintessential Santa Cruz. With a long list of regular and seasonal ales, many delivering some bold alcohol percentages, along with live music, food and a full bar, the brewery keeps attracting revelers even when it isn't Neighborhood Night.
519 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.426.2739.

Best New Restaurant

One of the most anticipated moments this year would have to be the reopening of Oswald in its sleek new fishbowl location. Bringing urban sophistication to our sleepy town, chef Damani Thomas's menu reminds us why our memories of the original Oswald are held dear, jazzed up with a full bar, larger format and lunch.
121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.423.7427.

Best Seafood

Riva Fish House
Besides dining at practically sea level, this wharfside spot offers plenty of other reasons to come in for some nautical nourishment. Big platters of fried food, a full bar and well- stocked gelato case provide all you need for hours of seafaring fun with an amazing view.
31 Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz. 831.429.1223.

Best Taqueria

Taqueria Vallarta
Inexpensive, huge and fast, with free chips and salsa. Pretty much enough said. We love options, and at Vallarta you can make it your way all the time--pintos, black beans, with greasy pork, vegan, anything goes here. And the pickled carrots are yummy.
1101 Pacific Ave, #A, Santa Cruz. 831.471.2655.
608 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.457.8226.
893 41st Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.464.7022.
6272 Hwy. 9, Felton. 831.335.4264.

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