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Santa Cruz boardwalk


KNorthrup
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My parents are going to San Francisco next week and will include a day trip (rental car) to Santa Cruz. My stepfather hasn't been to the boardwalk in twenty-odd years and wants to see how it has changed. My mother has never been. Any recommendations for dinner? They prefer laid back and neighborhood-y. Replete with neither children nor hipsters. Mexican, Italian, and seafood are best.

Also they'll be returning to San F (straight to the airport) the next day via Hwy 1 and anywhere to stop en route for lunch would be appreciated as well.

(I'm checking old threads for moderately priced meals in SF itself but if you want to throw in an opinion there too fitting the above criteria... They're staying at the Francis Drake on Union Square and are going to try to find places where locals eat and 'the food isn't architecturally stacked on the plates.')

Thanks much.

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I am jealous - SF is my favorite US city to visit. :sad:

I was there only 2 months ago and stayed right across the street from Sir Francis Drake in Union Square (Handlery Hotel) and the concierge recommended Kuleto's as one of his personal favorites (221 Powell St - ok, yeah, I had to look up the address on MapQuest). My husband and I thought our dinner was reasonably priced and pretty darn delicious!

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They're staying at the Francis Drake on Union Square and are going to try to find places where locals eat and 'the food isn't architecturally stacked on the plates.')

Depends what type of locals you're referring to. Can you be more specific? What cuisine? How pricy/fancy?

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Sorry to be vague. Cuisine-wise, they like Italian, Mexican (the kind people who grow up in the agricultural parts of CA eat), and seafood. I sent them a few reviews of Zuni Cafe and they said they want less expensive than that. Probably $10-$15 per entree range. By which locals, I guess the type who go out for beer after work rather than wine or cocktails. The type whose prized possession/hobby is a modest sailboat and who gets a kick out of Vegas and New Orleans.

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A few Santa Cruz ideas for you:

Unless dad is nostalgic for a corndog at the boardwalk I would recommend crossing Beach Street at the carousel to El Paisano Tamales for lunch. It is a classic little order at the counter place (it does have seating) with fine tamales, chile verde burritos, and the usual range of plates.

For Italian my favorite is Bella Napoli on Water Street. Good, basic, well executed Italian food (regional, not Italian American) in a very small restaurant. Definitely more locals than tourists. Also good is Avanti on Mission Street though the food is less authentic and seems to lean a bit towards France. Both places are ~ $12-$16 for mains.

There is a new Mexican on the wharf (right next to the Boardwalk) that was mediocre and had poor service but a fine view. Downtown has El Palomar which is an OK basic Mexican rest. It has a nice room but gets to be a bit crowded, particularly now in the summer season. They also don't take reservations and the wait can get to 1 hour + on weekends.

Hope this helps.

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A few Santa Cruz ideas for you:

Unless dad is nostalgic for a corndog at the boardwalk I would recommend crossing Beach Street at the carousel to El Paisano Tamales for lunch.  It is a classic little order at the counter place (it does have seating) with fine tamales, chile verde burritos, and the usual range of plates. 

For Italian my favorite is Bella Napoli on Water Street.  Good, basic, well executed Italian food (regional, not Italian American) in a very small restaurant.  Definitely more locals than tourists.  Also good is Avanti on Mission Street though the food is less authentic and seems to lean a bit towards France.  Both places are ~ $12-$16 for mains.

There is a new Mexican on the wharf (right next to the Boardwalk) that was mediocre and had poor service but a fine view.  Downtown has El Palomar which is an OK basic Mexican rest.  It has a nice room but gets to be a bit crowded, particularly now in the summer season.  They also don't take reservations and the wait can get to 1 hour + on weekends.

Hope this helps.

Hey, Nathan, welcome to eGullet! You're more than a little familiar with this area, so may I assume you're a local??

KNorthrup, I second Nathan's recommendations of El Paisano and Bella Napoli. Both consistently good. As to lunch along Highway 1, your parents simply must stop in at Durarte's Tavern in Pescadero. The place is legendary, still owned and run by the Duarte family, and it won a James Beard award this year (in a category the name of which escapes me at the moment -- perhaps best road food in California??!? :wacko: ). Anyhow, the food really is delicious-down-home awesome. Your folks should try the creamy artichoke and/or the creamy green chile soup (I always get a bowl of half-and-half), any of the fresh fish specials, and the homemade pies. Olallieberries are in season now; a slice of warm olallieberry pie a la mode is truly an ethereal way to end a meal.

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Hey, Nathan, welcome to eGullet!  You're more than a little familiar with this area, so may I assume you're a local??

Thank You. I just found eGullet and have been enjoying digging through the archives. I am currently on an extended layover in Santa Cruz. I grew up in SC and have a lot of family in the area so I dine here fairly frequently. I can claim to be an El Paisano customer since around 1976 or 7 and was glad to pass on an old family favorite. They did go though a bit of a dark period where the tamales went downhill a few years ago. I never asked but I suspect they tried to pull lard out of the masa. They have since seen the error of that decision (or I have become accustomed to tamales-lite!).

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As to lunch along Highway 1, your parents simply must stop in at Durarte's Tavern in Pescadero.  The place is legendary, still owned and run by the Duarte family, and it won a James Beard award this year (in a category the name of which escapes me at the moment -- perhaps best road food in California??!?  :wacko: ).  Anyhow, the food really is delicious-down-home awesome.  Your folks should try the creamy artichoke and/or the creamy green chile soup (I always get a bowl of half-and-half), any of the fresh fish specials, and the homemade pies.

They also used to make really delicious cookies.

Was afraid I was going to have to pay extra to have the crumbs vacuumed out of my rental car.

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  • 3 weeks later...

They're back and I'm slowly getting reports. I'm having trouble explaining why they're required. (And if she reads this, I expect Maggie to get the last line.)

Paisano Tamale is this little nondescript looking place -- until you go in. Then it is still nondescript, but much bigger than it looks from the outside. When you enter you're in a fairly small room stuffed full of heavy spanish-knock-off looking furniture. At the far end of the room is the counter where you go order your meal. No printed menus, it's all up on boards on the back wall. Beyond the back wall, is the kitchen. To the right of the counter is an opening into another, cavernous room with more of the pseudo Spanish furniture. I had a tamale and a chile rellano. The tamale was wonderful, not the thick, heavy doughy things you get here. The filing was pork in salsa verde, not hot but very flavourful. The corn meal part was fairly thin and tasted of fresh corn. And the chile rellano was everything a good chile rellano should be. No beans and rice because it was too hot for that much. Kevin has the shredded beef tacos with beans and rice. He declared his tacos to be extremely good and proved it by wiping his plate clean.

At Duarte's Tavern I had the cream of artichoke soup -- creamy, subtle, delicious -- and the crab salad sandwich -- thin sliced sourdough bread, toasted on the inside only, lots of crab salad that was basically lots of crab with a little chopped green onion and other crunchy veggies and just enough mayo to bind it all together. Glass of refreshing pinot grigio to wash it all down. The meal was simple but very sumptuous and decadent feeling. At great contract to the tavern, which is your basic wooden tables and chairs. But comfortable and with friendly, prompt service. No pie, though. We just didn't have room. Oh, Kevin's meal. He skipped the soup -- felt it was just too hot. Nothing like going to California when they're having a heat wave. It does get hot there. But I digress. I don't remember if he had a salad to start, but he had the french dip and was pleasantly surprised. It was in a sourdough hoagie type roll with lots of fresh roast beef -- not the stuff left over from three nights ago. And came with horseradish sauce as well as au jus. Very nice, very tasty.

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More feedback. (Thanks again for the help.)

Did I tell you about Scoma's?  It's a restaurant in San Francisco down on Fisherman's Wharf.  It actually down an alley called "Scoma's Way" so you have to know to look for it.  It's not there competing elbow to elbow with all the other touristy restaurants.  But an artist I was talking to in Union Square recommended it.  Great recommendation.  Expensive but worth it.  The restaurant is situated on one of the docks so you get great views of the harbor scene. Linen tablecloths and napkins.  Wait staff who really know their business. Kevin finally got his ahi. We didn't have reservations and wanted a window seat so we waited in the bar for about 15 minutes or so.  Had a glass of wine and chatted with the friendly bar staff.  After consultations with our server, we started with crab cakes.  I don't know why they are called that.  They were patties -- not cakes -- of mostly crab with almost nothing except more crab to hold them together and a very tasty sauce.  Then Kevin had the ahi, which he said was absolutely wonderful.  He's now a convert.  Which is too bad, since you can't get it here except occasionally at the Baranof as an appetizer.  I wanted the seafood pasta but it came in a cream sauce and mostly I dislike cream and cheese with seafood.  There are exemptions, but that's another story.  So I told our server my dilemma and she solved it by having the kitchen staff prepare it with a red sauce instead.  It was amazing.  There were both loose clams and clams still in their shells.  Scallops that melted in my mouth.  Prawns with just enough firmness and sea flavour.  And two small lobster tails.  I was so happy.  We split a bottle of Pinot Grigio and left full, contented, and glad we had been.
We only had one bad meal -- and it was breakfast.  You have to be really bad to screw up breakfast.  Kevin and I had the same thing and he didn't think it was that bad.  but that says more about him then the meal, because it was that bad.  A place called Lori's Diner.  They're a mini-chain in SF.  There are three or four of them.  We ate at the one by the Sir Francis Drake.  I liked the decor, which is 50's, but it was looking somewhat worn and shabby. Although maybe it is supposed to, so that you think the diner has actually been there since the 50's.  Anyway, we had omelets.  The filling was way over cooked as was the egg part.  The service was barely adequate.  And interestingly enough neither the waiter nor the cashier asked us if we enjoyed our meal, or how was the meal, or any of those standard usual questions.  Maybe they were tired of hearing the answers.  Anyway, my first recommendation for SF eating is don't go to Lori's Diner.  At least not the one near the Drake on Powell.
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We had a late breakfast at the coffee shop at the hotel and been exploring.  It was about 2:00 or 2:30 and we decided we should stop and have something to eat. Much too hot to eat anything heavy or even anything very much, but we were starting to feel peckish.  So we went to L'Osterio del Forno.  (Most of the restaurants in SF aren't air conditioned because it never gets that hot there -- yeah, right.)  It's a very small place.  Less than a dozen tables.  Small wooden tables and chairs.  The days specials on a chalk board.  Our server was cranky. Maybe it was the effect of the heat, or maybe they had had a busy lunch (although there was only one other table of customers then and the other server was waiting on them), but whatever the reason -- she was cranky.  We both had foccacia sandwiches.  There were other things that sounded good -- including the famous milk braised pork -- but it was too hot.  Did I mention the restaurant wasn't air conditioned?  The foccacia lived up to its reputation: tasty, fresh, delicious.  And there they slice the foccacia in half horizontally, instead of giving you two whole slices.  It was really much better that way -- the bread doesn't overwhelm the filling.  I had the one with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes (I had forgotten tomatoes could be so good), and basil.  It was scrumptious. Totally perfect on such a sweltering day.  And a cool glass of pinot gris.  Are you noticing a pattern to my beverages?  Kevin's sandwich had thin slices of sausage, cheese, and a red pepper sauce he just fell in love with.  He's also discovered he likes Italian beer.  More reason to go to Italy.  After we finished he asked the non-cranky server about the pepper sauce.  She told us that it came from the Italian grocery down the street.  So we went.  Molinari Delicatessen at 373 Columbus Avenue.  Great place.  We got the pepper sauce and a salad of grape tomatoes, little tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, basil, and olive oil.  We had a mini-bar fridge to keep it in and I had it for breakfast. So tasty.  We would have bought more stuff but really had very little room and no utensils.  The owner was very friendly and gave us his card with his internet address so we can order from there.  I would definitely recommend both the restaurant and the deli.
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