If a Santa Cruz native and second-generation Italian tells me with absolute conviction that he knows where to get the best calamari in town, it’s in my best interest to at least check it out.
Which is how I find myself sitting at a plastic table at Aldo’s on the west side of the Santa Cruz Harbor, watching the July sun glint off of dozens of gleaming hulls, the marine layer hardly a whisper at the edge of a bluebird sky. My beer is cold, the server is charming, and I occasionally make eye contact with a sea lion shyly swimming between the boats.
While the iconic restaurant at the harbor mouth is being remodeled and the seawall underneath it repaired, Aldo’s continues to host guests just 500 meters north of the original location on an outdoor waterfront lawn between B and D docks. Just steps from the water, there really isn’t a bad seat on the patio. And after a thorough investigation, I can assure you that they definitely know their way around a plate of fried squid.
Calamari, like pizza, burgers and other comfort foods, is a dish that has a tendency to stoke passionate and unresolvable arguments about its ideal preparation. You may disagree, but I want plenty of tentacles. I want an ample amount of crunchy batter to coat tender, never-rubbery squid without sliding off. I will alternate between the cocktail and the tartar sauce, and if you don’t like lemon, then you might as well get your own plate.
And I have to say, my friend was right. The calamari at Aldo’s is some of the best I’ve had in Santa Cruz in the decade that I’ve lived here. Given this historic family’s reputation, I can’t say that I’m at all surprised. Knowing that these squid were caught in the bay, while most other seafood available by the water is shipped from other locales, makes the experience that much more satisfying. But honestly, although I may have been drawn to this feature by the main attraction—the “best calamari in Santa Cruz”—as I look out on the peaceful harbor, a sunburn beginning to pink the back of my neck as I fantasize what I would call the sailboat I’ll one day own, a lot has to be said for the supporting cast.