best of santa cruz 2017 - art by Doug Ross
Cover Stories

Best of Santa Cruz County 2017: Editor’s Picks

Our annual salute to the quirky corners of Santa Cruz greatness and strangeness

'Sealove' by Doug Ross

 

BEST ARGUMENT WE’RE DYING TO SEE SETTLED

WHERE’S THE EASTSIDE?

For a long time, it was simple: The Eastside started in Live Oak at 7th Avenue, where the city of Santa Cruz’s boundary stopped. (“Eastside” certainly has a better ring to it than “the unincorporated area.”) And of course, the area west of that was known as Seabright—until about five years ago, when people started calling that region around Soquel Avenue “Midtown.” And honestly, hey, that was cool, we could let it slide. But now as city leaders work through their Wayfinding analysis to improve signage, all of a sudden some “locals” are claiming that anything and everything east of the river is the Eastside. To which we say, “Oh, HELL, no.” But in the interest of resolving all of this, let’s get a task force on it. JACOB PIERCE

 

Best New Open Mic

Thursday at Santa Cruz Food Lounge

The Santa Cruz Food Lounge’s new Thursday night Open Mic is a dream come true for local musicians: each act gets a generous 15 minutes to play. With sign-ups and a featured performer beginning at 6 p.m., and the open mic starting at 6:30 p.m., the front room of the Food Lounge becomes a stage, filling to the max with musicians and their supporters. A full bar and delicious burgers served up by Tanglewood chef Rachel Hughes round out the experience, which stretches until at least 9 p.m. It’s a chance to plug in and showcase your latest songs in a casual, supportive atmosphere, or just check out the local talent while making some new friends at the bar. MARIA GRUSAUSKAS

 

Best Relaxed Coffee Hang with Riverside Seating

Coffeeville Specialty Coffee Roasters

best of santa cruz - coffeevilleTucked away on the busy ocean-bound route funneling tourists off of the 17 and onto the Boardwalk, there lies a subtle coffee oasis serving affordable “elite coffee” that’s not just for the elite. Opening its doors in 2015, Coffeeville offers that real laidback, beach-town cafe feel, with a cozy studying nook and outdoor riverside seating. Yes, the “river” is actually Branciforte Creek, which is mostly surrounded by concrete, but on a bright breezy day Coffeeville’s open patio totally transforms the scenery. Its brews are smooth, its pastries a perfect pairing, and a host of delicious substitutions for the dairy averse are available, along with housemade organic syrups (how about some honey and hazelnut, black walnut, or creme de menthe?). AMH

 

BEST PLACE TO HAVE A PRIVATE MEETING IN PUBLIC

MOZAIC

There are a number of reasons one might want to meet in public to have a confidential conversation: no private office, prying co-workers, the option to order beverages and snacks. Mozaic has a few discrete spaces for discreet convos. The best table is to the left of the entrance, which is technically in the bar, so they don’t mind a light order (fresh mint leaf tea, Turkish coffee, etc.), and if that table is missing they’ll gladly slide one over. The row of bar tables is fairly private, too. Afternoons between meals are prime meeting time. Open daily. JEANNE HOWARD

BEST APPETIZER FOR IMPRESSING YOUR DATE

BUTTERNUT SQUASH KADOO BORANEE

best of santa cruz 2017 - kadoo boranee from LailiIn some parts of Afghanistan, there is still no refrigeration—hence the need for out-of-the-box culinary thinking, honed over generations. Qurut yogurt has been dried and rehydrated with water, and the resulting mint- and garlic-infused paste tastes similar to tzatziki sauce, with a twist. The yogurt lines the plate of the butternut squash kadoo boranee at Laili, downtown’s beloved home of inspiring Afghan-Californian fusion food. The boranee itself is mashed and sweetened butternut squash, its presentation simple yet elegant. The flavors are sure to wow. JP

 

Best Shortsighted Reason to Pave Paradise

To Put Up a Parking Lot

Or five-story parking structure, rather. The site of the potential plan—which intends to solve the parking conundrum downtown—is the Cedar Street parking lot that is home to not only the downtown Farmers Market but also several large, old, beautiful Magnolia trees. The importance of the urban canopy goes far beyond aesthetics, its link to elevated moods, or even its scientifically proven reduction in crime and increase in commerce: trees near buildings reduce the need for air conditioning and heating, and one mature heritage tree sequesters 1-2 tons of carbon each year. When planning the future of Santa Cruz, it’s time to start embracing trees for what they are: valuable natural assets to the community, present and future. MG

 

Best Local Business Leading the Resistance with a Smile

Bookshop Santa Cruz

In the never-ending post-election malaise, one local business has established itself as a fortress for free thought and community support. It started on Inauguration Aay, when Bookshop Santa Cruz pledged to donate a portion of in-store sales to the ACLU and launched “Word to Act On,” a program with Ecology Action, Planned Parenthood, and the Community Action Board Immigration Project. Every three months, Bookshop will highlight an organization with actions related to their issues through local activities, reading lists, fundraisers, and public reads. The marathon Orwell reading was a blast, too. Thank you, Bookshop, for providing a safe space to read, listen, share ideas, and cry. AMH

 

BEST TORTA (HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION)

TORTA CUBANA FROM TAQUERIA APATZINGAN

When I first heard Tom Russell’s cult classic song “Cuban Sandwich” on KPIG, I remember asking myself, “What pork-laden sandwich could possibly be worth all that trouble?” After much research, I decided that the torta Cubana from Apatzingan on Ocean Street is just the kind of sandwich Russell was dreaming of. Ham, chorizo, carne asada, sausage, cheese, tomato, pickled peppers and a little lettuce go a long way—this is the kind of sandwich you only need to eat once every couple of years. And you may not even need many meals in between. JP

 

Best New Affordable Organic Eatery

EarthBelly

Writers, journalists, creatives: we’re typically known for a soupçon of snobbery tragically juxtaposed with whatever the opposite of deep pockets are. It’s no wonder, then, that an affordable eatery with organic, GMO-free, locally sourced grub (with gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options) is cause for celebration—and with the opening of EarthBelly, celebrate we did. For lunch, its healthy Earth Burger ($8.50), delectable fish sandwich ($10.50) or comforting chili and cornbread ($9.95) hit the spot. And with their own bakery, EarthBelly serves a diverse selection for the sweet-toothed. AMH

 

Best Direction for a Day Trip

South!

Watsonville is the land of plenty when it comes to affordable destinations and scenic country roads. Stock up on inexpensive fruit and vegetables at its many colorful produce stands, as well as authentic Mexican cuisine at Mi Pueblo or Santa Fe markets, or tacos made with homemade tortillas at Taqueria Tecoman on East Lake Avenue. Meat eaters can also delight in some of the best carnitas outside of Michoacan in Watsonville (try Carnitas Trejo.) Then, head out to the Sierra Azul Nursery—known to many as the best plant nursery in Northern California. Located on the beautiful Casserly Road, Sierra Azul is not far from Pinto Lake, the north shore of which is home to the beloved effigy tree. Finish your excursion with a legendary chavela at Taqueria Mi Tierra II, on Freedom Boulevard. MG

 

Best Way to Shake It Off

Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center World Dance Classes

The Tannery has always been a unique place for artists to grow and thrive, and many have produced beautiful and searing political critique, but it’s their World Dance & Cultural Center that truly sets itself apart. In addition to their classical and contemporary classes, the TWDCC offers West African dance, classical Indian dance, salsa rueda, hula, Haitian folkloric, Argentine, Cuban tango, and in October, hosts an entire month dedicated to world arts. AMH

 

Best Way to Keep Yourself Up At Night

Discovering How Haunted Santa Cruz Is

Santa Cruz was recently ranked the third happiest place to live in the U.S., so maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that many residents choose to stick around—even after they’ve passed on. Santa Cruz County is home to dozens of supposedly haunted sites like the Brookdale Lodge in Boulder Creek, Rispin Mansion in Capitola and the Tuttle Mansion in Watsonville, as outlined by local authors Maryanne Porter in Haunted Santa Cruz, California and Aubrey Graves in Supernatural Santa Cruz. We knew the housing crisis was bad, but now we have to worry about ghost roommates? LILY STOICHEFF

 

Best New Way to Cross the San Lorenzo River on Your Winter Commute

Kayak/Ark

Look, we’ve had a lot of rain this winter. Even the recent sun has us cowering with raincoats at the ready, the fear of death-defying morning commutes all too fresh on our minds. But hey, Santa Cruzans are a tough bunch—we braved Loma Prieta, tsunamis, and wildfires last summer. Keep your kayak handy to tackle the floods and avoid the busy streets altogether. When it gets worse, we can always build an ark. AMH

 

BEST NIGHT TO EMBRACE LOCAL OVERCROWDING

HALLOWEEN IN SANTA CRUZ

Halloween is Santa Cruz’s Mardi Gras—a visual banquet of colorful, crafty, witty, scary and sexy costumes, and a mash-up-pop-up street party of music, dancing, exhibitionism and voyeurism. Few small cities are as creative as Santa Cruz, and Halloween is hella proof. Pacific Avenue is closed to traffic, well-lit, and the doors of downtown eateries and bars are open for your pleasure. It may be hard to tell the real police from the fake ones, but both are doing an excellent job of making the greatest entertainment value of the year (free!) safe and fun. JH

 

Best Way that Dance Can Be Healing

Dance for Parkinson’s

Whether it’s in the privacy of your own home, jumping up and down in your underwear to Taylor Swift, or at the barre with the focus of a Zen master, dance can be life-changing. For people with Parkinson’s, it can even be healing. Studies have shown that dance can reduce the negative psychological and neurological symptoms of Parkinson’s because of the ways it employs focus, rhythm, balance, and the like. That’s why Motion Pacific dance studio started up their Dance for Parkinson’s program last year, offering free movement classes to those with the disease, as well as their caretakers and family members. AMH

 

Best Calamari Appetizers That Aren’t Deep-Fried

CROW’S NEST AND HULA’S

Deep-fried Monterey Bay calamari is a local classic, but there are two kitchens that provide next-level calamari appetizer joy. The Crow’s Nest lightly coats pieces of calamari steak with bread crumbs, seasons them with onion, garlic, basil and Parmesan, sautés them to a tender deliciousness, and serves them with tartar and cocktail sauces. Hula’s prepares their steak “abalone-style”—sliced into strips, with ginger-lime cream sauce and a sweet soy glaze. You will find yourself describing these two dishes lovingly to friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who displays the slightest interest in seafood. JH

 

BEST NEW BAND

MAJK

Santa Cruz’s Americana supergroup, which formed about a year ago, hasn’t played a lot of shows, and they’re taking their time recording their first album. If the band stays together, it could be the best thing in Santa Cruz and beyond for a long time. MAJK has reunited singer Kelly Koval and cellist Alexis Hawkes, who played together in Audiafauna, and joined with former Matador guitar player Matthew Harmon and Santa Cruz’s best upright bass player Jeff Kissell, formerly of Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra. The resulting sounds move the listener and feed the spirit. JP

 

Best DIY Entrepreneur With a Social Bent

Emilio Armenta of Fotobike

I first encountered Emilio Armenta and his mobile photo booth outside the Red Room one evening, and the resulting photo strip of some friends and I in ridiculous garb is a cherished memory. The 34-year-old Armenta is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, who says that after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, he wanted nothing more than to make people smile. “It really helped with the stress of the war,” he says. The professional photo booth, mounted on the back of a tricycle along with a basket of props, dispenses high-quality photo strips, with an email option as well. Teaming up with Paul Damon of Holistic Veterans, Armenta hopes to begin retreats to some land he’s bought in Belize, to help teach veterans about sustainable farming. He’s also looking for veterans to help man his fleet of mobile booths, which travel around the Bay Area and Santa Cruz (follow @TheFotoBike on Twitter for their latest location). They’re also available for private events via thefotobike.com. MG


MORE BEST OF 2017: SHOPPING & SERVICES | COMMUNITY LIFE | ARTS & CULTURE | FOOD & DRINK | HEALTH & RECREATION | MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE

PHOTOS BY KEANA PARKER

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