The transition between late summer and early fall may be the best time to eat in Santa Cruz County. Berries, tomatoes, stone fruit, and hot and sweet peppers still crowd the tables at the farmers market, but by the beginning of October they are joined by a supporting cast of figs, apples, pears, and all manner of squash. While there’s still ample sunshine, there’s also a crispness in the air that invites friends and family to gather and feast.
It’s the perfect time to celebrate Santa Cruz County’s culinary scene, and for 10 years Santa Cruz Restaurant Week has done just that.
Each participating restaurant offers their take on a three-course fixed price menu, which evens the playing field and invites each chef and restaurateur to showcase their skills within the event’s format. In the last decade, I have been blown away by their creativity and passion. Many guests visit a different restaurant every night of the event—although with almost 40 participating restaurants this year, it would be difficult to visit all of them without a time machine or multiple stomachs. (For those tempted to try, there are still a few online giveaways for $25 and $35 gift cards to participating restaurants).
We asked each restaurant about their approach to this year’s menu, and why guests should make an effort to visit their establishment. It’s clear that each takes pride in offering a special experience for both new guests and faithful customers, and in supporting locally and sustainably grown ingredients. We also asked them what makes Santa Cruz Restaurant Week such an enduring community event, and some of their answers are quite moving.
Here’s to another 10 years!
Why should guests choose your restaurant to visit during Santa Cruz Restaurant Week?
“We are using Santa Cruz Restaurant Week as the launch for our new fall menu, so guests will get a sneak preview at all of our tasty new offerings.”
— Andy Guy, General Manager at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails
“Akira Aptos is a new restaurant. We just hit the one-year mark at the end of September and haven’t done Restaurant Week since our first year open at our original location in Seabright, so we wanted to offer a fun menu using some products that no other Japanese/sushi restaurants are featuring.”
— Dusty Murata, Owner at Akira Aptos
“Aquarius and Jack O’Neill Lounge is the hangout for the best views of the ocean, West Cliff and Municipal Wharf. We are one of the only restaurants in Santa Cruz that offers free valet parking. Perfect for the family, date night or stopping in for dinner.”
— Dan Smart, Director of Sales & Marketing at Aquarius/Dream Inn
“We have been focusing on excellent customer service as well as our fresh and delicious food. We also have a new local wine list that is very good. We take pride in our speed and accuracy of dishes coming from the kitchen. We have a beautiful modern dining room and bar, with many TVs for sports lovers of all kinds. It is also a great time to check out our banquet facility and dream about your next event.”
— Ben Kralj, General Manager at Back Nine Bar & Grill at Pasatiempo
“We purchased Bruno’s a little over a year ago, and we’ve taken it to a new level. Delicious food, friendly staff and fun is our motto. Restaurant Week will be an opportunity for us to connect with members of the community who haven’t come in since the change and sample some of our new recipes.”
— Joanne Guzman, Owner at Bruno’s Bar and Grill
“Part of the reason I think it’s a different experience here at Chocolate, apart from the really pleasant environment we offer—like our heated outdoor patio—is that we are focused on pleasing our customers during Restaurant Week beyond what the price point would normally allow. When we create our menus, we’re thinking of new customers and also about creating a special experience for customers that already come here. For us, that means using the best of the season of what we have at the farmers market and really doing something above and beyond.”
— David Jackman, Chef/Owner at Chocolate
“We are serving farm-to-table, organic ingredients and humanely raised, grass-fed, grass-finished beef. We have a wide variety of vegan options to satisfy everyone in the group!”
— Bradd Barkin, Owner at Flynn’s Cabaret
“One of the things that Hindquarter does is create a menu that’s totally representative of what they serve in normal times. There are no compromises. Whatever you order is what they’d put on the table any other night so you can enjoy the full Hindquarter experience. Hindquarter traditionally serves really good-sized portions, and they try to be consistent with that.”
— Larry April, Advertising Representative for Hindquarter Bar & Grill
“It’s the easy way to travel to Italy without leaving Santa Cruz.”
— Luca Viara, Owner at Tramonti
“Guests should visit us due to our fun, family-oriented approach to casual dining on the wharf.”
— Christian Williams, Manager at Splash!
What is your approach to your restaurant week menu?
“Giving our staff the chance to have some fun and experiment outside of the regular menu.”
— Mia Bossie, Owner at 99 Bottles
“It’s been 10 years now in the making, and every year we try to provide something that is seasonal and an expression of what we call ‘real Italian food.’ We try to source most of the produce and fish locally. We try to allow people to sample a variety of items of that aren’t necessarily on the menu. It’s an expression of what of we believe is a great Italian experience.”
— Jean Pierre Mura, Owner at Café Mare
“I worked with Joe Martin, our talented Chef de Cuisine, to make a menu that celebrates the fall harvest season, and all of the fantastic produce available from our local farms right now. We also wanted to showcase our housemade preserves and pickles from the summer harvest, and honor the Latin and Asian cultural influences around us. Finally, we wanted to make a menu which is fun and exciting, something new for our regular guests and Santa Cruz locals who have been visiting Linwood’s for years.”
— Pete Page, Executive Chef at Linwood’s Bar & Grill at Chaminade
“Our approach is to provide our guests with items that aren’t available on our regular menu, therefore providing them with a new, unique experience.”
— Jeff Westbrook, Chef at the Crow’s Nest
“Our Restaurant Week menu is styled upon a goal of offering dishes that best represent our flavors while offering a variety inclusive to both adventurous and cautious palates.”
— Jay Dib, Owner at Mozaic
“We always try to discount offerings that we already have. We’ve been here since 1995. Our current owners have been here since 1998. We like to remind people what they can get here every day, and reward regular customers with their favorites at a discount. That way if they love it, they can come back and get it again.”
— Rico Contreras, General Manager at Rosie McCann’s Irish Pub
“Everything we do at Soif is seasonal and locally sourced, and that’s exactly how we approached the menu for Restaurant Week. Course by course, our guests are getting the freshest product, and tasting dishes that might not necessarily be on the menu in a few weeks.”
— Tom McNary, Chef at Soif
“Our Restaurant Week menu will showcase some of the dishes we will have on our upcoming seasonal menu. The timing is perfect to utilize late summer and fall ingredients like sweet corn, chilis, butternut squash and apples. This is a perfect way for customers to get a good taste of what’s new at Süda.”
— Mike Pitt, Owner at Süda
“Restaurant Week is an opportunity to highlight the beginning of the change of seasons on the coast—to play with local honey and wild mushrooms, to give folks a chance to be exposed to our menu in a different way—with familiar preparations accompanied by bright and diverse flavors that aren’t provided year ’round, and which the kitchen excitedly gets to play with as the farms and sea shift gears.”
— Nichole Robbins, Executive Chef at Johnny’s Harborside
“They’re an introduction to the new fall menu and feature items that we don’t usually do. For appetizers, we have a burrata salad and a quinoa salad with fall ingredients. We’re doing something fun with an empanada with confit chicken. Last year we did seared diver scallops that were really popular, so we’re doing that again with different sides. We’re doing our beer-braised short ribs, which we’ve done before. This time it’s Colorado-style with white cheddar white corn grits, panca chili and masa-fried buttermilk onions. We have a version of our Thai curry, this time with roasted red peppers that’s vegan and gluten-free. For dessert we have our cider donuts, which are very popular, and a vegan and gluten-free panna cotta.”
— Kristi Locatelli, Owner at Cremer House
“To showcase what Solaire does and what it can do. Our menu is inspired by nature in the Santa Cruz style, and we’re trying to do things that are fresh and local while putting a spin on them—like our yuba noodles with kohlrabi slaw and green curry. We’re also featuring a Seaquoia seaweed salad. The seaweed is from a local guy, Ian O’Holleran, who harvests it locally. We’re serving it with kelp noodles, mizuna and honey from our rooftop made into a ginger dressing. We only change our menu twice a year, so this is what’s going to be on our menu this winter. We also have a vegan nacho made with cashew cream and Okinawan sweet potatoes. It’s a really great dish, something easy to share while sitting by the pool.”
— Scott Radek, Executive Chef at Solaire at Hotel Paradox
“We chose some of our most popular items and others that we have gotten good feedback on. We’re also providing new items that our customers have requested that we put on the menu to try them out and see what people think.”
— John Degeneres, Owner at Water Street Grill
Restaurant Week is now in its 10th year. What do you think has made it an enduring community event?
“Life is busy, especially the fall. School is back in session, and many people are busy getting ready for the numerous holidays approaching while juggling kids and activities. Dining out tends to slide to the back burner. I think Santa Cruz Restaurant Week encourages everyone to take time to enjoy a great meal and try something new.”
— Hollis Oatey, General Manager at Hula’s Bar & Grill
“I believe this is a great chance for members of our community to get out and experience the best restaurants in our area, and at a set price that is simply a terrific value. It just gets better every year.”
— Michael Harrison, Owner at Michael’s on Main
“Food brings people together. This event is an opportunity to satiate curiosity about new restaurants, an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, an excuse for many to get out and try new things and have fun. Restaurant Week attracts attention from locals and tourists alike. We get people from all over the country and the world coming to dine during this event. I have the experience of a beautiful food festival. Special thanks to Good Times for putting this together and keeping it going, creating many wonderful experiences and memories.”
— Ayoma Wilen, Chef/Owner at Pearl of the Ocean
“Restaurant Week is such a successful event because the community can try incredible culinary offerings at amazing prices. Ultimately, this encourages locals to try places they normally wouldn’t, and really gives back to the community by driving business to restaurants. For us here at Severino’s Bar & Grill, we genuinely look forward to Santa Cruz Restaurant Week each year. We enjoy seeing new folks coming in to try us for the first time, and it’s a great opportunity for us to introduce fresh new ideas, while not forgetting the signature dishes that got us where we are today.”
— Jason Iwatsuru, Marketing Director at Severino’s Bar & Grill
“I think it has lasted and will continue to go on because it has everything to do with supporting each other and our local businesses. I myself have attended different restaurants and enjoyed their menu options during Restaurant Week. This year I’m proud of being on the other side of it and hope for people to come out and enjoy a good meal!”
— Betty Alejandre, Sous Chef at Stonehouse Bar & Grill
“Restaurant Week has been an awesome addition to the Santa Cruz community. It’s something where everyone can go out to enjoy themselves and just try out new places. Growing up in Santa Cruz, I have learned that we are super big on supporting local businesses, which to me is awesome! Who wouldn’t want to do that? Restaurant Week, along with other things like Burger Week, are what make up Santa Cruz—supporting the local businesses.”
— Aileen Garcia, Co-Owner at Ristorante Italiano
“Each year, Your Place-Farm to Table anticipates Restaurant Week like Christmas. We can’t wait to offer our community that loves us all year some love right back! We use this awesome deal to go all out and spoil Santa Cruz with beautiful food and harmony on a plate. As history buffs, being both part of the Good Times’ history and our customers’ personal histories is truly an honor.”
— Arthur Russell, Owner at Your Place-Farm to Table
“One of the reasons Restaurant Week has been going so well for us is because people try restaurants they wouldn’t normally try. I went to four different places last year myself. And instead of a big menu with a lot of different options, the restaurant week menu showcases the best of what those restaurants have to offer.”
— Josh Whitby, Kitchen Manager at Zelda’s on the Beach
“Restaurant Week is so popular because of Santa Cruz. It’s an amazing place to be. You have the beautiful beaches and the mountains—you’re surrounded by beauty. The culture is very chill, and in the last few years Santa Cruz has grown so much with people from so many different cultures, it’s becoming international and cosmopolitan. And that includes delicious restaurants.”
— Manuel Rangel, Manager at El Jardín
“There’s the perfect number of restaurants for the size of the community.”
— Paul Cocking, Owner at Gabriella Café
110 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 459-9999, 99bottles.com.
515 Kitchen & Cocktails
515 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. 425-5051, 515santacruz.com.
105 Post Office Drive D, Aptos. 708-2154, akiraaptos.com.
Santa Cruz Dream Inn, 175 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 740-8138, dreaminnsantacruz.com/santa-cruz-restaurants/aquarius.
Back Nine Grill & Bar
555 Hwy. 17, Santa Cruz. 423-5000, backninegrill.com.
Bruno’s Bar and Grill
230 Mt. Hermon Road, Scotts Valley. 438-2227, brunosbarandgrill.com.
740 Front St. #100, Santa Cruz. 458-1212, cafemare.com.
1522 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 427-9900, chocolatesantacruz.com.
6256 Hwy. 9, Felton. 335-3976, cremerhouse.com.
2218 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 476-4560, crowsnest-santacruz.com.
655 Capitola Road, Santa Cruz. 477-9384, eljardinrestaurant.net.
6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. 335-2800, flynnscabaret.com.
910 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. 457-1677, gabriellacafe.com.
Hindquarter Bar & Grille
303 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 426-7770, thehindquarter.com.
Hula’s Island Grill
221 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz. 426-4852, hulastiki.com.
493 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz. 479-3430, johnnysharborside.com.
Lillian’s Italian Kitchen
1148 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 425-2288, lilliansitaliankitchen.com.
Linwood’s Bar & Grill at Chaminade
One Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz. 475-5600, chaminade.com.
Michael’s on Main
2591 Main St., Soquel. 479-9777, michaelsonmain.net.
110 Church St., Santa Cruz. 454-8663, mozaicsantacruz.com.
Parish Publick House
8017 Soquel Drive, Aptos. 708-2036; 841 Almar Ave., Santa Cruz. 421-0507, theparishpublick.com.
Pearl of the Ocean
736 Water St., Santa Cruz. 457-2350.
The Point Chophouse
3326 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz. 476-2733, thepointchophouse.com.
Red Restaurant & Bar
200 Locust St., Santa Cruz. 425-1913, redrestaurantandbar.com.
555 Soquel Ave., #150, Santa Cruz. 458-2321, ristoranteitalianosc.com.
1220 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 426-9930, rosiemccanns.com/santacruz.
Severino’s Bar & Grill
7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos. 688-8987, severinosbarandgrill.com.
105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 423-2020, soifwine.com.
Solaire at Hotel Paradox
611 Ocean St., Santa Cruz. 425-7100, hotelparadox.com.
49 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. 466-9766, splashonthewharf.com.
Stonehouse Bar and Grill
6001 La Madrona Drive, Santa Cruz. 440-1000.
3910 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz. 600-7068, eatsuda.com.
528 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. 426-7248, tramontipizzapasta.com.
Water Street Grill
503 Water St., Santa Cruz. 332-6122, thewaterstreetgrill.com.
1719 Mission St., Santa Cruz. 426-3564, yourplacesc.com.
Zelda’s on the Beach
203 Esplanade, Capitola. 475-4900, zeldasonthebeach.com.