dining
Dining Reviews

Santa Cruz’s Best Quick Eats

Where to find lunch to go around town

Vanessa Hernandez with the “Joe’s Favorite” sandwich and a kale salad from the Buttery. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER

The days are getting longer. You need a quick meal. You need it now. You refuse to navigate a fast-food drive-by. You are in luck. You live here, in the complete opposite of a food desert (and yes, we are grateful every day for that fact). You need only to walk down the street—both literally and metaphorically—to wrap your mouth around seriously delicious, quick, healthful lunch and dinner dishes ready to take away. To the beach, to the redwoods, to your backyard. Add a glass of something cold and watch the summer unfold. (Say that out loud: it’s a poem.)

Here are our go-to solutions. The Buttery, across the street from Shopper’s Corner, has got its act together as far as beautiful take-away sandwiches with slices of ham and cheese laid out on baguettes like starlets on the Riviera. The house kale and cranberry salad is outrageous. So is the collection of gem-like diced fruit. Add a Joe’s Favorite—Black Forest ham, provolone and pickled onions on a soft roll, and head for parts unknown, like Mr. Bourdain. And, yes, as far as my mouth is concerned, Buttery’s carrot cake cupcake is still the best of its tribe in town. The Buttery is at 702 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Often for a quick dinner I’ll stop by Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria and grab either the luscious plump sausages slathered with peppers and onions (add a green salad and red wine!), or a fistful of those addictive lavosh bread “pinwheel” rosti. Gayle’s helpfully provides a full-on old-fashioned meatloaf dinner with green beans and mashed potatoes that you can just pop into the microwave. Gayle’s is killer one-stop food to go for every taste and whim. Gayle’s is at 504 Bay Ave., Capitola, open 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.  

We’re devoted to the mighty tuna salad created by the Westside New Leaf Market. We like to have it made into our current favorite lunch sandwich—with all the trimmings. Just as popular for quickie dinners is New Leaf’s rich and delicious turkey chili. Add a roll and salad and it’s lunch or dinner all year round. 1101 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz. Also check out the Leaf’s Summer Cooking Camp for Teens June 20-25 on newleaf.com.

After our weekly walk around West Cliff Drive we like to stop by Kelly’s French Bakery for a roasted half chicken with fries, salad and roll to go. At home we add a glass of Grenache and plunge into the irresistible side of french fries. 402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz, open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily). And we have other reliable standbys for quickies—like El Palomar Taco Bar and Charlie Hong Kong. Some of the best to-go items never even make it out of the parking lot. You know what I’m talking about.

Gluten-Free Report

We sprung for a miniature $5 loaf of frozen gluten-free bread made by Udi’s, having been assured by an Internet taste test that the Udi’s loaf was the best out of 10 loaves sampled by an anonymous group of bread heads. So here, anecdotally, was what we found. (We found out why there isn’t a whole lot of gluten-free bread being high-fived by anyone with tastebuds.) Even with a generous slathering of Somerset English Country butter (my fave), it was (to be generous) mealy in consistency, and downright unfathomable in flavor. Did it even have flavor, we wondered, as we dared a second bite. Well, something was going on in our mouths as we chewed a substance that wandered uncertainly between styrofoam and disintegrating plaster. One suspects that when it comes to toastable slices of bread, gluten is key. The research continues.

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