Cover Stories

Best Food & Drink

bo foodCategory: Winner
Açai Bowl: Cafe Brazil
Appetizer: Hula’s
Bagel: The Bagelry
Bakery: The Buttery
Bar: 515
Barbecue: Aptos Barbecue
Beer Selection: 99 Bottles
Bloody Mary: Harbor Café
Burger & Fries: Betty Burgers
Burrito: Tacos Moreno
Bread: Companion Bakeshop

Breakfast: Zachary’s
Brewery: Seabright Brewery
Brunch: Harbor Café
Butcher: Shopper’s Corner
Calamari: Crow’s Nest
California Cuisine: Cafe Cruz
Cheese Selection: Whole Foods
Chinese Restaurant: Omei           
Chips & Salsa: El Palomar
Clam Chowder: Stagnaro Bros.
Cocktails: 515
Coffeehouse: Verve
Comfort Food: Saturn Café
Cookie: Pacific Cookie Co.
Cupcake: Starz Cupcakes                    
Deli: Zoccoli’s
Dessert: Gayle’s           
Dinner: Shadowbrook
bo professional-foodDiner: Santa Cruz Diner
Dive Bar: Brady’s Yacht Club           
Exotic Drinks: Hula’s
Falafel: Falafel House
Farmer’s Market: Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College
Frozen Yogurt: Yogurtland
Greek Restaurant: Vasili’s
Grocery Store: Shopper’s Corner
Happy Hour: Crow’s Nest
Hawaiian Food: Pono Hawaiian Grill
Hot Dog: Dawgs
Ice Cream: Penny Ice Creamery
Indian Food: Ambrosia
Italian Restaurant: Lillian’s Kitchen
Japanese Restaurant: Mobo
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Kianti’s
Late-Night Dining: Saturn Café
Lunch: Paradise Beach Grille
Martini: 515 / Oswald (TIE)
Margarita: El Palomar
Meal For A Deal: Charlie Hong Kong
Mexican Restaurant: El Palomar
Meal For A Deal: Charlie Hong Kong
Middle Eastern Restaurant: Laili
Mojito: 515
Natural Food Store: New Leaf
New Restaurant: Suda
Outdoor Dining: Crow’s Nest
Pizza: Pizza My Heart
Restaurant Ambiance: Shadowbrook           
Restaurant (Aptos): Bittersweet Bistro
Restaurant (Capitola): Paradise Beach Grill
Restaurant (Santa Cruz): Crow’s Nest
Restaurant (San Lorenzo Valley): Oak Tree
Restaurant (Scotts Valley): Jia Tella
Restaurant (Soquel): Michael’s On Main
Restaurant (Watsonville): Cilanto’s
Restaurant Of The Year: Shadowbrook
Sandwich: Zoccoli’s 
Seafood: Stagnaro’s
Small Plates: Soif
Smoothie/Juices: New Leaf Markets
Steak: Hindquarter
Steakhouse: Hindquarter
Sushi: Mobo Sushi           
Tacos: Tacos Moreno
Teahouse: Hidden Peak Tea House
Thai Restaurant: Sabieng
Vegetarian Cuisine: Dharma’s
Wine Bar: Soif
Wine List (Restaurant): Soif
Wine Selection (Store): Shopper’s Corner
Winery: Alfara Family Vineyards

Açai Bowl: Café Brasil
You already love Café Brasil’s famous Amazon fruit smoothie topped with granola and chopped fruit, now learn how to pronounce it. Say it with us: ah-sah-ee. 429-1855,

Runners-up Samba Rock Açai Café, Açai Cafe

Appetizer: Hula’s
There are many starters to drool about at Hula’s, but one, in particular, will have you raving to friends, family and strangers on the street for days afterward: the spicy edamame ($4), an addictive, hot, finger-licking spin on an otherwise underwhelming food. 426-4852,

Runners-up  Crow’s Nest, Paradise Beach Grille, 515 Kitchen & Cocktails

Bagel: The Bagelry
Walk down Cedar Street in the wee hours of the morning and you will be met—no, taunted—by the mouthwatering aromas of fresh bagels being made. This go-to local bagel shop makes their round delights twice a day: the first batch comes out of the oven at 5 a.m., the second around 10:30/11 a.m. 429-8049.

Runners-up Noah’s Bagels, Main Street Bagel, Bagel Café (Watsonville)

bo food butteryBakery: The Buttery
In its nearly 30 years of sweet, sweet existence, The Buttery has blossomed from a two-case-of-pastries operation to a hub of all things baked: sticky buns, muffins, scones, turnovers, pecan sandies, breads and cakes, cakes and more cakes. Best thing to try this season: Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake. 458-3020,

Runners-up Gayle’s, Kelly’s, Companion Bakeshop

Bar/Cocktails/Mojito: 515 Kitchen & Cocktails
Aside from the unique and inviting aesthetic and cleverly crafted cocktail names, it boasts inventive, exceptional mixology. “We much prefer to know where the flavor is coming from and add it ourselves,” says bar manager and cocktail maestro Ethan Samuels, adding that their current house infusions range from watermelon rum (which goes into the Best Mojitos of 2013) to chamomile vodka and chai tea gin. The bar served up an average of more than 150 cocktails per day last year. 425-5051,

Runners-up (Bar) Red Room, Parish Publick House, Reef Bar (Cocktails) TIE: Hula’s & Suda, Oswald, Motiv (Mojitos) Motiv, Paradise Beach Grille, El Palomar

Barbecue: Aptos Street BBQ
Locals lookin’ for some lip-smackin’ barbecue have made their top choice.. This go-to barbecue place has some of the best ribs around, and that’s because they start early morning by slow-cooking all their meat. Try the barbecue family packs—seven different items to go from $30 or the Big 20, which feeds 18-20 for $233.95. 662-1721.

Runners-up Cole’s, Sid’s, Bruno’s

bo food  99 BottlesBeer Selection: 99 Bottles
This veteran establishment has a new lease on life thanks to new owners and homebrewers Mia and Dave Bossie, who revamped the 160-strong beer list. Drink up. Try these two: New Belgium Hoppy Bock and Witches Brew. 459-9999,

Runners-up Burger, Parish Publick House, Seabright Brewery

Bloody Mary/Brunch: Harbor Café
It won both categories, so what’s the allure? Its Bloody Mary is made with Ketel One vodka. Meanwhile, this sweet little café also offers up one of the more memorable, tasty breakfast and lunch menus around. Try: the Harbor Breakfast Burrito with scrambled egg, hash browns, salsa fresco, avocado, cheese and sour cream. 475-4948,

Runners-up (Bloody Mary) The Crepe Place, Crow’s Nest, 515 Kitchen & Cocktails (Brunch) Chaminade,Walnut Avenue Café, 515 Kitchen & Cocktails

Breakfast: Zachary’s
Zachary’s is hands down one of the best places around for a slap-up delicious breakfast. Locals love the omelets here and scrumptious scrambles. Mike’s Mess, famous for being a “mess” of eggs, home fries, onions bacon and veggies, also stands out. Dig in. 427-0646.

Runners-up Harbor Café, Walnut Street Café, Silver Spur

bo food Companion BakeryBread: Companion Bakeshop
Made by hand is no exaggeration when it comes to the organic, brick oven breads crafted here. The bakery uses no machinery except for its mixer (and didn’t even use that until four years into its operation), which means, “we shape each loaf and load each loaf by hand into our ovens. We have some pretty high quality control because of this,” says Erin Lampel, who owns Companion with husband Jeremy Lampel. Food for thought: they use 230 pounds of sourdough starter per week. “There is quite a bit of fermentation going on in our shop,” says Lampel. 252-2253,

Runners-up Gayle’s, Beckman’s, The Buttery

Brewery: Seabright Brewery
A fact worth drinking to: this brewery’s thick and creamy Oatmeal Stout (fashioned by brewmaster Jason Chavez) won “Best in Show” out of 70 craft brews at the California Beer Festival last summer in Aptos. 426-2739,

Runners-up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Sante Adarius Rustic Ales, Boulder Creek Brewery

Burger & Fries: Betty Burgers
Locals appreciate that the burgers here are made with fresh, all-natural, hormone-free beef. Try Betty’s chili-cheese fries, crispy fries or a 50-50 fry basket. 423-8190, 475-5901.

Runners-up burger., Jack’s, Carpo’s

Burrito/Tacos: Tacos Moreno
Tacos Moreno’s burritos get the glory year after year, but we finally have a win for what they do best—tacos. The family-owned taqueria often has a line out the door for its tacos, which, at $2.65-$2.75 a pop, are worth the wait. 429-6095,

Runners-up Taqueria Vallarta, Planet Fresh, El Palomar (Tacos) El Palomar, Taqueria Vallarta, Olita’s

Butcher/Grocery Store/Wine Selection: Shopper’s Corner
There’s plenty to savor: top-of-the-line prime-grade beef, sausages, specialty cuts and great service. It continues to win your votes. Best thing? A vast and excellent selection of cheeses, and a wine cellar that’s one of the best in the county. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. 423-1398.

Runners-up (Butcher) El Salchichero, Corralitos Meat Market, Freedom Meat Locker (Grocery Store) New Leaf, Staff of Life, Deluxe Foods (Wine Selection) Soif, Vinocruz

Calamari/Happy Hour/Outdoor Dining/Santa Cruz Restaurant: Crow’s Nest
Happy Hour hangout? Check. Calamari cravings satisfied? Check? But what’s this? It nabbed Best Santa Cruz Restaurant this year. Check the website for regular music gigs and comedy nights. 476-4560,

Runners-up (Calamari) Riva’s, Stagnaro’s, Aldo’s (Happy Hour) Hula’s, 515 Kitchen & Cocktails, El Palomar (Outdoor Dining) Crepe Place, Aldo’s, Café Cruz (Santa Cruz Restaurant) Ristoranti Avanti, Oswald’s, Akira

California Cuisine: Café Cruz
Fresh local California cuisine here features delicious salads, hearty sandwiches and expertly prepared entrees. Natural California poultry and pork is used, bacon is locally cured, eggs are from Glaum Ranch, fresh-baked bread is from Gayle’s Bakery, local Polar Bear ice cream, organic coffee from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting—and, where possible, food is all organic, too. 476-3801,

Runners-up Süda,Paradise Beach Grille, Shadowbrook

bo prof  Mark GallagherCaterer/Personal Chef/Chef: Mark Gallagher
Chef Mark Gallagher can turn your next event into a culinary delight. With credentials from Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute of America and 17-plus years working in Santa Cruz’s most prominent restaurants, Gallagher brings a wealth of expertise to every function he caters. Specializing in small intimate events, Gallagher uses organic ingredients and works with local farmers to get the best produce. Indulge. 325-6924,

Runners-up (Cater/Personal Chef) Talya’s Kitchen, Sunny’s Catering (Chef) Ashley Hosmer (Shadowbrook) TIE: Damani Thomas (Oswald) / Scott Cater (Paradise Beach Grille)

Cheese Selection: Whole Foods
The big cheese? On so many levels. Many of the cheeses here are organic and most are free from rBST. Two to try are: 1. Manchego, the delicious Spanish sheep’s milk cheese with a smooth creamy flavor 2. Crotin Poivre, the delicious French cheese studded with peppercorns. 426-9901, 464-2900,

Runners-up Shopper’s Corner, New Leaf Market, Deluxe Foods of Aptos

Chinese Restaurant: O’Mei
You love O’Mei. Its top-notch selections include small dishes such as Taiwan-Hai Dai Seaweed Salad and O’Mei Sesame Candied Cashews; and Pan-Smoked Sweet Red Peppers. Entrees include chicken, fish, prawns, pork and tofu. It has been a favorite Chinese restaurant since 1979. 425-8458,

Runners-up Canton, Little Shanghai, Chinese Village

Chips & Salsa/Margarita/Mexican Restaurant: El Palomar
This longtime favorite continues to win locals over. Things we devoured recently: the Chimichanga comes with a choice of skirt steak or chicken in a large flour tortilla and is fried. Filled with beans, red and green peppers, onions, cheese and topped with Salsa Ranchera, sour cream and guacamole, it’s absolutely muy bueno. Chips, salsa and that marg—natch!—round out your meals. 425-7575,

Runners-up (Chips & Salsa) Manuel’s, Taqueria Vallarta, Palapas (Margarita) Tortilla Flats, Palapas, Olitas (Mexican Restaurant) Manuel’s, Little Tampico, Tortilla Flats

Clam Chowder: Stagaro’s
There’s nowhere like Stagnaro’s for a steaming bowl of clam chowder. After all, they’re located right on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and they catch their own fish daily. Head inside the cozy restaurant, or eat it right there on the wharf as you look out over the ocean. 423-2180,

Runners-up Crow’s Nest, Riva’s, Gilda’s

Cookie: Pacific Cookie Company
Delish. One of the best, longest-running locally owned businesses in the area; 32 years and still going strong. So, here’s how the creative cookie crumbles: Ginger Spice, Chocolate Chip, Dr. Midnight, Mint Condition, Peanut Butter, A Polynesian tollhouse cookie, Almond Joe, Snickerdoodle, Chocolate Chip with Walnuts and Dark Chocolate Cranberry all live together in a madness of yummyness that want to make a mad dash into your stomach. And zero trans fat gram to boot. 429.9709,

Runners-up The Buttery,Gayle’s, TIE: Kerri’s Kreations & Night Owl

bo food verveCoffeehouse: Verve
Three things to know here: 1. The Bowl of Soul is divinity in a cup—steamed soy milk, honey and tea (try a black tea). 2. The Elida Estate Green-Tip Gesha was the overall highest-scoring coffee at the 2013 Good Food Awards in San Francisco in January. 3. Their original roastery on 41st Avenue was 590-square-feet; their current roastery in Seabright is 7,000 square feet. 475-7776, 464-8141, 600-7784,

Runners-up The Abbey, Lulu Carpenter’s, Coffeetopia

Comfort Food/Late-night Dining: Saturn Café
According to the Meatless Monday campaign, not eating meat one day a week saves 22 bathtubs’ full of water. Now add in the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental benefits of eating vegetarian, and imagine the difference that a restaurant that is all vegetarian all of the time is making. 429-8505,

Runners-up (Comfort Food) Santa Cruz Diner, Gayle’s Bakery, Louie’s Cajun Kitchen (Late-night Dining) TIE: Crepe Place & Santa Cruz Diner; Akira, Manuel’s

Cupcake: Starz Cupcakes
The rising culinary star is enjoying a stellar celebrity orbit. Baked fresh and from scratch, here’s what they say: “We take you back to a time when baking was an art. Much of these recipes have been taught by my mother, Alice Hansmann, my grandmother, Mable Thomas and my great grandmother Hazel Wilson. A rare, homemade treat. 464-8911,

Runners-up Buttercup Cupcakes and Farmhouse, The Buttery, Cutesy Cupcakes

bo food-sandwichDeli/Sandwich: Zoccoli’s
From The Durbinator (a la James Durbin—grilled chicken breast and pineapple slices, with mayonnaise instead of honey mustard—$6.35)— to the Meatball Italiano ($6.50), Zoccoli’s still scores big-time with tasty filling sandwiches of all types. Another great one to set your teeth into is the Vegetable Garden ($6.25), a veggie lover’s delight piled high with mushrooms and much more. 423-1711,

The sandwich rose in popularity during the 19th century during the rise of industrial society—it became the affordable meal. Flashforward to the late 1940s and Zoccoli’s stormed onto the scene in Downtown Santa Cruz and became a popular deli.

Chicken breast, tomato, swiss cheese, avocado, onion, and lettuce and dijon mustard get cozy between two slices of one of Zoc’s fresh rolls. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Zoccoli’s began introducing sandwiches to its customers.

The Santa Cruzer ($6.25), one of Zoccoli’s most popular sandwiches, comes with fresh hummus, cucumber, tomato, onion and lettuce. Check out the daily specials.

Runners-up (Deli) Garden Liquor & Deli, Erik’s, New Leaf Deli (Sandwich) Erik’s Deli, Garden Liquor & Deli, TIE: New Leaf & Deke’s

Dessert: Gayle’s
Succulent tarts filled with fresh berries and custard and a decadent Chocolate Souffle Roll cavort with Key lime pies—and many pies, in fact. An all-time favorite: the Princess Cake, made with three layers of vanilla genoise cake, with pastry cream, raspberry jam and whipped cream inside, and with the most delicious outer shell of marzipan. Gayle’s remains a dessert-lover’s paradise in the area. 462-1200,

Runners-up Chocolate, The Buttery, Bittersweet Bistro

Diner: Santa Cruz Diner
It’s the go-to place for locals looking for anything from a tasty bowl of Vietnamese Pho or Potato Pancakes Special (for only $4.99), made with three homemade pancakes with eggs, potatoes, onions and served with gravy or apple sauce. Other items that caught our eye: a tasty vegan Coconut-Curry Stew with tofu, potatoes, onions and carrots for $7.49. 426-7151,

Runners-up Saturn Café, Jeffrey’s, Betty’s

Dinner/Ambiance/Restaurant of the Year: Shadowbrook
Lush gardens and a gondola ride to the main entrance add to the ambiance in this mulit-layered haven. But it’s the eclectic dinner menu (hello: Spiny Lobster Ravioli, Pacific Rim King Salmon, succulent beef, lamb and chicken dishes), breathtaking desserts, and one of the most revered wine list locally that make Shadowbrook a winner again and again. Owner Ted Burke continues to impress. 475-1511,

Runners-up (Dinner) Café Cruz, Ristoranti Avanti, Paradise Beach Grill (Ambiance) Laili’s, Paradise Beach Grille, Café Cruz (Restaurant of the Year) Paradise Beach Grille, Pono Hawaiian Grill, Akira

Dive Bar: Brady’s Yacht Club
At Seabright’s landmark watering hole, the Jameson is always flowing and the patrons—salty regulars and dive bar newbies, alike—are memorable. 425-9854.

Runners-up Castaway, Jury Room, Rush Inn

Exotic Drinks: Hula’s Island Grill
Locals who want to feel like they are in Hawaii appreciate Hula’s famous Tiki drink specials. Recommended: the Mai Tai, for its potent complexity, rum, orgeat syrup, curaçao, orange and lime juices—and anything else the bartender might want to add. Try the Blood Orange Martini or the Hula’s Hurricane. Cheers! 426-4852,

Runners-up 515 Kitchen & Cocktails, Süda, Motiv

Falafel: Falafel House
Winning yet again, Falafel House always prepares its falafel with expertise, and locals appreciate the fresh, tasty flavor. But it also makes flavorful baba ghanoush, tabbuli salad, chicken shawerma, Mediterranean turkey burgers—and much, much more. 459-9770,

Runners-up Falafel of Santa Cruz, Zameen, Falafal Hut

Farmers’ Market: Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College
More than 80 vendors purveying everything from local cheese and sauerkraut to fresh oysters and olive oil nabbed this epicenter of locavore delights the honor of one of “The Coast’s Best Farmers Markets” from Coastal Living Magazine. Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos.

Runners-up Downtown Santa Cruz (Wednesday), Westside, Live Oak

Frozen Yogurt: Yogurt Land
What do locals love best? The Tiramisu, Spiced Chai, Crème Brûlée, White Chocolate Macadamia, Strawberry Rhubarb Tart, or the very popular Bananas Foster? Perhaps all of them in equal measure. Try the nonfat, gluten-free—and they’re produced in a Kosher-certified facility. 462-3100,

Runners-up Top-a-lot, Yogizmo

Greek Restaurant: Vasili’s Greek Restaurant
Taking the Best Of baton from
The Greek last year, long-time favorite Vasili’s impresses on many levels. Try Moussaka,  made with eggplant. Consider: Greek beers, especially the Mythos lager, or a glass of robust retsina—a basic Greek wine flavored with resin. 458-9808, 

Runners-up The Greek, Zameen

Hawaiian Food: Pono Hawaiian Grill
Pono is a traditional Hawaiian eatery. It features many of the most popular foods of the islands, including pupus, coconut prawns and Kahlua pork. Interesting to note: Pono has Santa Cruz’s first and only poke bar, serving more than 15 different kinds of poke—a raw salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. Dig in. 426-7666,

Runners-up Hula’s, Aloha Island Grill, L&L Barbecue

Hot Dog: DAWGS!
Once again, Santa Cruzans pick Dawgs! for its tasty tubular links and delicious sides. Consuming these creations, you tend to feel as if you’re at the ball park. Try the spicy Louisiana hot link, or a Cheesy Chili dog—add House-Fried Potato Chips and House-Fried Jack and Blue Cheese Sticks. 438-5800,

Runners-up Lucy’s Hot Dog Stand, Surf Dog

Ice Cream: The Penny Ice Creamery
This Downtown Santa Cruz ice cream shop’s commitment to local, seasonal ingredients means an ever-changing menu that reflects the tastes of the day (think: cayenne dried apricot, Earl Grey, burnt cinnamon). But our favorite usage of Penny ice cream happens down at the creamery’s sister restaurant, The Picnic Basket, on Beach Street in Santa Cruz, where Penny ice cream is part of a genius creation—the Beer Float. 204-2523,

Runners-up Marianne’s, Mission Hill Creamery, Marini’s

Indian Food: Ambrosia India Bistro
Locals continue to appreciate this wonderful bistro. The food here is so packed with flavor that we want to go back and try every dish on the menu. Especially good are all the tandoori dishes, cooked in a real tandoori oven, and Ambrosia’s meat and seafood delicacies. The incredible naan bread here also stands out. The Keema Kulcha is a meal in itself. 685-0610,

Runners-up Royal Taj, Sitar, Pearl of the Ocean

Italian Restaurant: Lillian’s Italian Kitchen
Owned by Joe and Charlotte Moreno, it strives to make the food as Joe’s mama would. Many of the delicious recipes here come straight from Joe’s Italian family. Joe and Charlotte and their sons Matt and Chris make sure that customers have a great experience and enjoy every mouthful of food. Chris oversees the kitchen and loves to prepare Grandma Lillian’s specials such as lasagna, meatballs and a tasty cannoli for dessert. 425-2288,

Runners-up Ristorante Avanti, Ristoranti Italiano, La Posta

Japanese Restaurant/Sushi: Mobo Sushi
The restaurant’s daily lunch specials are a bargain and many locals like the Bento Box at $8.50, or the Combo Sushi Rolls at $9.95. Vegetarian and vegan options are available daily. Take note: Sake Bomb Dominoes happen at the bar on Friday and Saturday nights. Check it out. It’s an amazing sight. 425-1700,

Runners-up (Japanese) Akira, Takara, Shogun (Sushi) Akira, Takara, I Love Sushi

Kid-friendly Restaurant: Kianti’s
Another win for Kianti’s. But what is the fascination? On Wednesdays, kids at Kianti’s eat for free. Consider these pizza offerings: Traditional Italian, Caprese, and Combination. For those kids on this planet who prefer something else over pizza, a Meatball Sandwich or a hearty plate of pasta should suffice. 469-4400,

Runners-up Carpo’s, Pono Hawaiian Grill, Santa Cruz Diner

Lunch Restaurant: Paradise Beach Grille
Consistently winning Good Times readers votes for Best Capitola Restaurant, Paradise Beach Grille has now grabbed the Best Lunch award. Outdoor dining with a stunning panoramic ocean view contribute to the allure. Something to consider: Hawaiian Crispy Ahi Medallions or a Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Butter. 476-4900,

Runners-up (Lunch) TIE: Crow’s Nest & Pono Hawaiian Grill, Café Cruz, Akira (Restaurant: Capitola) Shadowbrook, Café Cruz, Dharma’s

Martini: 515 Kitchen & Cocktails / Oswald (Tie)
Two wins. Double the fun. Try 515’s almighty Little John’s Cabronita ($7.75), a cool blend of Plymouth gin, fresh basil, fresh lemon juice, limoncello and soda. You’ll love it. Then head to Oswald for their very special Soquel Apple ($9), a delicious mix of whiskey, apple, lemon and bitters served on the rocks. Cheers. 425-5051,; 423-7427,

Runners-up Suda, Motiv, Paradise Beach Grille

Meal for a Deal: Charlie Hong Kong
You never tire of Charlie’s. But have you tried the Green Curry Chicken Rice Bowl for $6.25, or the Spicy Ginger Beef Rice Bowl for $6.25? How about the Hoisin Pork Sandwich (Vietnamese dish) for $6.20—all healthy and nourishing. 426-5664,

Runners-up Taqueria Vallarta, El Palomar Taco Bar, Pono Hawaiian Grill

Middle Eastern Restaurant: Laili
Laili has won Best Middle Eastern Restaurant three years in a row. What we like: A traditional Chicken Kebob with Saffron Basmati Rice, which indulges the senses in sights, sounds and smells. Take your time with a Cardamom Rice Pudding and a chai and soak up the pleasure of it all. 423-4545,

Runners-up Zameen, Khyber Pass

Natural Food Market: New Leaf Community Market
Your favorite. New Leaf is no ordinary grocery store. As well as a well-stocked market of high-caliber goods, most of which are organic, sustainable and locally farmed, New Leaf has a full schedule of events. New Leaf’s Community Classroom is a space for cooking classes, health forums, family and kids programs, health and wellness lectures – and so much more. Look for their Skin Consultation class coming on May 6 and Kids Cooking Camp on June 17. Check the website for a full list. 479-7987,

Runners-up Staff of Life, Food Bin, Aptos Natural Foods

New Restaurant: Süda
Süda was a hit from when it first opened on the Eastside. With a focus on well-prepared healthy food and taking care of the customer, Süda’s great vibe has now spread through Santa Cruz and beyond. Süda’s well-rounded menu includes Fish Tacos, Pepper-Seared Tuna Tower, Great Hanger Steak, amazing burgers and much more—or just pop in for a salad and a cup of soup. 600-7068.

Runners-up Bantam, Akira, Tramonti

Pizza: Pizza My Heart
bo food pizzaStill winning—after all these years. It’s no wonder they get through thousands of pounds of dough annually. PMH’s special thin crust is made from dough that is given time to rise slowly so that the yeast has time to work, and ingredients are all natural and from locally sourced ingredients. Pizza My Heart locations are now located all over the Bay Area. 426-2511, 475-5714, 475-6000,

What do you do with tomatoes, olives, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and award-winning pizza crust? Pizza My Heart tosses it together creatively and calls it The Hook. It’s just one of many veggie pizzas the local favorite serves.

What’s the secret to its longevity? Pizza My Heart lets the dough mature for about 36 hours. As for the sauce, it is creatively combined to accentuate natural ingredients. Pounds of dough it goes through in a year’s time? Tons.

Something that stands out is Pizza My Heart’s outreach. In addition to offering the most aggressive “scrip” programs in the Bay Area, it offers elementary school tours of its facilities, which illuminates the inner workings of the business.

Runners-up Pleasure Point, Engfer’s, Bantam

Restaurant (Aptos): Bittersweet Bistro
Although Bittersweet Bistro is known for its high-end cuisine in its beautiful dining room, one thing you may not know about Bittersweet Bistro is that it has some very affordable dishes, too, served in the vibrant bar or the casual outdoor patio. Try the Nightly Recession Crusher Specials starting at 3:30 p.m. daily—a small meal for $6 and a glass of wine or a cocktail for $5. 662-9799,

Runners-up Café Sparrow, Manuel’s, Aptos BBQ

Restaurant/(San Lorenzo Valley): Oak Tree
A joy to behold. Every culinary wonder here is created from scratch—from breads to pastas. Two things we love: Spaghetti alla Bolognese (slow cooked natural angus beef with tomato sauce) and Agnello Scottadito (grilled rack of lamb with salmoriglio sauce and creamy polenta Gorgonzola. You can book an event here, too. 335-5551,

Runners-up Scopazzi’s, Mamma Mia, Cowboy Diner

Restaurant (Scotts Valley): Jia Tella’s
The restaurant’s delicious and healthy Cambodian cuisine uses little fat and an abundance of fresh vegetables, spices and aromatic herbs—it’s balanced, healthy and nourishing all at the same time. 438-5005.

Runners-up Rumblefish, Malone’s, Otoro Sushi

Restaurant (Soquel): Michael’s On Main
Michael’s on Main always has a lot going on. The restaurant’s popular Tuesday food and wine pairings ($25) occasionally features local guest chefs. Live music is featured regularly, so it’s a good place to go and shake a wicked hoof—and there’s never a cover. Michael’s on Main now sells T-shirts and sweatshirts with its own logo. 479-9777.

Runners-up Tortilla Flats, Café Cruz, Sawasdee

Restaurant (Watsonville): Cilantro’s
Cilantro’s is an icon in Watsonville. With its high-quality meats and seafood, this is Mexican food at its best. Locals continue to appreciate the mariachis every Friday night. 761-2161. 

Runners-up Jalisco’s, Miyuka Sushi, Props

Seafood: Stagnaro’s
Stagnaro’s not only has great food, but a terrific ocean view also. Their phrase “Caught Today, Cooked Today—Your Home or Ours” is their creed for all their ultra-fresh seafood. Try a House Specialty of Sizzling Sea Scallops ($20.95) or their famous Cioppino ($23.95)—and Italian classic chock full of six kinds of shellfish. Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. 423-2180.

Runners-up Riva’s, Johnny’s Harborside, Crow’s Nest

Small Plates/wine bar/Wine List (Restaurant): Soif
It’s one of the best for wine selection, food and ambiance. Small plates await: Piquillo Peppers with Manchego Cheese, or the Cauliflower with Curried Goat Cheese and Apple. Pair them with two very different wines—Beauregard Vineyards Pinot Gris, or a Big Basin Vineyards Pinot Noir. Don’t miss the innovative Rabbit Ravioli with Bloomsdale Spinach—paired with a glass of Soif’s recommended 2008 Sky Syrah. 423-2020,

Runners-up (Small Plates) 515 Kitchen & Cocktails, Stockton Bridge, Pono Hawaiian Grill, (Wine List) Shadowbrook, Paradise Beach Grille, Café Cruz, (Wine Bar) Cava, Vinocruz, Vino Prima

Smoothie: New Leaf Community Market
New Leaf’s smoothies are a hit. Try the Power Solution, the Berry Best or the Açai Energy Smoothie—all made with fresh local organic produce, organic fruit, organic vegetables and local wheatgrass. They’re never made with ice, water, sherbet, sorbet, or ice cream. 425-1793, 426-1306,

Runners-up Samba Rock Acai Café, Café Brasil, Staff of Life

Steak/Steakhouse: Hindquarter Bar & Grill
Known for its juicy T-bone, grilled sirloin, slow-roasted prime rib and lip smackin’ baby back ribs, it is, as the restaurant says, “Where the elite meat.” Check out the merchandise available for purchase—caps, mugs, shot glasses, and more. 426-7770.

Runners-up (Steak) Shadowbrook, Café Cruz, Point Chop House (Steakhouse) Point Chop House, Café Cruz, Shadowbrook

bo food teacupTeahouse: Hidden Peak Teahouse
New and popular in Downtown Santa Cruz. Try the pu-erh at this traditional, tranquil and digital device-free teahouse. They offer a range of this fermented dark tea, from a $.99 Big Bowl of the house pu-erh blend to premium private reserve varieties like a vintage Sheng Pu-erh from the 1970s.

Runners-up The Quail and Thistle, The Abbey, Bloomsbury Tea Room (Closed)

Thai Restaurant: Sabieng
Sabieng continues to encompass all that locals love in its beautifully prepared Thai dishes. Its Fresh Spring Rolls burst with flavor, and a plate of Spicy Fried Rice is a meal in itself. Roasted chicken, pork or duck are customer favorites, and don’t miss their famous dessert—Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango. Sabieng carries beer and wine and, of course, does take-out orders. Their lunch specials are only $6.50. 425-1020.

Runners-up Sawasdee, Bangkok West, Star of Siam

Vegetarian Cuisine: Dharma’s
This mecca of meatlessness was originally named McDharma’s (with a red circle and slash over the “Mc” portion), but the Golden Arches weren’t having it. McDonald’s brought legal action against the vegetarian cafeteria, resulting in McDharma’s becoming Dharma’s. 462-1717,

Runners-up Café Gratitude, Saturn Café, Malabar

Winery (local): Alfaro Family Vineyard
Alfaro’s makes a range of fine wines, but one to watch out for is the 2012 Viognier with its rich flavors of ripe apricots and peach pie—available now for $22 a bottle. Check out Alfaro’s website for events and don’t miss their handmade pizza from their own wood-fired pizza oven at special events. 420 Hames Road, Corralitos, 728-5172,

Runners-up Bargetto Winery, Bonny Doon, Hunter Hill

Contributors: Greg Archer, Josie Cowden, Elizabeth Limbach

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