Dining Reviews

Inside Coffeetopia’s Indie Coffee Expansion

Revisiting a local favorite for a caffeine fix, plus UCSC’s top chefs

Coffeetopia serves organic espresso drinks at three Santa Cruz locations. PHOTO: JAKE THOMAS

What a great name, Coffeetopia, the fusion of an ideal world—utopia—and everybody’s favorite caffeine. Lucky us, with three family-owned Coffeetopias in the county, each one feeling like a cozy, neighborhood gem.

No hipster attitude at these assertively indie coffee emporiums, though visitors will still find free wifi and plenty of outlets for device charging.

Coffeetopia welcomes those who come for conversation or reading the newspapers or, yes, even working on laptops. Each outpost offers bracing macchiatos and fresh-dripped Arabica alongside an array of pastries from Kelly’s, a few custom items from artisanal bakers, and plenty of breakfast and lunch fare. Yogurts, burritos, Bagelry bagels, bottled drinks, and big, fat, luscious coconut macaroons. Coffeetopia’s got it all.

Baristas customize organic espresso orders and take the time to make sure green tea is steeped to perfection, and all of the shops also generously embrace local art exhibits. Check out interesting and colorful wall art by enterprising makers as you wait for your cappuccino.

My local Westside branch at 1723 Mission St. is a slender, well-lit, well-appointed haunt for UCSC students and neighbors who like to rendezvous over a latté. Each corner has its own design identity and smart feng shui. Two plump couches create one nook for chatting. Another corner has its own desk for two. The far end is a study counter with room for couples to work side by side. Friendly staff make every patron feel welcome.

The newly expanded Coffeetopia at 1443 Capitola Rd. is a revelation. Formerly a very small space lacking distinct ambience, this super-sized Coffeeteria is now ringed by wall outlets, red banquettes, artwork, and picture windows flooding the interior with light. Chairs are actually comfortable, and the red enamel hanging lights add color points and eye appeal. The front door opens to ample patio seating.

At the 3701 Portola Ave. Coffeetopia, bohemian ambience abounds thanks to artwork like the current colorful woodcuts and acrylics by Leah Beech. In warm weather, the outside tables fill up with Opal Cliffs denizens, their canine companions, and out-of-town guests.

Whatever side of town you’re on, the reasonably priced java always hits the spot. Find your own perfect Coffeetopia.

Open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Not your Mother’s Dining Hall

Congratulations to the culinary participants in last week’s UCSC Dining Hall Chefs’ Competition, at which I had a chance to sample and judge five ambitious entrée recipes. And the theme was vegan!

First-place winner Francisco Gonzales-Ruiz won over the judges—and the crowd of supporters—with an astonishing vegan puff pastry filled with mushroom duxelles on a bed of sautéed kale and baby carrots. In second place was a remarkable dish of potato enchiladas by Victor Camarillo Cruz, which featured hand-made tortillas accompanied by spicy sauteed cauliflower and a slaw of parsnips, cilantro and lime.

Saul Lopez’s delicious vegetable and quinoa-filled poblano chili was served with an outstanding chipotle cashew sauce. Scott Radek created a fusion dish of shitake mushroom cakes on yuba noodles with green curry coconut sauce. Janet Mucino’s beautiful tofu mixiotes with poblano rice showed off a sophisticated presentation.

Fabulous organization and emceeing by high-energy William Prime, executive director of UCSC’s Dining and Hospitality Services. Everything we tasted was made on the spot with ingredients sourced entirely from UCSC’s Farm and Garden or Coke Farms.

These dishes may well find their way onto the menus at campus dining halls. Lightyears beyond the choices I encountered as an undergraduate!

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