Santa Cruz is home to an assortment of restaurants serving tasty, affordable food that won’t break the piggy bank.

Cash-conscious diners can nosh on Thai in Westside Santa Cruz, Asian-fusion in Midtown and tacos and burgers in downtown Santa Cruz without busting their budget. In addition to restaurants are nontraditional eateries offering inspired creations that deliver on quality and flavor – a mini-mart in Pleasure Point serving scrumptious and hardy breakfast burritos (perfect after a long surf session) and an unassuming café tucked into a gas station in Soquel serving up delectably spicy Cajun chicken sandwiches.

It would take awhile to find all of these shining gems, although many of them are hidden in plain sight. The following is a selection of local eateries offering affordable, fresh and delicious meals. Check back regularly for additions to the list.

  • Sabieng

    Westside Santa Cruz

    Chef Wanlop Kachinthorn began cooking at his mother’s store in Thailand as a teenager and opened Sabieng on Mission Street in 1999. A fire caused the restaurant to temporarily shut down in 2011. As part of the repairs, the owners remodeled and expanded the kitchen, reopening in May of 2012. Serving up authentic and traditional Thai dishes, diners can specify their desired level of spiciness. Try their pa-nang curry – a divinely blissful combination of flavors that melts in your mouth. Other customer favorites include their fresh spring rolls (two words: peanut sauce), tom kha soup, pad pik king and pineapple fried rice.

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  • Charlie Hong Kong

    Midtown Santa Cruz

    This Midtown icon was opened in 1998 on the bustling corner of Seabright and Soquel. Their mission is to create a neighborhood eatery with healthy, abundant, flavorful food at good value, served fast. They are committed to serving high quality, sustainably produced food at affordable prices. The cuisine at Charlie Hong Kong is a unique fusion; the menu offers Southeast Asian street food with a twist and stars fresh, local and organic ingredients. They cater to both vegans and meat-eaters, with a full vegan menu and meat options. Try Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight and the Chili Sesame Noodle Salad.

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  • El Palomar Taco Bar

    Downtown Santa Cruz

    Sandwiched in the hallway between the El Palomar Restaurant and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting, the freshness, flavor and speed of this companion taco bar is hard to beat. Their soft handmade corn tortillas might just be the secret to their succulent tacos, layered with refried beans and filling of your choice, but the generous heap of salsa fresca, tomatoes and shredded cabbage on top doesn’t hurt. The real kicker - two of these babies are only $3 during happy hour. This might just be the best deal in town. Regular picks include the fish taco, featuring tender snapper in a tomatillo sauce, and the guacamole taco, starring their sensational house-made guacamole. Try one of each.

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  • Betty’s Eat Inn

    Downtown Santa Cruz

    Voted “Best Burger and Fries” every year since 2010 in the Good Times Best of Santa Cruz Readers’ Poll, Betty’s is a local chain featuring fresh ingredients, adult milkshakes and fabulous burgers. Their downtown location is a great place to stop during a night out. Betty's burgers offer plenty of options – hormone free beef, chicken breast, ground turkey, veggie patty or portabella – and can be served with your choice of bun or “bareback style” a.k.a. lettuce wrapped. Their diner style menu featuring sexual themes is both amusing and tantalizing; a well-known favorite is the Mad Mex, featuring guacamole, pepper jack cheese and chipotle “lube.”

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  • Riva Fish House

    The Boardwalk

    It can be hard to decide where to eat on the Santa Cruz wharf, but rest assured you can’t go wrong with Riva’s. A favorite among locals and visitors since 1981, Riva’s offers gorgeous views, swift service and outstanding fresh seafood at an incredible value. Get there early to snag a window seat; it’s usually packed, and for good reason. Their unpretentious menu features a long list of seafood classics, from delectable fried calamari to perfectly grilled salmon, prawn cocktails and crab sandwiches. The friendly bar offers more than eight beers on draft, as well as wine and cocktails to sample while waiting for a panoramic view table.

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  • Point Market & Café

    Pleasure Point

    Formerly Elizabeth’s Market, the unassuming Point Market & Café has been transforming under new ownership since 2011. A long-time destination for affordable local fare, although it is under new management, the same cooks still turn out their amazingly awesome breakfast burritos just like they did during the Elizabeth’s Market days. An extensive menu features a variety of dishes made with fresh, local and organic ingredients, satisfying a steady stream of hungry surfers and beach goers. The tiny indoor seating area is part of the mini-market charm, but the outdoor seating is where it’s at – great for people watching and ocean views.

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  • AJ's Market & Natural Foods


    AJ’s Market may look like just another gas station at first glance, but the front door is graced by a cart of local, organic veggies for sale and a natural foods market is located inside. In the back corner, a kitchen offering authentic Middle Eastern food and butcher shop do double duty. Mouth-watering smells permeate the entire market, and an outdoor seating area is tucked into the side. AJ and his wife Ellianna have been running the place since 1987, but only in 2009 did they realize their dream of having a fresh food kitchen. Customer favorites include their spicy Cajun chicken sandwich, fabulous falafel with house-made tahini and chicken shawarma.

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