Most visitors to Santa Cruz flock to downtown when it comes time to eat out. But located just outside the most worn tourist paths, and a short trip inland from Capitola Village, lies another dining destination whose concentration of restaurants rivals downtown in their diversity and consistency of quality. On the strip of Soquel Drive between 41st and Capitola avenues alone, you can find Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, fine dining, coffee shops and a bakery—with a couple of dive bars and a weekly Taco Tuesday food truck event (4:30-7:30 p.m. in the Anna Jean Cummings park) rounding out the choices. If you’re looking to gather some prime local produce, head up the idyllic Old San Jose Road a few miles to the well-stocked Everett Family Farm stand. Back in town, several more dining destinations are hidden on Main Street, from Bargetto Winery north of Soquel to Beer Thirty and Little Tampico to the south. If you’ve yet to visit Soquel Village with a hungry belly, here are just a few of our favorites—check our dining listings for more information on these and more.
With lunch prices that appeal to everyone, this colorful one-room eatery (not to be confused with the chain of a similar name) offers an authentic Mexican menu and cozy booths. El Chipotle offers table service and take out at the counter, and boasts some of the best breakfast burritos in town, creamy, homemade refried beans, and highly praised renditions of all of the traditional dishes.
The newest addition to Soquel is also a star in New American fine dining, with a keen eye for local, seasonal ingredients and a menu that changes based on what’s best to eat. Chef Brad Briske, formerly of La Balena in Carmel Valley, not only hand-butchers his meat, but has also kept up a kitchen garden in the back. If they’re available when you go, we recommend the Miyagi oysters ($3.50 each). Served on a bed of black pebbles, they were dainty and unobtrusive in size (think silver dollar) last time we tried them—sprinkled with a pop of lime and granita, which melted on the palate with the heat of habanero sea salt and cold oyster brine. Heaven. Reservation recommended.
Michael’s on Main has drawn locals for years now with its outdoor patio overlooking Soquel Creek and live music most nights, including Grateful Sundays (Dead cover bands). Its recent new owners have continued the music and events while updating the decor, and adding fresh fish and other new menu items to the old favorites. There are small plates and bar bites, as well as a plentiful selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Expanded brunch hours (and lower prices) on weekends.
Voluptuous margaritas served in festive goblets, and a lively atmosphere accented by hand-painted Mexican pottery are only the beginning of a long list of reasons to try this more-than-35-year fixture. A tapas menu on Monday and Tuesday nights includes cactus chile verde, free-range lamb riblets with homemade jalapeño jelly, and carnitas tamales topped with mole negro. On weekends throughout the year, special event menus also draw crowds; they feature Mexican crepes, Frida’s Favorites (that’s Frida Kahlo, who, it turns out, was also a great cook), Cactus dishes, and a lot more. Check tortillaflatsdining.com for special events details.
Since 1996, the Ugly Mug has been a vibrant community hub, with open mics and an eclectic calendar of live music performances happening several times a week. Stop in and soak up the local cafe scene while sipping on a fine selection of teas, and quality espresso (try the Ray of Friggin’ Sunshine). We also recommend joining the steady afternoon stream of school children for a scoop of gelato from local company Mission Hill Creamery. The Ugly Mug always carries at least half a dozen flavors.
PHOTO: Home is one of Soquel’s newest and most buzzed-about dining spots. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER