Santa Cruz County is a mecca of fresh, organic and locally sourced food. Restaurants are surrounded by farms offering fresh organic produce, pasture-raised meats and free-range eggs, and sustainable fisheries providing responsibly caught fish from the waters of the diverse, protected Monterey Bay. Indeed, some chefs do most of their shopping at farmers’ markets, while other restaurants have their own organic gardens and chicken coops.

Sustainable food can be defined as coming from sources, whether fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the structure or function of affected ecosystems. This definition is abridged from FishWise, a local organization that was founded in 2002 through collaboration with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and a pilot project with New Leaf Community Markets to support marine conservation through seafood purchasing decisions.

It doesn’t hurt that Santa Cruz is also home to the UCSC Center of Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems – a research, education and public service program dedicated to increasing ecological sustainability and social justice in the food and agriculture system. The three-acre Alan Chadwick Garden and 30-acre UCSC Farm, which serve as research, teaching and training facilities, have blessed the area with an abundance of committed farmers who are dedicated to sustainability.

The following is a selection of sustainable restaurants in the region, check back regularly for updates to the list.

  • Bantam

    Westside Santa Cruz

    A pizzeria of Bay Area caliber, Bantam opened in November of 2012 across from the Westside New Leaf Community Markets. With a boisterous, informal and friendly atmosphere, the main focal point of the restaurant is its open kitchen, glowing and bustling with activity. Owner Ben Sims fell in love with pizza while working the pizza oven at Chez Panisse, and he and his wife, co-owner, Sarah Sims, worked for seven years at Avanti. As their menu states at the bottom, “Don’t panic, it’s organic!” Their inventive wood-fired pizzas and simple, inspired dishes feature seasonal, local and organic ingredients. Be sure to try the sausage pizza, starring their tantalizing house-made sausage made with pasture-raised pork from Fogline Farms.

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  • Ristorante Avanti

    Westside Santa Cruz

    Providing farm-to-table dining since 1987, Ristorante Avanti specializes in the country cuisine of Northern Italy with a California twist. Owners Paul and Cindy Geise moved Avanti to a larger location just up the street from their first location on the busy Mission Street thoroughfare in 2012. Chef de cuisine Fran Grayson and kitchen manager and 15-year Avanti veteran Adolofo Martinez source local organic produce, sustainably raised meats and wild fish for their delightful dishes. The setting is elegant yet comfortable, and in addition to their wine list featuring Italian, Spanish and California varietals, they have a full bar offering seasonal cocktails and a variety of spirits. Quite a popular spot, reservations well in advance are recommended.

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  • Gabriella Café

    Downtown Santa Cruz

    Opened in 1992, the romantic Gabriella Café occupies a tranquil little cottage that is entered through an arched door off Cedar Street in downtown Santa Cruz. The patio area provides the perfect ambiance for a date, with twinkling lights creating a soft glow. Their hallmark is a sensational menu featuring contemporary Italian dishes made with seasonal, organic produce. Owner Paul Cocking served on the board of the downtown farmers’ market for several years and nearly all of the produce is sourced directly from local farmers. Founding chef is the now famous Jim Denevan of Outstanding in the Field, a leader in farm dinners. Denevan began the strong relationship with farmers that Gabriella’s continues to cultivate, putting the restaurant at the forefront of the local organic sustainable movement.

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  • La Posta

    MIdtown Santa Cruz

    With a chicken coop out back and their own garden on the Westside, you can’t get more sustainable than La Posta in the heart of Seabright. Chef Katherine Stern creates elegant traditional Italian cuisine made with the highest quality local ingredients available, from foraged chanterelles and line-caught tuna to organic produce and sustainably farmed meats. Their fresh house-made pastas are pure magic when combined expertly with just the right mixture of local and seasonal ingredients; try the celery root mezzelune with rainbow chard and walnut pesto. Their scrumptious breads and cured meats are also made in-house and they offer an extensive Italian wine selection. Visit on a Tuesday for the neighborhood night special.

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  • Café Sparrow


    This rustic and charming café in the Aptos village serves provincial French cuisine with California freshness and whimsy. The restaurant occupies an old post office and general store in the heart of the village. Owners Bill and Julie strive to use sustainable, organic and local ingredients whenever possible for their simple yet sophisticated dishes. Their Sunday brunch is outstanding; try the Sparrow French Toast, stuffed with cheese and raspberry jam, grilled to golden perfection, topped with sautéed fruit and served with Corralitos Market ham. Their daily three-course prix fixe dinner is a steal at $20.

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  • Geisha Sushi


    Located upstairs in the renovated Flower-Willow World with windows looking out over the ocean in Capitola Village, Geisha’s mission is to help return the art of sushi to a state of balance with nature. Executive sushi chef David Graham helped owners Anchalee Thanachai and Narintra Johnson open the restaurant in 2011. They partner with FishWise and make sure that all their ingredients, whether fished or farmed, have been sustainably sourced. Enjoy their fresh sushi, bento boxes, rice bowls, fish entrees and an impressive selection of teas, steps away from the beach.

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