Eats on a budget in Santa Cruz

Local chain Ferrell's Donuts has more than 70 years of history in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Looking for an affordable meal in Santa Cruz County? Take a look at some of Max Chun’s recommendations for eats on a budget.

Gayle’s Bakery: Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola is without a doubt one of the best bakeries in the area due in part to its amazing baked goods and well-rounded menu. Get pastries, quick breakfasts, salads, desserts and fresh bread all for around $5-10. Specialty cakes and larger entrees will be pricier for sure, but if you have a few people chipping in, the inflated price is well worth it.

Cafe Delmarette: It’s a tiny spot, but Cafe Delmarette— tucked away beside the historic Del Mar Theatre downtown — is a great place for coffee and cheap eats. The drink menu has all the coffee classics, plus some alternative options like matcha lattes and a variety of hot and iced teas for non-coffee drinkers. As for food, the Delmarette has several sandwiches on the menu, including breakfast and vegan options, all for around $10 depending on what you decide to add on. That said, its $4 homemade scones — with both sweet and savory — are truly outstanding. Trust me, I know. I get one on most mornings before heading into the office.

Pizza My Heart: Pizza My Heart’s brand recognition is among the strongest in the city, if not the strongest. The pies are a little on the pricey side, but going for a slice is a pretty good deal. Also, ask for a slice card so you can get free menu items with every third slice. Finally, a quick tip for those ordering full pies: Ask for your pizza “well done” to get a crispier crust and extra-melted cheese. It’ll taste like it just came out of the oven!

Guang Zho: If y’all are ever in the mood for Chinese food, you might have found that there are not many options in the area. That said, Guang Zho on Portola Drive in Pleasure Point is by far the best around town. Featuring a huge menu with delicious appetizers (potstickers, egg rolls, wontons, etc.) and tons of entree options, it’s got something for everyone. My go-to is the beef chow fun, a garlicky rice noodle dish with green onions, bean sprouts and flank steak. I should order some right now, honestly.

Seabright Deli: If you’re craving a sandwich, head over to Seabright Deli on Seabright Avenue (obviously) and check out its well-rounded menu of delicious eats between bread. From turkey to chicken, ham and some great pastrami, the deli prepares all of its meats in house, ensuring freshness in every sando. You might want to ask the employees to go light on the sauce, as they can be quite generous with the helpings. Still, sandwiches are reasonably priced and huge. Get one and walk to the beach, just a block away, for a meal outdoors.

Zachary’s: Craving a tasty, savory breakfast for a low price? Head to Zachary’s on lower Pacific Avenue, right next to Subway and among a few smoke shops. This breakfast staple has been serving up substantial portions in Santa Cruz since 1985. The basic breakfast with eggs, home fries, toast and your choice of meat is a classic, as is the corned beef hash — and to top it off, they’re great hangover remedies. There are veggie options and sweet options, too, for those looking for something different. Many of the menu items have smaller sizes as well, meaning you can get those for cheaper and still get a lot of food. Bring your friends and split the bill to pay in the neighborhood of $10-$15 each.

Ferrell’s Donuts: Looking for a quick, indulgent snack after a night out or 4/20 festivities? It should go without saying, but Ferrell’s Donuts might be your best option. Featuring loads of freshly fried donuts and pastries baked to perfection (pun very much intended), you can buy a genuinely absurd amount of goodies for you and all of your friends for a very low price.

Charlie Hong Kong: Looking for something fresh and affordable? Head over to Charlie Hong Kong in Midtown for some quick eats like soups, noodle and rice bowls, and curries — almost all of which are under $10. As an Asian fusion restaurant, there are multiple influences within each menu item. However, the mix of Southeast Asian flavors with lots of vegan and vegetarian options makes for a satisfying meal for just about anyone.

Poke House: Poke House on Pacific Avenue near the clock tower has customizable bowls with several fish, veggie, sauce and topping options, all for around $10. Keep in mind that the small size is quite filling and should be enough for a full meal. You’ll probably have enough left over to stick in your fridge for a later time. But hey, if you’re up for a second meal, try to tackle those larger sizes and save yourself a bowl of leftovers. Remember: Students get 10% off!

Jack’s Hamburgers: If you’re in the mood for a classic burger-and-fries combo, Jack’s Hamburgers downtown on Lincoln Street has you covered. The locally owned joint with a big hamburger sculpture jutting out of the corner of its roof has been serving up a variety of burgers and other sandwiches for years, and never disappoints. Psst, vegans: Jack’s Beyond Burger is among the most affordable that you can find — yes, even cheaper than an Impossible Whopper and likely better, too (I have never eaten an Impossible Whopper, FWIW).

The Point Market & Cafe: If you’re in the mood for a breakfast burrito, then look no further. The Point Market & Cafe has an extensive menu at its locations on East Cliff Drive and near the roundabout by Depot Park just down the street from the Santa Cruz Wharf. The unassuming mini-marts boast many variations of breakfast burritos, regular burritos and breakfast plates, with much more to offer including simple snacks, grab-and-go food and, most notably, an impressive hot sauce selection. You can opt for the large burritos for an extra few bucks, but believe me, the small will suffice.

Taqueria Los Pericos: This downtown favorite boasts some of the best Mexican homestyle cooking in town. Their delicious tacos and burritos are relatively cheap — especially for the quality — and are crafted with care and love!

Tacos El Chuy: If you’re in Santa Cruz and, more specifically, are enjoying a beer at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, you have probably seen the striking magenta hues of Tacos El Chuy parked just a few feet away. If not, keep an eye out, and get some food there the next time you come across it. Featuring everything from tortas to street tacos to quesabirria, Tacos El Chuy will satisfy your Mexican street food needs.

Latest from Food & Drink