a food kiosk on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz
Inside Lulu Carpenter’s new Westside cafe.
(Via Lulu Carpenter’s)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Summer restaurant openings, Lago di Como’s new partners and the latest food news

Hello again! This is my first Lily Belli on Food newsletter since I took a break last March to have a baby. Now, Cecilia is a thriving three-month-old, and I am brimming with new story ideas to bring to you, our Lookout readers. Thank you to Jessica M. Pasko, who kept you up to date on Santa Cruz County’s dining news and shared her personal food experiences through this newsletter while I was on parental leave. And thank you to contributing food writers Laura Sutherland and Ashley Spencer for their reporting while I was away.

And check your inboxes for my newly revamped Eaters Digest. It’s my new Friday newsletter, now geared to your Santa Cruz County weekends. Each week, Eaters Digest will highlight a single dish or drink worth seeking out, give you a handy guide to weekend food events and catch you up on Lookout’s and other food stories that you may have missed.

It’s good to be back! As always, I look forward to hearing from you at lily@lookoutlocal.com, or via text message.

What’s opened and what’s closed

A cheeseburger fresh off the grill at downtown Santa Cruz's Firefly Tavern
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

… When I last saw you, Santa Cruz County was still in the throes of one of its worst winters in a generation. A lot has happened since then, and now as we welcome the warm days of summer, we have much to look back on and forward to. Here’s what you may have missed, and what you need to know as we enter a new season and the second half of 2023:

First, let’s get to the many noteworthy openings and re-openings this spring. There are lots of new places to try with new culinary visions, and I’ll visit as many as possible in order to report back to you.

In April, Zelda’s on the Beach reopened following a four-month closure and rebuild after it was devastated by a storm surge in January. My Thai Beach, its neighbor and the last of the Capitola Village Esplanade restaurants to complete repairs, reopened in May. The long-awaited Trout Farm Inn bar, restaurant and pool reopened in May after a brief opening last summer followed by a closure in September for an emergency remodel. Firefly Tavern now brings new life and vision to the former 99 Bottles space in downtown Santa Cruz, and Alderwood Santa Cruz – the city’s only restaurant that’s mentioned in the prestigious Michelin guide – reopened after a two-month closure with a renewed focus on fine dining.

On the Westside, Lulu Carpenter’s took over the former Coffeetopia spot after it closed. Soquel’s beloved Silver Spur restaurant reopened with new owners who also own downtown Santa Cruz’s El Huarache. In June, Sampa Brazilian Kitchen brought Brazilian eats to Branciforte and Felton’s Castelli’s Deli opened a second location in Seacliff. Pizza Series opened in Scotts Valley in June, serving Detroit- and New York-style pizzas. Finally, Mentone, super star chef David Kinch’s Aptos restaurant, is now open on Mondays.

Lance Ebert is living his ramen-geek dreams with a weekly pop-up at Avanti on Santa Cruz's Westside.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Last spring, Westside brewery Humble Sea teased that a new pop-up location on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf was in the works, and it opened in April. The open-air beer garden next to Woodies Café is open every day through Labor Day, and on weekends through October, for draft beers and breathtaking views. This is a temporary pop-up that will close as colder days approach, so beer fans should check it out while they can.

The pop-up scene continues to thrive and produce some of the most eclectic and vision-driven cuisine in the county. Three of the area’s most talented young chefs are parking their pop-ups in Santa Cruz for extended residencies. Find S.C. Bread Boy Lance Ebert at Avanti in Santa Cruz on Mondays and Tuesdays for super-sized smash burgers and ramen; Paul Suniga’s Filipino street food-meets-fine dining pop-up, Pare, can be found at 11th Hour and After Hours on Center Street in downtown Santa Cruz on Sundays; and Brutta, run by Amelia Telc, is bringing European bistro fare to Soif on Tuesday, Thursdays through Saturday evenings, plus Saturday brunch starting July 8.

Venus Beachside to reopen in July; Cavalletta heads to Aptos

The building that will house Cavalletta
(Jessica M. Pasko / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As we look to summer, we have much to look forward to.

Cavalletta, a new California/Italian-style restaurant headed by Nick Sherman, chef/owner of Trestles in Capitola, and partner Shawn Ryberg, is set to take over the Aptos space recently vacated by the short-lived Restaurant Malik Williams later this year. Over in Rio Del Mar, Venus Spirits Beachside will reopen in July after an extensive renovation. Hopefully, we will see chef Katherine Stern’s plans to transition her popular farmers market stall The Midway into a brick-and-mortar restaurant next to the Rio Theater come to fruition in the coming months. Maybe 2023 will be the year that we see Beer Run Santa Cruz finally open down the street in the old Weinersnitzel spot on Soquel Avenue!

We’re continuing to add to our al fresco dining guides. We’ll soon see the return of Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets’ much-loved multi-course breakfast feasts in July and August. The Taste of Terroir dinner series, Outstanding in the Field events and other farm-to-table and wine-pairing dinners in Santa Cruz County can all be found in Lookout’s 2023 farm-to-table event guide.

Food news you may have missed

Empty crab pots are stacked Santa Cruz harbor. The Dungeness crab season has been on hold to protect migrating whales.
Empty crab pots are stacked outside of the harbor in Santa Cruz. The Dungeness crab season has been on hold to protect migrating whales.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Then, there’s the food news that we can’t ignore.

Meals on Wheels, which has served more than 10 million meals to older Santa Cruz County residents over the last 50 years, has faced uncertainty after being asked to move from its headquarters in a building that belongs to the Live Oak School District. Previously, the nonprofit organization was told to find a new home by June 30. On Friday, LOSD extended the eviction notice to August 30 while the board finalized a potential updated lease agreement.

We also have to remember that the Monterey Bay’s fishing industry has endured a brutal economic season. After the Dungeness crab opener was delayed until January, followed by a flooded market that forced low prices for the typically lucrative catch, the California salmon season was canceled in March. It’s only the second time in history that the ocean salmon fishery has been closed in California and local fishermen are seeking federal aid after a ‘disaster of a season.’

Finally, local farms are still struggling to recover from the deluge, and area residents, including many farmworkers, have yet to return to their homes. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the intense weather and road closures hurt restaurants and businesses in Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek and Felton. And in March, storms caused the Pajaro River levee to fail, resulting in some of the worst flooding in decades, and continued dislocation for many families, including many farmworkers.

As we enjoy the many culinary delights our region has to offer, we must keep in mind those for whom food is an everyday struggle. Lookout is here to give you all sides of the story.


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With my return, we relaunched my Friday Eaters Digest column as a newsletter, as well as on our website. Each week, I’ll highlight one dish or drink worth seeking out. This week it’s Special Noodle’s Numbing and Spicy Dan Dan Noodles. As I wrote, “The chewy noodles become coated in the silky, rich sauce made with sesame paste, chili oil and Szechuan peppercorns. It’s not overtly spicy, and you won’t notice the heat until several bites in, when a cool tingling creeps over your tongue and the roof of your mouth — that’s the ‘numbing’ heat of the Szechuan peppercorns.”

So remember to look for my newsletters, Tuesday and Friday now. And let your friends know they can sign up for them as well, here.


Two capable new partners have injected youthful energy and a fresh look into Live Oak’s Lago di Como, elevating the beloved neighborhood spot to a new level of hospitality. The new menu includes intriguing, lesser-known Italian cuisine like stracciatella dotted with smoked fish eggs and served with black, charcoal-infused crackers; fried artichoke hearts with garlic and mint; mussels with chickpeas served in a salami-enriched broth; plus homemade pastas and entrees roasted in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. Read my full review next week.


3,000 — Number of Starbucks workers nationwide expected to Strike with Pride in response to accusations that the company is preventing employees, called “partners,” from putting up Pride decorations. Starbucks denied the accusations.

76,000 — Approximate number of pounds of frozen mini chicken corn dogs recalled by the USDA on June 30 due to a chance of spoilage. If you have a bag of “Foster Farms Mini Corn Dog Bite Sized Franks Dipped in Batter Honey Crunchy Flavor” in your freezer, don’t eat it. Find more information on the recall at fsis.usda.gov.



Has your grill been hibernating since last summer? I brought mine out of the garage last week and, to be honest, was a little scared to open the lid. The inside held the ghosts of summer dinners past — a crusty grill grate, greasy interior and a clogged burner. So I turned up some music and spent an hour getting her ready for the summer season scrubbing her from head to toe. I even got a toothpick to clear all the burner holes. Now, it’s clean, beautiful and ready for a fresh season of outdoor dinners. Long story short: clean your grill. Trust me, it’s worth it, you’re worth it, and not doing it is kind of gross. A word to the wise, though — just use a good grill cleaner and a good wire brush. Plain soap and water is a fool’s game. Happy summer!


… lab-grown meat. In mid-June, the USDA gave Upside Foods and Good Meat the greenlight to produce chicken meat grown from chicken cells, rather than live animals. Apparently the facilities look more like breweries than slaughter houses — picture “people in white coats and hairnets wandering between giant vats.

It’ll be years before we see lab-grown meat on supermarket shelves, but I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around that future. While the benefits of not having to slaughter animals in order to raise meat are clear, what’s less certain is whether lab-grown meat is a pathway to paradise or dystopia.

Want to try it? Chef Dominique Crenn will feature Upside Food’s cell-cultured chicken at Bar Crenn in San Francisco — its first meat dish in nearly four years. Is this the ‘Black Mirror’ meets ‘The Menu’ crossover we didn’t ask for?


Downtown San Jose is struggling, but one surprising food and wine destination is thriving (San Francisco Chronicle)
A Day in the Life of Foodservice (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk)
What Does It Mean to Be an Asian American Brewer? (The New York Times)

Happy dining!

~ Lily