Laili Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz is open for lunch and dinner for the first time since the pandemic.
(Via Laili Restaurant)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Lunch is back at Laili, a kid-friendly haven in Scotts Valley & tomato tips

Welcome to Lily Belli on Food, a weekly food-focused newsletter from Lookout’s food and drink correspondent, Lily Belli. Keep reading for the latest local food news for Santa Cruz County — plus a few fun odds and ends from my own life and around the web.

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… Laili Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz resumed lunch service for the first time since the pandemic on Friday. It’s now served Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Why the long pause, when many other restaurants have reopened sooner? The restaurant felt that after the pandemic, guests were slow to return. “The demand simply was not there,” says Mary Dunlap, the office manager, and Laili, like other restaurants, struggled to find staff. “But people are going out again and we’ve had an uptick in business this year. We felt the time was right to reintroduce lunch.” And, Laili now has a good team of restaurant staff to serve customers.

Laili offers Mediterranean cuisine with Afghan influence, and is known for its beautiful “secret” courtyard located on Cooper Street off of Pacific Avenue, across from Abbott Square. The lunch menu is similar to the dinner menu, with the addition of lunch combos that start at $16 and wraps and flatbreads for $14. View the menu and make reservations at

Haven Café, coming to Scotts Valley in early 2024, will have a play zone for young children.
(Via Haven Café)

… As the parent of a toddler, I’ve often wished there was a place I could go to catch up with friends where my son could run around and have fun, too. Before you say park — have you tried going when it’s raining or cold? Not fun.

It looks like Shastina Troup, a former preschool teacher, was reading my thoughts — she’s opening a new coffeehouse in Scotts Valley that aims to be a safe, welcoming place for both young children and grown-ups. Haven Café will be half café, with a modern interior, comfy chairs, and a breakfast and lunch menu, and half indoor play zone, with a climbing wall, sensory exhibits, puzzles and more.

Troup is finalizing a location on Scotts Valley Drive and plans to open early 2024. An official opening date is forthcoming. Read more on Lookout.

… Tomato gardeners — are you concerned about wet fall-ish weather harming your tomatoes, just as they’re ripening? Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond has you covered. In this video from September 2021, Karla DeLong, gardener and flower farmer extraordinaire, tells you what to do if your tomatoes crack on the vine and offers tips on what to do with them. In short — pick them ASAP, before fungus and mold set in, even if they’re a few days short of ripe.


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inside Slice Project in Watsonville, purveyor of New York-style pizza
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County is obsessed with pizza. There are more restaurants and pop-ups specializing in different styles of pizza than you can shake a slice at, and more coming online all the time. Slice Project in Watsonville stands out from the crowd with New York-style pies that are thin and crispy, topped with rich marinara and gooey — never rubbery — cheese that pulls from the center in long, delicious strands. Here’s what you should order if you go.


Goodles now sells a box of mac & cheese every 2 seconds, the company reports. The Santa Cruz-based startup launched its “gooder,” nutrient-packed boxed mac & cheese less than two years ago and customers can now find its colorful boxes at more than 35,000 locations nationwide. My whole family loves it — check out my story from November 2021 to learn about this local company.


Over the weekend, Marco, Cecilia and I attended a birthday party for my friend’s 5-year-old twins. I thought the theme was such a cute idea for small children — it was a pancakes-and-pajamas party on a Sunday morning. Kids and adults showed up in their PJs and enjoyed a pancake bar with lots of fresh fruit, marshmallows, two different kinds of sprinkles and chocolate chips, plus bacon, quiche, coffee, juice and mimosas for the grown-ups. I appreciated being in the comfort of my cozies and not having to dress two children in party clothes, and Marco and his little friends loved dressing up their pancakes. Another guest even brought fancy maple syrup infused with edible glitter! The real present was both kids were home and napping by 12:30 p.m. I’m definitely keeping this idea handy for future parties.


… about an important moment in local agricultural history. Last week, I reported that Santa Cruz County is on high alert for detection of the invasive and destructive oriental fruit fly, whose detection in parts of the Bay Area resulted in large monthslong quarantines. While researching that story, I came across a photo essay by the San Francisco Chronicle on the history of an invasion of Mediterranean fruit flies in the Bay Area in the early 1980s. The pests got out of hand and led to a “pesticide frenzy” of harmful chemicals sprayed all over the South Bay, East Bay and Peninsula. Today’s preventative measures aim to ensure that such extreme measures never need to be taken again, Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner David Sanford told me. Check it out here for a quick history lesson.


➤ Despite low unemployment and rising wages, nonprofits say they are continuing to see a rising demand for food assistance. “The economic crisis that’s causing millions and millions of families to turn to food banks for assistance has not abated,” one exec says, “and people are still struggling and are still wondering where they’re going to get their next meal.” (NBC News)

➤ If passed, the California Food Safety Act will ban some food additives found in popular packaged snacks such as Skittles. The bill targets additives that are already banned in Europe or have been known to cause cancer in mice, and it has bipartisan support. (Food & Wine)

➤ The starting wage for fast-food workers in California is about to get a big bump. The minimum wage will increase from $15.50 an hour to $20 an hour on April 1, 2024, as part of an agreement among advocates for California’s fast-food restaurants, lawmakers and union leaders. (National Review)


~ Lily