At Tillie Gort’s Cafe, the ingredients matter. This special emphasis is not a culinary ploy but a decision to serve people who want fresh, healthy fare that accommodates vegetarian, vegan, and wheat-free diets. The strategy has drawn flocks of hungry patrons and even inspired the Monterey County Weekly's Best of Monterey County to award Tillie Gort's with 17 consecutive nods as the area's Best Vegetarian Restaurant.
The house specials spotlight the cuisine’s discretion. On the middle-east combination plate, scoops of homemade hummus brush against spanish-saffron rice, a tabouleh salad, and the diner’s choice of grilled chicken or soy strips. With vegan cake alongside smooth, rich flan, this conscientious consideration extends to the dessert menu, from which vegetarians sate their sweet tooths and vegan clowns order materials for pie-in-the-face gags.
After a breakfast frittata, diners with french-roast coffee venture beyond the façade’s floor-to-ceiling windows to the outdoor patio. Red-clay roofing tiles cast cool shade over tabletops that await elbows, books, and post-brunch kisses.
Burgers, breakfasts, hot dogs, and other classic diner dishes get a vegetarian spin at Dharma's Restaurant. The kitchen staff stocks the pantry with as many organic ingredients as possible, including grains, fresh vegetables, and soy-protein products that have not been genetically modified or ever seen by cows. For breakfast, organic tofu is scrambled with thai curry spices, kalamata olives, or pesto. Whole-wheat buns embrace burgers formed from tempeh or spicy tofu and topped with vegan cheese and soy mayo. Chefs create a map of international flavors by sautéing baked tofu with thai peanut sauce or salsa, or simmering the cubes in curry and serving with papadam. Most items have vegan alternatives available, and a separate menu highlights gluten-free recipes.
From a business started in 1979 inside a tiny house on Mission Street, Saturn Cafe has grown into a green-certified restaurant filled with decorated tables, colorful booths, and a retro feel. Every night chefs whip up local and organic ingredients into vegan and vegetarian versions of traditional American diner staples.
In the kitchen, cooks prepare award-winning fries in trans-fat free oil that they recycle into bio-diesel fuel, and craft a BLT on sourdough with fakin' bacon. Skilled hands assemble omelets with organic eggs, red onions, and red chard, and whip up vegan and vegetarian milkshakes to wash down wheat- and gluten-free bites.
Owner and chef Ayoma Wilen took the reins at Pearl of the Ocean in 2010, and that year, the restaurant was named Best New Restaurant by both the Santa Cruz Weekly and Santa Cruz Good Times. Focusing on fresh, organic ingredients, Ayoma oversees the vegetarian-focused menus that outline delectable arrangements of locally sourced ingredients, including some culled from the area’s farmers markets, and Sri Lankan spices. These arrangements are manifested in dishes as colorful and complex as a 20-sided Rubik’s Cube. Pearl of the Ocean’s staff also pours a variety of libations and non-alcoholic beverages, such as the spicy chai tea, and their signature drink, Kiss of the Island Princess, is composed of Montresor Prosecco, hibiscus flower, and love potion.
Vibrant South American, North American, and Middle Eastern flavors come together between slices of bread at Mundos 2. According to a profile in the Monterey County Weekly, brothers Eli and Fernando Mundo, who also own Mundo's Cafe, not only use creative ingredients in their sandwiches—including paprika-flecked chicken breast and Argentinian tri-tip—but also slather them in secret housemade sauces.
Cream cheese and cranberry sauce join turkey breast, mustard aioli coats the pastrami sandwich, and housemade falafel sandwiches may be slathered in hummus. Burgers get flame-broiled before hitting buns, as do eggplant cutlets, red bell peppers, and other veggies.
Across eight locations in Northern California, Arteagas Food Centers bring a taste of Latin America to their respective communities with fresh, produce, meats, and authentic cremerias. Throughout the year, live bands and comedians combine with free events such as a Dia de Los Muertos party and a scavenger hunt to entertain guests while they shop. Three locations even host a full taqueria, where diners can sit down for freshly prepared hot foods such as barbacoa and chile verde.
Center Street Grill's airy interior blooms with the aroma of classic American fare, with a hint of Mediterranean and a subtle nod to Asian cuisines. The dinner menu coaxes taste buds into a trot with a starters such as the applewood-smoked-bacon-wrapped shrimp ($12.95). For the main attraction, five gourmet pizzas and five lush sandwiches sandwich an eclectic selection of entrees, such as the tofu curry with sweet potatoes and garden vegetables ($12.95) or the half-rack of baby back ribs, slow-braised and fast-served with coleslaw and fries ($12.95). Entrees also include the grilled skirt steak with blue cheese ($17.95) and the fiery southwest chicken pasta, corralling corn kernels, red and green peppers, and onions doused in a creamy chipotle sauce ($14.95). The restaurant also sports wireless Internet access and an outdoor brick patio shaded by umbrellas and jealously hovering clouds.