Italian Restaurants in Santa Cruz

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If you read Louie’s story, you’ll note that his middle name is Martini and his ex-wives include Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor. You’ll also read about his modest childhood in Portofino, Italy, where he frequented the harbors, mingled with fishermen, and dreamed of serving fresh fish at his very own restaurant. This intersection of lightheartedness and a passion for seafood defines Louie Linguini’s—regardless of what’s fact and what’s fiction.

The restaurant occupies a second-story building with a patio that overlooks the blue expanse of Monterey Bay. Fresh seafood pops up in many of the menu's descriptions, no more so than on the restaurant’s signature cioppino, which is a dungeness-crab, clam, mussel, snapper, calamari, and shrimp stew served with a choice of whole crab legs or crabmeat. The kitchen also yields Italian eats such as 12-inch pizzas, spaghetti and housemade meatballs, and linguini with shrimp, artichokes, veggies, and garlicky cream sauce. Fueling each meal is a selection of wines, draft beers, and specialty martinis and mixed drinks.

660 Cannery Row
Monterey,
CA
US

The staff at Pleasure Pizza's East Side Eatery has had more than 35 years to curate their eclectic menu. The restaurant serves sandwiches, brunch, and house-specialty entrees, including fish tacos and fish and chips, that chef Derek Rupp makes with an eye to locally source food, a subject in which he has extensive knowledge.

800 41st Ave
Santa Cruz,
CA
US

Like clockwork, the dining room lights begin to flicker and the servers suddenly disappear. Music begins playing and diners are soon treated to a five-minute performance—complete with a choreographed dance number, a series of flames erupting from the grill tops, and a jaw-dropping display of dexterity from the eatery's internationally recognized pizza-spinning competitors. This happens every Friday and Saturday night at Kianti's Pizza & Pasta Bar, and it's exactly the sort of vibrant, festive atmosphere that owners Kelly Kissee and Tracy Parks-Barber wanted to create when they founded the restaurant in 2004.

Applause-inducing entertainment aside, the main goal of the servers and the chefs is to treat their guests to family-style Italian cooking and routine high fives. Diners can customize their own personal pizzas by adding as many as 30 different toppings—including everything from italian sausage and garlic to mushrooms and almonds—before the chefs bake each pie to an oven-crisped golden brown. Additionally, the menu features hearty sub sandwiches, pasta dishes smothered with garlic cream sauce, and hand-formed meatballs.

1100 Pacific Ave
Santa Cruz,
CA
US

The only Argentine-inspired restaurant in Santa Cruz, Star Bene serves “super comfort food,” as described by Christina Walters of Metro Active. Inside the low-lit dining room, which is reminiscent of a beach cottage, servers uncork bottles of Italian and Californian wines to complement swirls of homemade pasta, slow-cooked meats, and diners’ ever-rosier cheeks. Star Bene’s chefs use local, free-range meats and organic produce whenever available to create seafood, pastas, and meats complemented by beautifully simple sauces and fresh, stand-alone ingredients.

21245 E Cliff Dr
Santa Cruz,
CA
US

Husband-and-wife owners Joe and Georgette Hammana developed a knack for restauranteering while working in the family restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon. After immigrating to the United States, the duo opened Joe’s Pizza & Subs, which serves New York–style pizza pies and more than 50 sandwiches and burgers. The menu, which contains many of Georgette’s original recipes and grade-school report cards, offers something for everyone, from specialty pizzas to vegan and Middle Eastern cuisine.

841 N Branciforte Ave
Santa Cruz,
CA
US

Since 1994, Wingstop's franchise locations—more than 600 currently operating or in the works—have cooked up and served more than 2 billion wings, and amassed a considerable following. Whether regular or boneless, these modern-day game-day staples come in one of the shop's 10 signature flavors: Louisiana rub and hickory-smoked barbecue have a classic spicy kick, whereas tanginess prevails in the lemon pepper, Hawaiian, and teriyaki.

Because the wings are always made to order, they derive their heat from their seasonings and their recent stay inside the fryer, rather than from heat lamps or tiny, individual Snuggies. The same amount of care goes into the Wingstop's housemade sides, which range from fries that are cut daily at each shop to the bourbon baked beans. Even the honey mustard, blue cheese, and ranch dipping sauces are mixed onsite.

845 Almar Ave
Santa Cruz,
CA
US