When owners Vanessa and Ron Wilkerson were opening Samba Rock Acai Café, they encountered many roadblocks along the way. For instance, the city assessed there would be a $30,000 traffic-impact fee for their restaurant. So the duo improvised. They built an indoor bike parking area, reducing the fee while still providing customers a place to park their wheels. This is just one example in which Ron has defied what some might see as a career-ending set-back. In 1988, the former professional BMX Freestyle rider fell into a coma after failing to land a no-hander, no-footer trick on his bike. Though some might have given up after a life-threatening experience like that—he suffered short-term memory loss and even forgot some of the BMX tricks that he had pioneered—Ron got back on his bike. And if he hadn’t, he would never have traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil, met Vanessa, married her, or opened Samba Rock Acai Café.
The menu at Samba Rock Acai Café pays homage to the country where the Wilkersons met and where Vanessa grew up. Blended Brazilian berries and mix-ins, such as bananas and peanut butter, make up the base for their acai bowls. They crown this base with toppings such as fresh fruit, avocado, coconut cream, and granola. Their smoothies also feature acai, as well as organic ingredients, which have never been tainted by spray tanners to look more appealing to customers. To round out their South American-inspired menu, they serve yerba mate—steeped leaves of the mate plant—with acai to sweeten each sip.
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.
Nimbly darting through the forest of white-clothed tables in the Milano Ristorante Italiano dining rooms, attentive waiters carry platters of traditional Italian dishes and bottles of fine wines. In the kitchen, seasoned chefs labor over sizzling stoves, folding seafood, meats, and fresh vegetables into northern- and southern-Italian classics. Diners can sample baked pastas, veal dishes, and gourmet pizzas, such as the Milano, layered with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and peppers. Meanwhile, seasoned bartenders mix martinis, margaritas, and specialty cocktails as skillfully as a vindictive construction worker mixes concrete into his boss’s convertible.
Vibrant oil paintings speckle the restaurant's textured walls, adding to the rustic decor and looking down on tables hosting family outings and romantic first dates. Outside on the expansive patio, a brick fireplace illuminates tables of alfresco diners and the cascading water of the ornamental fountain.
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.
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.