10 Must-Try Sandwiches in Santa Cruz County

Best Santa Cruz SandwichesPhoto: Hoisin Pork Sandwich from Charlie Hong Kong

There are so many terrific sandwiches in Santa Cruz County, it’s hard to pick a favorite.  So I’ve picked 10 scrumptious sandwiches – well actually, nine, because I’d like you, dear readers, to select the 10th one!  You can do this by posting a comment that mentions a sandwich you love from somewhere in Santa Cruz County, that didn’t make it on the list.  I can’t wait to hear about a few “must-try” sandwiches that I have never eaten!

1. Meatball from Lillian’s

Many people flock to the family-run Italian restaurant for its great pasta offerings, but it also has very satisfying sandwiches including Meatball ($8.95), served on a Ciabatta roll with provolone cheese. The meatballs themselves are flavorful and hearty, and they’re smothered in the restaurant’s Sunday Gravy: rich tomato-based sauce simmered for hours with ground pork, ground beef, Italian sausage, and country spareribs. My husband and I also love the Sausage sandwich, so we often order one of each and split them for the best of both worlds!

Lillian’s Italian Kitchen
1116 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

2. Caprese from Café Iveta

Since Café Iveta is an offshoot of a wholesale baked goods company, you would think folks would mostly flock to the Westside Santa Cruz bakery/cafe for pastries like their renowned scones. But the sandwiches are divine, and my personal favorite is the Caprese sandwich ($7). Ingredients like homemade basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, homemade aioli, and a Ciabatta roll combine to create a moist, flavorful sandwich that’s also beautiful.

Café Iveta
2125 Delaware Ave., Santa Cruz

3. 38 North Chicken Salad from The Picnic Basket

This café, operated by the same folks as Penny Ice Creamery and Assembly, specializes in seasonal offerings made with local farm and artisan goods. Lots of items rotate, but mainstays include this delicious sandwich ($8.75) featuring a generous portion of chicken salad made from locally raised chickens, avocado, Happy Boy Farms greens, and turmeric pickled onions made on-site, all placed inside rustic sourdough-wheat-rye bread from Companion Bakeshop.

The Picnic Basket
125 Beach St., Santa Cruz

4. Torta de Jamón from The Buttery

Tortas are Mexican sandwiches filled with toppings traditionally found on tacos and burritos, with the main difference being the ingredients are inside a roll instead of a tortilla. The Buttery’s delectable Torta ($8) has the bakery and café using Saag’s black forest ham, homemade refried black beans, tomatoes, marinated red onions, pickled jalapeños, avocado, and two Mexican cheeses. There’s also a without-ham version available for 25 cents less.

The Buttery
702 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

5. BELT from Zoccoli’s Deli

Some folks might say don’t mess with a classic like the BLT. But Zoccoli’s did, and they created a great sandwich, the BELT ($6.75) with bacon, egg salad, lettuce, and tomato on toasted wheat bread. Having bacon and egg as ingredients, it’s reminiscent of breakfast, but since it’s egg salad, it feels more like lunch — a unique and delightful combination. Purists will be happy to know they can still order classic BLTs!

Zoccoli’s Deli
1534 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

6. Hoisin Pork from Charlie Hong Kong

The casual Asian café is most popular for its affordable noodle bowls, but its Vietnamese sandwiches are definitely worth ordering. The meat in the Hoisin Pork sandwich ($6.20) has been braised, then roasted, in ginger and hoisin sauce. The pork’s flavors are complemented by marinated organic carrots, daikon, and fresh herbs on a small baguette baked in-house. The daikon and carrots give the sandwich a really nice crunch.

Charlie Hong Kong
1141 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

7. Tri-tip from Masood’s Liquor & Deli

Every day, at least 30 pounds of tri-tip—sometimes 50!— are barbecued out in front of the store. Masood first made the popular sandwich about 14 years ago; once a customer eats one, he says they’re hooked and drive regularly from cities including Salinas, San Jose, and Watsonville. The sandwich ($6.99), served on French bread from Aldo’s Italian Bakery, is offered five different ways. These include a sweet and spicy bbq sauce, jalapeno sauce, French dip style, or mayonnaise and mustard.

Masood’s Liquor & Deli
7970 Highway 9, Ben Lomond

8. Portabello-Artichoke from Dharma’s

The longstanding, vegetarian Dharma’s is a veritable Capitola institution and with good reason. It offers consistently tasty and affordable meals, including the Portabello-Artichoke Sandwich ($11.95). This features grilled portabello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and onions, plus cheddar cheese melted on top. Ingredients are placed on a Francese roll with aioli, and the result is a large, satiating sandwich accompanied by a refreshing green salad with house vinaigrette.

4250 Capitola Road, Capitola

9. Tuna Melt from Staff of Life

It never occurred to me to pay someone else for a tuna sandwich—feels like something I can make at home. Then I tried a Tuna Melt ($6.99) from the deli at Staff of Life, and my opinion changed. The albacore tuna salad is moist, well seasoned, and overflowing. The salad is prepared on-site with house-made vegan mayonnaise. It’s served with your choice of cheese and bread (all bread is made at Staff), plus toppings like tomato, sprouts, spinach, and cucumber. For my version, I prefer Staff’s cheddar cheese and whole wheat bread.

Staff of Life
1266 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

10. Your Turn!

So, what do you think? What’s your favorite sandwich? Please leave a comment below and name your favorite – whether it’s one that I mentioned, or one that’s not on this list!

About Tara Fatemi Walker

Tara Fatemi Walker first fell in love with Santa Cruz as a UCSC student long ago. She returned in 2004 and is grateful to live in such a wonderful community. She loves to write about food, restaurants, and culinary events; see more of her writing at santacruzfoodie.com.

  • This list is not complete without a sandwich, any sandwich, from Garden Liquors & Deli on Soquel (near Dominican), although I hear the Italian is most popular. And #11 would be a fakin’ bacon BLT at Saturn Cafe.

    • E says:

      Agreed. Garden Liquor and Deli has got to be on a top ten sandwich list. You can’t go wrong with any fresh made sandwich at the deli but I’d say their pastrami and pepper jack on a sweet roll is the most special though.

      • Joe says:

        Best Pastrami in town!!!

    • Shanan says:

      Garden Deli HANDS DOWN!!! I am vegetarian, so I get the veggie sandwich, and it’s loaded with fresh tasty vegetables! I add sprouts to mine as I love sprouts!

      • Joe says:

        Totally agree! Garden Liquors and Deli definitely needed to be in the top 10!!!

    • Joe says:

      Totally agree!!!

  • Stijn says:

    Eric’s Deli. Abbotts Habit!

  • Rick says:

    The Market Tri Tip Sandwich at Crown Deli Cafe in Capitola is wonderful! They BBQ it in front of the store.

  • Great article. How can you leave the Bagelry off?

  • createsure says:

    Shrimp Salad Sandwich from Zoccoli’s. Shrimp with the egg you talked about on the BELT. Trust me, this one’s better.

    • createsure says:

      Also has lettuce and tomato (and onion), so I guess its a lot like the BELT, but with shrimp instead of bacon. I love bacon, but the combination of flavors on the SSS is sooooo good.

  • JPoGo says:

    The Cajun Fish Sandwich from AJs Market on Soquel in Aptos. So spicy. So fresh. SO GOOD.

  • RussellJ says:

    D’Anna’s Deli in Soquel has the best sandwiches in the County. (I wish Ike’s would open up somewhere.) Their paninis are terrific, but their best sandwich is the Gene Burns — roast beef, grilled red bell peppers and pesto. Yowza.

  • Joe says:

    Garden liquors and deli! The Pastrami is the best in town! My son loves the meatball sandwich! Really, you can’t go wrong with anything you order there!!!

  • Kriste says:

    Garden Deli is Fantastic!!! I agree with All the sandwiches listed, they are incredible ( sorry have not had #7, but I will soon). One of my local favorites for many years is the Muffaletta Sandwich form Upper Crust!! Yumm-o! Now I know a burger is not really considered a sandwich, but Jack’s has rocked for decades.

  • brent says:

    Pastrami Bacon Cheese at Joes. Got one by accident once and haven’t wanted to order anything different since. Melted cheese, crusty bread, and thick bacon too!

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