For being a relatively small town, Santa Cruz ends up in the media a lot, whether it’s being featured in the New York Times as an ideal destination, or being poked fun at by the folks at Comedy Central.
Santa Cruz restaurants have also received some media spotlight, often for their own unusual cuisine.
After all, what’s more unusual than a diner that serves Vietnamese food?
Santa Cruz Diner
Guy Fieri, the porcupine-headed host of Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, remarked on the strangeness of sharing a spring roll appetizer before biting into a typical greasy hamburger. This culinary mash-up comes from the perfect storm of owners Chip and Kim Kirchner — he grew up on the East coast and knows diners, and she knows Vietnamese food from her own family.
During his 2009 visit, Guy learned from Kim how to make staples like pho (the seasoning process is truly enlightening — who knew that much cinnamon went into pho?) and spring rolls.
Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant
Santa Cruz Diner isn’t the only spot Guy’s visited. In 2010, the family-run staff at Aldo’s showed Guy how they make their homemade ravioli, sauces, and calamari, which Guy called “some of the most tender I’ve ever had.”
The episode also highlighted the restaurant’s fresh seafood preparation, which hasn’t changed since they opened in 1977.
Moving on to dessert, local institution Marini’s has been featured on not one, but two Food Network shows. Sunny’s Summer Eats did a spot on the famously strange and delicious chocolate-covered bacon, while on Road Tested, the Dean brothers learned how their saltwater taffy is made on the Boardwalk.
“Parents bring their kids because their parents brought them,” fourth-generation owner Joe Marini told them.
Hoffman’s Bistro and Patisserie
The coverage of Marini’s is super sweet in more ways than one, but not all Food Network shows are strictly positive. Hoffman’s Bistro and Patisserie was the focus of Restaurant Impossible, a show that takes struggling restaurants and tries to turn them around. Hoffman’s was suffering from debt, family drama, and a stale interior.
Host Robert Irvine took the old, outdated restaurant and turned it on its head. The owners’ son, Adam, had been begging them for five years to put in a bar where the old pastry case used was, and Irvine took his side, helping Adam to prove himself to his parents. The new bar is chic and fresh, where the pastry case was boring and out of place.
In a recent interview with the Sentinel, general manager Tracy Shaw called the experience since the makeover a “roller coaster ride,” but admits that the restaurant might not still exist without the Food Network’s help.
These four establishments were all proud to be showcased on Food Network, but there are still so many more places that deserve recognition for their own unique flavors — Saturn Cafe, Burger., and Verve Coffee Roasters come to mind as just a few. If you were a Food Network executive, what in Santa Cruz would you spotlight? Let us know in the comments below!