The origins of dinner aren’t straightforward. The word “dinner” is from the Old French disner, meaning “dine,” which comes from the stem of Gallo-Romance desjunare, “to break one’s fast”. In Latin, however, ieiunus means “fasting, hungry.” Either way, eventually the term shifted to referring to the heavy main meal of the day, even if it had been preceded by a breakfast meal (or even both breakfast and lunch). There’s no doubt that dinner is the most highly esteemed mealtime — you don’t really see many proposals at breakfast. Light or heavy, here are our South Bay Best Dinner winners for 2023, selected by our editors — look for our readers’ choice winner, selected by our audience.
Featured Photo: The Farmers Union
South Bay Dinner Map
Named after proprietor Andrew Welch’s son, Asa focuses on elevated American classics like a pork chop with roasted apples, sauteed kale and mashed potatoes, but also takes a cue from Spain and Italy with dishes like saffron- and paprika-infused paella Valencia with shrimp and chorizo and a rich carbonara pasta. Fittingly, the robust wine list showcases stellar winemakers from both California and Europe, however the exquisitely crafted seasonal cocktails are also not to be missed. Lunch hours are Tuesday through Friday 11:30am to 1:30pm. Dinner hours are Monday 5pm to 8:30pm and Tuesday through Saturday 5pm to 9pm. asarestaurants.com
1010 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz
Frequently named as the best restaurant in Santa Cruz by locals, Bantam wows guests with its innovative and devoted approach to food. Chefs develop the deeply seasonal menu from scratch every day, showcasing the best of what the region offers. Sample dishes range from burrata with beets, pistachios and pecorino Romano, to fried chicken with butter beans, peas, fava beans, kale and chili butter. There is also an extensive line-up of crispy-crust pizzas with fresh tomato sauce and pockets mozzarella along with spicy honey. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 4:30pm to 8pm. Closed Monday and Sunday. bantam1010.com
East End Gastropub
You can’t go wrong with the Ranch Beef double cheeseburger or a perfectly crispy thin-crust pizza at this Capitola gastropub, but why not try the fried chicken bao buns or kabocha squash cannelloni? Everything on the menu pairs well with the restaurant’s selection of brews on tap from local brewers like Humble Sea, California-focused wine list and cocktails, too. Post-dinner bonus: The warm chocolate brownie with salted peanut ice cream and caramel is divine. Brunch hours are Saturday and Sunday 10am to 3pm. Dinner hours are Monday through Sunday 4pm to 9pm. Happy hour is Monday through Friday 4pm to 6pm. eastendpub.com
Flea Street Café
This charming eatery specializes in Californian-New American cuisine: think fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Their menu is constantly changing, but exceptional comfort food is a constant. If you enjoy a spicy cocktail, we recommend the Comin’ In Hot. Make sure to save room for dessert, it will most definitely be worth it. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 4:30pm to 8pm. cooleatz.com
845 Main St., Half Moon Bay
Open since 1987, Pasta Moon embodies the farm-to-table concept in real terms, building its menu around organic produce, the catch of the day, and the finest cuts of meats and poultry. Eco-friendly and inventive, you’ll find a world of house-made pasta here ranging from puttanesca to lasagna to pappardelle and beyond. Don’t sleep on the drinks either. There is a bevy of unique seasonal cocktails offered like the Tulum margarita with Hornitos reposado tequila, jalapeno agave, lime and cranberry, and the Atticus Finch, with Old Forester bourbon, Campari, benedictine, and plum bitters. Hours are Monday, Thursday and Sunday 5pm to 8pm; Friday and Saturday 5pm to 8:30pm. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. pastamoon.com
At Oak + Violet’s chic new American restaurant inside The Park James Hotel, cocktails and sharable starters like the crispy Brussels sprouts and shrimp and prosciutto croquettas, as well as mains like the grilled ribeye with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, garner high marks from locals and visitors alike, who also appreciate the many veg and gluten-free options on the menu. Enjoy it all in the elegant dining room or, better yet, in the spacious outdoor courtyard, where there are plenty of couches to spread out with a group. Regular live music performances and island-inspired Friday happy hours with tropical drinks and bites provide two more reasons to visit. Dinner hours are Monday through Saturday 5pm to 9pm. Happy hour is Monday through Thursday 4pm to 7pm; Aloha Friday happy hour Friday 4pm to 7pm. parkjames.com/oak-violet
One of the most reviewed restaurants on Yelp in the South Bay, Orenchi Ramen is a popular, intimate Japanese spot known for their ramen dishes. While you must try their ramen, we also recommend ordering the karaage and shishito peppers. Hours are 11am to 1pm, and 5pm to 7pm daily. To-go hours are daily from 11am to 2pm, and 5pm to 8pm. orenchi-ramen.com
Sidecar Modern Tavern
A New-American tavern serving high-quality dishes and drinks. You can expect a laidback atmosphere, ‘90s music, and speedy service at Sidecar Tavern. Come for the drinks, but stay for the food. We recommend ordering family style to try as many dishes as possible, but don’t miss the cauliflower appetizer. If you’re coming for dinner, book a reservation in advance. Dinner hours are Wednesday through Sunday 4:30pm to 9pm — reservations suggested. Brunch hours are Saturday through Sunday 11am to 2:30pm — first come, first served. sidecar7.com
Tamarine Restaurant & Gallery
This modern Vietnamese spot has an extensive menu of unique small and large plates. The upscale, chic décor matches the Michelin-star food and incredible service. We recommend the Banh Mi Roti and Garlic Noodles, and don’t miss their lengthy cocktail list. The drinks are just as tasty as they are aesthetically pleasing. Hours are Monday through Thursday 5pm to 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday 5pm to 9pm, and Sunday 5pm to 8pm. tamarinerestaurant.com
The Farmers Union
A cozy tavern with American eats, craft beers, and multiple TV’s making it a great sport-watching spot. From Smoked Brisket Tacos to Spicy Prawn Linguine, there’s something on the menu for everyone’s taste buds. We recommend the Fried Chicken with buttermilk smashed potatoes and bacon gravy, you will not be disappointed. Hours are Monday 12pm to 8pm, Tuesday through Thursday 12pm to 9pm, Friday 12pm to 10pm, Saturday 11am to 10pm, and Sunday 11am to 8pm. thefarmersunion.com
The Lexington House is a contemporary eatery serving seasonal California cuisine in downtown Los Gatos. Although indoor dining is limited, the attractive outdoor patio’s atmosphere is equally as elegant and comfortable. We recommend skipping the entrees and ordering multiple small plates. The beautifully presented small plates pack big flavor with quality ingredients. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday 4:30pm to 8:30pm, Friday and Saturday 4:30pm to 9pm. thelexlg.com
The Village Pub
A high-end eatery specializing in American cuisine. Grab a seat on their back patio, kept warm by multiple heat lamps and surrounded by plants and Meyer lemon trees, the ambiance is one of a kind. The menu changes seasonally to always offer the freshest fare year round, so you can’t go wrong with anything. If you’re having a tough time choosing, the pub burger is a fail-safe. Save room for the chocolate soufflé. Hours are Monday through Thursday 5pm to 9pm, Friday 11:30am to 2:30pm, and 5pm to 9pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 2pm, and 5pm to 9pm. thevillagepub.net
More Local Favorites in the South Bay
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