There’s a lot of restaurant turnover in Santa Horror characters movies loves Starbucks Coffee Friends shirt Cruz so some of what I thought of doesn’t exist anymore. I also thought of all my favorite Santa Cruz restaurants but I can’t say most of those offer a distinctly Santa Cruz experience. There was a raw food restaurant on Front Street over by where The Greek used to be (see?). It was good but didn’t last long. It was sort of a novelty. Surfrider Cafe is there now. There used to be a little hippie Indian place across from the Metro that we would go to – this one I would include in the Santa Cruz experience because our waitress was high and kept forgetting our order but we didn’t care because we were also high. It was college.
Someone else answered Saturn Cafe and I wish I’d Horror characters movies loves Starbucks Coffee Friends shirt thought of that because it’s a solid answer. For a more traditional answer to your question, the fish restaurant Dolphin at the very tip of the Santa Cruz wharf offers a great local experience. Not strictly a restaurant but still food related – Emily’s Good Things to Eat Bakery is a Santa Cruz original. Emily Reilly started the bakery after her baked goods gained popularity when she would bring treats to her friends studying for exams. She was also mayor of Santa Cruz. She has a wonderful perspective on cooking and life.