I fell in love with this place initially because of the unparalleled panini. I fell deeper in love when I realized that if you sit outside you can bring your dog and order a treat for your pet from a special dogs' menu. But it's the pace and friendliness of this restaurant that's so special. Owner Farouk likes to know his regular customers, and he greets you like family. Cozy seating, cool jazz, movie nights with a drop-down screen, and a personal touch all make this one of my favorite spots in Santa Cruz.
But it took me a while—I was distracted by the panini (especially the Cheddar, Onion and Cumin)—to find the hidden gems on the menu. The homemade hummus with pita and veggies is the best hummus I've ever had, by a wide margin. And the Caesar salad is a revelation. Farouk does a light dressing. There's nothing heavy or mayo-y or out-of-a-bottle here. He shaves the cheese, so you get big surface area and therefore big flavor on your tongue. And the croutons (panini-grilled wedges of bread, thin and perfect) are rubbed with fresh garlic for a giant burst of flavor. You should absolutely try this place if you haven't already.
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