The Saturn Cafe Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz, CA is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant that is geared towards those vegetarians who are looking for a vegetarian meal that is not necessarily a healthy meal. The atmosphere is eclectic and postmodern and is a true reflection of the uniqueness and weirdness that define the Santa Cruz mindset.
As I mentioned above, the food at the Saturn Cafe is vegetarian/vegan but is not necessarily health-conscious. A number of the dishes served at the Saturn Cafe are fried in oil and are not very healthy. So I would not recommend the Saturn Cafe as a health-conscious restaurant, although everything I have had at the Saturn Cafe is delicious and well prepared. One of my favorite items is a “Tuno Melt” sandwich, which uses Tuno, a vegetarian tuna substitute, in place of traditional tuna. The Tuno is nearly indistinguishable from genuine tuna and the Tuno Melt sandwich is simply excellent, although somewhat less than healthy.
Another favorite item of mine at the Saturn Cafe is their garlic french fries. The french fries are extremely crispy and flavorful and served with heaps of fresh garlic. Again, the french fries are vegetarian but not even remotely healthy, but they are delicious and they easily rival the french fries found at most other restaurants. The french fries may only be rivaled by those served at Hank’s at the Hook Restaurant in Capitola, CA as far as french fries in Santa Cruz County go.
Another item of note at the Saturn Cafe are the milkshakes. While I do not believe that the milkshakes count as vegetarian, they are thick and creamy. One of my favorite milkshakes is the mint chocolate chip shake that is minty and thick with a generous portion of large chocolate chunks. The milkshakes are so thick that they are probably best eaten with a spoon instead of a straw, but they are rivaled by no other restaurant in Santa Cruz County.
The atmosphere in the Saturn Cafe is a double-edged sword. On the one hand the atmosphere is a true reflection of the culture in Santa Cruz. It is a combination of punk and hippie influences, and the entire decor is as eclectic as one would expect in a postmodern haven like Santa Cruz. Each table is actually a clear glass case and is filled with all sort of local artifacts and cultural icons, along with a fair amount of social movement propaganda. While the decor does not mesh well with my more conservative tastes, it is a uniquely Santa Cruz experience and a necessary stop for those who want to experience Santa Cruz in its fullest flower.
On the other hand, the atmosphere at the Saturn Cafe has all the drawbacks of Santa Cruz culture in addition to its eclectic character. The service at the Saturn Cafe is lackluster at best, and I would characterize the servers as highly unmotivated about customer service. It is not uncommon to have to wait a great deal of time to be seated, to have one’s order taken, and to receive the bill. The customers at the Saturn Cafe seem to be subject to the will of the employees rather than vice versa. The employees are always friendly, but they do not appear to be in any great rush to serve the customers. While this is in keeping with the pseudo-laid-back atmosphere in Santa Cruz in general (which is more of a front than a genuine laid-back vibe), it can be quite frustrating to wait for the server’s motivation to kick in gear, from the customer’s point of view.
In conclusion, the Saturn Cafe in downtown Santa Cruz, CA offers a true Santa Cruz experience with an eclectic atmosphere and decor. The food is vegetarian friendly without being overly healthy, but everything I have had at the Saturn Cafe has been delicious. The outstanding items are the “Tuno Melt”, the garlic french fries, and the mint chocolate milkshakes. In any case, the Saturn Cafe is a true reflection of Santa Cruz culture, both positive and negative.