.Adding Up: Ivéta Downtown Gives an Up-and-coming Part of Town a Magnetic Bistro

Just like your favorite barkeep can be so many things—a psychologist, an entertainer, a confidant, a creative, a security guard—a great cafe can contain multitudes.

It can be a non-negotiable caffeine pitstop, a study spot, a social center, a snack factory, a proverbial “third place” that’s actually 10 places in one.

Westside Santa Cruz’s Cafe Iveta checks those boxes, and a few more. Yes, the family-owned and Italy-inspired cafe does an honest cup of Lavazza coffee at the beautiful marble bar, but also A+ apricot scones, fried egg-chili chive biscuits, homemade soups, crisp salads, gourmet sandwiches and curated wines from California and Italy.

That’s why it was welcome news for UC Santa Cruz when Ivéta won the contract to run the Campus Cafe in the Graduate Student Commons, providing coffee, burgers, poke bowls, boba, fresh-cut fries and more.

That also boded well for the third member of the budding dynasty, Ivéta Bistro and Wine Bar, which is celebrating a year in business on Pacific Avenue between downtown and the beach.

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I stopped by to check it out, and came away jealous of anyone who lives in the 100 new apartment units above it. I’d give you my car to have an airy, sleek, unpretentious and well-executed bistro share my building.

The food and drink menus are wisely curated, prices are reasonable (starters, pastas and flatbreads are in the $10-$20 range) and everything I tried gave the impression it’s tough to go wrong. 

Spinach-and-cheese-stuffed arancini arborio rice balls, fresh crab cakes (RIP Dungeness season), Brussels sprouts with bacon, toasted almonds and apples, tortellini alla panna (beef tortellini in a nice cream sauce) with fresh peas, pesto, butter and prosciutto cotto all were vibrant and comforting at the same time, balanced by Italian wines.

Lisa Bilanko co-owns the bistro with her parents and runs it along with the Westside café and flourishing catering branch. 

“I was born into it!” she says. “I just like hospitality. It comes naturally. I like serving people and being creative with food and entertainment, having an idea and seeing if it sells.” 

Ivéta Downtown would be a dynamite addition anywhere in the area, but it feels that much more helpful to have the family-run spot infill a stretch of Pacific that’s been underutilized. 

Located at 545 Pacific Ave., it serves 4:30-9:30pm nightly with brunch on the weekends (9:30am-2:30pm); more at iveta.com. And buon appetito.

FRESH DEVELOPMENT

Much-awaited—and much-needed—Aptos Foods is now open in the former Aptos Natural Foods. The same team behind Seascape Foods Market and Deli (Julie Kellman and Dan Hunt, who have been in the game for 18 years) has the place decorated with eye-catching murals by Mckella Suter and aisles stuffed with local organic produce, regional wines, bulk bins, house-prepared sandwiches and salads and specialty items like curated kitchenware and placemats. “We just love food, quality, health, local producers, local vendors and the community aspect,” Kellman says. “It’s such a necessity to have small, local stores. That’s where our passion is.”

8am-8pm daily. More at (831) 612-6748.

ZA ZA ZOOM

The Pizza Series in Scotts Valley has officially started serving its signature square Detroit-style pies and New York versions for indoor dining as of last week. Pizza World Cup-winning spinner Matt Driscoll and his partner Maddy Quesada’s operation occupies the former Tony & Alba’s location in the Winchester Shopping Center. Good people doing great food.

thepizzaseries.com 

HIGH SPIRITS

Santa Cruz Spirits’ flagship vodka recently claimed a “double gold” in the 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, meaning the entire panel of judges loved its flow. Find it at 20 local venues listed on its website, including El Palomar, Hideout and Pleasure Point Liquors.

santacruzspiritsco.com

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