Malabar Cafe

  • Vegetarian Vegetarian
    ( 22 reviews )

514 Front St, Santa Cruz, California, USA, 95060

Sri Lankan and Asian fusion cuisine. Also known as 'Asian Rose' (name for its lunch restaurant). Open Tue-Sun 5:00pm-9:00pm. closed Sun-Mon.

Categories: Vegan-friendly, Lacto, Take-out, Asian, Fusion, Sri Lankan

22 Reviews

First Review by groovyvegan

Exquisite Vegan Treat - Edit

Five stars for flavor, presentation and plant based options! One of my favorite places in Santa Cruz! So worth the money for the quality and quantity. What a treat!

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Fantastic and most exquisite! - Edit

Malabar is a super cute family-run Sri Lanka Restaurant. Though it’s more modern fusion then authentic, but in a very enjoyable way. They had live peaceful music, and very flavorful meals. We ordered the gobj Manchurian, the butternut squash ravioli in a curry sauce, the truffle mushroom curry dosa, the cheese Khota (Sri Lankan street dish which basically tastes like a pad Thai with cheese), and a cashew vegan ice cream. Highly recommend and will definitely revisit!

Pros: reasonably priced, family run , delicious!

Cons: none!

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

The BEST! - Edit

Ate here last night. The food was sooo yummy! Everything we got was fantastic. There is such a variety on the menu of things that sounded delicious we literally could not decide and had the waiter recommend various dishes. The prices were amazingly reasonable. The cauliflower fritters were my favorite, although it was hard to choose since everything was so great. One of the best vegetarian restaurants in Santa Cruz County, by far. I only wish I had found it sooner!

Pros: Taste of Food, Amazing variety of vegetarian choices, Prices

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

You must try this place - Edit

My family and I had dinner here just tonight. This was an amazingly good restaurant with creative, delicious food presented beautifully.

Despite (or perhaps in response to) some older reviews here, the menu has vegan and gluten-free items clearly marked. We ordered a total of eight dishes (five appetizers and three mains) and each one was better than the last. I don't know enough about Sri Lankan cuisine to know if this is representative of the cuisine in general or just the chef's touch, but the mix of flavors and textures was just outstanding.

Prices were incredibly reasonable.

We are in town on vacation; we joked that we'd consider moving to Santa Cruz just to be able to eat here regularly. At least I thought we were joking ...

You must must must try this place.

Pros: fresh, creative, good value

Cons: can't really think of any cons

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Best Tasting Food in Town - Edit

I walked around looking for the restaurant, but they moved it a few years back.

The room was very dimly lit and quite romantic. It even had candles lighting the place.

About 30% of the dishes are vegan and are now clearly marked on the menu.

I had the pumpkin and coconut sauce mixed with black curry. Simply divine! One of the best dishes I had in my life.

Pros: Taste of Food, Atmosphere, Quality of Food

Cons: Was $20 for 1 dish and rice

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Intriguing cuisine - Edit

My dinner here was interesting. The place was dimly lit, perhaps romantic, but a little too dark. I had the tempeh lala. The tempeh was crisp to the point of being too solid. The brown biryani rice was not sufficiently cooked. Otherwise the dish was fine. Service was a little inexperienced, but gave a good effort.

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Creative vegetarian/vegan Sri Lankan/Indian food - Edit

An elegant and creative restaurant, featuring vegetarian and vegan cuisine of Sri Lanka and India (secondarily). The menu features a few traditional, but moreso unique dishes prepared with local ingredients. Drinks are also unique. Coconut roti was really tasty & light. The vegetable dosa was nicely done & light on spice. The khotha roti was like the traditional streetfood I had when I was doing relief work there after the tsunami a decade ago. I loved the caramel & ginger almond shake. Service was fast. It is hard to find creative reasonably priced vegetarian food with flavor & this is one of them.

Pros: creative, unique menu, not too spicy

Cons: server not totally helpful, pastas made with egg

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Amazing flavor if you are flexible - Edit

We ate dinner there last night and enjoyed it immensely for the food! The service was not very friendly or informative but not unfriendly. The menu does not denote vegan vs vegetarian so there may be no vegan food at all as I'm sure there was ghee in most dishes we had. We had samosa and eggplant and naan and some pistachio drink w almond milk and dates. Minimal decor which would be fine if they dusted. The ceiling drape had an ugly stain on it. The bathrooms were clean and prices were reasonable and the place was packed. Would definitely go back but not as a vegan.

Pros: flavor was amazing, price reasonable , clean bathrooms

Cons: no official vegan items, hard to communicate w staff, hard to hear - acoustics were bad

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Beware Vegans - you are rolling the dice - Edit

This restaurant has so many things working against it:

First, the menu does not indicate which items are vegan (except for the drinks). We alerted the server up front that we are vegan but the person didn't not know the menu well enough to recommend vegan choices. The ordering process was very confusing because we were told some items were vegan but after asking clarifying questions the server quickly changed the answer. After being assured that everything we ordered was vegan our dishes arrived made with dairy and egg. When brought to their attention was told "then don't eat it". YUK

For some reason the chef has elected to under season dishes and not provide basic salt/pepper at the tables (or knives for that matter). To complicate things the course timing was just wrong - all the courses came out at the same time and were uncomfortably stacked on plates that were dramatically out of proportion to the tiny table size - one plate alone was almost the length of the entire table.

Too bad, I wanted to like this place but there are too many problems.

My experience at Malabar made me want to wash my mouth with soap.

Pros: good location, ample seating, easy parking

Cons: staff does not know the menu, poor service, bland food

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Reviewer Avatar

  Contributions +285

Best Veg/an date spot in Santa Cruz - Edit

As far as I'm concerned - this is by far one of the best veggie restaurants around. And this from a serious vegan food snob. As for the whole Vegan/Veg confusion which seems to be rampant in the reviews here, Malabar is currently vegetarian, with a good 80% of the dishes and 90% of the beverages available as Vegan. There was a time, when the Asian Rose operated a buffet style service at lunch which was all Vegan, but the Malabar has always been mixed veg/an for dinner.
So, wnat makes this place great? Everything. I've eaten here a couple of dozen times and never been disappointed or even a little let down. Entree portions are large and filling, though some of the side dishes and appetizers may leave you feeling like you got a bit little for the cost. Sampler plates are a great way to fix this, and to get a feel for the different tastes and even styles on the menu. Some things are very spicy while others are bland. It's the dish. That's one of the great things about a family owned and run establishment though, if you ask, they'll tell you why one dish tastes this way and another like that. They'll even tell you which distant Sri Lankan Auntie or Grandma first started cooking the particular dish. The entire family(Mom and Pop, 3 brothers and 2 wives)are usually there, and my experience has always been that they are very sensitive to and accomodating of Vegan needs.
That being said, the food is amazing. I do agree that it is way beyond the traditional Asian veggie fare, and I have never had tempeh served as well as the Tempeh LaLa, the Tempeh Pineapple, and the Tempeh Blackbean Garlic(that's right-3 astounding Tempeh dishes, and that's not all). You've got a good dozen vegan options for dinner, and the atmosphere and ambience is very relaxing. A great location for a veg date. You will definately get a kiss out of it.
Also, the Malabar does have an alcohol permit(for beer and wine) but they don't serve it for religious reasons. You can however, bring your own wine or beer. That's right. You can even order, then send someone from your party to get some matching spirits. Otherwise, bring a nice light Chardonay or a Pinot Grigio.
Parking is a bit hairy, street parking may be less hassle but if it's before 8pm you'll have to pay the meter. Call ahead on Friday and Saturday nights to avoid a wait. Lots of folks trying to get kissed those nights.
A bit expensive for some tastes, but completely worth it.
5 Cows!
Updated from previous review on Wednesday December 29,

Pros: Great Food., Nice atmosphere., Unique experience.

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

amazing food, romantic setting - Edit

Lots of amazing vegan options, we had 3 small plates (artichokes with green curry, jalapeño pakoras with chick pea coating and chutneys and salad rolls) all amazing with potato dosa and kafta India entree. All were great. Topped with a lavender chocolate vegan mouse with figs and Concord grapes. Great romantic place. Our new favorite place!
Updated from previous review on Wednesday September 25, 2013

Pros: food, setting, presentation

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Outstanding - Edit

Long tradition of very good food.

Pros: Veggie-oreintation, Reliable

Cons: a little Pricey

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Interesting - Edit

This is one of the few nice all-veg places here, and the food is interesting... Sri Lankan-American. The Colombo dumplings in tomato sauce was overly salty. Go for the spicy eggplant/tofu/peanut sauce instead. The hibiscus cooler drink is nice.

Pros: cozy setting, live music some nights

Cons: pricey

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Great place to go with friends - Edit

This is one of our favorite restaurants in Santa Cruz. We go there all the time, and we have never been disappointed. It is a great place to take friends, and get lots of dishes to share. The staff always gives great recommendations. Even carnivores love this place. As for vegan/vegetarian, it is mostly vegan. And while it might not be indicated on the menu, they are willing to let you know the few non-vegan dishes. One minor thing, the service is not fast, so don't go for a quick dinner. Lunch is much faster, and is a delicious, inexpensive and quick option.

Pros: Delicious, Healthy, Mostly vegan

Cons: Slow service

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Nice people and good food - Edit

We had been to SC before and hadn't know about Malabar (normally sticking to the Saturn Cafe) so were delighted when the guy at our hotel recommended them as doing good vegan food. The owner/waiter was really nice and very concerned that everything was right for us and even told us which dishes he thought would be better for us. I loved my mango and almonds curry but my partner wasn't so keen on the Nasi Goreng (too much of a mustard taste) and because of this and the fact that the waiter had forgotten to get our drinks, he then proceeded to make us more food on the house including an amazing corn soup and a really nice vegan chocolate mousse until we explained that we were really full and he really didn't have to make it up to us! It is very clear that they really do care about their customers and that their customers like their food. We would recommend this place for the pure Sri Lanka heart and food.

Pros: Friendly, Caring, Understand vegan

Cons: Quite dark, Quite close tables

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Fantastic - Edit

This is my favorite restaurant. It is also my carnivore dad's favorite restaurant. Every dish is so rich and interesting and full of flavor. We've been coming here long enough that they remember I'm vegan and tell me if there's something I can't eat or that needs to be altered. You could not imagine our disappointment when they stopped being open for lunch, but dinners are also great.

Pros: amazing food, nice staff

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Great place for date night - Edit

The atmosphere at Malabar is fantastic and very romantic at night. The customer service is great and there is a large number of vegan options. However, if you are vegan I would make sure to ask the server about ingredients since some dishes does contain egg or dairy(egg noodles, goat cheese, etc.). The only complaints that I have is that some of the dishes are very over priced and a few of the things I've tried just plain lacked flavor.

Pros: Healthy, Good Atmosphere, Friendly Staff

Cons: Overpriced, Sometimes bland

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

What was the last dude smoking? - Edit

First I talked to the very considerate gentleman who takes the orders. The menu is now all vegan - don't take my word for it, go there.

Now to get started everything on the menu is pretty much the or next to the best tasting food I have ever encountered - personal bias of course. The portions are good and while the staff isn't "friendly", they get your orders to you quickly, like a few minutes after sitting down.

This restaurant is the best vegetarian restaurant bar none in Santa Cruz and likely puts up a good fight against others in the larger bay area. I don't want to give out cows like they were nothing, but this is definately at least a 4 out of 5 restaurant, and because of the very very reasonable price, and the fact that the food is so exotically good I'm going to put 5 stars.

Pros: tastey, healthy, very reasonable

Cons: no home delivery, not open for breakfast

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Wish I could enjoy it more without potential guilt - Edit

First off I have to state my one major complaint about Malabar, for a vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurant, those two words are not mentioned anywhere, especially where it is most important to me, on the menu! I'm a very strict vegan who just won't accept any animal products entering into his body and there is a certain amount of accountability of the restaurant that is lost when the items on the menu do not state that they are vegetarian or vegan.
I normally don't even eat at such "veg friendly" restaurants unless they specifically make known exactly how cruelty free their food items are. However tonight was a special occasion for a friend who wished to eat there so I joined her and some other friends in eating there.
And so tonight my greatest fear in vegan dining came true. I have eaten at Malabar a few times before, almost always ordering the same exact dish because I was assured that it was vegan. Only tonight to have the waitress insist that the dish I had previously consumed at other visit's had eggs in the noodles.
This is unacceptable!
I understand waiters and waitresses and even cooks can make mistakes, but this is why I stay away from such establishments that would even have the leniency for such mistakes by including eggs and dairy in their kitchen.

Malabar, please indicate which items can be made vegan and which ones cannot by having it written on your menu. Thank you.

With that being said, the atmosphere was nice, the waitress was as helpful as could be, the food arrived within a good amount of time considering there were like 14 of us there. And the actual vegan dish (I hope) I got which was tempeh goreng, was delicious.
This is a great restaurant for vegetarians or an animal eating friend of a vegetarian who "just likes the taste too much to be vegetarian", but vegan's be super cautious upon ordering.

Pros: Service

Cons: Lack of vegan/vegetarian indication

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

had take out - Edit

wanted to sit in since it looks really comfy but we want to enjoy the sun on the beach. next time. food is good.

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Most Creative and Unusual Vegan Fare - Edit

I've eaten at Malabar twice now---both lunch and dinner. WOW. Their menu is incredible! What unique dishes and flavor combinations! It's so refreshing to have Asian fare that is not the standard Thai, Indian, or Chinese. Lunch is an amazing bargain. You can have great variety for $7.50! Dinner is more expensive but still reasonable for what you get. I personally loved it.

Pros: unusual food, delicious, nice ambience

Cons: none

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Nicest Veggie Restaurant in Town - Edit

Malabar is IMO the nicest vegetarian restaurant in town. I've had most of the entrees that can be made vegan, and most of those are delicious. I highly recommend the Sri Lanka Platter, an assortment of five Sri Lanka curries for $10.50. This dish varies frequently, but is a good sample of their talented chef. If you're in the mood for a sweet dish, I recommend the Mango Almond Curry. I also like the the Tahu Java, "tofu, eggplant, mild peppers, portobello mushrooms and cashews wok'd in a Javanese basil sauce," although this dish is rather oily. There are a couple of clunkers on the menu though that neither I nor my omni partner liked: Roasted Garlic and Poppyseed Curry, and the Mangla Pahie "sweet and tangy eggplant as prepared for weddings."

I'm not big on the Small Plate dishes and tend to stick to the entrees, although the Fresh Salad Rolls on someone else's plate looked awesome. The soups are good but not spectacular. Still, I like the both soups I've tried: Butternut Squash Soup and Malaysian Corn Soup.

They have a number of beverages, some of which are smoothies, but none are organic. I like the Blueberry Hill and the Tropical Bliss. With my American tastes, I'm not used to the Persian Nights which contains pomegranate, rose water, almond milk and banana--it seemed like I was drinking hand lotion!

The folks who run this place are as nice as can be. A staff member noticed my partner wasn't eating any of the eggplant in his Green Curry Gnocchi, and brought him a side dish on the house.

Other things to know:
* Entrees and some of the other items can be prepared vegan. However, if you don't specify, they'll give you non-vegan as the default. While you can often tell which dishes are vegan by reading the description, always ask to be sure.

*They have a small parking lot that they share with other businesses, which is quite dark at night. People often create their own spaces in the lot by parallel parking next to the building, making it very difficult to pull out of a parking space. We generally find it easier to avoid the lot and pay for street parking.

*The chairs in this restaurant have no padding and can be quite uncomfortable.

*Wait times for food are average.

Overall, however, we love Malabar and visit whenever we're in the area.

P.S. If you come here during the day, Asian Rose restaurant is in the same physical space as Malabar.

Pros: Most entrees quite good, Friendly helpful staff, Lots of tables

Cons: Parking can be challenging, Uncomfortable Chairs, Wish they labelled vegan items on menu

Read More

By submitting this post you agree to HappyCow Terms

Link to this page from your site. .
Return to Santa Cruz Vegetarian Restaurants & Health Food Store Listings
Business Owners, if you see an unfair review, read this.
Why was my review removed? - details / Review guidelines
Reviews are not endorsed by HappyCow - review terms
Has Malabar Cafe closed, shut down, moved, or changed? Please use the Update Form.
This page has been viewed 8067 times.

Keep HappyCow Growing Strong!

I would like to support