Morgan Hill’s ever-burgeoning dining scene is more than just an important element of downtown: it is downtown Morgan Hill, at least on the days when no festivals, concerts or special events are taking place.
“All the restaurants downtown now have brought some kind of life to downtown Morgan Hill,” said Art Nazzal, owner of Mr. Falafel on Monterey Road in the heart of the city.
These days, on almost any given night and weekends especially, it’s difficult to find a parking spot anywhere. Downtown restaurateurs have seen continually growing crowds and sales over the last year or more, with some reporting more patrons coming from out of town just to eat dinner.
At last count, there were 37 different places to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner downtown, which includes the north side of Main Avenue as well as the Ross and Dollar Tree shopping center on the southwest corner of Monterey Road and Dunne Avenue, according to Morgan Hill Downtown Association President Brad Jones.
Jones, a former bar and grill owner who now runs BookSmart at 30 E. Third Street, and other veteran downtown business owners cite a variety of factors owing to the popularity of the corridor’s restaurants. The variety of fare offered by the establishments (Italian, burgers and fries, Chinese, Mexican, Mediterranean, sushi, Thai, California fusion, barbecue, classic American, fine dining and almost everything in between), and the quality of the cuisine are among the biggest factors cited.
“We have a lot more restaurants and we have a lot more customers” than the downtown used to have, said Rosy Bergin, owner of Rosy’s at the Beach. “It seems like there’s plenty of customers to go around for everybody, and we’re all seeing more people here.”
And competition from the growing selection of restaurants seems to have been a good thing for individual establishments. “Every new restaurant seems like it’s brought more people downtown,” said Bergin, who also owns Bubbles Wine Bar on the southern end of downtown Morgan Hill.
Rich and Manuela Zoccolillo are a testament to the appeal of a wide variety of cuisine in a condensed space. The couple moved to Morgan Hill from New York about a year ago, and they’ve found their favorite stretch of downtown local restaurants – the east side of Monterey Road between Third and Fourth streets which is occupied by House of Siam, Toto Trattoria and Trail Dust BBQ.
The couple stopped to talk about the local dining scene, which they frequent at least two nights a week, after eating at the House of Siam recently. That night they wanted something spicy for dinner, so they settled on the Thai restaurant, which Rich described as “good authentic Thai cuisine – and I’ve been to Thailand.”
“When I’m homesick I go to Toto (an Italian restaurant), and when I want a protein fix we go to Trail Dust,” said Rich, who grew up in an Italian neighborhood in the Big Apple.
One of the new kids on the block – Noah’s Bar & Bistro – just opened about eight months ago at 17500 Monterey Road. Owner Sadik Azar noted the restaurant itself even offers a variety of atmosphere for patrons – a “Santana Row” style lounge and bar in the front, and a quiet dining room in the back.
“We’ve had a good, solid opening,” Azar said. “I’m excited to be an addition to the downtown eateries in Morgan Hill.”
Morgan Hill resident Gary Mazzurco, 62, was drinking a glass of wine before dinner at the bar at Ladera Grill when he stopped to offer his input on why the downtown is so busy during the dinner hour.
“You have a bedroom community” in Morgan Hill, said Mazzurco, who works in sales for a company in San Jose. “You come home, you want to take a breather (from work and the commute), and during the weekends it’s packed. Most of us, our kids are grown” – so why not go out for dinner at one of many offerings during the week, he reasoned.
And he said downtown Morgan Hill has a quaint ambiance that invites people to sit down and relax.
“It’s almost like a mini Los Gatos, but not quite as trendy. It’s friendlier than Los Gatos,” Mazzurco said.
Another downtown veteran, Maurizio Cutrignelli, said he has actively tried to promote variety in the local restaurant scene since shortly after he moved to Morgan Hill from Italy. Cutrignelli owns Maurizio’s restaurant, which opened in 1997 and has been at its current location at 25 E. First Street since about 2002.
Cutrignelli also owns The Good Fork on Monterey Road, which he describes as “California cuisine” using fresh produce grown in the area from San Francisco to Salinas. Other downtown restaurants he has owned, which are now closed, include Fuzia and La Mangia pizzeria.
“For a little while I was worried about too many restaurants and not enough people, but now there’s more houses” under construction, bringing more people to the area, Cutrignelli said. “We see more of a balance now. I like to see more variety of foods, so we can bring more reason for people from out of town to Morgan Hill.”
Morgan Hill’s population in 2011 was just under 38,500 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Jones said it’s simply “good restaurants” that attract the growing crowds to Morgan Hill at dinner time. Also, the presence of outdoor dining patios in front of almost every eatery downtown seems to be a draw. “People attract people,” Jones said.
One thing the MHDA would like to see is more overflow of business from the restaurants to retail shops. Jones said his bookstore does not see much business from dining customers stopping by before or after dinner to peruse the shelves.
If the restaurant scene continues to grow, both in terms of options and crowds, “I think it’s eventually going to force retailers to stay open (later) if they want to take advantage of it,” Jones said.
Other restaurant owners continue to complain about the decision three years ago by the MHDA to move the weekly summer concert series from its original location – in the middle of the intersection of Monterey Road and Second Street – to Third Street. Some feel the current location of the concert series is isolated from establishments on the northern end of town, failing to encourage concert goers to venture farther out for dinner or drinks.
Developing the downtown area with a variety of dining options as well as retail and other service industries – plus more homes – has long been a goal of the City’s Downtown Specific Plan, and is one goal of an ongoing communitywide effort to attract tourists to Morgan Hill.
Salvatore Calisi, chef at Odeum on Depot Street, said he can’t wait for that plan to be realized. Calisi, a Michelin star holder, said about 40 percent of the customers at Odeum – a notably more expensive option than most other downtown restaurants – come from out of town. A relative newcomer, Odeum opened in 2011.
“We need to redevelop downtown, big time,” Calisi said. “We need to give people a reason to come downtown and stay. People come from Saratoga to my restaurant, and they jump back in their car and leave. My dream is to see people come spend the day in Morgan Hill.”

Previous articleFire chief lawsuit could cost Gilroy $230K
Next articlePossible changes to Open Space Credit Policy bad news for farmers
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here