Overlooking Soquel Creek, Little Tampico adds innovation to Mexican favorites
ampico is a port city on the Gulf of Mexico whose name means "place of the water dogs"; in other words, otters. Its humid subtropical climate sees a January low temperature of 55 degrees, so it seemed fitting, on a day that reached 53 degrees, to visit Soquel's Little Tampico.
At this restaurant on the sloped bank of Soquel Creek, we chose the lowest of its three dining levels where a gap between the windowed wall and overhead canvas canopy let in the crisp air. From here we could watch the smoothly flowing stream.
Chips were served with a pair of salsas. One was fairly mild with cilantro and chunks of fresh onion and tomato. The other was tomato-based also, but smooth, with a combination of chilies and spices that gave it heat and a very unique flavor.
As an appetizer, the Blue Nachos ($9.95) were even more delicious than expected. Blue corn tortilla chips were layered and topped with not only the typical Jack and cheddar cheeses, but crumbles of tangy goat ranchero as well. Also included were the house's black beans (more on them later), salsa, thick slices of fresh jalapeños and generous mounds of sour cream and mashed avocado. It was a meal in itself.
The lunch menu, served weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. includes an all-you-can-eat taco and tostada bar ($6.95). From the list of Almuerzo (lunch) Favoritos, we chose the Tampiquena ($9.75). A sliced medium-rare rib-eye steak was joined by a fat, miniature crunchy taco with ground beef, a medium-sized chicken enchilada, lard-free refried beans, rice and avocado.
From the regular menu I chose the Santa Fe Enchilada ($11.50) which was assembled like lasagna. A thick layer of shredded beef was hidden between two blue corn tortillas and topped with cheeses and the flavorful cooked ranchero salsa made with tomatoes and onions. Oh, and the black beans were in a sauce like barbecue beans but dark and flavored with south-of-the-border spices.
For dessert, a triangular slice of lightly sweetened flan ($4.50) lay in a generous amount of caramelized sugar syrup. The dense toothsome custard was decorated with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. A warming winter beverage ($7), coffee spiked with Jameson whiskey and Kahlua, was served in a large Mason jar with a handle.
And good news: the restaurant is hoping to expand into an adjacent storefront with a full-service bar.
Little Tampico, 2605 Main St., Soquel, 475-4700. Full Bar. Open daily at 11 a.m., until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Visit littletampico.com.
Chocolate (the restaurant) is offering cooking classes at Backstage Lounge, many of which are geared toward tweens and teens. Chocolate will be used in both sweet and savory dishes. On Jan. 21, make mole and on Jan. 28, it's crêpes. February's classes include Cooking for Two (adults), Party Food, Cupcakes, and more crêpes.
Classes cost $50, or four for $150.
Chocolate's Cooking Classes at Backstage Lounge, 1209 Soquel Ave. Visit chocolatesantacruz.com/classes.html.