Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 29th
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Food for all Reasons

dining_ElPalomarSeafood, tequila and merriment are specialties of El Palomar
Whether you're looking for a romantic dinner, a cheap late night snack, or a lively cantina atmosphere, downtown's El Palomar has got you covered. And with upward of 70 tequilas, you're bound to find something you like.

The cantina was brightly lit by the midday sun through translucent corrugated ceiling panels. Lively Latin music and numerous plants, including an agave, gave the space a tropical feel. The thick, warm tortilla chips crunched lightly, laden with smooth and spicy salsa interspersed with minced cilantro and onions. On weekdays you'll find a special lunch menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Two-item combinations ($6.95) include a tostada with beans and shredded lightly seasoned chicken on a crisp corn tortilla topped with cabbage, salsa fresca and sour cream. The Sope is similar, except the ingredients were stuffed inside a puffed-up house-made corn tortilla.

The huge Palomar Special Burrito ($8.75) was topped with thin tomato ranchera sauce. It oozed melted cheese when cut, and was stuffed with whole beans, chunks of charbroiled chicken breast a la parrilla, and bits of minced red and green bell peppers. It was served with a small salad of cabbage, cucumber and salsa fresca. In a similar preparation, the fried chimichanga is filled with either the chicken or grilled skirt steak, and includes guacamole.

The darkened dining room with its tall, vaulted, deco-painted ceiling is lined with comfortable, colorful booths. The recipes have been handed down through generations of the Espinoza family. Hailing from the Michoacán state of Mexico, which means "place of the fishermen" in the ancient Nahuatl language (the same tongue that gave us the words avocado and chocolate), seafood dishes are their specialty. Two Enchiladas de Camarones ($17.95) in corn tortillas were filled with firm, plump shrimp sautéed in tomatillo and a vibrant orange-red mild ranchera salsa and topped with cabbage and a big dollop of smooth guacamole and sour cream. The orange-hued rice had an interesting almost-smoky flavor. Tortillas on the side were precisely speckled and elastic, emitting the wonderful aroma of fresh masa.

For something really budget-friendly, El Palomar's Taco Bar is the place to be. It's often busy; especially on Tuesdays' College Night when the tacos are just $2 from 6 to 9 p.m. Meat selections include carne asada and seafood for both tacos ($2.25 to $3.25) and burritos ($5 to $6.50). I dug into a basket of hot chips with salsa, watching the staff quickly make tortillas during a short wait at lunchtime. A thick corn tortilla was spread with refried beans and topped with large chunks of smoky, tender carne asada beef with crunchy cabbage, cilantro and tomatillo salsa.

Happy hour runs Monday through Thursday with $2 tacos and beers, $3 burritos, and $3.50 margaritas. On Fridays between 4 and 6 p.m., appetizers are halfprice.

El Palomar, 1336 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 425-7575. Full bar. Open daily at 11 a.m. with weekday lunch and Sunday brunch until 3 p.m. Weekday dinners from 5 p.m. Serving all day on weekends. Taco bar until 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 Friday and Saturday. The bar is open until 1 a.m. Visit

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