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Apr 24th
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

Feeling Blue?

Feeling Blue?

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.

Dining - Dining Reviews

Seafood with Spices

Seafood with Spices

Mexico's state of Michoacán, meaning "place of the fishermen" in the Nahuatl language, is blessed with rivers and lakes, and proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Its town of Cotija is known for the crumbly cow's milk cheese we often find atop Mexican entrées.

I headed down Portola Road to Taqueria Michoacan last week in search of seafood specialties. The little restaurant is easy to miss, located in what may have once been a home. On the attractively lettered menu board, fish find their way into tacos, burritos, and tostadas ($2.00 to $6.95). Shrimp is served breaded, in a spicy ranchero sauce, or grilled with bell pepper, tomato and onion ($10.50). Octopus or shrimp ceviche tops tostadas ($5.95).

I first ordered the Michoacan Special Dish ($11.95) with rice and beans. Six plump shrimp were bathed in a spicy hot red sauce, which I also enjoyed on the simple griddled piece of firm, flaky white fish. I put bits of the large thin slice of asada beef into steaming corn tortillas, with onions which had been sautéed until dark and sweetly caramelized, and tomato and cilantro guacamole. The hot sauce in the squirt bottle I found too salty for chips, but the perfect complement to this impromptu soft taco.

While enjoying the surf and turf, people came and went, leaving with one of the 13 versions of Super Burrito ($5.95). Weighing in at almost one and a half pounds, they're stuffed with refried beans, rice, cabbage, avocado and sour cream. In one I had simmered shreds of chicken in a mildly sweet mole, in the other, chunks of tender pork chile verde.

Between two brown dotted flour tortillas, the Super Quesadilla ($5.95) held cabbage, cilantro, avocado, and sour cream with my selection of barbecued chicken; little pieces of spicy grilled meat.


Taqueria Michoacan, 21401 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 465-8290.

Dining - Dining Reviews

The Emperor's Old Clothes

The Emperor's Old Clothes

I found food fit for a king at the beautifully furnished Dynasty Restaurant

It was a rare but welcome night when my dad came home with red and white cartons of Chinese food. Later, when an associate of his returned from Japan with chopsticks, I was excited to learn how they work. Sweet and sour pork (which our neighbor Mrs. Kong taught my mother to make) was a favorite.

I stopped at Dynasty Restaurant a few months ago for egg rolls and was immeasurably impressed by the decor. Three large tables the color of rosewood appear able to seat twelve, each with lazy Susans and adorned with gilded dragons. The banquet room holds an even bigger circular table.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Chilies; Hooray, No?

Chilies; Hooray, No?

Errand day typically involves lunch on the run, and since we were in Scotts Valley, we stepped into Maya Mexican Restaurant on the corner of Scotts Valley Drive and Mt. Herman Road. The front room felt like a fiesta with living trees, strings of tiny multi-colored lights, sponge-painted orange walls and Mexican music.

Maya is known for its selection of almost 50 tequilas, some of which were aged up to five years in oak barrels. The large bar area includes a couple of televisions and sofas, and makes many of its premium margaritas with Gran Gala, an Italian triple-orange liqueur blended with VSOP brandy.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Soup's On!

Soup's On!

Chilly temperatures send the stock pots to simmering all around town

On weary winter weekends the lunch table would feature hot soup from familiar red and white cans. Tomato was my favorite (made with water, not milk) with crisp, salty crackers crumbled on top.

Even better however was soup after the holidays when Mom would toss a ham bone into a pot of dry, soaked lima beans. Unaware of the frugality of the meal, I held my face over the bowl, relishing the smoky-smelling steam, and then whistled onto large spoonfuls until the flat beans and thick broth were cool enough to eat.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Mediterranean Madness

Mediterranean Madness

Oh, there are unforgettable feasts at Vasili’s
There are a few people you meet who absolutely love working with, presenting and/or serving food that you can’t help but be impressed by their infectious energy. Julie White is one of those local creatures.

As owner of Vasili’s Greek Restaurant on Santa Cruz’s Westside, White and her staff certainly know how to serve authentic Greek meals—hell, let’s just call them feasts—but what truly stands out is that you really can taste the “love” in all the food here. Four of us soon discovered this during a recent outing at the popular restaurant and the experience only seemed to remove a rather annoying eating inhibition I had imposed on myself earlier in the day. This isn’t the place to eat less. More is better, so … bring it on.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Fanni Goes West

Fanni Goes West

The energetic owner of Caffe Lucio brings Italian specialties to Mamma Lucia's on Mission Street

Just a few signs remain that this restaurant last housed a Kentucky Fried Chicken; the comfortable red booths and the black and red counter. But with a touch of butter-yellow paint, soccer playing on two flat screen televisions, the aroma of tomato sauce and photographs of Mamma Lucia's food, Lucio Fanni of Caffe Lucio and al dente, has turned it into an Italian Cafe. Here, the chicken tortellini soup is made from scratch, the soft loaves of bread with tiny air hole-bubbled interiors are house-made, and doggie treats are sold to patrons' pets.

The menu is written on large blackboards behind the counter where we placed our order before gathering plates and silverware from the neat stacks and finding a table. Since signs on each table reminded us to bus our own tables, I was pleasantly surprised that our order was brought out to us.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Shop, Eat, Repeat

Shop, Eat, Repeat

Barraged by brand names and national chains at the Capitola mall, it's comforting to find sustenance in a local cafe. Whether you're frantically filling Christmas wish lists or surfing end-of-year sales, Cafe Laila by the fountain will warm you up, tide you over, assuage your sweet tooth or fill you up with a freshly made sandwich.

For cold liquid refreshments, Cafe Laila serves various flavors of bubble tea with chewy tapioca pearls, frappuccino, a selection of iced teas and coffees, as well as sodas, Gatorade and energy drinks. Smoothie flavors ($3.95/$4.50) include Matcha Green Tea and banana-pineapple-mango.

There is also a full line of coffees and teas, and this time of the year Cafe Laila steeps holiday special mochas and lattes including gingerbread, peppermint and pumpkin pie. I relaxed with a soothing 12-ounce eggnog mocha ($4) while planning the rest of my day.

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Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.

 

Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Best of Santa Cruz Critics' Picks

Best Cute Overload Beau and Theo’s Nap Habit In the fall of 2013, the Shyba family adopted a 7-week-old puppy from the Santa Cruz SPCA. Theo, as he came to be called, had been abandoned as a baby along with his siblings. Upon moving in with the local family, Theo immediately began napping with the family’s son, Beau, who was not quite 2 years old. The rest—as they say—is history.
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Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

 

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How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management