A taco bar named Leo's sounds less than authentic but it was co-founded by Leonel Espinoza and Maria E. Valencia whose names are associated with La Mission and Cafe el Palomar. The kitchen is larger than the restaurant in this Live Oak establishment, and what it creates is remarkable.
A charbroiled salmon taco ($4) was so loaded with chunks of fish I ate half of it with a fork before I could pick it up. It was topped with fire-roasted salsa, cabbage, cilantro and tomatoes. The Carne Asada Taco ($2.25) was just as large. The pieces of steak were tender, smoky and charred as if barbecued in the traditional manner.
The salsa bar is truly a treat. The coarse, cooked, tomato-based salsa was dotted with blackened bits and cilantro. Another was translucent like a purée of fresh jalapeños. The flavor of the pale orange sauce reminded me of mole, but my favorite was a velvety avocado-colored blend whose texture was soothing, but ignited a fire that built fiercely.
The menu says that the double-tortilla California BIG Burrito ($9.95), stuffed with super burrito ingredients and french fries serves two, but I'm betting it serves more. A regular burrito was large enough to satisfy both my husband and me. This fat Chile Verde Burrito ($5.95) weighed in at one and three-quarter pounds and was packed with rice, beans, fresh salsa and big tender cubes of pork.
A quart of Pozole ($6.95) came with sides of cabbage, limes, oregano and salsa fresca. This Pre-Columbian ceremonial soup contained large grains of hominy, giving the mildly spicy tomato-based broth a masa-like flavor. Deep in the bowl were huge chunks of fall-apart pork.
Lunch and dinner "specials" ($5.95 to $6.50) are served with rice and beans, as are most kids' meals ($3.95). | KP
Leo's Taco Bar, 1710 Brommer St., Santa Cruz, 465-1105. No alcohol. Open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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