Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 19th
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A Trip to My Land

din mitierasoupThe flavors at Freedom's Taqueria Mi Tiera are worth the ride

On a busy section of Freedom Boulevard, a Taco Bell and Wendy's are intermixed with an auto repair business and strip malls. It's a changing neighborhood, a mixture of old and new. Across the street from Taqueria mi Tiera, which has been open for 20 years, sits the historic Pioneer Cemetery. Next door is La Mana Panaderia, while further down the block a shiny Mi Puebla grocery store offers its own baked goods.

Inside the taqueria, a variety of less common hot sauces are dispersed amongst the tables. Valentina is smooth and orange-red with a sweet touch, while Castillo, a vibrant green salsa habanera, packs a wallop.

A white stripe of paint encircles the room, above it the walls are bright orange, below it, blue. They hold a few remembrances; photos, hats of vaqueros, and a diorama of a covered wagon camp.

The menu posted on the wall includes the familiar items, including tortas on wide toasted buns, chimichangas, enchiladas and tostadas. Fajitas ($8.99 to $14.59) arrive sizzling with a variety of sweet peppers.

At the pick-up counter were fresh, roasted jalapeños and dried red chilies, cooked in oil until black and crisp and then sprinkled with salt.

In the Fish Taco ($2.99), a deep-fried piece of white fish was topped simply with lettuce and sour cream, waiting to be doused with hot sauce or dressed with one of the accompaniments from the salsa bar—perhaps a bit of cilantro, some lime, the smoky sauce with blackened bits of roasted chilies, or cabbage mixed with cilantro, tomatoes, and onions. The red salsa labeled "picoso" was searing indeed.

The Carnitas Taco ($1.85) held chunks of tender pulled pork with cilantro and whole pinto beans on two fresh corn tortillas. The al pastor was similarly presented, but the small, smoky chunks of pork were bathed in a sauce of ground red chilies. A grilled or roasted chicken (pollo asado) version costs a few cents more.

The Shrimp Quesadilla ($5.99), in a large flour tortilla which was folded into a plump rectangle, held big, firm shrimp, some refried beans, cilantro, tomatoes and sweet onions, and oozed with melting cheese.

The Super Burrito ($4.59), weighing in at over a pound, contained nicely seasoned, tender pork chile verde, with sour cream, Spanish rice, pinto beans, and thick ribbons of melted cheese.

A number of soups are offered, including chicken, 7 Mare (seven seas seafood soup), and beef. The Caldo Cameron ($9.99) was served in what I consider an enormous bowl. The steaming broth was flecked with cilantro and held lightly cooked summer squash, sweet carrot, potato, and more than a dozen of the large, plump shrimp.

Taqueria Mi Tiera, 1471 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville, 722-2022. Serving beer and sangria. Open daily from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.

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