Brief mexican reports, Scotts Valley & Santa Cruz
I've tried only a few places since moving to this area, but wanted to post my thoughts. Thank you to the various hounds (matt, nathan p and carb lover) for past recommendations.
Tucson Taqueria, Scotts Valley
I really like their salsa bar, esp the darkest/spiciest salsa: smoky and very spicy. The carnitas burrito was more like Al Pastor than Carnitas (diced pork, not shredded), but had some good flavor. Serving size is huge. Courtyard tables are nice on non-hot days.
Tacos Moreno, Santa Cruz
I wish I could like this hole-in-the-wall, but the carnitas burrito lacked flavor and the carnitas was kind of dry and some big chunks were left unshredded. Plus the salsa is a tad watery and normally I don't mind, but it was in a squeeze bottle so each time I inverted the bottle to squeeze some out (I like to add salsa as I eat), I got quite a bit of water. But I like that they put sliced cabbage (and no rice) in all their burritos. And I liked the pickled jalapenos in the help-yourself jar. No Aguas Frescas, just bottled drinks.
Panaderia El Rosal Bakery, Santa Cruz
I noticed this little store when I parked for the Live Oak Farmers Market. Pan Dulce and Bolillo rolls in display cases, shelves with tons of mexican foods and candies, and Pinatas for cheap. The sweets looked too big for me, but I saw a big crockpot looking thing filled with tamales and people were buying a bunch at a time. $1 each, and only chicken that day. Smelled so good, I ate one in the car and burnt my fingers. Almost creamy masa around flavorful, tender, moist shredded chicken. The farmer's market was disappointing, but these tamales are worth a drive just for them. Masa a bit drier but still good microwaved the next day. Photo below:
Next I'll try Los Gallos in Scotts Valley.
Wow, so glad to read that I am not the only person on this board who does not understand what the big deal is about Tacos Moreno. I had the same experience, I thought the carnitas burrito was dry and horrible. So many of my friends just love that place, and it is always getting high marks in the local free papers annual reader awards. I like Hector's in Watsonville on Airport Blvd. Their breakfast burrito (papas with beans and eggs) is terrific. You can't beat their freshly made tortillas, either.
Thanks for the reminder about Hector's; I've been meaning to check it out for a while. I need to plan a little outing to Freedom Meat Lockers, Mi Pueblo market, and Hector's.
I do think that Moreno has a cult following. The ritual of waiting in line on the sidewalk makes it taste better, I suppose. Donuts at Albrights next door are pretty good too.
Thanks for your report, Alice. I look forward to more reports of the local scene now that you're closer to this side of the hill! Here's a link to an old thread where there's some exchange about the Live Oak market and El Rosal: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/87489?user_name=&query=el+rosal
There's even a link to my photo of the chicken tamale, but they've updated (and improved it, IMO) more recently. Now they slather on that fiery red sauce that makes it even more moist and delicious. I believe they only make chicken and have gone from only selling on weekends to making them available everyday. Last time they were ready exactly at 11am, so I'm assuming that's when they get their delivery (I'm imagining from some grandma's kitchen).
I always get a handful after a stop at the Live Oak market, which has only been once this season. Yeah, it's not the greatest market, especially when you compare to the Wed. downtown market or Sat. Cabrillo market. There's also new Sat. westside and downtown markets that I haven't been to. Nathan, have you checked either of them out?
The only thing that I like at the Live Oak market that I can't get elsewhere are the littleneck clams and mussels from the seafood people (don't really care for their other stuff). Dirty Girl has great produce, but it's pricey and the selection wasn't as good as last year. Their early girl tomatoes were fantastic last year though. The market may fatten up as the season wears on, but I wonder if the new crop of weekend markets has sapped some of their potential. You should really try the other biggie markets; you won't be disappointed.
As far as Tacos Moreno, I'm sorry that you didn't care for my standard order. Not sure if you got the burrito supreme, but I think the sour cream and avocado are essential in creating a sublime package. We've taken some people there and they were like "eh" so it's not for everyone. I've never experienced dry carnitas though...juice is always dripping down my fingers and/or face. I don't like my carnitas fully shredded; prefer some meaty chunks here and there. I'm a fan of loose mortar-style salsa and I like the balance of acid and heat in theirs.
I will say that I haven't eaten there in many months though. The last time I was sorta feeling "eh" too...their prices seem to creep up and I don't like their tacos. Not much selection beyond that. You can try the major taqueria competitor, Taqueria Vallarta, and see if it's more to your liking, but it's never done much for me. La Cabana on the westside has had some raves from Nathan and Tom, so you should check it out.
My latest fave taqueria is in Watsonville...La Zamorana in the Target shopping center. Here's a photo of two tacos (lengua and birria): http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/btdoan/IMG_5065.jpg
And I'm so excited to link a second photo showcasing one of their tortas (I believe Y got carnitas): http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...
Don't let all that bread fool you; there was succulent porky goodness bulging in there! If you like super-crispy carnitas, then this is for you! I've had better experience going during peak hours then during down time when it's empty. Food seems fresher, service is better, and chips are nice and crispy!
re: Carb Lover
Wow, that's so funny that I totally didn't see your post on El Rosal and here I thought I was making a little contribution by "discovering" the tamales there. Ha! I should've known you & the others have already scoured clean the county for good chow.
I think part of my disappointment in Tacos Moreno is that knowing it was your favorite at the time of your post last year, I was expecting great things. I ordered the regular burrito since I can't have cheese or cream. It was only "kind of dry" not totally dry. It tasted more "low fat" than I like carnitas to be. And yeah, I like my carnitas in smaller bits, dark, and crunchy. So far I've been measuring carnitas against Papi's in Paso Robles, which is my current favorite anywhere. In the South Bay, Taqueria Tlaquepaque in Willow Glen (plus 2 other locations) is my current carnitas favorite but I haven't been in a few months. I was meaning to try Vallarta after Tacos Moreno (I ate only 1/2 my burrito) but after another errand my farmers market flowers were wilting so I had to head home. So that'll be another time.
And thanks so much for the Aptos market rec. I was in fact hoping for some Asian vegetables and there weren't any at the Live Oak market. Also, I don't know if it's just me but the stone fruits I tried at the Live Oak market were kind of bland, and the strawberries (both vendors had Seascape variety) were fully red but not that sweet and not much strawberry flavor. I did like the "Arctic Star" nectarines from one of the vendors, and the white nectarines from the sole non-organic vendor, they were the only fruit I bought. Also I was excited to see Frog Hollow Farm pastries, but the mini peach tart I bought was just ok (peach tasted like frozen bagged fruit) and not worth the $3.75. At least it was not overly sweet.
re: Alice Patis
It was good to get an update and your opinion on El Rosal, as I don't know much about tamales. Sounds like you liked those the best. And while our small but motivated Santa Cruz contingent has eaten up and down the county, there is so much undiscovered (esp. in Watsonville).
I chuckled when you described Tacos Moreno's carnitas burrito as "low fat," as I always feel like the rich meat is an indulgence...of course, I do supreme-it w/ sour cream and avocado. :-) I'll have to go back soon to see if it's changed any.
The Live Oak market is def. smaller and weaker than the other two markets, but I also think the crops generally have been weaker this year due to all the rain we got. I remember being more enthused at this time last year. Right now, prices seem kinda high for inferior quality compared to last year.
The stone fruit vendor (forget name) at Live Oak also sells at Wed. and Sat. markets. I like that it's $1.50/lb. for everything so you can mix and match peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots. I've had some good yellow peaches from them recently, but everything has been a little spotty. Frog Hollow Farm sells fruit (I think) at the Wed. market, but they are only doing canned goods and pastries at Live Oak for now. I find them to be overrated and coasting on their name. The avocadoes are good at any of the markets (same vendor), but they haven't hit their peak of buttery, nutty goodness. Let us know what you think of Sat. Aptos market.