.Copal Serves Up Authentic Oaxacan Cuisine

Lunch at Copal is now a warm winter reality, so we jumped at the chance to sample some of the righteous house specialties last week out on the sunny back patio. Bypassing the margarita I really wanted, I sipped a bouncy Topo Chico sparkling water (my partner treated himself to a nostalgic guilty pleasure—a Diet Coke), until our lunches arrived. The addictive nature of crisp fresh taco chips dipped into zippy fresh salsa cannot be beat! The smoldering black beans in thick clay bowls are worth the visit! Ditto the smoky, complex salsa served in glazed mini-bowls. My partner’s eyes popped when his Oaxacan Taco Plate ($16) arrived, three housemade tortillas filled with al pastor pork, brilliant purple cabbage shreds, guacamole and radishes. Thick slices of lime—another brilliant color note—added visual, as well as flavor appeal. “I love these radishes!” he crooned, as he polished off the first taco, pausing only to reach for a forkful of my nopales, and some of the fragrant black beans. I was deep into the mystic of my quesadillas ($15), loaded with Oaxacan cheese, mushrooms and emerald green epazote. Everything I love about Mexican food was on this plate. The melting cheese, the nopales glistening in salsa guajillo, the magic of black beans strewn with quesa fresca. I could practically hear the sounds of the zocalo threading through the Mission Street traffic outside. Copal (1203 Mission St., Santa Cruz) now offers lunch 11:30am. to 2:30pm. Wed-Sun. copalrestaurant.com.

Sparkling Juices Surge
Gone are the days when ice tea was the go-to lunch drink. Catering to the refined, upscale tastes of those who need something sexy, but can’t indulge in the laid-back aftermath of craft beers in mid-day, there are billions of new sparkling juices, a flavor step up in intensity from those lightly (invisibly) flavored cans of sparkling water. I am now a fan of the cold-pressed sparkling juice by Suja Organic Elements. We recently discovered the streamlined bottles of this delicious and shockingly healthful product, the strawberry passionfruit Suja at the neighborhood New Leaf, on sale for $3.99 (that’s a sale price!). Designer punch, if you will. Definitely pricey, but considering that it’s delicious, spritzy, filled with vitamin C and D and zinc and prebiotics, plus adaptogens from mushrooms—well, it’s a lot of good stuff for one small 354 ml bottle (when not on sale it will run you $4.50 per bottle). They make this in grapefruit citrus and blueberry ginger as well. I’m thinking this stuff is part of a new wave of non-alcohol drinks designed to please the pampered palate into thinking it’s a nouveau alcohol-free bubbly. Frankly, it would be righteous inflected with a bit of gin. But if it’s part of your non-alco regimen, you might give it a whirl. Even better, imho, is a line of refreshing sparkling juice drinks from the Kimino family-run organic orchards in Japan. We loved the Sparkling Ume plum flavor ($3.49 for a tiny 250ml bottle). Tart, barely sweet and perfumed with the spring flavor of plum, this lovely liquid claims no additives. All organic, and there are other flavors as well including mandarin orange and a yuzu sparkling juice. This too would make a sophisticated adult beverage with the addition of anything made by Sean Venus. But not necessary. You can have a good time with this lovely member of the growing sparkling juice nation. Inflation is everywhere. Deal with it.

Aptos Wine Wander
Top wines and your favorite Aptos Village businesses. Nice combo, coming up Saturday, February 26, from 1-4pm ($40). Tickets and details here.

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