Sunday night, downtown Santa Cruz. A balmy January evening and the promenade on Pacific Avenue is teeming with people—lots of families with kids hoping for a fun, inexpensive dinner. Among the possibilities is Snap Taco, where brightly colored booths, spacious sidewalk seating and a menu priced to entice are all spread out like a winter fiesta. I phoned in my order and went down to pick it up. The newly hungry downtown strollers were checking out the menu or taking home orders, and I felt sorry for the very efficient sole person trying to tend bar, take orders and retrieve carry-out from the kitchen. Nonetheless, it went fairly swiftly and when we opened our meals at home the incredible aromas made us happy even before the first bites.
Here’s what we got for under $30: a massive Grilled Chicken Bowl (NBA-sized) filled with baby lettuces tossed with crisp tortillas, slices of yam, shredded cabbage, huge chunks of grilled chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, pinto beans, all sprinkled with shredded queso fresco cheese and quinoa. Colossal is the word that comes to mind ($13). With the one-bowl meal came containers of lime-driven vinaigrette and chimichurri sauce, which I added to various chunks of chicken. Cilantro danced in and out of each bite. The taco chips absorbed the surrounding sauces and flavors, and frankly I got stuffed trying to finish half of this bowl. Meanwhile, we sampled an order of four quesadillas with avocado, big slabs of flour tortilla filled with melted cheese to please our inner child ($6.95). Nobody doesn’t love a quesadilla, and these were yummy.
But the major hit of this meal turned out to be the shredded pork carnitas taco, sweet with pineapple marinade, perched on a corn tortilla (this was our GF dish). Cabbage, cilantro, salsa and lime added even more zing to the tender, intensely flavored pork. With this dish we had containers of pinto beans and brown rice ($3.50 each), exactly what you want with your carnitas (at $3.95 the deal of the decade). One of the great things about the Snap Taco menu is that you can customize your order. For example, on the Grilled Chicken Bowl, you can add pork belly, or an extra portion of chicken (for a few dollars more). Or on the carnitas taco, you can choose to add sour cream, or avocado, or specify, no salsa, no pickled red onion, you get the idea. In other words, you can truly have your order modified to your taste! Now that students are back, Snap Taco is one of the obvious pitstops—lots of big flavors for not much money. This place has family dining nailed too, and the people-watching from the sidewalk seats is terrific. Snap Taco lets kids under 12 dine free on Sundays after 5pm. That’s food for thought. Snap Taco, 1108 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Closed Tu-Wed. Open Thurs-Mon 11:30am-9pm.
Winter WineIndefatigable wine maestro Jeff Emery simply can’t make a ho-hum wine, and I am especially enjoying his Quinta Cruz Tempranillo right now with cool weather dinners. Bearing the Quinta Cruz label (the sister brand to Emery’s flagship Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard), the 2015 San Antonio Valley Tempranillo manages the almost impossible balancing act of assertive rounded flavors—star anise, blackberry—and light 12.8% alcohol. Harvested from Monterey County’s Pierce Ranch, these grapes, thanks to the skillful winemaker, have created a wine of appealing complexity. Great with pork, pasta and grilled chicken. $22 at Shoppers, New Leaf and the winery tasting room in the Ingalls St. Surf City Wineries location. santacruzmountainvineyard.com