.Watsonville Drips With Historic Spots Big on Character and Value

A hot dog stand, a Mexican counter joint and a tamale house—all classic and all yummy

There’s something about old-school spots that speak to my soul and hold together a community. 

Three of my favorite examples—a hot dog stand, a Mexican counter joint and a tamale house—sit within a couple of blocks of historic Watsonville.

None are big, though all present big values. Each does signature dishes with time-tested consistency. Collectively they’ve made downtown Watsonville one of my favorite districts to explore for eats and drinks. 

The most old-school among them is Taylor Brothers Hot Dogs. The last time I went, the cheerful young attendants told me they thought I was reporting to work. 

The reason for that sat on my head: a bright red Taylor Brothers ball cap that all staffers wear and one I couldn’t resist buying on my previous visit.

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But there is only one reason for non-employees to visit: chili dogs. Basic drinks, chips and candy aside, it’s the only item on the menu. 

Each enjoys a knowing combination of relish, onion, mustard and secret-recipe chili for $2.15, best eaten standing up beneath the weathered neon sign or in the adjacent city plaza. 

A key note for true dog dawgs: no ketchup. When I heard another customer ask for it, the gentle response was: “Sorry, we don’t carry ketchup.” Amen.

Taylor Bros came to Watsonville in the mid-1950s. Third-generation owner Matthew Taylor says his favorite part of the business is hearing scores of stories from customers whose families have been stopping by for decades. 

Nothing lasts forever, but here’s hoping this place comes close.

Just around the corner sits The Tamal Factory. Like Taylor, its priority is one item, namely fresh, moist and cohesive hand-made tamales that make it feel like the holidays year-round. 

Maybe 50 steps from TTF, an unassuming strip mall tucks in a triple dose of worthy spots.

Pizzamia represents Watsonville’s pizza-by-the-slice pioneers. (Thank you for building on that, Slice Project.) They do whole pies in all sorts of permutations, each with fluffy medium-thick crusts, but the slices only come in pepperoni. ‘Mia also does calzones.

It neighbors Tutti Fruiti Neverîa, a Latinx-leaning ice cream spot with mashup elements beyond frozen treats, like boba and Tostilocos.

The estrella, though, is throwback cafe La Fondita. Tall stools sit along a counter where Nayarit-born matriarch Eva Quintero attends to customers against a backdrop of vintage regional imagery. 

Stuffed Micheladas ride shotgun with spot-on enchiladas, sopes and tacos assembled in combos and specialties like chilaquiles, pozole and bistec ranchero.

Watsonville’s center is experiencing a renaissance in a lot of ways. But it’s this type of time-tested outpost that provides the foundation.

DOWNTOWN GODSEND

While we’re here, one of the cooler epicurean stories coming in 2023 is happening right across the street from The Tamal Factory on Watsonville’s Main Street. Presbyterian minister Rev. Robbie Olson and his team are currently reimagining the one-time Stevie G’s Meats—and its more than 6,000 square feet—as a working brewery plus taproom plus beer garden under the name Watsonville Public House. Rotating trucks and, yes, neighboring tamal HQ will help on the food front. Best of all, the brewery’s nonprofit structure will direct a chunk of revenues into good area causes. Olson eyes mid-summer as a realistic opening date but acknowledges construction delays have run rampant. Whatever the case, this project is worth an enthusiastic toast.

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