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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
February 7-14, 2007

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Haute Enchilada

Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Haute! Haute! Haute! You can work up an appetite antiquing in Moss Landing.

Haute Enchilada

Soak up art history and mole sauce at this Moss Landing destination

By Selene Latigo

Sunday morning greeted us in a brilliant, post-rainstorm way that feels like the world is a clean canvas ready for anything. The gaping blue sky was studded with cotton-candy clouds and the sun glittered down over freshly washed expanses, lending the day a gloriously dramatic hue that captured us and propelled us out into it. We took a meandering lazy Sunday drive south, ending up in Moss Landing Village for an equally leisurely lunch at the Haute Enchilada.

A stone's throw from the more visible Whole Enchilada, this small and friendly "art cafe" is quite a discovery, offering a simple menu of fresh Mexican dishes as well as a few salads, soup, sandwiches, breakfast items and an espresso bar. The location in the middle of this eclectic "village" makes it easy to turn a quick lunchtime visit into an entire afternoon of antique store gazing, giving us an even larger sense of being far away from Santa Cruz in an alternate time and place. This little complex of art-bent businesses suggests a glimmer of creative growth for this tiny fishing village. Every surface and corner holds an eyeful of vintage décor, coagulated themes on Mexican folk art, nautical tools and California coastal history. After making our order inside at the small counter, we tucked ourselves away into one such corner, stationed at a sturdy tiled table under the protected outdoor patio. The brief wait for our food was plenty of time to recognize the full potential of this open, landscaped lot with a fire-pit, fountain and wide variety of outdoor seating, as a stellar group day-trip destination.

Like usual, our large appetites and curiosity led to impulsive over ordering. The two of us ended up with a table full of plates, trading bites and nods of approval. Following the cue from their namesake, Dave ordered a Haute Enchilada plate ($10.95 for two). One encased cheese and the other was filled with carnitas-style pork, slightly crisp and very flavorful, Both were covered in a thick, deep mole sauce, generously enhanced by chocolate and toasted pumpkin seeds. While the sauce was excellent and complex, it overpowered the enchilada fillings a bit as opposed to a more neutral sauce. A pile of mixed baby greens was the bed for a large dollop of sour cream that sat next to perfectly seasoned black beans and tender, fluffy rice.

He also ordered a chicken mole tamale ($3.95, a la carte), not realizing that the enchiladas would be doused in the same rich sauce. The masa was not at all gummy or soggy, retaining a pillowy texture while staying pleasantly crumbly at the same time. A sizable amount of shredded chicken was nestled inside, the ideal medium for the sesame studded mole. He aptly paired all of this with a Negro Modelo ($3.50) out of the well-stocked and surprisingly diverse beverage case.

I chose a classic quesadilla ($6.95) with an addition of grilled vegetables ($2) at the last minute. Several corn tortillas were layered with melted cheese and a weighty portion of roasted red peppers, grilled onions and sliced mushrooms. The same mixed greens garnished the top along with sour cream and slices of ripe avocado. The tortillas in my quesadilla, and in the enchiladas, were somewhat hard, the texture not melding with the other ingredients, and they actually benefited from some extra time soaking up the cooking liquids and sauces.

We also tried a fresh fish taco ($3.50, a la carte) that ended up being large chunks of salmon, simply prepared and scattered with onion, cilantro and a smoky, slightly spicy salsa that added a welcome level to all of our dishes.

The house horchata ($2.50) was probably the creamiest I've ever sampled. I always ask if it is homemade so as to avoid the chalky, sickly sweet instant powdered mixes some places serve, and this version was far from that. After a bellyful of food, however, I couldn't finish this rich drink, lovely and cinnamon-kissed as it was.

I'm always happy to find new excuses to break up my sporadic drives down south, and the Haute Enchilada definitely fits into this stopping off category. For a breakfast burrito or bagel "a la Mexicana" on an early departure or a much desired late afternoon beer on the way home, this restaurant offers a relaxing, cheerful respite in this sleepy seaside stretch.

Haute Enchilada

Address: Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing

Phone: 831.633.5843

Hours: 7am-5pm daily

Price Range: $2-$13

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