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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
PLATTERS OF JOY: The chile rellenos and bacon-wrapped camarones at Real Colima could make a grown man cry.

The Real Deal

Watsonville's Real Colima offers seductive Mexican cuisine

By Christina Waters

THE FIRST TASTE of the wickedly complex green salsa set the tone for a fine rainy day lunch at Real Colima. We've passed this yellow roadhouse umpteen times on the way to Gilroy and parts south. Inside, the colorful interior—geranium windowsills, yellow walls and pale green sideboard—feels like a country bungalow, with salsas and the floral oilcloth table coverings repeating the pastel hues. Starting with icy Bohemias, we worked our way through as much as we could of the substantial Real Colima menu, helped along by friendly service and plenty of mariachi tunes.

Sopes, flautas, tamales, chile rellenos, burritos, taco and enchiladas—the lunch possibilities span the popular classics. And that's without even getting to the breakfast dishes or the long list of dinner mariscos. Prices were also friendly, with individual items running $2.50–$3 a la carte. Jack's chile relleno platter included two chiles the size of throw pillows, plus rice and beans, for $6. To maximize sampling and still remain ambulatory, I went for Combination Plate No. 2—a chicken tamale, al pastor barbecued pork taco and a chicken tostada plus rice, beans and salad—all for $9. When our forks had done as much damage as possible to these huge dishes, plus the beers and flour and corn tortillas, the total came to $25. Enough said.

As soon as we'd completely gorged ourselves on chips with the excellent red salsa and even more excellent green salsa, our warm tortillas came out.

Nestled in a basket lined with a soft red and white checked cotton cloth, my fluffy, hot, fresh flour tortillas practically brought tears to my eyes. I slathered butter inside the soft folds of these unbelievably light, enormous creations and attempted to consume the entire basket.

I was saved from this potentially embarrassing act of excess by my combination platter. Jack said nothing. He simply began with the first bite of cheesy, eggy, fiery chile and never looked back. I took a bite of his sumptuous chile relleno and rolled my eyes in unison with his. It was definitive. killer. In addition to the tomatoey ranchero sauce, his platter offered "dirty" rice authentically laced with peas and bits of diced carrot, as well as hints of interesting spices. A crisp salad and pool of refried beans finished up the dish. My tostada was terrific, the al pastor contained cinnamon as well as chiles, and only the rather dry tamale with its overly thick masa failed to delight.

We both kept coming back to the exceptional green salsa with its intricate layers of cilantro, tomatillo and jalapeņo. We loved it so much we spooned it over the rice, especially the rice we packed up to go home for dinner that night.

Real Colima serves fine Mexican standards in an appealing and graceful dining room. There is nothing ordinary about this place, from service to salsa to welcome low price.


1101 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville


Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

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