Photograph by Nadine Kelley
Nachos, Steaks, Enchiladas and Quesadillas: All four food groups are covered at La Hacienda.
Until Next Year
There's still time for an off-season visit to a local tourist treasure
By Selene Latigo
The other day I drove to work as usual, taking my regular route down West Cliff to the wharf and then left toward downtown. Except there was something different happening this Friday morning, something I hadn't come across in several months ... traffic. It's amazing how quickly we adapt to the relative ease of the off-season, almost forgetting the crowds, slow-paced pedestrians and road congestion. Like a slap in the face, the reality of the upcoming tourist season struck me as I inched down the hill at 8am. As a sort of ceremonial goodbye to winter's roominess, we headed down to La Hacienda on Beach Street for a Sunday sunset dinner.
Regardless of the time of year, La Hacienda is always full of people. Obviously, this prime location across from the Boardwalk is like a magnet to tourists during the summer, but it's always a telling sign when you see locals maintaining patronage all year round. There is nothing fancy about this taqueria; in fact, the plastic plants, sparse walls and bare tabletops define the no-nonsense operation where the good, cheap food is the reason to come—that and the sparkling ocean view.
We walked straight up to the counter, waiting a bit in line while scanning the short menu featuring all of the standard taqueria items, a few dinner plates with rice and beans and two nightly specials. Since only two people were on shift (the multitasking yet slow counter person and the solo female cook in back), the ordering process took a considerable amount of time. We then headed to the large bay-facing window with stools for sitting and sipping our beers ($2.75, imported) while waiting for our food.
Our plates came out a few minutes before our friends' plates, so we split some of our well-fried and extra crunchy chips ($1.75) with them, appeasing their hunger while we dove into our dishes. The squirt bottle of dark, smoky, spicy and complex salsa was close to full at the beginning of our meal, but by the time we left it was practically gone.
Dave's chile verde ($8.25) was definitely not green in color; in fact the whole plate featured varying shades of brown. But in spite of the visually unexciting presentation, it was all well seasoned, the tender meat layered with rich chile flavor and the refried beans silky without being typically heavy. His side of sour cream ($0.50) never came, but he piled the rice, beans, beef and "salad" garnish into the jumbo-sized flour tortilla that came along with the platter to create a huge burrito, adding, of course, more salsa.
My super vegetarian quesadilla ($4.95) was perfectly golden and crisp on the outside with a large yet uneven distribution of rice, pinto beans, cheese, cabbage, tomato, sour cream and avocado inside. The superfluous rice and scant amount of cheese made this more like a flat burrito than a quesadilla. On previous visits there was no rice and I preferred that to this. However, the huge slices of bright avocado that La Hacienda uses instead of guacamole made my selection satisfying, especially with some heavy dousing of that great salsa.
They were out of Meagan's first choice, the chicken mole plate, so she went with a super chicken burrito ($5.05) instead. She found the chicken to be well cooked and moist yet lacking in flavor (nothing a bit more salsa couldn't fix). She was disappointed that there wasn't any avocado in her burrito, but felt that the portion size was just right.
Michael selected one of the specials, the shrimp tostada, which was a crisp corn tortilla with chilled, lime-infused shrimp, cabbage, cilantro and jalapeŇo, topped with a pretty fan of avocado. He also got a regular carnitas burrito ($4.10) that was on the dry side, but again, greatly improved with some squirts of that salsa.
We gazed out at the darkening sky while the lights on the wharf twinkled on. Our front row seats gave us an entertaining view of the sidewalk and all those who meandered by. I would say that we fully enjoyed our last weekend outing prior to the impending tangle that the Boardwalk becomes. La Hacienda has solid taqueria basics, perhaps a touch inconsistent, but a great place to watch the world go by over a basket of chips and amazing salsa.
Address: 303 Beach St., Santa Cruz
Price Range: $2-$9.
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