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[whitespace] Roy Ausen Shell Game: Roy Ausen favors the tacos at Vallarta's new downtown Santa Cruz location.

Photograph by George Sakkestad


Tasty Taqueria

Building a better taco has been Taqueria Vallarta's mission for 10 years

By Christina Waters

FERNANDO VALLE and his friends had a great idea back when they opened up the first Taqueria Vallarta next door to Shoppers Corner almost a decade ago. It was a dream taqueria run by young men who never stopped moving. Everything was hot, tasty, fast and inexpensive. From the looks of the latest Taqueria Vallarta, this formula keeps on making sense.

Fabulous neo-Aztec murals by Chilean artist Alvaro (rfuenzal@entelchile.net) leap from three walls. Two stories high, these wildly colorful creations keep the beat with the salsa rhythms of the sexy food. A cloud of unusual hanging lamps fills one enormous space above the busy taco palace's booths, long counter island and groves of tables. Yellow and orange walls make a visual fiesta to enjoy while you choose your favorite taco, tostada, burrito or chile relleno and then wait for your number to be called.

Mine was the roast pork taco ($1.75) with the delicious rice agua fresca, horchata (99 cents), while Jack went for a fish taco combo plate ($3.70) with pinto beans and a refreshing tamarindo drink. It was all well under $10, and before I could even finish my stories about body surfing in PV, our order was ready. Dollar per dollar, these are easily the most delicious calories you can buy in town. The red beans were wonderful and the open-faced fish taco involved fresh snapper tossed with tomatoes, salsa fresca, pickled serranos and red bell peppers--plus lots of minced onions. Really a great fresh lunch in a hurry. My slow-roasted pork was falling-apart sweet and tender and topped with a well-made tomatillo sauce. I piled on some of those great spiced carrots TV stocks in its self-serve condiment island.

Taqueria Vallarta is one good-looking dining arena. Housed in the ground-floor corner of the UC Extension building, it's a natural for hungry students as well as downtown workers. Not necessarily lean cuisine, the food is stupendous, nourishing, and did I say quick? Proud owner Valle admits that while he and the other founders weren't from Puerto Vallarta, they loved the Mexican resort city. The success of this Santa Cruz county minichain amazes even its entrepreneur. "It's a dream," he says, laughing. The new downtown Santa Cruz Taqueria Vallarta, 1101A Pacific Ave., is open from 9am until midnight on weekends; 10am until midnight Mon-Fri (471.2655). I give it a four-Margarita thumbs up!

Cabmufest Wine & Dine Fest

Some benefit events are so well orchestrated as to be practically symphonic in scope. Our choice is the upcoming Cabrillo Music Festival Third Annual Winemakers' Dinner, happening once again at the spacious Bittersweet Bistro, 787 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Aptos. Hosts Thomas and Elizabeth Vinolus invite you to join music-loving bon vivants on Thursday, March 29, where a five-course dinner designed by chef Vinolus shares the evening with winemakers, prizes and plenty of music gossip. A champagne reception starts at 7pm, followed by dinner and donated wines from Ahlgren Vineyard, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Byington Winery, David Bruce Winery and Equinox Champagne. Before each course, a raffle ticket will be drawn ($95 per person all-inclusive admission includes a raffle ticket) for luxury prizes from Gravago, Shen's Gallery and Lundberg Studios. Bring a group and reserve your own table, or join other cabmufestival-goers. Winemakers will be on hand to divulge little-known secrets of the ancient mystic arts of winemaking. For reservations, quickly call 831.426.6966.

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From the March 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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