In the beginning of November I took a rather spontaneous trip for someone like me who plans quite a bit. Less than two weeks after the decision to travel, I made my way to the West Coast for a 12 day trip to see both college and Ultimate Frisbee friends and to eat some West Coast tacos.
Even though the first city I visited during my trip was San Francisco, my first taco stop on the West Coast Taco Tour was in Santa Cruz. I was with my college friends Jess and Hannah and their significant others, Matt and Tim, respectively, for the first half of my vacation.
Stop #1 Las Palmas Taco Bar – Santa Cruz
Before we made it to Santa Cruz, Las Palmas Taco Bar was already on our radar according to Hannah and Tim. They used to frequent to Santa Cruz quite often for weekend getaways so they had the perfect motel picked out across from a taco shop. Hannah and Tim love Las Palmas Taco Bar, mainly because they have a really spicy salsa that they both crave. I, on the other hand, was more excited for the tacos than the hot salsa. Once the Fab Five made it to Santa Cruz, we had lunch at Las Palmas Taco Bar. This place is unique as it was established in 1955 and has been run by the same owner ever since the opening.
Filling for tacos here included shredded beef, ground beef, shredded crispy chicken, and veggies. The tacos can be prepared with lettuce and cheese in a crispy shell or with onions, cilantro, and salsa verde in a soft shell.
To cover both types of taco preparation, I ordered the ground beef crispy taco and the shredded chicken soft taco. I liked the chicken taco a little bit more and gave it a 3 (almost 4) out of 5. I docked a point for the strong onion taste, but I loved the flexible corn shell, saucy chicken, and slight heat from the salsa verde. This taco was piled with shredded chicken and had almost too much for the shell to hold. As for the ground beef taco, I was a little caught off guard by the texture as veggies were mashed in with the meat making it look like a bean-like paste. Despite having the veggies mixed, this taco still needed a bit more flavor. I gave this taco a 2/5. I did like how the shell was deep fried and reminded me of the unique taco shell I had at a restaurant in Sedona (Arizona Taco post here). I think I would have preferred the shredded beef taco over the ground beef taco.
After tacos, we made our way to the boardwalk. I was craving a milkshake after the salty tacos. I was a happy girl with tacos in my tummy and the sun shining down on me as we continued our Santa Cruz exploration.
Price: $3.25 per taco.
Stop #2 Taqueria Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz
Hannah, Tim, and I had tacos two days in a row for lunch. Well, actually Tim ordered a burrito at the next place, but Hannah and I stayed true to tacos. We picked Taqueria Santa Cruz after an online search for tacos near a store that sold wet suits – Tim was in the market for a new wet suit.
We had a feeling we picked a winner because there were lots of people sitting inside and outside eating tacos. Like Las Palmas Taco Bar, Taqueria Santa Cruz is a family owned and operated establishment since 1991. Taqueria Santa Cruz has two locations and we happened to be at the original location on Mission St.
Meat options for the tacos included asada (grilled beef), al pastor, carnitas, shredded chicken, grilled chicken, chorizo, chile verde (pork in green sauce). Specialty meat options included buche (pork stomach), birria de Chivo (BBQ goat), cabeza (beef head), lengua (beef tongue), and tripas (beef tripe). This is the first taco spot I have seen pork stomach and BBQ goat on the menu. I should have branched out but went with the asada and al pastor soft tacos.
I did not regret the tacos I chose as the asada taco was a 5/5 according to my scale. I would not change anything about this taco. This was a perfect example of how quality meat, a fresh corn shell, and spot on salsa are all you need to make an excellent taco. The al pastor taco also scored high with a 4/5. It was a little too fatty, but also great quality of meat. Al pastor tacos usually are dripping in sauces but this al pastor did not have that level of drippy-ness. This saved me from using a lot of napkins at lunch.
Even though Tim did not have any luck finding a new wet suit, we definitely scored on the tacos at Taqueria Santa Cruz.
Price: $2.75 for hard shell taco, $2.85 for soft taco, $.40 extra for taco with special meat, $3.50 for veggie taco.