Having lived in Chicago my whole life the move to SC has been a gastronomic shock. For me, as for many Chicagoans, good food makes life worth living. The city offers authentic, honest, quality food from seemingly limitless cultures. I was proud to tell any visitor to our city where I go for my favorite burrito, fish and chips, escarole soup, falafel, tapas, empenadas, pad see eiw, etc... but i was always careful not to characterize any of them as "the best" for I hoped/anticipated that there was something even better I had yet to discover.
Anyways, Santa cruz has left me feeling depressed about the next few years; day after day of uninspired and unimaginative. Bland bites of blahh. Sufficing slices of sustenance. With a two exceptions: Las Islitas and Tepa Sehuayo. Both of these restaurants are in Watsonville so they have gone unnoticed by the many Cruzans who do not visit "South County".
Las Islitas, 1230 Main St, is a great little place specializing in the cuisine of Nayrit, Mexico. The decor is just as it should be, unassuming. The walls are adorned with maps of Mexico and of the Nayarit region, adverts for Corona and the like; a jukebox filled with musica tejans blares. The food is divine and stupendously cheap... Focused on seafood, each plate I have sampled there screams "FRESH" as it touches the tongue. The huge mound of jaiva (crab) atop a crisp tostada is served simply with offerings of lime halves and a perfectly spicy salsa verde. The oysters may be ordered in similar simplicity or dressed with fresh ceviche crab and shrimp. Each person I introduce to Las Islitas has exclaimed, without any prodding on my part, during our meal that they need to return again soon to try other offerings. And as I pile another mouthful of ceviche pescado onto a bit of tostada I nod in agreement, wondering what will I order next time?
Visiting Fiesta Tepa Sahauyo, 15 1st St Watsonville, is like visiting your long lost brother's home except your brother's name is Jorge Rivas and his wife's name is Araceli, they are from Oaxaca. I cannot possibly do justice to the menu at Tepa-Sahuayo; it is as delicious as it is extensive. The menu is enormous and also serves as a place mat. One side offers more familiar or "gringo" plates such as the all too familiar burrito/enchilada/taco combination; all of which are refreshingly prepared surprising even the most loyal taqueria-goer. The other side offers the hard to find regional dishes that many Oaxacans havent had since they left home and many Americans are never lucky enough to come across. If you are lucky enough to meet Don Jorge he will explain that "all of the meals on this side are guaranteed." that is if you dont like it tell him and he will prepare something else for you...I think it is safe to say no one has ever sent anything back...ever. These dishes include rose petal sauces, squash blossoms, shrimp in a delicious cheese soup, a mole poblano with almonds...its hard to believe that these are just a few of the surprises that the menu has to offer... the plates are gigantic, containing a sweet and tasty cabbage salad sufficient for cleansing the palate between tasting each others meals, a large portion of succulant pinto beans and fluffy rice. Oredr one of the many delightful drinks and be prepared to be served your own jug. My persoanl favorite is the Horchata con Fresas (strawberry rice milk) but there also several extraordinary juices. And just when you think Tepa-Sahuayo could not offer any more, Don Jorge rushes over to ask how the meal is, if everything is to your liking...if only your brother were this attentive...