Restaurants & Bars 4

El Alteno in Watsonville (long)

Carb Lover | Dec 16, 200403:57 PM

Finally made it out to El Alteno (323 Main St., W-ville; 831.768.9876) for Tues. night dinner. Great way to recharge after a couple hrs. of Xmas shopping. For those who may not know, this is owned by the brother of the owner of another hound haven, Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo. Was looking forward to doing a little comparison since I've been to Tepa twice.

What EA does: regional Mex. fare; according to their take-out menu, food is in the style of Jalisco. Menu is heavy on the seafood w/ fresh oysters available. Atmosphere: large, long, high-ceilinged room w/ cozy, generic Mex. decor--minimalist compared to Tepa. It was quite crowded w/ one party of around 50 people gathered along one side of the room, work buddies drinking beer and grabbing a bite, a few couples. From previous reports, was expecting to see mostly "gringos" (non-Latino), but most everyone in there appeared to be Mex/Latino. Lots of Spanish dialogue fluttering about the room. Interesting...Tepa was at least 50% gringo on both occasions.

Menu was well-organized, glossy, reader-friendly; however, like Tepa, it was a lot to digest at first glance. What we ordered:

Enchiladas de Mariscos: "two crab and rock shrimp enchiladas verde, filled w/ sauteed crab and shrimp, garlic, onion, white cheese, white wine, and topped w/ a tomatillo-cilantro green sauce, queso fresco, guacamole and chipotle sour cream"--whew! $12.95

Mole de Puebla: "thin slices of citrus marinated chicken breast, slow simmered in a sauce of roasted tomatoes, chiles, fresh garlic, dried fruits, nuts, Mexican chocolate, and mixed herbs"--double whew! $9.95

2 Mex. sodas (grapefruit & tamarind) $1.75 ea.

Both entrees came w/ corn tortillas, rice, Peruvian or black beans. Enchiladas were delicate, creamy, but flavorful. Shrimp flavor dominated over crab, but everything tasted fresh. Loved the firm texture of shrimp w/ every other bite. Chicken mole had even strips of chicken drowned in a very generous pool of mole. Pieces were fresh and cooked well; mole was rich w/ usual sensual array of flavors. Not nearly as complex and hypnotic as that at Tepa though.

Peruvian beans and rice were simple but delicious. Beans reminded me of the ones at Tacos Moreno in Santa Cruz. Black beans, OTOH, were extremely salty to the point of being inedible for us. Server was on reserved side, but she was very efficient and responsive to a couple of requests. Overall, enjoyed the meal very much. Will def. return to try the Mex. seafood stews, housemade flan, and for pete's sake, margarita.

Decided that El Alteno and Tepa are both good in their own right. EA is good when we want a comfy place, dependable service, good food--a place to take our parents or non-hound out-of-towners. Tepa OTOH is good when we feel like being stimulated, more daring, able to deal w/ variable conditions related to comfort, service, mood of the cook, freshness of ingredients. Sometimes could be flat, other times may be exhilarating--always worth the risk. The Rivas brothers planned this very well...

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