Dining Reviews

Hot Plates Abound

diningTimeless and authentic, Tortilla Flats continues to impress in its 35th anniversary year

There are probably not many restaurants in Santa Cruz County that can attest to being in business for several decades, but Tortilla Flats has just logged 35 years—with owner-chef Cheryl Marquez at the helm.

Service is consistently good at Tortilla Flats. From the minute we enter the restaurant, servers buzz around making sure we have everything we need. A fresh bowl of chips and salsa appears on our table, the piquant salsa nicely presented in a little pouring jar. This place runs like a well-oiled machine.

Our server was wearing a T-shirt with the Tortilla Flats logo—two skeletons on bicycles reflecting a Day of the Dead scenario—with a “35 Years in Business” written underneath.

It was just after 6 p.m. and the restaurant was already filling up. Three firemen from the station across the street sat down at a nearby table and ordered. Before they can eat, they are called back to the station and rush out the door. I am happy to see them back 20 minutes later—this time leaving with a to-go bag. “This happens all the time,” they tell me, “but the restaurant is very accommodating and they pack up our food for us.”

On an adjacent table, three women connected with the nearby Cali Couture Boutique order massive margaritas. They are all smiles and tell me the drinks are terrific. Tortilla Flats’ premium margaritas are made with fresh dining2ime juice and orange liqueur—with more than 30 different tequillas to choose from. Meanwhile, tapas—little appetizers popular throughout Spain in bars and restaurants—are served here on Mondays and Tuesdays, and can be one’s answer to eating smaller portions of food. I am glad to see more places filling the need for little bites.

I was tempted to order one of the daily specials, which are chalked up on a board both outside and inside the restaurant: Enchilada Merida, Santa Fe Green Enchilada, Calamari Tostada, Wild Mushroom Quesadilla. But the word “mole” sprang out from the menu, so I ordered my South-of-the-Border favorite, Chicken Enchiladas with Mexico’s famous spicy mole sauce. Mole comes from the Nahuatl word “molli,” meaning “concoction,” and that’s exactly what it is—a blend of onion, garlic, different chile peppers, ground seeds, and a small amount of Mexican chocolate. The mole wasn’t as rich and dense as I like, but the dish had succulent pieces of chicken in one enchilada, and the other, a vegetarian “Flatland” – a spicy high protein nut patty mixture containing almonds, sesame, sunflower, peanuts, garlic and tomato—had a lovely nutty-crunchy interior.  My Dos Equis draft beer was the perfect thirst-quenching match with the enchiladas.

My husband paired a carne asada enchilada and a beef taco with “lots of good meat in it” with a simple iced tea. Both entrees were served with a fanned-out radish, a slice of orange and a leaf of kale, and since there were no greens on my plate, I ate all of these and my husband’s radish as well. Other menu items include Green Corn Tamales with Poblano Sauce, Chile Relleno, Tilapia Poblano—as well as salads and tostadas—and a children’s menu is offered, too.

 We both decided to skip dessert from an offering of three —espresso cheesecake, lemon cream pie and flan.

Marquez has spent years honing her cooking skills, and delights in tackling complex cuisine for special events that she organizes throughout the year. We can look forward to her Cactus, Frida’s Favorites, Ole Mole, Yucatan Cuisine, and Tamale events, culminating with her Day of the Dead festival in November.  Marquez creates a traditional altar for Day of the Dead and displays her own extensive collection of artifacts in the restaurant.  It’s a special time at Tortilla Flats.

As we left the restaurant, I asked a man on the next table what he was drinking, and he offered me a taste of his Herradura Añejo tequila and poured a bit in a clean glass.

I’ll definitely be back for more. 

Tortilla Flats, 4616 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 476-1754. Tortillaflatsdining.com.

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