Javier Hernandez wraps at Vallarta.
When I first moved to Santa Cruz for school, I remember looking out my parents’ car window and deciding to try to eat at every single Santa Cruz taqueria in search of the town’s best burrito. Even as a Southern California native, I was amazed by the high per capita ratio of burrito places to everything else.
Six years later, I’ve been to at least two dozen burrito places around the county, taking pointers from friends and Internet clues. Finally, I’m ready to name my favorites.
A great burrito boils down to quality ingredients—rice, beans, meat and salsa—that complement each other without clashing, or blending into one soupy mush.
Santa Cruz County folks take their burritos seriously, and I know that around here, any list of the top 10 will be controversial. There are sure to be protests from those whose favorite doesn’t make the list. I welcome them, in the hopes of expanding my burrito experience even further.
1. Hector’s Mexican Bakery, Watsonville
This place is all about the tortillas. They are moist on the inside and crunchy outside, making them a bit chewy overall. Combined with amazing rice, beans and salsa, those tortillas give their burritos a flavor all their own. Employees say they don’t cook their shiny tortillas in lard. So whatever it is in Hector’s recipe that keeps these tortillas so complex is a family secret.
2. El Delicia’s, Watsonville
The younger sister of a restaurant in Salinas, El Delicia’s 2 delivers speedy service and a large meal wrapped into a tortilla for only $4. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend the cabeza—Spanish for “head,” universal for “greasy-delicious.” Not unlike a good book, this melt-in-your-mouth burrito is difficult to put down.
3. Jalapeños Taqueria, Santa Cruz
The tiny green shop at Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue is one of the only places in town to get chicken mole, an authentic Mexican treat. A super burrito of mole or of chicken nitza (marinated in orange juice and soy sauce) drips with deliciousness so thick you’ll wish you brought a change of clothes.
4. Carnitas Trejos, Watsonville
On a weekend at lunchtime, Trejos is packed while mariachi music blasts over the stereo. In their burritos, spicy red salsa and grease sink to the bottom, making the tasty tortillas just about as translucent as a Japanese spring roll. The small cuts of meat are savory and juicy, and each bite of salsa is spicy and rewarding.
5. Taqueria Mi Tierra, Watsonville
Some of the most amazing things come in surprising places. This taqueria, squeezed between Kmart and Walgreens on one of Watsonville’s main drags, is a perfect example. Good prices and mouth-watering meats make it one of the must-try burrito stops in south Santa Cruz County.
6. La Rosa, Watsonville
When I first walked into this joint on my friend’s recommendation, I thought I was in the wrong grocery store. But when I looked to the rear left, I saw a deli-type counter and a woman serving up some very meaty burritos. Rice and beans are in shorter supply, but the meaty marinades taste as if someone held an empty plate outside as the heavens showered barbecue from the gods above.
7. Los Gallos, Scotts Valley
There is never a dry bite in one of these burritos or a moment of bad service on a visit. The burritos are on the small side and a bit pricey, but they come with the perfect amount of guacamole and sour cream and are served tasty and moist without getting too soggy.
8. Taqueria Vallarta, Santa Cruz
These might be some of the best-wrapped burritos anywhere. After NASA sends a man to Mars, leading astrophysicists should see how far into space one of these scrumptious torpedoes can last intact. I predict Saturn at least.
9. Los Pericos, Santa Cruz
All the meats at Los Pericos are top-notch. And the shrimp burrito, filled with tasty cheese, is always a good bet. The rice, beans and wrapping aren’t quite on the same level as some of the other shops on this list, but customers are free to roam the very tasty salsa bar with a purchase.
10. Los Pinos, Santa Cruz
These yummy burritos are practically the size of a grown man’s forearm. They also serve a French fry-loaded California burrito, a delicacy in more southern parts of California.