Chelsea Cabrera (left) and Tram Vu at Mariposa Cuban Coffee
Chelsea Cabrera (left) and Tram Vu opened Mariposa Cuban Coffee inside Vu’s Sandwich Spot on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

EATERS DIGEST: Let Mariposa Cuban Coffee put some pep in your step

Whether it’s a holiday-season jolt of caffeine or vegetarian, Cuban-inspired pastries and sandwiches, the downtown Santa Cruz pop-up has Lily Belli’s attention. She also dishes out holiday wishes and revisits an old friend in this week’s Eaters Digest.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! I hope this issue of Eaters Digest finds you cozy, full of cheese and surrounded by loved ones. Here’s hoping we can all enjoy a brief mental reprieve as COVID persists and brings fresh challenges for the restaurant industry and beyond.

Lily

One bright spot in my life is the expanded Friday hours for Mariposa Cuban Coffee, which means my weekends are now kicking off with cortaditos and Cubanos. Read more about this delightful downtown pop-up below.

News

Omicron has hit the restaurant industry. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that restaurants throughout the Bay Area have temporarily closed or pivoted to to-go only after staff members either tested positive for COVID or were exposed to someone who tested positive as the latest variant surges through California.

All things wining, dining, brewing and agriculture, from the mountains to the coast.

I haven’t yet heard of any restaurants in Santa Cruz County needing to close due to a rise in COVID cases, but the first cases of this new variant have already been detected locally, and it feels like it will only be a matter of time.

In fact, if you’re looking for a last-minute gift, might I recommend a gift certificate to a local restaurant? Restaurant owners continue to struggle with a multitude of challenges brought on by the pandemic, the latest being surging prices brought on by scarcity and supply-chain breakdowns. I spoke with local restaurateurs to see how they’re coping.

Mariposa's Cuban-inspired coffee comes in small cups but packs a punch.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Eat this

Mariposa Cuban Coffee has nailed its soundtrack. While waiting in line, the groovy upbeat tunes emanating from the pop up inside the Sandwich Spot in downtown Santa Cruz lifted the energy level of the whole block. After my first cafecito, a deceptively dainty Cuban double espresso with whipped sugar, I was vibrating along with the beat.

Chelsea Cabrera and Tram Vu started Mariposa Cuban Coffee almost a year ago. The two bonded over a shared love of coffee and the vibrant flavors they grew up with — for Cabrera, Cuban flavors in Miami; for Vu, Vietnamese cuisine in San Jose. “We grew up eating very unique, distinct flavors. We thought, ‘Why not bring that to Santa Cruz?’” says Cabrera. “We both grew up in cities where food was so alive and important.”

Tram Vu (left) and Chelsea Cabrera outside Mariposa's Pacific Avenue digs.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Vu owns the Sandwich Spot at 1010 Pacific Avenue, and she and Cabrera partnered to open Mariposa a few times a week inside the restaurant. Together they’ve created an entirely vegetarian, Cuban-inspired menu of pastries and sandwiches. The sweet and savory combo of guava and cream cheese pasty is my new favorite weekend breakfast, while the beef and chorizo pastry (both soy-based meats) is like the best hot pocket you’ve ever had.

The star of their menu is the Cubanano, a masterpiece of a sandwich with melted Swiss cheese, homemade honey mustard, dill pickles and “ham,” pressed flat until the outside is so crispy, you have to crunch your way in. The Midnight version adds roast-pork-style jackfruit, a delicious, meaty addition that I highly recommend.

Cuba has a strong coffee tradition, and the Cuban coffee drinks made at Mariposa are unlike any others I’ve had locally. The deeply roasted espresso is served sweet and the texture is creamy, even without the addition of milk. Don’t be fooled by their small size — they pack a punch, in the best way.

Mariposa Cuban Coffee is open Fridays, Saturday and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., to catch the bar-hopping crowd. Vu explains that the idea sprung between them when they saw that there were few late-night options for good food, and even fewer vegetarian options. Cabrera adds that the Cubano sandwich has always been a late-night snack after an evening of drinking and dancing.

While they are happy with their steady growth, the pair is also excited to expand their menu at some point in the future. They’d like to add more Vietnamese dishes, pastries and sandwiches like banh mi. “It’s kind of eerily similar how our cultures, foodwise, are very close knit, but we’re so far apart. It took us meeting and eating together to realize that like, hey, this is something that’s really doable, and it’s such a niche idea that we hope to expand on.” Follow along on Instagram at @mariposacubancoffee.

Goodles, the new Santa Cruz-based mac-and-cheese company, has restocked its online shelves after selling out during its launch last month. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend grabbing a few boxes. Goodles has reengineered its wheat-based noodles to incorporate oodles of protein and nutrients from vegetables, while using real cheese without additives. The best part is it tastes just like, or probably better, than the boxed mac you grew up eating. Plus, it comes Wonder Woman-endorsed. Order at goodles.com.