EATERS DIGEST: Top local Yelp spots, an Asian snack shack and a Pretty Good burger

What would've been Pretty Good Advice on Wednesday: Get to Pretty Good Advice!
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

This week’s roundup of great things to eat in the county includes a veggie smash burger, Asian snacks and fiddlehead ferns.

Happy Friday! Welcome to Eaters Digest, which is particularly full of good things to eat this week. Clear your calendar, you’ve got some work to do.

Yelp reviewers can be nasty, but they also give credit where it’s due. This year’s list of top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area, according to Yelp reviews, includes three local restaurants: Pana Food Truck, Seabright Deli and Achilles – three favorite places of mine for Venezeulan arepas, incredible sandwiches and fresh falafel.

July is burger season, and I found a great one at Pretty Good Advice in Soquel that ticks all my burger boxes – including an addition of American cheese – with a vegetarian black bean patty. I also discovered the Capitola Mall houses the best Asian snack store in the county, with dozens of sweet treats and seafood-flavored chips. Also, while Far West Fungi’s Laurel Street store is many shoppers’ go-to place for mushrooms, did you know it has other specialty products like fiddlehead ferns and fresh wasabi?

Fruition Brewing is throwing a birthday party in Watsonville that you won’t want to miss, and next week Senderos is hosting a mole and tejate demonstration in Midtown. Read on to discover all the deliciousness.

News

At Achilles by the Sea, guests can customize each order with protein, style and more than a dozen toppings and sauces.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Every year, Yelp releases a top 100 list of the best places to eat, driven by its users’ five-star rating system. This year, the Bay Area top 100 list includes three local restaurants. Santa Cruz-based Pana Food Truck took the number 30 spot, and if you haven’t tried its Venezuelan arepas stuffed with fillings like black beans, fried plantains, avocado and shredded chicken, there’s never been a better time to check it out. Seabright Deli in Santa Cruz is ranked 68th – just a few weeks ago, I raved about its Grotto sandwich with local rockfish. Achilles restaurant’s original location in Santa Clara also achieved a top spot at number 39, and its Midtown location in Santa Cruz is absolutely worth checking out. Its fresh, heart-shaped falafel are some of the best in town, and you’ll be won over by the friendly, welcoming service.

Eat This

Most burgers are good enough, but creating a truly great burger requires precise execution and careful consideration. First, you have to consider the quality of the ingredients, starting with the bun, which I think should always be fluffy on the outside and warm and griddled on the inside. The world’s your oyster when it comes to toppings, but make sure to consider the structure. A burger that squishes out the back when you take your first bite is a bitter disappointment and an utter mess. Then there’s the patty – these days, I’m a fan of a smash burger, which is a thin patty smashed on the grill until the edges crisp. All of this should be bound together with some kind of special sauce.

The California Ranch Burger at Pretty Good Advice.

The California Ranch Burger at Pretty Good Advice in Soquel is one burger that cleanly ticks all of these boxes for an epic burger experience. The combo is pretty classic – fresh iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato, homemade ranch dressing, avocado and American cheese – the best and only cheese for a hamburger as far as I’m concerned, and yes that’s a hill I’m willing to die on – with a cumin-spiced housemade black bean patty cooked smash burger-style. It’s utterly satisfying, especially with the house-cut fries and homemade aioli. And at the low price of $8.50, it’s one of the most reasonably priced burgers in town. Check it out at prettygoodadvicesoquel.com.

A few weeks ago I took my son to the Children’s Museum of Discovery in the Capitola Mall and stopped in my tracks when I saw white fluorescent lights beaming from an irresistible storefront. The shelves inside Tasteeze Exotic Snacks were lined with the largest selection of colorfully wrapped Asian snacks in the county. One wall is laden with sweets and candies — Kit Kats, mochi, Hello Kitty-themed Pocky, pineapple cakes wrapped in foil, chocolate-filled Hello Panda cookies, Hi-Chews, boba candy and lots of treats with names written in Japanese and Korean that I couldn’t read but was very tempted by. Then there are the salty snacks. Apparently, the Frito-Lay company has been holding out on America and only been distributing its best chips to the Asian diaspora — I saw half a dozen seafood-flavored chips including crab, garlic oyster, crawfish and shrimp, plus something that looked like wasabi-flavored Pringles. The shop also had a fridge full of drinks with which to wash your snack feast down — several flavors of boba, juices thick with basil seeds and a few fun cans featuring fierce-looking anime characters.

Discovering Tasteeze was a fun revelation, but it’s not the only exciting store at the mall these days, especially when it comes to food. This week, I’m speaking with Brian Kirk, the general manager at the Capitola Mall, a self-proclaimed foodie who is working to attract local businesses back to the mall. Look for that story next week. More info about Tasteeze at shopcapitolamall.com.

Far West Fungi is my go-to spot for all things mushroom, from culinary mushrooms like fresh maitake, chanterelles, porcini and black truffles to medicinal reishi and lion’s mane. But there’s a lot more on the shelves besides fungus. On a recent trip to the downtown Santa Cruz storefront on Laurel Street, I found tightly coiled fiddlehead ferns, briny, vegetal sea beans, fresh wasabi root and blue gray huitlacoche (well, ok, huitlacoche actually is a fungus that grows on corn) — all specialty items rarely seen at local stores and markets. If you’re an adventurous homecook, stop in to try these fun ingredients. More info at farwestfungi.com.

Events

Fruition Brewing in Watsonville celebrates its third anniversary this Saturday, and since the pandemic canceled the first two parties, this year they’re making up for lost time. An extended patio offers lots of outdoor space to gather and enjoy live music all day, beanie baby cornhole, oysters from in-house kitchen Hindsight Café, vegan donuts from Donuts 831, a photo wall plus rare kegs and vintage bottles of Fruition beer. Fruition will also release “3D,” a triple IPA made in collaboration with San Diego-based Pure Project Brewing. The fun starts at 12 p.m. More info at fruitionbrewing.com.

The cuisine of Oaxaca is renowned around the world, especially for its iconic mole, a rich, savory sauce that can be made from dozens of ingredients. This Thursday, July 21, nonprofit Senderos is hosting a cooking demonstration with Oaxacan cook Doña Lorenza, who will show how to make an authentic mole and tejate, a traditional alcohol-free Oaxacan drink made from cacao and maize. Lorenza and Senderos co-founder Fe Silva-Robles will also share a film of oaxaqueño food stories. This event is free and takes place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Midtown lot at 1113 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. More info at scsenderos.org.

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