EATERS DIGEST: Tacos and treats at Capitola Mall, fundraiser for Pie Ranch and Clam Chowder Cook-Off

Quesabirria tacos at Taquizas Gabriel in the Capitola Mall.
Quesabirria tacos at Taquizas Gabriel in the Capitola Mall.
(Via Facebook)

Find quesabirria tacos, honey cake and more at locally owned businesses in the food court at the Capitola Mall. This weekend, chef Diego Felix fundraises for Pie Ranch and the Clam Chowder Cook-Off returns to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

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Happy Friday, Santa Cruz. This is my last column for a while — starting next week, I’ll be on maternity leave through June. That said, there’s some great stuff in this “farewell for now” issue of Eaters Digest.

At the Capitola Mall, come to shop at its many locally owned businesses and stay for a tasty meal or snack in the food court. This week, I chowed down on quesabirria tacos from Taquizas Gabriel and honey cake from Sugar Bakery — just two of several food-court options bucking the assumption that malls are populated only with corporate chains.

Also, Mariposa Coffee Bar has graduated from a pop-up to a brick-and-mortar with a cozy, psychedelic café on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. Its menu of Cuban and Vietnamese coffee, pastries, Cubano sandwiches, spring rolls and more honors co-owners Tram Vu’s Vietnamese and Chelsea Cabrera’s Cuban heritages.

Tickets for the Taste of Terroir dinner series, which focuses on exploring wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains, are on sale. This weekend, don’t miss the Clam Chowder Cook-Off at the Boardwalk and a fundraiser to support education farm Pie Ranch.

Enjoy — until next time!


Regan Vineyard in Corralitos.
Regan Vineyard in Corralitos.
(Via Facebook)

Tickets for Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ Taste of Terroir dinner series are live. Seven events from March through November highlight different aspects of winemaking in our local Agriculture Viticulture Area with themed tasting salons and multicourse wine-paired feasts prepared by some of the area’s best chefs. Make your plans now if you’d like to go — these events sell out fast. See the full lineup in Tuesday’s story. Tickets can be purchased through

Churchill & Beers opened earlier this month at 10110 Soquel Dr. in Aptos, in the space previously occupied by Sid’s Smokehouse, which closed last year. The menu offers wood-fired pizzas, burgers, hearty salads and pub-style snacks like nachos and onion rings, with local options for craft beer and wine. The restaurant is open every day but Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Eat this

Pouring iced coffee at downtown Santa Cruz's Mariposa Coffee Bar
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

After two years operating as a pop-up, Mariposa Coffee Bar opened a brick-and-mortar café on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz in January. Owners Tram Vu and Chelsea Cabrera have also expanded their menu of Cuban coffees, pastries and Cubanos to include Vietnamese coffee, spring rolls, pastries and a noodle bowl — all vegetarian.

Both Vietnam and Cuba’s traditional coffee drinks are strong and sweet, but the similarities end there. Cuban coffee is typically hot and mixed with whipped, frothy sugar, while Vietnamese coffee is brewed using a small press called a phin, mixed with sweetened condensed milk and commonly served over ice. Mariposa is the only place in Santa Cruz County to experience these two coffee traditions. Check out my full story on this unique coffeehouse.

Last summer, I reported that the businesses inside the Capitola Mall are more than 50% locally owned. This week, I stopped in to check out two new additions to the food court that have opened since that story came out, and walked away with an appreciation for our atypical mall dining experience — as well as a happy belly.

Former food truck Taquizas Gabriel now has a space where it offers a menu of freshly prepared street tacos, nachos and quesadillas. I chowed down on its speciality: quesabirria tacos with melted cheese, loaded with braised beef, topped with cilantro and chopped onion, with a side of blistered peppers and rich consommé for dipping.

Across the aisle, I couldn’t resist a slice of honey cake from Sugar Bakery. Baker Ela Crawford specializes in macarons, but she hails from Ukraine, where this layered cake is a popular traditional dessert. Five thin layers of honeyed, graham cracker-like cake are separated by as many layers of sweetened sour cream frosting and topped with fresh berries. Decadent, comforting and beautiful.

Other locally owned options in the food court include Ramen Kaito, Festa Coffee and Terra Superfoods. See all the dine-in options and hours of operation at


The Clam Chowder Cook-Off returns to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Saturday and Sunday.
(Via Facebook)

The storms in early January caused substantial damage at Pie Ranch, an ecological farm and educational center located north of Santa Cruz up Highway 1, affecting the strides the farm has taken to recover from the CZU wildfires in 2020. On Saturday, chef Diego Felix of Colectivo Felix and empanada outpost Fonda Felix will host a fundraiser to help offset the more than $100,000 in damages at the ranch. In the Swift Street Courtyard on Santa Cruz’s Westside, Felix will prepare a cozy, one-of-a kind meal from farm-fresh ingredients. Enjoy live music from Lucas Lawson, with beverages available for purchase. All proceeds will go to support storm recovery at Pie Ranch. Tickets are $85 per person and can be purchased through Eventbrite.

The 42nd annual Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off returns to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk this Saturday and Sunday. For those uninitiated to this iconic Santa Cruz food festival, here’s how it goes: Amateur teams compete on Saturday while professional teams, made up of chefs and representatives from local businesses, compete on Sunday with their best version of either creamy Boston or tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. Guests can purchase a $12 tasting kit that includes six tasting tickets and cast their vote for their favorites. A team of judges also gives awards. It’s a fun, family-friendly festival that often includes hilarious and creative costumes and booth decorations. All proceeds from this rain-or-shine event benefit Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation. More info at