May 29th, 2003

Taqueria Vallarta

I've been going back to Taqueria Vallarta for years. Every time, though, I lose track of just where it is on Soquel, or even what it's called, and have to go driving up and down the road to find it, usually by locating Shopper's Corner, a great local grocery.

We drove down to Santa Cruz from Half Moon Bay because Elizabeth wanted to go back to the pier to visit the sea lions. Afterward, I mentioned I'd really wanted to snag a menu from the taqueria just so I could remember where the place was. In the event, we actually did eat there.

Taqueria Vallarta
608 Soquel Av.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Tel: +1.831.457.8226
daily: 1000-2400

(two other locations:
893 41st Av.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Tel: +1.831.464.7022

1101A Pacific Av.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Tel: + 1.831.471.2655
Fax: +1.831.471.2649

same hours as main location)

Taqueria Vallarta is a fairly typical California burrito place. The prices look a little higher than elsewhere (tacos: $1.85, burritos: $4.65) but the items are noticeably larger than elsewhere. There are the usual burritos, tacos, and tostadas, with a somewhat idiosyncratic list of meat choices (carne asada, carnitas, pollo asado, pollo, al pastor, chile verde, tripitas, chorizo, buche, and lengua).

For a change of pace I got the fish taco ($2.45). The combo plate ($3.95) came with a lot of rice and beans. I should have just gotten the taco, as while there was nothing wrong with the rice and beans they were pretty unremarkable.

Taqueria Vallarta also has some specials, including a half roast chicken plate with rice, beans, and guacamole ($7.25), and menudo ($5.50) on Saturday and Sunday. They also have good selection of Mexican beers ($2.40).

Now that I've actually written the place into my LJ I bet I'll be able to find it again.

The Street of the Bailbondsmen.

Susannah and I had visited various towns in the Randstad the autumn she'd moved to Utrecht. We'd pick one each day we had free, and wander around the old neighborhoods. She'd practice her Dutch by translating the street names, many of which referred to the professions once practiced there, like weaver or smith. Occasionally, we'd notice that modern businesses would cluster in the same way. We'd see a street full of estate agents, or most memorably, temp agencies. We'd decided that last street should be called Headhunter Street.

I have found the street of the bailbondsmen.

The tire blew out around midnight, right at the beginning of I-80, on the elevated section leading to the Bay Bridge. Modern car suspensions muffle tire failures, so it just sounded to me as if I'd gone over a particularly bad pothole.

I pulled off the freeway at 7th. It was pretty clear that something was wrong, with the steering pulling to the left. I found a handicapped space on Bryant in front of Barrish Bail Bond, with a pay phone a few steps away.

I got on the phone, called Enterprise, who patched me through to AAA. As I gave them my location, I noticed a dozen cop cars parked across the street in front of a big, institutional building. AAA assured me they'd be there within sixty minutes.

What was that building, anyway?

I went back to my car, turned on the map light, and started reading the Bay Guardian. After a while, a couple of cops came out of the building with a handcuffed prisoner. I watched as they put him into a police cruiser, then drove him away.

I dug out my San Francisco street map.


I was parked across from the County Jail and Courthouse. Well, that would explain the squad cars. And the fact that nearly all the storefronts across the street were bailbondsmen's offices.

A little while later a lanky man came running out of the jail, arms outstretched and waving. I watched to see if anyone ran after him. He was running my way.

For a moment I wondered if he was escaping, and if he was whether he'd want to take my car, hazard lights conspicuously flashing. "Well, he won't get far with a flat tire," I thought. Then he turned down the street, arms still waving over his head, a piece of paper in his hand. Guess he was happy about being released.

I went back to reading, with the neon sign flashing "Bail Bonds since 1961" helping light the paper.

After an hour or so, I realized that AAA's self-imposed deadline had come and gone, and it was time for me to call them again. I walked back to the phone, called Enterprise again, got profuse apologies, was patched through to AAA again, and got put on hold. As I was leaning against the phone, waiting, a couple of Hispanic-looking women approached me.

"Is that your car?" one of them asked.


"Are you calling triple-A?"


"Could you ask them to help us? She locked her keys in her car," she said, pointing at the other woman.

"I've been waiting here for an hour already. You're welcome to wait and ask them if they ever get here."

"Oh. Maybe we'll ask the cops across the street."


They wandered off. I looked down the street, at the flashing neon, the bail bond offices, the county jail. It was all very film noir. I felt like I should be wearing a fedora and smoking a Lucky.

AAA took me off hold and said they'd arrive in 45 minutes.

I realized I didn't mind. It's San Francisco. It's gritty, it's real. And I realized that if I could feel so fond of the city at 1AM, stranded with a blown tire across the street from the county jail, there probably weren't going to be too many times or places in SF I wouldn't end up liking.