California Highway One becomes Mission Street for several miles on the west side of Santa Cruz, as you learn whether you are driving south, making the c-shaped curve around the Monterey Bay, or north, hugging the open sea on your way to Half Moon Bay. Don’t drive too quickly, even if the traffic is light, or you’ll miss some of the foodie treasures the town has to offer. Stop for a cappuccino at The Abbey, a cool little coffee and art lounge hidden behind the Vintage Faith church, then for a brown sugar milk caramel bar from the famous Donnelly Fine Chocolates in an unassuming storefront near the road up to UCSC. And for the ultimate taste of Santa Cruz, turn into the Swift Street Courtyard, where – along with the local winery and brewery tasting rooms - brightly painted ceramic pigs mark the entrance to el Salchichero. Here you’re just one bronze sausage-link door handle away from the best local artisan meat around.
El Salchichero is an actual old-timey butcher shop, where the tasty locavore twist is the products come from regionally sourced and humanely raised animals. Shopping here is a vote for sustainability, goodness, and respect for your food, as well as for supporting local business. Plus, when you eat a burger that came from a cow that grazed on those grassy slopes looking out over the Pacific. It’s a very real taste of Santa Cruz.
Take advantage of owner Chris la Veque’s butchery wizardness to get uncommon cuts like beef bavette and pork secreto as well as pate, rillettes, chicharrones, even whole rabbit. On the smokehouse side, Chris makes his own bacon and jerky as well as crafting creative sausages from lamb & Guinness to California chorizo to chicken mole to black sheep. And if that’s not enough, he’s got a curing room where he makes a variety of salamis, including hard to find speck, lomo and finnochiona.
When I stumbled across el Salchichero last week, I bought their handmade hot dogs, perro calientes (beef, water, celery baste, organic fresh garlic, sea salt, organic sugar, Lindencroft chilis, and organic spices) with some chorizo bacon (pork, sea salt, organic sugar, Groundswell Farms chills, organic spices, and tequila) to make my first batch of Tijuana dogs. Sugar and spice and everything nice is NOT the way I ever expected to describe a hot dog, but there you go – the best hot dogs around, with a subtle bite from the chilis. I’ll be back. . .
In the meantime, click here for more about bacon-wrapped Tijuana dogs.