With two outdoor patios and a blazing color scheme, Copal is an inviting oasis right on the main drag of Westside Santa Cruz. But it’s the aromas of chile-chocolate mole and the smoky bite of mezcal that send the deeper message of this patron-friendly Oaxacan dining spot.
Brought to us by the entrepreneurs of Lúpulo and armed with the mole magic of head chef Ana Fabian Mendoza, Copal is fully open once more and pulling in diners who, like me, treasure memories of Oaxaca’s complex cuisine.
Visually, Copal delivers the goods. Brightly colored pottery and a friendly, well-trained staff started us off on our initial visit last week. Chips and salsa arrived quickly, as did our house margaritas ($12), festively ringed with lip-tingling red chile. From the appealing menu—lots of gluten-free and vegan options—we chose items we hoped would give us an overview of the kitchen’s stylings.
A lavish antojito platter ($20) arrived bearing a fiesta of house appetizers. Handmade corn tortilla quesadillas were warm with melting cheese and mushrooms—the star of the entire meal! Gorgeously topped with black bean paste, guacamole salsa and queso fresco were slender taquitos, filled with potato. A plump masa fritter stuffed with potato and no detectable chorizo was strewn playfully with crisp sauteed chapulines (crickets) that were tasty and crunchy. Pretty radishes, salsa, guacamole, gorgeous shreds of brilliant purple cabbage and plump cubes of queso fresco all added to the party.
We dipped everything into a side order of mole negro ($2) and quaffed with the margaritas. Curiously mild, both in alcohol and in flavor, the margaritas (made from mezcal, tequila and lime) were wonderfully thirst-quenching in the warm evening climate. The taste of mole negro was a quick trip back to the zócalo. Intensely rich and sweet with roasted ancho chiles, chocolate, almonds and yerba santa the mole was a sensory dream of chile, chocolate and smoke.
Our other order was another nostalgia choice, Tamal en Hoja de Platano ($14), a banana leaf covered with mole negro and filled with house masa and pork. On the side came a side of nopales salad and a brilliant hand-painted bowl of black beans. Flavorful masa but little in the way of pork filled the satiny platano leaf. The colorful side salad was long on finely diced onions, tomatoes and cilantro, all of which overwhelmed the tiny pieces of cactus. Still, I’d walk a mile for a bite of nopales.
I look forward to sampling more from Copal, especially a chicken mole entree and more of those amazing quesadillas. Oh, and some samplings from the incredible list of specialty mezcals.
Copal, 1203 Mission St., Santa Cruz. 831-201-4418, copalrestaurant.com.
Slow Coast Beauregard
Ace wine hosts Rachel and Ryan Beauregard have just opened their Slow Coast Wine Bar in Davenport, housed in the former Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting depot. Plenty of indoor seating is now available, plus a few tables on the charming front porch with a killer view of the ocean. Charcuterie and cheese platters are available to enjoy along with an array of award-winning Beauregard Vineyards wines.
The estate winery tasting room, up the mountain a few miles in the middle of Bonny Doon, had gotten so busy that a second Davenport wine bar location was needed. Hours for the wine bar are Thursday-Monday, 1-8pm. Reservations are not required, unless you’re a large group and want to reserve the entire space!
Slow Coast Wine Bar, 450 Highway 1, Davenport. 831-600-7402, beauregardvineyards.com/Visit-Us/The-Davenport-Wine-Bar.