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From salsas to sushi in Eureka

click to enlarge The rainbow of salsa selections at Paco's Tacos Taqueria in Eureka.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

The rainbow of salsa selections at Paco's Tacos Taqueria in Eureka.

Belly Up to the Salsa Bar

The revolving-door that is the spot on Eureka's Fifth Street that formerly housed Los Sinaloenses and its marvelous white menudo occupied has flipped again. Alfa Torres and her husband Bosacio Villagrana have opened their first restaurant, Paco's Tacos Taqueria (1134 Fifth St., Eureka) there, bringing big flavor in the form of its salsa bar. A Southern California standard, the array of self-serve salsas has thus far eluded us on the North Coast, and the couple weren't finding the level of spice they wanted. "It's something different in Humboldt; no one has it," says Torres.

Salsa aficionados, your moment has arrived. Lift the salsa bar's stainless steel lid and reveal a dozen options, from dark and oily to bright and creamy. On a recent visit, they included: freshly made chipotle, verde, habanero, pico de gallo, chile de aceite, roja, chile de arbol and guacamole salsas, fresh lime and habanero slices, sliced pepperoncini and pickled jalapeño. Somewhere in that field is the tang and heat you have been looking for, the oily chile de aceite — spiked with chile japones and chile de arbol — and the habanero being closest to the top of the Scoville chart.

If molotes ($11) are hiding in the corners of other Humboldt menus, they've escaped our notice. There are meat options, but cheese is the move, warm and stretchy under a fried shell of corn and flour dough. "I used to eat them when I was little," says Torres, who is originally from Guerrero, Mexico, but came to Humboldt at the age of 15. "I loved those since I was little ... and I wanted to make it here." The trio of ovals topped with shredded lettuce, crumbles of cotija cheese and crema come with a side of soupy refried bean dip, and make for a more than substantial appetizer. They're also fine foundation snacks with which to further explore that salsa bar.

The costillitas ($16) are a stronger statement of flavor — pork rib chunks stewed in a deep red sauce worth scooping up with the accompanying soft, salty, broad corn tortillas. The color comes from dried chile California and the little bit of heat is from chile de arbol. The rice and mild, creamy refried beans are a fine accompaniment to the juicy pork that's easily coaxed off the bone.

And if you've been dreaming about the tacos you ate at a local wedding or quinceañera, good news: The restaurant's namesake Paco Escobar, sought after caterer for parties around the county, is in the kitchen with Torres.

Sushi and Pizza

Other shifts in the restaurant landscape continue. Restaurateur Joe Tan of Nori and Overtime Eatery and Game is starting and restarting two projects in Eureka. He's mapping out a floorplan for the rooftop space in the newly built structure at Second and E streets, a 1,400-square foot space with a patio and room for eight to 10 tables inside. There, he hopes to run a tight ship, focused on sushi and sake, as was his original plan for Nori, which is undergoing a menu overhaul. The yet unnamed rooftop sushi restaurant would also be less sprawling in both menu and footprint than Curry Leaf. Big restaurants, he says, "are too much overhead," and he's looking to sell the pan-Asian spot at 2335 Fourth St. in Eureka.

Over on Seventh Street at the former Angelo's Pizza, Overtime Eatery and Game has been closed since the attached Brett's Pizzeria shut down June 30, dashing the dreams of both Detroit and Chicago pizza afficionados. "I don't know how to make pizza," Tan says with a laugh, and he's not ready to pick up a new skillset. "Right now [I'm] just too busy for my other two restaurants." So, he's on the hunt for someone to move into the newly spruced up pizza kitchen and run their own shop out of it. Those missing the Midwestern style of Brett's will have to light a candle and hope whoever takes it over has deep pans.

Share your tips about What's Good with Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her), arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill and Mastodon @jenniferfumikocahill.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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