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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nuevo Southwest Grill - Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

After living in Santa Cruz for nearly ten years I have made countless trips along both East and West Cliff Drives because they both wind along the coast. I have passed the Nuevo Southwest Grill more times than I can recall. To be brutally honest I had prejudged this place and frankly thought it was just another taqueria of sorts based on the outside. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with a great taqueria I honestly thought that inside this rather mundane facade were only tacos and burritos waiting.

A highly nondescript storefront at 2-1490 East Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz

But once you step inside the cheery colors and bright Southwestern decor instantly welcomes you into a place of warmth and hospitality. It's a hint that something special is upon you.

As fate would have it I got introduced to this great eatery by a friend who lives in Sacramento. Go figure. After some research I learned that the guy behind the fantastic food at Nuevo is owner, Chef Ruben Partida whose experience includes Aqui, Gordon Biersch and an all-time favorite of mine in San Jose called Eulipia. The Nuevo team is a family effort with Ruben's wife, Kathy and his daughter, Alexandra both lending their talents as well as some old family recipes kept alive. Chef Ruben and Alexandra took a moment out of their always busy evenings to pose for this shot.

Chef Owner Ruben Partida and his daughter Alexandra

One of the house specialties is a variety of sangrias that go beyond the typical red wine version. Since I could not easily decide Alexandra was kind enough to bring me a trio of them to sample. From left to right is the Peach (White cranberry peach juice, Chablis, lime juice and honey), Red (Burgandy wine, orange juice, lime juice and sugar) Mango Nectar with Chablis wine.

Trio of house made sangrias for me to sample

Although I liked them all the Peach version won my personal taste test. They float fresh bits of apple that makes this very refreshing drink fun and festive. It is so light it's almost like a spritzer.

Nuevo Southwest Grill's house made Peach Sangria – $5.00

On my first visit here I let my friend order and we started off with one of their most popular appetizers, Smoked Seasoned Salmon on grilled flat bread with dill cream cheese, red onions, capers and tomato relish. Normally I am not a huge fan of smoked salmon but this version actually had a crust on it that was fantastic. And the layers of other complementing flavors made for a great start to our meal. It was a salty and savory way to get our taste buds going without filling us up. Perfecto Apertivo!

Smoked Seasoned Salmon Appetizer – $10.95

Two standout entrees we've tried many times over is the Seafood Risotto and anything with their special Tamarindo Sauce. The risotto shown here is a generous portion loaded with crab, shrimp and salmon served in a broth with sweet corn and spinach.

Seafood Risotto – $14.95

I mentioned their special Tamarindo BBQ sauce which is offered on their Braised Ribs but I tried it on a seafood skewer of salmon, scallops and opa fish. On the side was a tangy mango slaw and sweet potato fries. As you'd expect from good BBQ the sweet and tangy flavors were all playing well together here.

Seafood Skewer Special with Mango Slaw and Sweet Potato Fries – $14.95

Vegetarians are not forgotten at Nuevo with many opportunities to substitute tofu or other non-meat options in nearly all of their dishes. Pictured here are the Red Potato Enchiladas from their vegetarian entree menu. They are rolled with onions and cheese then topped with sour cream, both red and green tomatillo sauce and served with green rice and pinto beans.

Red Potato Enchiladas with Rice and Pinto Beans – $10.95

For the more traditional Mexican food lovers they also offer more classic choices like steak, chicken or prawn Fajitas, Pork Chile Verde, and Carne Asada. This photo shows the steak with all of the fixings you'd expect to find on a good fajita platter.

Steak Fajitas – $14.95

Attention to detail and tiny nice touches are everywhere at Nuevo. Chef Ruben really knows flavors and makes them pop on even simple salads. Pictured here is my favorite from their Ensaladas list. It includes Hearts of Romaine topped with carrots, jicama, cucumber and mango with a ginger sesame vinaigrette. You can have a half version for $6.25 or a full portion for $8.25. You can even add steak or chicken for $4.00 more or Salmon for an extra $4.25.

Ginger Sesame Salad ($6.25 half or $8.25 whole)

Desserts change daily and are always a pleasant surprise on their own special menu. Some of the regular offerings are Caramel Flan with crispy bunvelos, Apple Crisp with sundried cranberries and Mexican Truffle cake with chocolate raspberry sauce. However, for me the hands down signature dish at Nuevo is their Sweet Potato Bread Pudding. I am not even a big dessert eater but I find myself telling total strangers about this dish. It is rich and light at the same time. It perfectly splits the difference between sweet and savory but never once do you question its status as a dessert. I cannot say enough good things about this bread pudding is so I will just let this picture do the talking for me.

Sweet Potato Bread Pudding – $5.50

For the last seven years Neuvo Southwest Grill has kept a steady stream of loyal customers returning for their exceptional food with a large percentage being locals. Every Wednesday is Ukulele Night where the popular clubs converge for a live mass performance and Nuevo provides a special $10 menu. It is truly a comfortable local hangout with a family spirit but making some seriously sophisticated flavors. Come for the food but also enjoy the warm and friendly service. Basically they make you feel like you're at the Partida home for dinner.

Nuevo Southwest Grill – (831) 475-2233
2-1490 East Cliff Drive
Live Oak neighborhood in Santa Cruz
Closed on Mondays
Tuesday/Wednesday 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Dinner only
Thursday/Friday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Lunch and Dinner
Saturday/Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Brunch and Dinner
Excellent value with dinner entrees from $10.95 to $14.95


  1. Best Bread Pudding in the South Bay! Can't wait to go back and have it again. Oh, and I want the enchiladas next time too. They look and sound delicious!

  2. So glad you finally tasted the bread pudding at Nuevo today. I have a strong feeling this visit will not be your last there if I have my way. I hope my post brings more awareness to this great restaurant because they deserve all the praise I have given.

  3. Carl, if ANYONE can do it, you can always make me want to make the trek back, if only for the food alone. I want ALL of this NOW and it's only 8:15 in the AM! Nice pix and text buddy!