Where to eat "Secrets"
The restaurants, diners and dives here are an eclectic mix and are listed here geographically, not by order of quality or my preference. Some are for lunch, some for dinner and some for both. There are tiny little gems that for the most part only the locals know about, while others have been acknowledged across the country to offer fine gourmet dining to go nicely with that special bottle of wine you picked up while wine tasting on the Central Coast... a match for the better restaurants you will find around the world. Enjoy the search , never trust a person who doesn't enjoy a good meal with friends and don't tell a soul about these cuilinary secrets... it's just between you and us. Remember too to share your local food discoveries with us.
Kai Lana Sushi & Seafood, 6900 El Camino Real, Atascadero, CA 93422. (805) 462-2232. Candidly, Atascadero is not the first thought that comes to mind when discussing fine cuisine (apologies to our "Atascardarean" friends). But if you happen to be in the area for lunch of dinner and are struck by a sudden hankering for good sushi... you really can't go too wrong with this small Bistro-A-Nippon. The food is traditional, good and reasonably priced (not something one can usually say in the same sentence with sushi). Have chop sticks, will travel. It is, by the way, co-owned and co-located with Kochi, a Korean BBQ resaturant, which is equally popular.
Hush-Harbor Artisan Bakery, 5735 El Camino Real, Atascadero, CA 93422. Tel: (805) 460-0541. This is a fantastic little artisan bakery, which provides baguettes for many of the best restaurants in San Luis Obispo County. They also have a tasty assortment of quiches, prepared in the traditional French style,and an expertly prepared variety of salads and sandwiches.The atmosphere makes it special with an old jazz motif. Best for lunch.
Woodstone Marketplace, 6675 Bay Laurel Place, Avila Beach, CA 93424. Tel: (805) 595-1018, Located off San Luis Bay Drive entering Avila Beach, Woodstone Marketplace is an eclectic combination of deli, country market, coffee & espresso bar, and wine shop in a lovely patio setting. If you can arrange it, go on a Tuesday and try their once a week mushroom-brie bisque. It's fabulous. We met one older lady coming out after lunch one day who volunteered that she had come from Seattle for this delightful soup (probably also to visit her daughter, who she was with).
BIG SUR / SAN SIMEON
Ragged Point Inn, 19019 Hwy 1, Ragged Point, CA 93452. (805) 927-4502. The Inn is located on a spectacular point on Hwy. 1 at the southern border of Big Sur. The point sits on high vertical cliffs, with the ocean waves crashing below (there's a photo on the "views of the Central Coast" page). In addition to the hotel/inn, the romantic setting also includes a day time take out shop and a lovely sit down restaurant outfitted with large glass walls to take in the sea views. For warm days and evenings, there are also tables on a lovely, gardened patio with the same well done menu. Definitely worth a trip and a stop to eat.
Robins Restaurant, 4095 Burton Dr, Cambria, CA 93428. (805) 927-5007. A cozy little restaurant in a cozy little town for lunch or dinner, going north up Hwy 1 to Hearst Castle or Big Sur or coming south back to Paso Robles for wine tasting. The cuisine is a fine blend of asian and hispanic gourmet which you will love. Don't miss a bowl of their famous salmon bisque as a starter. And don't miss their sister restaurants in San Luis Obispo, Luna Red and Novo (see below).
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill, 6550 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, CA 93428. (805) 927-3859. A terrific little bistro for lunch or dinner located at the beach end of the small town of Cambria, with a beach view of the world famous and specacular Highway 1 coastline (inside and outside seating). The menu included finely prepared fish, shellfish and meat dishes, salads at moderate prices and a full bar service. It is definitely a "locals" favorite and they do not take reservations but do take a drive by and see if you can get a table. Mussels? Oysters? Steaks? Yes. Then you can travel along happy and visit San Simeon beach, Hearst Castle and/or Ragged Point in Big Sur.
Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 6216 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, CA 93428. (805) 927-4514. Famous for their oysters and other seafood dishes, the food is always to die for! Everything is 100% fresh and cooked to order. A bit pricey and most of the time it's quite busy, but treat yourself... there’s a reason locals and visitors from around the world keep coming back. Also located on the famous Moonstone Beach area of Highway 1 in Cambria with priceless views.
Ruddell's SmokeHouse, 101 D St., Cayucos, CA 93430. (805) 995-5028. If you are fortunate to be motoring along on one of the most breathtaking stretches of scenic Highway 1, you must exit in Cayucos, a quaint old beach town. And,if you happen to drive by the exit, turn around and go back. If you don’t, you’ll regret it until you come this way again. Because right there, at the corner of D Street and Ocean Front you will find one of the smallest but most sought-after food lover’s destinations in all California. Try their smoked shrimp or ahi tacos. The place is basically a tiny take out hut with an order counter and a few small bistro tables out on the sidewalk. You can grab a table if one is vacated... or you can walk across the narrow Ocean Front road and sit on the low concrete wall or sit on the beach sand while you eat... and appreciate the uncrowded beach views. PS - after the taco, I suggest you walk a block inland to the Brown Butter Cookie Company for some free cookie sampling and then buy a few of your favorites to hold you over until dinner time. I am quite partial to their fabuolous oatmeal cookies.
Taco Temple, 2680 Main St, Morro Bay, CA 93442. (805) 772-4965. This place has the ambiance of a low-end 1950's Route 66 biker club diner... converted to a 21st century 1950's biker club diner... gone surfing. Having said that, as Sunset magazine said a few years ago, if you're anywhere in the neighborhood of this county, DO NOT miss lunch here. It is not what you think. This is no Tex-Mex or So Cal dive. The often tattooed and pigtailed waitresses serve some of the best and unique gourmet seafood and red meat tacos, burritos, crab cakes and salads that you could hope for and the desserts are unbeatable, huge, delicious and freshly made. Don't miss the carrot cake.
Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant & Fish Market, 1245 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442. (805) 772-8100. This is an especially nice interlude on a warm Spring or Summer day. It is an outdoor takeout kind of place, on the wharf just south of Morro Rock. They welcome dogs and even have short leash attachments at the tables and water bowls. Whether you're having a bacon and oyster sandwich or a burger and a beer, you san sit outside under a sun umbrella, watch the fishing boats unload their daily catches or the seals begging for the fish scraps and the pelicans and seagullls competing to get to them first... while you listen to a variety of local folk, rock and blues players performing for tips. When you're done, you can take your dogs to the beach north of the "Rock" to play in the sand. (They have an indoor, sit down dinner restaurant nearby as well).
Blue Sky Bistro, 699 Embarcadero, Ste 6, Morro Bay, CA 93442. (805) 772-8988. Blue Sky is a casual yet cozy café located on the harbor with views of Morro Bay, the boat moorings and the famous Morro Rock. It serves a wide variety of tasty and reasonably priced breakfast and lunch entrees (and beer or wine if desired). Most often there are musicians playing folk, western or old standards outside on the patio deck to accompany your meal. A fun spot.
The Great American Melodrama Vaudeville. 1863 Front St, Oceano, CA 93445.. 805) 489-2499. Go for the old fashioned comedy stage productions featuring song, dance and vaudeville comedy... and enjoy some light snacks and a beer or soda. The price is astoundingly inexpensive for hours of fun and a great place to go with a group of friends for a giggle or two. Book well in advance.
Buona Tavola, 943 Spring St, Paso Robles, CA 93446. (805) 237-060. For over 18 years Antonio Varia has been delighting the palates of the Central Coast with his inventive yet traditional Northern Italian cuisine. One of our favorites. A great room & bar just off the downtown park. They have a 2nd location in San Luis Obispo, if that is more convenient for you).
Goshi Japanese Restaurant, 722 Pine St., Paso Robles, CA 93446. (805) 227-4860. Appointed in a traditional Japanese sushi house and located near the downtown and train station, Goshi, quite simply, serves possibly the best sushi on the Central Coast. Some of their fresh fish is flown in directly from Japan. A comfortable place in which to pause with friends, eat, drink (beer, sake or wine) and dally a few pleasurable hours away. Can get pricey if you stay too long.
Il Cortile Ristorante, 608 12th Street, Paso Robles CA 93446. Pricey but great Italian cuisine. Chef Santos MacDonal began his career in the highly acclaimed Italian Restaurant, “Giorgio” in Malibu California, mentored by Chef Giorgio Baldi. He has since worked at many great restaurants in Los Angeles including Via Veneto, Locando de Lago, Koi, La Sosta and more. He worked his way to Executive Chef at Bridge Restaurant and L’Angolo Cafe in Los Angeles.
La Consecha, 835 12th Street, Suite A, Paso Robles, CA 93446 | 805.237.0019. Chef Santos of Il Cortile has opened his second restaurant, whose name means “the harvest,” is a celebration of Latin cuisine, boasting flavors from Spain, Central and South America. A fun tapas experienmce.
Catch Seafood Bar And Grill, 836 11th St., Paso Robles, CA, 93446. (805) 239-3332. Wonderful, fresh seafood dishes, prepared by the chef right in front of you. A fun and tasty experience. Moderate to high prices.
Jeffrey's Wine Country BBQ, 819 12th St.,Ste B (in the Alley between 12th Street & 13th Street), Paso Robles, CA 93446. (805) 369-2132. A small out of the way and cozy courtyard wine bar, with not so much of traditional BBQ menu as deliciously unique offerings. The wines are good, as are the salads... but look for the unique specials of the day, like the Paella burrito.
Odessey World Cafe, 1214 Pine St, Paso Robles, CA 93446. Very much a locals' and visitors' favorite offering delicious, moderately priced fresh baked bread sandwiches, salads, home-made soups and delicious home made cuisine. Cozy comfort food amidst the shopping and dining mecca surrounding the Downtown Park of Paso Robles.
SAN LUIS OBISPO
Luna Red,1023 Chorro St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. A sister restaurant to Robins in Cambria, located in the mission district. Features a sophisticated modern ambiance with an excellent bar. An intriging, unique menu.
Novo Restaurant and Lounge, 726 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Telephone: (805) 543-3986. A sister restaurant to Robins in Cambria, located in the downtown shopping district in the "creekside shopping district". Features a lovely fusion menu and bar with an outside creekside patio a tranquil lunch. Again, try their salmon bisque and featured tacos.
The Range, 2317 G St Santa Margarita, CA 93453. (805) 438-4500. Small town, improbable location and unassuming, unimpressive brown-on-beige milk toast exterior. But once you go inside, the surroundings don't matter. The food is all that counts. If it's steaks you like, you have come to the right place... cowboy country. Caution , it's limited seating, first come, no reservations and no credit cards.
15c Degrees Wine Shop & Bar, 624 S. Main St Ste 101, Templeton, CA 93465. 805.434.1554. Great setting for lunch featuring Hush Harbor breads and sandwiches, oysters, and local wines or microbrew beers.
McPhee's Grill, 416 S Main St, Templeton, CA 93465. (805) 434-3204. By far, one of our favorite eating spots on the Central Coast, this seafood and steak restaurant is one of the most consistently great dining experiences. It is situated in the "old town" section of the little village of Templeton on the east side of Hwy 101 and is larger and more elegant inside than the narrow street frontage would suggest. The decor is dark woods and polished brass of the 1880's. Try their signature dish pork chop, which is 1st cooked in a "sham" for 6 hours and then BBQ'd to your specific taste for doneness, with an apricot / ancho chile glaze. Yumm. Try your salad with their house sun-dried tomato ranch dressing as well. Seafood? Cooked to perfection.
There are new places popping up monthly, many of them high end cuisine, thanks to wine country tourism. Ask me for some recommendations for recent additions via the comments page here, as I don't edit the listings above more than 1-2 times a year.