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Road trip! LA to Napa and eating en route

I am driving to Napa next month - Hwy 1 / 101 on the way up, the 5 on the way back. I want to find the best-possible road chow in both directions.

On the hit list is Santa Maria BBQ, although I haven't chosen a specific spot. If the timing worked out (but I don't think it will), I'd stop at American Flatbread (damn their wacky hours!). However, I am open to any and all suggestions.

Thanking you in advance,


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  1. Disappointed with a recent visit to Mustard's in Napa Valley.

    Highway 99 (vs. Highway 5) has a few icons - like the "Big Orange" - very ratty giant plaster orange colored and shaped drive-up on the southern part of this historic highway, but serves a mean fresh orange shake and very nice fresh orange juice.

    In my opinion taking Highway 99 instead of 5 south is far more scenic and not that much further out of the way to connect up north. This is the last highway giant orange in California when there used to be hundreds along the highway - and think it deserves our support.

    Also on Highway 99 is the Swedish village of Kingsburg (large signature water town visable from the higway is a painted Swedish coffee pot) and the PalaHorse cafe on the slightly quaint mainstreet with morning swedish pancakes and swedish lunch plates in the afternoon. You can buy Swedish food products here.

    More on highway 99: http://www.plambeck.org/oldhtml/direc...

    2 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      A minor correction, glbtrtr. The Kingsburg place is called Dala Horse.

      You're absolutely correct about Hwy 99 vs I-5. In Los Banos (Hwy 152 that connects to 99), Fresno, and Bakersfield there are a number of Basque restaurants that many outside the SJ Valley have never experienced. In Selma there's the original Sal's for their Fancy or Karl's Special (braised rib meat) burritos, and in Visalia there is fine dining at the Vintage Press.

      1. re: PolarBear

        Besides Vintage Press, there are a number of places on or near Main St. in downtown Visalia. Another one I like is Tommy's.

        Tommy's has only been open a few months. I was there not long after it opened and was impressed that they already had the kitchen and service areas working well.

        Here is an article from today's Visalia paper discussing the choices in the downtown area. Lots of new ones that I need to get down and try. I didn't know the Vintage Press owners had a second place now open, didn't know about the new wine lounge and the nearby martini bar. The cajun place sounds interesting when it opens. Hhhmm, sounds like roadtrip time.

    2. Interesting re: the 99 - I will look into it. And I totally forgot about the Basque region.

      1. I agree with the others regarding taking Hwy. 99 instead of I-5. I travel I-5 a lot between S. Calif. and N. Calif. and it's almost all fast food chains with a few exceptions such as Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella. But there are no towns along I-5. They're all "Gas Food Lodging" towns. So if you want to take your time and stop for some food along the way, take Hwy. 99. Remember, there are some large cities along Hwy. 99, such as Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield, and there will be many more food choices in those cities.

        1. On Hwy. 101 halfway between LA and San Fran is a great restaurant called McPhees Grill. It's located not far off the freeway in Templeton. The food is great, price is reasonable. The food looks wonderful but is not too "foo foo".

          Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa is one of my favorites. Eat outside on the patio by the fireplace. They have the most wonderful soups, desserts, and everything else is great too. It's right on Hwy. 29 on the north side of the town of Napa.

          If you find yourself driving through Manteca (between Stockton and Modesto) they have a wonderful restaurant called Isadores on Main Street. When you are seated, you get a cheese fondue and breads for dipping. The selection is large. My favorites are their steak tendloin combo called Three's Company..3 small tenderloins with different toppings. Their lamb, salmon, and duck are also favorites. Everything is tasty. They also have fantastic desserts. Their signature dessert is called Sex in a Pan. It's a combination of different chocolate puddings and comes with a candy cigarette.


          1. Well, as a born and bred Santa Marian, I have a soft spot (mainly around my belly) for Jocko's in Nipomo when it comes to our patented BBQ. But beware: they only fire-up the red oak fire for dinner, not lunch.

            1. Second that emotion for Jocko's. 'hound heaven for the meat crowd.

              And if you're going up 101 and have never been to La Super Rica
              in Santa Barbara you POSITIVELY, ABSOLUTELY MUST GO. If it was
              good enough for Julia Child it's good enough for the rest of us.
              Go with the daily specials, especially if one of them has the cream
              sauce (the Tamale De Verduras is to die for).

              1. i'd say stop in Montecito (just south of Santa Barbara) and eat lunch at the Montecito Inn or Mollie's Trattoria, right off the freeway on coast village road, and go have a gelato in a fresh cone at "Here's the scoop", just ask anyone how to get there from where you are, they'll be able to tell you. If you're in SB for dinner a couple suggestions would be: Cadario, Downey's, or if you'd rather get something a little more interesting i'd take the 154 out of Santa Barbara, at the Sate exit near the Auto lots, and take stagecoach rd. and follow the signs to Cold Spring Tavern...great chili, very interesting location nestled in the mountains, more than enough food. My other suggestions would be to at Pismo beach, look on your right and there is a cowboy, huge, that says F. Mclintocks, turn right. A great atmosphere, especially if you have kids...though there may be a huge line...but if you're lucky there won't be.

                1. Back to traveling north on Highway 99 instead of Interstate 5, it was always traditional to detour into Hanford - at one time a site for highly rated Chinese restaurants pretty much in the middle of "nowhere" in the Central Valley. (Nowhere being outside the urban community, but smack dab in the middle of California's major argicultural industry fields)

                  Not sure the luster is still on these long-standing establishments but it is a unique dining adventure to find in this location - a reminder of the important role Chinese immigrants brought to the the early development of California from the days of the gold rush, railroads and agriculture.

                  Ooops, just checked and learned the venerable Imperial Dynasty in Hanford has recently closed, but this is still a very pleasant town to visit with an interesting culinary history: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...