McPhees Grill (already mentioned) is a great place to stop in Templeton and it's not far off of Hwy. 101.
If you want to enjoy a coastal drive, Madelines in Cambria is fantastic. It's a small restaurant, only 12 tables, sharing the space with a wine shop. The Banana Foster is the best I've ever had and they bring it to the table flaming. Everything else is wonderful.
I'd return to either of these places eagerly!
If you get as far south as Santa Maria (30 mi so, of SLO)
I just found a Tamale Shop on Blosser Rd, just north of Bettaravia Rd. Run by Al Rodriguez, from Phoenix, and listing beef, pork, chicken, pork chile verde, jalepeno, chile relleno, fresh corn, and sweet (pineapple, walnuts, raisins).
Open Tues-Sat 10:30-6:00. There are tables inside a very clean and bright shop for eating in; I imagine most of his trade is take-out. Cold crinks and beer(?) available.
Al says he grinds whole white corn to prepare the masa daily, and uses lard and water to form the masa.
We had the pork (at 4:30 Fri he was sold out of all except beef and pork) for dinner tonight and they were very good. Masa not too light, medium body but tasty and no off (stale) flavors. Filling to masa ratio about 50-50, which Al says he strives for. It was a good balance indeed.
Going back tomorrow a.m. to get more flavors! He said to call ahead and he'd set aside whatever I wanted.
I'd definitely rec this to any 101-cruising chowhound. Just a 5 min trip off 101 at Betteravia west to Blosser, then left about 25 yards to the driveway to an industrial complex (wineries, auto and shops, etc. Lucky dogs sure must eat good.
Prices: 10.00 each or 12.00 a dozen. A sign was up notifying customers of a price increase to 13.50/doz come Sept. 1st. (10 cents more each tamale).
Hoo boy, can't wait to try them all and will report back in a new post! Got to stock in some crema and round up the ripe tomatoes from the garden for some fresh salsa top go with.
I second the rec for Papi's in Paso if you want something casual. I love love love the crispy moist carnitas, the texture of the sopes, and the salsa bar which has like 5 different spiciness levels. It's a long-time favorite of my relatives there including my MIL's partner who lived in Mexico for many years.
I also second the rec for McPhee's but I think of that as a nice dinner kind of place, instead of a stop on the way to SLO kind of place.
re: Alice Patis
I usually get the lengua at Papi's cause it can be hard to find--I'll try the carnitas next trip. Thanks.
There is also and EZ-off EZ-on Papi's in Atascadero, just south 10 min. on 101 from Paso. Take the Traffic Way exit, turn north 1/2 block on El Camino to a small newish strip mall on the right. Same food and yummy condiment bar. I love the radishes.(rabanos)
Next door to Papi's is Hush Harbor Artisan Bakery, which has some good sandwiches, quiche, and salads bedsides the lovely baked goods. A little more pricey than Papi's but good quality. They do dinners on the weekends, with occasional special jazz dinners.
5735 El Camino Real
Atascadero, Ca 93422
In Salinas, right off the freeway I'd rec a stop at Gutierrez Y Rico, right next to the PG&E substation and the old Cathholic church (look for the transformers and belltower).
Good Mexican food in a converted drive-in. Always busy with farmworkers, bluecollar guys, attourneys, moms with babies, etc. The noise can be deafening when they're busy in the kitchen. Good combo dinners or the usual a la carte items. 7 Seas a specialty.
Further up the valley in King City, take the Broadway exit to the end, (last block)to El Lugarcito. Specializing in seafood. I love their simple and delicious shrimp tostadas with lime dressing. Great roasted green chili salsa that we always get to go. Plenty of parking. The same family has a branch in Hollister, on the old route directly into town from the west. Not the new bypass.
In Paso, Papi's (pronounced Paw-peez) has good Mexican food downtown at Park and 13th. Can be slow at noon
Also in Paso, at a newish stripmall on the east side of Spring (main drag) at about 7th street, there is a little donut shop tucked in next to a pet shop. Great blended coffee drinks and as a bonus, the owner does a curry every day at lunch, served over a huge portion of jasmine rice. As spicey as you want it, and about 4.95. The Donut Company. Nice lady and her SIL run it. (Lao? Viet? Thai? not sure.) Ice creams too. Tables inside and benches out front under a huge oak tree.
For a treat, in Templeton, Herrmann's Chocolate lab. They make chocolates ( not very special) and have good ice creams. In a sweet little (mostly) unspoiled town. No chains. If you are ever there on a Saturday mornings, they have a great farmer's market around the town square park.
For something different in SLO, try the Jaffa Cafe on 'upper' Higuera St. Take Monterey to Johnson, turn right on Higuera, next corner at Toro St, 1212 Higuera. Middle Eastern food like dolmas, baba ganoosh, etc. Great roast chicken. Eat there inside or out, or takeout. Nice folks.
I had a wonderful lunch at McPhee's Grille in Templeton a few months back and if you search this forum you'll find many positive reviews of it. Some friends and I also had a very good dinner at Bistro Laurant in Paso Robles. If you stop there, be sure to try the Apple Beignets and a nice Sauterne if you're not in a hurry.
There is a little local Mexican restaurant in Soledad on the main street near the south end of town (heading south, it is on the left hand side of the street) -- sorry, can't remember its name but it is on the corner and has parking in the back. Food is only okay, but the colorful decor is charming with vividly carved wooden chairs and it feels good to patronize a non-chain eatery.