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Unique / Regional food from San Diego to San Francisco?

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Hello, Am driving along the Pacific Coast Hwy from San Diego to San Francisco and was wondering if there is any unique or regional must try food along the way? Any cuisine is fine. Thank you!!

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  1. Be sure to go up Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo through Big Sur and stop to enjoy the view and an Ambrosia Burger at Nepenthe.

    1 Reply
    1. re: AzDumpling

      I'll agree with the fish tacos and uni from the San Diego Unique Food Post.

      Our uni is the best.

      Once you hit mid-CA you must try a Santa Maria-style barbecue -- barbecued sirloin (tri-tip), salsa, Pinquito beans, toasted French bread, and green salad... Usually found in supermarket parking lots on Saturday.

      Santa Maria Barbecue has its roots in the mid-19th century, when the rancheros gathered to help each other brand their calves each spring. The host would prepare a Spanish-style barbecue as a thank you for his vaqueros (America's first cowboys), family and friends. Under the oaks of the serene, little coastal valley, they would enjoy a traditional feast that included beef barbecued over a red oak fire, served with Pinquito beans, bread, salsa and homemade desserts.

      Enjoy!

    2. Thanks for the recs! I will def. check out them.

      5 Replies
      1. re: buttacup79

        For Santa Maria BBQ, the long-time rec's along 101 are: Jocko's in Nipomo, Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe, The Hitching Post in Buelton (of Sideways fame).

        Basque food (the Basques were the shepherders in the Central Coast/Central Valley). There's a current thread about "Tenth Street Cafe" in San Miguel (7 mi. north of Paso Robles).

        Artichokes from the Salinas Valley, but I can't think of a restaurant in that area that is renowned for them.

        There's an abalone farm in Cayucous, abalone from it was available at the upscale California cuisine restaurant on the main street in Cayucous.

        Going up to Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay, I think you'd start to get into Sand Dab and Dungeness Crab country.

        If you're on I5, there's Harris Ranch.

        1. re: mikec

          "There's an abalone farm in Cayucous, abalone from it was available at the upscale California cuisine restaurant on the main street in Cayucous."

          That would be Hoppe's. Great place.

          On the northern end of the main street (about a block or two from Hoppe's), there's a gas station. It's a Chevron, I think. The freshly made cinnamon buns from the station store are pretty good and a quick breakfast. I have no clue why a gas station would sell cinnamon buns, but it works.

          1. re: geekyfoodie

            Oh -- we can't forget Date Shakes either -- but more inland/desert area.

            1. re: geekyfoodie

              Right. Hoppe's. Thanks.

            2. re: mikec

              The Hitching Post in Casmalia is quite an experience. It is WAY off the beaten path, but worth the effort. Casmalia literally has about 8 buildings and a railway crossing light. It is owned by the same family as the Buelton one, but it is very old school. Walk into 1963, complete with small shrimp cocktail, relish dish, dessert, salad, potato, salsa inclusive. Call for reservations as it is nearly always packed. Don't miss the filet mignon, pork ribs, artichoke and their house label pinot noir. The guys from Vandenburg Air Base and local ranchers frequent the restaurant, which has a visible grill area, cowhides on the walls for decor and a smell to die for. This is my favorite steak dinner, bar none!

          2. I second many of the recommendations already made. Will you be diverting off and actually riding along the coast to Cambria and Hearst Castle? If so, then I would definitely recommend the Sea Chest in Cambria or if you want the Tri tip that was mentioned before, there is a restaurant called Main Street Grill that has tender, flavorful meat that they cook out on the patio on these huge grills. They also have a restaurant/store called Linn's that serves Ollalaberrie pies and jam.

            If you are going by San Luis Obispo on a Thursday, be sure to go downtown to their HUGE Farmer's market. Some of the best "street fair" food you'll ever taste!

            In Paso Robles, right off the 101, is a BBQ place called Big Bubba's. We had 2 delicious experiences there...

            Enjoy the trip!

            1. In the Monterey area, sand dabs, a small local sole are a nice treat and fairly unique. If you can afford it, Monterey is also center of farmed abablone industry. A lot of calamari comes out of Monterey Bay, but it is not truly distinctive. If in season, dungenness crabs are excellent.

              Like San Francisco, Monterey area is home to wonderful, crunchy crust Euro style hearthbreads and sourdoughs.

              Also of note are Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noirs - some think them the best in California. A good selection of them (plus numerous other wonderful wines all priced close to retail) and some interesteing Monterey Pen. cuisine (centered around local sustainable seafood) can be found at Passionfish in Pacific Grove.

              ed

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ed Dibble

                while perhaps not distinctive, other than that they are served with a spicy dipping sauce, but definitely local, the fried squid at Passionfish are as good as you'll find anywhere (not always on the menu).

              2. You folks are forgetting the Pismo clams at Pismo Beach! We're talking monster sized clams if you actually are lucky enough to get the local clams instead of the little imported ones. They're perfect for a rich creamy clam chowder.

                Just don't go there looking for Boston style clam chowder. As far as the locals are concerned chowder must be white and if it is red then it is just clam soup not chowder.

                1. My list so far: Did I leave anything out? Thanks!

                  1. Deep fried artichokes - Half Moon Bay Brewing Co, Half Moon Bay
                  2. Artichoke Soup and Olliaeberry Pie - Duarte's Tavern, Pecadero
                  3. Korean fried chicken - 99 Chicekn, Santa Clara
                  4. Taco - Taco Temple, Morro Bay
                  5. Clam Chowder - Splash Cafe, Pismo Beach
                  6. Fish and Shrimp Taco - Tacos Baja Ensada, LA
                  7. Ice Cream - Mashti Malones, LA
                  8. Date Shake - Shake Shack, Newport Beach

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: buttacup79

                    Shake Shack in Newport/Laguna has been taken over by Ruby's - so I don't know that they have Date Shakes anymore. I just drove by there today and it was mobbed.

                    1. re: Alice Q

                      Hmmm...thanks for letting me know... is there any other place that makes excellent date shakes?

                  2. Ojai Valley and Santa Paula are known for their citrus and avocados. Highway 126 runs through the "Citrus Capitol of the World" with many fruit stands. Limoneira is one of the largest growers and they have Dinners in the Orchard on a hillside avocado grove overlooking the still rural and lovely Santa Paula Valley. Ojai is known for some of the sweetest grapefruit and pixie tangerines.

                    1. Very much overlooked is Pete's in San Luis Bay - next to Avilla Beach. Pete's is out on the pier...with the sea lions barking and the pelican's waiting for the fishing boats to come in. The fish tacos are great. And the view is better. You literally drive out onto the Pier to park. Take the Avila Beach exit off 101. Go past Avila Beach til you come to the pier. It is literally the end of the road.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Kitchen Trove

                        Highly reccomend Petes Pierside at Avila on the Port San Luis Pier!! Skip the hidious large building at the end-though do visit their fish market- Petes is superior service and delicious fish.

                        We went to pick up my husbands second place prize from the Patriot Sportfishing- had waited for weeks to get the chance to coincide it with a trip to Petes.

                        After talking to the cook- and to the very nice waitress- we decided on crab enchiladas and fried squid and chips- plus two cold ones.

                        I feel inclined to say it could be a tiny bit cleaner...but the homemade sauces, the effort put into making fresh product everyday and the knack of the help to navigate the menu- all makes up for my pickiness over a dirty floor.

                        The enchiladas sauce is 1/2 new mexico chili and 1/2 california chili. The best I have ever had. The fried products are perfect and not greasy.

                        What great way to spend a afternoon- a trip to Avila Barn, a walk on the pier, lunch at Petes Pierside and then a look at a large and loud sea lion.