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Best eats and Bars in San Luis Obispo / Central Coast

Hi Chowhounders,
We're getting married next month in Nipomo and most of our guests will be staying in San Luis Obispo...with a few sprinkled down the coast from Pismo to Arroyo Grande. We're going up this weekend for our final planning trip and want to try a few new restaurants (mainly in SLO) that we can hopefully recommend to our guests. We've done a lot of the usual places in the coastal area...Steamers, Del's Pizzeria, Madonna Steakhouse, and in-town we've been to the Breakfast Buzz and Louise's Place.

What do you guys think is the best of the area? The must-eats? We'd really hate for our friends and family to miss out on a really great food experience. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

ALSO, we're looking for a bar in San Luis Obispo to hit up after the wedding - it ends at 10 :( - where everyone can meet up and continue the party. Looking for something that isn't packed with Cal Poly kids. Ideas?

Thanks in advance guys!

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  1. In SLO I think Big Sky is a good choice for casual dining. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more upscale dining my favorite is The Park (located just outside of downtown near the Amtrack station) with Koberl at Blue being my second favorite. In the casual, reasonably priced range I like Mama's Meatball in the Creamery Building for Italian fare. Firestone Grill is good for burgers, tri-tip sandwiches and the like.
    I'd suggest Native for the bar. We used their "bottle service" where we bought a bottle at around $200 and had an area reserved for our group and our own server. It worked out great and was worth the money for our group. You can call ahead and have them make the arrangements for you.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sgbslo

      concur exactly as to Park and Koberl at Blue

      1. re: sgbslo

        Second to Big Sky, for breakfast at any rate.

      2. SLO is fetchingly, lovingly, gloriously void of students till late August when Cuesta students start back. Then the Poly kids come back to town in early-mid September.

        In SLO--try Bon Temps Creole Cafe on Olive street near the SB 101 on-ramp from Santa Rosa St. Great breakfast in a laid-back atmosphere with blues on the jukebox.

        Jocko's in Nipomo for lunch (only) great burgers, corned beef, steak sands. Service can be slow.

        Thai Talay in Pismo. Auntie in the kitchen and nice stylish decor. Good wine list.

        Good sandwiches at Giant Grinders on Broad St near High Street. Good sand's and sides. Nice folks.

        Firestone has a nice grill and outdoor seating, smack downtown SLO (ESS-EL-OH, not slow).

        Broadway Bagels in Arroyo Grande on Grand Ave near Rite Aid/The Girl's rest, and in the Pismo Coast Plaza off 101 in PB (Scolari's center) Great bagels, coffee drinks, sandwiches.

        For sushi, try Atari Ya in Santa Maria (closer to Nipomo than SLO) at the Stowell Center back row near Goodwill. Awesome sushi and excellent service. Broadway/Battles nearest cross street.

        Steaming bean on Shell Beach RD, downtown SB. Good coffee drinks.

        Bon Temps Creole Cafe
        1000 Olive St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

        Firestone Grill
        1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

        Koberl At Blue
        998 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

        Big Sky Cafe
        1121 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

        Jocko's Steak House
        Old Hwy 101, Nipomo, CA 93444

        Thai Talay Restaurant
        601 Price St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449

        Mama's Meatball - Fine Italian Restaurant & Catering
        570 Higuera St Ste 130, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

        Giant Grinder Shop
        1901 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

        Steaming Bean
        1651 Shell Beach Rd, Pismo Beach, CA 93449

        1 Reply
        1. re: toodie jane

          I'll second Bon Temps Creole Cafe - we stopped there last year on the way to Santa Barbara/San Diego. Totally enjoyed our lunches. No oyster po' boys but the fish version was excellent - crispy fish, tasty dressing, good sweet potato fries - I was a happy girl! Thanks Toodie Jane: I think it was your reco that made me want to stop there!

        2. We also love The Park for a more expensive meal. Thai Talay is one of our favorites and we bring everyone there. We also like Yanagi Sushi or the nearby Sushi WOW, same menu as Yanagi, both in Pismo. Excellent service. Lots of variety. The lobster roll is our favorite. We have been to Atari Ya, but like Yanagi better.
          We had a really nice meal at Gardens of Avila last year.
          Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo are also a great.
          Best Wishes to you.

          1. Another great mid-range restaurant is Novo on Higuera. There's a great back patio by the creek. For sushi I prefer Tsurugi but the other suggestions are fine as well. I also second Bon Temps (for unhealthy and super-delicious creole food) and Big Sky (local ingredients and really tasty for all meals).

            Bars are tough in San Luis. Native is on the fancier side. And Blue has a bar with a great wine selection. For a regular bar Black Sheep is not a bad option.

            1. I would highly recommend Jocko's in Nipomo for dinner (they do not fire up the oak grill until the afternoon). Everyone I have taken there has raved about the quality and quantity of their meal as well as reasonable prices. IMHO it is simply the best steakhouse in CA and their pork and lamb chops are also delicious. They also have a good wine list.

              For good chowder try Splash in Pismo (yeah I know people will say it's not as good as before). For good eclectic Mexican food try the Taco Temple in Pismo Beach - great fish tacos and carnitas.

              1. First, best wishes for a great wedding.
                A nice little place for breakfast is The Apple Farm. Standard coffee shop stuff - and eggs benedict - but done nicely with good quality and good service in a Country-Victorian setting. They have a bakery up front, too. So grab a great bunch of cookies for the afternoon. And, the quaint rooms and rates are good there also.

                1. This all looks great guys! We just got here and are starving...we can't wait to go eat! Thanks everyone :)

                  1. Just attended a wedding in Nipomo - everything went perfectly as I'm sure it will on your wedding day. Our cooking club had a delightful lunch, on the day of the wedding, at "3rd Coast Cafe." Chef/owner is Danny Aguilar, Cordon Bleu (Las Vegas) trained, and it shows. Situated on a corner in a strip mall with comfortable seating, bright colors and handsome oversized silverware. Not open for lunch anymore, but upon our phone call, he opened for us 10 folks. Some of us enjoyed baked potato soup (NOT PASTE!) that was light and full of good flavor, endive leaves stuffed with a delicious soft cheese and almonds, then breaded and deep-fried; wine-poached pear salad with enormous caramelized walnuts and fresh baby greens; and more great things on the menu. Chef Danny came out to introduce himself and charmed us all. Wine bar with entertainment on Fridays & Saturdays. I highly recommend -- wish he would open in our town.
                    3rd Coast Cafe
                    323-A Town Center West (between Big 5 and Rite Aid)
                    Santa Maria, CA 93459

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Talksalot

                      been wanting to try this place for a long time; thanks for the encouragement!

                    2. The last week in January we spent the entire week based in San Luis Obispo and exploring the Central Coast. I had written down the suggestions from this board. Here is our report back:

                      Dinner at Big Sky was very good. I had the special Goat Cheese Lasagna which was not at all heavy with a delicate pasta. He had the Lamb shank. Well prepared and nice portion.

                      Lunch at Firestone Grill, crowded with lunch crowd but the tri-tip and the sausage sandwiches were very tasty and tender.

                      Lunch at Pete's Pierside was fun. We liked the fish taco, fish sandwich and the cup of chowder. Good value.

                      Dinner at Splash in SLO. I don't know if this is any different from the Pismo Beach Splash, but we weren't that impressed with the chowder...overly thick for our palate.

                      Italian sandwiches from Muzio's Market were very good and enjoyed as a picnic at Montana de Oro bluffs.

                      Dinner at Corner View Restaurant in SLO. We had the Restaurant month fixe-prix dinner. Selected fish entrees that were well prepared. Creme Brulee was brutal...torched top was almost black and tasted burned...so much so that the custard had warmed to soup.

                      Dinner at Mama's Meatball in SLO, cozy and comfortable. Meal was good. Enjoyed the warm breadsticks.

                      Dinner at McClintoch's SLO was good and fun. These are steaks for the college crowd but they were tasty, prepared nicely and good value. We would go back.

                      Dinner at Bon Temps SLO was a disaster. Food very greasy, batter on popcorn shrimp over done, my husband was ill all night from his Jambalaya. Beware....

                      Also of interest to foodies: We had two delightful visits at the Cal Poly Organic Farm (open to the public). Cindy, the General Manager and Jerry, the Production manager could not have been friendlier. Nathan, the main gardener, answered our copious questions. It was great to talk with the student workers, wander through the garden and see how they run their CSA program that funds their effort.

                      Enjoyed brief visits at Mt. Olive Farm toward Paso Robles and a Lavendar Farm as well.
                      Beautiful country..and the wineries!!!! :-)

                      1. I know the OP has long been married, but the title of her post will keep others visiting, so I decided to add to it...

                        Just back from another visit to my Cal Poly student and this time we gave Bon Temps a try for breakfast - loved it! Most definitely a keeper. I had the poached eggs with grits, red beans and andouille sausage and my veggie daughter had eggs benedict that used fried green tomatoes instead of bacon and perfectly crispy hash browns - YUM! Everything was terrific down to the giant steaming biscuit. Try it, you'll like it! Also tried Thai Talay in Pismo - really nice curry. Staff was great, too. Very knowledable on the menu. Oh, and also gave Woodstone Market in Avila Beach a try for lunch. Really charming spot. You order at the counter and they bring you your food. We were lucky enough to snag a table in front of the fire on this cold and rainy day. Great selection. Food was good, not great, but the atmosphere was an A+ which makes it worth visiting again.

                        1. Big Sky Cafe was delightful. We had dinner there and both the food and service were great. Novo's menu is interesting but the food is nothing special and the waiter was rude. Koberl is beautiful and has wonderful food, but apparently we did not order enough to suit our waiter. We would not go back to either Novo or Koberl.

                          1. Skip the tourist traps- Steamers, Del's Pizzeria, Madonna Steakhouse, and McLintock's in Shell. McClintock's Saloon in the Village of Arroyo Grande is where the locals go. Better prices and none of the touristy stuff. Bill's Place is stumbling distance as is arguably the best burger in the world-Old Village Grill.
                            Giuseppe's in Pismo is great, but crowded. Rosa's is larger and equally tasty. Scotty's is a great sports bar across from Cracked Crab in Pismo. Brad's is good. Ynagi Sushi is good, loud, crazy, and expensive. If you are in Nipomo, go to Sushi and Teriyaki across from Von's center. It's where all of the Japanese farming families go, it's quite, cheaper, and I defy you to find a bad piece of fish.
                            Best Mexican is Burrito Loco next to Starbucks in the Walmart shopping center in Arroyo Grande.
                            Jocko's is good if you want to eat elbow to elbow with a bunch of aggies and flies. The spencer steak is huge. Mama's meatball is good, but tiny. And their meatballs suck. Everything else is good.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: PismoPete

                              For sushi, my choice is Atari Ya in the Stowell Center (rear side) near Battles and Broadway, Santa Maria. Very large menu of fresh fish and seafood (live softshell crab in season) and very friendly service. Staff has all been there for years. Quiet, traditional atmosphere and the same farm families! It's a locals place, but some of the locals are from Santa Ynez, etc.

                              Pete, if you like sushi, give it a try.

                              Lately too, I've been enjoying the Pho at Saeng's Kitchen in Santa Maria Town Center West mall, next door to RiteAid. Really hits the spot on a cold day!

                              1. re: PismoPete

                                I second McClintock's Sallon in Arroyo Grande -- friendly locals' joint. Stuffed ourselves silly last July (should have shared my breakfast order, but didn't realize cuz I was judging portions by the prices).

                                1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                  The bar appetizers at McLintocks are the real hit - try their steak pieces and potato skillet at the bar and you won't need dinner, for half the price and no wait.

                                2. re: PismoPete

                                  Quite right. F. McClintock's at any of their locations; it's hard to go wrong.
                                  CAVEAT: This is NOT the place to eat if you are of the persuasion that "aged" beef is all the rage because all you are going to get is their cheapest burger. Rotten meat is still rotten meat, no matter how you slice it, dice it, or nice it up. Oh almost forgot, for those with food allergies...that "crust" on aged beef that some are always swooning over, is actually a mold (most commonly Thamnidia). Maybe that's why they are swooning. Hmmm...food for thought;)

                                3. Since this thread seems to have long life, just thought to add, we had a birthday cake to go from the Madonna in that was spectacular! Huge , fancy and really delicious. It was a couple of years ago, but we still talk about it.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: coconutz

                                    I'm visiting in July and doing some research but wanted some opinion. I have a pregnant wife with me so we'll be somewhat limited but her palate is great and she is still pretty open to everything.

                                    Breakfast - Bon Temps or Big Sky?

                                    Nice Dinner - The Park seems to be closed. I'm deciding between Ciopinot and Giovanni's in Morro Bay. A lot of the other places seem to be getting mixed reviews like Novo and the Koberl at the Blue. What else should be on my short list? Please no places intended for college crowds or palates.

                                    Big Sky Cafe
                                    1121 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

                                    1. re: js76wisco

                                      Giovanni's is a take-out chowder & chips place. Great fresh wild fish, but not a dinner house. There is a new Italian restaurant, Giancarlo's, at the upper end of Morro Bay Blvd; looks very promising, but have not been yet.

                                      (805) 772-9200
                                      Morro Bay
                                      810 Morro Bay Blvd
                                      Morro Bay, CA 93442 closed monday

                                      For a traditional breakfast with a retro feel, I'd rec Del Monte Cafe on Santa Barbara street, near the train depot. In a historic building (the old Del Monte Market) is has been run by the same owner, Debbie since she opened it in the early 80's. Good egg dishes, pancakes, etc, and daily specials. Open for BL&D 7 days. Open at 7 a.m. till 9 I believe. Great salads and homemade desserts. A locals place. Very cozy, bright and unhurried. Fenced patio dining under umbrellas, and good parking availability. One of the best burgers in town.

                                      Del Monte Cafe
                                      1901 Santa Barbara Avenue
                                      San Luis Obispo, CA 93401-4435
                                      (805) 541-1901

                                      Del Monte Cafe
                                      1901 Santa Barbara Ave, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

                                      810 Morro Bay Blvd, Morro Bay, CA 93442

                                      1. re: toodie jane

                                        I'm a food writer living in San Luis Obispo County (Paso Robles). Unfortunately, The Park closed a few months ago. Novo offers great tapas, and the outside dining under the oak trees can't be beat. Big Sky does do a great breakfast. I have found their food to be hit or miss for lunch/dinner, even if I do love the vibe and atmosphere. There is a new restaurant in town called Chow, which is owned by the same people as Novo. It has gotten great reviews. For seafood, Ciopinot is excellent (albeit loud).

                                        In my opinion, the majority of the best fine dining restaurants in the county are found in Paso Robles, which is 30 minutes north of SLO. Here you will find Artisan, Bistro Laurent, Basil (spectacular Thai), Il Cortile, Thomas Hill Organics, etc.

                                        There might be a few college stragglers in SLO come June, but it shouldn't be too bad. I'm in my early 30s and I simply can't stand going out to the bars when school is in session! Native Lounge would definitely be a good bet.

                                        Have fun!

                                        Big Sky Cafe
                                        1121 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

                                        Native Lounge
                                        San Luis Obispo, CA, San Luis Obispo, CA

                                        Thomas Hill Organics
                                        1305 Park St, Paso Robles, CA

                                        Bistro Laurent
                                        1202 Pine St, Paso Robles, CA 93446

                                        1. re: Fudee76

                                          Nice Sunset article, Sarah ! Keep 'em coming :)


                                  2. Yes, keep the great ideas coming. I visit monthly, so I'll have plenty of dinner opportunities this year! Also would love to hear ideas of places that might be better for a lone diner.

                                    1. I noticed it about 3 years ago, at Mclintocks - Pismo Beach, I was in the process eating some ribs (not very good by the way) and I happened to look up at the art work. Much to my surprise, there was a sign saying "Blackberry Juice 5 cents" with a picture of a very dark skinned black man with big white eyes and cherry red lips, dressed in a straw hat, jeans and no shoes. As a black man I was offended and discussed this issue with the manager who agreed to remove the piece. Fast forward, on July 22, 2010 we visited Mclintocks again. This time there were two more pieces - Jim Ed's blackberry juice and figures of black maids. What do you think?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Itsforray

                                        Alex's BBQ, across the street in Shell Beach is better BBQ. Relaxed, family friendly atmosphere. Huge and good beef ribs, entrees come with salads. Also, adjoing the restaurant is a funky neighborhood bar.

                                      2. had dinner at Il Cortile recently and was very, very pleased from start to finish

                                        1. Jocko's in Nipomo was named a "Regional Favorite" on a list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the USA a few years ago. Reasonably priced, big portions, excellent steaks and massive crowds. For the best possible experience, make reservations for early (about 5pm) Sun - Wed. On Thurs - Sat you will probably have to wait at least 45 minutes for a table, even with reservations.

                                          Giuseppe's in Pismo Beach is my other favorite in SLO county, probably offering the best Italian food in the area. A little expensive, but they deliver quality in line with the prices. Great service, wonderful festive atmosphere, and they do NOT take reservations, so be at the front door when they open just before 5pm. Ask to be seated in the main dining room for the best experience. Beware: they occasionally bring in an accordion player. You have been warned.

                                          1 Reply