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HELP! Need Central/ Southern Coastal California Recs!!

I am planning a 2 week drive down the California coast and am in need of some delicious but affordable local eats for some of the cities we are visiting. I am willing to splurge on dinner (under 30 an entrée for a few nights) but would love some cheaper lunch/ breakfast recommendations too. I eat anything and everything so don’t hold back! See our itinerary below. Thanks!!

-Carmel/Monteray (1 night)
- Santa Barbara (2 days)- Need help here!
-Los Angeles (2 days)
-San Diego (2 days)

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  1. LA and SD each have their own boards, you'll need to post your request there.

    1. Santa Barbara: be sure to have one dinner at Julienne, and then there are lots of other places in town to choose from -- just wander around the 100-1300 blocks of State Street for our restaurant ground zero or the ones in the San Roque area of State Street near Los Positas - 300-3500 blocks or so: Jade, Brummis. Via Maestra 42, Renaud's, Crocodile -- all local favorites.

      Mexican food charms on Miplas Street including the legendary La Superica and the well-loved El Bajio. Breakfast at Anderson's Danish Bakery is great for sunny sidewalk people watching again back in the 100-1300 blocks of State Street or be sure to have a perfect French croissant at Renaud's either downtown in this same area or at the Loreto Plaza Shopping Center at Las Positas and State. Happy Hour Specials at the Boat House at Hendry's Beach are very well-priced for a nice outdoor ocean side patio setting for a mid afternoon late lunch or early dinner.

      Stella Mares on the Bird Refuge is a particularly romantic French country setting and a very nice fresh menu and you can contemplate the mansion on the hill across from the Bird Refuge that was just recently donated to be an art museum and foundation in support of the arts after the death of its 102 year old donor who had not visited in over 34 years but kept the entire mansion, gardens and acres in pristine condition ready for any last minute arrival from the owner than never came -- now it will be one more jewel in the Santa Barbara crown.

      A drive out to Santa Ynez and our wine country can take in a splendid visit to the historic Cold Springs Tavern on the way up the hill about 20 minutes away from SB. Lots of choices in this town and if you search this website you will see many recommendations for what we all seem to agree are good choices in this town -- depending upon what you are looking to experience.

      Julienne is our one great, big city class restaurant - getting an exceptional reputation and the rest of those in town are all pretty good with few really bad - stay away at any cost mistake -- Enterprise Fish Company near the beach is the only one that I find abominable but for some reason remains popular - I think many for the drinks and the bar atmosphere buzz but it certainly cannot be for the food.

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      Via Maestra 42
      3343 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

      Stella Mare's
      50 Los Patos Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

      15 Replies
      1. re: glbtrtr

        Thank you for all your great recommendations! I will have to cram in a lot in two days!

        1. re: eliz1028

          eliz, I could suggest for the Carmel/Monterey area, but could you narrow it a bit as to seafood, Italian, pizza, upscale continental, Mexican. Just a little guidance, please, there are soooo many options.

          1. re: Gail

            Hi Gail- I am from manhattan so we pretty much have the pizza, italian, upsale covered. Id love some local seafood or mexican options. Thanks!

            1. re: eliz1028

              Mexican: Peppers in Pacific Grove
              Seafood: Sandbar and Grill, Municipal pier, Monterey
              Massaro and Santos, Coast Guard Pier, Monterey
              Passionfish, Pacific Grove (gets mixed reviews, but it's popular)

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              Passionfish
              701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

              Massaro and Santos
              32 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

              1. re: eliz1028

                I would recommend Passionfish for dinner. It is well within your price range, usually presents Westcoast seafood, and is a real locals/California restaurant. Menu focused on sustainable seafood. Interesting, non-classic presentations. If you like wine, Passionfish is a must at your price point. Huge wine list. Wines priced at retail. Not the best ambience (no view, sometimes loud), but as a wine drinker, I think it is the best value chowhound style restaurant in the area.

                Sandbar and Grill has a nice view and decent food. It's on the pier east of the main Fisherman's Wharf.

                Mexican isn't strong in Monterey/Carmel as neither city has a large Mexican-American population. In nearby Seaside, there is some good Mexican. Authentic tacos in the back of the large market at the corner of Broadway and Fremont. El Miguelino on Broadway has good seafood enchiladas and Mexican standards. I'm sure locals know about other Mexican places in Seaside, but I haven't lived in the area in years.

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                Passionfish
                701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

                1. re: Ed Dibble

                  Gail and Ed: We had two really good (and inexpensive meals) at Seaside's Chopstix, off of Folsom. I know that eliz1028 is not looking for Vietnamese, but I'm curious if other Monterey/Seaside folks have eaten there and their thoughts. The pho was excellent - wonderfully aromatic broth - and the spring rolls were also very good. No beer/wine license and cash only.

                  1. re: aoakes4

                    Thanks for the tip. I haven't eaten there, but love Vietnamese food.

                    1. re: aoakes4

                      I haven't eaten there either, but Seaside has a huge need. There was a place that did (does?) a little Vietnamese (one type of pho and another soup) along with Chinese in Olympia Plaza, and folks tried to open a larger Vietnamese place on Broadway back in the day, but failed. I will alert my local friends who are always looking for something new and different.

                      1. re: Ed Dibble

                        Let me know what you/they think. Cheers!

            2. re: glbtrtr

              Just tried to make a reservation for Julienne and they are closed Monday and Tues- the two days we will be there. Whats the runner up?

              1. re: eliz1028

                So sorry, there are no runners up but some good second tier choices are the Wine Cask (California), buchon's, Downey's (formal) (continental) and there is a fan here for the StoneHouse at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito ( high-end $$$$)

                You might want to try Seagrass (seafood plus), which I am I sorry I can't give you a personal recommendation for because I have not been there since the new management took it over but am hearing good things about it again and it has good credentials. Reviews are looking good: http://www.santabarbara.com/dining/re... There seems to be a big change in the newer reviews if you look at the dates for the more indifferent ones. It almost sounds like they understand Julienne is the new dining standard and they are out to meet and or beat. Could be a good value place and would love to get some reviews here.

                Those tend to be our special pick restaurants in a similar class with Julienne, but a few notches down in fresh creativity, but all with solid culinary and service credentials. Menus are a bit more mainstream than Julienne.

                Hungry Cat (seafood plus) again has very good culinary credentials, casual but an LA sort of flair. There are things on the menu that I love but have very mixed feelings about its service attitude, but is also a worthy dining contender in this town. Most of these are in the 1200 State Block area, along with the very excellent Sushi spot Arigato -- maybe browse around this area and see what strikes you -- and yes, I forgot there might be some problems being closed on Monday and perhaps even Tuesday because weekends are big dining times in this town. Glad you can do some independent research on these places.

                Petit Valentin is another special french bistro spot down town and Opal's never disappoints for its eclectic bistro fare as well. Ca Dario (Italian) is another favorite, particularly for lunch - their mixed anitpasto plate is a meal in itself and one I keep going back for at lunch now for decades. Louie's at the Upham Hotel is a quaint spot for a bit more than standard good fare - again an eclectic menu including meatloaf and always satisfying and creative and a charming historic setting- indoors and outdoors dining on their broad over-hanging porch.

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                Wine Cask
                813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

                1. re: glbtrtr

                  PS. Be sure to look for prix fixe menus at our local SB restaurants - even the high end ones. This seems to be a new trend in town. High-end Downey's has one,; noticed both Seagrass and Louie's also offer them too. Julienne also offers prix fixe "plates" options where you can choose any of their items in certain numerical combos for a fixed price as long as everyone else at the table is doing the same thing.

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                  Seagrass Restaurant
                  30 E. Ortega St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101

                2. re: eliz1028

                  Nothing is really on a par with Julienne, agree with glbtrtr. That said, I would suggest you go to Stella Mare's on Tuesday early evening and catch their happy hour. The space is lovely, and their food is quite good. You could have a few apps at HH prices and add a soup or salad for a reasonable dinner. Also love Petit Valentien - excellent food at very fair prices. Wine list is remarkably well priced, not even close to the usual 3x retail. Another option might be to go to Lazy Acres or Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and get some righteous picnic fare and head to one of my favorites spots in town, Shoreline Park on the Mesa and have a picnic (be a little serruptitious about any alcohol).

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                  Stella Mare's
                  50 Los Patos Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

                  1. re: sbgirl

                    Add our favorite visitor picnic spot - Franceschi Park high on the Riviera in Santa Barbara - and follow the path that wanders down from the picnic tables near the parking lot to the wide panorama patio area under the trees next to the remarkable historic house with the most glorious city vistas. Both water and bathrooms also available at this remote city park.

              2. For some casual eating in San Luis Obispo, about 3 hours south of Monterey on Highway 101, Taco de Mexico on Santa Rosa St (Highway 1 @ Highway 101) serves very good Mexican casual food in an old A&W restaurant. Excellent carnitas, pastor and lengua, and large portions. Everything very well seasoned and flavorful. ala carte or combo plates.

                Also, The Neon Carrot cafe on South Higuera St near Trader Joes's is very good--locally sourced. Their Hearst Ranch Burger is fabulous on homemade brioche bun.

                15 minute south is the village of Arroyo Grande. If you like premium ice cream don't miss Doc Bernstein's on West Branch St (Grande Ave exit, turn left, 2 blocks ahead.

                Santa Maria has some excellent taco trucks, mostly situated near strawberry fields. Easy-off, easy on is Rosa's Tichita, parked on East Betteravia, about 1 mile east of 101. from 11 to 3 ish, M-S.

                In Santa barbara, don't miss the Mexican deli's inside the grocery stores along Hollister in Old Town Goleta near Fariview. Cheap and very tasty. Also on Hollister, Simply Pies, a cute shop with both savory and sweet pies!!

                here's a good link with input from locals http://www.santabarbara.com/dining/ just search your type of dining...

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                Neon Carrot
                3536 S Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

                1. If you have time stop by Tognazzini's Dockside Too for BBQ oysters. Grilled up nice with garlic and lemon, enjoy the sunshine and view of Morro Bay.

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                  Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant
                  Morro Bay, CA, Morro Bay, CA

                  Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant
                  1245 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: kireifresca

                    We were just in Morro Bay and enjoyed some basics at Dornen's which was the old Breakers restaurant one block up the hill from the stretch of oceanside spots. Superb clam chowder and we even ordered more to take home. DH enjoyed his calamari and I had a fairly good crab louie - though sadly lacking in the real large pieces of crab I can only remember from my childhood in the SF bay area but have never had again. Salad greens very crispy with an excellent dressing. The food was overall well-prepared, fresh and tasty - looks like the place locals go to as many greeted each other at each table. Service quick and friendly, but prices higher than what you find in the quickie places closer to the water. Just go for the clam chowder, if nothing else and it will be worth it.

                    1. re: glbtrtr

                      Dorn's, for the record... ;-) good view of bay waters, too

                    2. re: kireifresca

                      I like the seafood at The Dockside, but the engorged ground squirrels frisking about on the deck give me the willies. Tourists think they're cute and FEED them french fries. GSs the size of small housecats. ugh.

                    3. I lived in SoCAL for 17 years and was a food critic/columnist, but that was before our move to IL in 1995, so double-check that these places are still open. You cant go wrong with fish tacos at Taco Loco in Laguna Beach, and I love the fresh smoked fish salad at Jon's Fish Market in Dana Point. If you want a true Philly Steak, those have sprung up all over Orange County, and actually made me think I was back in my hometown, Philly--not easy to do with this adulterated sandwich in most places. Those are a few favorites. Feel free to email me: gironwood@aol.com

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                      Jon's Fish Market
                      34665 Golden Lantern St, Dana Point, CA 92629

                      1. We just had great dinners at Hungry Cat and Cadiz this weekend in SB. I have been to Hungry Cat many times and have to say the host and waiters have always been friendly and professional. No problems with attitude. We had a delicious Halibut tempura, oysters, artic char tandoori and good entrees. Love the clam and Chorizo dish and bread pudding and cheese plate to finish things off. At Cadiz the saffron risotto with mussels and chorizo, ahi tuna, lamb meatballs and wild boar ribs were standouts.

                        I do think that Plow and Angel or Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch is one of the most stunning settings in Socal. And our meal at La Superica on Milpas for a grand total of $26 (including beer) was, as always, delicious. If you go try the #16!

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                        The Hungry Cat
                        1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: macdog

                          Thank you for your follow-up report and the first review of Cadiz since this is a newcomer to the SB dining scene. But you err sir, #15 at La Superica is the *only* one to try! ;-)

                          And it looks like you put together and excellent combo at Hungry Cat - when they are good, they are so good. I was hungry myself with every item description.

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                          The Hungry Cat
                          1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101