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I-5 Corridor?

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My wife and I will be driving back and forth from the Bay Area to LA this weekend. We like to get home early when we make this trip, so tend to be on I-5 in the San Joaquin valley around dinner time Sunday. Is there any place good/interesting to eat within a few miles of the freeway, between Castaic and Tracy? We've stopped at Harris Ranch a few times, and Pea Soup Andersen's once, but wondering what else we might be passing by.

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  1. Not sure if it is outside your area, but I tried Hot City Barbque in Los Banos two weeks ago and it was really good. The ribs and pulled pork were terrific. Easy accesson and off I-5. They are only open Friday,Sat. and Sunday.

    1. This is only marginally chow-related, but check Caltrans' website for construction bulletins or you'll be somewhere entirely different at dinner time due to traffic. You might want to consider taking 101.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ricepad

        Check threads with the following cities: King City, Soledad, Greenfield, Gonzales. There are some good mexican recommendations.

        Also there is a good sausage place a few minutes off of 5 at Santa Nella (i.e. Los Banos area) called Wolffson's (I think). If you search "Gustine" you should find a number of threads on it.

        1. re: tavmark

          King City, Soledad, Greenfield & Gonzales are on 101 not I-5

          1. re: Stephanie Wong

            My apologies. Having driven the area for so long I should know that.

          2. re: tavmark

            Wolfson's has wonderful sausages, but they're not a restaurant. We always buy something frozen to bring home when we're passing through the area. They do make sandwiches for takeout if that suits your needs.

            1. re: judybird

              I agree that Wolfsen's is more of a store than a restaurant but it does have seating if you want to eat there, with one or two small tables inside and a small patio area with a few slightly larger tables outside. In addition to great sandwiches (I like the tri-tip) they have drinks, and often have a few prepared side dishes/salads, and other items for a picnic lunch or dinner. Gustine is a few miles off of I-5 but worth the drive. Note that their annual sausage tasting is coming up in a few weeks! http://www.wolfsensausage.com/

        2. Tita's Pupuseria in Buttonwillow is good and the truck is right off the freeway but be warned - it does take a good 10 minutes to get your order (and that's with no line)

          another thread on this subject:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/429931

          1. Thanks for the tips! I may print out this thread and bring it with us.
            We are driving down via 101 on Friday. I'll check with Caltrans before we depart on Sunday but we're in the East Bay and the 101 route is maybe 2 hours longer without stops....if we sit in traffic for an hour on 5 we still come out ahead.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MT38122

              Yes: Friday get-away traffic from East Bay (680/880) to 101 to Salinas/Monterey Peninsula can take 3 hours depending on when you leave and what events folks are traveling to.

              1. re: MT38122

                There is another alternative if it isn't too late (or for your return), especially from the East Bay: Route 99! if you take 99 all types of alternatives open up. Check Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield, Merced, Turlock (where there is a new place I am dying to hear reports on called LaMo: hope to get there soon for what is reported to be the best Cal-Mexican food in the Central Valley...), Atwater... Depending on where you live in the East Bay the 99 route will only be about 30 minutes longer than I-5 would be without construction, no major road work right now that I am aware of (checking with Caltrans is always a good idea), and the food opportunities are MUCH better....(and if you want the best of both worlds, though it will add a bit of time onto your drive, take the 5 South to Santa Nella and then cut over to 99 via Gustine, which of course takes you right by Wolfsen's... :-))

                1. re: susancinsf

                  since this post was written I have tried LaMo: went there for a weekend lunch in October or November. I was glad to snag a table on the patio: I found the interior of the restaurant to be somewhat cramped, with closely spaced tables, and dark as well.

                  To be honest, the food and service were both somewhat disappointing: the food somewhat missed the mark and the service I got was rather indifferent, although I did notice neighboring tables getting much better service. (but then, I think they knew the servers and were not first timers). My sopa de fideo to start was homey (as would be expected) and tasty. For my main I ordered a special: Birria, made with beef. It was dry and there was almost no broth. The tortillas that came with the dish were straight out of a plastic package. However, i saw some wonderful looking tacos on what were clearly house made tortillas going out to another table. I couldn't help but wonder if regulars got better food to go with the better service. Still, friends continue to rave about the place, so I will definitely go back and try again.

              2. So you admit to eating at Harris Ranch and Pee Soup's and now you understand why people drive 85 mph on Highway 5 to get to LA or the Bay area. Hwy 101 offers real fine dining, but I have to stay overnight around Paso Robles. 99 had horrendous construction a few weekends ago and the better restaurants are closed on Sunday, which leaves you the chains.

                12 Replies
                1. re: BN1

                  While staying in Paso, you might consider going over to Cambria. Robins is open for Sunday brunch and is on Open Table. And Black Cat Bistro is open for Sunday dinner.

                  A search for Cambria on the CA board brought up some threads you could review.

                  1. re: Stephanie Wong

                    Thank you Stephanie for the suggestions, they might work for me. I've considered cutting over to Cambria just for the beauty of the drive. I always leave 101 at Ventura and ease into LA on Hwy 1 through Malibu just to escape that horrible freeway.

                  2. re: BN1

                    I haven't seen any construction on the 99 lately during daylight hours (starting at ten pm there has been on-going construction near Modesto, but things do change day to day so it is a good idea to consult Caltrans, where the current advisory lists construction only starting at 2100 hours on weekdays near Bakersfield (so wouldn't be an issue on a Sunday). The idea of cutting across between five and one of the other alternatives(to either 101 or 99) above or below construction makes sense to me to maximize good food exposure.

                    It is true that LaMo in Turlock is closed Sunday, alas (though I haven't been yet, partly because they are closed on the days I tend to have free :-( ) but it isn't true that all of the good places close on Sunday (even though I will admit it sometimes seems that way here in Merced.) Some of the good 99 places that come to mind immediately and are open Sunday include Wolfsen's in Gustine (not on 99 but a good stop if one wants to cut over to 99 above the I-5 construction, via Santa Nella), Cinema Cafe in Merced (used to be closed Sundays but now open until 2 p.m. Sundays, and the best breakfasts for the price in town or on much of the 99, in my admittedly biased home-town view opinion, and you can get breakfast for lunch), Lorena's in Fresno (which is very near to La Reina Michoacan for the bonus of a paleta after lunch, and yes, both open Sunday's), and La Perla Tapatia in Delano, which I consider to be an undiscovered gem:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/790249

                    1. re: susancinsf

                      We did the detour to Wolfson's sausages in Justine (off 5 near Los Banos) and came away decidedly unimpressed. Gimmick ingredient additions to an inferior sausage product do not make this detour chow-worthy in our opinion. We love sausages. Brummis in Santa Barbara puts out a good German sausage. Few in the US do as well as Bavaria and Switzerland, but Brummi's bockwurst and Kasper's (with a K, not a C) Hot Dogs in Castro Valley come close.

                      1. re: glbtrtr

                        sorry to hear that, but since they have many, many types of sausages I'd be curious which you tried. There is nothing that could remotely be called 'gimmicky' about the linguica, or the bratwurst, IMO (although I do like the Moroccan lamb the best myself). That said, as a lunch stop, it isn't necessarily the sausage I recommend. As I mentioned earlier on the thread, I'd go for the tri-tip sandwich, and some of their beef jerky for the road, myself.

                        1. re: susancinsf

                          by the way, I don't profess to be a sausage expert and have never been to Bavaria or Switzerland much less have tried the sausage there (although note that the 'heritage' of Wolfsen's is Portuguese, not Bavarian or Swiss). Since Gustine is right on the way of one of the routes between the five and the 99, I think Harris Ranch or somewhere like that would be a more apt comparison for the purposes of this thread. And yeah, Wolfsen's tri-tip beats the *()*)( out of Harris Ranch. IMO. Similarly, when I mention Mexican places I like on the 99 that are open Sundays, I am comparing to I-5 alternatives, NOT to the best places I've eaten in Mexico. (well, other than the paletas at La Reina Michoacan, which I will put up against paletas anywhere. Especially the mango chile...).

                          That said, I periodically make the drive from Merced to Gustine with a cooler to stock up on my favorite types of sausages at Wolfsen's (linguica, Moroccan lamb, bratwurst, hot links)....but of course, it is only a thirty minute drive for me. I'd have to drive five hours plus to get to Brummi's, though I have put the later on my list to try next time I am in Santa Barbara.

                        2. re: glbtrtr

                          Susan and glbtrtr, if you love sausage, have you visited West Sacramento for the various Russian and Eastern European groceries and Delis? There are some great little markets with small but well-stocked meat counters. Easy off and on from 1-5 in downtown Sac. Totally worth a side trip if you have a little time to investigate. From 1-5 to 'target' in 5 to 10 minutes.

                          1. re: toodie jane

                            DH heading up that way tomorrow. I'll give him the tip. Thanks. Do you have more specifics about names, directions and off-ramp streets?

                        3. re: susancinsf

                          Because I was so delayed by the construction on Hwy 99, I gave up and actually spent Sunday night in Merced on my last trip coming home from LA. It appeared every restaurant was closed, so I ended up at Carrows with the people from the car races that night. Actually, my prime rib was pretty good. However for me, a nice restaurant has a good wine list. The construction was not active, but there were closed lanes that caused big, dangerous merging headaches. Traffic was completely stopped for some time around Bakersfield and there were 2 other locations further north that were nearly as congested. I had notions of eating at Parma, but I can never remember that it’s closed on Sunday. Oh, that hurts every time.

                          Going to LA on Hwy 99 or I-5, I have to be aware of the city traffic and time my travel accordingly. I leave home about 1:00 p.m. and stop for dinner around Santa Clarita at about 7:30 p.m. After dinner, there is very little freeway traffic in LA. We just carry snacks like water & apples (they really wake you up) for the drive.

                          1. re: BN1

                            well, a good wine list can be a challenge at times in Merced, although I don't imagine Carrows has one...Should you ever get stuck in Merced again on a Sunday night, try D'Angelos. It almost has to be better than Carrow's, though I admit I've never eaten at the later. And sometimes you can even find a decent Italian red on their list. Or you can eat at the Branding Iron, open late on Sunday, till 11 p.m., very good prime rib. Can't say too much that is positive about their wine list, however (though they know how to make a proper martini).

                            http://www.thebrandingiron-merced.com/

                          2. re: susancinsf

                            Susan,

                            I had to be in Merced this morning for work but was done by 9:00 a.m. so I went to Cinema Cafe. It reminds me of the small lunch counters we used to have in downtown Fresno. No hiding what you're cooking here as it is basically a small diner. Had the chorizo and eggs and ended up bringing half of it home because the portion was so large. I really liked the atmosphere but it does attract some of Merced's homeless population. None of which bothers me but other people are put off by that. I would definitely go back.

                            1. re: tavmark

                              Thanks for the report back....glad you enjoyed it. A co-worker loves those chorizo and eggs, and yes, she takes half home also. I am a fan of their corned beef hash, myself. To be honest, I've never noticed that it attracts a significant homeless population, but perhaps I just haven't paid much attention (doesn't bother me either). Their sidewalk tables can be pleasant in good weather.

                        4. I had this same conundrum (where to eat off I-5). Definitely try one of the old Basque restaurants. I tried the Wool Growers restaurant in Los Banos (mid Central Valley, west of Merced and 5 miles off the 5). Great atmosphere, decent food, overall a positive experience. There's another, Hotel Noriega in Bakersfield, which won a James Beard award recently.