Ahhhh… Pismo.  Everybody knows Pismo.  Over 100 restaurants crammed into a little 20-block area and all of them boasting their Clam Chowder Bread Bowl or BBQ or Clam Strips are WORLD FAMOUS–many with lines out the door of undiscriminating palates.  But where can you get GOOD food in Pismo Beach?  REAL food–food on par with the finest food in not-so-touristy areas?  Here are 5 excellent choices for those of you looking for something beyond fried seafood and over-salted gelatinous stew.  The interesting part?  NONE of my Top-5 show up on TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Pismo list and only a couple pop in and out of YELP’s Top 10 Pismo Restaurants–mostly dangling on a re-fresh of the page.  There’s a very easy explanation for this–which locals understand–and the bottom line is: armed with this list you will NOT be eating tourist food.

CHOP STREET   [edit 1.29.2022: CLOSED LONG AGO and I really don’t have a replacement] This tiny spot continues to evolve and every time it gets better.  On perhaps the third or fourth incarnation–but who’s counting–and service and menu continually streamlines
and achieves focus on hipness and Socal dining trends.  Where the awkwardness of counter-ordering for lunch previously held them back a few points in this reviewer’s eyes, they have gone to a full seated/menu scenario for a far more enjoyable dining experience.  And the menus!  Lunch offers a well-rounded grouping of favorites from their trade-mark house-made Tater-Tots through all manner of well-stuffed salads and creative sandwiches and bites.  Fries on-point and the burger is hands-down the best in SLO County.  Dinner is an intimate affair with both elegant and casual nightly specials from the chef.  The wine-list is a perfect simple grouping.  A couple reds and a couple whites BUT YOU DON’T NEED MORE, as these intelligent selections will blow you away with both their originality and food-friendliness. As much as I welcome the continuous evolution of ANY restaurant, RIGHT NOW Chop Street is the best restaurant in Pismo Beach.  Where can it go from here?!?

GIUSEPPE’S EXPRESS    “Giuseppe’s” is fairly synonymous with “Pismo Beach” but honestly the main location everyone lines up for in Pismo is my least favorite of the three.  Heresy, I know, but this is my blog–and my taste-buds.  I have not been entirely satisfied with my experience there for many years.  PALAZZO GIUSEPPE in San Luis Obispo is hands-down a better option and my second-fav remains solidly the EXPRESS location–tucked across the street from the main resty in an old gas station–a hidden gem of fabulous short-order items.  An Italian marketplace, a wine-shop, craft-beer, the BEST gelato, incredible green, pasta, and grain salads by-the-scoop, sandwiches, salumi, panini, THE BEST DESSERTS and entrées–both ready-to-eat and cook-at-home (get the braciole!!!).  Next time you’re wandering the streets of Pismo, stop in to this jam-packed little oasis of Italian.  You will want to eat EVERYTHING.

PUFFERS OF PISMO  Tiny little speak-easy cranking out amazing small plates, cheese & meat, panini, terrine and desserts alongside an AMAZING winelist curated by a long-time wino.  Easily the hottest new locals hangout in the area.  Small bands and great art, with chef pop-ups regularly.  Quickly getting discovered, so get in line.  Like being in someone’s living room.  If you don’t want to meet interesting new people, stay away!

FAY’S ASIAN FUSION   Even MOAR off the beaten-path, harder to find FOR SURE is a rather new spot SERIOUSLY tucked away on a street devoid of any other retail or dining.  Once you find Tao, you will find yourself darting back down again and again for lunch and boba.  Boba?!?!  Yes, and this is the only place to get it between Grover Beach and SLO.  And they make it from scratch–the tapioca and the teas.  Likewise the expansive collection of noodle-bowls and dumplings.  Magical seafood appetizer-bites, joyful family service (dad’s cooking, mom’s seating, kids serving…!) and did I mention NOODLES!?!?!  Just a block off the beach and a block from the usual strip of disgusting tourist restaurants serving dretch to lines out the door is TAO: a bright, sparkling, creative and FRESH reason to go down to Pismo again!

LIDO   Oh, sure: those in the front row will exclaim THIS IS NOT IN PISMO!! but come’on–let’s be reasonable:  It’s RIGHT THERE, just North a few blocks, with the main-hotel-strip sandwiched between it and Pismo.  Technically, Lido IS next door in Shell Beach, and honestly?  I ran out of nice things to say about restaurants in Pismo and consider Lido so superior to anything in the area how can I make a list of 5 on that strip without mentioning Lido at Dolphin Bay.  NOWHERE in the area will you find the sort of dining experience one receives at Lido.  From the valet through the seating in the plush dining room with expansive ocean views, this is THE most pampered dining experience on the Central Coast.  Pages and pages of wonderful is the wine-list and a professional full-time sommelier on the floor to assist in every decision.  The kitchen churns out a new and never-ending stream of monthly appetizers–gloriously well-thought-out creations based on items sourced from local farms and fisheries.  Ordering from the curt list of amazing dishes is easily as hard as choosing which pictures to post with this entry.  The gracious staff–I think it is the happiest staff in the whole county: maybe it’s something in the water–bustles about, smiling, relaxed and unhurried, EVERYTHING catered to YOUR dining enjoyment and absolute satisfaction way above and beyond the call-of-duty.   The food is always as gorgeous as it tastes–nothing out-of-place, nothing awkwardly experimental or obnoxiously trendy.  This is definitely haute-cuisine but NOT “tweezer-food”.  Perfectly substantial–never gourmet-meager OR gorgingly over-filling–every dish begs you to retire satisfied or anticipate eagerly the next.  Did I mention the wine-list?!?!  Thousands of bottles, with both by-the-glass AND bottle selections ranging from entry-level local labels to extravagant bling bottles.  The somm works hard on this list and there are ALWAYS bargains on the bottle-list and must-tries on the glass-list.  Treat yourself!  And let Lido treat YOU!!!  You just CAN’T dine out on the Central Coast without mixing in Lido now and then.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  When narrowing down the above 5, a few other spots in Pismo Beach rose VERY NEAR the top and deserve a mention:

SEA VENTURE    I keep wanting this restaurant to perform, because of its location and setting and view and ambiance and EVERYTHING but the dinner menu continues to grind along in a safe, geriatric ‘early-bird-dinner’ sort of feeling with uninspired dishes of classical brown food.  Then WHY is it on this list?!?!? The Bar Menu, period.  I am continually blown away by everything I order from the bar menu.  Always beautifully plated and portioned–WONDERFUL small bites tasting as good as they look.  Belgium frites are a MUST, and everything else arrives looking too good to eat–but eat it you must!  The plus side is the bar-kitchen you get to watch in action.  The down-side is the horrible wine list.

PAPI’S GRILL   (quite universally known as ‘Papi’s Tacos’)  A spot which has seen at least ten bad burger-joints in the past 20 years, I hope this version is here to stay.  STUNNING interpretations of Mexican food.  Mostly outdoor seating.  ORDER: carnitas chipotle and asada rojas.

FOOD INSTAGRAM @eatdrink101

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