Have you been to ROSALINA yet? There’s quite a few out-of-the-way places I DON’T champion–because they are not worth it–but a few here locally really need to be on your *try* list. The RANGE people in Santa Margarita have slowly put together a ridiculous new spot across the street from them in Santa Margarita, progressively transitioning it into a heavy-hitter on the North County dining scene. I find myself there nearly once a week, sometimes for just a glass of wine, but usually for the Barrio Soul Food their menu is becoming famous for. I typically start with a big jar of pickles or crock of olives, but the excellent interpretations on California Mission Mexican are typically too much of a temptation. Fish tacos always satisfy, and the chilaquiles are to die for.
And what about PUFFER’S OF PISMO? Everybody knows about this place now, right? The place is PACKED on weeknights, there’s a full-time chef and sous, several wait-persons and even a somm. All plus Charlie! Remember back when Charlie used to do it all by himself??? And his cheese-plate is STILL the best in the county. It would be fun to write a full blog on all the tiny hidden locals-only gems in this county, and these two would certainly headline the list.
GARDENS OF AVILA at the ol’ Soak-N-Poke is another one locals drive past frequently and seldom remember. It’s close to my house and I pop in there for lunch occasionally. Had a BEAUTIFUL salad of greens and citrus there the other day. The steak-frites was completely forgettable, with a dull, bland piece of perfectly-cooked meat and fries with garlic sauce and Parmesan on them. I won’t order that again. The burger was good, and the tacos excellent, and had a nice glass of Austin Hope Cabernet with it all.
Speaking of Charlie Puffer’s, this thing is next door in Pismo Beach. Hasn’t opened yet, and work has progressed fairly non-stop for some months. Biscuits & gravy. Gee I can’t wait. There’s a restaurant in Solvang I noticed this past week with a fat section of Biscuits and variations of gravy. Maybe it’s the new fried chicken and waffles. Maybe it needs to go away before it starts.
The grocery scene has been fairly fluid lately. SPROUTS opened yesterday in San Luis Obispo. ALDO a month or so ago in Arroyo Grande where Cookie Crock was. Don’t really see the appeal, but might give it another shot. Oh and you think I brought up Cookie Crock accidentally? Nope. Cookie Crock is closing in Morro Bay. That’s the last one, right?
While we’re way up Highway 1, you heard Cory Bidwell left CASS HOUSE GRILL and went to HATCH in Paso Robles. Listen, Cass House will be fine. They always promote up from inside and Hatch can ONLY get better. My last couple meals there have been hovering dangerously near *mediocre* and I would love to see Paso Robles get back on their horse of having great restaurants. I mean–think about it: Panolivo gone, Villa creek gone, Artisan gone, all there is is BL BRASSERIE. Over the hill in Morro Bay, Kari Ziegler is leaving STAX WINE BAR & BISTRO, after cheffing and managing it to glorious levels way above and beyond how wonderful it already was. She is re-locating to Oregon Wine country because of her (winemaker) boyfriend.
COLONY MARKET & DELI opened in Atascadero in the exploding downtown district up there. Across El Camio Real from The Carlton Hotel. Some place called IKE’S SANDWICHES opened on Chorro in SLO.
You want a good burger? Have you been to NORMAN yet? It is in the new Skyview Motel in Los Alamos, Kimberly Walker’s newest dining spot. An easy stop when cruising up or down the 101, the place is glorious MCM-chic, the views are great, the cocktails and winelist astonishing, and–it turns out–the food is great. I had been to a couple of media events surrounding its opening, but never dined until recently–and only lunch. Did you know they have a locals special on the rooms? Call them and ask. Ms. Walker is of course the woman behind GRANADA, The Station SLO, Nourish, and most recently: NIGHTCAP in downtown SLO next to Granada. I have gone on record in previous columns listing Nightcap as my new favorite *grown-up* bar in San Luis Obispo. It and Kreuzburg’s new LOUNGE. Good lighting, good drinks, low-key, conversation is encouraged, and not expensive or belligerently hip.
Meanwhile in Los Alamos, had ANOTHER awesome dinner at BELL’S, in the former location of Bell Street Farm. This is French through-and-through, with ALL the classics. I HAD to get the escargot, and it was indeed a fabulous version. Anything is good boiled in enough butter and garlic, and snails are no exception. I think I may have to write a new Best-Of List, and there might just be two restaurants A BLOCK APART on it. PICO and BELL’S. Oh and the wine list!!! I was able to drink Raj Parr & Peter Stolpman’s new EXTREMELY LIMITED colab Trousseau with my meal. How cool is that?
Also in the French category, BLUE MOON OVER AVILA has started a Wine Wednesday thingamajigger where all bottles are half off and they are doing live jazz. Don’t know if it’s American or d’Jango, but might have to check that out. Always looking for dinner-jazz around here, and although Puffers keeps promising, MEE HENG LOW (upstairs, Thursday-Sunday) is about the only place I can get that fix. Speaking of wine-specials, Robin over at LIDO has eliminated the Sunday night half-off sale on her 30-page list. The good news is: the sale is now EVERY DAY, so you don’t have to plan on Sundays (like I did for the past half-decade). The bad news is: the sale is limited to a back page of the winelist of clearance items. I’ll just betcha it’s got some gems though. And while we’re on wine (I won’t apologize: most of you know I like wine), there was a whirlwind of wine events in March, with World of Pinot and Rhone Rangers and several trade tastings, but April is looking fairly quiet in contrast. The next event you need to concern yourself with is April 13 when a San Luis Obispo Rosé Festival returns with LA FETE DU PINK. I think VIP may already be gone or sold out, but get yourself tickets to this event to kick off summer and #ROSÉSEASON!!
Oh and then there’s this. Next door to Bob’s Nursery in downtown Pismo Beach. I guess it’s a bakery. Do I have to go visit? I might pop in one of these days. Everyone needs a good bakery. Wonder if they sell bread? (This is a joke probably only those who follow me on Facebook will get–I have been on a little rant lately about how many local bakeries we have DON’T SELL BREAD.)
Old town Nipomo has some new things. The old La Placita market–home to my favorite tacos in Nipomo–is now SMITH HOUSE MANUFACTURING, which sells hot sauce and BBQ rubs and a few other items but no actual food. Across the street OLD TOWN BREW is opening in the old Pie-Hole Pizza spot next to Nipomo Saloon. Something fairly major is being built-from-scratch out at the end of old town Orcutt. I posted a picture of it last week but haven’t heard what it is.
Back up in SLO, EPHREN’S #5 has finally opened up on Laurel. I can’t imagine the food being any different than Ephren’s in Oceano or anywhere else, which is rather mediocre. But hey, I’ll take all the tacos I can get in SLO. My Mexican employees swear by the tripe, so that’s a fair endorsement, I suppose. Remember a few weeks ago I told you some beloved bar in SLO was closing and I couldn’t say who it was you you’d be shocked? Well, the BAD news is: I can tell you who it is; and the GOOD news is: It is getting an interesting new tenant. SPIKES is closing to become THE BEAR AND THE WREN, who unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past couple years have NO DOUBT catered SOME event you have attended locally in their near-meteoric rise in popularity. Next door, FOREMOST has a new liquor license up in the window, registered to Nicola Allegretta, who those in the back rows will immediately recognize from MAMA’S MEATBALL and MISTURA. This is NOT going to be a giant Mama’s Meatball–but other than that, I can’t promise much more.
After my fairly positive experience at BEDA’S BIERGARTEN last month, I ventured in to GRILL HOUSE (shouldn’t it be haus???) downtown SLO. I’m not an expert on German food by any means but is my wiener supposed to be black? The burgers looked really REALLY good, so I might be back to try that portion of the menu, but I don’t think I’ll hit their bratwurst again. It was kinda the wurst. You KNOW a new sushi and Korean place opened next door where Naked Fish was. The chef is a Shin. No relation to Steve Shin of Yamato and Shins. Chipotle sits empty, and around the corner at the old Pluto’s, BRANZINO has been churning up quite the reputation in its scant three weeks. A block away, Natural Cafe has finally landed a tenant–another burger chain, this one from NEW YORK CITY! called BURGER VILLAGE. Yes, you just heard my eyes roll.
OK, I’ve scribbled enough. I told you I was going to have to write a little more frequently to catch up. I haven’t even told you about the places I’ve eaten THIS WEEK. So I’ll leave you with the bread from UPPER CRUST TRATTORIA. See? This column really DID turn out to be themed along *places we all overlook*. Upper crust is one of those places you completely forget about, but you go in, and it is beautiful and professional and the winelist is great and the food is excellent and CHEAP and the service is shockingly good.
Tune in next week when I go to Cracker Barrel.
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