No doubt about it, California is split into two universes. Northern and Southern are in competition in regards to just about everything: best sights, best weather, best schools, best people…and yes, most importantly, the best food. I’d have to say that from San Diego to Orange County to L.A. and up to San Francisco, you’ll find some of the freshest, most diverse and delicious food out there. But what about Central California? While the Central Coast isn’t entirely overlooked, as it’s jam-packed with superb wineries, beautiful coastlines, some of the best outdoor recreation, and the remarkable Hearst Castle, there’s definitely not a big city vibe to the area. I explored one of the best foodie locations of the Central Coast, in the town of San Luis Obispo (SLO). Here are the top ten best restaurants in Downtown SLO to experience if you’re in the area.
SLO BREW CO.
Oh. My. Gosh. If I could shout to the hills about an establishment with exceptional nachos and burgers, this would be the place! The starters section of the menu is, why yes, the place to start. Their Dueling Nachos: Duck vs. Pork is the real winner. Your choice of “Just Duck”, with black mole, feta, duck confit, and roasted corn salsa, or “Just Pork”, smothered with hatch green chile, with cotija, onions, and cilantro will be hard to make. But of course, why just pick one when in this great country of ours you can always go half and half?! If you’re still hungry after this cheesy, meaty, nacho dish, order their most famous burger, The Growler, that features braised pork belly, grilled onions, and a fried egg right on top of the meat patty. All in all, seems like you can’t go wrong with any of their “comfort driven pub food selections.”
SLO Brew Co. (736 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.543.1843)
BON TEMPS CREOLE CAFE
This hot and saucy cafe is actually a very popular spot among the locals in San Luis Obispo as well as pass-through visitors. I wasn’t too sure that Creole/New Orleans style food would seem to fit in with the town’s hipster and pub foodie scene, but it was an exceptional breakfast decision. Bon Temps serves food we are all familiar with (eggs, biscuits, bacon), but with a few added ingredients and flair. Most menu items are served with Creole dish favorites, such as gravy, fried green tomatoes, and grits. For something unique, try the Faitdodo (fay doe doe), a skillet dish containing Creole red beans topped with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce served with grits and grilled Andouille sausage, and a biscuit. Or try one of their many famous omelettes or perhaps a sweeter dish, what New Orleans call French Toast, the Cajun Pain Perdu!
Bon Temps Creole Cafe (1819 Osos St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93405 // 805.544.2100)
SCOUT COFFEE CO.
Yes, locally roasted coffee is primarily the star of the shop’s menu, but the biggest kick you’ll receive is from just sitting inside this light-infused, good vibe producing space. A great place to gather with friends and family in Downtown San Luis Obispo to enjoy the company you’re with. But that’s not all: their made-in-house pastries and cookies are OH-SO-DELISH! Scout Coffee offers not your everyday croissant and scone flavors. Check out the Almond Blackberry Croissant or the Bacon Date Scone. Or try a tea milkshake with a moist ginger almond cookie. I would highly recommend this place to start off your 7 am coffee and pastry kick.
Scout Coffee Co. (1130 Garden St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.439.2175)
THE NAKED FISH
It’s hard to scope out the perfect sushi place when you’re not familiar with a town or city, but I think I nailed this predicament on my first try while exploring SLO’s Downtown. Naked Fish was packed from wall to wall, which is always a good sign. Start off the meal with a small plate of their unique BBQ Albacore. The Classic Long Rolls are delicious, but the Naked Fish Signature Long Rolls are where it’s at! With intriguing ingredients you’ll find in each roll, such as the Baliwood, with salmon, mango, sweet potato, limes, and curry glaze, it’ll definitely take your taste buds up a notch!
The Naked Fish (857 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.543.3474)
Meat, meat, meat and more meat. It’s this word that sums up Firestone Grill and puts itself as one of the best restaurants in Downtown San Luis Obispo. From hamburgers the size of your face, to racks and racks of pork ribs with possibly the best BBQ sauce my taste buds have tasted. Their most popular meaty dish is the Tri-Tip Steak Sandwich, as well as the The Pig Sandwich with shredded pork, that both lie in between a French roll. Match any of their entrees (you truly can’t go wrong) with a basket of their perfectly seasoned fries or onion rings, garlic bread, ranch beans, or coleslaw. Set up indoors at a table or at the bar to watch a multitude of sports games, or outside on the large patio under bistro lighting.
Firestone Grill (1001 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.783.1001)
SIDECAR COCKTAIL CO.
The only way to describe Sidecar is how they describe it on their website: “Thoughtfully-sourced California craft on your plate and in your glass.” Being well-known in town for their sophisticated, flawless cocktails, it’s no surprise that their brunch and dinner menu matches up very well. Pull up a chair and relish in their entrees, each filled with unique and fresh ingredients. Some suggestions? Perhaps their California Deviled Eggs to start, following a Warm Beet Salad with pistachio honey vinaigrette, and end with one of their most popular dishes, the Green Zebra “Lasagna”. Sounds intriguing, I know! Photo: http://sidecarcocktail.company/.
Sidecar Cocktail Co. (1127 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.540.5340)
Dessert time! Better yet, cookie time! Batch in San Luis Obispo is a simple, petite shop serving up old fashioned ice cream sandwiches. In four easy steps, you can have a warm, gooey, creamy ice cream sandwich in the palm of your hand.
Simply choose your cookie, your ice cream, your topping, pay the young lad/lass at the register and VOILA! It’s all yours. All cookies are made “like mom used to”, only using real butter, sugar, eggs, and milk and their ice cream is made locally. Perfect for an after dinner snack.
Batch (1108 Broad St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.592.2250)
NOVO RESTAURANT LOUNGE
Right in the heart of Downtown San Luis Obispo, Novo Restaurant Lounge is a spot for the occasional “treat yo-self” weekend, (or weekday!) meal. Their menu is a little steeper in price, but with exceptional ambiance, as its patio sits creekside, and the menu consisting of “worldwide flavors”, it is rightfully placed as one of the best restaurants in Downtown SLO. Join them for brunch, lunch, LATE lunch, dinner, or just dessert. They have it all. You’ll find sweet and savory crepes, delectable sandwiches of all kinds, curry dishes, New Zealand lamb chops, and their Goat Cheese Cheesecake is to die for, just to name a few. There truly is something for everyone’s tastes.
Novo Restaurant Lounge (726 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.543.3986)
KREUZBERG COFFEE COMPANY
What initially drew me into the building were the peculiar wall murals and intricate nooks and crannies where tables sat. But upon skimming their menu, you’ll notice they offer more than just coffee, tea, and pastries. Their “Cafe Menu” features veggie omelets, a variety of breakfast burritos, and acai bowls, as well as an assortment of soups and salads that sound purely amazing. I enjoyed a plain Old Fashioned Egg Brekky: two eggs over easy, tots, avocado, and bagel and schmear. Plain as it may sound, a phenomenal plate and a well-deserved place in the top ten restaurants in SLO. You can also visit Kreuzberg in the evening with their “Lounge Menu”, serving sensational items such as Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese or Parmesan Pepper Risotto, which makes Kreuzberg one of the best restaurants in Downtown SLO for morning or evening meals.
Kreuzberg Coffee Company (685 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.439.2060)
Every town’s gotta have one great pizza joint and Woodstock’s is the best go-to restaurant in Downtown San Luis Obispo just for that. With a low-key, spacious environment with an arcade room and sports bar, you’ll be served delicious homemade pizza at every visit. Woodstock’s features a wide range of their own creations and, if you’re like myself who likes to go a little different and crazy when ordering off the menu, dive into the Kickin’ Carnitas with carnitas, bacon, and Southern Chipotle sauce. Or you could go a little more clean, green, and lean with the Pesto Primavera with pesto sauce, broccoli, and artichoke hearts. But feel free to make your own, it’s up to you!
Woodstock’s Pizza (1000 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 // 805.541.4420)