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Eat Your Heart Out: Dining Out 2017 


(San Miguel, Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Santa Margarita)


843 12th St., Paso Robles

One of the best chefs in the West (according to the James Beard Foundation) continues to cook up high caliber meals—wood-fired pizzas, grilled octopus, slow braised pork, and venison—at the best restaurant in North County. Chef/owner Chris Kobayashi also likes to keep it local, sustainable, and organic by supporting places such as Beewench Farm in Shandon and the Artisan farm in Templeton run by Shandi Kobayashi. “Our ever-changing menu continues to support local farmers and purveyors that only practice proper ethics. Time-honored techniques bring a vibrance to every dish served,” the restaurant’s website notes.

—Camillia Lanham

Runner-up: Fish Gaucho



(Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos, Baywood Park, Morro Bay)

Robin’s Restaurant

4095 Burton Drive, Cambria

Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria, known for its “handcrafted comfort cuisine,” once again earned readers’ vote for best North Coast Restaurant, which owner Shanny Covey said meant a lot to the staff there: “We are honored to receive this award once again,” Covey said. “It confirms that our community wants and appreciates international fare that’s farmers’ market fresh. All of us at Robin’s are committed to doing our best to deliver to each of our guests a remarkable dining experience that feeds both your body and your soul.” Housed in a restored adobe home, the restaurant offers its patrons a uniquely cozy feel.

—Brenna Swanston

Runner-up: Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar



Novo Restaurant & Lounge

726 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo’s dining scene has a lot to offer, but according to readers, Novo is the best of the bunch. The restaurant’s menu focuses on global cuisine, boasting Brazilian, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors, aiming to bring in fresh, local ingredients. “Novo strives to provide fresh, innovative food from around the world,” front of house manager Jai Covey said—and according to readers’ votes, the restaurant succeeds. It’s the ideal spot for taste, authenticity, and ambiance, also offering an extensive local wine list as well as cocktails and craft beers. As Novo’s website puts it, “The quality of our food speaks for itself.”


Runner-up: Ciopinot Seafood & Grille



(Arroyo Grande, Nipomo)


1200 E. Grand Ave., suite 101, Arroyo Grande

Ember chef and owner Brian Collins said the restaurant’s goal was to become a local favorite, the first place to come to mind when choosing a spot for a date night or some other fun occasion. “We wanted to be a wonderful neighborhood restaurant you could treat yourself to for any special occasion, or just the night out for some delicious food,” Collins said—and according to readers’ votes, they’ve achieved it. Ember’s taking home the title of best South County Restaurant. Collins added that local patrons should swing by in June for Ember’s launch of a full bar with a craft cocktail menu.


Runner-up: Jocko’s



(Avila Beach, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano, and Shell Beach)

Ventana Grill

2575 Price St., Pismo Beach

Featuring unique coastal fusion cuisine and an incredible ocean view, Ventana Grill rates No. 1 with our readers. Operations Manager Josh Whipkey said the Ventana Grill owes its success to its customers. “We listen to them and are never afraid to change based on what they say,” Whipkey said. Open for lunch, happy hour, and dinner, the menu has a Latin flair paired with fresh ingredients. Feeling adventurous? Try the Arrachera steak and shrimp molcajete, grilled with jumbo scallions, shishito peppers, nopalitos, avocado, and queso panela. More of a traditionalist? Go for the crab encrusted mahi mahi with carrot ribbons, creamed spinach, and applewood-smoked bacon.

—Ariel Waterman

Runner-up: Oyster Loft



Thomas Hill Organics

858 Monterey St., SLO

Thomas Hill Organics opened its downtown San Luis Obispo location in November 2016, and they pulled in our readers’ pick for best new restaurant this year. Thomas Hill Organics aims for a farm-to-table dining experience with a creative menu and a local wine list. Owner Debbie Thomas said a lot of hard work went into opening the San Luis Obispo location, and the community support has been “amazing.” “It’s a breathtaking environment,” Thomas said of the restaurant. “The food is creatively and seasonally prepared, and of course delicious, and I think we have a great serving staff, too.”


Runner-up: Flour House SLO



Big Sky Cafe

1121 Broad St., SLO

You’ll never catch Big Sky serving frozen Eggo waffles and instant coffee. Instead, you can count on fresh everything: butter, potatoes, Cal Poly eggs, home-roasted bacon, and even a tofu scramble for the plant-based eater. For more than 20 years, Big Sky Cafe has continued to deliver satisfying breakfasts with authentic, local ingredients and modern flair. “People of San Luis Obispo buy in to the philosophy that you get good stuff, make it right, and charge a fair price,” said Greg Holt, executive chef and owner. “It’s real, it’s wholesome. Thank goodness we have a community that buys in to it.”

—Erica Hudson

Runner-up: Cowgirl Cafe



Franks Famous Hot Dogs

950 California Blvd., SLO

Franks’ dogs may be famous but the breakfast burrito is fabulous! A SLO fixture since 1977, Franks knows its clientele. Assistant Manager Elsa Amores says the breakfast burrito is popular for many reasons. “It’s a big burrito for just $8, made fresh all day, filled with eggs, bacon, cheese, country potatoes, and pico de gallo sauce,” she said. “Most customers like to substitute our deep-fried hash browns for the potatoes, which makes it terrific hangover food! Saturday and Sunday morning we’re packed with students who love our breakfast burrito and excellent strong coffee!” They also serve a great breakfast sandwich and pancake breakfast.


Runner-up: Lincoln Market & Deli



Ventana Grill

2575 Price St., Pismo Beach

This is brunch heaven! A seafood station features endless crab legs, peel-and-eat jumbo shrimp, oyster cocktail shooters, and smoked salmon. Hot entrees include beef barbacoa, eggs Benedict, green enchiladas, pork chile verde, applewood smoked bacon, sausages, biscuits and gravy, churro-style French toast, and mini Belgian waffles. The carver station has slow-cooked roast beef and pineapple-glazed ham. Customize your omelet with fresh ingredients and get homemade tortillas and salsas. Top it off with fresh fruit and salads, artisan cheeses, vineyard grapes, baked pesto brie, cheesecake, and chocolate strawberries, truffles, and mousse.


Runner-up: Sidecar



Louisa’s Place 

964 Higuera St., SLO

In a college town, having somewhere to revitalize your abused liver after a night of debauchery is absolutely vital, and no other restaurant is going to be there for you quite like Louisa’s Place. With its cozy diner aesthetic, food that tastes like home cooking, and all the coloring book pages pinned to the walls, you’ll feel like your grandma is taking care of you so your parents don’t find out about that frat party you went to. According to owner Scott Sweeny, “Louisa’s Place celebrated 40 years in downtown SLO this year and has always been known as the place to go for the best breakfast in town!”

—Katrina Borges

Runner-up: Sylvester’s Burgers



Big Sky Cafe

1121 Broad St., SLO

At many restaurants, vegetarian food is more of an afterthought. To make a vegetarian dish sparkle, it’s about making flavor profiles accessible with vegetables. Big Sky does just that with every option, every time. Ask anyone who’s tried the beet Reuben with house-cured sauerkraut and Jarlsberg cheese. Or the authentic Mexican pozole, which was the only thing I ordered the first times I went to Big Sky. Seriously. Then I moved on to the Big Sky noodle bowl: It’s got marinated mushrooms that I dream about. “It’s good food that just happens to be vegetarian,” said Greg Holt, executive chef and owner.


Runner-up: Natural Cafe


click to enlarge OYSTER HEAVEN:  Oysters aren’t the only type of ocean fare Ciopinot Seafood Grille does well, although the restaurant does have one of the only oyster bars in the county. Owner Leonard Cohen said they have a huge selection of pinots to pair with the best seafood in town. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • OYSTER HEAVEN: Oysters aren’t the only type of ocean fare Ciopinot Seafood Grille does well, although the restaurant does have one of the only oyster bars in the county. Owner Leonard Cohen said they have a huge selection of pinots to pair with the best seafood in town.


Ciopinot Seafood & Grille

1051 Nipomo St., SLO

Ever seen an oyster doing the backstroke in your martini glass? Ciopinot owner Leonard Cohen jokes that it’s exactly what you’ll see if you have one too many of their oyster martinis. Infused jalepeño vodka, rice wine vinegar, cilantro, shallots, and an oyster for the garnish. “It’s delicious,” Cohen said, adding that it’s one of several new infused cocktails the restaurant’s offering. Plus, you can have it at one of the only oyster bars around. Since Ciopinot opened eight years ago, the restaurant has nabbed this award every year. “We try to use the best, freshest wild seafood available,” he said.


Runner-up: Fin’s 



Zorro’s Café

927 Shell Beach Road, Pismo Beach

Winning Best Mexican Food in this county is no easy feat. But you tilt the odds when you offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner, host Taco Rona daily from 4 to 6 p.m. ($2.50 Coronas and $2.50 tacos), and boast a dog-friendly patio. Those are a few of Zorro’s biggest draws, according to restaurant co-owner Eric Landrigan. Zorro’s whips up delicious dishes from chile verde omelets to clam chowder, which is a three-time winner of the Pismo Beach Clam Festival. “It’s unexpected,” Landrigan said of winning Best Of. “It’s always a great accomplishment when there’s lots of options. Consistency is what we strive for.”

—Peter Johnson

Runner-up: Tacos De Mexico (Morro Bay)



Mandarin Gourmet

1316 Madonna Road, SLO

General Tsao’s chicken, Mongolian beef, chow mein, asparagus chicken, wonton soup, mushu pork, sautee beef. Need I go on? I could, for days and days, but I’ll save you some time and just tell you that this last year, Mandarin Gourmet started serving up Vietnamese noodle soup as well. “It’s been really popular because we make the broth from scratch,” owner Elaine Truong said. Her husband and chef Eric is Vietnamese/Chinese, and he wanted to bring those influences together. “A lot of his family members own restaurants, so when they get together they talk about food; they are all good cooks,” she said with a laugh.


Runner-up: Mei’s Chinese Restaurant



Goshi Japanese Restaurant

570 Higuera St., suite 155, SLO

Whenever and wherever I find sushi, I always order albacore tataki, and I’m always disappointed because it’s never as good as Goshi’s. Maybe it’s because Goshi is so selective about their fish, maybe it’s because their tataki sauce is something unknown to others, or maybe it’s because their sushi chefs are culinary geniuses dedicated to their craft—whatever the reason, I’ve never found another Japanese restaurant to compare. If sushi isn’t your cup of hot sake, they also have delicious grilled teriyaki and tempura dishes, and their Dynamite—baked baby shrimp, crab meat, bay scallops, and clams in a creamy mayonnaise sauce—is dynamite!

—Glen Starkey

Runner-up: Yanagi Sushi & Grill



Thai Boat

3212 Broad St., suite 140, SLO

“WARNING: Call first!” stands out in a red box on the Thai Boat website. “Thai Boat will close randomly and without notice sometimes due to the family traveling back to Thailand.” And they’re not joking, because Thai Boat was closed for the month of April. But the answering machine said they’ll be back in May, so get those salivary glands salivating and ready for some sweet basil chicken or pa-nang curry, pad see-ew, and pineapple fried rice. You can even throw a chicken larb salad in the mix, spiced to perfection with a little bit of lime juice and served with cabbage.


Runner-up: Noi’s Little Thai Take Out



Buona Tavola

SLO, Paso Robles

Can’t go to Italy? The next best thing is Buona Tavola, meaning “good table.” Theirs is filled with delicious Northern Italian cuisine. SLO location manager Andrea Fabbretti, said the most popular dish is Agnoletti di Scampi Arrabbiati—homemade ravioli stuffed with scampi, braised sweet onions, and prosciutto in lightly spicy tomato sauce. Vegetarians will love the Timballo Valdostano—layers of grilled eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, and mozzarella, baked in tomato sauce. Finish it off with delightful tiramisu or Fior di Seta, a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla cream and raspberry purée. Don’t forget the vino! The wine list features regional Italian, foreign, and local vintages and dessert wines. Meraviglioso!


Runner-up: Café Della Via



Petra Mediterranean Pizza & Grill

1210 Higuera St., SLO

Whether a love for Mediterranean food runs through your veins or you never even heard of shawarma until the first Avengers movie, Petra is the place to go. Manager Rammy Aburashed says that they care about consistency and high quality ingredients, but perhaps most importantly, they also care about their customers. “A lot of them are regulars,” he said. “Sometimes we give them nicknames, like there’s this one guy who comes in all the time; his name is Bob, so we call him ‘Kebob Bob.’” Well, what are you waiting for? Go get yourself some gyro and a catchy nickname!


Runner-up: Jaffa Café



Woodstock’s Pizza

1000 Higuera St., SLO

Woodstock’s has been making phenomenal pizzas since 1980! “Our most popular pizza is the SLO Classic, a combination pizza covered in pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and olives,” Marketing Manager Michelle Houston said. This place is a popular stop during the Thursday Farmers’ Market, and this summer, Woodstock’s plans on selling slices at Concerts in the Plaza on Fridays at the Mission Plaza. “I think that we’ve been so successful and maintained our popularity because of our community engagement with local nonprofits. We work with different festivals, host several fundraisers, and work with Cal Poly campus organizations on fundraising events,” Houston added.


Runner-up: Petra Mediterranean Pizza & Grill



Big Bubbaʼs Bad BBQ

1125 24th St., Paso Robles

An oak-wood fired barbecue is all my nostrils can take before I’m craving tri-tip and ribs. Oh, and brisket, chicken with that skin charred ever so slightly, and maybe some pulled pork, too. Ooh, and garlic fries. That is the smell that hits you as soon as you pull open the door of Big Bubba’s, walk beneath the gigantic sign facing 24th Street, and stare at all the people who are laughing, having a good time, and stuffing their faces with maple bourbon smoked pork tenderloin and Texas taters as you stand there wishing you had already ordered your food.


Runner-up: Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ



Jocko’s Steak House

124 N. Thompson Ave., Nipomo

Carnivores know where to go when they want to sink their teeth into a juicy, perfectly cooked steak. There’s no place like Jocko’s! Family owned and operated since 1925, it’s a rustic, downhome place to meet for great food. “My dad used to have a saying, ‘You can’t eat atmosphere,’” Assistant Manager Dana Ashlock quipped of the restaurant’s unpretentious environs. Her grandfather Jocko Knotts opened Jocko’s in 1925, and now her mom, Sandy Knotts, owns the place. Their secret is to source the best cuts of meat possible, age them to perfection, and then grill them to order. Don’t be in a rush; you may have to wait to be seated!


Runner-up: Tahoe Joe’s


click to enlarge BURGER TOWN:  Bodie Read, 5, and his sister Lila Read, 2, enjoy a kids meal at Sylvester’s Burgers, the best place to take your child to for a burger and fries (and there’s beer for you, too!). - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • BURGER TOWN: Bodie Read, 5, and his sister Lila Read, 2, enjoy a kids meal at Sylvester’s Burgers, the best place to take your child to for a burger and fries (and there’s beer for you, too!).


Sylvester’s Burgers

Los Osos, Atascadero, Oceano

Sylvester’s masterpieces of bovine on a bun are simply scrumptious! My teenage grandson and I recently chowed down on their Old Fashion, customized for our individual tastes, at the Oceano location. I went for the works—green leaf lettuce, red onions, tomato, pickles, and Sylvester sauce on a freshly baked, perfectly toasted bun. Grandson went plain and simple, with lettuce and ketchup. The burgers are fresh (never frozen) and deliciously seasoned, grilled to a perfect, medium pink. Friendly servers Cheyanna and Taylor said their favorite is the Hana Burger made with bacon, pineapple, teriyaki glaze, Swiss cheese, and Sylvester sauce.


Runner-up: Eureka!




1029 Chorro St., SLO

Wingstop keeps it simple. Wings. Fries. Sauces. And forget waiting for your order, you can order online to satisfy your craving faster. And forget getting a dozen wings that are only flavored with Frank’s Hot Sauce. Boring! You can order each wing individually! What?! One Louisiana rubbed wing, one hickory smoked barbecue wing, one garlic Parmesan wing, one lemon pepper wing, one Hawaiian wing, one teriyaki wing, one mango habanero wing, skip the atomic wing, and now you can even get one Brazilian citrus pepper wing shaken down with zesty citrus and piri piri pepper.


Runner-up: Buffalo Wild Wings


Big Sky Cafe

1121 Broad St., SLO

To many, salad is just the healthy option without a shot at flavor. Iceberg lettuce with a side of nothing. Big Sky believes in making magic out of pairings of arugula and spinach, cabbage and kale, beets and goat cheese—just to name a few. Beautiful things can happen when garden-fresh greens and vegetables are the centerpiece of a salad. Executive chef and owner Greg Holt knows that and buys from every farmer he can meet. Holt doesn’t know where their delicious salads would be without the loyal customers. “They keep our salad greens green,” Holt said.


Runner-up: Firestone Grill



click to enlarge EVERYDAY IS FOR TACOS:  Juana Peliego serves up a burrito with a smile at Tacos de Mexico in Morro Bay. The downtown establishment also gets a win for best tacos, which aren’t just for Tuesdays. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • EVERYDAY IS FOR TACOS: Juana Peliego serves up a burrito with a smile at Tacos de Mexico in Morro Bay. The downtown establishment also gets a win for best tacos, which aren’t just for Tuesdays.


Tacos de Mexico – Morro Bay

980 Main St., Morro Bay

You can’t get a taco from just anywhere. It’s got to be the right kind of taco with the right kind of meat. Like the carnitas with Tacos de Mexico’s smoky hot salsa. Or the carne asada, which the mural-covered restaurant is now generously piling on top of french fries, and sometimes they even put both that asada and the fries inside a gigantic delicious burrito. (See the next category for more info!) And you know it’s good because there’s usually a line out the door and no space to sit inside.


Runner-up: Taco Temple



Tacos de Mexico – Morro Bay

980 Main St., Morro Bay

You know what makes a good burrito? It’s got to be stuffed with meat and covered in sauce. It’s got to be eaten with a knife and fork, like the Wet Coronado Burritos Tacos de Mexico hawks filled with asada or chile verde or chile Colorado or pastor. And you can get all of that good stuff, plus rice, beans, and a little veggie (not too much, though, we don’t want to crowd out the meat) for less than $10.


Runner-up: Tacos de Acapulco



Splash Café

SLO, Pismo Beach

What makes the chowder at Splash Cafe so darn good? Owner Joanne Currie explained, “We use three different kinds of clams, which give a nice flavor profile and texture to our chowder. We use only fresh dairy and ingredients so that our chowder is always creamy, not cloying or heavy.” Generous cups of steaming chowder cost $4.85, sourdough bread bowls cost $7.95! “We bake all our own bread,” Currie said, “and we ship frozen chowder anywhere in the continental United States, including Alaska. (Sorry Hawaii!) California Fresh Markets also sells our frozen chowder and new carrot pepper sauce that goes great with it!”


Runner-up: Ciopinot Seafood Grille



Seeds The Juice Company

1133 Garden St., SLO

It seems like there’s an açaí bowl screaming at you from every juice place downtown, but the best new biz of 2016 has them all beat. You can BYOB—build your own bowl—customized to your crazy standards of perfection starting with açaí and ending with seeds. Yes, Seeds The Juice Company has seeds of all kinds. And fresh-flaked coconut, sliced bananas, whole blueberries, and chunks of kiwi. If fruit’s what you’re looking for and you hopped on the clean-eating bandwagon, Seeds açaí bowls can keep you healthy, organic, and happy.


Runner-up: Kravabowl


Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab

SLO, Arroyo Grande

Head over to Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab for a scoop or three of heaven made locally with lots of care and fresh cream! I crave their Motor Oil—dark chocolate and Kahlúa with fudge swirls. Owner Greg Steinberger said, “Motor Oil is our top selling flavor, and we just got a registered trademark for that flavor.” Steinberger also supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “We invite a Make-a-Wish child to create a flavor each year and 25 cents of every scoop goes to Make-a-Wish.” This year Wesley Barton from Atascadero created Ninja Turtles Cowabunga! This green vanilla treat laced with mini-turtle, caramel-filled chocolates is available only through the end of July, dudes!


Runner-up: Teaberry

click to enlarge NUTS OF DOUGH :  Brandon Miller and Nonny Ross are ready to serve you the best doughnuts in SLO County at SloDoCo. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • NUTS OF DOUGH : Brandon Miller and Nonny Ross are ready to serve you the best doughnuts in SLO County at SloDoCo.



SLO Donut Company 

793 Foothill Blvd., SLO

Looking to satisfy a nighttime craving, grab a study snack, or enjoy the delights of a fluffy doughnut? The newly expanded SloDoCo. has got just what you need from the traditional buttermilk bar to the circus animal doughnut—vanilla frosting swirled with crushed circus animal cookies on a raised doughnut. Marketing Manager Brandon Miller said the specials menu is always changing with the season, but bakers like to create these goodies with their customers in mind. “We’re always thinking of the craziest doughnuts college students would like,” Miller said. Now with more space for late night study sessions, the shop is open 24/7.

Karen Garcia

Runner-up: Sunshine Donuts



Madonna Inn

100 Madonna Road, SLO

Craving something sweet and decadent? Stop by the Madonna Inn for a slice of their world-famous cake. From delicate pink champagne to rich black forest, customers can indulge in thick slices of Madonna Inn cake topped with ribbons of chocolate curls. “We truly appreciate the continued support of our fans and customers,” Assistant Marketing Manager Audrey Pearce said. “It is largely because of our guests that Madonna Inn has remained a family tradition for almost 60 years!” Madonna Inn cakes are fresh, handmade with care, and unique. They’re more than just a sweet treat, they’re a little celebration in each bite.

—Kristine Xu

Runner-up: Apple Farm



House of Bread

299 Marsh St., SLO

“Just like grandma used to make” is the motto that goes into every recipe at this bakery. Owner Shelia McCann has been kneading her way into the hearts of many who enjoy her fresh loafs, pastries, and sandwiches. “We really do use the best ingredients and try to put out a quality product,” she said. Stop in for a whole loaf of basil Parmesan to complement a pasta dish or take half of an apple cinnamon swirl for dessert. If you’re stopping in for a lunch break, bakers cut each ingredient as needed for your sandwich.


Runner-up: Madonna Inn 


High Street Market and Deli

350 High St., SLO

Whether you’ve got the munchies or just spent an afternoon hiking Bishop Peak, there’s nothing more satisfying than sinking your teeth into a delicious sandwich from High Street Deli and Market that you scored for $6 during daily the 4:20 p.m. special. Manager Eric McFarland attributed the deli’s success to “the customer service and quality, local products.” The Dutch Crunch and California Turkey sandwiches remain popular among customers. Right now if you buy any High Street T-shirt or sweater, you get your sandwich for $6, even if it’s not 4:20. Don’t forget to throw in a doobie snack to round out the meal.

—Ryah Cooley

Runner-up: Gus’s Grocery



Novo Restaurant & Lounge

726 Higuera St., SLO

Novo’s bringing home first place for best outdoor dining, and there’s no question why: The restaurant’s extensive back patio juts right up against the creek, providing a perfect spot to lounge under the trees and enjoy gourmet selections from an eclectic menu. If you’re looking for fresh air and a delicious meal, Novo is the place to be. Jai Covey, front of house manager for Novo, said she was thankful to SLO County for recognizing the dining experience. “We are so delighted that you enjoy dining at Novo as much as we enjoy serving each and every one of you,” Covey said.


Runner-up: Luna Red


Sylvester’s Burgers

Los Osos, Atascadero, Oceano

What kid doesn’t love hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, grilled cheese, and chicken strips? Sylvester’s has them all served with a big helping of fun! The friendly staff makes every experience memorable with funny hats and birthday pics they post on Sylvester’s Facebook page. The food is yummy. The prices are great, especially if you’re feeding a youth sports team or a herd of birthday revelers. The Babywood Burger is huge and comes with a generous side of fries and small drink with free refills. And everyone gets a free burger on their birthday—AWESOME!


Runner-up: Gino’s Pizza



Urbane Café

925 Higuera St., SLO

Urbane Café’s owner Tom Holt never wants to be out of range for people. “He always wants to make sure that things are affordable,” said Christi Christian, director of marketing. “He wants to be someplace that people can go two to three times a week.” And did you know they don’t use any bread that’s more than 40 minutes old? “We’re constantly baking it right there before their eyes,” she added. Fresh-baked focaccia, fresh-picked produce, and meal prices that hover around $10. That’s a deal worth voting for. Look for a remodel of the downtown spot sometime this fall.


Runner-up: Firestone Grill


click to enlarge YUM:  After opening in 2015, readers rewarded Ember owners Brian and Harmony Collins for serving up infamously delicious fare with a Best South County Restaurant win. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • YUM: After opening in 2015, readers rewarded Ember owners Brian and Harmony Collins for serving up infamously delicious fare with a Best South County Restaurant win.



1200 E. Grand Ave., suite 101, Arroyo Grande

Ember in Arroyo Grande’s wood-fired Italian-inspired menu items earned the restaurant readers’ vote for best meal to treat yourself. Chef and owner Brian Collins said Ember boasts a monthly changing menu of wood-fire-grilled items using ingredients from local farms, and he recommends that hungry customers looking to treat themselves choose from that selection of dishes. “We have a warm, rustic atmosphere,” Collins said. “The kitchen and the open fires are right up front and on display, so it’s part of the show.” Ember also features a local wine list, perfect for pairing.


Runner-up: Novo Restaurant & Lounge


Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley

1001 Front St., Morro Bay

The hot item at Giovanni’s this year has been the Dungeness crab. “We’ve had a really good season here this year, so we’ve been sourcing from our local boats,” executive assistant Casey Peterson said. “We didn’t have a season last year.” That’s because of a toxic algae bloom in the Pacific that shut down crabbing season in 2016. The seasons always change, but Giovanni’s motto has always been that you can expect the best from their dockside spot. “So we always try to have the best fish in the area … I think that’s why we’re still around and have been so successful for over 30 years,” Peterson said.


Runner-up: Olde Port Fisheries



Arroyo Grande Meat Company

120 E. Branch St., Arroyo Grande

Owners Henry and Julie Gonzalez have been providing superior, fine meats for 25 years in a century-old butcher shop in the Village of Arroyo Grande. “We’re like stepping back in time to how it used to be,” Henry said. They offer Oregon Painted Hills grass-fed beef, pork cut to order, venison, elk, and buffalo. “Our free-range Rocky chickens are so moist and tender, having no shots or hormones,” he said. Henry makes about 40 varieties of sausages like Swedish potato, tangy Afrikaner boerewors, and English bangers. “This is an incredible honor and we’re really grateful people support us,” said Gonzalez. “They’re the reason we’re in business.”


Runner-up: J & R Meats



The Grilled Cheese Incident 


When you saunter up to the window of this food truck, there’s no religion and no politics, and you certainly can’t judge another person’s grilled cheese. Chef Mike McGourty spent his younger years grilling up cheese and bread after Grateful Dead concerts for gas money to get to the next show. He also spent 10 years at the Cracked Crab in Pismo before his wife, Annie Lynch, convinced him to quit his chef’s job and start the food truck. “She was right as always,” he said. The win is bittersweet for McGourty, who lost his wife about four months ago, but he said he’s happy to be back on the road and watching people smile as they stuff their faces with cheese-filled pleasure.


Runner-up: Gusto on the Go

Eat Your Heart Out | Bootlegger's Delights | Lost Generation | Drop Some Clams | Putting on the Ritz
Hit the Road | Fly the Coop | Know Your Onions


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