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If you’re looking for a quick bite to gulp down behind the wheel, this article is not for you. Fast food drive-thrus have been banned from San Luis Obispo (SLO), Calif., since the early 1980s. Although the city council originally implemented the prohibition to cut down on littering and air pollution, saying good-bye to this coveted grab-and-go system has opened up amazing (and yummy) opportunities for the city’s renowned cuisine scene.
It’s easy to forget all the small-time pleasures that a drive up or down the California coast has to offer but trust me — taking the time for some culinary adventure along this refreshing piece of Central Coast won’t disappoint. The Central Coast is also home to such famed attractions as Hearst Castle and the exquisite vineyards of Paso Robles. I’ve returned to SLO more times than I can remember now and, since that first summer road trip, the city has grown quite close to my heart — not to mention my stomach.
Firestone GrillIf SLO is the home of the tri-tip, Firestone Grill is its flagship. You can always expect a rambunctious crowd of hungry meat-lovers at this downtown hub. Although popular for its famous tri-tip sandwich, its menu also offers a wide variety of vegetarian options, such as garden burgers and, my personal favorite, the Firestone salad, a refreshing mix of lettuce, tomato, carrots, pine nuts, feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing to complement those thick slices of barbecued beef. Whatever you do, don’t forget to order a huge basket of seasoned fries for the table — it’ll run you about $5 and, trust me, it’s worth it. Note: It can be difficult to find a seat inside, especially during peak dining hours or big televised sporting events, but there’s a large seating area in front, outfitted with tables, umbrellas and an outdoor fireplace — perfect for a relaxing meal.www.yelp.com/biz/firestone-grill-san-luis-obispo
Big Sky Cafe
A meal at Big Sky Cafe // (c) 2010 Vy-Vy Dang-Tran
The Shack Sports Bar & GrillClients can kick back at this laid-back establishment for some mouth-watering burgers and a heavy dose of the American sports scene. This small restaurant creates its relaxed atmosphere with tables plastered with vintage baseball cards and walls covered by jerseys signed by both famous and local athletes. For a fun dining activity, the staff encourages competitive fans to throw the complimentary peanuts into beer mugs hung all about the ceiling. A Shack burger comes with some kick-ass curly fries (or garlic fries, for the brave and dateless) and a variety of additions such as my personal favorites, avocado and mushroom. But every burger has one thing in common — they are gigantic (and that’s not even to mention the Monster Burger). So, come hungry and be sure to arrive early if you’re looking for a seat to watch the big game.www.yelp.com/biz/the-shack-san-luis-obispo
San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ MarketEvery Thursday night from 6 to 9 p.m., more than 100 vendors come together in downtown SLO for a longstanding event filled with delicious meats and treats, California-grown produce, fresh flowers and live music. Higuera Street is closed off, welcoming a large crowd of eco-friendly college students and local families — it’s the perfect atmosphere of fast-paced and casual outdoor dining. The popular theme among vendors is, predictably, the beloved barbecue, as evidenced by F.McClintock’s Saloon & Dining House’s always-crowded line and the countless other grilling tables that line the sidewalks. Also, don’t forget to grab a couple containers of fresh hummus and pita bread — I’m getting cravings just writing about it.www.slocountyfarmers.org
Giant pizza box at Babbo's // (c) 2010 Vy-Vy Dang-Tran