The 8 Best Restaurants in San Luis Obispo County

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You’re in for an unexpected culinary tour-de-force when you plan a getaway to San Luis Obispo County. The passionate and creative culinary culture that exists in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara has spread into this area, bringing creative and detail-oriented chefs who align themselves with local farms to offer fresh, hyper-local, and seasonal ingredient-driven menus—exactly what you want when dining out after a day of wine tasting.

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Restaurants /

Ember Restaurant

For a taste of locally sourced, wood-fired cuisine in a clean and gorgeous barn-like setting made mostly of reclaimed wood, Embers offers a refined farm-to-table small plate experience. Chef/Owner Brian Collins focuses on simple ingredients that are well-prepared. The menu is filled out with flavorful, inventive salads and wood-fired steaks and casual pizzas, with a level of service that reaches into high class.

Insider Tip

The menu is seasonal, and there’s always a long list of small plates that could constitute meals in and of themselves.

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Restaurants /

Luna Red

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, Luna Red serves flavorful tapas and tasty craft cocktails in a welcoming, eclectic setting. Sister restaurant to nearby Novo Restaurant, this popular dining destination charms with its vibrant outdoor patio, innovative small plates that meld global flavors with locally-sourced ingredients, and casual, yet lively atmosphere.

Insider Tip

Luna Noche is Luna Red’s new late-night concept, offering a rotating selection of DJs, dancing, and an overall spirited atmosphere every Friday and Saturday night.

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Restaurants /

The Spoon Trade

This charming industrial-chic space boasts an open kitchen, chalkboard walls, and a reclaimed wooden bar, giving the whole space an energetic feel. Ingredients are sourced locally and most everything is made in-house, whether it be cured bacon and hand-made pasta, or fresh-baked sourdough bread. Whatever you order, don’t leave without trying the chicken and waffles with spiced honey and kimchi.

Insider Tip

The waffles are actually sourdough, and made from the same starter used to make their loaves.

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Restaurants /

Lido Restaurant at Dolphin Bay Hotel

At Lido Restaurant, the delicate, deliciously buttery scallops starter comes with stunning ocean views, while the rest of the meal is rich with local influence—all seasonal ingredients, locally sourced. Bring your reading glasses and sense of adventure, because the wine list is 1,000 options-strong;, or bring your own bottle, as there is no corkage fee on your first two bottles.

Insider Tip

Sleep in on the weekend and roll in for a $39 prix-fixe, three-course brunch menu—a favorite among locals.

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Restaurants /

Splash Cafe

It may not be fancy, but this no-frills cafe has been a favorite destination in Pismo Beach since 1989, drawing locals and tourists for its steaming bowls of clam chowder — known as the best clam chowder on the coast. Their famous chowder, with its fresh clams and perfectly creamy, buttery broth, lives up to the hype, but is even better when served in a housemade bread bowl.

Insider Tip

If you can’t fathom the thought of eating canned clam chowder ever again, Splash Cafe’s acclaimed chowder can be sent directly to your home. Place an order for their fresh frozen clam chowder online and you’ll be able to savor the Central Coast from afar. If you don’t like it, they offer a 100% money back guarantee, no questions asked.

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Lodging /

Granada Hotel and Bistro

Offering a glimpse into a rather contemporary version of California’s Spanish colonial past, the Bistro at this hotel is all exposed brick, dimly lit under a tin roof, with cozy, cushioned velvet chairs and an outdoor patio with seating around fire pits. The menu takes a cue from classic French bistro fare, jazzed up: there’s a killer burger with bacon-onion jam on a brioche bun, and a few plates that incorporate fresh vegetables from Loo Loo Farms in Paso Robles. Try the sumptuous carrot risotto with green garlic, English peas and tender fava beans.

Insider Tip

Plan to put away the car keys for an evening, as the hotel is right in the hub of downtown—walkable to cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, and on Thursday evenings, a farmers market.

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Restaurants /

Ocean Grill in Avila Beach

While there isn’t a bad seat in the house, if you ask for one of the tables along the enclosed outdoor patio wall, you’ll have a front row view of theseat for a spectacular Avila Beach sunset. If you’re more of an early diner, Ocean Grill has a booze-driven happy hour menu in effect weekdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., with standby munchies like fried calamari, crab cakes, and great wood-fired pizzas.

Insider Tip

Even though moules-frites are not on the menu, if you ask for them, depending on the availability, it’s quite possible they’ll whip up an order.

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Restaurants /

Novo Restaurant

Named one of 100 Best Wine Restaurants in America by Wine Enthusiast, Novo Restaurant & Lounge offers a unique, romantic dining experience, right on San Luis Obispo Creek. Once you’ve glanced through the wine list and decided on one (or a couple) bottles from their extensive local or global selection, settle in for Executive Chef Ben Richardson’s locally sourced, wholesome, and globally-inspired food that changes with the seasons.

Insider Tip

The Salmon Bisque from sister restaurant Robin’s (in Cambria), was so popular that it was brought to Novo and is still on the menu today. Be sure to ask for it.

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