Before, after, or during a day of fun in Oceano or Nipomo, you’ll want to indulge your appetite. Whether you’re playing at the Oceano Dunes, golfing Blacklake Golf Course, or seeing a show at the Great American Melodrama, you’ll be hungry. Fortunately, these sister cities have much to offer in the way of food and drink. Choose from a long list of eateries and styles, some well-known, and some known mostly just by locals. On the menu here, you’ll find culinary treasures specific to the Central Coast like Santa Maria Style BBQ, tri-tip and fresh-caught rock cod. Locally crafted beer, wine, and spirits are on beverage lists across the area, as well. Pairing food and drink makes for a delicious outing, whether easygoing or upscale. Note, however, that these coastal communities offer primarily casual dining options: no tuxedos necessary! It’s easy to relax in the dining room, on the patio, or at the bar of any of these establishments. So grab a drink, pull up a seat and stay awhile to soak it all in.
Discover Dining in Oceano and Nipomo
One of the most iconic restaurants in California, Jocko’s Steakhouse has a storied past that extends back to the days before Prohibition. First established in 1838, Jocko’s was a saloon and watering hole for local ranchers and miners in the early days. That same clientele remains today, and is still reflected in the cattle brands that decorate the dining room walls. In fact, not much has changed since the beginning; Jocko’s is still owned and operated by the same family, and offers essentially the same menu it has for decades. It’s most famous for its Santa Maria Style steaks, cooked over red coals in an open pit. Steak dinners are old school, including multiple sides like loaded baked potatoes, garlic bread, salad, pinquito beans, ice cream, and coffee. (Nobody leaves Jocko’s hungry!) Just be ready to wait for it: the line can be long to grab a table. If you’re not in a hurry, though, take a seat at the low-lit bar and enjoy a drink while you wait. Just remember: while the food is phenomenal at Jocko’s, the scene is authentic and down-home. Wear your finest cowboy boots and you’ll blend right in.
Anyone who loves ribs needs to make a beeline for the Rib Line. This tasty BBQ joint serves up award-winning pork and beef ribs, both dry rubbed and sauced. The restaurant was featured on the Food Network show “Man vs. Food,” which garnered the Rib Line a whole new set of fans. But there’s much more to this eatery than ribs. Indulge in the Rib Line’s sumptuous macaroni and cheese, garlic bread, pulled pork and barbecued chicken. Little eaters will like the long kids menu, which has a wide variety of options. Even vegetarians can find something delicious at the Rib Line, whether that’s their famous grilled artichoke or pommes frites. (Potatoes are vegetables, right?) Grab a pint of craft beer and sit down to a hearty, tasty feast that the whole family can enjoy. Local tip: Feeling extra hungry? Ask for the Rib Line’s Brahma Bull Challenge. You won’t see it advertised anywhere, but the challenge involves wolfing down a 2-foot fully-loaded steak sandwich, served on a hoagie bun. Finish the dish in 90 minutes or less and get your photo on the Rib Line’s wall of fame. Beat the standing record, and you’ll win free lunch at the restaurant each Friday until your record is broken!
Sylvester’s tagline really says it all: “Big, Hot ‘n Juicy!” These burgers are gorgeously messy, tucked into a bun specially-made for Sylvester’s to soak up all the sauce and juices. All ingredients are fresh, including the 100% fresh USDA Choice beef patties, made in house. But while beef is definitely the star at Sylvester’s, the restaurant also caters to low-carb diets, vegetarians, vegans, and the veg-curious. Dine on the heated patio or indoors, surrounded by customer photos and a fun, relaxed burger joint atmosphere. Just be prepared with lots of napkins: you’re gonna need them. Local tip #1: Did you know Sylvester’s will feed you a free beef burger on your birthday, any style, up to 1/3 pound? Local tip #2: If you’re feeling extra hungry, sign up to eat “The Big One,” a 5-pound beef burger that has bested many a contestant. Finish the burger in 30 minutes or less, and get your name on Sylvester’s wall forever, plus a free tee shirt. (The burger is also free to half-hour finishers.) And if your time is really fast, you’ll be entered into the “Beef Bath Bonanza” to possibly win $1000 cash. How’s that for incentive?
This longtime burger joint has been around since 1973, built by the same family that operates Jocko’s Steakhouse just down the road. The menu here is quite different, though, with an emphasis on fast flavor. Pick up a burger and fries, hot dogs, onion rings or a milkshake to take to Oso Flaco Lake, the Nipomo Dunes, or Blacklake Golf Course. You can also dine inside, but keep in mind, Little Jocko’s is a cozy pint-sized eatery. Kids love the chicken strips, adults love the steak and pastrami sandwiches, and teens will want to eat the entire menu. Low-carb folks can also find steak, fish, and steak salad options. Tacos, chili, burritos and corn dogs can also be found here, rounding out the list of street food favorites. Local tip: If you don’t have time to visit Jocko’s Steakhouse, Little Jocko’s sells pints of their famous tri-tip pinquito beans and salsa.
Palo Mesa Pizza
It’s no accident Palo Mesa pizza has won multiple international, national and local awards. Michael Stevens, the chef behind the restaurant, has devoted his career to cuisine, from fine dining to casual bistros. He opened Palo Mesa Pizza in 2007 on the Arroyo Grande Mesa, just adjacent to Oecano and Nipomo. Right away, people noticed the delicious crust, the fresh ingredients and loaded toppings. Today, Palo Mesa has expanded to four locations along Highway 1, and the original keeps going strong. Several of the pizzas on the menu have won major awards, including the Las Vegas Pizza Competition and with the U.S. Pizza Team. (In fact, one of the pizzas on the menu is simply titled “The Award Winner.”) Try Ken’s Favorite, loaded with all possible toppings, or The Rosemarie, light and fruity, with a unique combination of flavors. Adventurous diners will enjoy trying seasonal dessert pizzas like the S’mores Pizza or The Dolci. The restaurant also offers pasta, salads, and calzones to appeal to all appetites. Take your pizza to go, or enjoy munching in the tiny dining room.
Pi Whole Pizzeria
More than just a funny name, Pi Whole Pizza has gained a loyal following among local pizza enthusiasts. The focus here is on what they call “volcanic pizza,” with a single 16” pie weighing 3.14 pounds (*𝛑*). Loaded with fresh toppings, these pizzas are built to satisfy hungry bellies. Pies are named after volcanoes all over the world — most real, some imagined — and flavored accordingly. Try the Mauna Loa, with ham and pineapple, plus non-standard toppings like carnitas, macadamia nuts and toasted coconut. Or go for the Mt Whitney, which pairs creamy garlic herb sauce with chicken, mushrooms, zucchini, olives and red onions. Pi Whole is also, famously, the home of the “Lava Bomb,” a calzone-style sandwich that seals toppings in a pizza crust. For instance, the Meatball Bomb layers meatballs, onions, peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella and red sauce into a tidy pizza package. Other traditional Italian favorites like lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, and caesar salad complete the menu. Fun fact: the Davidson Seamount Pizza at Pi Whole refers to our local underwater volcano, just off Highway 1 near San Simeon.
Best Mexican Food
Efrens’ Mexican Restaurant
Mexican food is a particular specialty in Oceano and Nipomo, made with expertise and fresh ingredients. Efren’s Deli in Oceano reflects those qualities, with housemade tacos, tortas, quesadillas, burritos, nachos and more. Vegetarians have multiple options, and carnivores will love the carnitas, grilled chicken and beef, shrimp, pastor and other meats available. Efren’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with breakfast burritos and omelettes in the morning. For lunch and dinner, try the sopes (flat corn cakes), chilaquiles (like nachos tossed in salsa verde) or menudo, served only on weekends. Other choices include hamburgers, salads, and a simple kids’ menu. Efren’s is also a great spot to indulge in Mexican beverages like horchata, micheladas, Jarritos, and beer. Inside, wall murals depict Oceano landmarks like the Oceano Dunes SVRA, the Oceano Train Depot, and biplane rides. Tables and booths are available for indoor dining, and a few stools are available outdoors for grabbing a quick bite.
Rancho Nipomo BBQ
Established in 2006, this is one of those hidden treasures you never would have known about, had a local not filled you in. Serving barbecue and Cal-Mex cuisine, Rancho Nipomo BBQ lies at the southernmost end of San Luis Obispo County, hidden off Highway 101. The restaurant consists of indoor dining, a wide patio, a cantina and live music venue. The patio, in particular, invites guests to choose a barbecue dish and a cold beer to while away a long afternoon. While Santa Maria Style BBQ is the local language, Rancho Nipomo focuses on more than just grilled sirloin and tri tip. Here, smoked meats are the specialty, used in dishes from pulled pork sandwiches and BBQ pork ribs to burritos and tacos. Craft beer enthusiasts will delight in Rancho Nipomo’s 27 taps, highlighting beers from across the Golden State. The newest addition to the property is the Gold Rush Cantina, a dance hall and live music venue. Come for a toe-tapping, family-friendly good time.
Best Thai Food
Located in Old Nipomo, on the east side of Highway 101, Thai Villa brings its signature “super fresh California Thai” to the Central Coast. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant is peaceful and curated, with Thai artwork on the walls and relaxing music on the air. Start with appetizers like fresh or spring rolls, mango salad, sate skewers or potsticker dumplings. Choose from a selection of delicate curries, rice entrees, Thai barbecue specialties and noodle dishes. (Locals tip: The Cashew Nut entree is the most popular among the locals. The stir fry dish combines tender vegetables, sweet chilis, cashews and vegetarian, poultry, seafood and red meat options.) Thai Villa is the only eatery in the area to pour Singha beer on tap — perfect with any of the dishes on the menu. Or choose from a number of local and California bottles of fine wine. A special note to wine enthusiasts: definitely ask your server about the “secret” wine list featuring rare and obscure vintages.
Sister Kitchen is a local favorite for fresh Thai cuisine in an equally fresh atmosphere. The restaurant is family owned and operated, serving authentic Thai food made to order. Sister Kitchen is located in a small business park along Grand Avenue near Oceano, but the interior feels a world away. A long counter invites guests to take a seat in barstools and watch their food prepared through glass that looks into the kitchen. Appetizers include fried and fresh rolls, satay, and chicken-and-pork dumplings that have a cult following all their own. Enjoy rice and noodle dishes, salads and larbs, stir fries and curries. Every dish at Sister Kitchen is made with color, flavor, texture, and freshness in mind. The drinks list complements these dishes with imported beer, premium sake, and local and international wines. Gluten free, vegan, vegetarian and low-carb options are all available, keeping all diners happy. Locals tip: Try the purple rice instead of regular white or brown rice for a fun change.
Well known and well loved as a “Japanese tapas bar,” Izakaya Raku brings beautiful Japanese cuisine and sushi to Highway 1 near Oceano. The restaurant specializes in Japanese favorites like customizable sushi platters, sashimi, and teppanyaki, as well as local wines, craft beers, sake and cocktails. The small dining room is warm and comfortable, with wood accents and glowing paper lanterns. Customer favorites include the sashimi and chirashi (seasoned rice topped with multiple types of fish and condiments). For the freshest fish possible, ask for the “chef’s choice,” which he picks based on whatever is tasting best at the moment. Vegetarians and those adhering to gluten-free diets will find delicious options here, including vegetable-tofu ramen and rice noodle salads. For a real indulgence, go for the Tonkatsu Dinner, complete with a delicate fried pork cutlet, tuna roll, and vegetable tempura. Hot tip: Check in at Izakaya Raku on Yelp, and you’ll get a little “thank you” like an iced green tea latte.
California Sushi & Teriyaki
Visit this clean Japanese spot on West Tefft Street in Nipomo, and enjoy a fun atmosphere and beautifully crafted cuisine. The chefs here source the finest seafood, produce and grains to make dishes behind an open counter, for guests to observe at the bar. Look for fresh salads, dumplings, katsu, teriyaki, sushi, and rolls, as well as udon noodle bowls, poke bowls and sashimi. The sushi chefs behind the counter turn simple ingredients into edible works of art. (Try the “Spider Roll,” if for no other reason than to see the spider designs drawn in chile paste on the plate beside the roll!) Order from a list of imported and domestic beers, as well as hot, cold and black label sake. Locals tip: Some local eaters think this restaurant’s specialty is actually Korean cuisine. If you see a special like bibimbap or Korean BBQ, definitely go for it.
The Mayor’s Place
As you drive down Tefft Street in Nipomo, you won’t be able to miss the quirky building that houses The Mayor’s Place. The miniature, wobbly architecture will bring a smile to your face. But while the exterior of this little restaurant is funny, the breakfast cooked up inside is no joke. Pull up a chair inside the down-home country dining room and choose from a full menu of hearty breakfast and lunch items. The restaurant is owned and operated by Gina and Ryan, who just might be the ones to take your order or work the griddle. The favorite breakfast — the one everybody talks about — is the chicken fried steak. Served with eggs, hash browns, tomatoes, beans, and biscuits or pancakes, this is not a meal for the faint of heart. But for those with less aggressive appetites, The Mayors Pace offers lighter fare, too, as well as high-protein, low-fat choices. Should you choose to swing by for lunch, choose from a menu of salads and sandwiches — including chicken fried steak on sourdough. Dine indoors or outside on the dog-friendly patio.
Rock & Roll Diner
Who doesn’t love trains? Moreover, who wouldn’t want to eat breakfast on a train?? This fantastic diner-on-wheels serves hearty breakfasts, as well as lunch and dinner, from a couple of train cars parked on retired railroad tracks. As you drive Highway 1 through Oceano, it’s easy to mistake the Rock & Roll Diner for an active train. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise: Oceano once contributed much of San Luis Obispo County’s growth via its busy train depot. (Visit that historic building, the Oceano Train Depot & Museum, just down the road on Highway 1.) At the diner, indulge in classic breakfast menu items like flapjacks, omelettes, cinnamon rolls, and biscuits and gravy. Carnivores will love the Two Eggs with a 12-ounce Ribeye, while vegetarians will delight in the Veggie Omelet or Oatmeal and Fruit. The train cars are maintained in beautiful condition, with vintage advertisements and movie posters papering the walls. Enjoy this unique opportunity to have a delicious breakfast with a side of history.
This high-end deli, wine bar and restaurant is found on the Nipomo Mesa, not far from Blacklake Golf Course. After a long day on the links, Willow is a great place to relax and refuel. Enjoy the outdoor patio, shaded under market umbrellas by day and lit by mediterranean white lights at night. Enjoy elevated American fare, including burgers, pizza, and crafted sandwiches in a comfortable ambience. Go for the prime rib dip sandwich with balsamic glaze, provolone and au jus, paired with locally made wine from Willow’s wine list. Or try the crispy chicken sandwich with garlic aioli, slaw and cheddar with a bottle of craft beer from Willow’s extensive bottle shop. (This is also a great place to pick up bottles on your way to a picnic.) All sandwiches are served with regular, sweet potato or decadent truffle fries, or with a salad. Enjoy live music, meet friends for a drink, and perhaps even bring Fido to the dog-friendly patio.
Fuego openly states that it’s “not a typical sandwich shop,” which makes it all the more intriguing. This small, clean shop features bahn mi sandwiches, a pork sandwich on baguette that’s a product of the French occupation of Vietnam. The pork is roasted until tender, sliced and served with pickled daikon radishes and carrots, basil, cilantro, sriracha mayonnaise and ginger sauce. The sauce (which the owners call “sauxe” to reflect their Aztec roots) is the sandwich’s claim to fame at Fuego — a house secret. Similar to a BBQ sauce, it’s made with spices and recipes inspired by the owners’ travels. Other sandwiches include a tri-tip sandwich, rotisserie chicken sandwich, and a tuna sandwich with albacore, mayo, celery and cilantro aioli. Sides are made in-house, like the Fuego slaw and mac and cheese. Order your specialty sandwich alongside a glass of kombucha, nitro coffee or Mexican Coke, and you have yourself a memorable lunch or dinner.
Best for a Quick Lunch
Located on West Tefft Street in Nipomo, the California Grill serves up piping hot burgers, sandwiches, salads and more in a jiff. This is the ideal spot to stop if you’re on your way to the Nipomo Adobe, Nipomo Dunes, a golf course or just for a long country drive along the Nipomo foothills. Stop in and sit down or pick your tasty lunch to go. (Often the kitchen can have orders ready inside of 10 minutes!) Favorite dishes here include The Cali burger with avocado and bacon, BBQ Chicken Salad and the Teri Burger with teriyaki sauce, grilled onions and pineapple. Try the crisped-to-perfection regular fries, sweet potato fries and garlic fries for an indulgent treat. And don’t miss the milkshakes! Some folks think these are the best items on the menu at California Grill. Pick up an Oreo, vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshake to go and head to the dunes to watch the sunset.
Pier St. Deli
Just beside the entrance to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, look for the little yellow storefront called Pier St. Deli. This beachy-keen spot serves up sandwiches, salads and more, crafted from wholesome ingredients like locally-made bread and farm-fresh veggies. Best of all, in addition to indoor seating, Pier St. Deli offers outdoor seating on a patio with an ocean view. Stop in for one of the restaurant’s truly massive sandwiches — and seriously consider sharing it with a friend. The towering burgers, crisp fries and fresh salads offer something for every type of appetite. Look for vegetarian options like the Black Bean Burger, as well as naturally gluten-free dishes like homemade soups and salads. The kids’ menu keeps little tummies full with items like chicken strips and PB&J, while carnivores will delight in the Pastrami Burger and Baconator Burger. Don’t forget dessert! Look in the bakery case for locally made cupcakes, cookies, and more.
Best Drinks & Appetizers
If you’re itching to watch the big game in a relaxed sports bar, point your GPS toward Mongo’s Saloon. There, you’ll find big screen TVs piping in NFL, baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey and golf. (Even better, the restaurant sets up the Red Zone Live big projector screen on Sundays.) This is a classic bar and grill with pub cuisine like burgers, fries, tri-tip sandwiches, chili and fish ‘n chips. Kids will like the chicken strips and house-made mac and cheese. At night, Mongo’s becomes a popular live music venue, with a stage and dance floor set up to boogie down, plus game nights and karaoke. Billiard tables, an extensive bar and late night menu make this just the right spot for after hours. Don’t miss breakfast and brunch at Mongo’s, where the Bloody Mary is a local favorite. Be sure to ask about drink specials and promotions, too.
Old Juan’s Cantina
The party atmosphere inside Old Juan’s Cantina is no accident. The Verdin family has made a point of emphasizing fun and flavor since they opened their Oceano restaurant in 1976. This is a great spot to bring the whole family, with classic Mexican dishes and drinks. Kids will like the fun, festive interior, as well as the kid-sized enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, burritos, chicken strips and hamburger. Adults’ appetites will be satisfied too, starting with a Cadillac Margarita made with top-shelf tequila and premium triple sec. Order a plate of nachos, combination lunches and dinners, a la carte items, and desserts. Favorites include the epic Taco Salad, Albóndiga Soup, Jalapeno Burger, fajitas and Chicken Mole Enchiladas. With such close proximity to the ocean, Old Juan’s has a terrific seafood selection — especially good in fish tacos. Eat them on the heated and shaded patio with a cold cerveza. Locals tip: Head to Old Juan’s Cantina for Sunday brunch, where the menu plays with classic dishes and new favorites, served with bottomless mimosas.
Best Dining after Golf
The Butterfly Grille
This popular spot keeps the hungry golfers of the Monarch Dunes Golf Club satisfied, with breakfast, lunch and dinner served every day. Have a seat either inside or outside, and enjoy views of the Monarch Dunes’ iconic “Old Course” and its beautiful lake. For comfortable outdoor dining, set up on the heated patio, including fire pits beside your table. Breakfast can include hearty favorites like breakfast burritos, pancakes, waffles and omelettes. Lunch is casual with American and south-of-the-border specialties like burgers, quesadillas and salads. Show up any day of the week for dinner and you’ll find a nightly special like teriyaki chicken bowls, tri-tip sandwiches or taco salad. All are served with the option to include a drink from the full bar, whether that’s a draft beer, glass of local wine or cocktail. Take advantage of happy hour after a round or two of golf and take a load off. The Butterfly Grille also makes it easy to eat on the move, with grab and go options available in the deli case.
Blacklake Bar & Grill
The Blacklake Golf Resort is a Nipomo original, known for its three challenging 9-hole courses and picturesque scenery. Before, during or after a day on the links, take the time to explore the dining options available at the Blacklake Bar & Grill. Look for a full breakfast menu for sit-down dining, or pick something up to go like baked goods, coffee, egg sandwiches and more. For lunch, head to the spacious patio overlooking the 9th green for smoked tri-tip chili, 3-cheese mac and cheese, the “Blacklake Flatbread,” sandwiches and salads. If you get hungry on one of the courses, pop in for a bag of chips or a cookie, or even pop open a cold beer to bring along as you play. The bar includes a fine list of craft beers, wine, and signature cocktails. This is an ideal spot to relax with drinks, snacks, and good friends after a round or two on the course.
Best Farm to Table
The Spoon Trade
What happens when two local kids return to the Central Coast after top-flight restaurant careers in the big city? They start their own restaurant off Highway 1, of course. Jacob and Brooke Town returned from San Francisco where each of them worked for star chefs and restaurants including RN74 and Nopa. When they planted roots here, they chose to go with elevated comfort food and farm-to-table cuisine. The Spoon Trade became an instant classic, with its clean, beachy interior and friendly service. Despite the Town’s fine dining expertise, this is a casual spot that serves housemade everything: biscuits, sauces, sourdough waffles and killer fried chicken. (The front of house also offers baked goods from the restaurant’s bakery wing, Grover Beach Sourdough.) Arrive early to sip from the curated international beer and wine list, perhaps beside an order of Grover Beach Sourdough and salted butter. Salads, burgers, soups, pasta and steak are done with the utmost precision and concentrated flavor. Vegetarians and gluten-free folks will find options and substitutions, as well as friendly staff to accommodate dietary restrictions. A comfortable patio is also available for outdoor dining. Fun fact: Even the American cheese on the Spoon Trade’s bologna sandwich is made in house.