1. Romo’s Market (728 Guadalupe St)
Couples express their love and appreciation for each other in many ways. For us, “baby, I think you just introduced me to one of the best burritos of my life” is one of the highest compliments my boyfriend could get. It came from a market next to a gas station in a 7,000-person town called Guadalupe. Head to the back of Romo’s Market and you’ll find a foggy glass case over several kinds of guisados (meat stews) including chile verde and pollo rojo, and your standard grilled meats. I ordered a carnitas taco and received a styrofoam container of carnitas, about three times the amount of a regular taco, with a tortilla on the side. $2. My boyfriend ordered a burrito with pollo rojo. The way that tasty sauce soaked into the rest of the burrito was like toasted buttery bread and jam, warm latkes and apple sauce, melted cheese over a plate of refried beans— oh crap, can I use something with beans to describe how much I loved something else with beans? Fuck it, I just did. $3.
A sushi restaurant with the word “fever” in the name didn’t inspire too much confidence as we pulled into the strip mall. But my doubts evaporated into thin air once we tried our first roll of the night— a heaping pile of translucent, orange salmon roe topped with a bright yellow quail egg. It was briny, creamy and delicious. I’m not sure why they need to go overboard on the fried rolls and “tapas” (and overboard on names, like “Who’s Your Daddy?” and “Call 911”), because the nigiri here was top quality, the wasabi root was the real deal, and they had several good beers on tap. Truth be told though, when we received the “When Omega 3 Met Asparagus”, a salad with deep fried salmon skin and asparagus pieces, I stopped perusing the menu for more ridiculous names, because I couldn’t stop eating.
3. Red Moose Cookies
The owner told us that he removes directional signage to this place when they’re at capacity, so don’t expect to arrive here easily. Locals, however, like the older woman that swiped the last six packages of molasses cookies under our noses, have no problem finding the place. This tiny cookie factory in what looks like a storage facility is just outside of Cambria’s town center and churns out cookies of so many tempting flavors we weren’t sure what to choose from. Cookies come in packages of four ($6 each) and there are no samples, so keep in mind that these are like christmas shortbread cookies or grandma’s snickerdoodles— straight up sugar and butter with an old school secret ingredient that’s even more sugary, like reese’s pieces or almond joy. We went for the root beer float, a flat, chewy cookie with sasparilla and root beer reduction that we devoured on our way home.
4. Taqueria Guerrero
All tacos here are $1 to $1.50 and most of them are pretty good. This is a family restaurant with much more than tacos, but we made our stop here for the al pastor. Think cinnamon-laced skin, pineapple juices, and crispy bites covered in a roasted red salsa (my favorite from the plentiful salsa bar).
5. Ruddell’s SmokeHouse
Any town in which you can accidentally leave your credit card in a liquor store, call after you’re two hours away with the hope that it’s in safe hands, only to be told that they will send it tomorrow—no charge, no pre-paid envelope, no nothing but an old fashioned favor—is a town worth promoting. So if you’re in the Central Coast area, head to Cayucos, buy a beer from the good samaritans at the liquor store (there’s only one) and drop by Ruddell’s SmokeHouse. A bit overpriced, yes, but where else can you find a celery-apple slaw on a sandwich with perfectly smoked albacore and salmon. This tiny shack across from the beach has just a few tables outside, and it looks like it belongs in Santa Cruz— flannel, guitars, and reggae abound. We thought we’d be adventurous and try the smoked oysters despite the fact that they looked more unappealing than oysters normally do. Let’s just say I was glad to have a beer in a brown bag to wash it down.
Romo’s Market 728 Guadalupe St, Guadalupe
Crazy Sushi Fever
Red Moose Cookies- 2531 Village Ln, Ste C & D Cambria, CA 93428
Taqueria Guerrero- 123 West Main Street Santa Maria, CA 93458