What do you get when you combine traditional Mexican flavors with some Santa Maria-style barbecue?
The smokin’ menu at Rancho Nipomo Deli & BBQ, of course.
The fairly new eatery in southern Nipomo mixes up time-honored barbecue items such as pulled pork sandwiches and tri-tip with fresh-made tortillas and Teleta bread to create flavorful dishes that owners Richard and Brenda Cowell call "early California cuisine."
The couple has their own variations on carnitas, chili verde, tortas and even hot dogs.
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"We do a Central Coast style," said Richard. "We’ve created our own flavor. It’s a multi-cultural deli."
Early California ambience
Spanish tiles cover the roof of this ranch-style restaurant on the original El Camino Real. A hefty door made from French oak barrels and wrought iron greets hungry patrons entering the establishment. The owners built the door from some 8-by-10-foot wine barrels they bought while visiting a winery in Ensenada, Mexico.
Other significant and historic fixtures fill the indoors of the colorful building. Old photographs of California agriculture workers line the walls, including a copy of "Migrant Mother," a famous picture of a Nipomo woman taken in 1936.
The place is quaint and inviting, with lots of wooden fixtures and walls painted a tan-orange hue. Outside, the eatery boasts a large outdoor patio with plenty of umbrella-covered tables, making it a perfect spot to relax and eat on a nice day.
Two trips to the ranch
On a recent girls’ night out, my friend Sarah and I stopped off at Rancho Nipomo because she couldn’t stop raving about the place she had recently discovered. She swore I had to try the torta with carnitas served on fresh-baked bread ($6).
The flavorful sandwich was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos, and smothered in a "special sauce." I was quickly hooked on the smoky Mexican sandwich, which combined spicy and sweet flavors between slices of soft bread. The sandwich was quite large, making it a good buy for the price, and I saved half for a late-night snack.
A few days later, I returned with two Features staff members to show them my new discovery. We made the drive from San Luis Obispo one day for lunch after I promised that the service was quick and the drive wasn’t too long. Rancho Nipomo is right off the freeway at the Highway 166 East exit, making it about as far south as you can go in the county.
Ticket editor Justin was intrigued by the Baja street-style hot dog ($2.75), a beef frank wrapped in bacon and topped with mustard, pickle and grilled onions, but opted for the BBQ tri-tip sandwich ($8). It came with a 1/2-pound of oak flavored tri-tip piled high on fresh bread.
He was a little surprised to find the sandwich came completely dry because he’d assumed there’d be barbecue sauce on it at least. A quick trip to the restaurant’s counter rectified that little problem. With the sauce added, the sandwich was filling and tasty, though he considered it a little steeply priced at $8.
Jen ordered the BBQ pulled pork sandwich ($7), which piled shredded smoked pork smothered in barbecue sauce and coleslaw on Teleta bread. She loved the sandwich’s combination of sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. She was less impressed with the coleslaw, but admitted that she’s not much of a coleslaw fan.
I had the El Camino Real Special ($7), a house specialty plate of meat, rice and beans served with two homemade tortillas. It included a trip to the salsa bar and a drink, which made us consider it one of the best values on the menu.
I chose to have mine with the chili verde (slow-simmered pork), and I enjoyed creating my own burritos topped with multiple salsas from the salsa bar. The tortillas were soft and flavorful and the perfect way to wrap up my delectable ingredients.
My meal was so filling that I had to coerce my co-workers into helping me finish it. Next time, I may try one of the many taco choices so as to not fill up as fast.
Since the menu was quite economical, we decided to get a side of nachos, which were surprisingly cheap ($2.75, $1.25 extra with meat). Compared to the rich flavors of the other dishes, we were a little disappointed in the nachos.
The nachos were served in a paper tray of tortilla strips, nacho cheese and jalapeno slices, similar to what you’d get at a fair or movie theater. The large chunks of grilled white-meat chicken turned out to be the best part as the sticky, creamy nacho cheese sauce poured on the chips was not what we were expecting. Even so, I’m not one to turn away cheese sauce and jalapenos, so we ate most of it and called it a day.
Next time, we’d like to try the restaurant’s shrimp cocktail ($7) served Puerto Nuevo style with cucumber, tomato, onion and cilantro or one of the restaurant’s enticing desserts.
Back for seconds?
Well, not in one sitting. The portions are hearty here, leaving patrons full but without putting too much of a strain on your wallet.
Rancho Nipomo is good a for a quick meal right off the highway or for a Friday night dinner. It’s right next door to the Santa Maria Brewing Company, making it a good spot to enjoy some California barbecue finished off with a locally brewed beer.
Reach Dawn Rapp at 781-7946.
RANCHO NIPOMO DELI & BBQ
108 Cuyama Lane, Nipomo 925-3500
The scene: A casual early-California barbeque
The cuisine: Hearty dishes of Mexican and American barbeque
Plant to spend: $3 to $8 for lunch; $3 to $10 for dinner
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday & Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays.