A grinning skeleton inspired by the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — welcomes customers at the entrance of a new unique and stylish restaurant in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Vegetable Butcher, which opened in July, is the creation of executive chef Becky Windels and her husband, front-of-house manager John Windels.
The husband-and-wife team, who relocated to the Central Coast from Phoenix in February, have 20 years of experience in the restaurant business. They share ownership of Vegetable Butcher with business colleague Richard Hanen, who also lives in San Luis Obispo County.
Previously a furniture store, the brick building on the corner of Broad and Marsh streets has been transformed into an inviting, casual eatery with an interior that combines mid-century modern and mission-style furnishings and décor. Soft, muted earth tones, plus a ceiling drapery that buffers excessive noise, make the space feel surprisingly intimate.
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The open floor plan provides a variety of seating options, including a rustic taco bar where patrons can watch food being prepared by the cooking staff.
Vegetable Butcher’s creative, Latin American-inspired cuisine mixes modern Mexican and California flavors. Drink options include wine and beer from California and the Old World, in addition to signature sangrias and margaritas.
The menu offers dishes for vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers, fitting considering the name of the restaurant.
“I have always been vegetable centric,” said Becky Windels, who goes by the nickname “Chef Becky.”
She takes a passionate approach to developing menu items, using fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers.
“My style is not to do what everyone else is doing,” Windels said. “A dish won’t make it on the menu unless it has an element of surprise.”
The menu features several vibrant dishes to share, including the gooey, rich Vegetable Butcher skillet fundido, which combines cheese, zucchini, corn, poblano, red pepper and lime. Another favorite is the bold forbidden sesame cauliflower with heirloom cauliflower, black forbidden rice and gold pea shoots.
Then there’s the appropriately named “Taco Love” selection. You can choose from six gourmet tacos including beer-braised short rib, pomegranate seed-studded sweet potato and corn and ancho chocolate turkey mole. A locally sourced market fish option is also available, and changes often.
If you want something heartier, try the tantalizing market enchilada with butternut squash, quinoa and poblano.
There’s also soup and salad, although Vegetable Butcher takes a far-from-traditional approach to those dishes.
The little casa ensalada features little gem lettuce, radicchio, avocado, radish and hibiscus-pickled onions, with the option of adding char-grilled cilantro chicken or chimichurri steak. The farmers soup is locally sourced from area farmers markets.
Don’t miss the fire-roasted organic blue cornbread, which can be added to any meal.
Although the flavors are distinctively sweet and savory, it’s the colorful presentation that catches your eye at Vegetable Butcher.
“We wanted the food to stand out more than the décor,” John Windels said. “Becky speaks to people through her food.”
The Windels came to San Luis Obispo County with a dream of creating a restaurant that offered something different for area food lovers. This wish is now a joyful reality.
As Becky Windels explained, the culinary couple’s reward is “the smiles on people’s faces. Can’t buy that.”
712 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
The scene: A stylish and casual setting for lunch and dinner. Grab a seat at the taco bar and watch the action in the open kitchen.
The cuisine: Latin American specializing in gourmet tacos. All day menu.
Expect to spend: Tacos $6 to $7, entrees $7 to $14.