Restaurant News & Reviews

Dining on the streets of SLO

What better place is there to enjoy fresh air, eat good food and listen to free live music on a Thursday night in San Luis Obispo than the downtown Farmers Market?

It’s long been traditional to sit on the curb to eat at Farmers Market, but when we heard the market had added proper tables and chairs, we decided to head out and see how it stood up as a sit-down venue.

So, with features writers Pat and Sarah, I headed downtown last week to sample the Farmers’ Market fare and, we hoped, their new tables. We were joined by my wife, Christine, and Sarah’s boyfriend, Chris. After meeting up in front of Firestone Grill, we all walked off to grab a seat and something to eat.

Kicked to the curb

But our plan was flawed — the new seating is popular and fills up early. We found a dozen or so round tables in a cluster at Broad and Higuera streets — but they were already packed with about 100 people when we walked by a little after 6 p.m. They didn’t start to clear out until almost 7 (we’d finished eating by then) so we ended up sitting at the sidewalk after all.

Our hopes of sitting in chairs dashed, the five of us split up in search of dinner, then met back at our curb.

Sampling the fare

I ordered a garlic chicken pita ($4.75) from the Cisco’s booth. A large flatbread stuffed with marinated chicken, lettuce and salsa fresca, it was generously spread with a garlic sauce strong enough to make my tongue tingle.

Christine was impressed with her Tri-Tip K-Bob sandwich ($4.50) from F. McClintocks. The sandwich’s thick bun was loaded down with juicy grilled beef and came with a container of veggies. It was served dry, but there’s a fine selection of condiments at the end of the line; Christine slathered her sandwich with barbecue sauce, topped it with diced onions and pronounced it delicious.

She topped off her meal with a big, buttery slice of garlic bread ($1.50) and some lemonade ($1.25).

Pat’s first choice was a sesame teriyaki bowl from the Mondeo’s stand ($7), and he was impressed by the mixture of chicken, rice, crisp won tons, assorted veggies and a sweet teriyaki sauce. He noted that the bowl had to be stirred thoroughly to spread the sauce over the other ingredients — a challenge on a packed street and without a table — but said it was worth the effort.

Still hungry after the bowl, Pat also picked up a shredded pork sandwich from the Mother’s Tavern booth ($6.50) as he left. He thought the sandwich — a mound of pulpy, barbecue sauce-drenched pork on a bun — was good and filling, though he would’ve preferred the bread toasted; as it was, it tasted a little stale.

Sarah picked up a vegetable calzini ($5) from Buona Tavola. It was stuffed with roasted eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and gooey mozzarella cheese, all wrapped in a warm grilled crust — the ultimate in self-contained street food. Sarah said she’s not usually a fan of eggplant, but loved the calzini’s hot, savory blend of veggies and cheese. Chris agreed: "I usually don’t like veggies — eggplant and squash — but I like (this) because of the cheese and spices ... I really like the thick, hearty bread."

Chris tried the beef curry wrap ($6) from Oasis, which had shredded beef, saffron rice and lettuce wrapped in a warm piece of thick flatbread. He thought the beef was tasty, but the wrap wasn’t spicy enough for his taste.

A sweet finish

After we finished eating dinner and Pat went home, the four of us decided to grab some dessert. Sarah and Chris headed to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stand, while Christine and I went to a new booth set up by The Cakery.

We came back with two $5 mini-cakes. Mine was a small, round chocolate truffle cake that was smooth and sweet and incredibly rich. Christine’s creamy vanilla cheesecake had just the right consistency and flavor. Our mini-desserts made us want to try the full-size versions, and $5 is a great price for what you get — I barely finished my cake, and Christine’s dessert was too much for either of us to handle.

Sarah and Chris picked up more sensible desserts: candy apples, also $5 each. Sarah got the cheesecake candy apple, a Granny Smith dipped in caramel and a vanilla cream covering, then rolled in powdered graham crackers. Chris chose an equally good rocky road apple, which was covered in caramel, chocolate, nuts and marshmallows.

We spotted a few other new kiosks at the market, including La Ciel Creperie and Mission Grill, that look worth a try next time. But we won’t count on finding a seat.

SAN LUIS OBISPO FARMERS MARKET

Higuera Street, downtown San Luis Obispo

The scene: Live music, open barbecues and fresh produce, with new table seating The cuisine: Ranges from wraps and sandwiches to barbecued meats and pizza.

Plan to spend: $5 to $10

Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays

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