No matter how you slice it, Palo Mesa Pizza delivers some award-worthy pizzas.
Michael and Kelly Stevens teamed up with partners to open their first pizzeria on the Nipomo Mesa in 2007, and became the sole owners a year later. The Stevens expanded to another Arroyo Grande location in 2012, and brought a third Palo Mesa Pizza to San Luis Obispo in 2014.
Tucked into the front of a busy business complex on South Higuera Street, Palo Mesa offers patrons a casual eat-in setup with several tables and a couple of flat-screen televisions.
Order at the front and settle in with a bottle of beer and a soda to wait for your order, or call ahead to have your pizza, pasta, calzone, sandwich or salad delivered or ready for takeout when you get there.
Though a far cry from deep dish-style pies, Palo Mesa’s pizzas definitely have a hearty crust, so this isn’t the place to go if you’re looking for crispy thin-crust pizza.
On the other hand, this is a place to try if you’re looking for a from-scratch approach and top-notch local ingredients such as tomatoes from Peacock Farms in Arroyo Grande, freshly baked sandwich bread from Edna’s Bakery in San Luis Obispo and coffees and teas from Coastal Peaks Coffee. (The latter occupies the same San Luis Obispo business park as Palo Mesa Pizza.)
“There’s a place for every pizza,” said Michael Stevens, a culinary school graduate with fine dining experience who cut some of his first professional teeth in pizzerias. “We’re a takeout and delivery place, but we’re trying to elevate things by making everything we can from scratch. We make our own sausage, hand roll the meatballs, pickle our own jalapeños, make our own pizza and pasta sauces ...”
Not surprisingly, the dough is also made from scratch, and ideally rests for about 32 hours before it gets hand-tossed to order for your pizza.
You can create your own pizza starting with Palo Mesa’s standard tomato sauce, or opt for one of the premium sauces such as pesto, Thai peanut and buffalo. From there, choose from 18 basic toppings — or upgrade to premium toppings including artichokes, chorizo and Italian sausage.
Several specialty pies are available as well. Among the most popular are the meat-centric Ken’s Favorite with 11 toppings; the Hot Hawaiian with jalapeño peppers, bacon, pineapple and ham; and the Greek with pepperoni, feta cheese and black olives.
The Greek is one of several pizzas that have brought the Stevens significant recognition in national and international pizza competitions, and the only one currently on the menu.
Two more will be officially added to the menu in the near future, but you can still order them in the meantime – the Original with banana peppers and housemade sausage and the Michaela with pepperoni, red onion, pineapple, applewood smoked bacon and cilantro.
Having garnered some success is a double-edged sword, Michael Stevens acknowledged. It’s obviously validation of his recipes and techniques, but it does raise the bar for customers’ expectations.
“I appreciate that they hold us to that level, though,” he said. “We’ve always got to continue to innovate and do better, and we get a lot of ideas and inspirations from the competitions.”
Kelly Stevens agreed, noting that Palo Mesa’s growth has fostered a sense of community for her family.
“When we started, we were able to form close connections with other small businesses, and we’ve all been able to grow together,” she said.
Stevens added that many employees and customers have become like family over the years. “We wouldn’t have made it where we are without all of them,” she said. “I think that’s the best part, that kind of growth.”
Palo Mesa Pizza III
3536 South Higuera St., No. 206, San Luis Obispo | 784-0983 | palomesapizza.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, delivery available 12-9 p.m. (Hours are the same for Palo Mesa Pizza’s two Arroyo Grande locations.)
The scene: A casual, family-owned and -operated pizza place offering eat-in and takeout options.
The cuisine: Traditional pizzas plus pastas, calzones, sandwiches and salads, all made from-scratch whenever possible; wine and bottled beer available.
Expect to spend: Small two-topping pizza about $10, extra-large two-topping about $20; specialty pizzas range by size and toppings $11-38; salads, sandwiches, calzones and pastas $8-12.