If you’re a burger fan, it’s time to catch up on one of the best kept secrets in San Luis Obispo County — California Grill in Nipomo.
This family-run eatery isn’t someplace you’re likely to just stumble upon. Located on the east side of the freeway on the south side of Tefft Street, California Grill is a bit hard to spot save for the tall, vertical “Burgers” banner fluttering by the sidewalk.
The key faces at California Grill are Flaviano Garcia, his son-in-law Alvaro Macias and Garcia’s son and daughter — Cesar Garcia and Brenda Garcia-Macias. Though all have some restaurant experience, the veterans in the group are Macias and especially Flaviano Garcia, who has been in the industry since 1978.
With all the years of working for other people under their collective apron belts, the families decided to put that experience toward opening their own place. After finding an existing restaurant location and putting some significant elbow grease into much-needed cosmetic changes, they fired up California Grill in September 2013.
The clean, bright interior isn’t big or fancy, nor does it need to be. It’s a welcoming place with a few fun touches of Californian décor, about 10 tables inside and a couple more out in front.
The menu is listed on large, easy-to-read boards, or you can grab a paper menu and take it to a table to study. Once you’ve made your decision, place your order at the counter and settle in while your food is cooked to order and brought out to you.
Between them, the Garcia and Macias families have experience in a wide variety of cuisines, but in developing California Grill, they opted to “keep it simple and reasonably priced,” said Macias. The menu is mostly geared to burgers and sandwiches — all served on buns and breads from Edna’s Bakery in San Luis Obispo — but salads, sides and fish and chips are available as well.
Among the most popular of the eight beef burgers are the Cali with avocado and bacon, the Mushroom with onions and Swiss cheese, and the Wild West with bacon, onion rings, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce. A veggie burger with all the fixin’s is also an option, as is a beef or veggie burger you concoct yourself from the available toppings.
The lineup of nine sandwiches includes customer favorites such as the BBQ chicken with sprouts, the Philly tri-tip with chipotle mayonnaise, and the pastrami with grilled onions. Daily specials might toss a meatball sandwich or a pulled pork sandwich into the mix as well, and you can always go for salads such as a Cobb or chicken Caesar.
Though the California Grill menu is fairly basic, the food preparation isn’t. All of the beef burgers are hand-formed in house, fresh daily and never frozen. The chicken breasts and tri-tips are roasted and carved in-house, and the cheese is sliced in-house as well.
“Except for the barbecue and Italian, we make all the sauces and dressings from scratch, even the ranch,” noted Cesar Garcia. That includes the family’s secret “Cali Sauce” that kicks up several of the burgers.
“We wanted to take some ideas from the places we worked and just make them a little better,” said Macias. Cesar Garcia agreed, adding that “it would be easier doing things another way, but it wouldn’t be as good.”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
277 W. Tefft St.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
The scene: A clean, casual family-owned and -operated eatery; eat inside or at a couple outside tables.
The cuisine: Burgers and sandwiches, plus salads and fish and chips; from-scratch, in-house preparation whenever possible; beer and wine available.
Expect to spend: Burgers $5.50-7, sandwiches $7-8, salads about $8, sides $2.50-5.50.