Food & Drink

3 tasty road trips for Central Coast foodies

Grilled quail salad is drizzeld with honey-mustard vinaigrette at The Ranch House in Ojai.
Grilled quail salad is drizzeld with honey-mustard vinaigrette at The Ranch House in Ojai. Courtesy of Sunset Magazine

Whenever Brigit Binns takes a road trip to Big Sur, she sets aside plenty of time for what she calls a “terminal lunch” — a midday meal at rustic restaurant Nepenthe followed by a long, lazy afternoon spent reading a book and sipping rosé on a bench with “the most stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.”

“For me, Nepenthe is ground zero” for a good time, the Paso Robles cookbook author explained.

Binns speaks with authority. Her 2015 book, “Sunset Eating Up the West Coast: The Best Road Trips, Restaurants and Recipes from California to Washington,” is full of tasty finds for foodies on the go.

Here are three culinary road trips certain to satisfy the most demanding gourmand, courtesy of Binns and her book. For more details, and additional suggestions for day trips, check out “Sunset Eating Up the Central Coast.”

Day 1: Big Sur

The route: Cambria to San Simeon to Big Sur

The distance: 70 miles

The details: The North Coast offers lots of options for lunch.

Craving fresh seafood? Dig your fork into fried calamari steaks or steamed clams at The Sea Chest in Cambria.

Head to Sebastian’s General Store and Café in San Simeon for heartier fare, such as chicken tortilla soup with lime crema, a tri-tip sandwich with pickled onions and smoky-sweet barbecue sauce or a tri-tip wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and cherry tomatoes. You can build up your appetite with a nature hike starting at San Simeon Beach.

Travel farther north to reach Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn — home of the signature Deetjen’s Dip turkey sandwich, served with Hollandaise sauce. Herbed home fries and pan-fried zucchini-feta cakes with raita are among the menu options.

Don’t miss: Cliffside luxury. To get the true Big Sur experience, indulge in a massage at the Esalen Institute or a multi-course lunch at the Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant. (For a cheaper option, grab a cup of coffee and a pastry at the Big Sur Bakery.)

Day 2: Cowboy country

The route: Shell Beach to Templeton to Santa Margarita

The distance: 78 miles

The details: Begin with breakfast at Seaside Café & Bakery in Shell Beach — try the Garden Goddess breakfast burritos — before continuing the ocean theme at Pier 46 Seafood Market and Restaurant in Templeton. Once there, lunch on ahi tacos, crab Louis salad or cioppino with toasted garlic bread.

Grab a drink at the Santa Margarita Tavern while you wait for your table at The Range in Santa Margarita. After an appetizer of Dragon’s Breath — garlicky herbed goat cheese with pepper jam — tuck into a dinner that includes crayfish cakes with Tabasco butter and lamb chops with potato-goat cheese gratin.

Not ready to head home just yet? Mosey on over to The Loading Chute in Creston for a nightcap — or a second helping of steak.

Don’t miss: Wine country cuisine. Pair wine with gourmet farm-to-table fare at Cass Vineyard & Winery in Creston. (Trade the tasting room for patio seating beside the beautiful garden.) You can work up an appetite by taking a Margarita Adventures zip line tour at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.

Day 3: Santa Ynez Valley and beyond

The route: Ojai to Los Olivos to Los Alamos to Nipomo

The distance: 104 miles

The details: Start your day with an idyllic brunch — wild mushroom strudels and grilled quail salad, with coffee and rum crème brulee for dessert — at The Ranch House in Ojai.

Then amble over to Sides Hardware and Shoes in Los Olivos for a grilled toma cheese sandwich or a Hammered Pig Salad, featuring breaded-and-fried pork tenderloin served with baby arugula, pecans, radishes and assorted fruits. A side order of crispy fried Brussels sprouts is a must.

More salads — including one featuring roasted chicken with rosemary croutons — await at Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos, as do roast pork sandwiches with apple-jicama slaw and quick-pickled onions.

Finish with dinner at Jocko’s Steak House in Nipomo, complete with cocktails, an old-school relish tray and ribeye steak barbecued over an oak pit.

Don’t miss: Any of Los Alamos’ other up-and-coming eateries, including Bob’s Well Bread Bakery and Plenty on Bell. Munch piping hot pizza at Full of Life Flatbread or dine on beef tartare and ricotta gnudi at Pico at the Los Alamos General Store. Need a drink? Check out Babi’s Beer Emporium or the saloon at 1880 Union Hotel.