Escape to the Central Coast

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The West's best unsung BBQ town

In and around Santa Maria, CA, succulent oak-grilled barbecue is a way of life. So why isn't it better known?

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Countless restaurants serve Santa Maria barbecue along California’s Central Coast. After three years of research—canvassing experts, visiting restaurants, and eating well north of 100 pounds of meat—our overstuffed food editor, Margo True, has proclaimed these the best.

Far Western Tavern. In its spiffy new location off the 101 freeway, the Tavern serves up the same peerless barbecue it has for decades—plus sophisticated dishes like oak-grilled polenta and wild salmon salad. $$$$; 300 E. Clark Ave., Orcutt;

Jocko’s. The locals’ hangout, with terrific steaks and views of the oak pit from the dining room. There’s a big old bar too, with an over-the-top snack: chunks of grilled beef and garlic bread, with toothpicks and salsa. $$$; 125 N. Thompson Ave., Nipomo; (805) 929-3565. 

Filipino Community Center food truck. One of the few remaining fund-raising outfits on Santa Maria’s main street serves a delectable soy-marinated take on tri-tip. $; 9–4 Sat–Sun; 1721 S. Broadway, Santa Maria; (805) 264-5608.

The Hitching Post (I & II). Open since 1952, Hitching Post I is the oldest barbecue restaurant in the area, with a light-filled dining room. The food is simple and perfect. Hitching Post II, made world-famous by Sideways, has the classics and more—including grilled artichokes, a knockout chocolate tart, and a fine wine list, with many bottles under $30. I: $$$$; 3325 Point Sal Rd., Casmalia; II: $$$$; 406 E. State 246, Buellton;

Garey Store & Deli. Head to the town of Garey (pop. 68) on Santa Maria’s outskirts for this deli’s incredible tri-tip sandwich, Fridays only, from 10 to 2. A favorite with the vineyard workers, it’s just juicy, thin-sliced meat piled high on a French roll, with salsa and jalapeños on the side. Call ahead to get one saved for you—owner Shawn Rees makes only about 150 per Friday. $; 3798 Foxen Canyon Rd., Santa Maria; (805) 937-3361.

Shaw’s. A huge, old-timey elegant place, filled with shining wood, brass, and historic local barbecue photos. The whole range of Santa Maria barbecue tradition shows up here, from tri-tip to spicy oak-grilled linguiça sausage, a gift from the Portuguese who immigrated to the area in the ’30s and ’40s. $$$; 714 S. Broadway, Santa Maria; (805) 925-5862.

McPhee’s Grill. Go at dinnertime, when the pit’s lit, for red oak–grilled artichokes and steaks. You can’t miss with the rib-eye, which comes with three homemade salsas as well as jalapeño-cheese mashed potatoes and roasted poblano chiles stuffed with goat cheese. $$$$; 416 S. Main St., Templeton;

Rancho Nipomo BBQ & Cal-Mex. Bright and cheerful, with an inspired melding of Santa Maria barbecue and Mexican food. Meats are smoked—not grilled—over red oak, and used in inventions like a smoked tri-tip burrito and a tri-tip sandwich made with garlicky Mexican-style torta bread. $; 108 Cuyama Lane, Nipomo;

For more of our favorite Santa Maria BBQ spots, check out our handy map.


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