My California Foodie Road Trip

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled my travel plans for the foreseeable future, and with them, all my hopes of trying new foods in foreign countries. So instead, I put my mask on, rented a car, and took a solo road trip up the California coast, sampling from restaurants that were open for takeout.

The options on this California foodie road trip were somewhat limited, due to COVID-19 closures and my self-imposed restrictions, but I still got a lot of eating in!

Santa Barbara

La Super-Rica Taqueria

This taco shop is famous because Julia Child called it her favorite restaurant in multiple interviews. Opinions abound on whether Julia Child was right or wrong. Does knowing French cooking make you an expert on Mexican food? Decide for yourself. 

For me, La Super-Rica Taqueria meant really good, satisfying Mexican food, although I wouldn’t drive hundreds of miles and wait in line for an hour and a half just for the sake of Julia Child’s favorite tacos. They are good. They won’t make you fall on your knees in rapture. Have reasonable expectations.

Tacos and drink with a straw on a blanket
my picnic from La Super-Rica Taqueria

The Super Rica especial is their most popular dish for a reason. The house special consists of pork, pasilla peppers (reminiscent of poblano), blanketed in white queso, accompanied by three fresh handmade tortillas. Thankfully, there actually isn’t too much cheese in this dish—it acts as more of a binding agent to tie everything together, not to smother it. Another detail I appreciated about the especial is that the tortillas are served on top of the dish, not as assembled tacos, so you can try the tortillas on their own before filling them with meat and cheese.

To me, the best thing about La Super-Rica Taqueria was watching the woman behind the counter making these tortillas while I waited. She tore off fistfuls of masa from a large mound towering over a stainless steel bowl and expertly pressed them in a tortilla press and slapped them on the stove. The tortilla is possibly the best individual thing on the menu at La Super-Rica.

The adobado taco was good, but not the best I’ve ever had (thanks for nothing, Michelin Guide). I hear the tamales are impressive, and probably a better option to accompany your Super Rica especial.

Sama Sama Kitchen

Named a Bib Gourmand restaurant in the 2019 Michelin Guide California, Sama Sama is known for highlighting Indonesian food (and southeast Asian cuisine in general). The mie goreng here is the Platonic ideal of what noodles should be—so creamy and satisfying, with the perfect amount of chew. Papaya salad and banana fritters rounded out the tropical notes of the meal. They were good, but the mie goreng is what will keep me coming back.

Pismo Beach

Old West Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon roll with bacon bits on top
maple bacon cinnamon roll from Old West Cinnamon Rolls

For such a popular place, service was fast. I was in and out in a matter of minutes. Next time, the purist in me would probably go with the original cinnamon roll and some cream cheese frosting, but this time the new maple bacon flavor was calling my name. It did not disappoint, with a very generous amount of bacon crumbles swimming in a sugary maple sauce. I had a very indulgent picnic in the picturesque Dinosaur Caves park.

Avila Beach

Avila Valley Barn

I know what you’re thinking… a barn? A barn is a destination on this food list? Yes, it is.

Avila Valley Barn ended up being one of my favorite stops on my California foodie road trip. Walking into the market felt like wandering into my idea of heaven. Rows of jarred olives, pickles, honey, and preserves lined the shelves. Mountains of peaches, pluots, strawberries, and blueberries threatened to spill over, like a literal cornucopia. Adjoining rooms carried produce, cheeses, crackers, oils and vinegars, and so much more. You could assemble the world’s most extravagant picnic here.

Market stand with jars of olives
one of the many displays at Avila Valley Barn

I bought some honey from Avila Valley Barn to take with me…it’s easily the best honey I’ve ever tested. Sweet but light, with some pronounced floral and citrus notes, I could just eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.

Locals know to come to Avila Valley Barn for the roasted ears of corn and BBQ. They also let you feed the animals here!

Once your eyes have feasted on the sights, Avila Valley Barn is a great place to pick up some (albeit expensive) picnic supplies and let your stomach feast on the farm-fresh, quality ingredients. I took my snacks to Pirates Cove, hiked to the sea caves, and had a picnic on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Woman eating corn on the cob
eating the famous corn on the cob at Avila Valley Barn

Cambria

For a small town, Cambria has a surprisingly delightful food scene. Unfortunately, many of its best restaurants were closed due to COVID. Even with the limitations, Cambria was another favorite stop on this California foodie road trip. It’s the perfect small town—charming, calm, with old-fashioned store windows lining the street. I hope to return for a food-filled winery weekend when the pandemic is over.

Mezzo Italiano

Mezzo Italiano is owned and run by women, which is a wonderful reason to support the restaurant but far from the only one. The food is so comforting, yet unexpected. It’s not healthy, exactly, but a lighter twist on Italian classics while retaining all the satisfaction you crave and expect from Italian food.

The rolioli is their house invention—a mix between ravioli and lasagna, pasta is filled with a ricotta mixture and covered in your choice of sauce. I think it truly is the best of both worlds. They really don’t skimp on the filling.

Olallieberry pie at Linn’s

This region is known for the olallieberry, a cross between the Black Logan blackberry and the youngberry (a hybrid between raspberry, blackberry, and dewberry). It’s closely related to the marionberry that you can find all over the Pacific Northwest.

Pie with red fruit
olallieberry pie from Linn’s

I had never heard of the olallieberry before my California foodie road trip, but soon discovered that Linn’s is famous for their olallieberry pie. Even in sweetened pie form, the olallieberry tasted similar to blackberry, but with a little more zing from the sour tart flavor, which is my jam (no pun intended). 

Red Moose Cookie Company

Red Moose opens at 10 am. I arrived at 10:05 and there were already people there. The owner told me that they’ve had 46 good days in a row, even during the pandemic, and they continue to sell out every morning. They don’t advertise at all in the Cambria area; their popularity is driven solely by word of mouth.

Point is, get here early if you want to try their famous treat, the Naughty Rod. Yes, it’s a little bit phallic, and a little bit pricey, but that’s what all the cool kids are doing. And it lasts for ages; I’m still eating mine. They also sell a variety of cookies, including root beer cookies that pair well with vanilla ice cream for a deconstructed root beer float!

Capitola

Pretty Good Advice

Technically in Soquel, just a short drive from Capitola Beach, Pretty Good Advice would be my regular weekend spot if I lived nearby. They serve all-day breakfast sandwiches, as well as burgers and fries, and oddities like overnight oats. (Oatmeal? No. I am here for a breakfast sandwich and that runny yolk.)

Pretty Good Advice is the brainchild of Matt McNamara, of Michelin-star restaurant Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. The care and creativity translates well to a lower price point, which feels like a bargain for these ingredients.

I grabbed a Mike’s Good Morning Deluxe breakfast sandwich and took it with me on a hike in The Forest of Nisene Marks, which I highly recommend to anyone in the area. It was hands-down one of my favorite moments of the entire trip.

Sandwich on picnic table in forest
a picnic with Mike’s Good Morning Deluxe breakfast sandwich at the Forest of Nisene Marks in Soquel, CA

Pizza My Heart

If you’re looking for good food near the tourist hub of Capitola Beach, Pizza My Heart is a safe bet. Slices are huge. The pesto, Big Sur, and Little Sur pizzas are reliable hits. It’s busy, even during a pandemic, so the wait can be a little longer than expected for a beachside takeaway stand.

Gayle’s Bakery

Gayle’s has been a local favorite for decades. With training from Chez Panisse, Gayle Ortiz has turned this bakery into a Capitola icon. The glass display cases are loaded with both sweet and savory pastry, plus lunch options like salads, pasta, and deviled eggs.

I love marionberry anything, so of course I had to try the famous marionberry turnover. The berry filling was perfect, but the icing on top put me into a minor sugar coma. I can’t wait to come back to Gayle’s and try more of her savory pastries. The croissants were fluffy and round and tempting, and the bread is rumored to be some of the best you can find anywhere.

My next California food trip

Because of COVID-19, there were several restaurants I wanted to try that just weren’t open. At some time in our post-pandemic future, I plan to do a pastry road trip up the California coast with my friend and frequent dining partner.

There are two ice cream shops I wanted to visit on this trip but didn’t because I was too full—McConnell’s in Santa Barbara and Marianne’s in Capitola/Santa Cruz. I’ll save them for next time. There has to be a next time.

If you’re curious about taking a road trip during the coronavirus pandemic—yes, it had its challenges, but I considered the risks carefully and took extra precautions. I didn’t eat at any restaurants or go to bars, and I avoided crowded places. I did takeout only and had picnics alone in the park or on a hike. I brought my own paper plates, utensils, hand sanitizer, etc. I brought my own pillowcase and towels and I wiped down surfaces before I touched anything in an Airbnb. And, of course, I wore a mask anytime I left my car. Even without restaurants, and with the extra hassle of sanitizing, it was still a worthwhile trip.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Esther says:

    As usual, your reviews inspire me to go out and try new food. I’ve been longing to go on a road trip and I love Cambria! Now I’m adding Linn’s to my list of places to try. I can’t wait for my slice of olallieberry pie.

    Like

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