We spent 4 days in Santa Maria last week attending a conference of Western Field Ornithologists (birdwatchers with degrees). I had checked with Chowhound before leaving, and when we arrived Wednesday, after a long day of driving and wine-tasting, we were in the mood for a light meal, so went to Atari-ya sushi. We're both purists, so avoided the big rolls, but found the basic sushi to be just about perfect. We had yellowtail, scallop, snapper, halibut belly and saba - all the fish was fresh and sweet, and the rice was perfectly seasoned.
Thanks to CH, we chose Chef Rick's for dinner Thursday night. Because most of the attendees were from out of town and unfamiliar with the area, we gathered a group of 11 for dinner. Meals ranged from sandwiches and salads for some (grilled lamb & eggplant salad for me - fabulous) to full meals for others - seared ahi for my husband, pan-roasted salmon for one friend. Everyone was delighted - so much so that a large group went for lunch on Friday, and 10 more people went for dinner Friday night. Chef Rick, you can thank Chowhound and birders for three busy meals.
On Friday, after tramping around Oso Flaco and farm fields from 6:30 a.m. until after noon, my husband & I were ravenous and had lunch at Lo Mejor de Jalisco - also a Chowhound recommendation. This place was fantastic! I had red pozole - rich with chunks of pork that melted in my mouth in a smoky, chile-scented broth. My husband had a beef dish - can't remember the name - but it was marinated chunks of beef sauteed with tomatoes, onions and chiles. It was delicious, as were the accompanying rice and beans. If we hadn't been so hungry, we'd have had leftovers - the portions were more than generous.
I've learned never to travel without checking with Chowhound - thanks to all the central coast residents who recommended these 3 teriffic restaurants.