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During my three-day visit to San Luis Obispo last year, I tried a different açai specialist each day. These three shops --- Seeds, Bowl'd and The Neighborhood --- joined at least a half-dozen other cafes that also had offered acai bowls on their broader menus. Then returning a couple months ago, I tried a fourth acai cafe, Ubatuba, that had opened a few days after my last visit. By making the rounds in SLO, I managed to double my lifetime acai experience. It may have more acai outlets than San Francisco. Clearly, SLO is obsessed with acai.
Here's the rundown from least to most liked of the acai bowls I've tried in SLO:
Bowl'd on Chorro https://www.facebook.com/bowldslo/ is owned by the partners behind Kreuzberg Coffee. With exposed brick and wood furniture in the sunlit room, this has a warmer, homier feel and seemed to attract more families with young children.
Is it the decor or the kid half-size bowl portion on the menu that brings in the young ones? Buying something smaller was welcome relief on the pocketbook for my third acai parfait in as many days. The bowl was fine, but rather generic and did not distinguish itself.
What I enjoyed more at Bowl'd was the strong and bracing cold brew coffee. Just what I needed before starting the drive homeward.
The Neighborhood Açai and Juice Bar on Foothill http://www.neighborhoodacai.com/ is the oldest of the dedicated acai bars. Located close to campus in a dark corner, it has a decidedly more boho vibe.
Neighborhood boasts the largest portion size and indeed you do get more for your money here. Very fresh fruits but a less precise, un-manicured assembly. This bowl also had a heavier hand with the honey for a sweeter personality.
Ubatuba on Marsh rolls out the Brazilian welcome mat. http://www.ubatubaacai.com/slo.php It is the newest of the four.
Ubatuba's bowl included a higher proportion of acai frozen base, including that small scoop on top. Somehow the acai tasted more concentrated and intense with less of the filler ingredients. A small bowl was the perfect afternoon refresher. Ubatuba was a welcoming spot for a bio break and to stretch the legs for the drive home.
Ubatuba also sells empanadas, kept warm and ready to eat in a hot box. This chicken one was rather underbaked with anemic pastry but the filling tasted good.
Seeds on Garden has a sweet culinary spot next to Fromagerie Sophie and across from Scout Coffee which is how I noticed it on arrival in town, inspiring me to try the others. It had only been open a couple days at that point. The interior is bright white, stainless steel and shiny lucite and could as easily be a high-end jewelry store as a cafe. But in the back, Seeds has some colorful outdoor seating. http://www.seedsongarden.com/
I liked the displays of add-ins so one can see exactly what is available.
Seeds was generous about offering samples of its various parfait bases. At the time it was the only one offering pittaya (dragon fruit), another super fruit that I found too bland. Since then it has expanded the types of bases even more. I also ordered a kombucha sourced from Santa Barbara.
Seed's bowl had the dewiest and most pristine berries, crunchiest granola, crispiest seeds and balance of textures and flavors. It was also the highest priced and smallest serving in delivering that high quality.
What's your favorite?