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Oxnard

Moqueca Brazilian Cuisine is the nicest restaurant in the area that we've tried. The view of Channel Island Harbor is so soothing and the food is great! A Brazilian friend brought us the first time and vouched 

everything, but especially the moquecas, the fish fritters, and the drinks. The lunch specials are an amazing deal but the regular menu is worth it (we went for Mother's Day and were kind of hosed $-wise but otherwise everyone LOVED the experience, even at the jacked-up prices [which we had expected]). We've been several times and the food is consistently very good to excellent and the service is variable but quite friendly. 

Ventura

There's a McConnell's outpost in Ventura!!! I'm grateful. They don't have pre-packed pints and quarts but will hand-scoop a pint for you if you wish. It's sort of a weird location on the street by the mall, but the ice cream tastes the same  :)

Camarillo

I couldn't truly recommend it before, but now that they have seating and you can eat everything piping-hot in-house, I do want to tell people about Bianco Rosso. It's not VPN pizza but they have pretty great Neopolitan-style pies, especially for this area, and we eat there a LOT. We love the Kitty Hawk (white pizza w/ brussel sprouts and bacon) and Victoriana (red sauce, bacon and mushrooms and carmelized onions). It's run by a super-nice family and they've created an warm and casual place to work through multiple pizzas with friends. The price point makes sense to people like us (quite a bit higher than a typical fast-food pizza joint, but not excessive IMO), but this is "Ventucky" so I do worry about this place.

The Habit is a local burger chain, but I like it better than In-N-Out so thought it would be worth mentioning. Their burgers are flame-grilled and manage to be very juicy (unless you run into talky folks you know who won't stop visiting until your burger gets cold  :angry: Sigh, small-town life!). The fries are fine but the onion rings are big and crispy and the milkshakes and malts are worth the calories. It's where we go over and over when the burger craving strikes (unless it is late night and then In-N-Out is always your friend).

Rolling Pin is our nostalgia donut shop. It doesn't open until 8 or 9 (depending on the time of year) PM and they go all night and into the morning until they deem that they have sold out of the fresh stuff (usually noonish). The kids and all assorted people wander around and hang out (no seating inside, a few tables outside) all night - it's pretty much the only place to be in the middle of the night in this town. The fresh donuts are spectacular and they've developed what we think is a pretty excellent cronut (these ALWAYS sell out before morning, but keep in mind we haven't tried the real thing in NYC). Once they cool down, the assorted donuts and pastries are still all quite good and worth getting.

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Potentially planning a LA to San Fran drive along Rt. 1.

First day/night thinking about driving from LA to the Cambria area (seems to be about a 4-5 hour drive).  Spending the night around Cambria.

Second day hanging out in the Big Sur area, possibly hiking around Los Padres National Forest

Second night spending in the Monterey area.

Third day driving from Monterey area to SF with tours of the Red Woods.

Any recommendations for the Cambria area (dining and accommodations); Monterey area (dining and accommodations); Big Sur area; or anything else that would be of interest (but not the Hearst Estate).

Looking for places that are nice/reasonable price range but not looking to splurge too much since we are book ending this with weekends in LA and SF, where no doubt we will be dropping some cash!

Thanks

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Potentially planning a LA to San Fran drive along Rt. 1.

First day/night thinking about driving from LA to the Cambria area (seems to be about a 4-5 hour drive).  Spending the night around Cambria.

Second day hanging out in the Big Sur area, possibly hiking around Los Padres National Forest

Second night spending in the Monterey area.

Third day driving from Monterey area to SF with tours of the Red Woods.

Any recommendations for the Cambria area (dining and accommodations); Monterey area (dining and accommodations); Big Sur area; or anything else that would be of interest (but not the Hearst Estate).

Looking for places that are nice/reasonable price range but not looking to splurge too much since we are book ending this with weekends in LA and SF, where no doubt we will be dropping some cash!

Thanks

We just did this trip...with a 2-month-old.  It was...an experience.  :P

We stopped in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterrey.  The views were the only sight we saw - what a fantastic drive, even when we couldn't get out of the car due to baby sleeping (or not sleeping).  We spent 2 nights in Monterrey, and I found it to be a bit of a wasteland food-wise (lots of chains, very touristy).  If you can, take a bike ride along the 17 Mile Drive - so worth the sunburn I got.

The Apple Farm was a good breakfast in San Luis Obispo, and we were told that Cafe Moulin was good in Monterrey (we did not go, due to having screamer in tow).  I think the better restaurants are near Carmel.

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Thousand Oaks

Mouthful Eatery is a bright and bustling (read: loud) fast-casual spot specializing in Peruvian-inspired, overfilled sandwiches. Our favorites are the lomo saltado and the pork shoulder (especially when they have pork on special that day). The sandwiches are $10+, which reflects the "handcrafted" tagline of the business, but the ingredients are fresh and thoughtfully combined, and portions are generous enough to share. There are several tasty sides and they have pretty salads that I've never tried. The fried artichokes with aoli are heavy but slightly addictive, and the same goes for the mac and cheese. I like the cucumber mint lemonade and the alfajores cookies are good but pricey - $3 for 4 small cookies. FWIW, this place made Yelp's top 100 in the nation this year. I think it helped business, because the last time I went they had expanded next door and now have a lot more seating.

Umami Burger - there's a location down the street from Mouthful in a plaza full of other chains. I've only tried it once as it's too rich (taste and $) for me but my husband goes occasionally. They do have interesting sauce and topping choices: truffled seemingly everything, including aoli, housemade ketchup, parmesan crisp, hatch chiles, kimchee, etc.

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Newbury Park (more or less in Thousand Oaks)

Sesame Inn - From looking around at the other tables, I think they do American Chinese food quite well, but we go for the non-secret Szechuan menu (they pass them out with the regular menus). There's a master fryer in the back and we love the chili chicken (like popcorn chicken with red chiles) and the salt and pepper fish (served with jalapenos). The three delight is a wonderful vegetable dish "“ like A&J's cold mustard greens and bamboo shoots dish, but served hot and sautéed with pork bits. The chili cabbage is pretty good as well. We were so so so so happy to find this place, as this is the first decent Chinese we had in the area (without driving down to the Valley).

Red Wok - We went to try the XLB but they aren't very good "“ thin but broken skins, perfect decently fillings, but nothing exciting. HOWEVER, their pan-fried dumplings taste like they are made in-house "“ plump, chewy skins, sizzling bottoms, balanced and tasty meat filling, and very juicy. We've been back several times for these dumplings alone. The rest of the American Chinese menu looks bleh (from spying other tables).

Szechuan Place - This place has my favorite fish dish since China Star's (or other Chef Chang places) scallion fish. The crispy chili fried fish fillets have tons of flavor and are expertly fried. The dan dan mien is pretty good (fiery!) but I didn't care for the beef noodle soup "“ too hot and not enough depth of flavor. The eggplant casserole isn't spicy enough (or at all, really). For several months we were getting double orders of the chili fish every week until our bellies couldn't take it anymore, taking a break, then starting the cycle over again.

Ali Baba's Cafe - Solid, simple, Mediterranean food. Great, crackling fresh falafel, perfectly decent schwarma and good kabobs. Pita is store-bought in a bag, but served warm. They have an interesting stewy dish - ful medames - of sauteed garlic and fava beans. We keep getting the family meal so can only speak to that set but it is a great deal. Service is always warm and friendly, even when you bring in a baby ;-)

Mama's Hummus - Fast-casual Mediterranean food with flavorful, juicy kabobs served over fluffy, seasoned rice. The hummus and eggplant dips are quite good, but the falafel isn't really my cup of tea (just tastes of salt and the fryer never quite gets it just right). Pita is store-bought in a bag, but they have nice baklava "“ flaky, nutty, and sweet, which makes my husband happy.

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San Luis Obispo

Thursday Night Farmer's Market "“ they close down the main street and have several blocks with of local vendors. Most are just extended storefronts from the shops on the street but the produce looks great and the atmosphere is crowded and very fun.  At one end, all the BBQ folks set up shop, and this is where you want to inhale the aromas and get dueling Santa Maria tri-tip sandwiches.  I tried the tri-tips (so plain and SO good "“ just tender meat, toasted, garlic-buttered roll, and jus) from Rib Line and McLintock's and both were great! (If you don't feel like waiting in the ridiculous line, both have storefronts in town.) Supposedly, the sandwiches at Firestone Grill are even better. ..

Per the recs we got last time, we tried Firestone Grill's tri-tip sandwiches while stopping in SLO for a bite. Wow, that place is busy and they move mountains of meat!! Granted we were there on a Saturday at the start of lunchtime but it was pretty crazy by 11:45 AM. It's a fast-casual joint, with emphasis on both. You order at the booth and should immediately move over to the counter to wait for your number to be called. When they are on, they will call it FAST (I swear, the tri-tip guy must just keep slicing meat all shift, assuming that someone will order whatever he cuts), which is nice because the line outside builds up down the street. The whole time we were there, they kept calling numbers out over and over to summon folks hunting for a seat back and get their food. The sandwich is piled high with tender, tasty beef, the bun is toasted and buttered, and one sandwich is enough for two people to split if you want to try anything else (we also got a small salad, which is served in a large, pho-sized bowl, and ended up taking a whole sandwich with us). Now, while it was a good sandwich, I actually like the others I've tried in SLO better, because the BBQ sauce, which is perfectly fine, doesn't hold a candle for me to the sandwiches served with jus. Since I'm not comparing them back-to-back, I can't speak to how the meat quantity or quality compares among them, but I'd probably say that McLintock's was my favorite. Still, if you prefer BBQ sauce on your tri-tip, this is probably your place, and you'll want to get extra sauce (they only use a dab)! The patio seating outside is particularly nice - you can watch the crowds waiting in line while you enjoy your meal, knowing that the line moves fast enough that you don't have to feel too guilty ;) . The ribs and burgers that the people around us were getting looked good, but the onions rings looked GREAT - thickly battered, golden-brown, and folks biting in with an audible crunch. Our southwest salad was nice enough (and the vegetables felt rather essential as a counterbalance for the meat) but people clearly come here for the comfort food.

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Oxnard

Carnitas El Rey is the real deal - all they serve are carnitas and some basic fixings for soft tacos made with said carnitas. It's fairly new, a small place, with one steam table worth of food that is constantly refreshed. One tray has the meat of the carnitas and the other has the bits - skin, fat, etc. They will chop you some meat and ask if you'd like a mix of the two (get that!). They sell the carnitas in tacos, with the meat piled on soft, fresh, house-made corn tortillas, or by the pound. They also sell the tortillas by the dozen (or half dozen). They have a little salsa bar with the red and green salsas (and also sell these to go), and sell their pico de gallo by the pint. My only quibble - I didn't get any of the crispy bits - other than that, these were some of the most flavorful and juicy carnitas I've ever had (and I've been trying carnitas everywhere since I moved to SoCal). They also have beans and rice but I didn't try those. Salsas are a tad bit spicy, but not overly hot unless you get all the jalapenos in one bite. Friendly service with limited but adequate English for ordering, and cash only. You can eat in or take out with equal ease. I hear it can get crowded on the weekends, and deservedly so.

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Half Moon Bay

Seeing a list from the SF Chronicle that has the top 100 restaurants in Bay Area 2018 with exceptional photos, spurred me to focus on my favorite dining site in the Bay area, down in the Peninsula, Sam's Chowder House.  I guess I've been visiting there pretty soon after they opened in 2006.  The restaurant gets on many  Bay area favorite lists and has been the recipient of some TV fame.

I'm sure there are countless restaurants in the Bay area with more modern and exciting menus.  Plus Sam's is huge, probably serving many hundreds or more most days. 

But it has the most wonderful setting directly off the beach, looking out into Half Moon Bay.  They have Adirondack chairs where you can grab a brewski, wine, or cocktail and contemplate the great Pacific!!!   You can wander in off the street, grab a drink, command an Adirondack lounge and contemplate life.  Sam's is a New England style chowder house, featuring lobster rolls, and a wide variety of seafood and other delights.  They do a damn good job.  I recall being amazed at Maryland style crab cakes some years back.  Lots of crab, virtually no filler. 

Between good food and an absolutely wonderful setting its a restaurant I keep returning to when  in the area.  With family nearby I've visited quite  a few times.  If you are going to give it a try I'd suggest an earlier evening reservation or between lunch and dinner.  It gives you more time to soak up the atmosphere.

 

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San Luis Obispo

Novo Restaurant & Lounge is a wonderful place for brunch. I can't speak to any other time, but we really enjoyed our meal there.  The menu is a California-American with a few fusion (pan-Asian, Mexican) accents here and there.  The food doesn't sound particularly exciting, and it's not exactly reinventing the wheel (in fact, the fusion accents feel a bit dated), but what we had was fresh, pretty, well-prepared, and served by warm and friendly people. What takes the experience up several notches, however, is the setting. The inside is nice, upscale bar-ish, but back patio overlooks the creek from high up, is surrounded by trees and is far away from the street.  The patio also has ample umbrellas, heaters, and lights as appropriate.  There were families below, walking by and playing in the creek, and we were sitting in the fresh air on a warm, sunny deck, with a morning cocktail in hand. It was one of the more relaxing meals of my life (haha, sure it helped that I was sans kids for the first time in forever, but still...).  We had both the savory and sweet crepes, and they were both hearty portions with very tasty fillings (and it didn't feel at all repetitive that I had crepes twice! I don't recall the specific fillings but the change weekly anyway), and a salmon? I think? Benedict. I recall the overall experience quite fondly and would definitely go back (even with my kids!).

 Atascadero

Between SLO and Paso Robles, Bristols Cider House is in a bit of an odd spot, tucked into an industrial park, but is the cider/music/snack house of my dreams that I truly wish were in my neck of the woods to I could go there All. The. Time.  We stopped in for a quick tasting on the way to some wineries and it was the most fun stop of the trip.  The ciders are varied and mostly crisp/dry (and seasonal, so constantly changing), the place is casual and welcoming, and the food sounds like a perfect pairing for drinks and music (we didn't get a chance to try any food).  It's not very far off the highway 101 so stop by if you're in the area!!

Ventura and Camarillo

Spencer Makenzie's Fish Company is the uber-Ventura County restaurant. Casual, beachy vibe, outdoor seating, near but not on the beach (the Ventura original location is walking distance to the Pier, but the Camarillo location is in a strip mall), Mexican by way of California, and with a focus on fresh ingredients.  Get the fish taco. Get it fried. I like the Brooklyn style (sweet chili hot sauce mixed with the creamy tartar). Actually, the grilled version is good, too, but the fried version is truly excellent.  Lots of cabbage, peppers, and sweet to fiery sauces (they make their own) draped over flaky yet tender fried fish whose exterior retains an satisfying crunch. Add avocado for extra creamy and California-ness. My family says the shrimp tacos are equally good.  If you can go during 3-5 PM M-Th, you can get 2-1 tacos (they can get pricey). Though they have them, now is not the time to be tempted by other meats - there are plenty of authentic Mexican restaurants for that and you are here for the Cali-Mex seafood.  Except for the ahi pockets, don't get those - they are oddly cold and dense and slimy (outside) and sweet.  The tempura vegetables and salads look really good, so try those instead. Or just get another taco.

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