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Far West Tavern, Orcutt
Far West Tavern, Orcutt
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12 Impressive Stops for Central Coast Barbecue in California

Discovering a regional barbecue style you may never have known existed

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Far West Tavern, Orcutt
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Along the Central Coast of California, that loosely defined stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles, tri-tip is king. The leaner low sirloin cut often takes a backseat to brisket in other parts of the country, but owing to California’s long-standing ranchero culture tri-tip cooked over red oak has become something of a tradition. Though its true origins are a bit hazy, most agree that, much like barbecue in the rest of the world, tri-tip ultimately earned its place at the table because for years it was considered a cheap, tough cut without much fat or collagen — but given the right treatment it could shine.

Today, tri-tip is a large cog in an even larger barbecue machine that’s gaining its own West Coast reputation: Santa Maria style, cooked over proprietary pit grills using widely abundant red oak. You’ll find those boxy cookers at classic stops like The Hitching Post II in Buellton, and throughout Santa Maria proper at weekend park parties and Sunday grill sessions. And they’re not just for tri-tip: pitmasters along the coast routinely use Santa Maria grills for everything from steaks to ribs, giving the largely rural wine country its signature barbecue style. Here are some of the best options for a barbecue pit stop the next time you’re traveling through.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Firestone Grill

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1001 Higuera St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 783-1001
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Firestone’s is an essential stop for just about anyone passing through San Luis Obispo. The lines are long for cheap beer, giant bowls of fries, and the restaurant’s signature tri-tip sandwich, called out over the loudspeaker by number while throngs of adoring diners wait impatiently out on the summery patio.

2. Jocko's Steak House

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125 N Thompson Ave
Nipomo, CA 93444
(805) 929-3565
Jocko’s is a beef lover’s dream, set down right in Nipomo cattle country where steaks, ribs, a variety of chops and some damn fine burgers are cooked over open flame out back all day long.
Lucas Peterson

3. Rancho Nipomo Deli and BBQ

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108 Cuyama Ln
Nipomo, CA 93444
(805) 925-3500
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Rancho Nipomo is a popular Central Coast choice for tri-tip sandwiches and heaps of pulled pork, plus more unusual barbecue offerings like burritos and shrimp cocktails.

4. Hitching Post II

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406 E Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427
(805) 688-0676
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A Buellton institution just off the highway (and a much easier drive than the family-owned original in Casmalia), The Hitching Post II is where locals mix with tourists over perfectly rendered steaks. The grill is on full display in the dining room, albeit behind glass, while the bar on the opposite side of the place lets folks play out their own Sideways wine dreams all night long.

5. Wildwood Kitchen

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410 E Haley St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
A new Santa Barbara barbecue option in a hip multi-use complex, Wildwood Kitchen is earning raves for its rosy tri-tip, well-cooked meats, and cozy environs.

6. The Rib Line

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228 W Grand Ave
Grover Beach, CA 93433
(805) 474-0123
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The Grover Beach outlet of Rib Line BBQ sits just off the public beach, making it a popular weekend dining spot for those passing through. Angus tri-tip is the starring sideshow (after those ribs), and you can even pile on the meat with giant sandwiches like the one-pound Baby Brahma, served in a grilled sourdough loaf.

7. Tanner Jacks

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2796 S Halcyon Rd
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
(805) 473-8485
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An Arroyo Grande barbecue specialist from breakfast through dinner, Tanner Jack’s is the place for tri-tip sandwiches smoked over applewood, or their Tuesday night all you can eat rib free-for-all.

8. F.McLintocks Saloon & Dining House

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750 Mattie Rd
Shell Beach, CA 93449
(805) 773-1892
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A Santa Maria barbecue favorite overlooking the ocean in Shell Beach, F. McLintock’s works their grills nightly with a variety of steaks, ribs, and tri-tip. They even grill their artichoke appetizers, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and a half-pound sirloin burger.
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9. Shaw's Steakhouse

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714 Broadway
Santa Maria, CA
(805) 925-5862
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Set right in the heart of Santa Maria barbecue country, Shaw’s is a classic for thick slabs of tri-tip served straight-up wit some beans and a baked potato, or tossed into a strongly-stacked sandwich for easier eating. You can watch the masters at work in the kitchen as well.

10. Far Western Tavern

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300 E Clark Ave
Orcutt, CA 93455
(805) 937-2211
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A classy take on ranchero barbecue, Far West is an Orcutt institution that seamlessly combines grilled meats like tri-tip, robs, and pork chops with upscale sides like prosciutto-wrapped jalapeños.

11. Old San Luis BBQ Co.

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Right on Higuera at the south end of downtown, Old San Luis BBQ Co. is a popular option for college kids and their families. The menu is a straightforward take on tri-tip and pulled pork, plus those grilled linguica sausages that are commonly found along the coast.

12. Scotty's BBQ

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5940 El Camino Real
Altascadero, CA 93422
(805) 464-2822
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An Atascadero eatery with a strong barbecue sense, Scotty’s does tri-tip, linguica, pulled pork, and full rib racks for $25. Don’t skip on the smoked chicken either, which is among the best around.

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1. Firestone Grill

1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Firestone’s is an essential stop for just about anyone passing through San Luis Obispo. The lines are long for cheap beer, giant bowls of fries, and the restaurant’s signature tri-tip sandwich, called out over the loudspeaker by number while throngs of adoring diners wait impatiently out on the summery patio.
1001 Higuera St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

2. Jocko's Steak House

125 N Thompson Ave, Nipomo, CA 93444
Lucas Peterson
Jocko’s is a beef lover’s dream, set down right in Nipomo cattle country where steaks, ribs, a variety of chops and some damn fine burgers are cooked over open flame out back all day long.
125 N Thompson Ave
Nipomo, CA 93444

3. Rancho Nipomo Deli and BBQ

108 Cuyama Ln, Nipomo, CA 93444
Rancho Nipomo is a popular Central Coast choice for tri-tip sandwiches and heaps of pulled pork, plus more unusual barbecue offerings like burritos and shrimp cocktails.
108 Cuyama Ln
Nipomo, CA 93444

4. Hitching Post II

406 E Highway 246, Buellton, CA 93427
A Buellton institution just off the highway (and a much easier drive than the family-owned original in Casmalia), The Hitching Post II is where locals mix with tourists over perfectly rendered steaks. The grill is on full display in the dining room, albeit behind glass, while the bar on the opposite side of the place lets folks play out their own Sideways wine dreams all night long.
406 E Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427

5. Wildwood Kitchen

410 E Haley St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
A new Santa Barbara barbecue option in a hip multi-use complex, Wildwood Kitchen is earning raves for its rosy tri-tip, well-cooked meats, and cozy environs.
410 E Haley St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

6. The Rib Line

228 W Grand Ave, Grover Beach, CA 93433
The Grover Beach outlet of Rib Line BBQ sits just off the public beach, making it a popular weekend dining spot for those passing through. Angus tri-tip is the starring sideshow (after those ribs), and you can even pile on the meat with giant sandwiches like the one-pound Baby Brahma, served in a grilled sourdough loaf.
228 W Grand Ave
Grover Beach, CA 93433

7. Tanner Jacks

2796 S Halcyon Rd, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
An Arroyo Grande barbecue specialist from breakfast through dinner, Tanner Jack’s is the place for tri-tip sandwiches smoked over applewood, or their Tuesday night all you can eat rib free-for-all.
2796 S Halcyon Rd
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

8. F.McLintocks Saloon & Dining House

750 Mattie Rd, Shell Beach, CA 93449
Google Maps
A Santa Maria barbecue favorite overlooking the ocean in Shell Beach, F. McLintock’s works their grills nightly with a variety of steaks, ribs, and tri-tip. They even grill their artichoke appetizers, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and a half-pound sirloin burger.
750 Mattie Rd
Shell Beach, CA 93449

9. Shaw's Steakhouse

714 Broadway, Santa Maria, CA
Set right in the heart of Santa Maria barbecue country, Shaw’s is a classic for thick slabs of tri-tip served straight-up wit some beans and a baked potato, or tossed into a strongly-stacked sandwich for easier eating. You can watch the masters at work in the kitchen as well.
714 Broadway
Santa Maria, CA

10. Far Western Tavern

300 E Clark Ave, Orcutt, CA 93455
A classy take on ranchero barbecue, Far West is an Orcutt institution that seamlessly combines grilled meats like tri-tip, robs, and pork chops with upscale sides like prosciutto-wrapped jalapeños.
300 E Clark Ave
Orcutt, CA 93455

11. Old San Luis BBQ Co.

San Luis Obispo, CA
Right on Higuera at the south end of downtown, Old San Luis BBQ Co. is a popular option for college kids and their families. The menu is a straightforward take on tri-tip and pulled pork, plus those grilled linguica sausages that are commonly found along the coast.

12. Scotty's BBQ

5940 El Camino Real, Altascadero, CA 93422
An Atascadero eatery with a strong barbecue sense, Scotty’s does tri-tip, linguica, pulled pork, and full rib racks for $25. Don’t skip on the smoked chicken either, which is among the best around.
5940 El Camino Real
Altascadero, CA 93422

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