What To Eat in California
Roadfood highlights of Southern California include vintage surfer fare along the ocean, both soul food and stylin’ food in Los Angeles, the best tacos in the U.S.A. in and around San Diego, and classic SoCal coffee shops (NOT coffee houses).
Northern California boasts San Francisco, which is an eating universe all its own, including magnificent fish houses and breakfast joints and, of course, bakeries that yield great sourdough bread and more. Farther up the coast are oysters galore. And don’t forget Sacramento’s fantabulous Squeezeburgers.
Fish tacos first got popular in the U.S. close to their Baja roots. Today, the basic concept of fried (or grilled) fish with yogurt-mayonnaise sauce or an even zestier salsa has countless variations coast to coast; the best ones still are found in and around San Diego.
Long ago, when California was considered exotic and paradisaical, dates were an emblem of its appeal. Grown in the stately palm groves of the Coachella Valley, the luxury fruit inspired a drink that has gone beyond the desert and has been embraced by all of Southern California: the date shake. As if an ordinary milk shake weren’t sweet and creamy-rich enough, chopped dates blended in with the ice cream make this beverage more sumptuous than manna itself.
Anchored by the heft of fire‑charred red meat, Santa Maria barbecue is a feast that dates back to the bygone spirit of California cattle country The beef is accompanied by pinquito beans cooked long and slow, seasoned with pork, pepper, garlic, and onion. Lengths of buttered and garlicked toasted French bread are used for mopping the plate. The one other fundamental element is salsa, which can be used on everything: dolloped on the beans, spread on bread, and as relish for the meat.
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At Peter's Bakery, a San Jose, California, institution, the specialty is burnt almond cake, a regional favorite.
San Jose's memorable roadside drive-in is known for addictive falafel and lusciously creamy hummus. A true neighborhood eatery for all walks of life.
Tacos La Central: minimalist Tijuana-style tacos maximized with meats grilled over mesquite on flawless handmade tortillas.
An Escalon, California, community hub on the way to Yosemite, Hula's is a destination for ball-game style garlic fries and thick burgers.
A community watering-hole and Tex-Mex institution, Anchos is a frozen margarita oasis and family fajita parlor with a tortilla making gizmo.
H&W is a working carhop drive-in in Merced, California, with house-made root beer and old-style burgers and fries.
Pitty’s of Tulare, Calilfornia, feels like a family backyard BBQ, except for the fact that you eat inside an airplane.
An historic family cafe on Route 66, Mitla Cafe is indirectly responsible for popularizing America’s favorite Mexican fast-food: the crunchy taco.
Noah's Hof Brau is an old-fashioned Modesto, California, sandwich carvery that has morphed into a Chinese-American cafeteria. BBQ pork is superb.