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.
Juicy steaks, golden French fries, and a warm welcome make this dive-y steakhouse a Redding, California, neighborhood gem.
El-Amir's flame-kissed Lebanese flatbreads with bold spices and salty cheese are at least as good as pizza, and easier to eat on the road.
Mary Stewart's offers rib-sticking truck-stop Southern food -- bold flavors of Mississippi now rooted generations-deep in Southern California.
Don Pepe is a Fresno, California, maverick Mexican restaurant that serves perfectly poached shrimp in many forms.
Mahogany is a vintage California bacon & ham smokehouse that serves dozens of varieties of superb jerky and great deli sandwiches.
Parakeet Cafe in La Jolla, California, is a good stop for health-conscious travelers looking for quality coffee and organic food.
Hot dogs get the craftsman’s touch with homemade buns and condiments at JoJo's of San Bernardino. Don't miss funnel cake fries.
Sugar Pine is a country café on Yosemite’s doorstep serving masterful scones, biscuits, and muffins.
Scenic Drive-In is a Central California burger shack that is unique in its liberal use of fresh jalapeno peppers.