Our Favorite Central Coast Mexican Grills

Our Favorite Locally Owned Central Coast Mexican Restaurants 

YOUR NEW AMIGOS

Papi's Grill Saturday/Sunday Ceviche, Served in a red basket, the way God intended. 

Thanks to the interest on our San Luis Obispo Salsa Review and the Best Central Coast Bottle Shops, we felt due to talk Mexican food and Central Coast taquerias. The premise is to seek, consume and spread the best of the Central Coast locally owned, publicly favored, yet lesser known or hard to find Mexican restaurants. We did our best to deliver a solid list; there were a few places we tragically had to leave off, but rest assured, we'll get to them. These are our favorites.

Notice it reads our favorites. Feel free to comment with your favorite local Mexican/taqueria cuisine--think about it, when someone says "let's get a burrito," where does your mind go? No wrong answers. We're continuously looking for local haunts. All titles click-through to restaurant's respective Facebook page.

Vaqueras (Santa Maria)  

1555 S. Broadway, Santa Maria

 One monster Vaqueras burrito, cut in half, you know, to fit on a plate. 

One monster Vaqueras burrito, cut in half, you know, to fit on a plate. 

Soon opening a brick and mortar Mexican restaurant at Battles and S. Broadway, Vaqueras brought the fabled Saturday night food truck mythos alive in Santa Maria. I've heard Vaqueras will push the food truck into full-time catering, which sounds like great food accompanied weddings. Ever been to a taco bar wedding? You remember those long after the bride and groom part fades. Oh yeah, the wedding with the tacos. Goddamn those were good. 

At one point, the only way to find out when and where this food was served involved tracking their Facebook announcements. You'd stay hungry, waiting for that post to fire off, then you and some amigos would race downtown somewhere for a meal. 

 Vaqueras shrimp tacos. You need to make this part of your rotation.  

Vaqueras shrimp tacos. You need to make this part of your rotation.  

The City of Santa Maria will soon be pushing out plans for Friday night events at Broadway & Main St., which the Californist is told is supportive and encouraging food truck culture. Finally, Central Coast. Finally. If I were running for mayor, food trucks would be part of my political platform. This has been a long time coming, especially in a city like Santa Maria. 

Vaqueras makes the best shrimp tacos you'll find anywhere on the central coast. Another great thing to try and split--or don't--is their California burrito. Made with avocado, whatever meat, fries, cheese, the works. It's the kind of thing people from other countries try while visiting California and realize they should have come to this state, and area, sooner. Vaqueras serves pride in their dishes and wants the customer to remember how great California Mexican cuisine can be when the chef is attentive to detail. Another Vaqueras staple is the Dodger dog style bacon-wrapped hotdog, I've never had one, but the dog has a following and this post would be amiss without the nod. 

Chacho's (Oceano)  

1911 Cienaga St, Oceano, CA 93445

Oceano is a weird place, the US census doesn't describe it as a town or city, it's described as a "census designated place." There you have it, an official place. Guy's, guys. Let's go to the place. The official one. When you drive through this hard luck community, it resonates this oddly small and discordant tone and feels like it may have been a thriving beach community in its heyday maybe sixty years ago. Buildings fallen in disrepair, blighted by suburban sprawl and unusual businesses lining the PCH on this never publicized portion of the trek. People come here for two reasons, the Melodrama and damn fine Mexican food. Not in that order.

Chacho's is a sincere California institution. Anyone raised in AG or Grover Beach knows Chacho's because they were pampered by having it for a neighbor. There are two tables inside. God forbid it's raining and a big ass family shows up and wants to stay.  

 Since burritos aren't photogenic, here's some of their carne street tacos. Notice the double tortilla? Good detail. They know what they're doing. 

Since burritos aren't photogenic, here's some of their carne street tacos. Notice the double tortilla? Good detail. They know what they're doing. 

They make their tortillas on-site, which is half the reason to come to Chacho's, and also an insane feat considering the size of this place rivals most shoe boxes. But I'm telling you, there is no better meal. There is no better tortilla. Stop searching for one. It's been here for 30 years. Forbid the day it goes away. Hell, I'm heading up to the Bay area tonight and you know where I'm stopping for my road-'rrito? That's right, the BAY AREA. They have over 5,000 restaurants. But they don't have Chacho's.

Everyone comes to Chacho's for their delicious $5 burritos. They make a library of Mexican cuisine, but honestly, pick up a burrito. And when you say "extra guac, please." They know what you mean. If this place is bursting at the seams and the wait feels interminable--hey--sometimes a Chacho urge grips the coast, head a block north to Efren's Deli and scoop up a burrito there, they're another great Oceano Mexican haunt with amazing late night, drunk-friendly hours. 

Tacos De Acapulco (San Luis Obispo & Grover Beach) 

1273 Laurel Lane, San Luis Obispo

1051 S 13th St. Ste E, Grover Beach

Tacos De', as we call it, has two establishments: Grover Beach and SLO. SLO folk will take you here after you've gotten into their inner circle. It's one of those places that's out of the way enough that you can't just "run by there" from downtown. The bike path is near so you can bike from downtown using the RXR trail, but most people drive. The shop is in this bonafied creepy strip mall whose best days must have been the in late '70s. When you visit, Tacos De Acapulco will probably be the only storefront on the strip with a pulse. Everyone who is anyone about Mexican food in SLO eventually ends up here. 

Here's the surprising part, get a vegetarian order. I know that you want that meat dish, but hear me out. They are known for their vegetarian especial burrito, a standard SLO go-to. It's insane, loaded with a skillet-full of grilled and fresh veggies, made generously spicy with cajones. Stands as a testament to what vegetarian food can and should beSavory and massive, you'll be hauling your burrito roach into two-maybe-three meals. 

 Not the vegetarian burrito. Still, doesn't this chicken burrito look patriotically incredible? Like five meals there. Or one if I've had a couple beers and it's 2am. 

Not the vegetarian burrito. Still, doesn't this chicken burrito look patriotically incredible? Like five meals there. Or one if I've had a couple beers and it's 2am. 

The chicken burritos are also regular go to for me when I'm aiming for protein, as the cooks season and grill the chicken with focus on savory and spicy. Their Mexican staples aren't choked by iceberg lettuce and can be adjusted to personal taste, you want more veggies--boom, it's happening. If it's your first time trying Tacos De Acapulco, I strongly encourage you to heed the crowd and go for the vegetarian burrito. Even if you don't trust vegetarians, this burrito will deceive you into loving a meat free option.   

La Picosita (Santa Maria)

923 N Broadway, Santa Maria

 True story, those potted flowers are a tribute for a gang shooting that happened here. Yes, a dude died. Yes, this place is completely safe now. But eating here will up your street cred.

True story, those potted flowers are a tribute for a gang shooting that happened here. Yes, a dude died. Yes, this place is completely safe now. But eating here will up your street cred.

It's hard to talk about Santa Maria without addressing the elephant in the room. Murder City, I mean Santa Maria, is only dangerous if you're in a gang. But if you're statistically anybody else, you're safe. The shootings you've heard about are gang related and aren't happening on random doorsteps. That said, this place has totally had a shooting that resulted in a death on its doorstep, let it be known, it was years ago and they've been fine ever since. You think it's hard opening a restaurant, try opening one with a homicide on the stoop months after ribbon cutting.

Honestly though, jokes aside, do not be afraid of eating at any Santa Maria restaurant. I've walked miles through the "rough parts of town" and have never been harassed or met anything other than warm, gracious hospitality. The Santa Maria public wants the gang crap to end more than anyone else. Besides, Santa Maria has the best thrift stores on the planet, hands down. Two reasons to venture into the city limit. Make a day of thrifting and tacos. 

La Picosita has some of the kindest, humblest California souls flipping tortillas and stacking meats found anywhere. This authentic Mexican joint is on the north end of Santa Maria. Come here for the incredibly inexpensive and addictive street tacos, carne asada, chicken, pork, whatever. They're all amazing. Grilled, seasoned and hand worked. Next time your friend throws a BBQ, be a hero and show up with a couple containers of nachos, be sure to get some pork or carne asada toppers. Truly the most delicious nachos you'll find anywhere on the Central Coast, packed with pico, cilantro, guac and impeccable tortilla chips. Plus, the tortillas are freshly made, a trend for the best. La Picosita is also flexible with tinkering your order. A true under the radar establishment. Most people who love Mexican food in Santa Maria know this restaurant like it's mother's kitchen. Although there are lots of amazing Mexican restaurant choices in Santa Maria, La Picosita remains boldly in the top-five.

There's another thing people neglect to tell you about Santa Maria, in SLO you'll drop $10 on a burrito, in Santa Maria, you can get a burrito for $4.00. Don't believe me? Check out Taqueria Guerrero at 123 W. Main St. Santa Maria.

Papi's Grill (Pismo Beach)

1090 Price St., Pismo Beach

 These places have that bare knuckle street taco vibe. The best places wear this as a coat of arms. 

These places have that bare knuckle street taco vibe. The best places wear this as a coat of arms. 

It's like the Gods overheard me one day when I was praying for a San Diego style street taco joint in downtown Pismo. The newest Mexican joint on the Central Coast, Papi's Grill will soon be an institution. The menu is on a chalkboard, they don't have a website yet, so you'll want to take a photo of their current menu, which seems to have some seasonality. If you're in a rush, call ahead. They're awesome about pick-ups.

 Potato tacos, simple, light and delicious.  

Potato tacos, simple, light and delicious.  

Family owned and operated, Melissa, co-owner with her husband/chef Rosendo, states "Papi's is a compilation of our home cooking. We would spend Sunday's cooking and eating." Adding, "We started the process of opening a restaurant with the idea of having a hibachi/sushi style restaurant, as that is Rosendo's restaurant background. Rosendo spent 20 years managing a restaurant and it was time to open something for ourselves. Luckily, that opportunity fell through and we switched directions." Sometimes life takes these wonderful turns and great things emerge from the newly acquainted road. Their tacos range from $1.50 to a few dollars and they have a over a dozen varieties.

I highly recommend ordering their daily special: (3) tacos for $7, the special is usually slow-cooked buttered beef, but sometimes carnitas or another specialty. Also recommended are their fish and shrimp tacos, loaded with pico, cilantro, onions and their sauce--the sweet and addictive sleeper ingredient. Papi's sauces are incredibly delicious.

Try their pozole when available. On cold days especially, it's phenomenal seasoned comfort food. Their vegetarian friendly potato tacos come as a pair. Tacos so good that you ask yourself if you really need meat in every meal, a reminder how tacos can be healthy, low-cholesterol and still a delicacy. 

Papi's Grill also makes burgers and fries, but you won't find me ordering any of that blasphemy. Either way, if you come on a weekend, Saturday or Sunday, you've won the lottery, my friend, because you get to order the ceviche. Best ceviche in the five cities.  

Taco Temple (Morro Bay)

2680 Main St., Morro Bay

Another incredible Central Coast institution. It's easy to spot from the PCH Hwy 1 as you venture north from SLO to Big Sur, it'll be on your right side as you pass Morro Rock. The Temple is cash only. I know, I don't know why either. They clearly make a killing so I'm doubting this will change in our lifetime.

Taco Temple is one of those places I heard about from a dude visiting from LA. He confided he and his wife decided to take a trip to Morro Bay specifically for Taco Temple and then after that, he said, "maybe we'll hit up some wineries." A big ole' fat maybe for that piddly little wine country up here. Seriously, people drive from everywhere to eat here. I was in Bristlecone Pine National Park a few years ago, when I told the ranger I was from the Central Coast he said, "How close is that to the Taco Temple?"

And as the fabled UK line goes, the best seafood is offered next to the sea. Get anything here made with seafood. Yes, they also make fantastic grilled and seasoned carne asada, pork and marinated chicken, but trust a local. Even if you HATE seafood, this is likely to be the seafood meal that opens the door for you. I hated seafood growing up, until I discovered and was saved by fish tacos. 

I strongly urge you to get the Alaskan Cod burrito, which can be turned into tacos, salad, whatever. Their scallop dish is also hugely popular. Witness the bliss. 

 You go to Morro Bay, you seek the seafood. Californist trade secret. 

You go to Morro Bay, you seek the seafood. Californist trade secret. 


Now I'm hungry. There are plenty of excellent restaurants throughout the Central Coast and we'll of course touch on more down the road. We would love to hear about your favorite hole-in-the-wall haunt in the comment section here. If you enjoyed this piece, give our San Luis Obispo Salsa Review a read. Do you enjoy hard chilling in rad gardens? Cool, we wrote about our favorite gardens for hard chilling here

HONORABLE MENTIONS - DESTINATIONS FOR EDITION 2

We know, your favorite Mexican grill isn't on the list, that just means we need to try more places. Some notable mentions for Edition 2 are listed below. Add yours in the comment section.

  • Lo Mejor De Jalisco (Santa Maria)
  • Juanitas (Grover Beach)
  • Romos (Guadalupe)
  • La Casita (Los Osos)