Interior of a London Coffee House (1668). | Image: Unknown artist, British Museum
Please keep in mind that the Saturday of the conference is Valentine’s Day, so reservations are essential for most of the restaurants listed below.
Restaurants that do not take reservations or where you may be able to get in without reservations are noted on the following list.
For breakfast and coffee:
Three of the four conference hotels include a free breakfast and the fourth, the Apple Farm Inn, has its own restaurant. The following alternatives are all within a ten-minute walk of the conference hotels.
Apple Farm Restaurant and Bakery (2015 Monterey Street) Apple Farm Restaurant offers a full breakfast menu, tending towards heartier fare. On Sundays they have a special brunch menu. They also offer a 20% discount for students with a student ID. They are open daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Splash Café and Bakery (1491 Monterey Street) Although Splash is primarily known for their clam chowder and fish sandwiches, they also have a wide selection of pastries and breakfast sandwiches. Open on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Sundays through Thursdays from 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.). They also have locations in downtown SLO and Pismo Beach.
Steynberg Gallery (1531 Monterey Street) This combination art gallery, events space, and coffee shop serves bagels, pastries, breakfast burritos and, of course, tea and coffee. Steynberg is probably your best option for coffee or espresso drinks close to the conference hotels. It’s also a good place to catch up on email or get some work done. They are open daily 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For dinner in downtown San Luis Obispo:
Big Sky Café (1121 Broad Street) Big Sky specializes in fresh, healthy food inspired by global cuisine and sourced when possible from local producers. Their menu offers a wide range of options, from lighter sandwiches and salads to heartier entrees and includes a number of excellent vegetarian options. Their local wine by the glass list is always solid and usually boasts around twenty choices. They do not accept reservations on weekends, meaning that while there will be a wait, it may be possible to get a table on Valentine's Day.
Firestone Grill (1001 Higuera Street) An institution among Cal Poly students, Firestone Grill is primarily known for their tri-tip sandwiches and salads, but also serves the usual range of pub food. The inside section is essentially a sports bar, but most patrons opt for the extensive outdoor seating area. No reservations accepted. (But don’t be surprised to see a long line of college students waiting to order. The line usually moves fast.)
Goshi Japanese Restaurant (570 Higuera Street, #20, in the Creamery Building) Easily the best place for sushi in SLO county. The tradeoff is that reservations are pretty much always required. They also have a Paso Robles location, should you find yourself hungry for sushi after wine tasting later in the weekend.
Grenada Bistro (1126 Morro Street) The newest “it” place in downtown SLO for upscale dining, although it would probably seem unremarkable in a larger town. Their menu is inspired by local, seasonal ingredients and the cuisine of Spain.
Novo Restaurant (726 Higuera) An institution and perennial “Best of SLO” winner. Their tapas and wine list are good, but the atmosphere is better. Sit outside on their creekside patio, under the trees and white lights. Reservations always strongly recommended.
Palazzo Giuseppe’s (1010 Court Street) Guiseppe’s offers a solid and wide selection of Italian food, with particularly good pizzas. The full menu is available at the bar, which is also a good place to get a drink without being surrounded by undergrads. It’s always busy on weekends, but there’s a good chance you could get food at the bar without needing a reservation. Guiseppe’s also has a location in Pismo Beach, if you find yourself at the South County beaches later in the weekend.
Luna Red (1023 Chorro Street) Luna Red offers extensive outdoor seating within view of SLO’s eighteenth-century mission and a full bar inside. The menu is primarily tapas.
Taqueria Santa Cruz Express (1308 Monterey St.) As the name suggests, this is a branch of a small Santa Cruz chain. It is also as good as Mexican food is going to get in SLO. This no-frills taco joint offers good tacos and an all-you-can-eat chips and salsa bar. It’s also closer to the conference hotels than most of the downtown restaurants and would be a good casual (no reservations needed) choice, especially on Valentine’s Day.
Quality Suites Poolside BBQ (1631 Monterey St) Not a real restaurant but a good option for those who don’t wish to venture far from the conference hotels, especially on Valentine’s Day. Every Monday through Saturday, the Quality Suites offers a poolside barbeque including tri-tip sandwiches, veggie burgers, hot dogs, burgers, wine and beer. All items are $6 or under.
For late night food & drink:
Pappy McGregor’s (1865 Monterey St.) This Irish-themed pub has won “Best Bar/Pub” every year since it opened in 2006. Even better, it’s within an easy walking distance of the conference hotels. The bar stays open until 1 a.m. each evening.
For dinner further afield:
Café Roma (1020 Railroad Avenue) Café Roma is a SLO institution, serving classic Italian dishes. As the address might suggest, it shares a parking lot with the train station. Café Roma is guaranteed to be booked solid on Valentine’s Day.
Meze Wine Bar & Bistro (1880 Santa Barbara St.) Meze is located in the Railroad District, a bit beyond downtown. Primarily a wine bar, they also serve a selection of sandwiches and tapas. It is fine to park in the large lot behind their building, which also serves as parking for the train station.
The Range (2317 G St, Santa Margarita, CA 9345) This is arguably the best and most interesting of the fine dining options in SLO County. Located 8 miles north of Cal Poly in the tiny and quintessentially western town of Santa Margarita, the Range has perfected wine-centric cowboy-chic. It has little-to-nothing for vegetarians, but if you’re looking for an excellent steak and an equally wonderful local wine list, this is the place. It is cash only and doesn’t take reservations.
Paso Robles restaurants
If you find yourself in Paso (perhaps for wine tasting?) later in the weekend, the following are generally regarded as the best restaurants in town. They all normally require reservations.
Artisan (843 12th St, Paso Robles, CA 93446).
Thomas Hill Organics: Bistro & Wine Bar (1313 Park Street)
Villa Creek (1144 Pine Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446)
South County restaurants
If the beaches or bird watching draws you to South County, you may want to try the following restaurants for dinner.
Ember Restaurant (1200 E Grand Ave, Arroyo Grande, CA)
Morro Bay restaurants
Dorn's Original Breakers Cafe (801 Market Ave, Morro Bay, CA)
Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant (1245 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA)