Sumo Sushi Rolls Out the Big Guns

 There are seven sushi bars in SLO, each with its own style. In Sumo Sushi, you don’t see a lot of Japanese cultural things around. Sumo doesn’t give a crap whether it has a “traditional” or “authentic” atmosphere, they just want you to eat the food. And eat I did. With over thirty unique creations, sushi noobs and veterans alike can usually find something to pique their interest. They have other dining options, but it’s hard to imagine people going to Sumo Sushi to pay $18 for meat and rice dishes. Stick with the item on a big neon sign outside the restaurant.

Sumo Starter Salad. Sesame seeds are on literally everything in this place

Walking In

It’s pretty hilarious when the sushi chefs yell out some incoherent greeting and wave their hands around a bit when customers walk in and out, because you realize at some point that these guys are doing that routine dozens of times a day. The restaurant was about three quarters full when our group sat down but didn’t look that busy. Yet, it took eight minutes for someone to even approach us after we sat, and we only had one menu that we had to take from another table. That’s not ok at all, where the hell is Gordon Ramsay right now? We did get that small shredded seaweed and pickle dish that you see in  sushi places sometimes. The dish is perfect to clear up your palate while still having a bit of flavor, but the stuff Sumo whipped up was average at best. The crunchy/soft texture was nice, but with bland flavors, not as refreshing dish as it can be.

Starting Off

Fried goodness, pure and simple

We had calamari first, which is just Italian for squid. Why not just call it fried squid rings? It was served up, nice and hot, within a few minutes and was freakin delicious. The calamari had that perfect chewy but still soft texture, the breading was light, lemony and really flavorful. No complaints on the sauce either, tangy and sweet. I’m pretty sure we were all stoked on this squid. Calamari. Score one for Sumo.

Our rolls were served right as we were finishing off the last of the calamari. We had a nice variety on the table, and the colors of our sushi really stood out to us. Every one of them looked like a little piece of art, which is is what makes good sushi much more fun to eat. It is definitely an awkward food though, too big to eat whole but too soft to bite into a piece. 

Fun with Rolls

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Crunch Roll

Sesame Seeds. Everywhere.

The crunch roll is a staple of sushi bars. It’s loved for the texture of the crisp breading outside and the mini shellfish sampler on the inside. Nina, a second-year history major, admitted “I do not like sushi whatsoever. This is what attracted me to the crunch roll.” “The pictures really helped make my decision on this one.”

And how was actually eating it? “I really liked it!” said Nina. “I definitely would like more crunch, but overall it’s good. I like how they put the shrimp on the inside, which is different from Shin’s.” Her verdict? A respectable 7/10

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Love Love Roll

Why Malori, a third-year food science major, wanted riceless sushi is beyond me. Maybe actually knowing what sort of stuff is actually going into our food enables people to make informed choices about food consumption…or whatever. Some decisions are beyond me. Like going on a gluten-free diet. And giving up mayonnaise. Who doesn’t like mayonnaise? Well a lot of people actually, but seriously, it’s mayonnaise! Makes me happy. And sidetracked. LOOK AT THE PICTURE.

Authentic love love roll, made by real sushi chefs in San Luis Obispo, California.

This little pink roll does look easy to love, and Malori offered her expertise developed through years of study in SLO’s finest academic institutions, “The texture is really one dimensional, but not the flavor.” Note that the love love roll is spicy tuna – wrapped in more tuna.“The tunas have a distinct taste to them, and the avocado is a nice creamy part.” Overall, seems like Sumo scored another hit with their love love roll. Official score? 8.5/10

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Red Red Roll

Whenever I hear somebody talking during a presentation, or browsing the web when our professor is giving a lecture, it’s a good bet it’s Aryn (Like Erin but with fancy spelling). A second-year journalism major, she is a classmate and friend with a lot of writing talent, and you should check out her adventures here. A self-confessed sushi lover, she “wanted to think outside the box with my order.” Eventually she settled on the red and red roll, a spicy tuna-based roll with a chocolate colored sauce on top. 

Red Red Roll. Why two Reds? This is a spicy meatball here, so know your limits.

Aryn’s thoughts on this roll were mixed, “I know it says spicy on the menu, but this is a little more than I expected.The flavors are pretty balanced, and really good at first, but the amount of spicy in the tuna is overpowering.”

It’s unfortunate because this roll has potential to be a signature. Aryn summarized it well, “It’s good, but I wouldn’t order it again. I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend either.” Even with these thoughts, she felt like she had to score the roll a 7/10


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Westmoreland Roll

U.S. Army General William Westmoreland? Westmoreland County, PA? Westmoreland Coal Company? What the Westmoreland Roll is named after, I do not know. I do know that eating fried food is like having angels in your belly. Long story short I ordered a three fish sushi roll deep fried in tempura batter. 

This is definitely America's sushi roll.

This roll packs a lot of punch, flavorwise. Besides rice and seaweed, it has salmon, avocado and imitation crab on the inside. It is then deep fried and drizzled with an eel/mayonnaise sauce. I will repeat that one, eel and mayonnaise. After listing out the ingredients here, I realized this sounds like possibly the most disgusting thing you could put in your mouth. That’s why you need to trust me when I say this is one amazing sushi roll. Each flavor was distinct, except the crab which was lost in the medley. But the crunchy of the fried outside meshes very well with the layered interior of soft avocado and rich salmon. I will definitely be ordering this roll again, the different tastes are complex and delicious, while the fried part is certain to give you a pre-Thanksgiving buzz after finishing your meal. 8/10.

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Post-Rollfest Wind Down

Maybe we were still dazed after our meal, we decided that after feasting on all this sushi, it would be a great idea to polish it off with dessert. Unfortunately, just like for the rest of our meal, we had to signal the waiter so we could order. We always had to get the server’s attention, the point being that he never came to check on us. The whole meal had less-than stellar service, and it continued right up to the end.

Cheesecake and green tea ice cream are seldom mentioned in the same sentence, but we were all surprised at how much we liked this dish as a dish, and as an end to our meal. Malori summed this dessert up the best, “They are normal [tasting] by themselves, but the combination is really nice. The cheesecake is strong and the green tea ice cream is mellow.

Unlikely matchup but there is no doubt it's a great one.

The Wrap

Ranging in price from $8-$12 for a unique roll, sushi at Sumo is not the cheapest in San Luis Obispo. The service is really hurting, it looks like an operation that has become a little too lax with their service standards over the years. But you can see why this place is still in business. The food, almost across the board, ranges from pretty good to incredible. We all recommend the calamari as an appetizer, and after trying a variety of dishes, I think I can say that customers will be satisfied with the selection of rolls at Sumo.  Combined with its location just outside the heart of downtown and a quieter, more upscale atmosphere than other sushi restaurants, Sumo has a nice little recipe for success here in SLO. The service here needs real improvements, but I will be back to conquer another Westmoreland.

Mission Accomplished

Experience the Breakfast Service at Louisa’s Place

Louisa’s Place is located at:

964 Higuera Street

San Luis Obispo,CA 93401

(805) 541-0227

Now watch my awesome video about eating breakfast at one of the oldest continually running restaurants in San Luis Obispo!

SLO Health Agency doesn’t quite pass inspection

The Idea:

Seeing as how the target audience for this blog is intelligent, creative, and most of all, good-looking, I know that you, the readers, are fully capable of deciding where you want to eat in San Luis Obispo. I know you need no prodding, direction or marching orders. However, in your best interest, I decided to do a report detailing restaurants that were dinged by health inspectors. I wanted to know what SLO restaurants did not pass or severely underperformed in their health inspections.

Many counties operate their own health agencies. Every state has one. Not surprisingly, the main focus of a health department is…well…health. San Luis Obispo has a health agency tasked with keeping the 269,000+ residents of the county safe. Public health departments are charged with a wide variety of duties, depending on the amount of people they are responsible for. Here are some of them.

Common public health department services

  • Vaccination distribution
  • Food licensing and inspection
  • Mental health
  • Hazardous material storage and containment
  • Water quality tests
  • Tracking the spread of diseases
  • Elderly assistance

Location of SLO County Health


2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

After some Googling, I finally found my destination. Awkward page layout…why do I need to scroll to the bottom of a blank page?

From here, interested parties can look up any, and I mean ANY, restaurant or food service facility operating within county limits. You can review current and past inspections. You can also click on the citation and see the county code and description.

San Luis Obispo Health Agency Health Inspection Report

Good to know that the most popular restaurant in SLO is so fresh and so clean.

The quest:

But this isn’t what I’m looking for. I want to see restaurants that have received bad ratings. I want to know which ones have employees not washing their hands or cooking meat all the way. I want to see at-risk locations.

Unfortunately, there is no option to sort by rating. In fact, even the full list of city restaurants doesn’t include a ratings column. There is no grade or percent next to restaurants. How are residents and tourists supposed to know where to avoid eating in the city? It’s definitely public information, and sure it’s out there, but it’s not accessible.

I thought about sending in a written request for the information, but the ten day response time just wasn’t quick enough. I decided to visit the Health Department in person to get more answers.

I sat down with Cindy Rattigan, office supervisor, who explained the situation to me.

“Currently we have no option to sort the inspections by rating. The company that designed the database software just didn’t put that in.”

This is a weird answer. A wide variety of software programs allow you to organize lists by different methods. Price, date, customer reviews, name etc etc.

According to Rattigan, the department had their database redone a year ago by Fresno-based Decade Software Company. Not even employees can create a list with the parameters I was asking for. The ability to do it just didn’t exist. Supposedly the department is still working kinks out, and several times I was told “We’re just trying this out!”

The answers:

I was able to obtain a list of every restaurant in SLO, and there are plenty. 14 pages of brick-and-mortar locations in the city alone. At ~25 locations per page, this turned out to be a lot OF PLACES. A second, 15 page list detailed all the farmers’ markets, food and wine festivals, mobile food facilities, and other food based-events that are held in the city. Every one of these buildings and events needs a county permit to sell food.

Every food service location and business printed out. Holy mad cow! I found out that the risk factor on the paper has nothing to do with inspection results.

But still, even though the list was detailed, there was no way for the public, or even the health department themselves, to view a comprehensive list of ALL the food locations WITH ratings. There was not even a page that listed recent closures, as the Orange County Health Care Agency provides.

As an avid foodie, and concerned resident, I feel like it is my duty, and that of my talented, attractive readers to change this system. I was told that suggestions submitted online or in person were taken seriously, so here is my challenge to you. Write the San Luis Obispo Health Agency and demand that the information we deserve to know is easily accessible. Write that the public has a right to know which facilities are not up to snuff. We should know what locations are not handling and storing food properly. What locations have unclean bathrooms and eating areas. What “restaurants” show a fervent disrespect for the safety and well-being of the customers. Visitors can already view top-rated locations, why not bottom rated ones? The bottom line is that we all have a right to know the quality of our food.

The lazy:

For those of you don’t have the time to write out, here is a short paragraph you can copy and paste into the department’s comment form, located here. After timing myself, I found this takes only 10 seconds to do the whole thing. So seriously, stand up for yourself San Luis Obispo! We have the power! Just don’t be lazy…

Go to the form (Click Me!)

I am a concerned resident of San Luis Obispo County. I am writing to ask the Health Agency to change its online health inspection resource to be more accessible. Currently, the public can only view inspection results of individual facilities, but there is no master list that includes the inspection ratings. The public has a right to easily see and sort the ratings of all food facilities, and that functionality should be in the online resource. Even the department cannot do this for itself right now. At the very least, we should be able to view recent food facility closings. I urge you to contact Decade Software Company, the software developer, and request these changes as quickly as possible.

Thank you,

A Concerned Citizen

Eat Late in San Luis Obispo

So it’s past midnight, and you got some cravings. These cravings ain’t for no salad either. You want the sugar. You want the fat. You want the filling. Don’t you worry, right here is a map with some of the best late eats in SLO. Pizza, donuts, tacos. It’s all here in the list of places to eat past midnight in San Luis Obispo.

Eating on Campus at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Here is a little photo slideshow detailing different spots students can eat on campus. This slideshow does not show all of the locations provided, but it shows spots that are filling different niches on campus.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Royal Thai Serves Up SLO with Traditional Recipes

Unassuming and tucked away in a corner of a strip mall, just off of Foothill and Broad, sits Royal Thai Restaurant. Royal Thai has been serving both authentic regional Thai dishes and Bangkok-based cuisine to Slobispans for 14 years. I know Royal Thai best for their phat thai, curry dishes and spicy fried rice, all of which are excellent.

Royal Thai Restaurant, San Luis Obispo

 Like my Mo|Tav post, this entry is a restaurant review.

Authentic Thai food is very different from Western cuisine, from the ingredients to the cooking style. Lemongrass, basil, coconuts, cilantro, and various chilies served with grilled meat are staples of classic Thai dishes, and all of these ingredients feature prominently on the Royal Thai menu. Most of their entrees have simple ingredients, but the end result is almost always extremely satisfying. Authentic Thai looks to achieve a harmonious balance between the “four flavors:” sour, sweet, bitter and salty tastes. Heat is considered a different, though just as important aspect of the food; spicy chilies and sauces been used since Portuguese explorers first begin arriving in the 16thcentury and many authentic regional dishes use these chilies today. Often, “main courses” will feature 1-4 dishes which are shared between diners, though Royal Thai doesn’t promote this “family” style of eating directly, I encourage visitors to order and share different entrees in order to get a better overall taste of the venue.

For the portion sizes, Royal Thai entrees are reasonably priced and offer a diverse selection of Thai treats

As two opinions are always better than one, my friend Lena Haidar, a third-year graphic communications major at Cal Poly, accompanied me for our meal. While she admits to some experience with Thai restaurants, Royal Thai was a new experience for her.

We arrived but were not immediately greeted. About a minute later we were greeted and brought menus, though our waiter didn’t ask us for our drinks. We browsed for thirteen minutes before he returned for our drink and food orders, which was a little disappointing to us considering the restaurant had only four occupied tables, including us, and it seemed to be a slow night.

Royal Thai comfortably provides a calm atmosphere for its customers, including the lovely Lena

The atmosphere in Royal Thai is very subdued. Soft music plays in the background, the walls are adorned with a few pieces of Thai art and knick knacks but overall the restaurant seemed like a fairly normal setup, nothing to write home about but nothing noticeably wrong either. I did appreciate the cleanliness of the indoor seating area, everything from our utensils to the tablecloths looked fresh and clean. The restaurant does feature a very nice, though small, outdoor patio area, complete with umbrellas, shady plants, and a small fountain. When we went it was too cold to be outdoors, but if you can sit out there do so. The atmosphere is much more pleasant and relaxing, friends don’t have to worry about speaking or laughing too loudly as compared to the nearly silent interior.

Our food arrived eleven minutes later. I ordered the red curry, which consists of:

Red curry. Yes, it does taste as good as it looks

  • Bamboo shoots
  • Zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Sweet basil
  • Coconut milk
  • Chilies
  • Chicken
  • 2 sides of rice

The portions were large and came steaming hot, which is I always appreciate since curry is added bit by bit to the rice before being eaten, which can often leave it cold by the end of the meal if not served at that steaming temperature. After taking my first bite, the first thing that I noticed were that the shoots were still crunchy, not soggy, and signature aftertaste of fresh basil (not dried) came in to the palate at just the right time, which surprisingly brought a very soothing quality to the spicy dish. I ordered the dish how I will be ordering at most restaurants for this blog, cook’s preference. First I have to say I am a big fan of spicy food, and Royal Thai does not disappoint in this important aspect. The variety of spicy flavors of the chili meshed very well with the creaminess of the coconut milk and veggies while not being overpowering, though diners not comfortable with spicy food should definitely let the staff know. The chicken was cooked completely and had a great texture and taste, not overcooked like I have experienced at other Thai venues. Overall, I was very pleased with my dish, as I usually am when it comes to Royal Thai curries. I have sampled most of them and I haven’t found one that hasn’t met with approval.

Lena ordered a dish I had never tried before, the name simply said “Sizzling Hot Plate” which left me a bit curious, that sounds like a dish more at home at a Chilis franchise than a Thai restaurant. It had:

It sizzles, it's hot, and it's served on a plate. Creative dish naming in action at Royal Thai. Sorry for blurriness, still trying to work out my camera.

  • Mushroom
  • Onion
  • Baby Corn
  • Bell Pepper
  • Carrots
  • Snow Peas
  • House Oyster sauce
  • Chicken
  • 2 sides of rice

When it arrived, the dish looked like a typical veggie stir fry, though the house oyster sauce added a unique flavor to the whole thing. I also understood where the “Sizzling” part of the name originated, as the dish was served literally sizzling on a hot plate like a fresh egg cracked over a skillet. We could hear our dish coming out of the kitchen, and it’s always nice when a dish can stimulate all five senses.

“The fresh vegetables were very good,” commented Lena, “It’s all the vegetables I love in a stir fry. They were the perfect crispiness without being overcooked, which is easy to do with peas and carrots.”

The real mystery of this dish was the house oyster sauce. Admittedly, neither of us had any experience with the condiment, but we were at a loss for words on how to describe it, and we weren’t sure if we liked it. “For the house oyster, I can’t decide,” said Lena, “It’s not too saucy, which I like. It’s like salty but sweet, with a little tang. It’s almost like soy sauce combined with something sweeter.” Even with these complex flavors, I personally found the sauce to be a bit bland, though my partner seemed to enjoy it well enough.

Sam Koonvirarak, our server, turned out to be the owner as well. He opened Royal Thai in 1997 with his wife and his sister, and they have continued to manage it ever since. Born in Bankok, he emigrated to America and decided to bring the dishes of his homeland with him. “I try to give my food fresh ingredients and be as authentic as possible,” said Sam. He credits his success with the consistent, authentic cooking and location near the Cal Poly campus.

Another shot of the interior, you can see owner Sam helping two to-go customers.

The owner is definitely hesitant when I ask him what separates his food from other, similar Thai restaurants in San Luis Obispo. I’m not sure if he doesn’t know what to say or doesn’t want to offend, I’m guessing the latter. “Many other places are very similar [to our style of food], but we try not to be as Americanized as others.” He firmly holds that while he has made a few concessions to American and SLO diners, it’s paramount that the restaurant uses authentic Thai recipes and cooking techniques. He also believes a key to his success has be building a base of repeat customers. One of these repeat customers, Karen Ensrobian, agreed. Karen is a fifth-year philosophy major at Cal Poly, and when she overheard me asking Sam what keeps people coming back, she chimed in “It’s delicious!

According to her, one of the big draws of Royal Thai is the, “portion size, they’re huge! But honestly it depends on my mood on whether I come here or go somewhere else. I like this restaurant for casual eating, when I just want to get some good Thai. But when I’m out on a nice date or want a more upbeat atmosphere, I usually go for somewhere downtown.” Like Thai Classic or the upscale, fun Thai Palace.

It should be apparent that the food here is quite tasty and with many entrees being under ten bucks, it’s also very affordable. What this restaurant lacks more than anything, is quality customer service, and it wasn’t just this time. I’ve been to Royal Thai several times now, and every time my group seems to be waiting just a little too long. Sam seems to enjoy working the floor, but he is in and out of the kitchen so much he often misses diners coming in.

Though the restaurant was almost empty, service still lacked a little

Such was the case when I was asking him a few questions, he had totally missed a well-dressed couple come in and seat themselves, as we did. They left after ten minutes without being approached once, and Sam missed out on two customers. I felt bad because I had been distracting him with my questioning, but the bottom line is that the customers had been sitting by themselves before Sam even emerged from the kitchen, and it is the job of the restaurant to greet and serve all their patrons in a timely fashion. My water was left empty twice, and I noticed that other diners just coming in were served in a haphazard fashion, only two of four were even greeted. Drink orders took too long for the other diners.

It’s unfortunate that the service mars what is otherwise a very enjoyable dining experience. Though Royal Thai doesn’t boast the most vibrant atmosphere, the real star is the cooking, and that cooking is incredible. As long as the restaurant gives the adequate customer service that all customers deserve, the complex, varied and delicious flavors Royal Thai offers will certainly bring diners back for seconds.

Taco Tuesday SLOdown

Taco Tuesday SLOdown

Tuesday is a special day of the week for me. I grew up in a city in Southern California named Santa Ana. It is a city rich in Mexican culture, and Tuesdays always meant authentic, delicious tacos for only a buck. Taco Tuesday is perhaps one of the easiest promotions a Mexican restaurant can run, and most people have at least a dollar to shell out for tacos (get it?).

Unlike my last post, which was a straight review, I will be comparing the different Mexican restaurants in town

For me, good Mexican tacos have a few traits:

  • Firstly, the meat needs to be grilled, tender, and spiced. Traditional Mexican meat is spiced in the preparation stage, and should be able to stand on its own with a distinctive, rich taste.

  • The next category is flavor. Mexican food is renowned for its wide variety of spices and sauces. Galic, cilantro, onions, jalapeños and other chiles are prominent in Mexican cooking.

  • My final category is consistency. Many taco joints can’t seem to get this last one right, but it is vital to the perfect taco. Greasy meat, extremely watery salsa, and flour tortillas that disintegrate on touch are common mistakes made at taco joints across the country. A diner should also be able to distinguish between each main ingredient, sometimes one gets the impression they are eating Mexican mush instead of a taco.

Rules:

  • I compared five Mexicans hotspots in San Luis Obispo: Chilie Peppers, Taco Roco, Chinos Rock and Tacos, Taco de Mexico and Tacos de Acapulco

  • I ordered what I consider to be the quintessential Mexican taco. One soft-shell flour tortilla carne asada taco, with everything. What “everything” is I left up to the restaurant

  • If the restaurant didn’t serve carne asada, I ordered shredded beef.

  • For a second opinion, I went taco tasting with my roomate and good friend, Jono.

  • For those who are visual learners, I’ve added a scientifically-developed Taco Rating Index based on Meat, Flavor, and Consistency. Maximum 5 tacos per category.

Chilie Peppers

Chilie Peppers Front

Outside Chilie Peppers

Runner-up for best Mexican food in SLO county, Chilie Peppers enjoys a wide following with Cal Poly students partially because of one of the restaurant’s location right off Foothill and Santa Rosa. The other location is  on Broad and South street, and is, in my opinion, clearly the better of the two. It’s cleaner, offers great outdoor patio seating, and the cooks are much friendlier.

Chilie Peppers Cooks

These cooks are happy to make me tacos. I am happy to eat them.

The taco had:

Chilie Peppers Tacos

Chilie Peppers Tacos

  • Carne Asada
  • Sour Cream
  • Cilantro
  • Onion
  • Shredded queso blanco
  • Red salsa

This taco was wonderful. The meat was especially good, and definitely had a rich, spicy-yet-herbal character that comes with time-tested techniques and practice. The taco had a great, spicy kick in the beginning, and finishes off very smoothly. There was not too much of the spicy sauce, and I could really taste the different flavors and textures of the taco. One part about this taco I didn’t like was the fact that I didn’t get enough meat. I ended up eating a lot more veggies and tortilla than meat, which was disappointing. My partner had the same problem with his taco, though we both agreed the meat we did get was succulent and flavorful. These $1 south of the border tastes are totally worth it.

chilie peppers rating

Taco Roco

Taco Roco Front

Taco Roco Front

Personally, I usually go to Taco Roco to get their al pastor meat, which is heavily marinated pork slowly roasted on a spit. But in the spirit of the challenge, and due to their lack of carne asada, I ordered the shredded beef taco for $1. This place was absolutely packed when I went in, a sure sign of success I hoped.

Taco Roco Inside

Taco Roco was really busy! Not too busy to give me tasteless tacos.

This taco had:

  • Shredded Beef
  • Shredded cheddar and white cheese (Monterrey jack?)
  • Light green lettuce

    Taco Roco Tacos

    Taco Roco Tacos. The foil-wrapped container was the nicest part of this meal.

The first bite of this taco flooded my mouth with its hot liquid. Ok, wait… let’s rephrase that. The shredded beef was extremely juicy and tender, but didn’t really have much in the way of independent flavor. The rest of this taco was deplorable. Which means pretty damn bad. This taco tasted even worse than Taco Bell’s dogmeat concoctions, and that is saying something. The tortilla was undercooked and crumbly, the lettuce added absolutely nothing to this taco but a lot of tasteless green stuff to chew. The cheese blend did nothing for this taco. From Jono, “I was not satisfied whatsoever. The taco falls apart, and it leaves this weird, grotesque taste in my mouth.” Ew, this thing was bad. Sorry Taco Roco, you must be Mucho Loco if you think this is acceptable.

I also wanted to note that we stopped to pick up a drink here, and two times in a row the styrofoam cups had tiny holes that leaked everywhere. One is understandable but two in a row? Disappointing.

tacoroco rating

Chino’s Rock & Tacos

Chinos Rock & Tacos

Chinos Rock & Tacos. Obviously a match made in heaven.

When we showed up at Chino’s, the line was out the door. This is the only place on my stop I had never tried before, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. The place definitely had the cleanest and most professional feel out of any of my stops on this trip. Extremely clean and decorated with a unique combination of rock and roll memorabilia, Mexican cultural trinkets and Spanish language signs (The name makes sense now), the owner of Chino’s definitely has a good aesthetic sense. $1 tacos and $2 beers can’t go wrong for most students either, but let’s get to the important bits.

Chinos Line

Lines out the door always are never a bad sign

The taco had:

  • Shredded Beef
  • Shredded yellow/white cheese blend
  • Dark green lettuce – the same type they serve at the Chipotle chain
Chinos Taco

A taco from Chino's. I got a headstart on the camera.

Compared to Taco Roco, the Chino’s taco, which had pretty much the same ingredients, was a whole different world. It’s like talking to the older brother that has a great career, gave up drinking and drugs, and can tell you some great stories. Maybe that isn’t the best analogy, but I think you can get the idea. This taco was pretty average, which made it better in every way shape and form than its counterpart at Taco Roco. The lettuce offered a nice crunch without overdoing it, the shredded beef was spiced and had a good taste and texture to it. But again, the cheese blend was something the taco could do without. Putting cheese on tacos is a strictly American tradition, one that I prefer not to perpetuate. Different cheeses, specifically the crumbly white queso panela can be good on tacos, but again, that’s not very authentic. Alexa, another diner, offered her insight on Taco Tuesdays at Chino’s. “I like coming here because of the atmosphere and the deals are good. This isn’t the best taco I’ve ever had, but for the value and location in the heart of downtown, it makes Chino’s worth it for us.

I had nothing bad to really say about the Chino’s taco, but nothing that stood out to me as particularly well done. Free chips and salsa with the meal is nice. Decent on all fronts.

chinos rating

Taco de Mexico

Taco de Mexico Front

Taco de Mexico front

Taco de Mexico is the only place where I saw actual Mexican people eating, which is always a good sign. Ethnic restaurants that attract people of the same heritage are usually dialed-in on the culture and often have authentic recipes that have been passed down through generations. Taco de Mexico definitely feels like a mom-and-pop Mexican diner, though I will say this place always seems to be close to empty. Such was the case when I walked in that night. The lighting is a little dark, and the restaurant suffers from feeling cramped, in a way I can’t really describe. But the staff was extremely friendly, and even let me snap a few photos of the cooking process, which I really appreciated.

Taco de Mexico Cook

This is Tegulcio and he makes the tacos. Say hello to all your fans Tegulcio

Taco de Mexico Meat

Beef...its what's for tacos

The taco had:

Taco de Mexico Tacos

Taco de Mexico tacos are happily cheese-free

  • Carne Asada
  • Cilantro
  • Onions
  • A red sauce with some jalapeno seeds

This is a taco I am more used to. The meat was excellently spiced, but had a slightly chewy texture which signified a bit of overcooking. The flavors in the red sauce were perhaps the best I have tasted in this city. It combined spicy with tangy, while letting the fresh cilantro boldly tie the two together. I personally prefer the jalapeño seeds, though not all do as they can be a bit too spicy. However, the insides of the taco were let down by the outside. The flour tortilla, like Taco Roco’s, had that crumbly, I’m-gonna-break-in-half-if-you-even-dare-to-bend-me texture, something that unfortunately detracted from the otherwise great meal. Maybe that is because they are using precooked tortillas reheated on a grill, though I seem to recall Chilie Peppers doing the same thing without issue.

José, a San Luis Obispo local for three years, gave me his opinion on Taco de Mexico. “I like it here, almost everything is good. But in this city the food is not as authentic. Real Mexican food has more spices in the food and spiciness in the meat.” I was happy that he also agreed with my cheese issue, no real Mexican tacos have cheese. Luckily, Taco de Mexico was using traditional recipes that passed up cheesy tacos, something we can be grateful for.

I have to mention that Taco de Mexico does not actually run a Taco Tuesday promotion, and I paid full price, $2.15 for single taco.

tacomex rating

Tacos de Acapulco

Taco de Acapulco

Tacos de Acapulco

Tacos de Acapulco was next to empty when I walked in, and though they had three people working the kitchen, nobody seemed to be paying attention to the front end, which had two dirty tables and some trash on the floor as well. I’ve only been here once, and to be honest it was terrible. Many Mexican eateries in the Central Coast tend to drape on guacamole, sour cream, and red sauce on top of already-prepared burritos or tacos, and Taco de Acapulco is one place that sticks out in my mind for doing this. But I ordered the same as all the others. One carne asada taco with everything.

Taco de Acapulco Inside

The only other diners in the restaurant

Taco de Acapulco Cooks

Must be hard to hold that bag with all the grease in the kitchen.

The taco had:

  • Carne Asada
  • Onions
  • Cilantro
  • Red Sauce
  • Guacamole
Taco de Acapulco Taco

Tacos de Acapulco tacos. And they look so innocent....

There was one thing that stuck out above all other factors when I first took a bite of this taco and the was the grease. My partner-in-crime Jono couldn’t have put it better when he said the taco “was scooped out of grease.” The meat actually had a decent flavor to it but it was completely overshadowed by the fact that I felt like I was sinking my teeth into a ball of solid animal fat. A pleasant image, I know, but to be honest I can’t think of how else to describe it. We journeyed on, hoping the taco would be better in the middle, but the grease only thickened. It covered every part of this taco, which was particularly large. The spices on it were decent but the texture and meat were ruined by the fatty fiesta in my mouth. I didn’t expect much from Taco de Acapulco in the first place, but this was ridiculous. The fact that this place doesn’t offer a Taco Tuesday promotion only makes me more certain that I will never want to endure this restaurant again. For what I got, I should be paying 50 cens, not $2.25 a taco. Ridiculous!tacoap rating

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Ninety minutes and five tacos later, I think I can say I got a pretty decent taste of the basic Mexican cuisine of San Luis Obispo. I have to say, while this city doesn’t quite match the authenticity, selection and taste that Santa Ana can, students who are craving decent tacos can satisfy themselves locally. Taco de Mexico is great but not amazing, though, and with a few adjustments they could be contenders for the best Mex in town. Chino’s is good if students are looking to mingle with their peers in the middle of downtown. From personal experience, I know Taco Roco has some food that can actually hold its ground against other eateries, specifically their al pastor meat and most of their burritos, but stay away if you are looking for value for your dollar on Taco Tuesday. Don’t even bother with Tacos de Acapulco, I have a feeling they won’t be in business much  longer.

For the best Taco Tuesday deal, Chilie Peppers on Broad Street is my clear favorite. The overall quality and value of their tacos is a step-ahead of anything else I found in SLO, and the workers are always friendly. This was my second time in the restaurant, and both times the cooks have offered me something special they are making for themselves that isn’t on the menu. This time it was this shrimpy-dip thing that, while I had no idea what was in it, was pretty delicious. And for free, you can’t go wrong.

For the best Taco Tuesday deal, Chilie Peppers on Broad Street is my clear favorite. The overall quality and value of their tacos is a step-ahead of anything else I found in SLO, and the workers are always friendly.

Shrimp Dip

Shrimp Dip Chip. Looks good? Free things always do. Thanks again Chilie Peppers for a great meal and value.

Two other notable San Luis Obispo restaurants, Tonitas and Pepe Delgados, were left out of this comparison due to budget and time restrictions.