"San Luis Obispo--It offers exciting choices in restaurants"


By Joe Hilbers

A memorable meeting was one of the highlights of our culinary adventures in San Luis Obispo.

The Writer must go back to the middle 1970s. At that time I was with a publication that had a continuing series entitled "Success Story". The series with photos and text spotlighted a successful restaurant and the proprietor. My assignment one afternoon was to interview a man named Joseph Rizzo, owner of the highly successful Hollywood restaurant called "The Corsican".

As the interview progressed I became more and more impressed with Joseph Rizzo. Besides creating a good restaurant he was a man much dedicated to art and culture. I learned that he had spent some years as a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Oboe. Because of my own love of classical music we found we did have common interests and we talked at some length on the Orchestra and its conductors while he was a member. They were Alfred Wallenstein and Eduard van Beinum.

Time moved on and The Corsican Restaurant gave way to another business at its location. And I lost contact with Joseph Rizzo but not the memory of that fascinating interview.

Then on the last evening of our recent trip to San Luis Obispo we dined at Cafe Roma, reputed to be one of the best restaurants in the City. Greeting us at the door was a personable young man named Marco Rizzo. As is my custom as a restaurant writer I immediately started to ask him questions about the restaurant, how long it had been in business, etc.

He told me that the restaurant had been started in a very small building by his father, Joseph Rizzo. Then I had the opportunity to tell the son how I had written a story about his Father and the restaurant in Hollywood called "The Corsican". My dining companions and Marco were surprised at how well I had remembered it all after over a quarter of a century. But I explained that Joseph Rizzo was remarkable, probably as close to being a Renaissance Man as possible in this modern age.

Cafe Roma was full that evening with people waiting for tables so I did not have the opportunity to talk to Marco Rizzo at length. I did learn that his father, Joseph Rizzo, after starting Cafe Roma 24 years ago, and seeing it grow into an outstanding restaurant had died in 1990.

Our dining experience that evening fully lived up to the advance notices of what we had heard about Cafe Roma. It is still family owned and operated in a large building across the street from the San Luis Obispo Railroad station at 1020 Railroad Avenue. Telephone 805 541-6800. Cafe Roma offers a full service lounge, a large dining area and banquet facilities as well. But perhaps most important of all it is a fitting legacy to the man named Joseph Rizzo.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo and saved one evening to dine at the hotel's Atrium Cafe and try the cuisine of Chef Paul Kwong. Starter was the house Caesar salad that came with our dinner entree which was the crispy skin salmon filet served with fresh ginger and scallions and accompanied with stir fry vegetables and soft noodles. We satisfied our sweet tooth with a classic New York cheesecake for dessert.

Embassy Suites is located at 333 Madonna Road just off Highway 101.

The Mission Grill is just steps away from the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission and offers a contemporary California cuisine. We were there for lunch with Archie McLaren, chairman of the San Luis Obispo Vintners & Growers Association, to renew an old acquaintance and learn about the upcoming Harvest Celebration.

The Restaurant has a beautiful patio for dining as well as inside dining rooms and a full service cocktail lounge. We dined al fresco and our group ordered an array of entrees; items like Chicken egg rolls, Ahi spinach salad, Cali chicken sandwich, a spinach and mushroom Quiche. This Writer's Cali chicken sandwich arrived as charbroiled chicken breast atop a roasted bun and served with avocado, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese and finished with a special house sauce. Portions proved large at the Mission Grill and we could not clean up our plate.

It is located at 1023 Chorro Street. Telephone 805 5475544.

Linn's is something of an institution in Cambria. Originally started as a farm it has grown into two restaurants, one in Cambria, the second in downtown San Luis Obispo and includes gift shops, bakeries and a catalog business.

Our visit was at the original restaurant in Cambria after a most rewarding morning touring Hearst Castle. Specialty of the house are the Pot Pies which come as chicken, beef, herbed veggie or seafood. Cuisine at Linn's is a mixed bag with everything from downhome meatloaf to a spicy Thai noodle bowl. Some of our group tried the Pot Pies with success. This writer voted for the Philly Cheese Steak which was the best since first tried in Philadelphia some years before. Our lunch included a cup of New England clam chowder which was rated superior by all our group.

Linn's is also famous for its desserts but we sadly had to decline from a list that included fruit pies, cakes, specialty desserts like Olallieberry bread pudding, as well as a soda fountain list of ice cream, floats, etc.

In Cambria Linn's in located at 2277 Main Street, parking in the rear. Telephone 805 927-0371. In San Luis Obispo at the corner of Marsh and Chorro Streets.

One evening we dined downtown at Big Sky Restaurant located at 1121 Broad Street. The restaurant was filled with a happy throng the night we were there. The menu shows a large variety of cuisines with entrees like Caribbean adobe steak, a Jambalaya with skewered shrimp, chicken or Andouille sausage, or a sweet and sour turkey breast with sushi rice balls.

We selected the Vietnamese Shrimp pasta which included buckwheat soba noodles and semolina pasta tossed with tiger shrimp, oriental vegetables, peanuts and sweet spicy Vietnamese tomato.

This restaurant has an early California decor, a counter bar for drinking or eating and an excellent selection of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties wines, many offered by the glass.

Big Sky is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner at 1121 Broad Street. Telephone 805 545-5401.

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Last Update:3/2/04

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