The Best Things I Ate on a Californian Road Trip

12 Aug 2019

When people asked me what I was most looking forward to on my Californian road trip, I felt like they expected me to say driving over San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, or taking in those epic views along the Big Sur. While I was undoubtedly super excited about everything I would get to see, if I’m brutally honest, the thing I couldn’t wait for the most was the food. It’s no secret that I’m a massive foodie – so much so that I’m often ridiculed for conducting thorough research weeks ahead of a trip, for fear of overlooking some incredible restaurant I won’t forgive myself for missing. And California is the destination for foodies. So, with 10 days stretching out ahead of me across various destinations, I couldn’t wait to start tasting my way around the West Coast of the USA. Here’s my pick of the most delicious bites…

Grilled Salmon

We’d been told we could look forward to some amazing seafood in California – and it didn’t disappoint. From fresh catch of the day in San Francisco, to Santa Monica’s famous fish tacos, we indulged in some unforgettable fish dishes. But the real stand-out was in Monterey. After a three-hour drive from San Francisco, we stumbled across Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar. Set right on the coast, we took a seat overlooking the cobalt blue ocean as we sipped on ice-cold lemonade. I ordered the grilled salmon, served on a bed of lemon couscous with summer vegetables – sounds simple, right? But it really was one of the most memorable lunches of the entire trip. The salmon – freshly-caught that day – was grilled and seasoned to perfection, while the restaurant’s glass-fronted setting is epic.

Tomato Soup and Cheese Toastie

OK, I admit this might not be the most obvious dish to try on a road trip around California, but stick with me! After a lengthy drive from Los Angeles, we arrived at Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite National Park, absolutely ravenous. Deciding we were simply too hungry to venture out again, we took a seat at the lodge’s Jackalope’s Bar & Grill – which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip. Soon, two steaming bowls of fresh tomato soup were placed in front of us, accompanied by lightly toasted sandwiches, oozing with delicious melted cheese. I’m not sure if it was the mature cheddar or the fact that we had been looking forward to lunch for hours, but this was a dish I won’t forget in a hurry.

Tacos

I love tacos. In fact, they’d be up there among my top three meals of all time. So, it goes without saying that I was looking forward to tucking into some seriously tasty tortillas on our US adventure. I ate them three times on this trip (I know, I’m obsessed), but we found the best at Lolo restaurant in San Francisco. It was tough to narrow down the multiple menu options, but we finally opted for panko avocado tacos (the perfect balance of flavour and crunch), shrimp tacos (spice-dusted to perfection), and, of course, fish tacos – catch of the day (cod for us), served with habanero, pequin peppers, peanuts and handmade corn tortillas. We also ordered guacamole, tortilla chips and mushroom empanadas – because it’s simply impossible to over-order Mexican food.

Chocolate Brownie

If I absolutely had to pick, I’d go savoury over sweet, but every now and then I get a real hankering for dessert. I decided to indulge my sweet tooth in Monterey (that epic ocean view I talked about earlier may have had something to do with it), where I ordered a chocolate brownie, served with vanilla ice-cream and chocolate shavings. I initially agreed to share this with my boyfriend, but I ended up eating most of it myself – and I’m not even sorry about it! It was soft, warm, gooey, and offset perfectly by the ice-cream. In fact, I could have eaten the entire thing again and not felt even a tiny bit guilty about it. When on holiday and all that…

Omelette

Yes, you read that right. I’ve included an omelette on my list of the ultimate dishes I ate in the US. But, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, this wasn’t just any old omelette. It’s pretty well-known that America goes big on breakfast, and the plates served at Jackalope’s in Tenaya Lodge are no exception. Is there a better way to set yourself up for a day of hiking in Yosemite than with a vegetarian omelette packed full of avocado, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach? What’s more, the veggies were locally sourced AND the omelette came with warm sourdough toast and butter, and a fresh fruit bowl. Breakfast of kings – completed.

Cheeseburger

It’s simple, but it’s timeless. The classic cheeseburger can be found on menus the world over, but rarely do you find yourself biting into one you know you’ll remember. As we drove through Sacramento, we stopped off at Flip ‘n’ Shake, which had been recommended to us by friends. Our stomachs were rumbling before we even stepped inside; the delicious barbecued scent wafted down the street, drawing us in. After agonizing over my choice (there were more than 10 burgers on the menu!), I finally ordered the Double Flipcheese burger and a chocolate shake. Yes, I was thoroughly stuffed, but it was so worth it – although next time around, perhaps I’ll skip breakfast…


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Tessa Watkins

Formerly a local news editor and reporter covering court cases and crime stories, I’m obsessed with all things travel. Often found exploring a new city and seeking out the world’s best beaches, there are a plethora of destinations I remain desperate to discover. Tweet me @tess1977