I live to eat; I don’t eat to live, and that’s why I’m constantly searching for amazing food experiences, whether I’m in my home neighborhood or I’m traveling ’round this bountiful planet Earth. For a long, long time I wouldn’t dream of eating fast food. That was until I found a place that was the exception to the rule: Chipotle, a fast food Mexican eatery that operates on higher standards than some full-service restaurants. Nevertheless, I’m much more fond and appreciative of the great little homespun places run by people who put their blood, sweat, and tears into their business. That’s why I’m focusing on two such places where you can always count on a good meal, fair prices, and friendly service.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- HERO OF THE GYROS : Samir Aburashed and Chef Antonio Ruiz show off their gyro sandwich.
Fattoush—Taste of the Mediterranean
If foods like gyro (pronounced yee-row), chicken Shawarma, tzatziki, and falafel taste dreamy to you, you’re going to love SLO’s newest eatery, Fattoush. Housed in a tiny building that looks like a trailer, for many years it’s been a window-service eatery providing fast food in SLO near the corner of Santa Rosa and Foothill. It’s the closest restaurant to Cal Poly, according to the new owner and inspired restaurateur behind it, Samir Aburashed. Petra is owned and operated by his parents, Todd and Sana Aburashed. Seven months ago Samir bought this small eatery to open a Mediterranean restaurant of his own. At first glance it appears to be strictly a take-out window, but with the new patio garden tables around the building, Fattoush can accommodate 150 guests who want to sit down for a delicious, value-priced meal.
Samir describes Fattoush as a family-run restaurant, and his mother is helping him keep the Mediterranean cuisine authentic. A worldly traveler, Sana has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, which has provided her with a keen appreciation and palate for the traditional foods of Jordan and many other delightful Mediterranean cuisines.
“I believe some people haven’t come here yet because they don’t want to cheat Petra, but it’s all family,” Samir pointed out.
He helped his parents open Petra on Monterey Street.
“My mother has made the recipes more Mediterranean, and European visitors are very familiar with our cuisine,” he said.
As if Samir’s passion for great food isn’t enough to drive you there in a hurry, he’s offering amazing specials to attract first-time diners: Fattoush offers a daily happy hour when you can get a 49-cent beer, like Coors Light, Bud Light, or Tecate, with the purchase of any food. He’s planning to install a large TV for sports fans soon. A Cal Poly alumni who taught public speaking, Samir’s first love is Mediterranean cuisine and he’s dedicated to offering traditional recipes, but throws in a few twists.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- NAMESAKE : The fattoush salad sits in some glorious light on a rainy day.
“This place was a Mediterranean restaurant that opened in early 2012, but the previous owner sold it to me. I bought it and completely updated it in June. The food isn’t that fast,” he admitted, “but it’s quick enough.”
I enjoyed the delicious chicken Shawarma plate ($8.99) of spicy grilled chicken and fresh veggies. The hummus was excellent in flavor and texture, as was the tzatziki, which Samir makes with sour cream instead of yogurt. Admittedly, I liked it but told him I’d rather have it with yogurt. It was much better than versions I’ve had at other local restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine, where theirs lacked enough cucumber to taste. Samir and his team of cooks make everything to order, and that’s the reason it takes a bit longer to produce.
“I taste the foods every day to make sure everything we serve is consistently delicious,” he said.
Thomas Hill Organics
If you haven’t heard about “Optimus Night” at this destination Paso Robles restaurant, Thomas Hill Organics (THO), it’s time you did. It will only take place during the four Wednesday nights through December, and it’s sure to bring in local foodies who appreciate a unique wine and food pairing treat like this one. You’ve got one of the region’s most renowned winemakers, Stephan Asseo’s special red blend, L’Aventure Optimus, a cuvee of 55 percent Syrah, 27 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 18 percent Petite Verdot. It’s paired with two gourmet burgers of PC Ranch grass-fed beef with romesco sauce, cambozola cheese, applewood smoked bacon, roasted garlic aioli, and caramelized onions on a sesame seed bun with a salad of field greens and quinoa dressed in a basil vinaigrette. I could hardly believe I devoured that big, delicious burger. This decadent meal is completed with a housemade chocolate fondant cake with caramel sauce to share. The tariff is $100 per couple (tax and tip not included).
Another Wednesday night treat: Beer aficionados can order a burger or pizza and get a Firestone Walker beer for only $1. Larger parties can mix it up, some ordering the Optimus special while others order off the regular menu. Dining here is always quite accommodating thanks to owner and manager Debbie Thomas. You’ll usually find her there, keeping her patrons well-fed and content.
I love this quaint restaurant with its ancient-looking walls of brick and old barn wood. It’s a cozy, intimate setting, yet you’re close enough to other tables to make acquaintance with interesting people. My husband Dan and I frequently meet other foodies like ourselves at THO with whom we enjoy sharing dining tips. Of course, THO is perfect for keeping it intimate on a special date night when you want to be alone with your loved one. Foodies love the (mostly) organic menu by THO executive chef Julie Simon, a creative, passionate cook. Most of the seasonal produce and fruit is grown at Thomas Hill Organics farm year round. During winter they do have to supplement foods from other growers, but they bring in the finest products available to keep their menu of choices delicious year round.
Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.