Highway and Roadside Restaurants in Central California

Restaurant with outdoor seating

Good Highway and Roadside Restaurants in Central California

Nationwide, fast food chains prosper, not so much for the quality of their food, but rather for the consistency. Meals at chain restaurants in Kansas are pretty much guaranteed to be about the same as those here in California.

Most of us will take refuge in that “OK” consistency since we don’t want to risk the disappointment of a “really” bad meal at an unknown place somewhere along our route.

This list will give you some of our recommendations for the roadside restaurants where we like to stop while on the road, so you won’t have to worry:


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Iron Skillet Restaurant
Lebec, California 93243
5821 Dennis McCarthy Dr

If you are coming to Central California from the south via I-5, there are not many roadside restaurants where you might stop for a meal. The Iron Skillet sits at the bottom of the long grade down from the mountains known as the “Grapevine”.

It is a pretty big complex that caters both to private travelers as well as to truckers. They have standard American fare and while nothing remarkable, it is always good and tasty. There are buffets most of the time with a good selection of items that will satisfy most tastes.

There are a few other truck and travel stops to the south and north on the I-5, but this one is our favorite.

Right before you enter the restaurant, you might want to look for something interesting happening there in the parking lot…

The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, and all that agriculture attracts LOTS of bugs. You’ll notice this driving through there. Your windshield will be spattered with hundreds of bugs. Your front grill and radiator will pick up their share as well.

The blackbirds in the area have discovered this and make a fine living picking off and eating the bugs from the front of cars. I think they may have forgotten how to catch live bugs, but they do it free of charge and never ask for a donation. Interesting how animal behavior can change due to changing circumstances.

Santa Barbara County Roadside Restaurants

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Andersen’s Pea Soup
376 Avenue of the Flags
Buellton, California 93427
(805) 688-5581
Fax (805) 686-5670
Hours: Mon-Sun 7 am – 10 pm

Andersen’s has been an icon on this road for over 85 years and anyone traveling along the 101 has certainly seen the signs that advertise it many miles away.

To have survived this long they have to have been doing something right, and that something is the pea soup. Beyond that specialty, it is pretty much standard fare and standard quality. I can’t remember ever having had breakfast here, so I can’t comment on that, but our experience is that only the very worst restaurants can ruin breakfast.

They have a Danish bakery, a year-round Christmas shop and an eclectic selection of “vacation” books and unusual cookbooks.


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Mother Hubbard’s Restaurant
373 Avenue of the Flags
Buellton, CA 93427

Monday 6 AM – 8 PM
Tuesday6 AM – 3 PM
Wednesday6 AM – 8 PM
Thursday6 AM – 8 PM
Friday 6 AM – 9 PM
Saturday6 AM – 8:30 PM
Sunday 7 AM – 8 PM

Located right across the street from Andersen’s, this looks to be a very good choice for a good roadside restaurant in Buellton. Haven’t taken the opportunity to eat here yet, but will report on this as soon as we do. I like what I read on their menu and that they support local growers and producers. That’s always a good sign.

San Luis Obispo County Roadside Restaurants

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The Girl’s Restaurant
1237 E Grand Ave, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Just a bit off the 101 freeway, this is a good bet for a roadside meal anytime.

Mostly a local’s place, with very friendly staff and wonderful food cooked just like your mother (or maybe your grandmother) did it. A classic diner with reasonable prices and tasty food. Hard to go wrong. It’s a shame that I live too far away from it to get there very often.

Good all-around American food, family atmosphere, good service and prices.


US highway 101 shield and Interstate 5 highway shield


In-N-Out Burger

Central Coast Locations:
Arroyo Grande
1170 W. Branch St. 101 Fwy. to Oak Park Blvd. E.; Right on Branch Rd.
6000 San Anselmo Rd. 101 Fwy. at San Anselmo Rd.
641 Leavesley Rd. 101 Fwy. to Leavesley Rd. E.
4865 Calle Real 101 Fwy. to Turnpike Rd. N.
151 Kern St. 101 Fwy. to Market St.
Santa Maria
1330 S. Bradley Rd. 101 Fwy. to Stowell Rd. W.

Central Valley Locations:
Kettleman City
33464 Bernard Dr. 5 Fwy. to Hwy. 41
Lebec/Tejon Ranch
5926 Dennis McCarthy Dr. 5 Fwy. to Laval Rd. W.

If you’re from out of state, you might not know about this one. It’s a family owned chain that’s rightfully famous for their burgers. I love burgers and for me this place holds the top spot along with Steak and Shake in the Midwest.
By the way, this was one of the only places at which my father would eat and being a restaurant owner he was very picky. The staff that I have encountered at every In-n-Out location I’ve ever been to have always been very friendly and most helpful. Have never had anyone serve me that had an attitude. Most remarkable since I’ve been patronizing this business for over 40 years.

They have a simple menu, but will cook your burger or fries pretty much how you want it. Try this page for the “In-n-Out secret menu” and locations: In-N-Out Burger Secret Menu


US highway 101 shield

Franks Famous Hot Dogs

American (Traditional)
950 California Blvd
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
805) 541-3488
Open daily 6:30am – 9:00pm

If hot dogs are as American as “Mom” and “apple pie”, why is it so hard to find anyplace that serves them? Why isn’t there a “McDonalds” of hot dogs?

I love hot dogs and sausages of most any kind, and Franks in San Luis Obispo is my kind of place.

If you like: hot dogs, cheese dogs, kraut dogs, chili dogs, chili cheese dogs, mexican dogs, polish sausage dogs, BBQ dogs, BBQ dogs with cheese, bacon dogs, bacon dogs with cheese, corn dogs, turkey corn dogs…then Franks might be your kind of place too.

Now, these roadside restaurants are all on main highways. If you are traveling the backroads we have some roadside restaurants to recommend for those routes.

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