This is totally gonna blow your mind (hopefully not literally, though, since that'd make reading the rest of this wayyy more challenging), but there are several legitimately great restaurants in SoCal that aren't in LA or Orange County. From San Diego to Palm Springs to Buellton (?), here're our picks for the 12 best SoCal restaurants that you'll find not-here.
Editor's Note: San Francisco is going to do one of these for NorCal, too, and to ensure we weren't fighting over some burger joint in Coalinga, we decided to make the Kettleman City In-N-Out Burger the NorCal/SoCal dividing line. Now carry on.
Soda and Swine (click here for address and info)
San Diego, CA
This isn't just a sandwich shop in San Diego, it's a sandwich shop in San Diego with a titular next-door craft cocktail spot (Polite Provisions), an astounding array of carbonated amazingness (there are four different root beers alone), and non-sandwichage like smoked pork and chorizo meatballs.
Il Cortile (click here for address and info)
Paso Robles, CA
You may not think you can get real-deal Italian in the middle of California's middle-of-California wine country, but you'd be totally, 100% wrong (idiot). This charming hole-in the-wall does high-end boot food like homemade pappardelle w/ wild boar and pan-seared venison that's paired with its (unsurprisingly) stellar wine selection. It's basically like any great, LA Italian spot, except it's surrounded by a zillion vineyards.
F. McClintocks (click here for address and info)
Pismo Beach, CA
This roadhouse-y steakhouse is a longtime favorite in Pismo, both for its food (they have in-house butchers carving stuff every day, burgers made from ground-steak trimmings, monster onion rings, etc.), and its... water service? Yeah. Check out this YouTube vid.
Addison (click here for address and info)
San Diego, CA
Probably the most-lauded restaurant in San Diego (and among the highest-rated in California, overall), this fine-dining spot at The Grand Del Mar is a foodie's dream, with Top Chef-worthy dishes like kobe short ribs and caramelized codfish w/ daikon, scallops, and dashi.
Pappy and Harriett's (click here for address and info)
It made our official unofficial Joshua Tree Drinking Guide, and it makes this list for the exact same reasons. Its roadhouse vibe means intimate shows from Coachella-level artists like the Pixies, and it's got food to match, with gargantuan rib eyes and perfect pulled pork.
Melvyn's Restaurant & Lounge (click here for address and info)
Palm Springs, CA
This Rat Pack-era restaurant isn't specifically notable for the food (although its straightforward steakhouse fare is both well-prepared and absolutely classic). It's also not specifically notable for the decor, which is essentially exactly what you're already thinking of when you hear "Rat Pack-era restaurant". No, what it's most-notable for is the bar: a martini-and-piano throwback (or never throwforward?), where members of the Greatest Generation prove their greatness in picking up each other night after night, while you watch, never fearing growing old again.
Jolly Oyster (click here for address and info)
This beachside shack is famous for serving the best bivalves anywhere, but here's the rub: you gotta shuck 'em yourself... which is only a problem if you don't have a shucking knife... which they sell for $5.
Hitching Post II (click here for address and info)
It may have become internationally renowned from Sideways, but long before Thomas Haden Church walked in the door, this Solvang-adjacent steakhouse was a destination restaurant, with red oak-grilled steaks and a variety of do-no-wrong chops.
Los Agaves (click here for address and info)
Santa Barbara, CA
La Super Rica is by far SB's most famous taqueria thanks to an endorsement from Julia Child, but, um, why trust Julia Child? Instead of waiting in that line, hit this down-the-street spot for stellar ceviches, killer burritos, and the must-order molcajete, essentially a steaming stew of mystery ingredients that's spicy, savory, and altogether wonderful.
Workshop Kitchen & Bar (click here for address and info)
Palm Springs, CA
This ultra-modern, new-American Palm Springs restaurant was the tsunami in a wave of sleek eateries to hit the desert a couple years ago, and for that, we thank them. They've got a killer kitchen team making duck rillettes with 63-degree eggs at night (and insanely delicious egg dishes for weekend brunches, too), as well as a bar team busting out cocktails with gin, mint, and avocado.
Suzanne's Cuisine (click here for address and info)
You've probably never ended up in Ojai without your girlfriend, because uh, spas and stuff, and you should really never leave Ojai until you've taken her to this beloved bistro, ordered some steamed mussels in a Thai broth, and had at least one sautéed Cornish game hen with apricot sauce.
Robin's (click here for address and info)
Set in a 1930's adobe armed with a rustic, 13-table dining room that still sports the original wood-burning fireplace, Robin's does a little bit of everything and a lot bit of it right. The salmon bisque is a must (especially if you're sitting out on the covered back patio), but they've also got everything from Vietnamese Spring rolls to five-spice duck to tandoori chicken.
1. Soda & Swine2943 Adams Ave, North Park
2. Addison5200 Grand Del Mar Way, San Diego
3. Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown
4. Workshop Kitchen And Bar800 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
5. Robin's4095 Burton Dr, Cambria
6. Suzanne's Cuisine502 W Ojai Ave, Ojai
7. Il Cortile608 12th St, Paso Robles
8. F. McClintock's750 Mattie Rd, Shell Beach
9. Melvyn's200 W Ramon Rd, Palm Springs
10. The Jolly OysterSan Buenaventura State Beach Park, Ventura
11. Hitching Post II406 E Highway 246, Buellton
12. Los Agaves600 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara
Soda & Swine does meatballs in a way that you might not expect, assuming that the word "meatball" conjures up images of spaghetti all covered with cheese. Sure, they've got spaghetti and meatballs too, but this place gives you the ability to choose your mix and match your meat, creating anything from a meatball slider to meatballs a la carte. There's a wild bevy of sodas to choose from as well, so there's really no excuse for you to be anywhere other than here.
Located in the luxe Grand Del Mar, Addison's been named one of the most expensive restos in the country.
This true Pioneertown joint truly proves the town exists; from tri tip sandwiches and cheese fries to live music and cold brews in the middle of the desert, this spot can't be beat.
Workshop Kitchen and Bar is an American restaurant in Palm Springs. Local farm-sourced ingredients factor heavily into the food menu, and the same goes for their fresh, refreshing in-house made cocktails.
At Robin's, you get a warm and comfy atmosphere with quiet indoor and outdoor dining areas. When it comes to their menu, they do a little bit of everything from Vietnamese Spring rolls to five-spice duck to Tandoori chicken.
This pleasant Ojai bistro doles out tasty American fare with Italian and French influences, with dishes like steamed mussels in a Thai broth, and sautéed cornish game hen with apricot sauce.
Found in Paso Robles in the middle of wine country, Il Cortile serves up powerhouse Italian dishes, like their homemade pappardelle with wild boar, that're served along some of the region's finest vino.
This roadhousey steak house is a favorite of locals and travellers, thanks to great cuts of meat and a totally ridiculous water-service that ends with someone getting wet. Probably you.
This classic steakhouse that's been visited by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. is a legendary Palm Springs haunt. Located in the historic Ingleside Inn, Melvyn's old school fare (Steak Diane, shrimp cocktail) matches its elegant, upscale digs.
This roadside stand serves all sorts of bipeds -- bring tools and you can use their grills to make your own delicious dinner.
This steakhouse on California's Central Coast was a destination dining spot long before it got its 15 minutes of fame in Sideways. Everything from filet mignon and pork ribs to duck breast and quail are grilled the California way on an open fire of red oak, and the pinot noir, made at the in-house winery, is some of the best in Santa Barbara County -- if not the whole state.