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Here & There

Donna Polizzi: You’ll Want to Make Tracks to Café Roma in San Luis Obispo

A taste of Piedmont in the Historic Railroad District is a perfect match for those looking for an authentic Old World family meal

The linguine vongole with little neck clams in pancetta garlic white wine is as good as it looks at Café Roma in San Luis Obispo. Click to view larger
The linguine vongole with little neck clams in pancetta garlic white wine is as good as it looks at Café Roma in San Luis Obispo. (Donna Polizzi photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

San Luis Obispo has no shortage of great restaurants.

In the Historic Railroad District, near the train station, is an incredible Italian eatery named Café Roma. Located less than two minutes from downtown at 1020 Railroad Ave., Café Roma is a local favorite that delights the senses.

For 35 years, locals and visitors have appreciated Maria Rosa’s original family recipes and specialties served up in a setting that simply exudes European charm.

Cultural ambience permeates each dish, obviously prepared to the standards of the Old World family recipes then paired with Italian varietals.

“Every single day we strive to keep up the traditions of my father, Joseph Rizzo, and my my mother, Maria Rosa,” said co-owner Marco Rizzo, perfectly summing up his passion for culinary excellence.

“Our family specializes in traditional regional Italian dishes.”

He’s right, and it is delicious.

My meal began with a crunchy crusted bolle bread with basil-laced olive oil for dipping. The bread was so good I actually asked if they made it in house. Our server shared that the bread is baked and delivered daily from Hush-Harbor Artisan Bakery in Atascadero.

This delight was followed by a divine bietole beet salad featuring fresh avocado and gorgonzola crumbles over butter lettuce. Wow, what a wonderful blend of flavors!

If you’re a pasta fan, try the tagliatelle bolognese. The savory meat sauce on gluten-free pasta was beyond good. This was my first gluten-free pasta and it tasted as good any other perfect pasta. What a splendid celebration of culinary pleasures.

The linguine vongole with little neck clams in pancetta garlic white wine looked as good as it tasted.

The food at Café Roma simply can’t be beat. The prices are reasonable and the portions generous.

The menu offers Maria Rosa’s family Piedmontese recipes mixed in with Lombard, Tuscan and Roman specialties. The charm and courteousness of Old World family traditions truly make dining at Café Roma a wonderful experience.

On weekends, you can experience a classic rendition of osso bucco a la Milanese. If you haven’t had it before, expect a huge veal shank braised to mouth-watering perfection, then baked to tender flakiness before being served over a bed of saffron risotto.

Are you hungry yet? Go eat. Unwind and let your biggest decision be what wine to pair with your meal from Café Roma’s extensive selection.

Few dining experiences are as charming as what is offered at Café Roma as guests are served up pallet-teasing delicacies. Each are presented in a tasteful, casual yet dignified Tuscan atmosphere.

Many Central Coast dining experiences seem to outperform the previous ones, but in this case Café Roma will be a tough act to follow: It has made the Keys to the Coast “Local’s Choice” list of the best places to wine, dine, explore and more.

After lunch, take the time to enjoy the historical context of the restaurant’s location. Right out front is the the 1894 Historic Railroad District sign.

It would be impossible not to appreciate the collision of this 18th and 21st century historical intersection, know as Railroad Square. It is a unique area and one of the many thought-provoking cultural offerings that truly make this part of San Luis Obispo such a treasure. The Northern and Southern California railroad tracks were joined at this location, which gave San Luis Obispo its own “golden spike” moment in history.

Among the most interesting attractions in the Historic Railroad District are the featured artistic works that capture both the sacrifice of human beings, as well as the ingenuity that made America an industrial powerhouse.

The Iron Road Pioneers statue is a stately and stunning piece honoring the Chinese railroad workers and other immigrants who were brought over by Chinese-American entrepreneur Ah Louis to do this very difficult work. Sculpted by Elizabeth MacQueen, the statue signifies the hard work and engineering feat of the pioneers of the American railroad era.

The display of talent and history are showcased as part of an elaborate transportation system. The amazing bridge over the railroad tracks is a masterpiece that allows you to enjoy the fantastic view and architecture of the entire area, which is a testimony to the industriousness of a bygone era.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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