August 2, 2007

Hitching Post II [Buellton]

The Hitching Post II has become a permanent fixture on my annual Pacific Coast Highway itinerary. This year was as good as the last, if not better, and with the same company in tow, we took a stroll down memory lane, all the while savoring our late-night dinner in a packed house.

Fame and hype have a way of getting to a restaurant's head, but while Sideways has put the little town of Buellton on the map, the Hitching Post stays grounded in its humble origins, grilling up a mean Santa Maria style BBQ rubbed in its famous Magic Dust spice.

Unlike your typical metropolitan steakhouse, meals at the Hitching Post come with all the trimmings. With most steaks setting you back less than $40, you get a deal of a meal with two starters (shrimp cocktail OR soup + salad) and sides of salsa, garlic bread, roasted veggies, and your choice of a starch (rice pilaf, french fries, baked potato).

Tonight's feature was a Tomatillo-Corn Soup that has got to be one of the best Latino flavor combinations my mouth has seen yet. While the soup was served hot, the acidity of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the corn made for a refreshingly cool end to a steamy summer day. The charred kernels of corn were grilled and shaved fresh off the cob.

Traditional SM-style BBQ is rubbed simply with garlic salt, salt, and pepper before tossed on the grill and served with salsa, pinquito beans and French bread. While tri-tip and top sirloins are usually the cuts of choice, the Hitching Post also offers filet mignon, NY, flat iron, and Angus rib chops for the more discerning.

We weren't feeling too hungry, so we opted for one of the smallest portions, an 8-ounce filet mignon ($32). Cooked medium rare, it was melt-in-your-mouth tender and judging from the texture alone, you could've been fooled into thinking it was fish. The Magic Dust seasoning was simple, giving the already flavorful "Midwestern Cornfed Beef" a rustic touch.

Veggies are a cut above your average steamed offerings with carrots, squash, and zucchini roasted with a bit of olive oil and onion buds roasted with butter. The salsa was tart and crisp on the surface with a kick of heat to bring it all together.

Our waiter suggested the Hitching Post's own 2003 Big Circle ($7 glass), a Syrah, as a pairing with the steak. It was robust and true to his description of being "spicy."

For dessert, we went with our standby favorite, Strawberry Shortcake ($7). The portion is large enough for an entire family, but not so sweet that it cant be devoured by just one person--and there are enough strawberries to hold you over 'til the very last bite.

Service is informal with local high school kids forming the bulk of the front-of-the-house staff. While the service can be clumsy and flustered at times, our waiter was gracious and polite throughout the duration of our meal.

The parking lot was packed when we arrived for our 9pm reservation and the bar was still hopping when we left. Unpretentious, delicious, and a steal--how could you miss it?

The Hitching Post II
406 E Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427
(805) 688-0676

Try: Tomatillo-Corn Soup, Grilled Artichoke, Strawberry Shortcake, any of the steaks


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