Grilled to Perfection

January 31, 2019

Preserving a decades-old tradition of rarity, spice and flavor.

Food trends come and go, inspiring diners to eat outside the box. But one tradition has stood the test of time: Santa Maria Style Barbecue, consisting of tri-tip grilled over red oak and served alongside pinquito beans, garlic bread, salsa and a green salad.

Far Western Tavern is a Central Coast classic that has served traditional Santa Maria Style barbecue for more than 60 years. The restaurant’s original location in Guadalupe quickly became a local favorite after opening in 1958. Today, Far Western Tavern calls Old Town Orcutt home, just 15 minutes south of Santa Maria. The restaurant continues to serve the same delicious, red oak-grilled cuisine that put them on the Central Coast’s culinary map years ago. Far Western Tavern sources local ingredients for many of their dishes and pairs meals with a Santa Maria Valley wine.

The Far Western Tavern is co-owned by the Righetti and Will families. Both families have deep roots in the Central Coast and are dedicated to maintaining their tradition and dedication to delicious, Santa Maria Style barbecue.

Maili Halme, a Central Coast local from the Santa Ynez Valley, is the consulting executive chef at Far Western Tavern. Halme first met the Righetti and Will families when they became regulars at her restaurant in Los Olivos. When the opportunity arose to become the consulting executive chef at Far Western, Halme knew it was a perfect chance to continue her style of cooking in a new venue. Halme comes from a family of chefs and restaurateurs and says she felt a connection to the Righetti and Will families because of their common histories.

“There was that immediate connection that they were a restaurant family too,” Halme said. “My family had known them for a long time, and it just felt like a perfect fit.”

Nicknamed “Smiley Maili” as a child, Halme grew up in restaurants, bakeries and other kitchens that were owned or operated by her family. She began cooking at a very young age, which helped develop her love of culinary arts. Halme says the kitchen was like a playground to her as a child.

In the Santa Maria Valley, nearly every party or celebration centers around an oak pit grill, which helped foster Halme’s love for Santa Maria Style barbecue at an early age. She took her love of the grill and learned how to cook traditional Santa Maria Style barbecue from various chefs throughout the Central Coast. Halme has been a fan of Susan Righetti’s brand, Susie Q’s, which serves Santa Maria Style seasoning, salsa and pinquito beans, since the company began in the 1980s.

“I didn’t realize until I went east for college that Santa Maria Style barbecue was truly a unique style that’s very specific to our region,” Halme said. “In some ways, it’s still very much a hidden secret.”

Halme is happy to continue the tradition of Santa Maria Style barbecue with the Righetti and Will families. The Far Western Tavern is a local favorite that’s always a hub of activity in Old Town Orcutt. The restaurant’s second story is a large banquet facility that can host up to 150 people. Halme said the team at Far Western Tavern hosts roughly five birthday parties per night, among other celebrations like weddings, rehearsal dinners, retirement parties, baby showers and more.

“This is definitely a restaurant people think of when they celebrate,” Halme said.

The main inspiration for Halme’s cooking is fresh ingredients. Far Western Tavern sources many of their ingredients from local farmers and ranchers. The pinquito beans, produce and more are all sourced from farms in the valley. Halme says she enjoys that she can work with fresh, locally-grown ingredients.

“I always equate ingredients to an artist’s palate,” she said. “An artist goes to buy paints and canvas, and the ingredients for my cooking are like my paints and canvases.”

Halme still loves to work the grill. Her favorite meals to make are anything grilled over an oak pit barbecue, like pork chops, lamb, Bulls Eye steak or prime rib. Halme also loves to prepare traditional pinquito beans.

“I love the pinquito beans because they’re largely only known in our area. They’re grown here and people who haven’t had them

before are often surprised. I used to buy Susie Q’s pinquito beans to give as gifts before I met the Righetti family.”

Halme’s favorite meal to enjoy from the Far Western Tavern is the Bulls Eye steak paired with a Rancho Sisquoc Meritage, or the lamb paired with a Riverbench Pinot Noir. Far Western Tavern takes advantage of the surrounding AVAs and the Central Coast’s unique wine regions to pair delicious wine with traditional, fresh food.

Going forward, Halme says the Far Western Tavern will continue to stay rooted in their traditional style of cooking, which put them on the map more than 60 years ago. The Far Western Tavern still serves traditional Bulls Eye steak, pinquito beans and the same salsa they’ve made since 1958, and they don’t plan on changing anytime soon.

“It’s been such a pleasure working with a family-owned restaurant that has such a legacy,” Halme said. “I’m honored that they asked me to help carry on their family tradition.”

To experience traditional Santa Maria Style barbecue from Far Western Tavern for yourself, visit the Far Western Tavern in Old Town Orcutt.

300 E Clark Ave
Orcutt, CA 93455
(805) 937-2211

Visit the Far Western Tavern’s website to learn more.

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In the Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore all you can do. The Santa Maria Valley boasts 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, 6 unique AVAs, 15 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink and do more for less.

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