Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Golf course grub
BY WENDY THIES SELL
One of the most popular restaurants in Santa Maria hasn’t advertised since it opened six years ago; it’s situated in an industrial park next to the airport district, and yet hundreds of people pack the dining room daily.
Owners Keith and Ruth Moles bought the Sunset Ridge Golf Center 13 years ago, always planning to have a simple restaurant on the side.
“It was just supposed to be a small lunch thing for the golfers,” Keith confided. “We didn’t know it would turn into breakfast and lunch for the whole community, which it has!”
It’s true. Looking around at the busy lunch crowd at the Sunset Grill at the Sunset Ridge Golf Center, you’ll spot more than golfers. There are business executives, industrial workers, retirees, and families—even recognizable faces like local radio personality Andy Caldwell. He and about a dozen friends meet for lunch at Sunset Grill every Friday.
“This is old Santa Maria. I’m from Lompoc, but they let me come anyway,” Caldwell said with a chuckle.
The casual, spacious dining room at Sunset Grill can accommodate large groups like Caldwell’s, by pushing as many tables together as needed.
Caldwell added, “The food is good, the service is consistent, and the prices are reasonable.”
Other regular customers told me the same thing. And they really like the Moles family, who never seem to take a day off from their successful, family-run restaurant.
Keith and Ruth toil here seven days a week, practically from sunup to sundown. Their daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, and grandchildren work at Sunset Grill, too.
“We’re working hard to keep the prices down. The more things I can do, the lower prices I can give the customer,” Keith said.
And scores of appreciative customers return again and again.
“We have people that come for breakfast and lunch many times a week,” Keith said. “And they would like us to be open for dinner, and someday we may do that. That’s one of the things we’ve talked about doing.”
Some of the most popular items on Sunset Grill’s large menu are the tri-tip wrap, quesadillas, club sandwich, and especially the Friday fish taco special ($8.95 for three soft tacos).
“We do a fish taco that is really good,” Keith said. “We do it with a mango sauce and a chipotle-cilantro slaw, and use cod fish and deep fry it.”
I enjoyed the flavorful fish tacos one recent Friday, as did so many other diners sitting nearby. The generous portions even allowed me to take leftovers home to a happy husband.
On the weekends, most people order breakfast all day long. Choices include the breakfast burrito, omelets, scrambles, chorizo and eggs, chicken fried steak, pancakes, and the Golfer’s Sunrise Special: two eggs, home potatoes or hash browns, two slices of bacon or a sausage patty, and two pieces of toast ($5.95).
Sandwiches—or “sand-wedges” as Sunset Grill calls them—have such golf-related names as the Best Birdie in Town (grilled chicken); the Masters (Philly cheesesteak); Par for the Course (hot pastrami); and the Caddie’s Special (a mushroom bacon cheeseburger).
In addition to the restaurant, Keith runs the golf center, offering a 10-hole golf course, driving range, chipping green, and golf lessons.
Fewer golfers might be teeing off nowadays, but people still have to eat, and many locals consider Sunset Grill their favorite place to do just that.
“Unfortunately, the recession hurt everybody in golf,” Keith acknowledged. “But the crazy little restaurant just kept growing.”
“We’ve been very happy with the response from the community. I attribute it all to my wife’s hard work and my employees’ hard work. They’re all great people and they do a great job for me,” he said. “I think that’s why people keep coming back: to see the people that work here. Of course the food’s good, but that’s again the employees doing a good job.”
Sun food and wine writer Wendy Thies Sell enjoys the simple beauty of a sunset. Send story ideas to email@example.com.