Off-centered cheer

Shake up your holiday table with showstopper dinners that aren’t just turkey or ham

Photo courtesy of Azteca Market
DRINK UP: Atascadero’s Azteca Market will offer a Guatemalan fruit punch called ponche as a 16-ounce cup or as part of a traditional Latin American holiday meal come December.

Family gatherings for Oceano resident Lisa Price and her folks rarely followed the traditional route.

Her dad wanted a party for his celebration of life. When he passed away, Price did just that. The family scattered his ashes at Pirate’s Cove and welcomed 100 people at Price’s house afterward with a taco truck and a margarita machine.

“Food at our house has never been all that normal,” Price said with a laugh.

So why should the holiday season be any different?

“Nobody in the family is wild about turkey, but we ate it for decades to be polite,” she said. “One year, my dad asked, ‘Would you rather have prime rib?’”

For 20 years since then, bovine won out over bird on their Thanksgiving table. Price, who lived in Orange County at the time, would purchase prime ribs from Stater Bros. Markets in Newport Beach and drive to San Luis Obispo County to her parents’ home. Now, she prefers Vons and the Arroyo Grande Meat Company. 

The bounty of ranch and seaside cultures make SLO and Santa Barbara counties a culinary playground for anyone who wants their holiday dinners to be something out of the ordinary. No matter the holiday, there are plenty of food suppliers and curators in both counties who can help amp up your feast. If all else fails, there’s always Chinese food for takeout. Just remember to order ahead.

Take Price’s Christmas dinners, where Thanksgiving prime rib gives way to king crab legs. The dinners started in Sacramento 20 years ago for an “orphans’ Christmas” with friends who couldn’t go home for the holidays. Price splits her Costco crab legs lengthwise, drizzles them with garlic butter, and slowly roasts them in the oven. Tablecloths gets swapped for newspaper sheets, and Price lays out bottles of wine, sourdough garlic bread, and bowls of salad.

“We have an absolute melee of crab shells flying around at Christmas, but everybody is satisfied with this amazing meal, and all you have to do is roll all the newspaper up and throw it in the trash when you’re done,” she said.

click to enlarge Off-centered cheer
Photo courtesy of Lisa Price
CRAB HAPPY: Twenty years ago, Oceano resident Lisa Price swapped Christmas ham and prime rib for king crab legs in garlic butter and hasn’t looked back.

Want crabs and lobster tails from somewhere other than a supermarket? Pick out live ones and have them cooked, cracked, and served fresh at Giovanni’s Fish Market in Morro Bay, or take live crabs home to cook them yourself. Call (805) 772-2123 to place your order of Christmas crabs before the holiday rush. 

Morro Bay’s Tognazzini’s Dockside Fish Market also dishes out fresh catches for holiday needs. Call to preorder fresh seafood. Farther south, Olde Port Fish and Seafood Company in Grover Beach provides live Maine lobster, Dungeness crabs, and rock crab to purchase and steam. Other seafood options include oysters, halibut, scallops, and salmon. Call (805) 489-3474 to preorder.

For those who aren’t seafood lovers, shake up the American classics with a trip to Azteca Market in Atascadero. Established this June by Guatemalan Carolina Fuentes and her husband, Gabriel Zenteno, from Chiapas, Mexico, the family-run restaurant serves delicacies that fuse both their backgrounds. 

Starting Dec. 1, customers can order a $15 Guatemalan dish called pepián—chicken stewed in a thick red sauce—that’s traditionally enjoyed during Christmas. It’ll include chayote squash, green beans, and carrots. The stew comes with white rice, refried beans, and tortillas. Make it a combo for $17 by adding a cup of ponche, a Guatemalan Christmas punch made with an assortment of fruits and spices. Place orders on DoorDash or walk into the restaurant on 7367 El Camino Real.

“These dishes are made by a traditional Guatemalan mom, and all she wants to do is feed you with love and doesn’t want you to be scared of food cooked by millions of other moms who have been cooking this for many years,” Fuentes and Zenteno’s daughter, Amanda Morales, told the Sun with a laugh.

click to enlarge Off-centered cheer
Photo courtesy of Woodin You Like to Party
LOCAL BITES: Santa Maria-based Woodin You Like To Party curates small bites from local vendors and creates custom charcuterie, down to the woodwork.

Jason Oneal, the manager of J&R Natural Meats is game for different centerpiece dinners in more ways than one. Through the specialty meat and poultry company he runs, Oneal smokes a rabbit and a pound of elk loin for his family for Christmas. While the smoked elk is cut into steaks and seared, Oneal smokes the rabbit until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“It’s so tender, you could eat it without your teeth!” he said.

Oneal’s preferred Thanksgiving showstopper? A smoked turducken. A smaller one he made last year took him three hours to smoke. Check out our sister paper New Times’ breakdown of the Franken-bird from last year’s Holiday Guide.

Set up in Paso Robles and Templeton, J&R Natural Meats offers lamb chops, lamb legs, duck, geese, and turkey, among other meats. Oneal told the Sun that turkey, duck, and goose are the main offerings for the holidays. Turkey orders must be placed on the website but call the Paso Robles branch at (805) 237-8100 or the Templeton one at (805) 434-5050 for everything else.

For those craving a less hands-on dinner experience, Santa Maria’s Woodin You Like To Party charcuterie company might be the answer. Founder Kelsey Jeanne Woodin described her business as the “one-stop shop” that curates meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and other small bites from local vendors. The company even does woodwork, creating custom charcuterie boards in the process.

From November onward, Woodin You Like To Party offers a 10 percent holiday discount on orders along with a Secret Santa special in December. 

“A lot of the orders will come with thank you cards for supporting local businesses,” Woodin said. “A few of them will include a free charcuterie deal for up to a $50 value.”

For a traveling fee, she’s ready to produce her charcuterie creations for holiday events. Call (805) 868-1858 and check out for more information. 

Woodin extends her art into her own Thanksgiving and Christmas plans as well.

“I normally make a board if we’re going to someone else’s place,” she said. “But at home, I have a 12-foot wrap island that I cover with charcuterie!”

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at [email protected].

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