"Conventional wisdom calls for dinner at a Paso Robles restaurant, where organic ingredients reign and the local wine lists are excellent. But a new restaurant, Ember, is worth the drive to Arroyo Grande, an underappreciated town about 45 minutes south. Opened last year by Brian Collins, who trained under Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, the restaurant has a Mediterranean-influenced menu that makes excellent use of the area’s bounty. There’s a wood-fired oven, exceptional pizzas and ambitious dishes like abalone from nearby Cayucos with crispy pork belly, pickled ginger, avocado and Meyer lemon hollandaise ($20) and prosciutto-wrapped artichokes with burrata mozzarella and an arugula-farro salad ($12)."—NEW YORK TIMES
"Brian Collins attained superhero status for his pizzas at Full of Life Flatbreads in Los Alamos. So when he left to open Ember in his hometown, Arroyo Grande, fans followed. While he’s still making pizza, he’s also using his open-air grill and wood-fired oven for dishes like lamb chops with blistered cherry tomato salsa and crispy Monterey Bay squid."—FOOD & WINE
"Brian Collins, who opened Ember with his wife, Harmony, in Arroyo Grande less than two years ago, began as an intern at Chez Panisse while attending San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy. He was offered a full-time job and stayed for six years. Ten years ago, he returned south and worked at restaurants in the area before opening a place that would make Alice Waters proud. He said it took a while before he felt comfortable that the area would support a restaurant where much of the food comes out of the wood-fired oven. 'We’re right in the middle between Los Angeles and San Francisco,' he said. 'With the quality of wines increasing, there’s a parallel demand for high-quality food. Those two go hand in hand.'”—SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"Owner-chef Brian Collins, a native of Arroyo Grande, opened Ember with the goal of putting A.G. on the Central Coast dining map. The restaurant features an open kitchen with a wood-fired oven and a brick-and-mortar fireplace. Local produce, fresh seafood, and sustainable meats are always on the menu. The wine list emphasizes San Luis Obispo County and features more than 30 wines by the glass."—LA TIMES
Ember is a model of big, bold balance. The comforting, big-hearted cooking matches the restaurant’s woodsy coziness.
A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)—Bill Addison, EATER
"This Italian-leaning eatery, set in a repurposed barn, celebrates the farmers and fishermen of California’s Central Coast, inspired by chef/owner Brian Collins’ six years cooking with Alice Waters at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Most dishes are cooked over a wood fire. The wine program, like the food, focuses on the Central Coast. Staffers regularly take educational trips to nearby wine regions, and local winemakers often lead daily staff tastings."—WINE ENTHUSIAST
"The small town of Arroyo Grande, in southern San Luis Obispo County, has become a dining destination thanks to the addition of Ember. Open since February, it's been drawing foodies from Santa Barbara to SLO who want to discover the culinary creations of hometown hero Brian Collins, whose dream it was to his own restaurant in AG."—805 LIVING
"The moment you enter Ember you instantly feel the warmth of the space: the fire, the food, and the ambiance - everything about this environment is incredibly inviting. The massive turquoise-tiled pizza oven mesmerizes you as flames tickle the perfect amount of char on their culinary creations sitting in cast iron skillets and basking on metal pizza paddles. The beautiful build-out boasts rustic barnyard wood paneling, structural high beams, soft glowing string lights, and a sleek copper bar serving up craft beers and a well-curated wine list."—EDIBLE SLO
"Insider tip: Come early or late, as they don’t take reservations. Homegrown chef-owner Brian Collins has done stints at such places as Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos and Chez Panisse, and brings that influence back to his hometown. He can be found in the heart and soul of the restaurant—the glowing open kitchen with a turquoise-tiled Italian wood-burning oven and fireplace with rotisserie."—AAA
"Ember is a family-owned, neighborhood restaurant that focuses on seasonal cooking and live fire. Our monthly changing menu features the best locally grown produce, fresh seafood, and sustainably raised meats. The menu at Ember is designed so that you can drop by and enjoy a tasty bite on your way home from work or come in and make a night of it. We really focus on our “share” plates so folks can come in and enjoy a variety of flavors."—SANTA MARIA SUN
NEW TIMES "BEST OF SLO COUNTY"