Manta Rey Restaurant
9240 Castillo Dr.
San Simeon, CA 93452
What it is: Simple seafood and pasta restaurant near Hearst Castle, with some great bargains.
The good: Early Bird specials, large portions, generous pourings of wine, friendly service, pretty views
The bad: Gnats, some tougher chunks of beef
On a quick jaunt to Hearst Castle along the Central California coast, I found myself staying in the neighboring town of San Simeon. (Note: This is a sleepy little bunch of hotels and adjoining restaurants. I never really found a ‘downtown’, but a short ride south is the quainter town of Cambria.)
Thanks to some investigation on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Chowhound, I had my eyes set on trying out Manta Rey (not “Ray”) Restaurant. Why? Two grub-worthy reasons:
(1) They’re one of a few places in the area that promote Early Bird (read, “Senior”) Specials if you order your food between 5 and 6 p.m. Entrees on the limited Early Bird menu average $5 less during this time. They also had A La Carte options, similarly priced.
(2) They also provide a 10% discount to a number of lead sources (seeing their site on the web, staying at any of the local hotels, you name it). Since one didn’t have to try too hard to notice the 10% discount they offered, I considered all their prices 10% less than what was on the menu. If any diners couldn’t figure that they were paying the 10% markup when they paid the price on the menu, that’s a nice bonus for the restaurant.
Also note that San Simeon’s high season is the summer. I was visiting during the sleepier Fall. I’m not sure about the summer demographics but when I was there, let’s just say the average age of the tourists was 60-65 (not including any European visitors).
I thought I’d have competition when I headed to Manta Rey at 5:45 p.m., but it was filled with only one Early Bird couple and what some local families (a good sign!). Kitschy decor with ample windows allow viewing of the coastline on the other side of Highway 1
This area is not known as a culinary mecca – most of the restaurants specialize in seafood and pasta combinations. I don’t blame them, given the blue-haired clientele. They’ve gotta serve the lowest-common denominator favorite foods.
Being the picky San Franciscan, I actually passed on the salmon or snapper entrees, and went instead for a hearty, fresh bowl of beef stroganoff for $13.95. I also ordered a glass of wine from one of local Paso Robles vineyards – a Grenache and Syrah blend that came in a generously-poured glass for $8. (I’d consider it 2 glasses in SF.) They also provided me with 2 pieces of warm sourdough bread, with butter. I only point this out given some other news articles about San Francisco restaurants cheaping out and NOT serving complimetary bread due to rising flour costs. Suck it up, restaurants (or blend it into the rest of the prices on the menu, duh!).
The staff were also extremely friendly. My server was knowledgable enough to help me with some tiebreaking I needed for the wine selection. This was a pleasant surprise as I half-expected a useless response. She actually gave me helpful advice! She also didn’t bat an eyelash or change her attitude when she saw me going for the Early Bird Special or mention the 10% discount. (Note: You better be tipping good people like that, a % of the full retail value of your meal. Their tips shouldn’t have to suffer just because of your thriftiness!)
My beef stroganoff (served with linguini noodles and sprinkled with some chopped green onions) was not overly creamy, and was also a generous portion. The beef-to-noodle ratio was significant, too.
The only two drawbacks to my experience?
(1) There were gnats in the dining area. Not a swarm. But even 1-2 pesky buggers that I had to keep waving off my food was annoying. (They are, fortunately, less aggressive than the ones that seem to infest the first floor of a certain media company South of Market.) Also, this may not just be a Manta Rey problem. There seem to be 2-3 gnats buzzing about in my hotel, too. Hmmm.
(2) A few cuts of my beef were chewier / drier than I would have liked. None of the pieces were so tender that I thought they’d slow-cooked the pieces, but they were tastier than I’d expected.
I somehow managed to wipe clean my plate, drink that huge glass of wine, eat my bread, and roll myself out of there, all for $23.03 after discount and taxes before tip! Excellent value – you’ll definitely have to drop by!