Jocko’s: Stacking Steaks in Kitschy Moo Meat Mecca

Steakhouse San Luis Obispo

The Knotts family created a meaty San Luis Obispo County destination.

Jocko’s is a Central Coast moo meat mecca. Ralph “Jocko” Knotts operated a garage and ran a saloon called Jocko’s Cage until his death in 1956. In the late 50s, Jocko’s sons Fred and George opened a restaurant and bar, where they served barbecue on weekends. The barbecue eventually became so popular, they opened Jocko’s steakhouse in 1962, at the current site. Fred’s wife, Sandy, and son Mike are the current proprietors.

Steakhouse San Luis Obispo

Jocko displays their motto prominently throughout the restaurant. “Monkey” was a nickname that friend Al Ash gave Jocko during a trip to the San Francisco Zoo.

When the restaurant was constructed at the dawn of the ’60s, local ranchers lent their brands to the wood walls. The brands still line the walls to this day.

Grill San Luis Obispo

Jocko’s meats are infused with oak smoke in the pit. Oak stacks high and deep behind the restaurant, where racks of ribs can be seen hanging over the brick pit, licked by rising flames.

Taxidermy San Luis Obispo

Most steakhouses worth a damn are decorated with animal remains. Jocko’s is no exception. Check out the mounted antlers of this buck. I didn’t know antlers could have so many points. Come to think of it, this might be a hoax, but it still makes for colorful decor.

I know George and Fred didn’t have spell check in 1962, but the placemats that read “Jenuine Oak Coals Kooks Our Steaks” were ridiculous. The mats were also very cool, with letters made from oak logs. I also like that the cow was all dolled up, and she can even balance a martini glass on her tail. That’s a talented heifer.

Enough ranchland kitsch. Let’s get to the vittles. Each meal begins with an icy vegetable tray featuring black olives, three kinds of pepper, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, carrots and celery, served with a dish of house-made salsa.

Each meal comes with a salad and choice of dressing. This iceberg heap featured crinkle-cut beets, julienned carrots, and purple cabbage. I went with Italian dressing. It was fine, but an unnecessary belly-stuffer.

Bread San Luis Obispo

Don’t expect a bread basket at Jocko’s. The Keebler elves baked crackers instead. Thankfully, they also make soft slabs of garlic bread, which were a little burnt, but still awesome.

Ribs San Luis Obispo

This is a huge slab of oak-smoked pork spare ribs, crusty and chewy, with a nice outer char. Unfortunately, the meat was a little too chewy. Believe it or not, this was an appetizer portion.

Steak San Luis Obispo

Here’s a mammoth New York steak, incredibly juicy, with a delicious char. The meat was incredibly tender, and not fatty at all. The oak smoke also lent the meat a terrific flavor. It came with a baked potato, sour cream and chives.

Steak San Luis Obispo

Here’s the “small” Spencer steak, 13 ounces. When we ordered, I joked with our waiter, Chris, asking if three plates of meat would be enough for two people. He said a rack and ribs and “almost three pounds of meat” should be plenty. That was the understatement of the year. The Spencer steak is a rarely seen cut of beef, even juicier than the New York. Juice oozed from the meat with the tap of a knife. Amazing beef, and incredibly reasonable. This $20 slab of meat could sell for twice the price in Los Angeles, and still be worth it.

Beans San Luis Obispo

Tiny pinquito beans are a classic Santa Maria-style barbecue accompaniment.

Ice Cream San Luis Obispo

Each entree came with a choice of dessert. We chose chocolate ice cream and a favorite of my youth, rainbow sherbet, ice cream’s low-fat cousin. One thing I don’t understand; if it’s called rainbow sherbet, why is it pink?

Takeout San Luis Obispo

With portions so obscenely large, we had no choice but to carry a stack of Styrofoam-packed meat back to Los Angeles.

Amazingly, Jocko’s leftover steaks held up great. I ate the meat the next two days, and even after microwaving, it still had more flavor than most steakhouses have on site. Impressive.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

Hello-THANK YOU for inquiring and for the review-My father was/is Fred Knotts (unfortunately he passed away 20 yrs. ago)Jocko was his father-passed away in the mid 50’s.The building was never used for anything but the restaraunt-the red house next door is the house that Jocko and Mollie Knotts raised their 7 children (5 boys and 2 girls ).Sadly my uncle (the youngest son of Jocko and last child-owner of Little Jocko’s-passed away 2 yrs. ago. Jocko’s rest. has the 2nd liquor liscense issued in the state of Ca. after prohibition-RUMOR has it that Jocko may have played a part in making many people HAPPY by sharing/selling SPECIAL SPIRITS on the Central Coast during Prohibition….Today, the restaraunt is owned by my mother/late wife of Fred Knotts and operated by my brother, Michael Knotts-Thank You all for the love and support! God Bless!

Hi Ron and Joshua,
My grandfather was Jocko and my dad is his sole surviving child. I am sure he would love to give you more info.


Would like to know more history before Jocko’s was started in 1962. I was stationed at Vanden Burg Air Force in 1962 and my buddies and I would get over to Jocko’s as often as possible. Now I take my family and friends there often. The food’s the best as well as the service. The place brings back many a happy memory but would love to know what the building was used for prior to 1962. I’ve read somewhere on some of the photos there that it was in the 1800’s and the cowboys used to visit the place a lot. Thanks for your time. A customer for over 47 yrs.
Ron Johnson

Ron, thanks for sharing your story from Jocko’s early days. Very cool that you’ve been a customer for 47 (now 48) years.

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