I think the secret may finally be out. The little town of Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast is shining big in the foodie landscape, and it seems it’s having a moment. “Paso”, as it’s nicknamed, has long been lauded for its top wines, with over 400+ wineries that have won over picky reviewers. But it’s the farm-to-table eateries that are emerging from the wings now. Great meals and bites can be found at every price point. That, plus the lush surroundings and proximity to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, are luring travelers to the area. Home chefs will also find retail outlets carrying a plethora of ingredients to turn the average cook into the next Rachel Ray.
If you’re a first timer, plan to stay for at least three nights to get to the heart of this intimate destination. Get your bearings at the Farm House Motel, newly renovated with chic trappings echoing farm life but with an upscale vibe. Outdoor plantings surround a tin trough turned fountain. Rooftops are of corrugated steel. You get the idea.
The motel provides a hearty continental breakfast every morning. Fresh juices, local coffee, and teas sit on one butcher block table. On another an assortment of pastries, gourmet yogurt in glass jars, granola, and fruit beckons. In a surprise move, the motel offers a hot toddy on cold winter nights.
Shoppers on the hunt for a special condiment, spice, or olive oil have plenty of choices. Paso Robles is also home to extraordinary bakeries and cheese shops. Set your GPS to visit three places: downtown Paso Robles, the Paso Market Walk, and Tin City.
The Spice House in downtown Paso sells everything from black truffle salt to organic hibiscus mint tea. Also in downtown Paso is The General Store, a cool place for all sorts of gift items, home décor, local art, and Paso-made rubs and marinades. I go there for my annual supply of Bird Herbs, essential for slathering on Thanksgiving turkey. A block away is the Brown Butter Cookie Company, so popular for its shortbread that it maintains its own cookie club.
North of downtown is the newest food hall known as the Paso Market Walk. It’s got everything a foodie could ask for: Joe Bella coffee stand, a vegan cheese shop dubbed Vreamery, top-notch Moromoto ramen and more. Just Baked, labelled as a cake studio, is too irresistible to pass up with beautifully arranged pastries, muffins, cookies, and cakes.
What was once a neighborhood of tin-sided industrial buildings is now Tin City, an enclave of 40 artisanal breweries, wineries, restaurants, and food boutiques. Here you’ll find Olivas de Oro, an olive oil company that offers free tastings of its oils, vinegars, and sauces. Next door is Negranti Creamery for unique sheep’s milk ice cream where you can taste as many samples as you can handle. Sticky sells colorful handmade candy, providing demos upon reservation.
Where to eat? I have some favorites. If you have a carb craving, Moromoto Ramen, inside Paso Market Walk (previously mentioned), truly satisfies with its chewy noodles and flavorful broth. Also, there’s Finca for casual Mexican fare. This cute restaurant features fresh seafood nestled in tacos, burritos and more served inside a renovated Victorian with a porch and firepit.
Head downtown and you’ll have the pick of the litter as far as popular restaurants go. La Cosecha Bar and Restaurant has a new chef, and the cuisine, a blend of South America and Spanish flavors, is heaven sent. The flatbread mezze platter, the lamb riblets appetizer, and a succulent rib-eye are musts. With white walls and dark hardwood floors, the décor is definitely spartan, but the owners stress that the place was reborn with recycled and upcycled materials from local sources.
And if you’re in the mood for all things roasted and cozy, Hatch Restaurant, is your go to for comfort food, wood-fired and unpretentious. There are daily specials such as the rabbit on Monday and fried chicken on Wednesday. Fun are the sharing plates that run the gamut from Scotch eggs to rabbit dumplings. While the menu harkens to the tried and true, you’re sure to find something to dive into that’s adventurous.
If you’re craving ribs, off a back alley is Jeffrey’s Wine Country BBQ where you’ll be duly satisfied. Here you’ll feast alfresco with everything served super-casual on tin trays. The curated menu of all things BBQ includes pork ribs, beef brisket, mac and cheese and even homemade pickles.
Ready to hit the road in sunny California this winter? Paso Robles on the Central Coast, with its pleasant weather and burgeoning food scene, is your go-to if you take your eats seriously.