Paso Robles, located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is nestled in the oak tree dotted foothills of San Luis Obispo county on California’s central coast. It’s home to the Mid-State Fair and the junction of U.S Highway 101 and California State Highway 46.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s my family and I would pass right through Paso Robles on our way to Morro Bay from Fresno. Paso Robles was merely a place to gas up or stop for a restroom break. But that was all Paso Robles was for us, a break from the road before the last leg of the trip to the coast. But then Paso Robles started to grow in popularity. Sunset, a magazine dedicated to living on the west coast, started to feature Paso Robles more and more in its glossy pages. I’ve been an avid Sunset subscriber for years, so reading the reviews on Paso Robles’ restaurants and wineries would leave me drooling and thinking to myself, “Paso Robles sure has come a long way from the club sandwich I once ate at Margie’s Diner.”
Paso Robles is quickly gaining ground as California’s new wine country. More relaxed in atmosphere, Paso Robles’ wineries seem more approachable than those located in Napa, thus better portraying the ideal of the laid back California lifestyle. And with good wine comes good food. Sunset recommended a new restaurant in Paso Robles called Il Cortile. The description of the freshly made gnocchi was enough to actually make me convince my husband to drive us the two hours to Paso Robles for dinner. I didn’t even end up getting the gnocchi because one of the specials that night was truffle risotto. I have a hard time passing up anything with truffle or risotto on any menu so when I had the opportunity to eat them together, I pounced on it. And I was rewarded. The risotto was delicious, warm and creamy and the truffle was subtle and not too overpowering, in other words, just right. This dish was Goldilocks’s porridge.
Another recommendation came from my husband’s cousin, who said we should try Thomas Hill Organics. I had the whipped lemon yogurt with dukkah and grilled pita. I easily polished off the cool and refreshing lemon yogurt, which tasted to me like a warm summer evening. I also tried the quinoa salad with basil vinaigrette off of my husband’s plate. I’m usually not a huge fan of quinoa, but I loved this salad, causing my husband much chagrin when I ended up stealing almost all of his salad instead of just the taste I had originally asked for.
But Paso Robles isn’t just wine, organic food, and gourmet farm to table restaurants. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that sometimes you want some really good rib stickin’, lick your fingers clean meals as well. Welcome to Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ. You want to eat here. There’s a mechanical bull inside and the food is good too. I love nachos and I love pulled pork. They’re my trashier version of truffles and risotto. And Big Bubba’s just happens to have pulled pork nachos on their menu. Warm tortilla chips piled high with beans, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and pulled pork. It’s called their bad to the bone nachos and if you don’t like pulled pork you can get either chicken or tri tip instead. And for dessert, big bad chocolate cake. It’s actually called that on their menu. We’re talking layer upon layer of chocolate cake and chocolate frosting. This thing was so big I had it for dessert, then dinner that night, and breakfast the next day.
While Paso Robles may be known for their wine, they are also home to Firestone Walker brewery, winner of the “Mid Size Brewery of the Year” award at the World Beer Cup four times. Firestone Walker embraces their location in a major wine region of California and actually ferments their ales in oak barrels. If you take the brewery tour you can try their 100% oak barrel fermented ale. It’s my favorite out of all of their beers. Firestone Walker also recently opened up a restaurant at their brewery that I haven’t had the privilege of trying yet.
So if you’re just passing through Paso Robles I recommend actually stopping and checking out the town. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in town that cater to all sorts of appetites. Try a pale ale at the Firestone Walker taproom. And of course there’s what really put Paso Robles on the map, the wine. Most wineries in the area offer tours and wine tastings. Have fun, enjoy what the new Paso Robles has to offer, and don’t drink and drive!