It’s been exciting, over the eight-plus years we’ve been visiting San Luis Obispo County and taking in all it has to offer, to see the whole area develop in different ways. We love that every year we return, there will be new spots to enjoy, new experiences to be had, new people to meet. This year, we’ve really noticed how the food scene in both San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles is really coming into its own, so we wanted to highlight some of our favorite spots from this year’s trip. When we’re traveling, we like to focus on places that offer small plates, so that we can try a maximum amount of stuff without completely getting overstuffed and lethargic. So, here are two great tapas spots apiece in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo proper.
One place we were thrilled to find was Mistura, a Peruvian joint in Paso Robles. Mistura is in sort of a weird location — basically, it’s on a golf course — but make no mistake, this place is legit. So legit, in fact, that this post would grow too long if we documented every course we had. Here, instead, are the highlights.
If you are out for Peruvian food, and alpaca carpaccio is on the menu, then you order the alpaca carpaccio. This stuff was fantastically tender, and dressed with aji amarillo, cherry tomatoes, avocado, aji verde and micro-arugula.
Also a standout was the ceviche mixto, made with sustainable fresh sea bass, calamari, shrimp, octopus, clams, mussels, lime, leche de tigre, cilantro, red onions, yams, Andean cancha, and choclo. It had the perfect amount of tang countering the richness of the sea bass.
For dessert, we didn’t have churros; we had OMG CHURROS!!! These delights were filled with manjarblanco, covered with granulated sugar, and served with a side of dark chocolate ganache, and they were simply exquisite.
The other true standout on our Paso Robles food tour was The Hatch. While chicken is their specialty and calling card, they had a ton of other delicious bites on hand.
And a solid cocktail program to boot! We started our meal with a pair of cocktails: the Old Creek, made with gin, Lillet, Benedictine, and lemon; and the Wake the Dead, consisting of tequila, Luxardo, Fernet Branca, orange, lime, and absinthe.
It seemed like each of the small plates we had could have been a lesser restaurant’s signature dish, so it was hard to narrow things down and present the best of the best. If you come to the hatch, though, you absolutely must try the hoecake, which comes with roasted winter squash, Brussels sprouts, and pepitas — and be sure, when asked if you want to add some bacon, that you say yes.
The other must-have we enjoyed was the Hatch burger, which was seared to a perfect medium-rare and adorned with bacon, white cheddar, and a succulent remoulade. (We got a little avocado added on as well, which…c’mon, you’re in California. You add avocado to things. It’s what you do.)
Back in the area that serves as our trip “headquarters” each year — San Luis Obispo — we visited a spot that’s sure to enter our regular rotation: Sidecar. Located right in the heart of town, Sidecar has a surprisingly large cocktail program. We kicked off our evening with something old and something new: an Aviation for Fox, made with gin, lemon, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and creme de violette; and for me, a delicious Sit and Stay, made with sotol (which is to Chihuahua what tequila is to Jalisco, and which you only get in PA via special order), aperol, a house sour, and egg white.
These meatballs were so good that we didn’t even write anything down about them. All we can say is that, were we still holding the Baller Meatball Ball-Off, these would have been strong contenders for top honors.
It’s impossible to say which place we visited was the #1 best of the trip — but Ember in Arroyo Grande was a true gem.
As we’ve fully transitioned into Total Yuppiedom, we’ve grown to embrace our love of things like duck liver pâté. Ember’s is fantastic, served on grilled country sourdough with a side of mixed farmer’s market greens in a sherry vinaigrette, along with some housemade pickles.
Too soon, we ran out of room in our bellies, and we didn’t even get to try one of their awesome wood-fired flatbreads! So…we got one to go. Later that night, we enjoyed sierra gold potato & smoky bacon flatbread with garlic cream, beet greens, pasilla peppers, and bleu cheese. All I will say is this: it was a brilliant decision on our part.
These are but four of the amazing options available in Paso Robles and the SLO area — and by the time you make it out there, you’ll probably have even more from which to pick!