Fine Dining in Paso Robles

Paso RoblesPaso Robles is a small town with a population of around 30,000 residents. Until recently, there were very few memorable restaurants for fine dining to serve locals and tourists.   With the expansion of the wine industry over the past decade, there are now some terrific spots for food and wine enthusiasts, and new ones are in the works.  Paso has attracted excellent chefs from San Diego, Los Angeles, and even France who are redefining fine dining in Paso Robles.  Some homegrown local chefs are also generating excitement with their cooking, as we discovered.

As elsewhere in California wine country, Paso Robles’ restaurants offer seasonal menus and locally grown produce of the kind only available in local farmers markets and organic farms in the area. Some restaurants like Thomas Hill Organics and Villa Creek, which belongs to Villa Creek Cellars, are fortunate to have their own farms. Thomas Hill Organics grows heirloom varieties of fruit, vegetables and nuts. Villa Creek grows grapes for wine and raises dairy goats, laying chickens, Berkshire pigs, vegetables and fruit trees.

Paso Robles’ restaurants also offer diners the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of local wines. The restaurants listed below all have excellent wine lists of both local and international selections. Some like the Artisan also have extensive wine by the glass programs. We spent one evening at the Artisan bar tasting through their offerings of Paso Robles wines by the glass and enjoying their wonderful appetizers.

During our visit we were able to dine at several of the top restaurants in Paso Robles and Templeton as well the fine restaurant venue at Justin Vineyard and Winery. We were lucky to get tables at a couple of these restaurants on the weekend, as both locals and tourists usually make their reservations well in advance. Below we offer readers a guide to some of Paso Robles’ finest venues.

ArtisanArtisan. Established five years ago by brothers Michael and Rick Koyabashi, Artisan is an American bistro that offers casual yet elegant food and wine sourced from local purveyors. Rick serves as chef, and he is a talented one; he was nominated as James Beard best chef: Pacific. The food is savory and beautifully presented, including fresh crisp vegetables, magnificent roast pork, and savory duck. The wine list offers a wide variety of Paso Robles wines. We dined here twice and enthusiastically recommend the Artisan.

McPhee's GrillMcPhee’s Grill. Opened 18 years ago in the small town of Templeton just south of Paso Robles, McPhee’s Grill is owned by the affable Ian McPhee. It is a casual restaurant with a long bar and comfortable tables and booths. The restaurant is located in a building constructed in 1885 which Ian extensively remodeled. The specialties of the house are oak-grilled steaks, organic chicken, barbecue pork baby back ribs and planked salmon. McPhee’s has a large wine list of reasonably priced Central Coast wines and beers.

Thomas Hill OrganicsThomas Hill Organics. This restaurant was born three years ago when owners Joe and Debbie Thomas settled in Paso Robles. The restaurant is located in downtown Paso Robles and offers casual dining in a comfortable outdoor patio. The restaurant’s dishes are made from local and organic products, many of which are sourced from the Thomas’ own farm. We enjoyed magnificent dishes of sea scallops, beautifully roasted branzino and delicious roast duck that were usually accompanied by fresh tomatoes, plums, apricots and other local fruits and vegetables.

Ristorante Il CortileRistorante Il Cortile. This relatively new Italian restaurant in downtown Paso Robles is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Santos and Carole Mac Donald of Los Angeles. Santos, who has worked with several top Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, serves as Executive Chef. Il Cortile is a sophisticated yet comfortable venue, and the southern Italian offerings by Santos are first class. We enjoyed a variety of dishes including rich burrata, grilled octopus, delicate ravioli with beef checks and seafood risotto. The wine list is also excellent and includes top selections from local wineries as well as Italy and Spain.

The Restaurant at JustinThe Restaurant at Justin. The restaurant at Justin’s Vineyards & Winery is located 18 miles west of downtown Paso Robles. It offers a quiet and genteel dining venue. Executive Chef Will Torres prepares creative nouveau and traditional dishes using local ingredients. Our dinner was outstanding and included magnificently prepared dishes such as chilled asparagus soup, poached hen egg, braised short ribs, morro bay albacore and prime hangar steak. The restaurant wine list includes a wide selection of Justin’s wines and other fine wines from around the world.

Bistro LaurentBistro Laurent. This bistro enjoys an outstanding reputation for serving casual, elegant country French cuisine in downtown Paso Robles. It was established over eleven years ago by chef and owner Laurent Grangien, who worked in kitchens in Bordeaux and California before bringing his culinary wizardry to Paso Robles. His menu includes a variety of savory bistro offerings and a comprehensive list of local and French wines. Authentic French bistro cooking of this caliber isn’t easy to find.

Villa Creek RestaurantVilla Creek Restaurant. Villa Creek Restaurant is the creation of Cris and JoAnn Cherry. The Cherry’s came to Paso Robles from San Diego in the mid-nineties and founded Villa Creek Cellars, one of Paso Robles’ finest wineries. Their restaurant serves local and organically farmed products under Chef Tom Fundaro who joined them in 2001. The restaurant has an excellent wine list featuring Villa Creek wines and other selections to complement the cuisine. Villa Creek is located in the center of Paso Robles.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler

September 2012