If the name “Fish Gaucho” doesn’t reel you in, the menu, margaritas and mescals at this restaurant in downtown Paso Robles will.
Fish Gaucho is the latest venture by Troy Larkin and Donovan Schmit, who also own and operate Pappy McGregor’s Irish Pub in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
With high ceilings, a bright interior and patio doors that are almost always open, the former furniture store and dog grooming salon is now a stylish space reminiscent of festive south-of-the-border dining.
Among the many distinctive Mexican accents and artwork throughout the space — most courtesy of Luna Rustica in San Luis Obispo — are a striking fish-themed chandelier and a huge metal bull that majestically overlooks the room from a lofty perch above the dining area.
The soaring rustic bar will also get your attention, with 10 taps of draft beer and almost 150 bottles of tequila and mezcal. You can sip some of the high-end tequilas, enjoy classic Mexican cocktails such as a margarita or michelada or go for an option like the Frida Kahlo, which is made with locally distilled Re:Find vodka, muddled cherries, lime, ancho chile and rosemary.
“We really have more of an ‘agave spirit’ program,” dining and spirits manager Matt Hanson said. “I encourage our bartenders to play a little bit and we’re doing everything as seasonally and locally as possible.” He added that mezcals are becoming more and more popular, and that he’s planning some unusual spins on that spirit in the future.
The food, Larkin explained, was primarily inspired by family trips to Mexico, especially to beach towns where seafood is king. The restaurant features several fresh fish selections daily, as well as fresh oysters available on the half shell or baked with chorizo and cotija, a Mexican cheese.
In addition to daily specials showcasing the fresh catch options, other seafood dishes include ahi flautas, two or three ceviches and the very popular lobster enchiladas. For some Fish Gaucho-style surf-and-turf, go for the filet, shrimp and diver scallop entrée served with jalapeño mashed potatoes.
Even if you’re not in the mood for seafood, Fish Gaucho still has plenty to offer.
For starters, munch on housemade jalapeño tater tots, roasted Brussels sprouts with chorizo, or chips with guacamole and a trio of fresh salsas: pineapple/jicama, avocado/tomatillo and watermelon/chipotle.
From there, opt for pork pozole, braised short rib chile verde or shrimp chilaquiles. Or try a chorizo torta (sandwich), chicken poblano enchiladas or an El Cobb Ron salad with grilled chicken.
You can also create your own dish by choosing a “vessel” (tacos, burrito, nachos) and the “bait” to put in or on it (fresh fish, pineapple carnitas, grilled chicken verde, etc.) Sides, which can be ordered individually or for the table, include black beans, poblano rice and roasted veggies.
Dessert choices are housemade churros and dulce de leche bread pudding.
Though the entire Fish Gaucho menu has a decidedly Mexican flair, Chef Chris Beckett, who’s worked with Larkin and Schmidt about 15 years, is quick to declare this is definitely not traditional Mexican food.
“”I know what’s authentic and I have a lot of respect for that … especially here in Paso Robles,” Beckett said. “My training is in classic French cuisine, so this is just my take on things. It’s really more modern Californian Mexican cuisine.”
1244 Park Street, Paso Robles | 239-3333 | fishgaucho.com
Hours: Daily from 3 p.m., dinner until 9:30, bar until midnight; happy hours Monday-Friday 3-6 p.m. and nightly 9 p.m.-close; lunch Friday-Sunday from 11:30 a.m.
The scene: The bright, festive restaurant/bar evokes an upscale south-of-the-border cantina.
The cuisine: Mexican concepts and flavors are showcased with a California spin, and an extensive ‘agave program’ features tequilas and mescals. There’s also a full bar, local wines and 10 beers on tap.
Expect to spend: Smaller plates $10-20, entrées $15-30, some fish specials market price.