If your view of Paso Robles consists of golden arches and gas station neon, glimpsed on a blurred dash down 101, you need to slow down -- way down. Take the next exit, leave the McFast Food behind and mosey down to the downtown square, where every little bistro looks more inviting than the last.

Take our word for it. You'll want to start with these four.

Artisan Paso Robles

The vibe: Artisan's new location in the center of downtown is the epitome of industrial chic -- from its sustainable, cork flooring to the reclaimed wood and whimsical window panes on the walls. Hostesses are beyond stylish and the wait staff knows its wines. (It happens to be a major winemaker hangout on Tuesday nights.)

The goat cheese & ale fondue, garlic bread, broccolini, and kielbasa from the kitchen of Artisan restaurant in downtown Paso Robles, Calif., photographed
The goat cheese & ale fondue, garlic bread, broccolini, and kielbasa from the kitchen of Artisan restaurant in downtown Paso Robles, Calif., photographed on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Both the aesthetic and refined cuisine would be a cozy fit for San Francisco's Financial District, but we're glad co-owner and executive chef Chris Kobayashi left the city after stints at Roy's, Asia de Cuba, and Napa's Brix to open his own shop on the Central Coast. Artisan is a lifelong dream for him and his brother, Mike. Their parents must be so proud -- and rightfully so.

The menu, which draws inspiration from local and sustainable ingredients, offers an engaging combination of cheese and charcuterie, including a ridiculously divine goat cheese and ale fondue with kielbasa ($13), plus wood-fired pizzas, small plates -- like tender, to-die-for abalone with avocado tartare and fried capers ($18) -- and large plates. A new liquor license has expanded the Kobayashi brothers' cocktail program, so be sure to check out the new spirit flights, from mezcal to absinthe.

The dish: One? We don't think so. Start your meal with angels on horseback ($16), deep-fried oysters finished with bacon and housemade rémoulade. End with the decadent butterscotch pudding ($9) with salted caramel popcorn, which is utterly divine. Our favorite entree? The cedar-planked scallops ($30) with spaghetti squash, sherry brown butter and pork fried wild rice. Unique and delicious.

The details: 843 12th St., Paso Robles; www.artisanpasorobles.com.

Il Cortile

The vibe: Executive chef Santos MacDonal has worked in the kitchens of some of the finest Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, including Via Veneto and Locanda del Lago. Now, he and his wife are running their own Italian bistro in the wine country, where MacDonal's vast array of homemade pastas, fresh seafood, meats and antipasti have a distinctively rustic flair.

Inside, Il Cortile is classic and simple (if a little '90s) in decor; they have a small patio and a garden in the back, but frankly, it's the culinary memories that stick with us.

Start your meal with grilled octopus with fresh vegetable marinati in a spicy vinaigrette ($15) and pillowy burrata surrounded by paper-thin ribbons of Parma prosciutto ($15) drizzled with truffle balsamic. For pasta, you'll want the squid ink pappardelle with lobster ragu and salmon roe ($19), and, if it is still on the seasonal menu, the beyond-tender pork osso bucco ($33), an entree big enough for three to share. Overall, we found the staff passionate about MacDonal's cuisine and quite schooled on local and Italian wines. Their list features impressive limited releases, like Law's 2010 Audacious ($120) as well as a tempting Paso-Ital flight ($19).

The dish: Hands down, the black truffle risotto ($32), a rich, decadent dish that was a weekend special on our visit.

The details: 608 12 St., Paso Robles; www.ilcortileristorante.com.

La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant

The vibe: This vibrant, brick-lined space is the second restaurant venture for Il Cortile's Santos MacDonal. Here, he explores Latin flavors -- la cosecha is Spanish for "the harvest" -- but this is no taco joint. The food is a flavorful celebration of fresh California ingredients and big flavors. The dinner menu delves into Spanish and Latin American territory, with tapas, a paella of the day and dishes such as a grilled rack of lamb with salsa verde ($32).

The PC Cattle grass fed beef burger at Thomas Hill is $16.
The PC Cattle grass fed beef burger at Thomas Hill is $16. (Thomas Hill)

Venture in at lunch and the laid-back repast makes a lovely break before resuming your wine-tasting adventures. (All done with the wine-sipping? La Cosecha does craft cocktails, too, including seasonal caipirinhas and an Otono Espumante with pear vodka, St. Germain, cava and lime.) The lunch offerings include Honduran empanadas ($12) and a ceviche of the day, but most of the offerings lean in a more California direction, whether it's crab cakes with mixed greens and a jalapeño aioli ($14) or the tempting array of sandwiches, which include poached shrimp, bacon and avocado on challah ($14) and a riff on the Cubano theme ($14).

The dish: For lunch, the over-the-top twist on a BLT adds grilled chicken and caciocavallo cheese ($13) to the mix. Missed out at Il Cortile? Their lasagna ($13) and flatbread is on the lunch menu here. La Cosecha at dinner? Tapas, baby, tapas.

The details: 835 12th St., Paso Robles; www.lacosechabr.com.

Thomas Hill Organics

The vibe: Bold and imaginative. That's the feeling in the nooks and crannies, and, most importantly, in the dishes of this bistro and wine lounge in Paso's Park district.

It was born out of owner Debbie Thomas' humble CSA program. Today, with its sleek, silver scheme and whimsical handblown glass lighting, Thomas Hill is the quintessential, hip organic restaurant, especially with French-born chef Julie Simon helming the kitchen. Simon works with local purveyors for poultry, fish, grass-fed beef and lamb, while local farmers provide all the fruits and vegetables.

The menu changes weekly, if not daily, but there's always a collection of remarkable salads. For lunch, we loved the warm Brussels sprout salad with house-smoked grouper, red quinoa, Bloomsdale spinach, wakame, almonds and sesame-nori vinaigrette ($15) as well as the poached duck egg salad, which comes with frisée and smoky, charred cauliflower. Have you ever had organic chicken wings? You'll never go back to bar food after trying the chicken wings confit, which comes doused in a sriracha glaze. Thomas Hill also does mighty fun appetizer dips, such as the whipped lemon yogurt with mint chutney, Arbequina olive oil and dukkah, or the heavenly curried cauliflower dip ($10) that we lapped up with grilled pita.

The dish: The epic, PC cattle grass-fed beef burger ($16) with romesco, creamy cambozola cheese, apple wood smoked bacon, roasted garlic aioli and caramelized onions.

The details: 1313 Park St., Paso Robles; www.thomashillorganics.com.