Southern California

ieentranceI just love the food and wine community on social media. They find all the coolest and latest places to go when you head out on the road. While our trips to wine country always center on finding the best new wineries and visiting old favorites, ballast - in the way of great eats - is equally important if you want to survive a day in the tasting rooms. The Santa Ynez Valley (also know as Santa Barbara Wine Country even though it's 30 minutes north) is home to over 100 wineries, but the towns are pretty small. This leaves your lunch options a bit slim especially in the Buellton area, unless you're looking for fast food or are hankering for a bowl of pea soup. So when I heard about a new place called Industrial Eats, I just had to check it out. Well, I actually saw a picture of one of their pizzas on Facebook and it made my mouth water. So on our next foray up the coast I made it our lunch destination.

Open for about a month or so, there isn't much info out there about it, so it was not the easiest place to find. I have to admit we initially drove right by it, finding ourselves at the end of the road and out of luck. There was only one option and that was to turn around and look up the address again. This is something that happens quite a lot in wine country, as many of the best places are not on the map, so to speak.

Located on Industrial Way (which I guess has something to do with the name), it's sort of tucked in behind the owner's main business, New West Catering.  Jeff and Janet Olsson have been putting their 30 years of restaurant experience to good use in the Vally for over a decade and this is a clear expansion of their efforts. Why not put your catering kitchen to a secondary use during the week and bring your talent to the public at large?

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Sides Hardware and ShoesWe love going to wine country. It's our favorite place to vacation. It's peaceful and beautiful and you can drink during the day without having to be in a bathing suit….or anyone judging you. While the Santa Barbara wine region is technically closer to us, we spend most of our time in Paso Robles.

Driving up the 101 is much prettier than the flatlands of the I5 and the central valley, so we usually head up along the coast and make a pitstop in Los Olivos, one of the quaintest towns you'll ever see. If you're into wine, it's nirvana. For good or ill - it's a hot button issue for residents - wine is king here, with over 25 tasting rooms lining both sides of this close-your-eyes-and-you-might-miss-it Main Street. Good food is a necessity when wine tasting and you'll get some great grub at Sides Hardware and Shoes.

Yes, it's an odd name for an American wine bistro, but the owners - chefs Jeff and Matt Nichols - are long time residents of the town and wanted to keep the location's history alive. After years developing their culinary talents separately, they went into business together in 1996. Their first joint venture was the refurbishing of Mattei's Tavern, one of the Central Coast's original stagecoach stops built in 1886. They opened their "dinner-only" The Brothers Restaurant in that historical space which had been vacant since 1974. They had great success in this building, giving visitors a first-class, elegant dining experience that's a bit unexpected for this sleepy, little town.

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fitzpatricksSolvang is a tourist town through and through. This quaint, Danish-themed city is located smack dab in the middle of Santa Barbara's wine country. If you aren't in town for the pastries or chocolates, you're probably visiting because of your love of wine. It sort of looks like a Disneyland version of what people imagine Denmark to be like, but we are assured by Danish friends is not really based much on reality.

Though it has a slew of winery tasting rooms the food options, post breakfast, are pretty slim. Like most wine regions it has a few high-end restaurants that require reservations (like Root 246), but after a long day on our feet we just wanted something casual and uncomplicated. Fitzpatrick's Tavern fit the bill perfectly. Open for around 6 months, it's everything an Irish bar should be and a nice change from the other mid-priced options around town (pizza, pasta, sandwiches). Chosen mostly for comfort and convenience, we sidled up to the bar, so we'd have a good view of the game.

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daofu 11You'll never find this place on your own; you have to know someone. The Thin Man and I are just that lucky. Michele lives close by and does a fast focus so we can shoot and eat while everything's still hot. DaoFu is in Normal Heights and the fusion menu shares Thai, China, India, Vietnam and Japan. Michele says, "There's nothing normal about Normal." I don't see anything weird other than a guy on the street with his dog, who's still in the same spot when we emerge later. The dog is clearly unhappy.

To check it out, you have to be a detective. That's because in December they were told to stop using the name Tao and so they became DaoFu. Back story: Vegas dudes took issue with the name, according to our server. Why is Tao Asian nightclub in the Venetian Hotel agonizing over a place 326 miles away? Vegas Tao seats 3,000; Tweets to 75,000; lists 139,000 Facebook friends, hosts an annoying website and features scantily clad women. DaoFu, nee Tao, has no website, no Twitter presence, it closes at 9, and seats 50 fully dressed crunchies in a storefront. Same thing.

DaoFu is a place you want in your neighborhood, but not if you live in Nevada. It's chic with flowers, dessert, beer, wine and smart servers. It's also funky and the funk part is writing on the walls. Every inch is covered in graffiti. The owner says to himself, what else? "Okay, hungry people, go draw on the walls." The dominant theme is animal motifs. Of course.

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pier46logo200.jpgThough I'm not a betting person, I would have put my small stash of savings on the line if anyone had told me a year ago that I would become a seafood lover. While still not on the sushi bandwagon, I have to say that 2009 changed my mind about how good fish can be. Of course, that is, when prepared by professionals using the freshest fish available. Chef Ludo Lefebvre prepared the best seafood dish I have ever had at LudoBites 3.0, one that I instantly wanted more of, much to my husband's disbelief. When we go out to dinner, one bite of his fish is usually enough for me. However, I know I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't discovered Pier 46 Seafood first.

They are located in Templeton, CA, a small town just south of our favorite wine region – Paso Robles. We go to Paso a lot, but I had never heard of Pier 46 until I joined Twitter last March. Their name came up time and again between my winery tweeps when discussions about lunch were bandied about. Everyone claimed they had the BEST fish tacos in the region.

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