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Cowboy country meets
wine country at ON Bar Paso 

Black and white framed photos of cowboys and cattle hang above the comfy booths at ON Bar in Paso Robles.

Melissa Mattson, part owner alongside founders Steve and Angela Nino—explains that this isn't just "rustic" décor.

click to enlarge BAR NONE ON Bar's Scallop Sacchetti wth deep sea diver scallops, zucchini, yellow squash, grape tomatoes, basil, and viognier bechamel sauce is a best seller in Paso Robles. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BY MELISSA MATTSON
  • Photo Courtesy Of By Melissa Mattson
  • BAR NONE ON Bar's Scallop Sacchetti wth deep sea diver scallops, zucchini, yellow squash, grape tomatoes, basil, and viognier bechamel sauce is a best seller in Paso Robles.

It's a way of life.

"These are all local branding photos of our ranching community," Mattson says, adding that Steve Nino, among other area ranchers, can be spotted throughout the photo set. "For the weekend, you might go brand someone's cattle out in Cuyama, and everyone shows up to help, even the kids. The next weekend, they'll brand your ranch in Paso Robles. The ranching community here is really close."

From the well-worn branding irons dangling from the walls to the Waylon Jennings song crooning over the juke to the din of clinking glassware, ON Bar has one boot firmly rooted in cabernet sauvignon and the other in cattle.

In other words: It's a little bit wine country, a little bit cowboy country.

Seafood? Yes. Wine? Yes. Steaks? Oh heck yeah (Nino is picky about his meats, and so are his customers).

The restaurant is an homage to Nino's cattle ranching grandfather, Oliver Nino. A true Cattleman, Oliver would probably be proud of this place. This is no fussy white tablecloth affair, but the steaks are treated like celebrities.

click to enlarge STEAKMASTER Executive Chef Ryan Trimble busies himself with steaks, seafood, and salads at ON Bar in Paso Robles (but, let's be honest, it's mostly steaks). - PHOTO COURTESY OF BY MELISSA MATTSON
  • Photo Courtesy Of By Melissa Mattson
  • STEAKMASTER Executive Chef Ryan Trimble busies himself with steaks, seafood, and salads at ON Bar in Paso Robles (but, let's be honest, it's mostly steaks).

"ON Bar actually stands for 'Oliver Nino,' and it's been the family cattle brand for the past 95 years," Mattson says. "That's why it's the first thing you see when you walk through the door."

Yes, you will spot the large "ON Bar" brand clear as day as you stroll into this long beloved Mission inspired space, the second restaurant Nino has opened in the past few years. (He also owns family friendly barbecue joint Nino's Grill, located in his nearby stomping grounds of Templeton.)

If you're a Paso Robles local or just a fan of farm fresh early California cuisine, you've probably spent time here. Villa Creek opened in the location some 18 years ago, and whispers of this legacy will probably always remain.

Still, Mattson says that after months closed to the public, the community was "ready" to get back into the booths and to try the new offerings.

click to enlarge THE LIST You can still find a well-curated wine list featuring local and worldwide wines at ON Bar, formerly Villa Creek, in downtown Paso Robles. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BY MELISSA MATTSON
  • Photo Courtesy Of By Melissa Mattson
  • THE LIST You can still find a well-curated wine list featuring local and worldwide wines at ON Bar, formerly Villa Creek, in downtown Paso Robles.

Namely: Cocktails, wine, beer, burgers, seafood, salads, pasta, and USDA prime beef steaks cooked precisely to order.

Executive Chef Ryan Trimble uses only steaks from Harris Ranch, which—fun fact—members of the Nino family still partner with to keep their own cattle ranching legacy alive.

Although a quick lunch is a great option, Mattson says you must come for dinner if you want the full ON Bar experience. Lingering over a meaty mouthful with a bottle of local red—could there be anything more old-school Paso?

Let the people south of the grade "go vegan" and gluten free. Here, it's all about bloody plates and browned, beefy bits.

"Our New York steak and prime rib are doing amazingly well," Mattson says of the local response. "You don't have to season prime as much. All the fat does its own seasoning. You're really getting that true steak flavor."

click to enlarge THEY HAVE THE MEATS Steak is a big deal at ON Bar in Paso Robles. Order a filet mignon, 14-ounce rib-eye, 12-ounce New York strip, slow smoked prime rib, or 8-ounce top sirloin. Of course, you could get 14-ounce thick-cut pork chops, smoked cornish game hen, a sirloin burger, or baby back ribs, if you're still feeling peckish. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BY MELISSA MATTSON
  • Photo Courtesy Of By Melissa Mattson
  • THEY HAVE THE MEATS Steak is a big deal at ON Bar in Paso Robles. Order a filet mignon, 14-ounce rib-eye, 12-ounce New York strip, slow smoked prime rib, or 8-ounce top sirloin. Of course, you could get 14-ounce thick-cut pork chops, smoked cornish game hen, a sirloin burger, or baby back ribs, if you're still feeling peckish.

Farm-to-table this is not, yet you'll still get that upscale vibe (especially while chilling on that killer patio looking out over the heart of Paso Robles—not a bad spot to dig into a small plate of spring rolls and a mint julep).

I nibbled on two lunchtime appetizers that felt light and fresh on a weekday midmorning: a pretty tower stacked high with snow crab, mango, and avocado (served with house-made chips) and an order of tangy ahi wantons with red cabbage, micro cilantro, and wasabi dressing.

click to enlarge UP STREAM Simple, classic grilled salmon is served alongside a bed of greens topped with walnuts and honey mustard vinaigrette. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BY MELISSA MATTSON
  • Photo Courtesy Of By Melissa Mattson
  • UP STREAM Simple, classic grilled salmon is served alongside a bed of greens topped with walnuts and honey mustard vinaigrette.

Although the fish—and especially the coconut halibut—has become popular for those hot Paso Robles nights, you don't come to ON Bar for the fish. Not really. You come to ON Bar for the steak—the cow!

Take Mattson's advice.

Order a filet mignon, 14-ounce rib-eye, 12-ounce New York strip, slow smoked prime rib, 8-ounce top sirloin, or sirloin burger.

As she likes to assure to naysayers, "People that eat steak really like their steak, and we get that. We knew we had to make it good. We did."

Hayley Thomas Cain likes her steak rarer than rare. She can be reached at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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