Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Sides Hardware and Shoes is a playful mix of history and contemporary dining


One of the greatest meals being served on the Central Coast right now is the pork belly tacos at Sides in Los Olivos.

Until the early 1970s, Sides Hardware and Shoes delivered what its name promised. In 1901 the original building was put up by an aspiring businessman named Milburn Sides. He started M. Sides Hardware and Shoes, supplying the slowly growing ranch town as a fixture in the small community.

But in 1970s, when American tastes leaned more toward suede suits and disco ball glitter, the store shuttered, meandering through a long history of owners and various identities.

The drive to consume authenticity over the past few decades has led to a reinvention of sorts for venues like Sides. Whereas in the 1980s and 1990s, developers and decorators sought to turn industrial spaces into apathetic pastel-dusted clones, modernists now seek to revive and restore what was once so pure about early American craftsmanship.

The Nichols Brothers (Jeff and Matt, who also have Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn in Santa Ynez) were born and raised in Ames, Iowa. The pair understand the tool-in-hand soul of the farmer-builder, and it’s reflected not just in the venues they create but in the very nature of the food they serve. There is a refreshing element of constructed rusticity to every plate at Sides Hardware and Shoes, from the fried chicken to the roasted butternut squash soup. That’s not meant to suggest any severity at the locale. Sides, fixed with a fat happy pig as its logo, maintains a curious sense of humor about itself.

Sides’ way
Sides Hardware and Shoes is located at 2375 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos. More info: 688-4820.

For starters, I tried the bacon steak, something the Nichols Brothers are rather famous for. I played along, cutting into the smoked maple-glazed bacon with a knife and fork. You shouldn’t leave Sides without ordering this, even if you just want to share with a few people.

Other starters include fried Brussels sprouts, which are made with sherry vinegar and a dash of capers. The dish is a little briny and acidic against a crunchy texture and quite good.  The Brothers bacon mac and cheese at $17 comes with caramelized onions and a bacon cheese sauce. The thing is, you’re either the kind of person who pays $17 for mac and cheese or you’re not. Either way, it’s an excellent dish.

Sides’ seasonal menu offers a selection of tacos, including albacore tacos served with a tomatillo salsa, a chipotle mayo, and cilantro. But the glorious star of the menu is the pork belly tacos, perhaps one of the best things I have ever eaten on the Central Coast. The venue doesn’t skimp on ingredients either; the taco plate had three miso-cured pork belly slabs topped with pickled jalapeño, cabbage, cilantro, radishes, and an avocado salsa that I was dying for more of.

Don’t skip the desserts at Sides. Specials include ice cream sandwiches (pictured) and menu items include fig upside-down cake.

Salad selections include Cobb, chicken tostada, baby gem, salmon, and the Hammered Pig, which features fried pork tenderloin on a bed of arugula served with pecans, fruit, and a garlicy lemon dressing. They also have a popular Hammered Pig sandwich, which is good, but honestly, I love the presumptuousness of eating a fried pork salad.

Other standouts include fried chicken, which is always a thing I love seeing on chic California restaurant menus. Served with bacon steak and pickled onions, if I had to guess (I could very well be wrong) Sides probably brines their chicken to keep it so juicy on the inside. Burgers are popular at Sides, especially the bacon burger, which includes a smoky shallot marmalade, more of that famous bacon steak, and white cheddar. 

Bacon steak is a fixture on the Sides Hardware and Shoes menu in Los Olivos. The in-house pork belly is cured, roasted, smoked, and glazed, presented, and served as a piece of steak. Don’t let that stop you from picking it up and eating it with your fingers.

Normally, I skip dessert (so I can load up on extra portions of things like bacon steak and pork belly tacos) but I could not resist the ice cream sandwiches they were offering on special one of the days I stopped in. Other desserts that will make you rethink your no-sweets policy include a fig upside-down cake made with port honey syrup, brown butter ice cream, and wildflower honey almonds. It’s a very playful and creative dessert menu crafted by pastry chef Stephanie Jackson.

Prices range between $3 (for a scoop of ice cream) up to $34 (for specials like flat-iron steak), with most of their more popular items ranging between $15 to $20. Sides Hardware and Shoes is the ideal lunch spot in Los Olivos, whether you’re looking for a high quality bite of food or you just want to experience a slice of local history.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose disavows herself for the time she bought inflatable furniture. Contact her at

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