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Nov 5, 2008 01:18 PM

Food Recs - Santa Barbara / Solvang Road Trip

The girlfriend and I are taking a little trip this weekend. Driving from LA on Friday night and heading to the Santa Ynez Valley for a wine tasting weekend. Would love to hear your food recommendations to make it a tasty trip. Here's what we're looking for:

Dinner on Friday Night
Location: Santa Barbara area. We're driving up from LA on Fri night and can stop at a place in the Ventura / Santa Barbara area along the way.
Type of food: We're flexible. Something that's slightly on the lighter side is always nice. We'd love to hit Hungry Cat, but I'm worried that there will be a long wait.
Cost: Not too pricey. No more than $75 total for 2 people.

Breakfast in Solvang:
I've heard of places w/ great pasteries, but I tend to need something more substantial. Think eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, and such. Something to coat the stomach nicely before ingesting lots of tasty wines!

Lunch in Los Olivos area:
Sunday brunch place, or a nice lunch place in the Los Olivos area would be nice before we have to head home.

Per some Chowhounders recommendations...we're having dinner at the Ballard Inn. Really looking forward to that!

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  1. You mention driving Friday night, so this might not work but if you are north of Ventura by 5:00 pm it would be hard to beat having dinner almost on the beach in Mussel Shoals, about 15 min. south of Santa Barbara. Perfect place to let the rush hour traffic run its course while watching the sun set. Do a search on this board for more details.

    1. Hungry Cat no longer full, lots of empty tables on my last visit a few weeks ago, to the point I wondered how much longer they would last in this town- they have a staff attitude problem even though my last visit still yielded a scrumptuous PugBurger - though a few corners were cut on this item, not fatal. But the "sell up" attitude forced on the waitstaff I found very off-putting. Be prepared to confront this, or not let it bother you and you will quickly get past your $75 limit.

      Easy to find regular breakfasts in many of the Solvang cafes on the two main shopping streets - think abelskievers when in Solvang as your pancake substitute.

      Capriccio in Ventura Old Town is my favorite - Northern Italian. Personally think the Shoals Restaurant at the Cliff House in Mussel Shoals is best for lunch in its splendid seaside setting poolside as they can get away with less attention to cuisine for lunch than they would for dinner. The specialness of the spot, the ocean, the waves and the palms makes it worth ordering the ordinary just to enjoy the setting for a bit after a long drive up the coast.

      If Hungry Cat does not work out, there are multiple good choices right around that same area of the 1200 block of State Street, side streets included. Choices could be: Opal, Tupelo Junction, Milk and Honey or the Chinese restaurant directly opposite Hungry Cat, Ca Dario, the Mexican place across from the Arlington Theater the new Vietnamese restaurant 1200 block State Street near the Granada Theater - any of these places will with careful selections will keep you close to your price range.

      Places to avoid in this area as your costs will exceed your budget: buchon, Epiphany, Arigato, Downey's, Olio et Limone. Personally not crazy about Trattoria Vittoria though it is cheaper than Ca Dario on the same 1200 block side streets.

      Los Olivos - Side Street Cafe always gets the most enthusiastic endorsements but may not be open for brunch. Might have to rely on the Fess Parker Hotel in town for brunch, nice setting but new kitchen so food unknown but certainly would expect it to be adequate or better for brunch. It is hard to screw up "breakfast" in America - one of our great contributions to the culinary world.

      If you can keep driving all the way to Santa Ynez on your first night for dinner, a stop at Grappolo would be my first choice, or stopping at Cold Springs Tavern for dinner on the way over the pass Highway 154 which would be a bit of a detour, but highly scenic country drive on your way to the wine country.

      Check to see if the road is now open to Cold Springs Tavern or you will have to enter it off Paradise Road-Stagecoach Road north instead of from the top of the pass on this loop of a road. Top part of the loop is closed for road repairs. But bottom is still open. Better yet, keep driving a bit more and enjoy Grappolo in Santa Ynez.

      1 Reply
      1. re: glbtrtr

        Best breakfast in the Santa Ynez Valley is currently had in Buellton at Mother Hubbards.

        Ballard Inn will smoke your preconcieved notions- excellent. Be in a relaxed mood and enjoy what comes at ya. Ask to sit by the fireplace, and go early for their exclusive wine tasitng offerings.

        Food on the way up? I'd do the SBShellfish on the Stearns Wharf- take your ticket in and they'll validate it for you. Easy exit off the freeway( Cabrillo blvd) easy to get back on (Carillo street onramp)...

        Have a nice trip!

      2. I would recommend breakfast at Solvang Restaurant, but half because of the decor. I am not a local, but remember it was quite acceptable for breakfast. And, since it was Solvang, I WAS interested in the ambience as well as the food. That's what Solvang is about. Quaint, character, tradition. It's a tourist town, not a culinary oasis competing with LA chefs.

        Solvang Rerstaurant
        1672 Copenhagen Dr.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kc girl

          Solvang Restaurant isn't a place I reccomend anymore, the food is mediocre at best- including canned hollandaise- a huge mark against them, as far as I am concerned. We still get aebleskivers to go here, but that is it.

          Across the street from them is the Belgium Cafe- nice. Paulas in Solvang is nice also- but over an hour to wait for breakfast isn't realxing.

          Longhorn in Santa Ynez is also good, but be prepared to either get there at 7am, or you have to wait- sometimes the wait is quick, other times the wait is long.

          We may not be a culinary oasis, but we do have some shiny spots here and there!!

        2. Well, the girlfriend and I have returned from our trip. Here's the report to complete the posting. Thanks to everyone for their help. Great recommendations.

          Belgian Cafe (Breakfast spot in Solvang):
          Tasty, simple, and quick. A place that I'd recommend. Food is acceptable and the wait staff is very courteous. We had your basic american breakfast (eggs, hash browns, coffee, toast, etc). We left pleased and our stomachs were adequately lined for a full day of wine tasting. The prices are good too. ~$20 for two people, before tip.

          Solvang Restaurant (Aebleskivers to-go in Solvang):
          YES! Tasty, quick, and cheap. $3 for 3 aebleskivers and they're served throughout the day. It was our first time eating aebleskivers and they were very tasty.

          Pete's Side Street Cafe (Lunch in Los Olivos):
          Pricey, but good food. Nice ambiance, relaxed atmosphere, and tasty I had the french dip sandwich and my girlfriend had the sauteed hearts of romaine salad. We shared a glass of wine. $48 total for two people.

          Ballard Inn (Dinner in Ballard):
          YES! So right in so many ways!!!
          Food is very good. While most of the items on the menu have french/american roots, each has its own twist that makes it a bit unique. Always nice to try something a little different and keep you on your toes! $140 for two (includes tax, tip, 2 entrees, 2 apps, 2 glasses of wine, 1 dessert).

          2 Replies
          1. re: fatassasian

            Thanks for your report and I am glad you enjoyed your trip --- and glad you missed our fire drama here these past few days - horrible but it looks like it is finally over or at least contained. Over 150 homes lost in only a few hours but most of the town is already back to business as these poor people have to pick through the dregs of their totally destroyed lives.

            1. re: fatassasian

              For the record, it's Patrick's Side Street, not Pete's - and thanks for your report.
              The Ballard Inn Restaurant is my very favorite place in all of Santa Barbara County to dine.