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Solvang/Santa Barbara restaurant suggestions for east coast foodie couple

My husband and I are Boston Chowhounds and we'll be visiting this area for 3 nights in early November (We're staying in Solvang at Hadsten House for 2 nights & in SB at The Harbor House Inn for 1 night).

We'll have a car -- and while we often enjoy the busier, more happening restaurant/nightlife areas in a town (sounds like State Street is SB's "mecca"), we also don't mind driving off the beaten path for hidden gems!

We enjoy all types of cuisine -- Our favorite restaurants tend to be those that practice a farm-to-table philosophy...utilizing local ingredients whenever possible -- for fresh, in-season, simple, yet innovative flavors & dishes.

Your board has been tremendously helpful so far. I think I've narrowed down the list of places we're interested in based on some of the posts I've read and now, I would really appreciate any additional feedback or thoughts you all might be willing to share!

For the 2 nights that we're staying in Solvang, I'm thinking about the Ballard Inn and Root 246 at Hotel Corque. My only concern is that both of those seem relatively high-end, and we'd prefer to do 1 dinner at a mid-tier place (unless these are both 'must-tries' then we'll splurge!) Any thoughts on substituting one of these for the Los Olivios Cafe or some place else? Would driving down to SB for dinner and then back up to Solvang be a pain?

For the 1 night in SB I'm having a harder time narrowing down....
Bouchon, SeaGrass & Downey's all sound fantastic for a higher-price point...
Tupelo Junction sounds unique and intriguing....
Jade, Stella Mares, Julienne, Blush, Opal & Jane all sound good....some inventive/creative, others more standard, but all good?!?!

For pastries, looks like we'll be trying Renauds and we are huge ice cream lovers so I guess we need to try McConnell's? And for lunch sounds like La Superica Tacquiera is a fan fave?

Any help with these dinner spots would be much appreciated! We're looking forward to our visit!! Thanks so much!

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  1. I will second your choices of McConnell's and La Superica (have not been to Renauds yet). If they have the tamale with chicken and mole at Superica the day you are there, get it. Oh, and the chicken sopes. Those 2 items are both specials, so they are not always available. Also Superica is closed on Wednesdays. The rajas is my other must have.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Enorah

      We hit up Renaud's for the first time today.

      OMGosh! Yum! Pain au chocolate - my favorite all time sweet.

      So, apparently Renaud is connected to 3 locations, the 2 on State Street, and they have recently acquired Cafe Luna in Summerland. We are going to check that out soon for lunch.

      1. re: Enorah

        Happy to your your Renaud's feedback and news about opening in Summerland too. Biggest concern, will success spoil Renaud's? Can he continue to make the same quality when volume of demand grows? Sure hope so because this is one of the most authentic food treats we have in this area.

    2. The 246 restaurant is very good, but expensive- Ballard Inn is moderate. Having eaten at both, I'd go to Ballard Inn, if only for the smaller environment. Delicious food- small menu but all the right things. Always have to push my favorite steak joint- the Red Barn in Santa Ynez- fantastic steaks-clams- soups- all served with a smile and local wines.

      Going to SB from Solvang requires a 45 minute drive- that if you aren't against driving a well marked mountain road- it should be a breeze. You might consider Cold Spring Tavern- on the mountain road 1/2 way to SB. Not for everyone- but game meat and good cocktails. Its on the dusty side, you might find a hurried waitress, but great food- and atmosphere!!!!

      In Solvang- great breakfast 3 miles to the West at either Mother Hubbards or Ellens pancake house. Located in the town of Buellton. Also in Buellton- my favorite fish tacos are at Taco Roco.

      In SB, I vote for Jade and as always bouchon, and though I LOVE me some La Super-rica- please try El Bajio instead- 100 block of Milpas. The BEST tamales, fish stew, gorditas and aqua frescas

      Hope you have a wonderful trip- please do report back and tell us what you chose and how everything was- have a safe trip!

      4 Replies
      1. re: JalamaMama

        JalamaMamma, take thee ASAP to Renauds.

        At least for their croissant and then pick and choose any other indulgence in their display cases. Even their fruit jells are spectacular and who would have ever elevated that mundane industrial confection until you taste them at Renaud's.

        More selections and space at the Las Positas branch than the downtown, but if you are in the area and content with just a drop in or takeaway, this is a place to put at the top of your extensive restaurant/foodie list.

        1. re: JalamaMama

          I just found out the restaurant at Ballard Inn is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and those were the 2 nights we have booked for our stay in Solvang :( I'm considering adjusting our plans so that we're in SB Monday and Solvang Tuesday/Wednesday just so that we can go to Ballard for dinner!! The chef there has worked with Ming Tsai from Blue Ginger here on the east coast, which happens to be one of our all-time favorite restaurants.

          The reason I've shied away from Grappolo (althought it sounds great!) is because our family has an Italian restaurant and we cook Italian predominantly so when we go out to eat we tend not to go to Italian restaurants as much. I guess I should've mentioned that in my original post - sorry about that.

          I just also came across Pierre Lafond's Wine Bistro as a possibility. They happen to be doing a wine dinner the night we had planned to be in SB -- "Passport to the World of Wine" featuring Pinot Noirs from CA, New Zealand, France & Austria. $25 for tastes of 5 wines paired with a small bite. I thought it sounded kind of nice, but haven't heard much about that particular restaurant on your board?? Plus if I change our travel plans so that we can go to the Ballard Inn on Wednesday then it wouldn't work to go to this place for the event.

          1. re: keknight

            I agree with you- that owning a Italian restaurant cancels any need to go to Grappolo...thought the stuffed calamari and the truffled halibut are worth walking for miles...Ballard Inn worth re-arranging a stay in Solvang/- yes it is worth it....though once you start fiddling with the plans- it is easier for dissapointment to creep in.

            Budi is a fantastic chef- and where I see his Ming Tsai training come out is in his sauces. Lick the plate good. Like I mentioned- their menu is small- maybe 4 apps, 6 entrees and 2 desserts to choose from- all well worth trying. There is no showing off here, no patting oneself on the back...just a sweet Inn with a small dining room and a great chef and staff.

            Pierre LaFond isn't on my list- but they are one of the oldest vineyards in the Valley- they have their own organic farm on the vineyard- and they do run some interesting series of foodie events...they make some fantastic wines!!!

            Tuesday evenings is the Santa Barbara Farmers Market on the street, in front of Pierre Lafond- that might make it even more fun....

            1. re: JalamaMama

              Pierre LaFond was an early taste-setter in this town which was pretty much meat and potatoes back in the 1970's, when PLF came and introduced international deli items and more Euro flair to our choices. I stopped going to their deli in Montecito when there were a lot more (and better) choices closer by, but it would be great if you gave them a try to see if they played catch up with their later competition. They deserve credit for being early style setters in this town, both for Wendy's clothing and Pierre's culinary contributions.

              For whatever it is worth it could be fun to be an Italian restaurant person visiting this particular Italian restaurant out here, Grappolo, because they are foodie people and I think they would love to swap talk with an east coast professional. I Though I can appreciate this might not be your idea of a vacation to shop talk.

        2. I think you are off to a great start - just stick with your list. I would add Grappolo (N. Italian) in Santa Ynez to come down a bit off the high-end and I'll second our wonderful historic Cold Springs Tavern (check out their website) on San Marcos Pass which is between the two cities on a lovely designated scenic highway (Calif 154), since you have a car.

          Recent report says Cold Springs Tavern has the longest wait on a Saturday night so you might want to try it for lunch or be sure to get reservations. It has a funky cowboy bar where you can wait if you want to take a chance and wait it out and get to see and be in an often lively crowd. With live music.

          1. The Harbor House Inn on Bath is a great little find in a residential area near the Pier.
            Around the corner on Carrillo is a small, local Italian restaurant called Emilio's.
            It's the owner of the Inn's favorite restaurant.
            The food is excellent with a great wine list and it's located across the street from the ocean.

            1 Reply
            1. re: latindancer

              Oh and BTW McConnell's is one of the many reasons we Angelenos drive to Santa Barbara:)...
              Enjoy one of the most beautiful spots in the world!

            2. Not so sure Blush should be on this list as it is getting some ambiguous reports lately about it being a noisy bar where one can eat or a noisy restaurant where one can drink. You can be our first report here, if you decide you like either/or. http://www.santabarbara.com/Dining/re...

              It was a very stylish makeover but in a neighborhood not known for attracting the fine dining or foodie crowd. It is more the high volume party-hardy crowd and a lot of college students out for a good time. Blush looks decidedly adult which is why it seems to be neither fish nor fowl at this time.

              1. You'll only be about a 20-25 minute drive from Chef Rick's in Orcutt. Not sure what day(s) he is closed.

                3 Replies
                1. re: PolarBear

                  Chef Rick's is excellent and is a good example of how a place in the relative middle of nohere can have a fine restaurant.

                  1. re: TomSwift

                    Carpinteria and Old Town Ventura are also places to find dining suprises - a lot of it due to cheaper rents allowing young, adventuresome chefs to get started.

                    People don't think twice about driving long distances for dining in metropolitan LA so the close freeway access to all these places, including Chef Ricks makes them doable for dining destinations to a wide area besides just their local clientele.

                    The Jack Daniels pecan pie at Chef Ricks is haunting. And your happy suggestion of Mathews at the Airport in Paso Robles is/was another example of unlikely locations but excellent dining finds. Add also La Simpatia in Guadalupe and (for me at least) Philthy Phils ribs in Pismo and we are starting to put a lot of road trips on our own dining forays these days.

                    1. re: glbtrtr

                      Glbtrtr, I did some research last year on the Ventura/Oxnard areas to help out some dear friends in need. Should you have the time and inclination would really appreciate your updates and input since they still visit his elderly mother there frequently. Here's the thread:


                      Cheers and TIA,


                2. We go up a lot from LA...

                  First off..you don't need to take 154 from Solvang to SB...the 101 is faster and, IMO, just as scenic as you drive along an unspoiled coast for 20 miles. Much easier driving, obviously, than a medium twisty road.

                  As for places to eat:

                  I love the Hitching Post in Buellton - in fact, it is only restaurant I think is "destination worthy" in the Santa Ynez area...fantastic french fries, amazing pork chops, best grilled artichoke...surprisingly, I think their beef is the weakest link in the menu...deserts solid too.

                  In SB, I love La Super Rica...usually eat their twice when I go up...everyone has their favorites...mine is #16...remember to eat them like tacos ( place a tortilla in your hand, put filling in, add appropriate salsas/guac)...too many people, including me the first time, eat it with a fork and knife...wrong...doesn't taste right.

                  Other places I like in SB...Hendry Boathouse...it's a spectacular location on beach ( take a walk on beach before dinner), food is solid...esp. considering location, and not too pricey.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: manku

                    I'm in Santa Barbara at least twice a month from LA.
                    I've tried Hendry's twice and was completely unimpressed.
                    Other than the beautiful location I'm not sure what I'm missing.
                    Would you mind telling me what you like there? I've eaten breakfast and lunch but never dinner.
                    I try different places but always go back to my tried and true favorite...San Ysidro Ranch and all their food.

                    1. re: latindancer

                      Hendry's is not a "foodie" destination by any means, but I think the food is much better than one would expect given the location...the combination of great location, good wine list (beer too!) and decent food makes it worth visiting for me. Everyone at my table was happy with their food, and enjoyed their dinner.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        Have to agree here. Boathouse at Hendry's Arroyo Burro Beach has been a major disappointment, because they have a million dollar location and a $2.50 Blue Plate Special menu. Hitching Post at both locales weighs very low on my dining scale too.

                    2. Good breakfast pastries and lunch items at a bakery/cafe in Buellton:

                      Just off highway 154 about 1 1/2 blocks east of the freeway. Turn south into a driveway near the fast food spot on the street. Large barnwood-sided building, Pattibakes is in the rear, on the corner. Best bakery items in the valley imho. Forget the Danish stuff unless it's a family nostalgia thing. Jumbo cookies, cinnamon rolls, cakes, pies, tarts, etc. They supply other cafes and coffee houses in the valley with their wares.

                      Comfy atmosphere, no tourists. Delicious baked goods and food items.


                      1. Hi everyone!
                        I just thought I'd report back on our trip to SB and the Valley. We had a fantastic time and experienced some delicious food!!

                        Many of the places we considered for SB were closed since we were there on Monday, but got to experience La Superica for lunch which was out of this world! We had the La Superica Especial (#16), a pork & veggie tamale, and a chorizo taco. Everything was so authentic and fresh. We really really enjoyed everything. The guac was the best we've ever had.

                        And we did Bouchon for dinner that evening -- which we loved! The service was great -- our waiter wrote down a list of his recommended vineyards & wineries to visit in Los Olivios, Solvang & Santa Ynez/Santa Maria, which was helpful. For Apps: heirloom tomato tower and a SB spiny lobster w/puff pastry. Both were great -- tomatoes at the height of their season and very flavorful; interesting to compare the SB spiny lobster to the Maine lobster we're used to here on the east coast. For entrees: Seabass w/fennel crusted fingerlings, root vegetable slaw & olive tapenade; And Ahi crusted w/herbs de Provence, roasted tomato sitting on a bed of whipped chick pea mash. For dessert: McConnell's!!!!!! We had the lemon zest and coconut flavors. THE BEST ice cream by far we've ever had. We weren't sure we'd have time to make it to McConnell's so we decided to opt to have it at Bouchon and we're so thrilled we did -- definitely the best ice cream!

                        We did Renaud's for an almond croissant and egg sandwich on the way out of town the next morning and they were both delicious -- especially the pastry!

                        In the Valley, we had dinner at a friends house Tuesday night and tried Los Olivios Cafe for lunch Wednesday. It was solid -- very tasty & needed! break from all the tasting! And for our last dinner Wed night, we opted for the Ballard Inn. It, also, did not disappoint. We tried the Hamachi Sashimi and the Venison Carpaccio for appetizers. Both were extremely flavorful and seasoned perfectly. For entrees we had the Miso Glazed rack of Lamb with garlic noodle & chinese black bean demi glace; And Pan Seared Duck Breast with sweet potato puree & balsamic reduction. Our server mentioned the duck breast has never come off the menu because it's so popular - which is why we decided to try it figuring there might be something that set it apart from other seared duck breast dishes out there, but we didn't think there was. It was delicious, but rather ordinary and we wished we had tried one of the seafood options for the other entree as they may have shown off the chef's inventiveness and creativity a bit more.....Our bad choice on that, but regardless everything was great. The ambiance at the Ballard Inn is so charming and cozy, as well - which we really enjoyed!
                        Thank you all for your help planning this trip!!

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: keknight

                          Thank you so much for the validation of our local recommendations. I think your efforts on Chowhound ahead of time really paid off for you. Santa Barbara Chowhounders, take a bow!

                          I never travel anywhere any longer without checking out Chowhound so the rewards work both ways. We get to help people who come here and we get helped when we go there. A win-win. I have had many memorable experiences finding unique local spots when traveling that would never show up in a guide book.

                          I think you hit the trifecta in Santa Barbara with your choices for your short time.

                          1. re: keknight

                            Thanks for a great report. It is rare that out-of-towners take the time to report back and we all appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed yourselves!

                            1. re: keknight

                              Thank you for the report- glad Ballard Inn worked well for you. Glad you had a great visit!

                              1. re: keknight

                                For anyone else traveling to Santa Barbara, Cajun Kitchen is an amazing casual breakfast, brunch, lunch place with great food and incredible portions. My husband ordered a breakfast whose centerpiece was a perfectly done blackened catfish. My normally plain jane eggs over easy breakfast was done to perfection and came with a homemade, light and flakey biscuit the size of two fists. So good. Our four-year-old was with us, and there were plenty of great options for him. Family friendly, casual, fabulous food, from ordinary breakfast fare to New Orleans-style cuisine with patrons running the gamut from university types, to families, to black clad tattooed musicians ending a long night with an excellent meal.

                                Cajun Kitchen Cafe
                                901 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

                                1. re: mecr

                                  Good to get the family friendly report for Cajun Kitchen. Good call. Had forgotten this virtue about this very friendly place.