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Los Olivos - Solvang - Santa Ynez

I've read old threads until I'm bleary-eyed. Places that sound great are closed. Chefs have decamped. So what's great, current, and open for good food in the area? We're coming up from San Diego and have rented a house in Los Olivos for a few days. (I'm not interested in California nostalgia places that used to be good.)

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  1. Sorry you missed the current recommendations that are still open and thriving. To just name a few of our own reliable favorites:

    Ballard Inn Restaurant - Ballard
    Mirabelle - Solvang
    Grappelo - Santa Ynez
    Cold Spring Tavern - Stagecoach Road off Highway 154
    Further afield: Mo's in Pismo Beach and Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo

    Others will be along with more local favorites, that are also alive and well.

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      thanks! all of these on my long list. good to know they're still worth visits.

    2. Succulent Cafe?

      Sides Hardware and Shoes? Their wine list looks terrific.

      word on The Red Barn?

      2 Replies
      1. re: pickypicky

        Succulent Cafe has gotten good praise here. I just have not tried it myself yet, but others here have put in on the map. It almost sounds a bit like Scarlett Begonia, which recently opened in downtown Santa Barbara which is excellent. Young, fresh, savory and creative, but still familiar enough to be called comfort food too.

        Some local reviews for Sides: http://santabarbara.com/dining/review... This website does not have high reliability for either high or low praise, but it gives you a bit of information about this new spot.

        Waiting for you to try it and give us some good reports back. We locals learn from what you visitors learn too, because I know for myself I can get into a rut going to the same places that have proven enjoyment and miss out on some of the newer places.

        1. re: glbtrtr

          Had a couple of starters at Sides, and it was a mixed bag. Lamb Sliders on nice firm brioche buns, but meat was overcooked. WHO overcooks lamb? A mistake that should not have come out of the kitchen. The fries coming with were excellent: crispy, thin and not over-seasoned. Salad of endive and beets was deliciously seasoned and dressed, beautifully presented. Dessert of individual pear upside down cake was over the top buttery rich. Flavors were top notch but drowning in melted butter. Cake itself was only about 1/2" thick, so go overwhelmed. A plus being it was not too sweet.

          I'll go again for a dinner entree but choose carefully. Could easily run from $40-60 per person here with wine. (burgers at lunch are $12-16)

          Full Bar, sunny streetside patio and larger quiet shady patio at the rear. The location of the wonderful Side Street Café of the 90's., 1/2 block west of the flagpole.

      2. I haven't been yet, but Avant Tapas and Wine in the Terravant Wine Center on Industrial in Buellton is supposed to be good. Nice views of the valley from there. Second the recs for Ballard Inn, Grappolo and Cold Spring Tavern. Breakfast at Paula's for the Danish pancakes with the Danish sausage is yummy. You might want to think about picking up sandwiches or other fixings at Los Olivos Grocery and having a picnic at one of the wineries (Demetria, Dierberg/Starlane, Melville, Alma Rosa, to name just a few with nice patios).

        1. stop by Rancho Olivos for some Olive Oil tastings... and some bottles to go. It's somewhere across the street from the Los Olivos Grocery.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Clyde

            Olive Oil tasting at Rancho Olivos (across from Brander Winery) and Global Gardens in Los Olivos, as well as in Solvang at Olive House. There is also a new place on Alisal Road, near Vin Hus and the newly re-opened Solvang Bakery- Santa Ynez Olive Oil.

            Succulent Cafe- have been singing its praises due to knowing their owners are top-notch and the effort put into the concept and word of mouth...personal experience? I give it a B. My food seemed cooked the day before and warmed up. The charcutiere platter was amazing, the wines amazing, the menu looked amazing. dissapointment.

            Red Barn- sold to Brothers Matt & Jeff Nicols, closed until further notice- when open it will be dinner only and they promise to respect the "old" Red Barn and the people who have supported it- it should deliver!

            Ranch/Reata- not sure of the proper name- but in Santa Ynez- across from the post office is a new western themed dinner music venue. I have only heard good things, but due to the freshly opened doors, I have yet to try it.

            Avant- I want to like it. Wine wall is awesome, but expensive and alot of the wines are what they bottle there. I LOVE the food- salty, savory, well thought out and delicious. The service needs upgrading, but that is a often heard complaint around here- deal.

            Solvang has new tasting bars opening daily it seems! Viking Garden Cellars next to the new Birkholms on Alisal has alot of great offerings. Do not overlook VIN HUS for cheese/crackers/condiments...Good things going on at Solvang Brewery and in Buellton we LOVE Figueroa Mountain Brewery for beer- no food- excellent beer- Jalama Blond & Danish Red!

            A perfect day for me in the Santa Ynez Valley- breakfast at Mother Hubbards- go pick blueberries at Restoration Oaks on 101 (south of Buellton by maybe 5 miles) or Classic Organic (same area/Nojoqui Falls area)- grab sandwiches from Panino (Solvang or Santa Ynez or Los Olivos) and hit up Beckman...Foxen...Rancho Sisquoc...Bridlewood...Sunstone- you name it, there isn't a bad winery- unless some form of elite crown has been placed on your head- just pick one or two and ENJOY. Maybe take a nap and then enjoy a fine dinner at Grappolo in SY, Cecco in Solvang or Hitching Post in Buellton. I miss the Red Barn....Dos Carlitos is also good in SY- high end beautiful food with excellant tequlia offerings.

            Los Alamos- the ever popular Flat Bread (Fri Sat Sun only) for dinner is a must do, new tasting rooms include Casa Dumetz and the always popular Bedford Wines- Stephan is usually behind the bar- worth the 10 minute drive. Nice antique offerings in town, plus Cafe Quakenbush for a wonderful breakfast/lunch/art date!

            Drive slowly and safely, enjoy the view and please post your views when done!

            1. re: OldJalamaMama

              Wow, OJM. You've really covered it all. Thank you so much for putting the area's offerings into one concise comment. I will definitely report back. My husband is a chef-- so it's always hard for me to plan a new itinerary. Our rental house has a kitchen, but we want to dine out, too. We are excited by the prospect of the Wine Ghetto. Do you recommend taking sandwiches there or is there somewhere in Lompoc to eat lunch?

              1. re: pickypicky

                re: rental having a kitchen...Farmers market in Solvang on Wednesday afternoons....Finley Farm stand daily at Refugio & Baseline roads...El Rancho Market on 246 has the best of everything- Nielsens market at the base of Alamo Pintado has great fish & meat- if you want yummy danish sausage- thats the place to get it! New Frontiers market across ( in the other plaza) from Nielsens is our local Whole Foods type place- expensive but if you have needs or are picky- this place will fill your needs.

                Lompoc....well Lompoc is unique- great wines going on- in the ghetto there is even a bread bakery that is growing its own wheat to mill for baking!! There is little on the food front, unless you are willing to go on the DL- there is a Thai place on H street- Home something or other- its easy to find as it is in a old TACO BELL storefront- the brick style type. There is Sissy's Uptown Cafe and Jalama Beach Cafe....4 miles south on Hwy 1 and then 14 miles out to the ocean on Jalama Road will take you to Jalama Beach- get a pass at the kiosk for a burger at the general store- it will give you 45 minutes to order & eat a burger and take a quick walk on the beach....google it- you will NOT BE SORRY for the drive! Another bonus- Jalama Road Farmstand- yummy beans, honey and whatnot available.

                Another hit in Los Alamos- Bell Street Cafe- google them- they offer delivery to the Ghetto several times a week with a call ahead menu. Great to go offerings! You can get from Los Alamos to Lompoc (via Drum Canyon road) in 20 minutes- another worth it drive for the views and tranquility.

                Another great option is to drive up and out Figueroa Mountain Road- 10 miles out gives you a vista of the Valley you might not ever see without making the effort. Google Knapps Castle- which is a easy hike near Cold Spring Tavern, out to lookout on the east end of the Valley- so awesome at sunset- then follow with dinner at Cold Spring Tavern...which is a old stagecoach stop and it looks it- dusty and dirty- kerosene lamps on the table and game meat/regular offerings, great drinks. If dust bothers you, dont bother- UNIQUE and worth it.

                To answer your question- take sanwiches or cheese and goodies to the ghetto with you, unless you plan ahead with coverage from Bell Street...ENJOY!

                1. re: OldJalamaMama

                  Just curious OJM, how does Sta. Rita Rd south out of Los Alamos compare to Drum Canyon? TIA Also, to keep this chow related I understand the original chef is back in the kitchen at American Flatbread?

                  1. re: PolarBear

                    I think you are refering to Santa Rosa Road- which runs from Buellton to Lompoc south of the hwy 246...which is a nice country rd with Sanford, Alma Rosa and Pierre LaFond on it...Drum Canyon runs from the town of Los Alamos thru the hills south of it to the Hwy 246 right where Foley is. The road west of Los Alamos eventually becomes Hwy 1 (south of Orcutt) or gives you the chance to take Harris Grade south to Lompoc as well.

                    Dylan Fultineer, I think his names is- is back at Flatbreads- that is correct. He had moved on to a hotel in Pismo.... I heard thru the grapevine that a bakery for bread is going to be built next to Flatbreads- but is not associated with them. I hear the bread is outstanding!

                    1. re: OldJalamaMama

                      Santa Rita Rd roughly parallels Drum Cyn, about a mile or so west of Los Alamos it heads south off 135 and then ends in 246 which looks to be a mile or so west of where Drum Cyn meets it. Melville and Babcock are immediately to the west on 246.

                      1. re: PolarBear

                        There is no such road. I am curious, are you finding this on a map? Campbell rd is in that location, but it enters & exits on the 246 only. There are a few ranch roads that go back in the hills. Cebada Canyon is one, but it dead ends if I am correct.

                        1. re: OldJalamaMama

                          Weird, both Google and Yahoo maps show it, Campbell appears to go north off 246 then head west and join Sta. Rita just before it meets 246.

                  2. re: OldJalamaMama

                    Yes, yes, yes on the drive out to Jalama Beach and the classic Jalama Beach burger. Not to be missed in my opinion.

                2. re: OldJalamaMama

                  OJM - I have loved your posts/ideas since before you were old;). Always have good ideas for my somewhat infrequent visits. That sounds like a perfect day! Too bad I'm rarely there during blueberry season. My mom(and grandpa) insist that I must try Avant next time I am down - they are loving it. They have been happy with the service but since he's in his 90's I imagine he gets some special treatment(as he should;)). I will give a report after I visit much later this year. I'm definitely intrigued by the Solvang situation if only for the convenience of walking.

                  1. re: OldJalamaMama

                    I laughed when I read your comment about wanting to like Avant. I couldn't agree more, I too want to like it, but seriously, the wines are so overpriced and you get about half of the pour of other restaurants. The food is good, but serving sizes (other than the salads and pizzas) are small and expensive. On the bright side, the view of the hills is amazing, but if you're there for dinner it will be dark and you'll miss it completely! The best part about Avant is the live music. We had some wine the other night (skipped dinner) and enjoyed listening to the piano player. Very few places in the Santa Ynez Valley where you can do this.

                3. Just moved to Santa Barbara County two months ago, so I'm new to the area but I just had lunch at R Country Market in Los Olivos the day before yesterday. It's a country store/deli and if you want a stacked sandwich (I think the sign read 4.5 ounces) and various cold salads, the place is great. Not fancy at all, but you will get your money's worth. I took home half of my sandwich, it was so generous.

                  1. Report Back, Pt 1:

                    We absolutely LOVE this region and thank you all for your detailed recommendations. Husband convinced it's the most exciting wine region in CA right now. Half way through the visit and thought I'd report back a bit.

                    - El Rancho Market - great place to start trip. Husband loves marketing and had fun combing aisles for things we don't see in San Diego. Picked up some no cal and oregon cheeses, local apples. . . Terrific wine selection.

                    - Sides, Los Olivos - thoroughly enjoyed dinner. Locals place. Hostess greeted many by name. One chef brother was present in the dining room, checking on tables, which gave the place a friendly, old world feel. My first course -- heirloom tomatoes, house-cured bacon, burrata, arugua -- was sublime, and a combination I've never had. Husband's lamb cooked to perfection. Dierberg pinot caused us to make a tasting stop there the next morning.

                    - Bell Street, Los Alamos - Our best meal so far. Absolutely perfect lunch in every way. Stylish, great service; thoughtful, simple, fresh, and delicious food. Los Alamos is most charming place we've been, and we plan to return.

                    - Lompoc Ghetto - I had forgotten to print out a map before we went. Not as easily navigated as I thought (no map of all the tasting rooms displayed publically that I saw) so go prepared. We only stopped at Palmina due to arranged appointment, but I hope to go back and taste more. Bell Street will deliver lunch to you there if you phone order in before 11 am. You were all correct. DO plan lunch before you go. (ie picnic) We took Drum Canyon Rd (beautiful) to Los Alamos to Bell Street for lunch and back, which cut in to our tasting time.

                    - Ballard Inn - Several people recommended this. We were disappointed in every aspect of our meal, except the service and wine list. The food showed skill in the kitchen, but was overly ambitious and "muddy." A stark comparison to fresher, simpler, cleaner food at Bell Street and Sides. Sorbets for dessert were crumbly and old. Dining room full of tourists. We were sorry we hadn't stayed in and eaten our cheeses with wine we'd bought at tastings.

                    Still hoping to get to Jalama Beach. I really must learn to spit and . . more later.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pickypicky

                      Thanks for the update on Ballard Inn - disappointing to hear. "Success" sometimes is not such a great thing after all. Bell Street is new to me so happy to add it to our own backyard explorations. Los Alamos is a surprising gem that deserves support to keep it going. Thanks for putting it even more on the map as special detour.

                      1. re: glbtrtr

                        HI JM--Big Fan of Bell St Farm--Jamie (sp?) is a delightful man, always welcoming, and the desserts are fantastic. Buttescotch and Chocolate puddings--oh my. Great food and decent pricing. Another place open wrapping around the weekend. They did breakfast for a while on Sunday, but discontinued it. Great place to stop for to go chow as well. Not big dining room, but there's a sunny patio out back with extra seating for nice days.


                    2. Report Back, Pt 2:

                      - Jalama Beach - Well, we've done it. Eaten the World Famous Jalama Burger. Glad we did. Heartbreakingly scenic drive to the beach and glimpses of pre-development CA. Just what we needed to clear our wine-addled brains.

                      - Full of Life Flatbread, Los Alamos - We were so jazzed, we showed up at 4:30 pm when the doors opened. All delicious, from hummus and grilled peppers to the pizzas, which I'm sorry, I can't remember the official names of. I just remember herbs, goat cheese, peppers, and some pork. The Stolpman Syrah has blurred my memory. We ordered three desserts, all outstanding, including a memorable S'more with a housemade marshmallow the size of an iphone.
                      Server said, the NYTimes had just been in to cover a feature on FOL, so I'm glad we got there when we did. Los Alamos is an eater's paradise.

                      - Classic Organic Farms - stumbled on this gem. Life-changing strawberries, melons and produce. A quiet farmer. Pay by honor system and pet the black farm cat. Worth the quick detour off the 101 south of Buellton. http://www.classicorganic.org/classic...

                      Dear Jalama Mama, You are the world's best ambassadoress of the Santa Ynez area. Thank you so much for your detailed guide. We loved it all.

                      And Glbtrtr, I hate to badmouth any place. But for what we spent at Ballard, we could have had two or three meals at Bell Street and Full of Life (aka the flatbread place). Linen tablecloths mean nothing when the food tastes belabored, especially in this farm fresh region. We are not wealthy people, and a disappointing meal is painfully felt. And to see the Ballard chef pacing in the lobby, instead of visiting tables, after seeing the chef presence in the Sides dining room -- well, that makes the disappointment doubly felt.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pickypicky

                        So glad your trip is going/went well ...had a Jalama Burger myself last Saturday . Sorry to hear about Ballard Inn- unusual for them and duly noted . Thank you for such a great report, it is always nice to hear - next time you need to cruise up to Morro Bay and environs for the day....but that's another post....

                        1. re: OldJalamaMama

                          Thank you for taking the time to write such excellent recommendations.

                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          #1- got an invitaion to Ballard Inn as a birthday gift yesterday- looking forward to going and hope I can report back with glowing reviews!
                          I never fail to mention my family's LOVE of Pea Soup Andersons- love their Cobb Salad with caper vinegrette, love the kids menu, love the burgers/patty melts....and the pea soup. Being alocal gives me the chance to go only when requested- but I can truthfully say we go at least 5 times a year- great for before/after the movies.

                          1. re: OldJalamaMama

                            Happy Birthday! And well wishes for a delicious meal and evening!

                        2. Congratulations to Full of Life, the Los Alamos flatbread place for their mention in Sunday's NYT. Definitely deserving of inclusion in the NYT's feature on the Central Coast.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pickypicky

                            Hey Picky..
                            Love the central coast...did you go the back way via SB and have lunch/dinner at Cold Spring Tavern?

                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              Hi BC! Not sure. We took the 154 to Los Olivos where we rented a very charming cottage. Didn't get to CS Tavern, but so loved the area that we can't wait to go back. What we did eat, drink, see was all pretty wonderful. Really my favorite part of CA so far (and I'm not easily pleased as you know) ABSOLUTELY my new favorite wine region.