Santa Ynez Valley has six distinct communities—Solvang, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard, Los Alamos, and Los Olivos. Here is our guide to the best Santa Ynez Valley restaurants.
The terrain of the Santa Ynez Valley is diverse, with its green pastures dappled with horse ranches and vineyards. The landscape is studded with oak trees that signify one has landed in Chumash County. The Santa Ynez Mountains on the south and the San Raphael Mountains on the north surround this agricultural area. The Santa Ynez River runs east and west through the valley. Like the diversity of the landscape, the area has an eclectic range of restaurants that make up the Santa Ynez Valley restaurant scene.
A love of wine brings many people to the area, and pairing wine with outstanding cuisine motivates chefs and restaurant owners to make their homes in this valley. Due to the fertile lands and agriculture in the area, the farm-to-table concept is prevalent in many dining experiences. Local produce inspires the menu at most restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Scene Communities
Santa Ynez Valley has six distinct communities—Solvang, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard, Los Alamos, and Los Olivos.
- Solvang is known for its timber buildings and Danish pastries, including Aebleskiver, although today, Solvang’s dining scene is very eclectic.
- In Santa Ynez, the town’s western theme is reflected in the dishes and decor found in the restaurants.
- Los Olivos features many wine-tasting rooms and galleries.
- Buellton is the gateway city to the Santa Ynez Valley.
- Ballard is the smallest district and home to the Ballard Canyon AVA.
- Los Alamos is named for the cottonwood trees in the area, and the town reflects its vintage old-west heritage.
These six communities make up the Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Scene. You might want to visit some of these restaurants during the 2023 Santa Ynez Restaurant week, from January 17 – 31. You will find curated chef-driven prix fixe menus for $30, $40, and $50 plus tax and gratuity.
Here are our choices for the best Santa Ynez Valley restaurants.
Breakfast or Lunch at Bob’s Well Bread Ballard
You cannot start your day without a visit to Bob’s Well Bread, one of the Santa Ynez Valley’s great restaurants. Bob Oswaks opened his first location in Los Alamos in 2014. I first visited his bakery the following year. I discovered Bob’s gluten-free Centennial bread on that occasion and was hooked. The bread is dense but yummy. A loaf of that bread is heavy weight-wise and consists of oats, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, salt, water, psyllium husk, olive oil, and maple syrup.
The concept of Bob’s Well Bread is to produce artisan bread and baked goods from ingredients sourced locally using old-world European traditions. Well-Bread means doing good things, supporting the community, and donating what is not sold that day to local food banks.
Expanding the Bread Scene
Several years ago, Bob decided to open his second location in Ballard to cater to the locals that live in Solvang, Los Olivos, and Santa Ynez. The artisan bakery is located on Baseline and Alma Pinta, within 10 minutes of the surrounding cities. It is located at a major crossroads. The building is historic in that was once a filling station, a country store, and a restaurant known as the Ballard Store and Restaurant. The bakery lies across the street from the Ballard Inn and if you are staying there, make sure you walk across the street and sample the cuisine of Bob’s Well Bread.
Must-tries: Raisin Challah French Toast with Bacon Lardons or the Avocado Toast Tartine for Breakfast. I chose the Avocado Toast Tartine created with Centennial Bread and topped with a poached egg.
Lunch means the meatloaf sandwich, Bob’s Well Bread signature sandwich. The secret to this meatloaf is the combination of pork and beef.
Breakfast or Lunch at The Baker’s Table Santa Ynez
I first discovered The Baker’s Table in 2013. This artisan bakery and café is located in Santa Ynez. Having been open for almost ten years, the restaurant has a huge following of locals and regulars who visit the area. Once you discover The Baker’s Table, you will want to return to break bread with a French Twist. The restaurant is now in a new location in the heart of downtown Santa Ynez.
Owner Amy Dixon trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She excels at creating delicious bread and pastries. Amy is known throughout the valley for her Pain au Levain bread.
The restaurant’s menu consists of fresh local fare. At lunch, there is a selection of salads and sandwiches.
The Croissant Sandwich is a favorite breakfast dish, consisting of scrambled eggs and sharp cheddar cheese served with applewood smoked bacon. Make sure if you visit to make room for dessert.
Amy donates her leftovers to two local charities.
Lunch at Peasants Feast Solvang
Chef Michael Cherney and his wife Sarah opened the Peasants Feast, a Solvang eatery, in 2020 at the pandemic’s beginning. It is a testament to their acumen and the cuisine that they survived. They have now opened a Peasants Deli right across the street from the restaurant. Peasants Feast recently received a “Bib Gourmand” in the 2022 Michelin Guide.
Whether you eat inside or outside, the restaurant is inviting. On both of my visits, I chose the patio. It is one of the nicest outdoor eating areas in Solvang. The restaurant is in an old greenhouse that adds to the indoor-outdoor ambiance.
The cuisine is seasonal scratch-made comfort food that is marvelously presented. I enjoyed a Baby Gem Salad with local baby gem lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, toasted almonds, and peasants bacon served with a shallot thyme vinaigrette. The colors of this salad are nothing like you have ever seen, and the artisan bread comes from Baker’s Table or Bob’s Well Bread.
I suggest stopping at Peasants Deli if you want a sandwich to-go or fixings for a winery picnic. When you enter the deli, you will immediately be taken by the sight of the leg of Jamon Ibérico, considered one of the finest cured ham from Spain. Patrons suggest trying the Godfather Sandwich with salami, prosciutto, and other meats. This sandwich is a tribute to Michael’s experiences with his father at the deli. The tuna sandwich is another hit; think Salad Nicoise in a sandwich.
Lunch and Wine Tasting at Roblar Kitchen at Roblar Winery & Vineyards
Since Santa Ynez Valley is a fantastic place to discover great wine, finding a winery that offers food and wine pairings only enhances the experience. One Winery that excels at this concept is Roblar Winery and Vineyards. Not only do they elevate the wine-tasting experience they offer extraordinary culinary options. Your visit to Roblar Winery and Vineyards is a farm-to-fork and vine-to-glass extravaganza. The Roblar estate includes a farm that produces most of the ingredients on its menu. The menu is derived from seasonal organic produce and eggs from their four-acre Roblar Farm.
Roblar is one of three wineries owned by the Gleason Family. The other two are Refugio Ranch and the recently purchased Buttonwood Farm and Winery. Buttonwood also supplies some of the produce for the restaurant at Roblar, including peaches when they are in season.
The restaurant is nestled in the middle of the vineyards. The outdoor area is charming, which enhances the wine-tasting and dining experience.
Chef Peter Cham is the executive chef and an integral part of the winery. My visit was at the end of summer when peaches were still in season. I was treated to a salad of peaches, heirloom tomatoes with tomato jam, and a Parmesan sherry vinaigrette.
Other interesting dishes were the Charred “Street Corn” with chipotle aioli, cotija, cilantro, and lime or Harissa Spiced Shrimp with cucumber tzatziki, roasted summer squash, and mint.
Wood-fired pizza is available on Fridays and Saturdays. The secret that makes this pizza incredible is the red oak used in the fire. Sunday, the restaurant is open for brunch. While dining, enjoy either a flight of Roblar wine or just a glass. The fume blanc, with its fresh citrus, apple, and pear flavors, and cabernet sauvignon, with its slightly jammy qualities that exhibit some minerality with a touch of herbaceousness, were my favorites.
Lunch or Dinner at Nella Kitchen and Bar Los Olivos
The quaint town of Los Olivos is the perfect setting for Nella Kitchen and Bar. The restaurant resides adjacent to the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. Nella Kitchen is the sister of S.Y. Kitchen Cucina Rustica, another one of the delicious Santa Ynez Valley restaurants. I loved the ambiance at Nella Kitchen as I sat on the front porch patio for lunch, watching the activity on Grand Avenue, the main street in Los Olivos.
Inside, Nella spaces are broken down, each with its own purpose and vibe. The bar has its own character and features many unique cocktails and mocktails. Try the refreshing Green Mile, a house specialty drink made of cucumber, lime, and ginger beer.
Chef and Partner Luca Crestanelli
Chef/partner Luca Crestanelli has given Chef de Cuisine Marco Longinotti free rein in this restaurant, and Longinotti does a fabulous job. One of the specialties is pinsa, a must while dining at Nella’s. Chef Marco has found a unique dough to create his spin on pinsa.
One may ask, what is the difference between pinsa and pizza? Pinsa dough includes soy, rice, and wheat flour, making it healthier. Chef Marco’s dough creates a light and fragrant crust that emphasizes the topping in a way you will never forget. Some patrons say it is like eating a croissant. Chef Marco is right about saying you will never forget. I savored the Black Truffle Pinsa, and it stuck in my memory. Nella Kitchen has five different pinsas on the menu at all times.
My other favorite dish was the Blue Prawns Skewers with canola beans, artichokes, and pea puree. The combination was delicious.
Dinner at Coast Range and Vaquero Bar Solvang
When three prominent Los Angeles chefs come together to open Coast Range & Vaquero Bar, you know you are in for a treat. The three chefs are Anthony Carron, Lincoln Carson, and Steven Fritz. The trio escaped Los Angeles searching for an opportunity to raise their children with a different lifestyle. They all relocated to the Santa Ynez Valley. Together with Sommelier Rajat Parr, their concept creates a place for all-day dining. Their combined talents from restaurants like 800 Degrees, Church Key, and Top Round brought Coast Range and Vaquero Bar to Solvang.
Note: the restaurant got a mention in the 2022 Michelin Guide.
Local Regulations in Solvang
Solvang has strict design rules for its timber-styled buildings. During the pandemic, the chefs redesigned what was once a Chinese Restaurant and built it back up from the ground. The restaurant features a wonderful patio for outdoor dining, a bar where you can get a quick snack, and the main restaurant. Coast Range is open for brunch on Sundays.
The menu is diverse, but essentially is a classic steakhouse fare with more. Coast Range makes a special effort for those with dietary restrictions. All sauces are housemade. The restaurant also has a meat market if someone wants to buy meat and take it home.
The California Artichokes with butter, Espelette pepper, and pecorino sauce. The Shellfish Plateau, with its tasty shrimp and other seafood, is served on an exquisite platter you will wish you had at home. The scallops and steak were excellent. I heard you cannot leave without trying the Brioche Donuts covered in brown butter glaze, which is sweet and savory.
The owners of Coast Range just opened Compo Del Sol, a Mexican restaurant in Solvang. I cannot wait to sample the cuisine, especially if the food is anything like what they serve at Coast Range.
Lunch or Dinner at the Hitching Post II Buellton
One cannot visit the Santa Ynez Valley without dining at the Hitching Post 2. It has been a staple in Buellton since 1986 and became even more famous with the movie Sideways. The restaurant is known for its open-fire grilling over red oak wood. This grilling style is native to the area and dates back to the Spanish Rancheros. With owner/chef/winemaker Frank Ostini at the helm, your dining experience is casual, with high-quality and sustainable foods.
In 2018, the Hitching Post opened a tasting room adjacent to the restaurant for their Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines. The restaurant serves lunch in the tasting room. Lunch is centered around the hamburger. The Hitching Post burgers are prepared on an open fire with oak wood and served on a brioche bun. The burger originated on off nights in the restaurant and soon became known as the Monday night special. Today, due to its popularity, it is served more regularly.
When dining at the restaurant, I suggest starting with the Grilled Artichoke, the Hitching Post’s most popular appetizer. During my visit, I enjoyed the Smoked Pork Chop. Although they have an extensive wine list, I recommend tasting the Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wine, especially pinot noir.
Dinner at Sears Solvang
For Chef Nathan Peitso, growing up in a family of farmers, farming plays a vital role in his cuisine. He goes the extra mile by looking for the freshest fruits and vegetables. Taking that concept and adding farm-to-table local ingredients to a traditional steakhouse menu makes Sears Steakhouse popular and a standout.
Nathan, like several chefs in Solvang, relocated from Los Angeles. When the opportunity arose to buy an existing restaurant in Solvang, he was on board. His goal was to take his steakhouse located in a charming adobe building and create a place for locals and tourists to come and enjoy not only steak but local seafood and vegetable-based dishes for vegetarians. He has succeeded because the extended and elevated steakhouse menu is not that of a traditional steakhouse but one that invites you to explore dining through a novel foodie experience.
Most ingredients are sourced locally in the Santa Ynez Valley, while some produce comes from his family’s Kenter Canyon Farms. If he cannot obtain bread from Roan Mills, another family connection, he uses flour to make his version of slow-rise bread. Nathan’s discovery of an Italian deglutinated wheat makes his restaurant a fabulous choice for gluten-free patrons, and he uses this flour in his focaccia. I was in heaven because, being gluten-free, I could enjoy freshly baked bread that did not taste gluten-free.
Nathan describes scallops as seafood you want to taste, not one covered in sauces. The scallops were wonderful and served with a pea puree made of peas, ginger, tarragon, parsley, and lemon juice.
The menu features a single portion of Beef Wellington, an item you do not often see in restaurants. The Crab Cakes looked delicious, and the Blueberry Shortcake, made with deglutinated wheat flour, was yummy.
The wine list emphasizes local, with 75 percent of the wine coming from areas between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County.
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The Santa Ynez Restaurant Scene
Over the last ten years, I have seen amazing growth in the quality of the Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant scene. The farm-fresh local ingredients and the laid-back lifestyle inspire more chefs to move away from the big cities. These chefs are establishing roots in this valley and creating more dining experiences for wine enthusiasts and others visiting the area. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning a trip to California or another fabulous food or wine destination.
What a fabulous guide to Santa Ynez! This wine region is on my list of places to visit and now I will know where to eat. Thanks, Cori.