When most people think of California’s Santa Ynez Valley, wine country comes to mind, but the region offers much more than vino.
In addition to laudable wineries, towns in the Santa Ynez Valley are teeming with unique, high-quality restaurants and bars that run the gamut from clever tiki drinks to ranch-inspired cuisine. Here are the best restaurants and bars to try.
PICO at The Los Alamos General Store
Farm Shop, Restaurant, Restaurant with Rooms, Wine Seller, American
Nestled along the main thoroughfare in artsy Los Alamos, PICO is the kind of ambitious eatery more commonly seen in major metropolises. The fact that diners can feast on seasonal, locally sourced dishes in such an intimate and cozy setting makes PICO a highlight in the valley. Chef and co-owner Drew Terp tends a dynamic menu filled with novelties like local sashimi with fresh wasabi root, pork ribs with ash-roasted peppers, and duck breast with forbidden rice and edible local flowers. The motif is as photogenic as the food, as the restaurant doubles as a quaint general store stocked with sundries and housewares. For tired travelers, there’s even a cottage-like Airbnb space behind the restaurant, right next to the on-site chicken coop.
As newfangled tiki bars sweep the US, a wildly original version popped up behind a wine shop in the adorable town of Solvang. What sets High Roller Tiki Lounge apart is the fact that the bar doesn’t even use rum in its drinks. Instead, it harkens to its wine-country locale with a menu of wine-based tiki tipples, served up in whimsical mugs and tropical confines. The house mai tai is a standout, made with white wine, orgeat, triple sec and lime juice, while the Solvang Siren blends white wine and lychee syrup with lime, coconut, blood orange bitters and pasilla pepper for a bit of heat.
Solvang is best known as a haven of Danish culture and architecture, but newer restaurants like Mad & Vin are helping propel the town into a destination for farm-to-table dining as well. A contrast to the bucolic streets and windmills outside, the restaurant within The Landsby hotel is modern and slick, with food to match. Seasonal Californian cuisine is the bill of fare, courtesy of chef Beto Huizar. From roasted chicken with chorizo-whipped potatoes to lamb porterhouse with grilled bok choy and mint-pesto yogurt, it’s comfort food made wholesome.
Everything about this Los Alamos newcomer, from the cocktails to the wine-country views, is Instagram-ready. Located inside Skyview, a chic retro-inspired motel, the intimate eatery and bar serves comfort food through a Californian lens. French toast comes flecked with local berries and brown butter maple syrup, and pork chops are adorned with stone fruit and poblanos. Cocktails incorporate vintage American spirits, while the wine list is filled with plenty of local options from Santa Barbara wine country.
Bar, Bistro, Restaurant, Wine Bar, Vintner, American
Wineries are a common sight in Santa Ynez Valley, but there’s nothing quite like this sprawling bar and restaurant inside Terravant Wine Company’s facility. Not only can guests tour the winery and sample one-ounce pours from the 52-bottle ‘wine wall,’ but they can also design their own wine via Bottlest’s custom wine website, tailoring flavor profiles and designing labels from start to finish. Beyond wine, this is the kind of something-for-everyone place that offers expert renditions of classic cocktails (like a rhubarb and fennel gimlet) and eclectic dishes, such as medjool dates with parsley oil and roasted local sea bass accompanied by wild rice, yellow squash and dill aïoli.
When the Sideways Inn opened in Buellton, it brought this hip watering hole with it. Crafty cocktails, local beer and wine all share top billing at this cozy lounge, accented with comfy fixtures like a fireplace and plush stools. The sangria is a staple, made with syrah, brandy and local, seasonal fruit.
The quintessential American bistro comes by way of a married couple with serious fine-dining cred. Daisy and Greg Ryan decamped New York City, where they worked at three-Michelin-star Per Se, to open Bell’s in the heart of Los Alamos. Looking for a more comfortable pace of life for their family, the duo continues to produce haute cuisine while still keeping things casual. Their menu features egg salad sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, house-made pasta and gnocchi, frequently incorporating the abundant local produce and seafood the region has to offer.
Billing itself as “refined ranch cuisine,” this bustling Los Olivos eatery combines inspiration from both Texas and California, the two states where its founder has lived. That means Southern fare made with Californian ingredients, including produce, eggs, honey and meat from nearby Fess Parker Home Ranch. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant cooks everything from chili and chicken pot pie to wagyu meatloaf and apple-cranberry pancakes. It’s all served up in a wood-filled space that resembles a rustic lodge.
For beer in wine country, Naughty Oak Brewing Co. is tops. The lively brewery produces a lot of beer styles, utilizing everything from coffee to coconuts for saisons, lagers, stouts, sours and everything in between. The PLMCRZY is a quenching IPA made with plums, while the Belgian Brut is a saison aged in white wine barrels, a handy nod to its vineyard environs. All beers are available on tap and in growlers to go.
In a region dotted with wineries and bars, the 1880 Union Saloon stands out with its timeworn facade and high-end cocktails. The space has the look and feel of a legit Gold Rush-era barroom, decked out with taxidermy, a pool table, vintage stools, dark wood and glistening chandeliers. It’s a nostalgic throwback to the origins of Los Alamos, complete with a decidedly boozy batch of drinks. Whiskey is king here, shaken and stirred into bracing libations like the Penicillin, topped off with lemon, ginger and a fragrant smoked whiskey float.
A haven for pastries, bread and breakfast in the valley, this Los Alamos institution is a popular morning stopover. A building that once served as a gas station is now home to owner Bob Oswaks’s masterfully crafted croissants, english muffins, bagels and tartines. During the bustling breakfast rush, options include homey classics like quiche and eggs benedict, along with more offbeat creations like mushroom toast and fluffy pain de mie bread heaped with baked beans, a fried egg and toulouse sausage.