Santa Ynez Valley used to be a section off the highway that we would drive by as we traveled to Cambria for vacation or to San Luis Obispo when I was in college. That’s changed over the last few years of visiting the area, so I am convinced I have found the best restaurants in Santa Ynez Valley!
If you’re looking for where to stay in SYV, where to drink, or what else to do in the area that doesn’t involve food or booze –– check out those previous links! There is also an SYV guide on my instagram with quite a few places if you like that format!
If there’s one consistent thread through the SYV it’s how supportive everyone is of each other –– from carrying local wines at restaurants, to sourcing produce from local farmers. It truly feels like a close knit family everywhere you go.
I highly recommend making a reservation/appointment for any of the restaurants, tasting rooms or wineries that take them! Also, be sure to double check hours because a lot of places in the area take their “weekends” on weekdays.
The best restaurants in Santa Ynez Valley – Los Alamos
Bob’s Well Bread (Los Alamos & Ballard)
I am almost certain you’ve heard of Bob’s & you already know you have to go! Their products are hand-made with only the finest ingredients and natural starters, with no preservatives. They also strive to source ingredients locally from farmers and growers who practice the purest growing initiatives.
Mushroom Toast mushrooms sautéed with Sherry vinegar, creme fraiche, bacon lardons & shallots over peppery house-made biscuit + topped with poached egg // Breakfast Sandwich house-made turkey sausage on english muffin with scrambled egg, arugula & provolone // Baguette, Prosciutto and Egg Sandwich prosciutto, egg over easy, Pecorino & arugula on a Ficelle (thinner baguette) // Line Cook’s Paté (from lunch menu & A MUST ORDER) grilled Pain au Levain with brandy infused chicken liver pate, onion-bacon marmalade & cornichons
You can’t go wrong with any of the pastries or bread poducts –– if they have their Pistachio Croissant, order it!
This is another one of those places you’re told numerous times by separate people that you HAVE to go to. It is a Michelin starred French bistro and has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. The food, ambiance and service is on par with SUPER pricey Michelin-starred, but without that price tag. Our first time at Bell’s was for my birthday dinner a couple years back, but we’ve recently grown more fond of their lunch service. I have detailed both experiences below.
~ dinner deets ~
Tips to make a dinner reservation: they release reservations about a month out, so check their website to snag a spot. They don’t have a phone number, but they’re helpful and responsive on their instagram.
My birthday happened to be a Monday AND Bell’s 3rd birthday! Mondays are a 5 course prix fixe menu (2 – 3 items to choose from per course) for $50 a person + bottles of wine over $100 are 50% off! We got the Domaine des Croix 2017 Pinot Noir and I would order it over and over again.
Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with Caviar (added) // Salade of Finley Farms Lettuces shallot & medjool date vinaigrette // Le Bristol “Croque Madam” polenta, rainbow chard, MC Ranch egg, sauce mornay // My mom got the Citrus Cured Bay Scallops meyer lemon curd & hazelnut // Hand Cut Pasta oregano, walnut, gremolata & artichoke cream
My mom & Ilana got the Steak au Poivre 5oz roulette, Steve’s peppercorn sauce & frites // “Lait L’Orange” huile d’olive, sea salt (such a small bowl of ice cream, but I was obsessed –– it was like a grownup creamsicle) // My mom & Ilana opted for the Gâteau Breton which I ate a lot of too. It brought back a fond taste memory for my mom and I, but neither of us could place exactly what it was!
And lastly the customized Happy Birthday Corey menu alongside their Merci pour trois ans was a lovely touch!
~ lunch deets ~
Update: We have since decided we prefer Bell’s for lunch! Don’t get me wrong, the dinner is lovely, but I prefer the more casual style of lunch. Also, it’s less crowded and bigger portions for a lower price point. We have now return for lunch each time we pass through the area.
Here’s what we ordered, but I am certain you cannot go wrong!
Bread & Butter // Chicken Liver Mousse pickled grapes, cornichons
Bell’s Salad changes depending on the season! I never used to be one to order salads, but THIS one has changed me! Here is the one pictured above: almonds, goat gouda, sweet peppers, lemon, cucumbers, mustard vin. On our most recent trip to Bell’s I got the salad and added steak and it was literal perfection!
Steak Tartare hand-cut with fries // Egg Salad Sandwich pickles
Shortbread Cookie & Gâteau Breton
Not pictured: on our latest trip with Walter, he got the Steak Sandwich and French Onion Soup and is still raving about it! Also, the Mussels are wonderful, which means a lot because I am not usually one to order them.
This tasting room also offers dim sum; including dumplings and small plates! Curious about the wine and beer tastings here? Check out this post!
Pickled Wood Ear Mushroom Salad black vinegar, garlic, ginger, scallion, fresnos // Sama Signature Wings free-range Mary’s chicken, sweet & spicy tamarind glaze, cilantro, lime // Pork & Shrimp Shu Mai ginger, scallion, soy, ginger
Pico & Lumen Wines
Located in the original General Store in Los Alamos, Pico also has a dreamy garden patio! Founded in 2016, by winemaker Will Henry and restaurateur Kali Kopley, it’s a destination for eclectic California cuisine with influences from Europe, Asia, and the American South. They create innovative food from local ingredients (some even grown in their on-site garden) and carefully sourced from farmers committed to sustainable, organic, and humane practices.
Lumen Wines : A passion project of Will Henry and Lane Tanner. Lane was the first independent female winemaker in Santa Barbara County and the first to dedicate her entire winery to Pinot Noir. Her wines were always more old-world in style, and built for aging gracefully. We got to taste a Pinot from the 90s and OMG it was delicious! Nowadays Will & Lane make wines from the best cool-climate vineyards in Santa Barbara County, following a regimen consistent with California’s early days of hands-on, honest winemaking. I highly recommend doing a Lumen Wines tasting alongside your dinner at Pico.
Pico also focuses on fine, hand-crafted, small-batch spirits from distillers around the world. Their craft cocktails are made with fresh juices and house-made products, using spirits with no artificial additives or coloring.
Since the menu is seasonal, it looks like the menu is different from when we dined. Here’s what we ordered : Watermelon Sashimi, Housemade Summer Pasta, Pine Nut crusted Local Halibut
Dessert was UNREAL : Deconstructed Smoked Plum Pie, Chocolate Lava Cake
We didn’t want to leave that magical garden, so we ordered some cocktails and enjoyed them by the fire pit! I got the Barrel Aged Mezcal Old Fashioned & Ilana got the Barrel Aged Mezcal Negroni. They were perfect!
The best restaurants in Santa Ynez Valley – Buellton
I am always on the hunt for Vineyards that also have a full kitchen! Vega is THAT and so much more! Vega is located in one of the most picturesque areas in Santa Ynez Valley, very fittingly nicknamed “rainbow alley”. We spotted rainbows the majority of our visit –– tasting trough their wine, savoring their farm to table menu and visiting their farm animals. Farm-to-table is not just a goal on this property, it’s their way of life.
Deviled Farm Eggs & Blue Crab smoked trout roe, scallion // Smoked Quail Duo mushroom & leeks, pumpkin fregola // Cavatelli Cacio e Pepe housemade pasta, pecorino romano & parmesan // Caramelle
I am currently working on a more in depth look at this wonderful property!
The passion for the Santa Ynez Valley and everything it has to offer permeates from everyone at this establishment. They make a point to support local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. They renovated this Tavern back to the allure of the original Tavern bar, aiming to highlight and enhance the spectacular old-style feel of the property. The property is now a fully functioning bar, restaurant, wedding venue and Inn!
We stopped in for brunch, but can’t wait to return for dinner. I am convinced you can’t be steered in the wrong direction with their menu.
Dutch Baby boozy berries, whipped cream // Caviar Service taiyaki waffles, créme fraîche, chive, egg, Calvissius caviar
Shrimp & Grits creamy polenta, N’Duja, Royal Red Shrimp // Wine Poached Eggs Benedict zacita frita, meyer lemon hollandaise, cheddar biscuit // The specials when we dined : Crab Machaca & Grilled Whelk
If you still have room for dessert, whether it’s your birthday or not, order the Birthday Cake. You won’t regret it. Hell, order it at the start of your meal for future you, so you have no chance of letting yourself down later. 😉
The best restaurants in Santa Ynez Valley – Solvang
Born at the beginning of the pandemic –– this spor started out only doing takeout and amassed a steadfast following in the SYV & beyond! Now they are fully open for indoor and outdoor dining. It’s headed up by a husband & wife duo with a ton of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industries + a passion for cultural cuisine and local, seasonal comfort food with a twist. This has also become one of those restaurants we go to every time we are in town. From the dishes that are always on the menu that I could eat over and over, to seasonal ones I wish stayed on longer, I AM HOOKED! Pst…they also opened a deli//arcade across the street (more details below) & just opened up for dinner (complete writeup here) Thursday through Saturday! They do not take reservations, so be strategic on your timing – we like to go around 11 for an early lunch to make sure they don’t run out of anything and right when they open at 5 for dinner!
Solvang Hot Chicken spicy buttermilk fried chicken, pickled red onion, fresh herbs, shredded cabbage, ranch, sesame brioche bun
You can’t go wrong with whatever smash burger is currently on the menu. Here are the details of a couple I’ve had:
The Grotto 6 oz. custom blend of house ground beef, Stepladder Creamery’s “Ragged Point” triple creme cows milk cheese, Branden’s roasted mushrooms, roasted garlic aioli, crispy shallots, The Baker’s Table sesame brioche bun // Atterdag Smash Burger 6 oz. custom blend of house ground beef, gruyere cheese, caramelized shallots, butter lettuce, tomato aioli, house dill pickles, The Baker’s Table sesame brioche bun
Sides: House Pickles local, organic, seasonally pickles vegetables // Cheesy Polenta // Crispy Potatoes triple cooked potato bites with California Chili Aioli
Dessert: Nannie’s Frozen Lime Pie graham cracker crust, lime sherbet, Italian meringue
Drinking wine? Get a bottle of Casa Dumetz The Feminist Party GSM to enjoy with your meal! They also have some wonderful local IPAs!
Must order items that aren’t consistently on the menu: Mushroom Toast, Porchetta Sandwich, Brisket Grilled Cheese, Salted Caramel Panna Cotta
There was a period that they featured Golden Opal Baking slices of cake! We had a Double Chocolate Layer Cake with Coffee Buttercream (pictured above on the right) that I still think about. I don’t think Peasant’s Feast does this anymore and it also looks like the bakery isn’t currently taking orders. I just wanted to include them here, in case they start back up again!
The deli is a wonderful option to pick up lunch if you’re doing a day of wine tasting. There is also the option to dine in at their bistro tables! They recently opened an arcade just next door, open to the public –– pin ball, air hockey and more!
The Godfather cacciatorino salami, coppa, mortadella, smoked provolone, sweet & spicy pepper relish, the works // Ham & Cheese Kurobuta ham, emmental cheese, dill pickles, shaved red onion, dijon mustard
20oz Prime Ribeye // Catch of the Day (preparation changes) // Creamed Spinach // Fried Cauliflower tahini yogurt, aleppo chile, celery seed, lemon // Smashed Fingerling Potatoes garlic, Parmesan, lemon // Beet & Arugula Salad chevre, pistacho, herb vinaigrette // French Onion Soup // Winter Crisp Salad endive, pomegranate, candied walnuts, dried cranberries and fresh herbs // Bread & Butter // Browned Butter Bread Pudding
If you’re in the mood for a steak while you’re in town! You HAVE to go to Sear! We loved everything we tried, but I would say our favorites were the steak, catch of the day, potatoes and cauliflower.
The best restaurants in Santa Ynez Valley – Los Olivos
This is the, more seafood-focused, sister restaurant of Bell’s! I can’t believe we waited so long to come in and try it. We were not disappointed. From the chic decor, to the wonderful service and the delicious dishes – everything was perfection! We came in for dinner and definitely plan on checking out lunch and happy hour as soon as possible!
Oysters Pacific Golds from Morro Bay, California & Mere Point Petites from Mere Point Bay, Maine // Beef Tartare fried oysters, horseradish crème, bitter greens // Gambas al Ajillo head on Gulf Shrimp, crispy garlic, parsley, lemon // Saffron Buns for premium scarpetta action // Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème whipped milk chocolate, chocolate soil
Wine pairing: Dão Tinto (chilled) Niepoort “Nat’Cool” 2020 from Portugal
We stopped in here for lunch after some wine tasting! Everything was phenomenal, but the items that I am still thinking about are the Pinsa (Roman-style pizza) & Scallops.
Note: This is a perfect spot to head for lunch after tasting at some of the Los Olivos tasting rooms. Check out this post for a list of my favorites!
Bread & Butter French baguette, Bordier salted butter (it was so good, we got 2 orders) // Roasted Scallops on the half shell, Bordier butter, garlic parsley, tomato, concassé // Carciofi Pinsa baby artichokes, fior di latte, pancetta lardons, carbonara sauce, pecorino fiore sardo // Burrata Italian burrata, tomato jam, Swiss chard, sourdough bread // Tagliatelle Bolognese 5-hour Bolognese, parmigiano // Profiteroles cream puff, chantilly, dark chocolate
One of the newest additions to the area, Mattei’s Tavern has historical roots –– starting in 1886 as a popular stagecoach stop through to Prohibition. The property has recently reopened as a luxury resort in the Auberge collection.
“The Tavern is a California ranch-inspired restaurant spotlighting flavorful dishes with honest ingredients – many of which are harvested from Mattei’s on-site garden. The tight core menu is elevated yet unfussy, offering grilled dishes and vegetables, classically prepared and accessible, alongside revolving seasonal specials. The exceptional wine list is a singular and definitive draw. Attracting travelers from far and wide, the comprehensive list is California-focused with many wines available by the glass, while the large cellar holds the best of the best.”
Tavern Spread pork rillette, grilled sourdough, grainy apple mustard, soft herbs salad, pickles // Crispy Cauliflower roasted garlic tahini, spiced local honey, smoked almond dukkah // Whole Fish roasted kuri squash, red currant and pine nut relish, caramelized zucchini yogurt, chermoula // Dark Chocolate Souffle warm butterscotch sauce, crème anglaise
The best restaurants in Santa Ynez Valley – Santa Ynez
As I said before, I am always on the lookout for vineyards that also have a substantial kitchen! Roblar checks those boxes! Their menu is minimal, but both everything we ordered was perfection. I am still raving about the pizza and the panna cotta. That citrus caramel!!!
Black Garlic Caesar Salad little gems, Grana Padano, croutons, boquerones // Wood-Fired Mushroom & Kale Pizza charred onion cream, confit garlic, chili flake
Terri’s Freshly Baked Cookies chocolate chip & toasted walnut // Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta citrus caramel, maldon sea salt, hazelnut cream
Uhm just literally order it all! Here’s a comprehensive list of what we got.
Yellow Beet pickled plum, hazelnuts, goat cheese, fresh lemon, thyme // Fresh Pea Salad arugula, dry ricotta, celery root, walnuts
Diavola Pizza spicy salame, cremini mushrooms, tomato, fior di latte, parmigiano // T-bone Truffle Sliders truffle cheese, caramelized shallots, parmigiano crisp, potatoes // Wild Mushroom Pappardelle thyme, parmigiano
Tahitian Vanilla Panna Cotta Caramel, ladies’ kisses crunch cookies // Chocolate Gelato Homemade gelato, caramelized banana