The Santa Ynez Valley’s bread and butter is food and wine. Tourists flock to the area just north of Santa Barbara to indulge in fine vintages and a bonanza of locally sourced products, from vegetables to poultry. With dozens of restaurants across six towns, visitors might have a hard time picking where to eat — but as it happens, there are a number of brand-new restaurants here that are quite good, each adding something unique to the food scenes in the valley's main clusters: Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Buellton and Solvang.
First & Oak
When it comes to food, Solvang may be best known for its aebleskiver and other Danish delights. But First & Oak — a few blocks from Solvang’s main drag, Copenhagen Drive — is quickly changing the culinary landscape. This quaint restaurant on the first floor of the Mirabelle Inn is probably the fanciest place in town. Jonathan Rosenson and his family bought the inn at the corner of First and Oak in 2015. The following year, they opened the dining room for business, adding un peu de France to this touristy, Danish-themed village. The aesthetic may be French but the chef is British: Steven Snook, who worked with Gordon Ramsay for six years. The menu includes crispy duck wings and lobster bisque speckled with Dungeness crab beignets. The truffle-roasted cauliflower with crisp quinoa (and scoops of whipped cauliflower) is a standout.
409 First St., Solvang; (805) 688-1703, firstandoak.com.
Bacon & Brine
Get ready to chow down at Bacon & Brine. A standout spot on Copenhagen Drive in Solvang, quite different from all the other bakeries and cafes, the indoor-outdoor space serves up sandwiches such as the Hipster (buttermilk fried chicken, shredded lettuce, crispy pickles and aioli on a glazed doughnut) and a kimchi burger. Bacon & Brine is a collaboration between wife-and-wife team Chef Pink (Crystal DeLongpré), who's been on shows such as Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, and Courtney Rae, a “fermentation goddess” who’s personally responsible for all of the fermented items on the menu. After closing their sandwich joint in March 2016, the dynamic duo launched a monthlong Kickstarter campaign, which led to their expansion this past August to where the Heidelberg Inn once stood. Now, Bacon & Brine Deux is a bigger business with the same philosophies, sourcing all of the beef, poultry and hogs from a local farm — nothing served here travels from more than 10 miles away, except spices and seasonings. Start your meal with a pickle plate and top it off with salted caramel bacon doughnuts.
1622 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang; (805) 688-8809, baconandbrine.com.
Bottlest Winery, Bar & Bistro
Buellton is for many synonymous with Sideways. But much has blossomed in the 10-plus years since the Academy Award–winning film put the charming town on the map. In May, Bottlest became the latest food and drink operation on Industrial Way, a row of eateries, wineries and tasting rooms, craft distilleries and breweries. What was once Avant, Terravant Winery’s restaurant, is now Bottlest, with the added bonus that it still overlooks the endless rows of gigantic stainless steel tanks of Terravant Wine Company’s production facility, the largest in the Santa Ynez Valley. Two impressive talents from Santa Barbara establishments have relocated to the Santa Ynez Valley: executive chef Owen Hanavan from Barbareño and sommelier Vlada Stojanov from Bacara Resort. The two deliver a one-two punch, with dishes such as lamb meatballs on a potato chip with a mint leaf perched on top, or the 16-spice pork shoulder with date glaze, and pairings recommended by Stojanov from the 52-bottle Wine Wall, which allows diners to taste a rotating selection of wines in one-ounce, half glass (three-ounce) or full glass (six-ounce) portions with the swipe of a card. Live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings makes Bottlest one of the few choices for late-night fun in town, and on Friday and Saturday afternoons, a glass of sparkling wine greets arrivals in the entrance before they ascend to the second-floor dining space.
35 Industrial Way, Buellton; (805) 686-4742, BottlestBistro.com.
1880 Union Hotel/Saloon
The main strip of Los Alamos sort of resembles an Old West town. Which is around the time the 1880 Union Saloon first swung open its doors to quench the thirst of horse thieves, cattle barons and regular townfolk. The new owners of the hotel have transformed the historic property into an events venue, and the saloon — which was Kurt Russell’s wine tasting room for about two years — into a place where you can pair your whiskey cocktail with a meal. Looking a lot like tater tots, the smoky mozzarella balls are smoked cold and fried hot, and served with ranch and tomato sauce. Since this is tri-tip country, the tri-tip bites are a perfect plate for dinner or brunch — not too heavy – served with salsa and ranch dressing. The decor is seriously Western — with a moose head mounted up high, a long, skinny bar filling up the front of the room, period photos lining the wall and a red velvet pool table and curtains — and the menu is dripping with corny jokes. The compressed melon salad’s description reads: “This dish is one in a melon, we’d marry it, but we cantaloupe.” And the motto of the 1880 Union Saloon is: Be nice or go home.
362 Bell St., Los Alamos; (805) 344-2744, 1880union.com/saloon.
The Doggy Door
Food in Los Olivos is expensive. It’s hard to get a bite for under $10. Enter the Doggy Door, a walk-up window serving massive hot dogs with all the fixings. Vegan dogs are available, and a couple of stools and a small table and chairs sit outside. A few months ago, a local couple took command of the post: Erin Scherer, “Queen of Weenie,” and Andrew Scherer, “Captain of Condiments.” The Scherers whip up specials, such as the Chicago dog (tomato, onion, relish, pickles, peppers, yellow mustard, celery salt and Lay’s), and have tried a few that have flopped, like the popcorn dog. Luckily, they have a lot of good — and honest — friends in town to taste and weigh in on their wild creations.
2446 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos; (805) 338-1403, doggydoordogs.com.