A Michelin-Starred Chef’s Guide to the Santa Ynez Valley
Chef Daisy Ryan's tips for visiting this gorgeous part of Central California begin with wine and end with Steinbeck
Chef Daisy Ryan began her career in big cities: first at perennial Manhattan standouts like Gramercy Tavern and Per Se, then in Los Angeles to help open The Line Hotel, and finally in Austin, where she oversaw the beverage program for McGuire Moorman Lambert Hospitality.
When it was time to open her first restaurant, though, Ryan came home to the Santa Ynez Valley. Opened in 2018 in the tiny hamlet of Los Alamos, Bell’s, her French-inspired bistro, earned a Michelin star just three years later; in 2022, it received an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.
In 2021, Daisy and her husband, Greg, opened Bar Le Côte in Los Olivos, which has subsequently been added to the Michelin Guide. This year, they added to their collection with a beer and wine bar called The Other Room.
Here, chef Ryan shares her top picks around the Santa Ynez Valley — everything from where to drink to her favorite Sideways-adjacent meals.
InsideHook: What’s the best time of the year to visit Santa Ynez Valley?
Daisy Ryan: In my opinion, there is never a bad time to visit the Valley. However, if I really have to choose one time, I’d say summer because the evenings are particularly beautiful.
What wine have you recommended more than any other and why?
I frequently recommend Whitcraft Wines. Winemaker Drake Whitcraft’s approach is not only elegant and thoughtful, but is also interesting. And as a chef, I appreciate that his wines are absolutely beautiful with food.
Where do you go out to eat on your day off?
I have a few places I go on my day off. First, Santa Ynez Billiards & Cafe. It’s a fun, family-owned spot. Next, we enjoy Ramen Kotori in Solvang. And you can’t go wrong with The Hitching Post II in Buellton — many people are familiar with it from the 2007 movie Sideways.
What’s your favorite meal on the menu?
I highly recommend the shawarma at Santa Ynez Billiards, the cold dipping noodles at Ramen Kotori and grilled Texas quail at The Hitching Post II.
Top off-menu/secret request?
At The Hitching Post II, I recommend ordering a quesadilla as an entree.
What is your favorite Santa Ynez Valley hotel?
The Alamo Motel in Los Alamos. It’s conveniently located across the street from Bell’s.
Where’s the best place to get a cup of coffee?
Where’s a good place to meet people?
My staff often heads to the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez for karaoke or The Depot in Los Alamos for live music. They also like to hang out at our new beer and wine bar, The Other Room.
Best cheap eats in town?
Both Santa Ynez Billiards and Santa Ynez Burrito are great places when you’re looking for tasty and cheap food.
Best place for a sunset drink?
Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria is a lovely spot to sip a glass of wine at sunset. It’s on top of a hill overlooking the valley. Condé Nast Traveler named it one of the 10 most beautiful wineries in California.
Where should I go in the area for a day spent outside?
I suggest a drive along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that connects the towns of Los Olivos and Santa Maria. There are several wineries along the way.
Where’s a good spot to snap an Instagram-worthy photo?
At Bar Le Côte we have some iconic green walls that are perfect for Instagram photos. Or head to Cold Spring Tavern, it’s a classic valley restaurant that once was a stagecoach stop.
What’s a lesser-known cultural institution you love?
Santa Ynez Valley is horse country, so I suggest visiting Jedlickas in Los Olivos. It’s an incredible tack store that sells all kinds of Western wear like boots and hats.
What’s something that tourists tend to do that really annoys locals?
The Valley attracts loads of cyclists and they often ride in large groups and won’t move out of the road. It’s very annoying.
Finally, what’s the best book to read or movie to watch before I come?
When it comes to movies, the obvious answer is Sideways. But I think reading John Steinbeck is always a good practice for visiting any part of Central California.
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