A very brief visit – only 4 days – to California, meant we only had a dozen meals to try some great restaurants in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Solvang. But, leave it to me – and to my very trusty travel partners Ilana & Hallie, to find some incredible spots for drinking and eating, which you must try if you are planning a trip to the West Coast soon.
Gjelina, Venice, CA: Gjelina was my favorite restaurant of the whole trip. The food was absolutely delicious and thanks to the menu of sharing plates, we got to taste about ten different things. I really loved everything, but the standout dishes were: braised artichokes and burrata (pictured above), grilled squid with lentils & salsa verde (pictured above), miatake mushroom toast with truffle oil, lamb sausage pizza with pecorino and asiago, and butterscotch pot de crème for dessert.
Fonuts, Los Angeles, CA: If you like donuts (if you don’t, who are are you?), you will LOVE fonuts. They are baked instead of fried but somehow, someway, maintain the flavor and texture of a real-deal donut. So, they’re a little bit healthier. They also have vegan and gluten free options. Flavors like maple bacon and strawberry buttermilk made us groan with happiness at every bite.
Farmshop, Los Angeles, CA: From the goat cheese and herb scone, to the hazelnut croissant, to the fried eggs and pastrami, this brunch place in LA rocks. It has all the elements of a great restaurant – knowledgeable, friendly servers, an open kitchen, locally sourced, delicious food and a market shop attached to it so you can buy some of the produce to recreate your meal. Giada was also having brunch there, and if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.
Huckleberry Café, Santa Monica, CA: If you go for brunch or lunch on the weekend, you will have to wait in line for about 30-40 minutes. Not ideal, but I suppose most brunch places in New York City require a half hour wait. It’s worth the wait though, for homemade pastries and dishes made with produce from the local farmer’s market. I had soft baked eggs with roasted tomato sauce, white beans, basil and Parmesan cheese (above) which was really great and everyone else on the table helped me finish it off. Dishes like green eggs & ham with prosciutto were also among favorites and the blueberry ciabatta we shared for dessert was divine.
Sunstone Vineyards & Winery, Santa Ynez, CA: Sunstone was the most beautiful vineyard we visited. It had real character, like the backyard you dream of having. It reminded me of the wineries in Provence. The photo above really says it all, but in case you need more, they also give a tour of the cellars and offer tastings of their own flavored olive oils. Their staff is friendly and they encouraged us to sit outside and enjoy our wines – in fact they gave us a few extra pours.
Lincourt Vineyards, Solvang, CA: Named after the owner’s daughters, Lindsay and Courtney, this was the winery that had my most favorite wines. Their “naked” or un-oaked chardonnay was delicious, and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was chosen by Food and Wine magazine as one of the best white wines of California. We sat on picnic tables and had a view of acres and acres of vineyards and gorgeous mountains. Don’t miss it.
Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara, CA: I read about this one in the New York Times a few weeks before my trip. They are the new kid on the block (literally), and they keep their tasting room open until 11 p.m. (most close at about 4 or 5 o’clock). They also encourage the city’s food trucks to park outside, and their wine club is called “Club Awesome.” They do tastings or wines by the glass and cheese plates, and you can buy fun memorabilia like wine mugs and t-shirts.
In-N-Out Burger, all over, CA: The burgers and fries are not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but I just don’t get the hype about this place. It’s still fast food which means it’s questionable and really not good for you.
Eveleigh, West Hollywood, CA: On paper, this restaurant looks perfect. Sharing plates, great cocktails and a romantic atmosphere that resembles a tree house. The cocktails were good and the atmosphere was cool (minus the D-list crowd who thought they were A-list celebs), but the food was just so-so. Nothing spectacular. I’d rather go to Gjelina twice.