Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez
Throughout the years I’ve heard that the city of Solvang, CA is a place every resident must visit at least once in their lives. Located in Santa Barbara County, I always thought this little Danish town had just a few offerings: traditional Danish souvenirs, pastries and just enough things to do for a single day trip. But I was totally wrong. Yes, you can visit Solvang for the day and get your fill of aebleskiver, delicious pastries and outfit your entire family in a traditional Danish ensemble. But this small town has a ton to offer and is best digested over span of a few days. I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Solvang as a guest of the Solvang Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Our itinerary promised wine tasting, museum visits, strolls around town, fine dining in casual atmospheres, and of course all of the danishes we could get our paws on. If you’re a SoCal resident or an out-of-towner simply looking for things to do in Solvang, here are my picks for the Solvang restaurants you must check out while you’re in town.
Go all out at Root 246
There is an amazing amount of global cuisine found within this small town. From pho and sushi, to pub grub and German food, you can truly get a taste of the world when you visit Solvang. By far, my favorite place for a meal in Solvang has to be Root 246, which is mere steps from Hotel Corque and named after the highway which leads into town. Our group was treated like royalty at this elegant, fine dining restaurant set among a casual atmosphere.
At any given time, you can treat yourself to a local wine, whiskey or craft beer at the restaurant or lounge. Locally foraged salads are plentiful on the menu, along with cheese and house made sausage boards, flatbreads and nearly every cut of meat under the sun. Executive Chef Seth Nelson treated us to an unforgettable four-course meal and Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners, paired each course with a bottle from a local winemaker.
We started our meal with a Pinot Noir from Sandhi which grows in the Santa Rita Hills. Our charcuterie board housed a smorgasbord of candied bacon, country ham, Canadian bacon, capicola, and tri-tip with sharp cheddars, Gorgonzola, roasted garlic, pickles, dried fruit and mustard.
I would have been perfectly content with the charcuterie and homemade bread, but it was a great course before our salad, which came with red wine poached pears, pickled grapes and walnut vinaigrette.
The pièce de résistance was an entire board of Texas Style Wagyu Brisket (which, by the way, brines for eight days and a smokes for two days). Accouterments included mustard, house made pickles, caramelized onions and BBQ sauce.
If that wasn’t enough, chef also served up Chicken 2 Ways. The pan roasted chicken breast and bacon braised chicken thigh definitely added to the meat sweats. And for our veggie part of the evening, there was a side of broccolini, and a mixture of spinach, mushroom, pancetta and pickled onions. The main course was served with an Estate Syrah from Rusack Vineyards and a Foxen Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyards. The meal thus far was absolutely spectacular and probably one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.
Lastly, our dessert course was a rich s’mores tart with hickory smoked marshmallows and a “Rock & Roll” doughnut filled with vanilla custard and topped with pop rocks and dehydrated boysenberry. A late harvest Dornfelder from Huber Cellars added even more decadence. Root 246 barrels its own Negroni and bourbon and you can even opt for an after-meal night cap and cigar if your heart desires.
Danishes, Butterings, Gingerbread, oh my!
Your trip to Solvang wouldn’t be complete without a few pastries or a traditional Danish breakfast. In a span of just a few blocks, you’ll find five traditional Danish bakeries offering cookies, kringles, croissants, pastries and dozens of other baked goods.
One of my favorite bakeries in town is The Solvang Bakery. The family owned and operated bakery has been a staple in Solvang for more than 30 years and offers cookies, cupcakes, pastries, breads and gingerbread. We had the absolute pleasure of spending a morning with founder Susan Halme and her daughter Melissa as they showed off the artistry skills behind their incredibly intricate gingerbread houses, which have received quite the amount of national media attention.
You must drop by The Solvang Bakery when you’re in town, whether picking up a delicious Almond Buttering or spending an afternoon decorating your own gingerbread man with your family. Stop by for an espresso and you’ll surely want to spend an entire day inside marveling at the gingerbread houses and the contents of their bakery cases.
Eat one of the thousands of aebleskivers made daily at The Solvang Restaurant
If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, head over to The Solvang Restaurant for Arne’s famous aebleskiver. These pancake balls are perfectly formed in a traditional Danish iron and are covered with powdered sugar and raspberry sauce. Have a seat in the restaurant or order a few aebleskivers from the window outside as these delicious treats are totally portable. Owner Jeff Paaske recommends that you order medisterpolse along with these pancake balls as the savory, yet mild Danish sausage pairs perfectly. On any given day, Jeff says the restaurant can make upward of 3,000 aebleskivers so hop in line and make some friends. Of course, if you have the time, The Solvang Restaurant has an extensive menu and you might even spot a familiar banquette from the movie, Sideways.
If you just haven’t had enough sweets during your trip to Solvang, drop by Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates across the street from The Solvang Restaurant. This soda fountain, ice cream parlor and candy shop makes all of its chocolates on premises. They offer a little bit of something for everyone and if you’re lucky enough, they might let you take a peek where all of the magic happens.
Pasta and wood fired pizza at Cecco Ristorante
If pasta, pizza and a bottle of local Pinot Noir sounds more your speed, drop by Cecco Ristorante. I highly recommend any of their wood fired pizzas and the Spaghetti Bolognese with a braised ragu of ground wild boar, short rib, tomato and basil. The caramel and espresso budino is a great way to end the meal and the marshmallow fluff and hazelnut chocolate biscotti bits are perfect with an evening cappuccino.
Bacon and Brine: Food Network darling and Solvang’s newest restaurant
Because of Solvang’s close proximity to vineyards and rich agriculture, it’s no wonder that chefs are foraging ingredients from the weekly farmer’s market, local ranches and farms. As of lately, I’ve become totally enthralled by the Food Network’s breakout hit, Cutthroat Kitchen. Chef Pink aka Crystal DeLongpre and her partner and expert fermenter/probiotic enthusiast Courtney Rae have opened Bacon & Brine in Atterdag Square, one of the many nooks of Solvang. Not only will you find an herb and veggie garden in front of the restaurant, but Chef Pink is also raising and butchering her own pork, which is the most sustainable and accessible meat in Santa Ynez Valley. She sources the pigs from four different farmers and gets all of their produce within 60 miles of Solvang. The restaurant is just a few months old and is garnering popularity among locals and tourists. The restaurant specializes in pork sandwiches and fermented and pickled veggies all served on handmade, local artisan ciabatta. The BLTK is a mouth-watering behemoth of thick cut house bacon, farm greens, tomatoes and kimchi. The Saigon Piggy contains Vietnamese spiced braised shoulder, Asian pear kimchi and sweet chili pickled onion. The sandwich menu changes often so it’s one of those things where you just have to go in often and try them all. Because of our super-packed itinerary, I didn’t have a chance to try and of these pork-elicious sandwiches but I did have a chance to chat with both chefs. These ladies are bringing some serious attention to Solvang in the form of Food Network fans, fermented and probiotic aficionados, and essentially anyone else who appreciates farm-toface cuisine. Watch out for these girls as they’ll surely become a local culinary stars.
Restaurants in Solvang are plentiful and vast. It’s not one of those tourist destinations where you’ll only ever experience one cuisine from one part of the world. But rather, Solvang has put its culture and heritage in the limelight while also seamlessly integrating other smaller mom and pop restaurants to complement the town’s cuisine. From pork sandwiches and Texas style brisket to traditional Danish fare, dining in Solvang is limitless. After spending a few days in Solvang, I realized that this is a town that should be revisited frequently with friends and family. It’s just hours from San Diego and Los Angeles and should stay on the radar of anyone looking to make weekend trips within Southern and Central California. For more information, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.