World Class Dining in Little Los Alamos, California


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“Welcome to Los Alamos,” the roadside notice board read. It marked the transition from flat farmland to the rural enclave of Santa Barbara County. From the sign you could pretty much see the other end of town.

Buildings and storefronts from a century ago clad in stone, stucco or plank and slats – all painted in the earth tones of the surrounding fields – present an unpretentious image of a bygone era.

A closer look reveals another story: world-class restaurants, an artisan bakery, antique shops and trendy boutiques. Los Alamos is not what it seems at first glance.


Just minutes from California 101, Los Alamos (Spanish for poplars) sits on the edge of the Santa Ynez wine country, near the popular destination of Los Olivos tasting rooms. Some of this high-end tourism has rubbed off. Young entrepreneurs have found old buildings and low rents irresistible to make their creative dreams come true.

We had planned a lunch break at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, a Central Coast destination for freshly baked bread and pastry, as well as a choice breakfast menu (fancy or plain), as well as sandwiches and salads for lunch.

As we drove along Bell Street, our hosts highlighted some of their favorite dining destinations:

Michelin-starred French-inspired bistro, Bell’s in Los Alamos, California.

Frank whitman

Bell’s, a French-inspired bistro, is owned and run by Daisy and Greg Ryan who met while working in the kitchen at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City. The creative menu based on local and seasonal ingredients has won them accolades. A few days after our visit, Bell’s received its first Michelin star, elevating it to the rank of a rarefied catering company.

Bells’ $ 75 four-course menu changes daily. This could start with a Finley Farms lettuce salad dressed in a medjool scallion and date vinaigrette and could include pig’s head tortellini with kadota fig mostarda, striped bass with romano beans, Tomato fondue and chocolate shortbread cookies with cardamom and salted cultured buttercream.

Pico, in Los Alamos, California, is a destination restaurant.

Pico, in Los Alamos, California, is a destination restaurant.

Frank whitman

Pico, just down the block, is another destination attracting hungry patrons looking for exceptional food. Also a family business, Pico is renowned for its farm-to-table sourcing, exceptional wine list, and close relationships with suppliers.

The menu features local ingredients on a trip around the world, sampling a wide range of cooking styles. L’Avec Dates, Wolfberry & Kale Salad, Homemade Ziti Beetroot and what must be a killer burger with three-year-old cheddar, apple-smoked bacon and grilled balsamic onions show the kitchen’s range.

The parking lot in front of Bob’s Well Bread Bakery reads like an abbreviated account of who eats in Los Alamos. Dusty vans, vacationers laden with car carriers, a motorhome and a few luxury sedans show the diversity. Under a shade tree, there were picnic tables and a pétanque court next to the vintage Coca Cola sign offering to “relieve fatigue” for five cents.

Under the shady trees of Bob's Well Bread bakery in Los Alimos, Calif., There were picnic tables and a bocce court next to a vintage Coca Cola sign offering to

Under the shady trees of Bob’s Well Bread bakery in Los Alimos, Calif., There were picnic tables and a bocce court next to a vintage Coca Cola sign offering to “relieve fatigue” for five cents. .

Frank whitman

Inside, the aroma of the bakery was enticing. The display case was full of baguette sandwiches and pastries. A list of daily breads for sale was posted on the wall.

Our reward after lunch was a quartet of morning rolls. Somewhere between a traditional cinnamon bun and European-style puff pastry, the cinnamon swirls had been baked in muffin tins and were either glazed or topped with cinnamon sugar. With a crisp exterior and soft interior, the unique rollers are perfect any time of the day.

Bob's Well Bread Bakery's morning buns in Los Alimos, Calif. Fall somewhere between a traditional cinnamon bun and European-style puff pastry.

Bob’s Well Bread Bakery’s morning buns in Los Alimos, Calif. Fall somewhere between a traditional cinnamon bun and European-style puff pastry.

Frank whitman

On the outskirts of town is the Skyview Motel, an iconic 1960s roadside motel that’s been updated with boutique luxury and a few rows of vines on the property. Reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Bates Motel in “Psycho”, the famous restaurant at Skyview even bears the name “Norman”. This is the trendy place to stay for a multi-day tour of the culinary delights of Los Alamos and the surrounding wine country.

Los Alamos has a California vibe that you don’t find in the Northeast. Stylish restaurants and local bakeries set in the fields and vineyards of neighboring farms, the Pacific coast on the hills and a hint of Hollywood glamor are only found in the Golden State – a world far from our densely populated Atlantic coast and worth well a visit.


Frank Whitman writes a weekly food column called “Not Bread Alone”. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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