In 2019, Lincoln Carson had one of the city’s most acclaimed new restaurants. With its elegant, perfectly executed continental fare and gorgeous desserts, Carson’s Bon Temps made it onto just about every “best of” list. Then COVID-19 hit, and Carson had to close the business he’d spent years working on. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that he and his family lived in the same building as the shuttered restaurant. “It was not good for my mental health,” he says.
In the wake of the closure, he headed to the Santa Ynez Valley, initially just as a getaway. He and his wife have long loved the area and thought they might live or retire there someday. Amidst the pandemic, they decided to move there now.
“It was the catalyst to say, ‘You know what? Fuck it. What are we waiting for? The world just flipped upside down,’ ” he recalls.
In June 2020, they relocated to the wine region full-time, settling in the town of Buellton. Shortly after, a space in Solvang that a friend had his eye on freed up, and the buddies decided to open a restaurant. This past April, Carson and fellow veteran chefs Anthony Carron and Stephen Fretz debuted the first phase of a dual concept: Coast Range and Vaquero Bar. The latter is a charming watering hole serving elevated drinking snacks, from pristinely fresh crudo to pig’s-ear “Cheetos.” It’s already earning accolades as one of the best bars in the country.
The former, opening this summer, will be a casual cafe by day, with the perfect pastries Carson is known for. By night, it will be a beautiful steak house. The adjoining spots are exciting additions to the dining scene in Solvang, a town that has long been known more for its windmill kitsch but is seeing more and more serious cooking.
Carson, who still has projects in the works elsewhere, including in L.A., is loving living in the country. “It’s just breathtaking,” he says. “You drive over the pass on 154 coming up from Santa Barbara, and as soon as you get to the top, it all opens up in front of you. It’s unbelievable that places like this exist.”
Coast Range and Vaquero Bar, 1635 Mission Dr., Solvang.
Other Can’t-Miss Spots in the Santa Ynez Valley
Coast Range and Vaquero Bar are hardly the only exciting new restaurants in the Santa Ynez Valley. Here are four more to try.
The young couple behind the highly acclaimed Bell’s in Los Alamos—Per Se alums Daisy and Greg Ryan—are expanding with a seafood-focused tavern. Brad Mathews, formerly of Fishing with Dynamite, is also on board as a chef/partner. 2375 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos.
This bustling newbie’s menu is evolving, but whatever husband-and-wife team Michael and Sarah Cherney do, they do with care. The house-smoked pastrami salmon sandwich is great wine-tasting picnic fare. 487 Atterdag Rd., Solvang.
With its rustic-luxe setting, and a menu full of indulgences—caviar lasagna, buttered rock crab—eating here feels like an occasion. Make it one by booking a room at the romantic adjoining inn. 1297 Jonata Park Rd., Buellton.
Located in the elegant Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, this is a crowd-pleasing addition from S.Y. Kitchen chef Luca Crestanelli. The Italian menu mostly eschews pasta in favor of Roman-style pizzas and meaty mains. 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos.