Ventura Food Tours
Ventura Food Tours conducts three-hour walking food-tasting (and wine, if desired) tours in Ojai, in Ventura and in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.
The website invites participant on Ventura Food Tours to “eat your way through Ventura County, one bite at a time.”
Eat, we did, one Saturday in Ojai.
My friend Tracey (a professional wedding florist and foodie) and I signed up for the Eating Ojai Tasting Tour that began on a Saturday morning at 10:30. The spring weather was perfect on what also happened to be April Fools’ Day and the first day of Pixie tangerine month in the bucolic valley.
Our convivial group of five met our friendly and knowledgeable guide Amy (a food writer/English teacher/sommelier) at the fountain behind the arcade.
Amy began the tour with a little Ojai history, including tidbits about Edward Libbey of Libbey glassware fame, the town burning down in 1917 and the valley’s current population (8,000), all supplemented with pictures of yesteryear in a photo book.
We visited six stops that included two great Mexican holes-in-the-wall (one I was unfamiliar with and will revisit), the town’s one and only ice cream store, a delightful infused olive oil and specialty balsamic vinegars tasting room run by a former high-fashion model and a wine tasting room topped off with sweets at a bakery.
Amy told me that the wine tasting venue changed on different tours and that sometimes a kombucha bar was visited in place of the olive oil tasting room.
We walked a few blocks to a small strip mall where we went into a cozy, family-owned Mexican restaurant with a few tables out front. The owner’s daughter, Yolanda, greeted us at La Fuente restaurant, popular with locals and a place that we were super-happy to discover. Yolanda brought out paper plates and a sampling of three of the seven tamales they serve: chicken, cheese and chile and our favorite, a pretty and delicious saffron/orangey-colored pineapple tamale. The masa was excellent — not too heavy — as were the mild green and spicy red salsas. All the tamales were packed with plenty of filling. Yolanda told us they sell anywhere from 400 to 700 tamales a week, but 3,000 during the Christmas holidays.
Our next stop was for a specialty street taco at the popular, teensy-weensy Ojai Tortilla House. My spicy taco al pastor was topped with a pile of cabbage, tomato, onion, cream and avocado sauce. We ate our street tacos standing on the street, washing them down with a refreshing sweet watermelon agua fresca.
Next up, ice cream tasting at Ojai Ice Cream. Bubblegum, rainbow sherbet or chocolate/raspberry/rum truffle, anyone? This was my least-favorite stop, but I was happy just to taste and skip the full scoop offered on the tour.
We loved meeting Carolina Gramm, olive oil expert, in her jewel box of a tasting room. She warned us about “fake oils” and sells only the finest EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) that she infuses with lovely things like shallots and makrut limes. There’s an amazing balsamic vinegar tasting bar: I fell for the walnut balsamic and her bay leaf/garlic/peppercorn/chili-infused olive oil was just one of many unique flavors.
This tour stopped at the fairly new, Majestic Oak Vineyard Tasting Room below street level with a pretty courtyard. (The syrah was our favorite.)
Our final stop was next door at Knead Baking Company. Despite being full after the first two stops, I managed to nibble here as well. We pulled a table into a lovely shady spot, met the owner, Bobbi, who worked at La Brea Bakery before opening here. We were served tasty wedges of brown sugar cake with chocolate chips topped with a dollop of sugar frosting and a lovely red raspberry.
If that wasn’t enough, we finished our three-hour nosh with slices of her amazing potato flatbread — the crust perfectly crunchy and flaky.
Allison Costa, owner of Ventura Food Tours (and Santa Barbara Tasting Tours) has been running food tours since 2011 and it makes for a really fun outing. Bring an appetite, wear comfortable shoes, and drag along a pal. Although you might not love everything you taste, you probably will love most everything and for sure, you won’t leave hungry.