The Santa Barbara Guide
Santa Barbara (where GP went to college, briefly) is such a jewel of a little city. We go there as much as possible, and thought our guide needed a little refresher. Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara area is fast becoming a wine destination with the Santa Maria, Los Alamos, and Santa Ynez Valleys, and Santa Rita Hills all offering different microclimates that produce distinctive grape varietals. It’s definitely a region to go exploring for great new wines to try. Some standouts—including Sea Smoke, pictured above—included.
The Lark131 Anacapa St., Lower State | 805.284.0370
Tucked inside the beloved Santa Barbara Fish Market, this indoor-outdoor—it’s mostly outdoor, actually—restaurant is named after the overnight train that’s serviced this part of California for the first half of the last century (which also explains the vintage train booths). As evidenced by the generous portions of comfort food staples like deviled eggs, roasted chicken, and cheese fritters (all locally sourced, all delicious), the menu is designed to encourage sharing. The herbed popcorn—which magically appears at your table the second you sit down—is well worth the sodium bomb.
Mesa Verde1919 Cliff Dr., Alta Mesa | 805.963.4474
This new, vegan option arrived to great acclaim, and it's pretty clear why: The fare is both wildly inventive and delicious, pleasing everyone from the gluten-free crowd to carnivores alike. Our picks: The polenta fries, falafel sandwich, and, of course, the avocado toast.
Lucky Penny127 Anacapa St., Lower State | 805.284.0358
The offerings here are blessedly simple: Excellent, wood-fired pizza (interesting flavor combinations, plus all the classics), a smattering of meatball-based sandwiches, plus a handful of well-conceived salads (shaved kale, based arugula). In short, this is exactly the sort of food you want to plow into with a big group of friends, or after an overly raucous night out. They have kid-friendly option as well, and offer takeout.
Finch & Fork31 W. Carrillo St., Downtown | 805.879.9100
Fresh, California cuisine meets American classics at Finch and Fork, where the dishes are prepared simply (think only a few select ingredients each) to perfection. There are different daily specials (i.e. burger and beer, pork and cork) and just-caught seafood on the menu. Although the brunch line-up is particularly awesome, this is a solid choice for any mealtime.
Honor Bar1255 Coast Village Rd., Montecito | 805.969.6964
This newcomer is technically part of the Hillstone/Houston’s restaurant chain, but who doesn’t love a Houston’s, right? Being that it’s more bar than restaurant, the menu leans heavily on elevated bar food: The coleslaw-topped burger and crispy chicken sandwich are both insane; the kale chicken salad, though undoubtedly lighter, is just as satisfying. Since reservations are not taken in advance, getting a table—whether outside or in the dimly-lit dining room—can take close to an hour, but the stellar drinks make the wait more than bearable.
La Super Rica Taqueria622 N. Milpas St., Eastside | 805.963.4940
"One of the best, freshest, most authentic Mexican spots ever. I have been coming here for 20+ years and it is insanely good. The tacos, tostadas, salsas, and specialties are pretty much unmatched. Casual to the max, line up for delicious Mexican food served on plastic plates." -GP
Sakana1046 Coast Village Rd., Montecito | 805.565.2014
Sushi purists might find the miles-long menu—rife with elaborate specialty rolls (the merry-go-round is a local favorite) and Asian fusion fare—a bit overwhelming, which is why it’s best to consult a server before committing. But the sashimi is always super fresh and the flavor combinations, though a bit surprising at times (see: blooming onion roll), never disappoint. Don’t skip over the sake list, it’s the best—and deepest—in town.
The Hungry Cat1134 Chapala St., Downtown | 805.884.4701
Everything at chef David Lentz’s mainstay (the SB outpost is one of three locations in SoCal) is consistently amazing, but it’s the seafood that’s a true standout. The menu changes according to seasonal availability but is usually guaranteed to include iterations of ceviche, pasta, and salad. When available, the uni is a sure bet, as it's local and Santa Barbara is known for it—same goes for the oysters. Since the space is on the smaller side, getting seated can take a while, so consider staking out the bar instead, or come for lunch when it's always less crowded. The margaritas are great.
Jeannine’s1253 Coast Village Rd., Montecito | 805.969.7878
Everything about this Santa Barbara institution—including the somewhat unorthodox ordering system—is legendary. Some 30 years ago, Jeannine’s signature scones helped put the original Downtown SB location on the map. These days, the lobster Benedict and Kahlua-soaked banana French toast keep all three locations slammed at brunch time, while crisp salads and fresh, no-frills sandwiches leave lunch crowds happy. That’s not to say the baked goods haven’t held up over the years: The currant scones and homemade cookies are as good as ever. There are also two locations in Santa Barbara, one on State Street and the other on Figueroa.
Montecito Coffee Shop & San Ysidro Pharmacy1498 E. Valley Rd., Montecito | 805.969.6250
This cafe shares space with an old-timey, packed-to-the-rafters pharmacy, which means that unless you know to look for it, it’s easy to miss. The service here is limited to breakfast and lunch, both of which are pretty basic—really, you want to come for the pancakes. What’s more, is that the pharmacy itself is weirdly great. The shelves are lined with everything from perfume and fancy skin care lines to basics like Advil and shampoo.
Cava1212 Coast Village Rd., Montecito | 805.969.8500
This is the kind of family-run restaurant where the house-made chips and salsa materialize without ever having to ask and every seat—whether it’s a booth in the main dining room or a table on the patio overlooking the pretty Mission-style facade—is the best in the house. The menu offers options to scratch a number of culinary itches, whether it’s Spanish tapas or traditional Mexican standbys (the mole tacos are legendary). The generous happy hour is a favorite among the after-work crowd. Get the blood orange margarita. Trust.
Sama Sama Kitchen1208 State St., Downtown | 805.965.4566
As part of indie hospitality group Shelter Social Club (Ojai Ranch Inn, Chief’s Peak Bar), it’s not a big surprise this is one of the hipper spots in town. Come here for quality Indonesian food—all made with fresh ingredients sourced solely from local farms—and a solid drink (during happy hour, the house cocktail will set you back no more than six bucks). There's a sprawling bar if you're dining solo and several communal tables for bigger groups. Regardless of where you sit, you'll want to tuck into a share-friendly plate of garlic wings and blistered shishito peppers, followed up by Mie Goreng noodles.
Los Arroyos1280 Coast Village Rd., Montecito | 805.969.9059
There are three Los Arroyos locations (the Santa Barbara outpost downtown is the one that started it all, though we've only tried the one in Montecito), and they all share a menu of Mexican food that hits the spot—the kind that’s prepped fresh daily, using tried-and-true family recipes and local ingredients. It's all comforting and reliable, though the crab enchiladas and chimichanga burrito are particularly good. There are also eight kinds of salsa, all of which go nicely with the two-dollar tacos on Tuesdays.
Julienne138 E. Canon Perdido St., Downtown | 805.845.6488
This is one of Santa Barbara's most celebrated restaurants, and we totally understand why: The focus is on farm-to-table fare (or, more specifically, the Santa Barbara Farmer's Market to table), and inventive spins on dishes you think you already know well. They also have a deep wine list, full of local California options.
Lucky’s Steakhouse1279 Coast Village Rd., Montecito | 805.565.7540
Lucky's is known for its great American fare, which comes in the form of martinis, oysters, steamed artichokes with vinaigrette, turkey burgers, and of course, the requisite steaks and chops. It has a great old-world Rat Pack vibe and it's perennially packed, meaning it's always a fun night out. The bar is open late.
Pane e Vino1482 East Valley Rd., Montecito | 805.969.9274
"My dad brought me to this Italian trattoria for a special dinner when he came up to visit when I was at UCSB. It still serves all the delicious and seasonal Italian dishes you’d expect in a warm, welcoming setting. Choose between the cozy interior or the vine covered outdoor patio for lunch or dinner." -GP