Finch & Fork
31 W. Carrillo St., Downtown
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.
138 E. Canon Perdido St., Downtown
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.
14 W. Figueroa St., Downtown
There are three Los Arroyos locations (the Santa Barbara outpost 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.
Sama Sama Kitchen
1208 State St., Downtown
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.
15 E. Figueroa St., Downtown
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's a location in Montecito, as well as one on State Street.
The Hungry Cat (Closed)
1134 Chapala St., Downtown
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.