When I meet people who have been to Santa Barbara, they often talk about the great dining the American Riviera has to offer. In fact, Santa Barbara has the second-highest restaurant to person ratio in the United States. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bad restaurants. The large number of tourists visiting Santa Barbara helps sustain those. But many of my all-time favorite places to eat are in Santa Barbara.
10 Favorite Santa Barbara Food Spots
This list runs the gamut from 5 Star fine dining to tacos served on wax paper. Of course, I’ll have friends who live in Santa Barbara who’ll say, “How could _____ not make your list!?” To them I’d say, “I know, that place is great!” Santa Barbara has so many great restaurants. This is just a list of 10 places that come to mind that I love. Please leave your faves in the comments below.
Bouchon is the epitome of fine dining is done Santa Barbara style. There are other great restaurants, but no place fits Santa Barbara’s quote like Bouchon. Bouchon is located at 9 West Victoria Street and advertises itself as “wine country cuisines” sourcing the freshest and most local ingredients possible. They also serve only Santa Barbara County wines, which I find interesting. I love wines from all over the world, but when in Santa Barbara, I enjoy drinking Santa Barbara wines. I’ve enjoyed several dinners at Bouchon over the years, none more special than an occasion when my wife and I were treated to dinner by our friend Lee Gientke. We were broke at the time and had no money to enjoy fine dining. The food has always been good at Bouchon, but it’s never tasted better than it did that night.
Milk & Honey
Milk and Honey was a favorite of my wife and me when we lived in Santa Barbara and it’s one place we try to get back to every time we are back in town. We’ve actually run into old friends at Milk & Honey who has also moved away but can’t resist a return to Milk & Honey when they’re back in town. We love settling in for a long evening and order several small plates of food throughout the evening. Everything is interesting. Nothing is basic. There’s an attention to detail and how things are presented. Their specialty cocktails are also on par with their food. Most evenings silent black and white films play on a large wall overhead while music plays. There’s just a great vibe to the place. Located at 30 West Anapamu.
Arnoldi’s isn’t really a place most tourists would find. It’s off the beaten path a bit, and it’s been around since 1937, which means locals have been sustaining this place for a long time. It is, in fact, one of Santa Barbara’s longest-running restaurants. There’s an old-time Italian family restaurant feel to the place. The bar is great and the inside seating is nice, but the back patio is really what makes Arnoldi’s special, with a fire pit and a bocce ball court. On Saturday nights they have live music and this really is a place for everyone. You can find 20-somethings in tank tops on the bocce ball court and families with small kids sitting by the fire pit. Located at 600 Olive Street. My favorite dish at Arnoldi’s: The Gnocchi, which you can order 3 ways, and they’re all great!
Los Arroyos on Figueroa
You can now find a few Los Arroyos around Santa Barbara and down the coast, but the original is at 14 W. Figueroa St. and I started going there when it was nothing more than a take out place with a few bar stools looking out the front window. It’s been quite a few years now since they knocked down a wall and took over space next door. It’s a nice but pretty casual place. Order and take your number to your table. They have great salsa. My favorite dish: Beef Chimichanga. If you like cigars, Santa Barbara Cigar and Tobacco is a few doors down and it’s a great place to get a good cigar and hang out. Matt, the owner, is a great guy and will really take care of you.
La Super Rica
La Super Rica is one of Santa Barbara’s truly legendary spots. In a review on Yelp, Stan L. from Puyallup, WA wrote, “Its good, gross bathroom, plastic chairs, duct tape on wall, little parking, and yes, I’ll be back, its that good.” There’s absolutely nothing special about this place except the food. Anytime I see a line out the door of a restaurant, I figure if the food is worth waiting in line for, I want to check it out. Located at 622 N Milpas St, if you want to check out the kind of cheap Mexican food that made the late Julia Child rave, go here!
Best deli sandwiches in Santa Barbara. I don’t think there’s even anything else that comes close. Plaza Deli is located in the La Cumbre Mall and it’s one of my favorite places to go for lunch. There’s so much good stuff, but I have a hard time not ordering the French Dip. They also have a very wide variety of bottled sodas, giving Plaza Deli a real authentic feel. You can spot the owner there every day in his Yankees ballcap. He has a real attention to detail and likes taking care of his customers. Cash only, but there’s an ATM located inside.
Hollister Brewing Company
Rarely do breweries make food that’s up to par with their beer. Hollister Brewing Company in the Camino Marketplace Plaza in Goleta not only makes really tasty beers, but the quality and character of their food are just as good. You can get a little of everything. Pizzas, pulled pork sandwiches, soups, and salads. The setting, whether you’re inside or outside, is really nice. And during football season, there’s absolutely no better place in the Santa Barbara area to catch all the games. During football season they also serve breakfast. Jen makes the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had and the Huevos Rancheros is awesome. If you’re looking for a beer recommendation, it seems that everyone loves the Pope IPA. If you want something a little different, and you’re lucky enough to be there when they have it, try the White Star!
Without being a tiny place, I love the intimate feel of Ca’Dario’s. The owner, Dario, was born in Italy and has been cooking his entire life. He worked in the restaurant industry in Los Angeles and around Southern California before coming to Santa Barbara. Today, he owns at least a few restaurants in Santa Barbara, but the restaurant that carries his name is truly his own. Located at 37 East Victoria Street, Ca’Dario’s has a great wine list and a full bar. I find that the best restaurants don’t have a lot of pomp and circumstance. Instead, it’s just simple food done extremely well. That’s Ca’Dario’s.
Let me tell you something. There’s nothing special about Pepe’s. It’s just your nothing-special family Mexican place in working-class Old Town Goleta. Located at 254 Orange Avenue, Pepe’s is the kind of place you can sit down on the tea-light illuminated patio and listen to a couple of high school kids play acoustic rock, and then realize that Jack Johnson, who graduated from UCSB just a stone’s throw away, is sitting at the next table. Yes, that happened to us on a recent night at Pepe’s. The service is always really good and it’s a very low-key place. Just don’t take our table on the patio.
It’d be hard for me to begin naming all the special life-moments my wife and I have celebrated at Stella Mares. Stella Mare’s is located in what was once the home of Captain W.H. Johnson and was built in 1872. In 1962 the home was moved to its current site adjacent to the Bird Refuge. For me, the highlight of Stella Mare’s is the Greenhouse Room, where you can sit on a comfy couch next to the fireplace before moving to your table for dinner. And any restaurant that serves escargot in the shell already put itself at an advantage on my list. Located at 50 Los Patos Way, this is a popular brunch spot on weekends where you can do some bird watching after your meal.
If you live in Santa Barbara or you’ve had the opportunity to visit, what are some of your favorite restaurants? Leave a comment. And, if you happen to be the owner of or work at a restaurant I didn’t mention… I’m so sorry! I know, I know, I could have easily included you!