Santa Barbara has one of Southern California's most active harbors, mainly used for fishing and recreation.
GUIDE CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS PAGE
Santa Barbara is an idyllic coastal city just 90 miles north of Los Angeles known as the “American Riviera.” The city has roots with local Native people called the Chumash. Spanish Missionaries arrived in the 1780s and established Old Mission Santa Barbara in 1786. Mexicans grabbed the reins in 1826. 20 years later, Colonel John Fremont colonized the city. California joined the United States in 1850. Since then, the region has earned a reputation for growing some of the best wine and produce. Discover Santa Barbara food worth seeking at 30 businesses in this growing culinary destination.
Restaurants, bakeries and markets appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
D’Angelo Bakery & Bread
D’Angelo Bakery & Bread is a charming café from Dietmar Ellbacher in a quiet corner of downtown, complete with aqua awning, sidewalk seating, and shelves showcasing house-baked breads and pastries. The possibilities are positively dizzying, and they practically overflow after lifting a breakfast menu. The kitchen has proven they’re equally adept with savory and sweet offerings, whether that’s a French toast take on bananas Foster, or a modern presentation of huevos rancheros. Smoked salmon is also a treat when served with seigle (French rye), cream cheese, tomato, caper, shaved red onions, and seasonal fruit jam. If you visit D’Angelo on a weekend, grab a soft, pull-apart pretzel studded with sea salt. They added local Handlebar Coffee Roasters to their rotation, which is always reliable, especially when paired with Straus organic milk.
MUST ORDER: Bananas Foster French Toast, Huevos Rancheros, Smoked Salmon with Seigle, Pumpkin Bread, Soft Pretzel
Dutch Garden is a misnomer and their windmill logo a misdirect since this Upper State Street institution from Ken and Laurie Luetjen serves German comfort food. The eclectic setting includes Alpine skis, steins, gnome statuettes, and a gravel-lined patio. I’d recommend juicy weisswurst, pork and veal sausage. Pork schnitzel, tenderloin that’s breaded and fried to a golden hue, is another winner. Each plate comes with sautéed squash and carrots, hot vinegar-based German potato salad, and hot, tangy sauerkraut. A condiment basket showcases horseradish and four different mustards, including Dusseldorf, Grey Poupon and a label-free jar with tangy whole grains. Sadly, their famous potato pancakes are only available at dinner.
MUST ORDER: Pork Schnitzel, Weisswurst
Helena Avenue Bakery
Helena Avenue Bakery opened in 2016 and shares a boho chic Funk Zone patio with Acme Hospitality’s sister concept, Santa Barbara Wine Collective. The space features a glass-fronted kitchen, communal wood tables, cluster chandeliers with exposed filaments, and that separate diners from Les Marchands. Resident baker Bryan Foehl is responsible for baguettes, country walnut bâtards, and ciabatta. Chef Bridget Bottoms presides over the grab-and-go “picnic counter,” which includes sandwiches and salads. Reliable breakfast options include a chewy toasted everything bagel with silky house-cured lox, lemon dill cream cheese, pickled red onions, capers, and dill; or a buttermilk biscuit with green eggs & ham, aka green harissa and Fra’mani ham. Their green breakfast bowl boosts greens with greens, quinoa, a fried egg, whipped ricotta, avocado, toasted sunflower seeds, and spicy green harissa. Raid their pastry case for donuts, croissants with cheddar, ham, arugula pesto and pickled jalapeño; or addictive peanut brittle cookies.
MUST ORDER: Bagel & House-Cured Lox, Green Breakfast Bowl, Green Eggs & Ham, Croissant with Cheddar, Ham, Arugula Pesto and Pickled Jalapeño, Peanut Brittle Cookie
Hook & Press Donuts
John Burnett delivered Santa Barbara’s first gourmet donut shop, Hook & Press, as part of a mini food hall called Mosaic Locale. He worked in the mortgage business for years, but burnt out and reevaluated his career. Burnett was always creative, and made donuts at home for four years before going pro with raised donuts. Donuts cost $3.25 each, and they also sell donut holes. His springy raised donuts look great in the display case, and taste just as good. Distinct flavors include Pomegranate Rose decorated with gold sugar and dried rose petals; and Hawaiian inspired POG – passion fruit, orange, and guava – garnished with hibiscus sugar and violets.
MUST ORDER: POG Donut, Pomegranate Rose Donut
Acme Hospitality replaced iconic Paradise Cafe in 2020, hiring chef Jeremy Tummel to celebrate “the old way of California cooking and hospitality.” Santa Maria Style Snake River Farm Wagyu Tri-Tip is a masterful take on a Central Coast classic, served with ranchero salsa, creamy horseradish, and BBQ pinquito beans. Santa Barbara Mission chicken is another standout entree, lavished with lemon peel, rosemary, apple pink peppercorn sauce. Tummel also excels with salads, be it the hearty Ranchero or seasonal La Paloma with hibiscus vinaigrette. Bonus: each guest (who’s 21) receives a complimentary Paloma cocktail taster to start.
MUST ORDER: La Paloma Salad, Ranchero Salad, Santa Barbara Mission Chicken, Santa Maria Style Snake River Farm Wagyu Tri-Tip
La Super-Rica Taqueria
The most famous restaurant in Santa Barbara isn’t along the ocean, doesn’t offer table service and sports a glaring aqua roof shaped like a Wall Street earnings graph. This is all part of the charm of La Super-Rica, a family-run restaurant that dates to 1980, founded by Jalisco native Isidoro Gonzalez. Santa Barbara resident Julia Child was a vocal fan by the mid ’80s, which helped to launch La Super-Rica’s legend. Through the window, a woman presses and grills fresh corn tortillas by hand. A blackboard menu lists 20 dishes that all revolve around beef, pork, chicken, chorizo or vegetables. Alambre, a stir-fry popular in Mexico City, is particularly strong, featuring juicy tri-tip, green bell peppers, onions, and bacon. Lomito suizo consists of grilled marinated pork and melted cheese sandwiched between two tortillas. Don’t expect to find seafood, but between the board and daily specials, you’ll always find something promising. Tamalito de cambrey en hoja de platano features a tiny, banana leaf wrapped tamal filled with chicken breast, tomato sauce, almonds, and raisins. Taco specials are always reliable, whether it’s taco de calabacita starring sautéed zucchini, marinated pork, cheese, and herbs; or taco de hongo with sautéed mushrooms and epazote in a light cream sauce. Swing by the salsa bar to round out your meal.
MUST ORDER: Alambre de Filete, Frijol Super-Rica, Super-Rica Especial, Taco de Calabacita, Taco de Hongo, Tamalito de Cambrey
Sherry Villanueva and Acme Hospitality have been unrivaled culinary hitmakers in Santa Barbara’s red-hot Funk Zone. Loquita is their modern Spanish restaurant that combines classic and atypical influences in an inviting setting that includes an ivy-lined patio, dining room with floral chandeliers, and tile floors. Loquita also contains a counter that faces an open kitchen, home to a red oak grill and chef Peter Lee, who delivers a fresh take on the time-honored cuisine. I enjoyed Loquita’s versions of traditional Spanish dishes like pan con tomate and patatas bravas, but left most impressed with a special whole roasted branzino with crispy skin, beautifully flaky white meat, and accompaniments like tangy pickled squash coins, crunchy watercress, and a bed of crispy farro and sticky sweet Medjool dates served on a plate painted with judiciously sweet squash puree. Standout share-friendly bocaditos and tapas include Spain’s iconic pan con tomate featuring pan de crystal (crackly toast) topped with tomato fresco, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. Might as well add umami-rich jamon Iberico since it’s available. Patatas bravas take on a new form, touting a many-layered potato pave dressed with sharp 12-month Manchego, harissa spiced yogurt, pimenton, and chives. Secreto is a prized cut of rosy Spanish acorn-fed pork sporting a memorable sear and served with cranberry mostarda.
MUST ORDER: Branzino, Pan Con Tomate with Jamon Iberico, Patatas, Secreto
Sherry Villanueva and Dan Russo have built an interesting culinary compound in the Funk Zone, including this fast casual cafe with penny-lined outer walls. Order sandwiches, salads, oak-fired pizzas and La Colombe coffee at the counter before retreating to the bamboo-shielded concrete patio. There, you’ll find wood tables, colorful murals, and plenty of plant-life, some found in metal bathtubs. Each menu item has at least one twist, whether it’s giardiniera and Fresno chilies in the meatball sub or pomegranate molasses and mint in the roasted cauliflower.
MUST ORDER: Oak Smoked Meatball Sub, Italian Chopped Salad, Classic Cheese Pizza
David Back and Monika Draggoo (Santo Mezcal) brought top flight tacos to a block co-starring Bree’osh and Handlebar near the Old Mission. “Si Hay Tacos” at this fast casual taqueria, which graces handmade corn tortillas with luscious toppings like chamorro (adobo braised pork shank) and cabeza (steamed beef head). Composed “tacos premium” include Torito Sirloin topped with a fiery cheese-filled Xcatic chile and Costra al Pastor that treats pastor to a cheese crust. Vivid salsas are also a strength.
MUST ORDER: Chamorro Taco, Cabeza Taco, Torito Sirloin, Costra al Pastor
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
Winemaker Michael Palmer and his chef/wife Eva Ein purchased McConnell’s in 2012, and while the artisan ice cream maker and dairy already produced some of the best ice cream in the U.S., the couple further elevated the company’s branding and innovation. They also opened a beautiful new flagship on State Street, complete with brick and white tile walls, a mezzanine with skylights and bird’s eye views, and gigantic, decorative milk cans. Still, it’s impossible to improve upon flavors like Sweet Cream, Double Peanut Butter Chip, or Black Coffee made with shattered Guittard chocolate and cold brew from rotating California roasters. Terrific seasonal flavors include Eureka Lemon & Marionberry and Pumpkin Pie. Upgrades include cookie sandwiches. Possibly lemon poppyseed cookies with chocolate covered strawberry ice cream? They also mold waffle cones and bake market-driven muffins, pies, and hand pies.
The new Funk Zone shop yielded a flight of Strawberry, Pumpkin Pie, and Reindeer Tracks with chocolate brownie and peppermint candy
MUST ORDER: Black Coffee Ice Cream, Chocolate Covered Strawberry Ice Cream, Sweet Cream Ice Cream, Double Peanut Butter Chip Ice Cream, Ice Cream Sandwich, Milkshake, Waffle Cone
GUIDE CONTINUED ON THE NEXT PAGE