Santa Barbara is an idyllic coastal city that resides just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, near one of the world’s great wine and produce growing regions, and is known as the American Riviera. The city has roots with Native Americans called the Chumash. Spanish Missionaries arrived in the 1780s, Mexicans grabbed the reins in 1826, and 20 years later, Colonel John Fremont claimed the city for the United States. Learn about 25 must-eat places in Santa Barbara, a destination with increasingly memorable food.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Santa Barbara Public Market has entered stage two of its development. New vendors include Corazon Cocina chef/owner Ramón Velazquez, who makes “fresh ceviches, mouthwatering tacos and homemade agua frescas” in an open kitchen behind a seriously stylish tile counter and heart logo. I found their tacos hit or miss (yes on beer-battered lingcod, no on al pastor), but really enjoyed their seasonal ceviche. Sal de Mar paired firm cubes of Baja California yellowtail with sweet watermelon, crunchy watermelon radish slices, creamy avocado, cucumber, and mild Fresno chiles, all dressed with tangy pomegranate and hibiscus aguachile and served on a crispy tostada. I’d also recommend quesadilla de mercado, an open-faced beast sporting seared panela cheese, farmers market seasonal vegetables, tomato confit, salsa cruda and almond arbol salsa on a thicker house-made corn tortilla.
MUST ORDER: Sal de Mar, Ensenado Taco, Qeusadilla de Mercado
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, by all means 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
11. Dutch Garden
Dutch Garden is an Upper State Street institution from Ken and Laurie Luetjen with a white and blue windmill logo. Up front, a wood bar by the kitchen hosts blue stools. A dining room in back features wood walls lined with beer signs, Alpine skis, a stuffed deer head, steins, pinecones, and gnome statuettes. A gravel-lined patio features red tables. German and Belgian beers top most tables. The lunch menu divides into four key sections: Luncheon Plates, Grilled Sandwiches, Cold Sandwiches, and Salads. I’d recommend juicy weisswurst, pork and veal sausage. Pork schnitzel, golden tenderloin coated with crispy breadcrumbs and served with a squeeze of lemon, is another winner. Each plate comes with sautéed veggies (squash and carrots), hot vinegar-based German potato salad tossed with parsley and onion, and hot, tangy sauerkraut. Expect a basket of 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 opened in 2016, sharing a space with the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. Owner Sherry Villanueva’s Funk Zone portfolio now includes a standout place for bread, baked goods, and sandwiches. The space features a glass-fronted kitchen, communal wood tables, cluster chandeliers with exposed filaments, and a patio with worn metal tables and chairs and flower-filled bathtubs that separate diners from Les Marchands. Bryan Foehl is the resident baker, 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 is another well-balanced day booster featuring a fried egg, breakfast greens, quinoa, whipped ricotta, avocado, toasted sunflower seeds, and spicy green harissa. A pastry case is worth raiding 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
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
14. 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 proven to be 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
16. Lucky Penny
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 Torrefaction 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 harissa marinara in the meatball sandwich or grapes in the toasted farro and arugula salad. Then again, of course a wine country salad would have grapes.
MUST ORDER: The LP Classic, Spiced Lamb Meatball, Toasted Farro and Arugula