The Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara
Come to Santa Barbara for the beach, and stay for the food. You have a lot of great eating to do.
Photo By: Jakob N. Layman
Photo By: Joe Schmelzer
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The Montecito Inn’s more casual spot on property — also by restaurant power couple Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee — is The Monarch. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant and bar was built around a wood-burning hearth, and focuses on local ingredients, like caramelized spiny lobster served whole, straight from the brick oven. Dinner entrees are served family-style, so that everyone at the table can enjoy the red wine and mustard seasoned short rib roasted over almond wood, or Hope Ranch mussels stewed with white wine butter, herbs de Provence, orange, and shallots.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
Perched by the Pacific, Santa Barbara has great seafood. Located at the end of the Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is as fresh and simple as it gets, with just a handful of seats inside and out. Its small size means it fills up quickly, leaving an overflow of hungry patrons waiting outside. Cut the wait by ordering your seafood lunch or dinner from the walk-up window, and eat on one of the pier’s benches or picnic tables with the coastal breeze in your hair. Classic seafood dishes are perennially popular here, like oysters, clam chowder and lobster rolls. When it’s available, the local, internationally renowned Santa Barbara sea urchin, served on fresh scallops with a slice of lime, is the best item on the menu.
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
Scooping sensational ice cream since 1949, this third-generation family-run ice cream shop is beloved by Santa Barbarans for flavors like Eureka lemon with marionberry, double peanut butter chip and year-round peppermint stick. Stop into the scoop shop on State Street for ice cream sandwiches made with cookies baked by full-time pastry chef Jordan Thomas, in flavors like sea salt-topped chocolate chunk, triple-ginger, and Vanilla Gooey Butter Cookies (a play on St. Louis-style gooey Butter Cake).
The Silver Bough
Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee broke the fine dining mold when they opened The Silver Bough, a culinary marvel inside the recently renovated Montecito Inn. A dream 10 years in the making, The Silver Bough is whimsical and innovative, delicious and lavish. The couple kept everything good about fine dining (exquisite ingredients, world-class cooking) and cut out everything bad (slow pacing, condescending service) to create an unforgettable dining experience. The menu comprises delicacies from near and far, so you’ll find items like Santa Barbara sea urchin alongside olive-fed wagyu from Japan.
Right on State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara, Bibi Ji is an ever-exciting Indian restaurant that stands out for both its wine list and chef Gary Singh’s cooking. Singh’s Uni Biryani is one of the most interesting ways you’ll ever encounter the quintessential Santa Barbaran ingredient. Tangy Southern Indian fried basmati rice dish is served inside of the urchin’s spiky hull, topped with the briny golden flesh, along with a side of perfectly pillowy naan. Wine enthusiast are dazzled by Bibi Ji’s hiding-in-plain-sight wine cellar stocked with off-menu bottles selected by owner Alejandro Medina and Rajat Parr, the multi James Beard Award winning wine director and restaurant partner.
Third-generation Santa Barbaran Julian Sanders and his wife, Katherine Guzman Sanders, carved out a sunny space on Anacapa Street to open Cafe Ana, an all-day dining spot focused on breakfast, lunch, evening small plates and the occasional caviar dinner. It’s the kind of place you can sit and linger, relishing the natural light and intoxicating bakery smells. In the morning, stop by to appreciate the fresh-baked pastries and LAMILL coffee, or chef Ryan Whyte-Buck’s many toast options, such as avocado-cucumber or Super-Chunk Gianduja with fresh fruit and cinnamon sugar. Later in the day, country pate and cheese plates delight with wine picks from Julian.
The Lark conjures a chic, rustic farmhouse, dreamily located a couple blocks from the beach. The 130-seat restaurant is covered in rambling vines and semi-tamed greenery. You can sit on the patio, where the furniture is rusted just-so, or indoors where dark wood and golden lighting give a sultry ambience. The seasonal, New American food by executive chef Jason Paluska is served family-style. Highlights come from land and sea, like the grilled Australian wagyu beef short rib, or caramelized diver scallops. Burrata doused with local citrus, castelvetrano olive tapenade, and marcona almonds is almost too beautiful to eat, and works particularly well as a snack with cocktails before dinner.
Hook & Press Donuts
Tucked inside of the Mosaic Locale on State Street, Hook & Press offers Instagram-ready doughnuts made from scratch using high-quality ingredients. The combos are unlike most you’d see at your standard bakery. Head baker and owner John Burnett makes options like matcha-coconut, browned butter and sea salt, Meyer lemon and thyme, and Paloma (complete with a tequila-spiked glaze). Fleeting seasonal creations, like blood orange Creamsicle, keep customers coming back regularly.
Santa Barbara Public Market
The Santa Barbara Public Market is a catch-all for groups with varying tastes. It’s a place for just about every craving, including pad see ew, falafel and ice cream sandwiches. The star of the whole show, however, is Corazon Cocina. Ask a cashier to point out Corazon’s most-special taco, and you’ll be directed to the Tia Juana, an exceptionally good taco that has it all. Every bite is special because the homemade corn tortilla is absolutely packed with octopus, wild white shrimp, Anaheim chile, cheese, peanut arbol, salsa cruda.
You don’t have to be a guest at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, to enjoy the resort’s gorgeous 78 acres of lush, oceanfront grounds. You can make a reservation at Angel Oak, its signature restaurant helmed by Alexander Bollinger. While the menu reads like a steakhouse, its star dish is the Abalone From Our Neighbor with house made pasta, rainbow chard and lemon beurre blanc complementing the thick cuts of local abalone. To take in the restaurant’s cinematic ocean view in the morning, head to Angel Oak on Sundays for the restaurant’s new brunch service. Complement dishes like a croque madame with a custom DIY bloody mary from a bar stocked with add-ins like thick-cut peppered bacon, Tajin-seasoned salt and ginger-coriander salt.
Mayo’s Carniceria and Taqueria doubles as a Mexican market and taqueria, meaning you can walk in for lunch and leave with everything you need to cook dinner later. The 26-year-old place is owned by husband and wife Ishmael and Matilde Villalpando who will likely be there to take your order when you stop by for their famous carnitas tacos. When asked if you want your tacos "con todo" (or "with everything"), the answer is yes — you’ll get bright, fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro atop your pork. Then the salsa is in your hands, with mild, spicy and very spicy options awaiting your selection at the salsa bar. If you get too ambitious with your spice level, order a sweet and cooling horchata to calm the burn.
La Super-Rica Taqueria
It would be criminal to leave La Super-Rica Taqueria off of a Santa Barbara dining guide. The place is as beloved as it is historic. It is common knowledge that food writer extraordinaire Julia Child was a regular here once she retired to the area, and was vocal about her love for the low-key Mexican establishment. Current day fans fawn over the #16, the Super-Rica Especial, a dish of roasted chile pasilla stuffed with cheese, and marinated pork served with fresh tortillas.