Dubbed the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a popular destination for Californians for a reason. Steps from the beach is a downtown with many local wine tasting rooms and wonderful restaurants in Mediterranean-style buildings. Of course, great food can be found beyond downtown. We’ve compiled the 13 best restaurants in Santa Barbara, from the casual seafood shacks to the high-end Japanese omakase.
The 13 Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara
Tucked on a quiet street a few blocks from downtown is Yoichi, an intimate kaiseki restaurant run by a husband and wife team. Chef Yoichi Kawabata brings his experience from working at Nobu Tokyo to his seven-course kaiseki tasting menu. In keeping with the tradition of kaiseki, Yoichi’s menu highlights the best of seasonal ingredients in a relaxed environment.
230 E Victoria St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; www.yoichis.com
2. Sama Sama Kitchen
Sama Sama Kitchen is an unexpected restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara, featuring modern Southeast Asian food, thanks to their Indonesian co-founder. From traditional Indonesian dishes like gado gado, to their version of Bali’s famous Naughty Nuri’s ribs, there are plenty to please an adventurous crowd, while their signature wings in sweet and spicy sauce make them approachable to those unfamiliar with the cuisine.
1208 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; samasamakitchen.com
3. Bibi Ji
A colorful contemporary Indian restaurant with a strong natural wine list, Bibi Ji is one of the most exciting Indian restaurants not just in Santa Barbara but in California. Dining at Bibi Ji is an experience for all the senses with a lively, neon-lit dining room and spice-forward food. The menu offers approachable options like chicken tikka or exciting occasional specials like uni biryani. Pair them all with natural wines from the wine list curated by sommelier Rajat Parr.
734 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; bibijisb.com
4. Santa Barbara Shellfish Co
A visit to the Central Coast wouldn’t be complete without a seafood spot. Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is a casual seafood restaurant at the end of Stearns Wharf and the place to go for the freshest seafood. Keep an eye out on the daily special menu and be sure to try the scallops topped with uni or the box crab when they are in season.
230 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93109; shellfishco.com
5. The Lark
Even after eight years, The Lark in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is still one of the hottest tables in town. The New American restaurant showcases local California ingredients and beyond that are sustainably produced. The large patio is perfect to enjoy cocktails and family-style dishes like grilled Caledonian prawns and crispy buttermilk fried chicken.
131 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; www.thelarksb.com
Chef Brendan Smith brings over his experience as head baker at Brooklyn’s famed Roberta’s Pizzeria over to the Central Coast with Bettina Pizzeria. Pizzas and wood-fired bread are the star of the show here, naturally. The pizzas are topped with California’s produce from summer peaches to maitake mushrooms.
1014 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108; www.bettinapizzeria.com
To dine at Loquita is to briefly escape to Spain. There’s no wrong answer to what to order here, from classic tapas to seafood grilled on wood fire to sharable paellas. Add to that a menu of gin and tonics and a beautiful patio surrounded by flowers, Loquita is the perfect night out in the American Riviera.
202 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; www.loquitasb.com
Although Blackbird at the Hotel Californian recently reopened as more of a cocktail bar after months of closure, it still has a tight food menu under the direction of Chef Travis Watson—seared local sea bass and perfectly cooked wagyu hanger steaks are worthwhile menu stand-bys. The concept shift just means there is now a new craft cocktail menu designed by Devon Espinosa.
36 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; www.hotelcalifornian.com
9. The Project - Corazon Cocina & Bar
Chef Ramon Velazquez’ Corazon Cocina started as a pop-up that became popular thanks to his fresh ceviches and handmade tortillas. He later opened up a permanent location at the Santa Barbara Public Market and The Project, a collaboration between Corazon Cocina and Captain Fatty’s Brewery. The public market location is great for ceviches and tacos, but The Project features a more diverse menu with larger plates, cocktails and draft beers.
214 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; theprojectsb.com
10. Helena Avenue Bakery
There are very good reasons that crowds head to Helena Avenue Bakery for breakfast every weekend. The artisan breads and pastries are great to start the day before hitting the wine tasting rooms, but don’t miss one of the breakfast sandwiches on brioche—the custardy baked farm eggs are worth it.
131 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; www.helenaavenuebakery.com
11. Sushi | Bar
Chef Phillip Frankland Lee opened the second location of his acclaimed Sushi | Bar at the Montecito Inn. Sushi | Bar is a 10-seat bar serving an omakase of creative sushi with his brother Lennon Lee as head sushi chef. The experience starts with a welcome cocktail, followed by 17 courses of nigiri sushi that uses premium ingredients but is anything but traditional; oo-toro may be topped with pineapple and brown sugar, and salmon is served with matcha salt.
1295 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108; www.sushibarmontecito.com
With an eye-catching, colorful interior and a Mediterranean menu from Chef Nathan Lingle who previously headed the kitchen at L’Auberge Del Mar, this new restaurant at the Mar Monte Hotel is one of the best newcomers to watch for in Santa Barbara. The menu features bread made with Tehachapi Sonora flour, Central Coast crab and whole roasted branzino.
1111 E Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; costasb.com
13. Buena Onda
Buena Onda may only serve empanadas (with the exception of some daily specials), but the menu of ten different empanadas makes it worth coming to this Argentinian spot. The crisp empanadas are handmade and freshly baked to order, filled with savory options from prosciutto ham to bacon and eggs. Don’t miss one of their desserts, and there are larger family meals like pascualina (an Argentine spinach pie) for dine-in or to take home.
724 E Haley St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103; www.buenaondasb.com
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