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One night alone in Santa Barbara. What should I eat?

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Hello west coast hounds! I'll be in Santa Barbara in a few weeks and have one night for dinner on my own. It's a Sunday. I've been told that the Mexican food is amazing, and is way better than anything I can get in Massachusetts. That's an option, but I'm open to anything that is truly great, especially if it's unique to the area. Please recommend a restaurant where a single woman would feel comfortable eating alone (so nothing too romantic or in a dicey neighborhood), that will give me a sense of the local flavor. I'm open to any cuisine. I'll be staying at the Holiday Inn Express if that helps narrow the choices.

Thanks!

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  1. I highly highly highly recommend you go to the Hungry Cat and eat at the bar. The guys are really nice and will take good care of you - if you go soon enough they might even remember us, tell them James and Alice sent you! It's a several block walk - or if you'll have a car you can drive the few blocks East on Chapala. The food is simple but interesting and very well prepared. A great burger, raw bar, local seafood, dishes based on local produce, etc. They also have fantastic cocktails made with fresh juices and a good wine list. It's all very well thought out.

    We actually stayed in that same hotel - it's very close to State Street. There are lots of restaurants in that area but many of them looked pretty mediocre. You might consider Paradise Cafe, Zia, the Natural (which is very close to the hotel) or Pierre La Fond. I haven't eaten at these, but have heard good things and they looked pretty good. The other good options - Bouchon and Olio e Limone aren't really single woman friendly - more romantic and candlelit.

    For Mexican, we really wanted to go to La Super Rica but did not make it - it's on the south end of town, not a bad neighborhood, but probably not a place to go by yourself at night. Hope you enjoy Santa Barbara - it was beautiful during our visit!

    1. The wonderful thing about Santa Barbara is that there really isn't a "taboo" against women eating out alone. With the ratio of women to men (3.5 to 1) women either go out alone or sit home and mope. Barbarians tend to just go out alone and leave the moping to the "big city" chicks.

      For Mexican: La Super Rica. Los Arroyos (Downtown or Montecito) Carlitos. Cava.
      For New Mexican: Zia Cafe.
      For Spanish: Milk & Honey.
      For Seafood: Brophy Brothers. The Hungry Cat.
      For Middle Eastern: Zaytoon.
      For Italian: Ca Dario. Tratoria Victoria.
      For Argentine: Cafe Buenos Aires.
      For California Cuisine: Bouchon. Louie's. Stella Mare's. Blue Agave. Epiphany. Wine Cask.
      For International "can't put my finger on just one" - Sevilla.
      For Cajun: The Palace Cafe

      That should tide you over!

      5 Replies
      1. re: santabarbarian

        That sounds like a good list! Actually I thought Milk and Honey was supposed to be across from Hungry Cat, but we didn't see it. Is it still open? I also heard the chef just left Sevilla and it's in a shambles. It was close to our hotel but we didn't go after hearing the rumors - which were later confirmed by one of the guys at the Hungry Cat.

        1. re: Alice Q

          Milk and Honey IS right across from the Hungry Cat. Still open. Still busy.

          http://independent.com/places/milk-ho...

          Hadn't been to Sevilla in quite awhile...hadn't heard about the chef.

          1. re: santabarbarian

            Ah - looks like it's not where I thought it was. Something else for the next trip!

        2. re: santabarbarian

          Did dine at La Super Rica (if dining is the right word ;) one of the three or four times I visited SB. I was told that it was Julia Child's favorite restaurant in SB, and that the queso/chorizo "soup" was her favorite dish. Any truth to either? I've always wondered....

          1. re: alias wade

            It's true that she was a fan - not sure about the favorite dish, but it makes for a good story! :-)

        3. Wherever you end up eating, grab an after-dinner coffee at the Santa Barbara Roasting Company in Paseo Nuevo and find a table outside and relax!

          1. SB is a safe city for a solo woman, and it is not unusual all all to do solo dining, particularly during the day. Several of the popular downtown restaurants have counter-type seating which is a good way to chat a bit with your fellow seatmates: Hungry Cat and Arigato for sushi are two good ones in the central fine dining district around the 1200 block of State Street, a few blocks up from your hotel.

            Going down to the beach area from your hotel puts you in the more touristy part of SB, going north puts you in the more local parts of town - each with its own feeling. State Street is one of those great lively streets to walk up and down for just window shopping and some pretty good dining choices.

            The best Mexican choices are on Milpas Street which is a longer daytime walk from your hotel, or a bus ride away - look for the EastSide/Westside Shuttle on the "MTD" bus website for a quick way to get there and go to the famous 'La Superica" or El Bajio (you will have to look up the addresses to see what blocks they are on Milpas to know when to get off the bus or which blocks to walk - a survey of the more working class parts of Santa Barbara, and a few unique little funky neighborhood shops and cafes like along East Haley Street - you will feel more comfortable during the day making this stroll, but it is even okay at night as it is well-lighted)

            We all have our favorites at La Superica - mine is the #15 - Tocino Special, melted cheese, bacon, fresh tortillas and scoops of pico de gallo salsa - heaven! This IS great Mexican food here and this is the one made famous by Julia Childs - pick the cheesier choices, the plain meat ones are a bit dull and take a look at prior posts about this spot to learn what others are also most fond of.

            Hope you enjoy your time in SB and we try to make this a car-free tourist place - it will be great to get your feedback to see where we need to do more work. Do look into the frequent shuttles that will get you around the main downtown spots on the MTD site.

            1. Thank you all for the great recommendations! I had no idea that SB was so heavily female and that it's a normal thing for women to go out alone. That is so NOT the case in Massachusetts. :)

              I can't wait to visit. One more question - are taxis common or do most people walk or take the shuttles?

              2 Replies
              1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                Taxis are not normal, but available. Lots of the town is walkable. Few locals use public transportation to simply get around town, but the tourists find the shuttles particularly helpful. And they are. They cost about a quarter a ride, no matter how many blocks you go.

                The walk across town to SuperRica from your hotel could take about a half hour. Another nice little place near you is Bucatini's, on the corner of Haley and State Street. It has sidewalk tables so you can people watch while you dine. They have a light and good N. Italian menu, with designer pizzas too.

                There are lots of sidewalk cafes in your part of town - not great dining, but it does put you right in the middle of things. You won't starve and will feel very okay dining alone. State Street is busy with pedestrians day and night (till about 10pm anyway).

                The lower part of State Street close to your hotel is the heavy bar scene part of the street- mainly college kids. Get's rowdy, particularly when the bars close, but the crowd is young and pretty harmless, except to themselves - fights amoung drunk kids sometimes but the police really come out in force at closing time. You may not even be up by then.

                Yes, lots of women in this town - probably because it is relatively safe to do things alone. Fewer men - not a "career" type place for 30 somethings males. But the bar scene is friendly and you can just go up and order a beer and have a reasonably nice (inebriated) conversation for the sheer fun of it at any number of bars that have seats and tables on the street.

                1. re: glbtrtr

                  Since you're just looking for dinner you wouldn't have to worry about the drunken late crowd, which is mostly students and tourists anyways. If you do decide to go out for drinks, some bars have a reputation for trouble when you mix the locals with people that come up from down south, but there's a good amount of places(James Joyce, Blue Agave, Rock's, Q's?) not completely packed with rowdy kids.

                  And if you don't wanna walk or take a cab/shuttle, use the sweet pedicabs there!

                  http://www.sbpedicab.com/

              2. I would go to La Super Rica. While standing in line I would start asking the people around me what to get, explaining to them that I had come from the east coast and was dying to try this famous place...if you get lucky, you will meet someone nice and you can share dishes and that way you will get to try more items. Don't miss the horchata, which is homemade. And do get extra tortillas.

                Then I would go over and stroll up and down State Street, maybe stop somewhere for a glass of wine or a drink.

                1. I have been living in Santa Barbara for 31 years, and my wife and I eat out nearly every friday night. The Palace Cafe is within walking distance of your hotel and is one of my favorite. It is not Cajun but Creole with a touch of Mediterranean and Italian. La Super Rica is not a place that I would recommend for a single lady in the evening because of the neighborhood. Carlitos has wonderful Mexican food, atmosphere and entertainment. Opal, across the street has great California cuisine which is not too pricey. My son in law who lived in Cambridge, MA loves this place. Bouchon is absolutely wonderful on a date or for anniversary, or if you have an expense account to use. I love the Osso Bucco with saffron rissoto at Ca Dario's. Santa Barbara is a great place to dine.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: cookstr

                    Santa Barbara is an extremely safe city and I wouldn't worry about it. And I certainly would not miss La Super Rica.

                    1. re: Snackish

                      Agree. It is a little over the top to claim Milpas Street and La Superica at night is not safe. People need to get out more in this town before they make statements like that. Well-lighted and a lively street of restaurants and more blue collar businesses. This is the working people part of Santa Barbara, not the tourist part. Take a look at El Bajio in the same neighborhood on Milpas Street too if the lines are too long at La Superica.

                    2. re: cookstr

                      Ditto from me on not choosing La Super rica. Its a taco stand, not a restaurant. Carlitos is a great choice, love their halibut cevieche. Rose Cafe on the Mesa.

                      1. re: sbquailer

                        But the food is so GOOD! there are tables past the kitchen, or you could take your yummy food to the park, or to your room, or to the beach

                        1. re: sbquailer

                          I would not choose La Super Rica, for only one night in Santa Barbara. It is a good taqueria, but not worth one night on. Fit it in to a weekend, yes. For
                          a single woman, you would enjoy the food and have a good casual meal at
                          Paradise Cafe.

                          1. re: orangecat

                            The service and the food at the Paradise have certainly gone down from years past.

                            1. re: santabarbarian

                              The Paradise never would have made any list for me. Sorry. It has food. That is all. Gee, that's great.

                      2. For a nice meal with a good beer and no hassle from icky sloppy drunk guys, go to the Brewhouse.
                        http://www.thebrewhousesb.com/

                        I second Opal! Very nice.

                        Also, wander down the pier and have a Spiny Lonster and glass of wine at the Shellfish Co.

                        1. Don't leave out Intermezzo, the wine bar for the Wine Cask. It's got big couches, along with regular seating, and is a really fun place to people watch in Santa Barbara. The wine list is amazing and the food is actually quite tasty, although a bit on the pricey side. But this is the place where you can watch the Santa Barbarians -- and they are a different species, shinier and a LOT richer than you or I -- in their native habitat.

                          1. Not sure if you've come and gone from SB yet, but if I had to recommend just ONE place to have a single dinner, it would be hard to choose between the Hungry Cat and La Super Rica. They're VERY different experiences: one is hip, urban dining (but not intimidating or full of attitude) and the other is a very simple, paper plate taco bar, but VERY Californian. If you could manage both at all, I'd recommend the Cat for dinner and a lunch at Super Rica (I'd never walk to Super Rica -- it's not "dangerous" but would be confusing and a long walk; very easy to taxi to/from if you call a taxi to arrange pickup).

                            The Hungry Cat is easily the best restaurant in Santa Barbara right now, with a seasonal menu, great seafood, and excellent drinks. A seat at the bar would be a perfect experience. Table service can be just slightly inattentive, but at the bar, you should be well taken care of.

                            There are many other options and I agree with several of the recommendations already posted, but

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: allegro805

                              I wholeheartedly agree about sitting at the bar at the Hungry Cat - and the fact that it's the best restaurant in town. We were in town for two nights - ate there the 1st night and liked it so much we went back the next. We couldn't find anyplace else we wanted to eat, except perhaps Bouchon, and they didn't have room. (The Bouchon chefs also eat at the Hungry Cat, apparently!)

                              1. re: Alice Q

                                Have gone there twice - ordered the Pug burger both times - first time good, second time well off its original mark. Hate the way the waiters always try to sell up here. So not sure I would say myself it is the best in town. It can be good, with qualifications and they had better get that Pug burger right again or three strikes and this place is out for me.

                                1. re: glbtrtr

                                  We had no upselling. The food is simple but creative and interesting, and the ingredients are fantastic quality. The greyhound cocktail is just to die for - even if you don't like gin.

                                  On our first visit, we split the small raw platter and the whole grilled fish, and on the second night we had an heirloom tomato salad, the burger and a spiny lobster entree they were experimenting with (it was interesting, but had some issues). I appreciated the quality and the quirkiness of the place, and we enjoyed chatting with the chefs/employees who were knowledgeable, friendly and happy to serve people who were interested in and appreciative of what they were doing. Definitely sit at the bar if you go back.

                              2. re: allegro805

                                I disagree with it being the "Best Restaurant" . Vehemently

                                1. re: Diana

                                  What's your beef? I'll tell all my food savvy friends that they're totally deluded.

                                  So, while we're at it, what IS the best restaurant in SB currently, pray tell?

                                  1. re: allegro805

                                    Hungry cat is good, no doubt. Not the Best in Santa Brabara.

                                    Your food savvy friends may be delided, I dunno.

                                    I am not qualified to rank the best of all the SB dining establishments, but I know there are several better than Hungry Cat! No one in LA is calling the LA Hungry Cat "the best" either. But it's good.

                                    But it probably ranks up there in the top 30% or so.

                              3. Wow, so much information! I'm actually going to be there on Sunday, so now I have alot to think about.

                                I'll be on my own for dinner on Sunday night and breakfast on Monday. Then I have interviews all day Monday (one is a lunch, so I won't get to pick - hope they pick someplace you all mentioned!), then maybe dinner on Monday on my own, then back to the airport to fly home. It's a whirlwind, but I'm guessing I'll get to try a few different places. Being from Massachusetts I'm intrigued by the idea of being able to walk down to a beach where things are actually open in October! How great is that?! And I brave our tough Worcester Mass neighborhoods to get great Jamaican and Brazilian food - so can't imagine that the La Super Rica is going to be too rough.

                                I'll report back when I return! (And hopefully will get this job, which will mean regular trips to SB, hopefully with a rental car so that I can explore a little more.)

                                1. Made it back from SB this morning, back to cold, cold Massachusetts. Quick report:
                                  1. I'm sort of embarrassed to say that Sunday night I ate at Longboards. I didn't get to my hotel until 5 due to some flight delays, and had been traveling for 14 hours. Just didn't have the steam to go any further than the pier. Longboards looked like the most laid-back place to watch the sunset and have a drink and food. It wasn't terrible (fish tacos - even in a place like this the quality of the guacamole and tortillas is so much better than most of the Mexican restaurants in Boston), my mango mojito was good, and the view was fantastic. What a beautiful city!

                                  2. Was taken to lunch at a little place between Santa Barbara and State streets. Seared ahi salad - good, nothing special. Can't remember the restaurant's name.

                                  3. Dinner at Los Arroyos - I think we were in Montecito. It was across from Lucky's... Maybe it was just my taste buds but everything seemed too salty, even the guac. I had a chile relleno burrito. Odd invention of a cheese relleno stuffed inside of a giant tortilla with beans. Tasty, but nothing special. Lovely atmosphere, though.

                                  State Street was so cool! I walked around a little bit after dinner on Sunday, but with the time difference and all the travel, I packed it in by 6:30. Besides, I'd watched Zodiac on the plane on the way over (my own DVD, NOT the inflight movie) and wasn't too keen on walking around alone at night.

                                  Thank you all for your recommendations! Hopefully I'll be back in town soon, with a little more time and autonomy. :)

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                    a few STEPS past longboards at the more end part of the pier was the Santa barbara Shellfish co. Fabulous food, beer and wine, a view, and good prices. Way laid back.

                                    Kick yourself that you didn't walk a few more feet!

                                    1. re: Diana

                                      I'm a little embarrassed - I did walk down to the Shellfish co, but was it was packed and I was a little intimidated by the lack of tables. There were a couple of picnic benches outside, but they were both taken. So I turned around. Yeah, probably a bad move, but I'm hoping to get a second chance.

                                      1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                        Thanks so much for your report. It is great when we get feedback as well as first hand experience with our little town. I know the sense of compromise travelling can bring when it comes to feeding oneself, particularly when dining alone. You ate in SB, but alas you did not dine. That shall be for another trip I hope. Our dining pleasures are quieter and take some time to discover. Glad you enjoyed your trip - though we have not had the best weather or skies lately with all the fires and ash floating around still.

                                        1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                          There's no need to apologize - sounds like you had a good time, and when you're traveling alone, convenience can be an important factor. If you get the job you can go back to SB and try those other places. Good luck!