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Lunch in Santa Barbara

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Hi everyone,
My sister and I are planning a trip to Carmel, with a stop in Santa Barbara for lunch. We thought it would be nice to have lunch at the Harbor Restaurant on the wharf, but what few reviews I can pull up about it, seem to be not very complimentary. So then I was thinking about checking out one of those cute patios with plants, flowers, etc. that seem to be popular in Santa Barbara. We used to go to a place called, I think, El Presidio? Is it still there? Is it any good?
What ideas do you have? Thanks!

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  1. Santa Barbara Shellfish on the wharf gets a lot of good local reviews, if you want to try something on the water. Casual dining, but very good sea food. The Presidio Restaurant you asked about has been closed now for many years - one of the prettiest patios and nothing really like it to replace its loss for predictible outdoor dining.

    Light lunches are good at the Cafe Bianco in the interior courtyard in Victoria Square at the corner of West Victoria and State Street, close to the Arlington Theater. This is elevated take-out, but always fresh and good and popular with locals and a quiet, small serene space.

    The best interior courtyard dining now is the Arts and Letters Cafe in the Sullivan Goss Art Gallery and next to the famous Book Den used book store, on the first block of East Anapamu and State Street, across from the Library and Art Museum -this is in the heart of the Cultural Arts District of town.

    The Wine Cask in the old original El Paseo courtyard now has a new owner whose first acts were to cut down historic trees and take out the courtyard fountain which has left a lot of us locals pretty mad - no reports yet on the food.

    Another lovely local favorite with serene views across the Clark Bird Refuge by the Santa Barbara Zoo is the lovely French country house Stella Mares, on Los Patos Way, near the entrance to the Santa Barbara Cemetary (no connection!). Nice well-priced lunches.

    If you want lavish views, ambiance and menus take a look at the Santa Barbara Four Season's Biltmore on the coast in Montecito - where it is always cheaper to indulge yourself for lunch than to try it for dinner.

    3 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Wow, thanks for all the info, glbtrtr! Well thought-out answer to my question(s).
      I'm sad, though, about the loss of the Presidio Restaurant, as well as some of the outside dining options -
      Gosh, you'd think the restaurant people in Santa Barbara would want to take advantage of their location and have a lot more nice patio dining, eh?

      1. re: aurora50

        Sorry I gave the impression of not much outdoor dining, as State Street now is full of sidewalk cafes - take your pick of almost any cuisine you desire.

        Anderson's Bakery and Tupulo Junction in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of State Street are good for lunch with outdoor dining, and you could start on lower State Street and dine out for a month going to all of them. But they are on the street and a bit noisy, but great for people watching and quite pleasant overall. They are just not your flower-filled courtyard feeling.

        Elements, across from the Court House inner gardens has lovely patio dining on East Anapamu Street - best outdoor view of the beautiful courthouse, but also on a busy street. That is also a good lunch place.

        The 1129 State Street interior courtyard is undergoing a major renovation which was always a quiet, pleasant fountain courtyard but has had a history not being the right venue for a successful restaurant. Hope the next attempt works because it is a lovely aspect of old Santa Barbara interior open space design. That could be a great place for Hungry Cat to expand to since it has become a clear winner in its small but cramped location on Chapala Street.

        The old El Paseo used to have dining in its inner courtyard and little shops all around, but no longer and now is full of investment firms and one one hears ghosts and echos now in that lovely little historic plaza. The old El Paseo restaurants still exists (I think) but is too sadly mediocre to recommend. But this little jewel of urban design remains a must stop to pass through and poke around on your way up State Street. It did set the tone for the entire State Street development at one time. Now the development is going a bit over the top for good, bad and indifferent results.

        1. re: glbtrtr

          Again, thank you so much!!! You're giving me a very good picture of what's happening in Santa Barbara these days. It's been too long since we've been there!!
          My sister and I are considering between the Arts and Letters Cafe and Stella Mares. Oh, and I don't think I mentioned to you, that this won't be for awhile - I think we'll be going around September. We'd love to go sooner, but need to save from the old pocketbook!!!
          : )

    2. The Harbor Restaurant is overpriced and geared toward just tourists.

      Stella Mare's is a lovely stop for lunch.
      Montecito Cafe is well priced.
      Louie's at the Upham Cafe is terrific.
      Carlitos Cafe right across from the Arlington will give you a good SB downtown feel.
      The Paradise Cafe is an institution. Food so-so.
      Brophy Brothers if you want to chow down like a true local.

      1 Reply
      1. re: santabarbarian

        Thank you for your input, santabarbarian.
        What makes the Brophy Brothers special? I've never heard of it - what kind of food is it?