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Apr 13, 2008 10:24 PM

Weekday dining in Santa Barbara (& Carmel)

Planning a three night stop-over in Santa Barbara, taking a European foodie friend on a California roadtrip along Highway One (San Francisco ... Carmel ... Big Sur ... Santa Barbara ... Malibu ... and back to SF)

Looking for recommands on mid-week dining in Santa Barbara - casual, local favorites, South of the Border, Cal cuisine ...

Also, if anyone has any news on dining in Carmel?
It seems the town gets some bad rep on CH when it comes to dining (Passion Fish in PG will be a bit out of the way on this itinerary), so any input would be highly appreciated.
Again, for this itinerary more on the casual side ...

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  1. Many people would send you towards La Super Rica, on milpas in santa barbara. It is good, but the menu is somewhat awkward and hard to negotiate as a first timer without a guide, and i also dont think it is a great as the throngs would lead you to believe (and waiting an hour doesnt make it much better, unfortunately). A popular alternative nearby would be El Bajio also on milpas for general taqueia fare, but i would recommend Lily's Tacos, on the 300 block of Chapala. Small shop, very very casual (tv playing telenovelas, lots of families and children) with GREAT tacos. All they sell are tacos, and sodas. Thats it. From the rather ordinary (carne asada, adobada) to substantially stranger (eye, cheek and lip) they are all first rate - im partial to the cachete, or cheek tacos. grab a side of radishes and a bottle of one of the three sauces from the salsa bar.

    Honestly, theres nothing typically Santa Barbara about this place: its cheap (1.25 a taco), unpretentious and incredibly untrendy. I love it for all these reasons. Go to La Super Rica if you must (as everyone can tell you, Julia Child liked it) but try to stop by Lily's for a taco or two just for the contrasting experience, you really cant go wrong.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tex.s.toast

      I second the El Bajio rec- the tacos, tortas, fish soup, the fruity waters they make- it is all good, and the Family that runs it makes it even more special.

      La Superica- I don't understand the fevered LOVE / HATE relationship folks have with this place. Avoid on the weekends, but during the week- I have never waited more than 10 minutes to order- and less to hear my numero called out. It is delicious, fresh food, and who cares what Julia Child thought, for petes sakes- she loved FOOD folks- she would eat anywhere anytime because she loved to eat!!! I rec the #16- and anything else on the menu- it is worth it.

      But if it were me- and I had a foodie in tow- I'd have a short list: El Bajio, Santa Barbara Shellfish (Stearns Wharf), Paradise Cafe, and Brophy Brothers- the vibe there is great. Petit Valentin is making some noise around here- not sure if they are open for lunch- classy food.

    2. Thanks for some great hints & tips.
      La Supa Rica was on my list originally, but it has just been revised to include El Bajio and Lily's Tacos instead.
      Santa Barbara Shellfish and Brophy Brothers look fun - how does the Stearns Wharf location compare to the FisHouse location on Cabrillo?
      And ... any input on Opal?

      5 Replies
      1. re: JulesSF

        Fishouse and SBShellfish are owned by the same folks, and there is a big difference, because Shellfish seats only 25 or so inside, with outside seating (which is subject to picnicers- fishermen- pelicans-wind-you name it) being chancey at times. Bar and counter seating only- which is part of the appeal I guess. Beautiful views of the water, and great tank crab/lobster choices.

        Great crab sandwich, oysters, excellent specials of the day- not cheap- but worth it. If you go to anything on the water- remember to take your parking ticket to be stamped.

        I am not sure if Opal is open for lunch- but it gets consistant rave reviews for great service and great food.

        If you are looking for kinda funky- across the wharf is the harbor, and there is the Minnow Cafe (fish and chips, cold beer, atmosphere galore), Sushi a Go Go for sushi and yummy salads and specials- and you get to watch the fisherman unload their nets if you are lucky. Great people watching at either spot.

        1. re: JalamaMama

          Opal is open for lunch and always busy- a nice choice for a Santa Barbara bistro dining experience experience - I do love their warm seafood salad.

          Here are my local favorites I keep going back to, more for a special dish they prepare than their overall menu when the mood grabs me just to go out and eat, but not "dine":

          1. Hungry Cat for their Pugburger
          2. Sushi Teri - great plate of teri chicken or salmon, rice, salad and fresh California roll
          3. China Pavillion - walnut chicken
          4. Taj or Spice Avenue for their Indian buffets
          5. Ca Dario for their antipasto assortiti plate with wonderful ciabatta bread
          6. Via Maestra 42 - Italian sandwiches and gelato
          7. Cafe Bianco - daily special composed salads and sandwiches
          8. Emilio's Beachside for nice low key N. Italian
          9. K-Mart Shopping Center Vietnamese - can't remember its name
          10. Of course, La Superrica - #15 special Tocino with salsa
          11. Red Pepper, Chinese in Goleta
          12. Zatoon's - middle eastern
          13. Beach Grill at Padaro
          14. Alex's Mexican carryout and casual dine in - chile relleno
          15. Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch - tri tip and chicken plates
          16. Sakura Japanese in Paseo Nuevo, and other small ethnic casual dining spots there in the side mall passages, including California Pizza Kitchen
          17. I am a fan of the Mesa Cafe for just basic home style food, fresh, well prepared and modest in cost. Others disagree.
          18. Super Cuca's for their burrito supreme or super nachos and horchata

          All of these are between $10-20 dollars, more closer to $10 per person

          1. re: glbtrtr

            14 - Correction: Rudy's Mexican carry out for chili rellenos; (not Alex's) - fresh, good and well-priced. I like the one on West Montecito Street, near the Castillo Street freeway exit in West Beach.

            1. re: glbtrtr

              "other small ethnic casual dining spots there in the side mall passages, including California Pizza Kitchen "

              SERIOUSLY? i suppose one could consider CPK small in terms of the number of seats in that particular location, but a big national chain doesn't spring immediately to mind when i think small and ethnic. maybe its just me?

              1. re: tex.s.toast

                Yeah, its a chain, but it is conveniently located and has a nice variety of tasty one dish items. I like (love!) IHOP too, especially for their Swedish pancakes - no one does them better.

        2. We just returned from a weekend in Carmel and any of the three places we went to would be great --- the Gem, Christopher's, or Cantinetta Luca. Each was superb and well priced and you don't need to dress up much.

          1 Reply
          1. re: trubee

            Cantinetta Luca is excellent and reasonably priced. Ate there last month and really enjoyed the food, everything was fresh and well prepared. Our new favorite spot in Carmel.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. Casual, local faves here in Santa Barbara -

              Take out food at Lazy Acres with picnic at Shoreline Park.
              Louie's at the Upham Hotel.
              Super Cuca's for big, bad a** burritos.
              Ca Dario for ravioli to die for.
              Stella Mare
              Carlitos Cantina
              East Beach Cafe for breakfast (true CA experience of sand in food with great view)
              Chad's (before it closes)

              2 Replies
              1. re: santabarbarian

                Super Cuca's burritos are ok (as a SF Mission native i will admit to being picky - there is just too much of their so-so rice) but their NACHOS are top notch in my book. Don't forget to bring friends, for like 7 or 8 bucks there is easily 5 lbs of food (ok maybe 3).

                1. re: tex.s.toast

                  Don't forget to leave room for their horchata when you order their super nachos. Yum. The best combination ever. Slightly sweet mixed with hot and spicy. I think that covers all food groups.