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Jul 20, 2008 10:29 PM

Santa Barbara on a Budget

Hi folks,

The sweetie and I will be visiting Santa Barbara (from Los Angeles) next weekend, and I'm looking for a couple of dinner recommendations, and maybe a breakfast or lunch recommendation as well. Paying lots of money for uninteresting food makes me grumpy, though, so I was hoping to avoid that.

I'm interested in two kinds of places. First, are holes in the wall with tasty and interesting dishes in the $5-12 range. You guys know what I'm talking about -- bread and butter for any hound. Ideally this would be something we can't easily get back in LA, but I know that's a tall order. Anything Mexican or Chinese is probably out, unless it's unusually authentic.

The second kind of place I'm interested in may not have astounding food (though astounding food is always a plus), but has a pleasant atmosphere or "theme", in the $10-25 range. Cloth napkins aren't a necessity, but a peaceful patio or a view or something like that would be nice.

I'd like to avoid anything that could be described as "hip", "trendy", "touristy", or "corporate". La Super Rica sounds like a great taco stand, but she lives in Highland Park so we'll likely skip that. We'll be camping up off of 154, so we'll probably try Cold Spring for breakfast or lunch one day -- the website looks interesting. Local seafood would be good, if you guys have a fish shack or something up there; but a white-tablecloth seafood place is probably out of the budget. The $22 prix-fixe at Mimosa looks like it might be interesting, though at the upper end of the price range; is it worth it?

On the LA board we're always telling people that their query is too broad. Santa Barbara is smaller than LA, though, so hopefully I've narrowed it down enough to get some recommendations. If not, I can narrow it down some more.

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  1. Enjoy the camping!

    My meals on a budget in Santa Barbara....

    The Minnow Cafe, located on the harbor-where the boats are. 4 tables in a alley, fantastic fish and chips, burgers, cold beer and people watching galore. Went on a 2 hour tour 2 weeks ago and while the trip was great- the Minnow was the bomb. In the same area- Sushi a GoGo - located directly under Brophy Brothers- outdoor seating - right in the action, serves great salads, sushi, noodles- cold beer- my favorite is the Salmon Salad. Fish Market on the dock Sat ams- maybe take some goodies back to camp?

    Jade Restaurant, near the intersection of Los Positas and State street- if you are interested in dinner, is a winner.

    Cold Springs Tavern is a relic- if you are relaxed about dust and the slight smell of kerosene lamps- you'll be suprised at the yummy food here. Some are turned off, but I have never been served anything but tasty venison, chili, stuffed mushrooms and excellent drinks. Breakfast is good, and Sunday afternoons are the best...The atmosphere after dark is worth driving slowly on the curvy road back to camp.

    The weather should be perfect. If you are going to the Red Rock area- Paradise Store has bbq and music on the weekends.

    1. The Minnow is a classic, and while I've never had their fish tacos I hear they are great.
      If you get here Friday night before 7:00, the FisHouse on Cabrillo Blvd. has really good fish tacos for $7.95 for 2 big and delicious ones. BrewHouse on Montecito Street has happy hour 7 days/week and they make killer beer, pour 8+ ounce glasses of good wine ($4-5 at hh) and their food is much better than you'd expect. I had the mixed steamers (clams and mussels) on Saturday for $5.95. Patio gets busy at 4:01pm.

      There is a good Japanese restaurant at the SB base of the 154 called Kampai (4141 State) - not high end sushi by any means, but very fresh, good, friendly and competent service, reasonable prices and a local spot off the beaten track.

      Stella Mares at the Bird Refuge has excellent food, a beautiful setting and reasonable prices. Their weekend brunch menu is quite good.

      Have fun here!

      1. The Minnow is definitely on the agenda, as is Cold Spring (though we may do dinner there instead of lunch). Dust and dirt is not a problem. I have vague memories of stopping by a brewpub a dozen years ago while driving up to San Francisco; perhaps that was the BrewHouse? I see they have Belgians now, so I'm going to have to drop by to try them.

        We may stop by FisHouse or Stella Mares if we get in the mood for a nice sit-down.

        Thanks to both of you!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bjartmarr

          Would love a report when you get home.
          Hollister Brewing Co. cooks their fries in duck fat - another reason to go.

        2. If you guys are into beer at all, I *highly* suggest a drive into Goleta (I think it's about 20 minutes from Santa Barbara) to visit Hollister Brewing Company. Their beer is some of the best I've had, and it's not available outside of the brewery. I'd also suggest *avoiding* the Santa Barbara Brewing Company in downtown Santa Barbara. Some of the worst beer I've had in a long time.

          1. We're back!

            The Minnow was an excellent recommendation. The fish & chips were pretty good, and you can't beat the setting. We stopped in for lunch/dinner right before they closed on Friday, then strolled out onto the breakwater to watch the sailboats race.

            We stopped by the Brewhouse, quite by accident, during Happy Hour on Saturday and tried a couple of beers and the clams & mussels. The St. Barb's Abbey was on par with the other US-made Belgians I've had (that is to say, very good but not as good as the imports), but the beer I really enjoyed was their very earthy "Harry Porter". By the time the shellfish (served in a rich, garlicky broth) came out I was already through my first pint, which probably enhanced their flavor considerably.

            The one place we visited that wasn't recommended here was a little restaurant on Victoria and Garden which specialized in vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, dairy-free food. Since this isn't the sort of place I tend to enjoy, I don't think it would be fair to say much more about it. My sweetie liked it.

            Finally, we stopped by Cold Spring tavern on the way out. Breakfast was good, but the atmosphere was better. As Jalama mentioned, "dust and kerosene" describes this old stagecoach stop perfectly. We left just as the biker hordes started to roll in.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Bjartmarr

              Glad you had a great trip- and enjoyed the Minnow and the Tavern.

              It bums me out when people make the drive up the hill, and are let down. From the minute they enter the Tavern- they are displeased. The rough hello, the dust, the isn't for everyone.

              We were there on night after being at the river all day-starving and with 5 kids in tow. They were great to us, and though are food was served staggered, our bill was messed up- and the table next to us spilled their kerosene lamp- which left the air thick with unpleasant aroma- we still managed to have a great server, great meal and a great memory. I grew up going here, and it hasn't changed a bit.

              I live within 15 minutes of this spot, yet save it for the truly adveturesome that visit- as it isn't for everyone.

              Sounds like Spiritland Bistro for the food free of everything.

              1. re: JalamaMama

                Yes, it was Spiritland Bistro. After reading some of the online reviews, now I understand why they made a big deal of the "House Special Filtered Water" -- apparently they've had some complaints about their pushing expensive bottled water in the past.

                Funny, I wondered when I was at the Tavern about the wisdom of lighting an old, dry wooden building with easily-upset kerosene lamps. I guess it hasn't burned down yet...

                Note that the Tavern charges $2 for coffee refills. Not a huge deal for me (I don't drink much coffee) but nickel-and-diming is annoying.

              2. re: Bjartmarr

                Glad you liked the Minnow and found Brewhouse. Beerwise, we're partial to the Porter and their IPAs. Never been to Spiritland - can't bear to go since the two previous restaurants in the same locale were favorites. Plus I'm with you in terms of the no-no thing. Thanks for the report!