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1 week in Santa Barbara- help please

I am going to SB for a week next month and am interested in restaurant recommendations. i have read past posts and have some ideas but i would love anything current. I will be there with my family- everyone is 23 and up- so no children and we love food (obviously)!
I have been to bouchon in napa and that is definitely an option. i have also read about hungry cat on this website, the stonehouse, and some others. what are some great places- ranging from super casual to nice? we will be celebrating a birthday one night and up for all types of cuisine. I would love dinner, lunch and breakfast suggestions! also we are staying near state street so i think we will be fairly central.
thank you so much!

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  1. The Palace Grill on Cota, just east of State.

    Best cajun food, impecable team service, truly an amazing experience.

    I highly recommend the (currently in-season) soft shell crabs, or the blackened redfish if they have it that night.

    Believe me, it's a must try, you won't be sorry!

    1. we were just up there and had a great lunch at stella mares. good wine list also

      1. For what I want in a restaurant, Downey’s is the best in Southern California and among the best in the country. “Amazing,” “awesome,” and other violent but empty adjectives are inappropriate for describing their carefully prepared, visually appealing (but not precious in presentation), real and actual food. The head man in the kitchen, John Downey, uses high-quality local ingredients to create a thoughtful and consistently delicious California menu. (See http://downeyssb.com/menu.htm for more details.) Succulent duck and lamb and clean-tasting, luscious mussels are special favorites of mine at his restaurant, which is a quiet, attractive store-front -- decorated with Liz Downey’s paintings -- that calls irresistibly to the many devotees of this brilliant chef and his clear vision of food and hospitality.

        It might be useful to compare Downey’s to another well-regarded California restaurant, Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I’ve been eating at both for more than 20 years and a few days ago had dinner at the Chez Panisse Cafe. It was quite enjoyable, although some dishes were as bland as last year’s vanilla while others were oversexed, and the produce -- formerly outstanding -- was merely very good. My last umpteen meals at Downey’s were far better. Each was a sophisticated exemplar of the European-influenced California style from first bite to lick-the-plate last, and the half-cup-of-this and two-tablespoons-of-that were all top quality. It’s been years since I felt that way after a Chez Panisse meal, although I’ve lied to myself about it on more than one occasion.

        I honor Alice Waters for creating a new cuisine and respect her devotion to her many causes, but I wish she followed the example of John Downey in Santa Barbara. He was born to cook, and he lives where working chefs live -- at the market and in his kitchen.

        1305 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        6 Replies
        1. re: sbritchky

          Everybody has a different taste but I couldn't disagree more with the quality of food at Downey's. I have written already a few times about it on CH and don't want to repeat everything but if there was one big, big disappointment over the last few years for an upscale restaurant in LA, SD, SB, Napa etc I have eaten, it was clearly Downeys. Overpriced and mediocre food. There are enough other palces in SB which deliver much, much better food, e.g. Bouchon.

          1. re: honkman

            What a great trip- no kids, a week in SB- and it sounds like you have a budget to indulge- have a great time and hope you make some fun memories!

            The Minnow - at the harbor. Great breakfast burritos, excellent fish and chips, cold beer and people watching galore.

            Sushi a Go Go- at the harbor- great salmon salads, noodles, sushi and whatnot, cold beer, people watching and all around great place to spend a leisurely afternoon.

            bouchon- has no relation to Napa restaurant. Great winelist, excellent food, waitstaff smother a bit- but they are trying to be helpful and guide you thru a great meal. Romantic. Has a private room- the Cork Room, might be able to squeeze in 23 for a party....Mitchell will move the earth for a group to have a great meal.

            Hungry Cat has its fans- it is loud and not at all fancy- but delcious foods prepared in front of you- expensive to me- great drinks!!

            Cold Springs Tavern- rustic, dusty, slightly rigid waitstaff- if you can get past that, and did I mention dust? Great location, darn good food (venison chili, specialty game meats, rib stickin' meals). Great for breakfast on the weekends, Sunday afternoons is music and motorcycles galore and tri tip sandwiches. Nice to drive up the Pass, hit is as the sun is going down and enjoy a great meal. Don't expect a 5 star night, and you might be suprised at how cool it is.

            The Chase is always my favorite for a cocktail, pasta night. Pretty, tons of sparklie lights.

            Coming to the Valley? Why not come over after lunch, hit 2 wineries and then head over the Santa Ynez and enjoy a fine steak dinner at the Red Barn. Local wines, excellent steaks, red checker curtains and red candles- brands of the local ranchers, and all types enjoying dinner. Fireplace, outside seating on a patio. Our favorite place in the Valley- and I have lived here my whole life!

            Panino downtown has excellent sadwiches- number 12. All I need to say. Lots of cold beer to choose from.

            El Bajio on Milpas. YUM. DELICIOUS. If you like mexican, this is your place. La Superica- with a week in town, you should be able to hit both and brag to friends that you did. At El Bajio- the gorditia is worth the 15 minute wait.

            SB Shellfish on the end of Sterns Wharf. Just go here. Just do it. Crab sandwich and a cold beer- what else does one need?

            Kalyra has opened a tasting room on lower State street- great vibe and great wine- choices for all- from sweets to dry and chewy. Stearns Wharf has great views and cheese plates for a afternoon of relaxing tasting.

            Have a great trip!! Hope you enjoy your stay and please report back on the hits and misses!!!

            1. re: JalamaMama

              I can't believe that someone recommended The Chase. Although the sparklie lights are pretty, the food is far from great after the Caliguri family sold it. A few years ago, I took my staff out to lunch, and my assistant ordered a ham and cheese sandwich. What come to the table was a french roll with Swiss cheese and luncheon meat. What?? LUNCHEON MEAT?? I have not been back there since.

              1. re: cookstr

                Its called an opinion, and I am allowed to have one.

                Why are you mad someone served lunch meat on a sandwich??? I didn't say it was gourmet, nor did the person asking for recs ask for gourmet.

                I swear the folks answering for SB rec's need to take a chill, because you give the real folks here a bad name.

                1. re: JalamaMama

                  Au contraire...
                  I appreciate cookstr"s comments.
                  Thats why I go to chowhound, for commentary by
                  serious foodies ONLY. If I wanted pocessed luncheon
                  meats I would be on subway.com.

                  1. re: ChrisG.PersonalChef

                    The Chase does seem to have a few fans here and even went so far as to claim The Chase was one of Julia Child's local favorites. You go to The Chase for decor gimmack and fill your plate stuff, not for serious dining. And no, I am sure Julia never even went near the place. But sometimes one wants quirky decor and fill-your plate stuff, then The Chase deserves to be on that list and their gloppy piccata sauce what ever they put it on can be hearty and filling. It is small and it is local and that still counts for something. And for ersatz Italian it is a heck of a lot better than another ersatz Italian place - Pascucci's which also has its fan base too. These places are what they are and they have a formula that works because in the world of come and go restaurants in this town, they have found a loyal fan base.

                    729 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        2. You mention that everyone is 23 and up, which i will take as an indication that someone is 23. as a 23 year old i cannot tell you how uninviting downeys is ( i say this as someone who has lived around the corner for two years, monitors John's posted menus pretty regularly and has passed on several opportunities to eat there while others were footing the bill). The alice waters comparison is an interesting one, and there may be decent paralels in the food served at downey's and CP's signature california cusine, but atmosphere-wise i can honestly say ive never seen anyone in Downeys who would not have looked totally out of place anywhere in berkeley. i think you could spend your dollars in a lot of other places and get an overall more impressive experience (again, i havent eaten their food, and it does sound good).

          by contrast the Hungry Cat is hip (and loud) and does things stodgy old folks get flustered at (like not having a reservation policy). on the other hand, the food is outstanding and perhaps only rivaled by the cocktails - always with awesome farmers market produce in combinations that sometimes sound off but never fail to impress (carrot juice in my vodka drink? yes please.)

          1. Having spent much time in SB with good food loving friends over the past 30 years, the one thing that all 12-15 of them could agree on was forget Downey's, there are so many better options.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PolarBear

              There are so few details that I don't know what to make of these anti-Downey's comments -- especially the negative review from someone who has never eaten there, because he doesn't like the way the customers look.

              I first went to Downey's in 1986 while on a Seattle-to-San Diego bicycle trip and was so ravenous from the road that I ordered three appetizers, a main course, and two desserts. That delicious meal was a marvel of subtlety and craft, and I was drawn to the cuisine immediately. I haven’t ordered so much food again, even on subsequent cross-country rides, but my appreciation for John Downey's work has only grown over the years, for the reasons I described before. It pains me to see that some people don't share my appreciation, but I'll recover quickly the next time I'm in Santa Barbara.

              1. re: sbritchky

                i think i did all i could to make it plenty clear that my view of Downey's was based purely on experiences that did not involve eating the food. You comments dont indicate the last time you ate at Downeys, but i would say that my non-eating view is almost as informative as one that is older than one of the people who asked for recommendations to begin with.

                What details were you missing - the people i consistently see in downeys are in their 60s and 70s (and then some). seem to enjoy having a quiet nice meal out but generally dont contribute to any sort of "vibe" other than nursing home (hey, if there was a nursing home with awesome food thats great, but it doesnt make it a lively spot).

                1. re: sbritchky

                  I like Downey's because it is standard and stuffy in the nicest sort of way. And no one does better desserts than Downey's. Downeys is a nice, casual elegant slow, quiet change of pace from the "buzz" of the other top restaurants just around the corner. When you want this change of pace, quiet and standard well-prepared dinner items, thank goodness there is Downey's.

              2. We were just in SB in May and had some wonderful meals. Our favorites:

                Lunch at Super Rica (Mexican) - cheap and delicious! Do a search on this board for more info. It's a hole in the wall and one of Julia Child's favorite restaurants. My hubby and I ordered so much food but ate up everything!

                Breakfast at Jeanine's in Montecito- Charming little bakery that also serves great breakfasts. We really loved this place. It gets busy though!

                Bouchon- we loved our meal here. Service was attentive and the meal was very good. Our waiter did a great job of pairing wines with our courses. We were able to linger over dinner and enjoy every minute. It's a little quiet so not sure what kind of atmosphere you are looking for.

                Stonehouse- Just seeing San Ysidro Ranch was amazing. It's so beautiful. The meal was very good but the setting is what made it so special.

                Brunch @ Four Seasons- we happened to be there over Mother's Day Wknd so they went all out on the brunch. The spread was pretty amazing- everything from oyster bar, caviar station, lamb chops, to the traditional brunch fare.

                1. I know it' s a college place, but the food at Holdren's on south State Street is really good and so are their drinks. They have nice booths and the food is very good, a little bit of everything. We were there last week, and hubby got a 25oz rib steak with bone in, and it was fabulous, I shared a little. Never had a bad meal there.

                  People love Brophy Bros for fish at the harbor, forget it, it was really bad. The food has gone way down.

                  The food at Enterprise Fish Co. was good.

                  I was told that the breakfast at Fess Parkers was very good.

                  La Super Rica is good if you want a taco stand, and so is the Palace Grill.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: paprkutr

                    Glad someone else here agrees on the Palace Grill, but seriously, you're not comparing it to LSR, are you?

                    Rica is a run down taco stand, while PG is a fine food establishment with fantastic service, and consistently excellent Cajun/Creole food.

                    But, I'm wondering why no other Hounds show any love for PG? Anyone?

                    1. re: GK in SO

                      My two experiences at palace grill were underwhelming, frankly. i think the reason it gets as much support as it does is that it is basically the only effort at southern/cajun cooking in town and as such is pretty adequate for the only representative but certainly not something id direct a visitor to. oh, and it seems unduly expensive for what it is. i cant parse your grammar exactly but it would be pretty wrong to imply that it is a "fine dining" establishment, if that is meant to categorize it with other fancy upscale places in town (bouchon, olio e limon, downeys, ca dario etc). if you meant it was a "fine" restaurant, then i guess i could agree with that, but certainly not exceptional.

                      1. re: tex.s.toast

                        We had a bad experience with Super Rica, on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The place was simply way beyond capacity, the line to order (with no more than 10 parties, I think less) easily took 20 minutes--it moved very slowly. Then it was at least as long to get the food. The food was good, but not so superlative as to justify that level of wait--unfortunately it happened while we were on the road, making us doubly impatient. Maybe it was just the holiday weekend that did it, but it left us vowing never to come back.

                        1. re: redrover

                          With all the great mexican on Milpas- why on gods green acres would you wait 20 minutes to order???? I don't get it at all. It is a frickin taco stand people!!! It serves tacos and salsa you serve yourself! There are at least 5 above standard taco palaces on Milpas! Can you say El Bajio? Altamiranos? Caesars?

                          1. re: JalamaMama

                            Agree, there are other places, but I do prefer LSR myself and find the number 15 Tocino Special worth the wait and not duplicated in any other restaurant. I think the "celebrity" factor is behind too much of the LSR hype - meaning it can get over-touted as much as it also is an invitation to unfairly trash it.

                            You are savvy about local restaurants Jalamamama, someone here tried to attach "favorite of Julia Childs" to the Chase Bar and Grill. We know LSR was a Julia favorite, but never once did I ever hear her make any claims about Chase. Did you ever hear anything?

                      2. re: GK in SO

                        Palace is over-priced, mass produced and predictible. And who wants to wait in line for that anyway. Nope, there is no reason to put this restaurant on anyone's best of Santa Barbara list unless you want to stuff yourself and leave feeling overdone and overpaid.

                    2. There is a string of sleeper restaurants in the San Roque area, on Upper State Street (3000 block or so) that are more mom and pop type places worth trying because they cater to locals and not tourists: much better prices, less crazy and novel in what they offer.

                      Food is fine and you get far more of the local Santa Barbara feeling that we live with here; not just the hype that is branded "Santa Barbara" for the tourists. Most restaurants in SB are okay, even the best are not really all that great so why not escape the tourist hype and dine just as well at half the prices in the San Roque area.

                      New German restaurant in this mix up there next to old reliable Jade in this 3000 block or so State Street area - going there tomorrow night and will report. Nice to see also most if not all menu items are under $20 in this part of town. There is Thai, Indian, Japanese, California, German, Mexican, Chinese, pizza ..... up this way.

                      Also, check out San Andres and the Westside of town too for SuperCuca's burritos and super nachos with marinated pork and lucious horchatas and the pizza at Paesano's and a draft beer at next door Palmieri's is as local, funky home town as you can get. See ALL of Santa Barbara by hitting both these places on the Westside.