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Dec 14, 2010 06:32 PM

Good Mexican in Santa Barbara

Can anyone suggest good authentic Mexican in Santa Barbara.

I am guessing this is the cuisine to be eating in this town?

Any good barbecue joints?


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  1. Hi, Gavin.

    One of the Best Mexican Restaurants in Santa Barbara is also one of the least expensive. La Super Rica Taqueria, 622 N. Milpas St, Santa Barbara, 805-963-4940, doesn't look like much, but their food is authentic & some of the best in town. I recommend this place for lunch.

    For a nicer sit-down experience, try Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant at 14 W. Figueroa, Santa Barbara, 805-962-5541, or in Montecito at 1280 Coast Village Rd., 805-969-9059.

    As for BBQ, Try Woody's, 5112 Hollister Ave., Goleta, 967-3775 or the local favorite, Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch, 2618 De la Vina Street, 805-569-1872.

    Hope this helps,

    7 Replies
    1. re: DiscoverSB

      I consider myself a expert on this matter, having put out some serious effort to maintain the current roster of places I MUST eat at when I venture over the hill...

      #1 El Bajio on the 100 block of Milpas. The best tamales, tortas and fresh aqua frescas. FISH STEW! So clean you could kick a trash can on its side and eat off of it.

      #2 El Sitio- various locations in SB, but I prefer the N Fairview location. Tacos de Rajas- moist chile/pork/mushroom/white onion smothered in mexican cheese. Ugly decor- delicious food- what more could you want?

      #3 Palapa- where the 101 and 154 meet. YUM. Rajas/bacon breakfast. Excellent hot sauce selection. The food is slow to come out- but WORTH the wait. Mariachis on Friday, if I am correct. Their platters are great- come sized for 3, 4 and 6- will feed and army!

      #4 La Superica is delicious- #16 and a beer is perfect. The line usually goes fast- it just sucks to be stuck behind a pretentious food snob who thinks that Julia Child is behind the counter. Go for the delicious and simple food and you won't be sorry!

      #5 Super Cucas. Delicious. Not outstanding, not shabby- just good grub!

      Super Cuca's
      626 W Micheltorena St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

      Palapa Restaurant
      4123 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93110

      1. re: OldJalamaMama

        When we want Mexican we go to La Superica or SuperCuca's - both casual take out kind of places but great in the food category. What SB does not have is a refined regional Mexican restaurant because this is one of the grand world cuisines that remains under appreciated compared to its exquisite variety and freshness one gets in Mexico itself.

        The newer Mexican place on Upper Milpas (name?) who brags "no lard" has some flavorful interpretations regardless and prides itself on being locavore and organic. Believe it or not, it is hard to get good "Mexican" in Santa Barbara and downright impossible until Superica showed up. You got sanitized American mexican but no hint what fresh and local mexican was all about for years. For funk but not the best food, there is always Rose Cafe on East Haley Street where you can sit down and get served.

        El Paseo now has a new chef and is starting to get some very nice reviews and you simply cannot beat this place for setting and atmosphere but it was long avoided due to its very indifferent approach to that key ingredient - the menu itself. Very worth checking out because it sets just the right mood for feeling Santa Barbara and festive: But I have not been there yet myself since this new chef took over, but I should put it on my short list because it would be nice to start recommending it to visitors to our town.

      2. re: DiscoverSB

        I was last in Santa Barbara about 12 years ago, and will be returning for a brief trip in February. I remember going to a taco stand that was incredible. As I recall, it was sort of by itself and a bit of a walk from the downtown area. Would that be Super Rica? I definitely want to go back.

        1. re: mountaincachers

          Yes it could be. Milpas Street has some of the favorites and this is about a 1-2 mile walk from the Downtown State Street area though we consider both Milpas Street and State Street our two downtowns - though State is typically more for tourists and Milpas is more for locals. But there are also some good Mexican restaurants in the San Andres/Micheltorena Westside area which is also about a mile walk from the State Street downtown but in the opposite direction. Or, could you mean Lily's which is tucked away in a separate area of its own and a bit of a walk also from "downtown". Were you heading to the mountains or the ocean when you were walking.

          All of which begs the question of which ones are the "really good" ones -many are okay, some have better single items than others, but alas this is not the town's main cuisine. And it was even worse before La Superica opened up a few decades ago and finally introduced us to Mexican fresh and not Anglo-Mexican Rosarita canned stuff.

          1. re: glbtrtr

            Hmmm...don't remember in that much detail. We were staying at the Simpson House Inn. If I were to guess, I would say we were walking away from the mountains, but this is a decade old memory. I had read about the place somewhere (maybe Zagats) if that helps. Nevertheless, it sounds like Superrica is a Chow favorite, so I think we'll go and see if I have deja vu.

            1. re: mountaincachers

              La Superica is the best known one and as we always say was a favorite of Julia Childs which put it on the international map, including mention in 1000 places to see before you die. If you remember a little walk-up place, probably stood in line a while, where after you put in your order written on a the chalk board, you sat under a canvas covering on little wooden picnic tables waitiing for them to call out your order and then added various salsas and then sat back and enjoyed the joys of fresh Mexican food treasures, I think it was La Superica. And that was quite a walk from Simpson House - good for you.

              I used to use this route on a bike to get my # 15 Tocino special at LSR and then was able to stop at McConnells Ice cream (brazilian coffee chip) just a few blocks up the same street for my favorite "dining out" experience in Santa Barbara.

              If you remember walking under a long canopy of very tall umbrella pines and passing the old WPA County Bowl, you definitely were walking towards La Superica.

              There are now several other Mexican restaurants rated in Zagat, but LSR first put this all on the map in this town so if your trip was some time ago, my money too is on LSR. Good choice.

            2. re: glbtrtr

              P.S. We live in a place with horrifically bad Mexican food, so I'm sure any of these places would be a big step up.

        2. Again since you are only asking for "good" Mexican food, Carlito's on State Street across from the Arlington Theater is a good pick too -- I enjoyed their cerviche "appetizer" there as a full meal. They give you the "Mexican" food one expects to find in America and it is a great downtown location with a wonderful people watching patio.

          2 Replies
          1. re: glbtrtr

            Thanks for the info

            if you have other restaurants you would suggest not Mexican that are definitely worth trying we would be also grateful!



            1. re: chefgav

              From my perspective, our repeated favorites are:

              (Names alone not much help but you can look these up on SB Dining website for more info about location, menus, prices)

              Top is Julienne (foodie central - local, eleclectic- young, hip)
              Next tier: buchon (Calif locavore), Olio et Limone, (N. Italian) Downey's (Continental) for more formal upper price bracket

              Local favorites - more low key: Renaud's, (French bakery) Jade (bistro), Opal (bistro), SBCC Culinary Arts Dept Gourmet Dining Room - Thurs/Friday nights (sleeper), Brummi's (German), Via Maestra 42, (N. Italian) Ca D'Ario, (N. Italian) Stella Mares, (Californian) Taj, (Indian) Cold Springs Tavern - (American), Giovanni's San Roque (Pizza), Anderson's (Danish), Petit Valentin (French bistro)

              Basics off the typical beaten path: Las Aves (Encina Lodge motel), Crocodile (Lemon Tree Inn motel), Mac's Fish and Chips - mushy peas comfort food

              Mixed: often great food but annoying service attitude: Hungry Cat, I keep going back for their PugBurger and always leave hating their attitude, and then go back again because the burger is so good.

              Worth a drive: Mo's BBQ in Pismo Beach - about 1.5 hours away up 101 *****

              Carpinteria - .5 hours south - Gianfranco's - (Italian-Sicilian);
              Montecito .25 south -Tre Lune (N. Italian)

              Plus we toss in a mix of various asian around town: Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese

              The Hungry Cat
              1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

              Via Maestra 42
              3343 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

              Stella Mare's
              50 Los Patos Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

          2. Hello Gavin,
            There are many Mexican places in Santa Barbara, and my favorites vary depending on what I'm looking for. Maybe one of these will match up with what you're looking for.

            * Simple street food tacos - La Colmena on lower Milpas. All the standard fillings, freshly made tortillas, $1.65 each unless you can figure out when their happy hour is, then it's $1 each. Flavorful, complex salsas, and a very hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. In terms of the standard tacos, I'd go here many times before Superica.

            * Oaxacan food in general, birria hurraches, mole con pollo - Romanti-Ezer restaurant. Their most loyal customers are unfortunately late night bar drinkers at their walk-up window, but around the side are sit down areas and they make all their masa dishes from scratch (worth the wait). The basket of chips comes with mole and Oaxacan cheese rather than salsa.

            * Molcajete - Los Agaves on Milpas. Los Agaves gets my vote for having the broadest range of Mexican food, rather than street food style Mexican food. They have specials like suckling pig sometimes, it requires vigilance to stay informed on the good seasonal things coming through. This is also the place with the most ambiance and restaurant dining atmosphere.

            * Lengua and carnitas - La Chapala Market in Old Town Goleta. It's a market with carniceria. Tacos are about $1.50 each. They have birria and mole, too, but they're not my favs here.

            * Flan - Palapa on upper State Street (101 and 154 interchange). If you're in a group, they have these massive seafood combination platters. The $50 platter claims to feed two, but that's a lie. It feeds four with leftovers.

            * Seafood cocktails, tortas - Cesar's Place on Milpas. I like the round roll style torta over the long roll style, Cesar's is the round roll. I hear el Bajio has good tortas too, but I'm actually not a great fan of el Bajio, I think their portions are too big.

            * pan dulce, mole con pollo, torta buns, fresh tortillas - la Tapatia Bakery on upper Milpas. Total hole in the wall, but the chicken mole is melt-in-your-mouth tender, the tortillas are big and soft and freshly made and these are all you need to pull the meat off the bone.

            I have photos of all of these, but I don't want to be all self-promoting. If you do want to see pix, let me know. Or click around on Yelp, they're easy to find.

            good luck!

            Chapala Market
            2816 Main St, Morro Bay, CA 93442

            State Street Cafe
            440 E Ortega St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

            Cesar's Place
            712 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

            Palapa Restaurant
            4123 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93110

            701 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

            Los Agaves Restaurant
            600 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

            1. Glad someone mentioned this great "secret" taqueria on Milpas -- down the street from the famous Super Rica, but much better and ditto cheaper -- their soups (shrimp, chicken) are a meal to enjoy with no regrets!

              Taqueria El Bajio
              129 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103