HOME > Chowhound > California >


Great eats in Santa Barbara?

We'll be spending 3 days in Santa Barbara next month. Looking for 3 outstanding places for dinner, and perhaps few casual places for lunch. For dinner we prefer more formal excellent American/Californian, French or Italian cuisines. For lunch...anything, including Mexican would be great. Thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Fall backs for me tend to be the same spots recommended on most of the other Santa Barbara threads:

    Dinner: Julienne ******; Downeys, buchon, Olio e Limone, Wine Cask, Seegrass, Mollie's Trattoria ****; Worth trying too: Petit Valentin, Brummi's, Via Maestra 42, CaDario, Bucatini, Cielito, Crocodile, Arigato, Stella Mares, Menu Fan Thai

    Breakfast/Lunch: Renaud's, ****** Scarlett Begonia *****; Worth trying too: Anderson's Danish Bakery; Crocodile, La Super Rica (#15 special), Ca Dario, Bucatini, Via Maestra 42, Mac's Fish and Chips, Opal, Peet's Coffee, Handlebar, Metropulos, Sakura, Saigon In and Out, Las Aves, China Pavillion, Tre Lune, Stella Mares, Santa Barbara Shellfish,

    This link gives you more information and some local reviews which are often not as discerning as those found on Chowhound: http://santabarbara.com/dining/

    Picnic lunch deli stuff: Our Daily Bread; C'est Cheese (Cotswold Chedder *******), Via Maestra 42, Metropulos, McConnell's Ice Cream

    Lots of other favorites from others too, but those are our own favorites we keep going to when we go out.

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Probably my most favorite lunch in Santa Barbara is the antipasto plate at Ca Dario, served with ciabatta and finished off with an affogato. Beverage of your choice.

    2. Love Stella Mare's for lunch - their moules frites is divine. In fact I am dreaming of it for lunch Sunday for my birthday. The Wine Cask patio is also nice for lunch, and typically (but not understandably) quiet on weekends. Adding to picnic lunch ideas, hit Lazy Acres for yummy salads and cheese, meats, sushi, etc. and head to Shoreline Park, one of my favorite locations in town. I second Julienne for dinner. Sit at the bar ar Petit Valentien and chat with Robert, the chef/owner, and don't miss the escargot crepe. Their wine list is very thoughtful and fairly priced. Los Agaves is supposed to be terrific Mexican, but I have not been yet. Reynaud' s is also a great lunch suggestion. You may want to pop in to Joe's Cafe for a drink just to be in an old SB institution - people watching is fun and the drinks are potent! Enjoy your visit.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sbgirl

        Good reminder about Joe's Cafe - there was a time when all there was was Joe's, and it still puts out a good vibe and some good cafe/bar food too. Beside's Harry's, this is the place where you still get to put the salsa on buttered bread and know you have been initiated into "real" Santa Barbara dining.

        Los Agaves is a "no lard" fresh and healthy Mexican restaurant - some think this is fine; others do not. Much like a "no MSG" Chinese place -- uhhhh, then it's not really Chinese -- or Mexican by some of our standards.

        Franceschi House (lower patio) is the place to go when you put together the Italian deli picnic and the amount of ready-made at Lazy Acres does beg for a shoreline picnic as well.

      2. Any place great for breakfast?

        3 Replies
        1. re: josephnl

          Jeaninnes has several locations- very good breakfast...for me? it would be Palapa- patio, a beer and a plate of rajas & eggs!

          1. re: josephnl

            Breakfast: Scarlett Begonia in Victoria Court or Renaud's in two locations - the very best

            Other local favorites: Cajun Kitchen; Anderson's Danish Bakery, Crocodile (eggs benedict)

            If you are downtown, I would stick with Scarlett Begonia, Renaud's and Andersons - all have outdoor tables - SB and Renaud's are off-street with small courtyard and Andersons on State Street for great people watching. I have not been there, but others have liked Jeannines and D'Angelo's Bakery.

            There is the infamous San Ysidro Pharmacy cafe in the Upper Village of Montecito where the food is far less a star than the Montecito notables that may often show up.

            Add to lunch spots: The Art Museum Cafe has nice tapas downtown. Arts and Letters Cafe is in a lovely fountain courtyard also downtown across from the Library.

            It is nice to be out over the water for Breakfast as the day begins - so if you like a classic egg type breakfast the Harbor Restaurant can deliver that ...with views. And for sheer loveliness of setting a breakfast at the Four Season's Biltmore at Butterfly Beach in Montecito is a good choice too - again food never is the star here but the setting is the biggest draw.

            Cafes in both Upper and Lower Villages of Montecito for breakfast- pick what is open for breakfast can give you a leisurely sense of small town life in this prestigious, but rural area.

            Of course a trip over the hills to the Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang can get you a worthy Danish breakfast as well. Also for breakfast/lunch/dinner there is the historic Cold Springs Tavern which is a local hideaway favorite - Sunday lunch BBQ with country music is also a unique draw in this very rustic and hidden setting. http://www.coldspringtavern.com/

            For sheer funk of a setting and some passable huevos ranchero, there is always the Rose Cafe on Haley Street which has fed generations of locals and hasn't changed a bit, which is part of its legendary charm: http://santabarbara.com/dining/review...

            1. re: josephnl

              Here is a local listing for breakfast spots. We don't go out for breakfast much so that is not my strong suit to recommend or endorse a lot of these spots but there are some surprises that I did not know also served breakfast - you can judge yourself from the reviews if any sound interesting beyond those that have been personally recommended already: http://santabarbara.com/dining/restau...

              A new breakfast concept called "Backyard Bowls" - fresh, locally-sourced, light and "healthy" has become popular but I have not tried it myself. http://santabarbara.com/dining/review...

              Esau's is another traditional breakfast spot in several locations around town - might be fun to go to Carpinteria for breakfast since that is still such a gentle, small town and those places are fun to see in the mornings.

            2. Julienne's and Hungry Cat are two of our favorites for upscale dinner. Had a wonderful meal at Hungry Cat this weekend. Lucky's is a great people watching steakhouse in Montecito. For Mexican our fave is La Superica, try their specials and #16 Superica special. Cielitos in downtown is pretty good and you can sit outside. Jeanine's is a good spot for breakfast (I prefer Montecito location) and we go to Crushcakes every weekend. Someone suggested Joe's for a drink, just don't go after 9:30 or 10 or you will be caught in a crazy college twenty something scene.

              12 Replies
              1. re: macdog

                Do you have recos for good lunch spots that have pet friendly patios?

                1. re: petergins

                  We go to Crushcakes 2 or 3 times a week because it is dog friendly. The Jeanine's in downtown lets you have your dog outside but not allowed in Montecito branch. We also like Pierre LaFonds in Montecito for lunch. They have great sandwiches, prepared food and a killer salad bar and dog friendly seating outside. Lucky's in Montecito also has a few dog friendly tables on their patio and they serve one of the best burgers in town and some good salads.

                    1. re: macdog

                      Mac, since you are a fan of Hungry Cat and I have fallen out with their inconsistent PugBurger quality, how would you compare Hungry Cat and Lucky's burgers?

                      When they were first open, no one could touch Hungry Cat but we have not had that level of quality now after several repeats- bad attitude service not withstanding, we kept coming back hoping for those glorious first days of the HC PugBurger. You give me hope Lucky's will be the next best thing. Please tell me more.

                      1. re: glbtrtr

                        I've only tried pug burger once, when we go to Hungry Cat we usually have fish and their great salad. I am sure it is good but the shape bothers me, I like to pick up my burger not eat it with a knife and fork. I usually split burger and Cesar salad with my husband when we go to Lucky's bar. They are both really good and French fries are killer. It's a treat we don't have often but I think it is the best in town. Bar scene at Lucky's can be crazy but we usually get a table or bar seats with not too long of a wait. We have never had bad service at Hungry Cat, everyone is pretty friendly. Lucky's can give off a snotty vibe, but most of the wait staff is nice.

                        1. re: macdog

                          Are there slow nights or slow times at Lucky's? Thanks.

                          1. re: glbtrtr

                            Probably non weekend nights and early in the evening.

                            1. re: macdog

                              Adama Vegan, which is located at old Casa Sevilla-they allow dogs as well!

                    2. re: petergins

                      Renaud's and Scarlett Begonia are dog friendly on their patios too.

                      1. re: petergins

                        Le Cafe Stella
                        Hollister Brewing Co. (Goleta)
                        Mesa Cafe (breakfast and lunch good, basic but good, a real local's spot)
                        Palapa (on their front patio - it is also for smokers but rarely are there any)
                        Holdren's (downtown)
                        Shoreline Beach Cafe (dogs at tables on the sand)
                        Pizza Mizza
                        Summerland Beach Cafe
                        The health department relaxed their rules last year, so now up the the owner's discretion. Have fun with fido!

                        1. re: sbgirl

                          Thanks for mentioning Mesa Cafe - it is really good for home-made basics, but I once almost got run off the board for for dare mentioning it. Max's is in the same category - just plain good food and a friendly local, no frills place to enjoy. Sometimes if you just want a good Chinese Chicken salad or a BLT or even meatloaf and gravy with home made rolls with no fuss, these are the places to go. I hear Cody's in Goleta fits this niche too, though recent reports about Max's are not so good any longer.

                      2. Just came back from a few days in Santa Barbara and ate well thanks to this thread! My personal highlight was dinner at Hungry Cat: courgette flowers stuffed with spot prawns, and black sea bass with corn, tomatoes, beans and peaches. The bass was ever so slightly overcooked but to me, the service, atmosphere, cocktails, and quality of the rest of the cooking was enough to overlook that. Mum's hamachi and coconut first course was very unusual and absolutely delicious.

                        The others preferred dinner at Opal, which was much more traditionally American. Excellent salads, pastas and steaks. Lots of bachelorette parties and graduation parties, though the staff did their best to seat them in the back room.

                        Breakfast at the Shoreline Cafe (?) was solid, though possibly the setting was better than the food. Tried to go for breakfast at Scarlet BEgonia but couldn't find it! So went to Renaud instead. Food was good but service was poor, and overshadowed the experience. POssib;y take-away pastries are the best option from there.

                        Ribs, pulled pork, sliders, at Killer B's were fine, a great spot for people watching.

                        Couldn't get into SB Shellfish Co (?) at the end of the pier so went to Moby Dick's instead - mistake! Out of the freezer, into the fryer.

                        Lots of lovely groceries from Lazy Acres and the Saturday Farmers Market.

                        Enjoy your trip josephnl!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: gembellina

                          Thanks for the report and identifying the need for directions to Scarlett Begonia in the heart of Victoria Court on the corner of State and West Victoria Street - Starbucks on the corner. Three ways to enter the interior of Victoria Court -

                          Santa Barbara's hidden paseos: http://www.santabarbaracarfree.org/pd...

                          1. Walk through the corridor between buchon and Olio e Limone restaurants on the first block of West Victoria Street - and you will have to go down a few steps to the Scarlett Begonia patio.

                          2. Enter from parking lot in from the 1200 block Chapala Street and go past the post office directly to Scarlett Begonia. Or walk down the sidewalk by the West Victoria Street entrance to this same parking lot between Olio e Limone and Arlington Tavern restaurants. Look for the post office again and turn left right after the Olio e Limone Pizzaria annex entrance.

                          3. Walk in from the 1200 block of State Street between two retail stores down a corridor with entry signs for the Victoria Courtyard shops about mid-block.

                          Sorry you missed it. Hope you can find it next time you visit.

                          1. re: glbtrtr

                            Thanks. Will know for next time!

                            I also forgot to mention a liquid lunch at the Wandering Dog in Solvang. Nice to sit at the bar and go through one of their wine or beer flights. We had a tasty antipasto platter with some great cheeses but one platter between two, as per the barmaid's recommendation, was not enough!

                        2. Bay area traveller reporting in on the scene:

                          1) GF wasn't hungry much, so we didn't have any big meals. No hungry cat / bouchon / whatever.

                          2) Handlebar is _serious_ coffee. Run by portlanders, they're on par with blue bottle / barefoot / verve / local 123 / sightglass in the bay area. They are super friendly, too. Decent pastry, pleasant patio, no scene, no hassle.

                          3) Brunch at Tupelo Junction was just fine, nothing special, would try somewhere else next time. We were in and out quick with a satisfying meal.

                          4) We had a great experience with Margerium Wine's winemaker for a day program, which they just started. This included lunch, which Dave who used to own the Wine Cask cooked. This was the best meal we had, period, and satisfied us for the local tri-tip oak smoked (what J Gold orders when he's in the area). And the wine was the only real stand-out of the trip (we only hit maybe 4 other tastings mostly Santa Barbara, didn't really hang in Santa Ynez). Liked the looks of Figuroa Mountain Brewery in Buelton, didn't eat there. I know know a _lot_ more about wine than before.

                          5) Avocado Festival at Carp. Not carp at its "usual", but I think the vibe came through. Perhaps more of my kind of place than SB. Had some award winning guac, Avo bread, avo honey, avo ice cream. All good. Some other nice looking street food - Masonic Meat - will return to carp. Had an outlaw oakland feeling, but on the beach.

                          6) Fishhouse - waste of a meal. Go elsewhere. I mean, not _bad_ but everyone ranks Brophy's and Enterprise higher for fish. We were right outside and GF was cold, and I had remembered someone saying something nice here on CH.

                          7) Stacky's in Summerland. Randomly picked it. We had a very, very satisfying shake - not thick like most shakes, but with a more pronounced milk feel. I could say it was _terrible_ because it was thin --- but that thick shake works only if you're a surfer looking for 1000 calories in a glass. On a warm day, the thin milk was great. GF kept looking at the cup sadly, only my reminder of the avocados awaiting us stopped a second order.

                          8) renaud's - Above average for SB, perhaps, but only OK. Better pastries to be had at Handlebar.

                          9) Super Rica - Two of the specials were just out of this world - one was a chiapas tamale, with a knockout mole, and the other was some kind of meat with zuchini. The #4 (adobado) was served without any sauce or lime, I was surprised, and not super impressed. The tortillas aren't up to the standards of Los Gemelos in Redwood City, but those specials were _great_. Worth going for the scene, but waiting 30 minutes in line got old.

                          Random places that looked moderately interesting:
                          The Habit burgers - just a burger, or worth a stop?
                          The Palace - jazz vibe, what about the food?
                          Roadhouse - something was attracting me
                          East Beach Grill - _right_ on the beach?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Thanks for the report and some folllow-up comments:

                            The Habit - just a burger, nothing special nor nothing wrong either
                            Palace Cafe - high energy vibe, okay food,
                            East Beach Grill - should be so much better, city franchise, mediocre food, great location
                            Enterprise Fish - my least favorite place in all of SB, avoid like the plague, happy hour okay
                            Brophy's has its fans, but never found it worth the time, wait and noise myself
                            FishHouse- doubt if it got any rave reviews on CH, it never shows up here on anyone's list
                            Carpinteria- has some pleasant dining options with Gianfranco's alone is worth a trip back http://santabarbara.com/dining/restau...
                            Handlebar - a great stand alone cup of black coffee
                            Renaud's - differ with you on this one because I think it is superb, but chacun a son gout
                            Tupelo Junction - okay, but rarely gets a nod here as a must go to place in SB
                            Roadhouse - don't know it

                            1. re: glbtrtr

                              Handlebar - I don't know about the coffee. Just the espresso. they are espresso geeks, straight up and ristretto.
                              Renaud's - the croissant was OK. I didn't expect anything out of their coffee, it was as bad as I expected. they didn't have much in the way of other pastries, just choc croissant, almond (which was scary encrusted), and a couple of buns. The croissant could have had more flake. Is it good if you have cake?
                              Fishhouse - got mentioned, not positively. That was my mistake.
                              Tupelo Junction - was recommended by a friend I trust.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Figured out the Roadhouse was the Bay Cafe Roadhouse which has had a checkered history. Here are some local reviews for its new iteration which is more encouraging: http://santabarbara.com/dining/review...