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Help me get excited about moving back to Santa Barbara

After living in New York for the past 5 years, it is looking likely that I will move back to SB in 2013. I am excited to move home to be near my family and all that SB has to offer, but I am a little worried that I will get bored, or worse yet, run out of good places to eat.

Can you help me get excited for my move back? What are some of your favorite restaurants, dishes, markets, festivals, bars, etc. in the area? I am working on my NYC bucket list but want a list of fun places to look forward to as well. Please feel free to include places that require a little travel as well (wine country, SLO, LA). I'm hoping this will start a fun chain.

Thanks!

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  1. I am finding the San Roque area is the place to be for smaller and more unique restaurants which offer plenty of variety: Brummi's for German, Renaud's Bakery and cafe for French (also sold at Gelsons in the Loreto Plaza), the new not yet opened Korean grill which is getting good take-out reviews already, Giovanni's still is the standard for pizza, Via Maestra 42 for Italian and deli, Crocodile in the Lemon Tree Inn is a sleeper for style and substance, Chuck's is still the best steak house.

    The standards Downeys, buchon, Wine Cask, Olio e Limone, Ca Dario, Stella Mares are all still there and there has not been much change in the Montecito scene either. But the emerging up and coming area is Carpinteria where the rents are lower and younger chefs try out their offerings - worthy of a journey is Gianfranco's on Linden for his take on Sicilian Italian. Excellent.

    Missing is good Indian anywhere in this town and for Japanese you need to go to Arigato for the best, but there are several up in the San Roque area I have not yet tried. Humble Sushi-Teri is still very fresh and good. Vietnamise has also made an entree in town as well.

    But the newest dining standards are getting set by the young chefs who specialize in local and fresh but with superb technique such as Julienne and Scarlett Begonia. Milpas and Westside are still the go-to places for Mexican. And State Street downtown has its share of worthy revolving door offerings.

    The chain Relais de Paris on State Street is opening to rave reviews for its limited but apparently well executed menu. And no one has beat McConnells for ice-cream but gelato places come and go with varying degrees of quality and fanfare.

    Metropolus Deil down by the beach is a stunning international collection of best choices of just about everything. And there are other scattered asian, euro and mediterranean international delis and shops to stock up most exotic ingredients and products.

    Tonight we try Maggies, an odd, new entry where State and A used to be that is Orange County chic in over the top dark, hunting lodge type decor, a phony coat of arms, with an aggressive attitude so far not unlike the early false steps at Hungry Cat with its snotty LA vibes, but with intentions to be the leader in all things culinary.

    What better test than their prix fixe New Years offering - report back later. So perhaps if one likes the NY state of mind of high prices and abusive service to get good dining, we just might have something for you. (!)

    We are down to only the French Festival and the Greek Festival for summer Oak Park fare. They have added a Seafood Festival and there is now a month devoted to Dine Santa Barbara - I think October.

    SBCC School of Culinary Arts Gourmet Dining Room has really come into its own for Thur/Fri prix fixe dinners paired with wine for the best-priced dining adventure in town.

    I still like Tri-County's Produce over the Farmers Markets, but they are alive and well and operating every day somewhere in town from Montecito to Goleta.

    Out of town: Ballard Inn and Mirabelle in the Solvang area are worth the drive. Root 246 in Solvang , part of the Chumash Casino conglomerate has its ups and downs but for while put fine dining on the map up that way.

    Pismo Beach is the real surprise these days for funk to fine. Orcutt Old Town is another up and comer as The Far Western had to leave its digs in Guadalupe and is now showcasing the notable Chef Rick, formerly of a surprise find in Nipomo. For kitsch and good solid cooking, the Madonna Inn is worth a stop and to do more than just gawk at its showy decor.

    And if you want to welcome yourself back in style to the Central Coast, look for the SouthCoast Railway Museum vintage train car offerings for a SB-SLO turn-around day trip and sample what is happening in the newly restored SLO Train Plaza area.

    5 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Thank you glbtrtr for this very thorough list! I knew I could count on you. I apprecite you covering high end/low end and various types of cuisines. Just what I was looking for!

      Your comment on the NY dining scene made me smile. This is certainly true in a number of establishments but there is oh so much more! If you ever visit, I will help make you a solid list.

      1. re: glbtrtr

        Has Petit Valentine on lower State fallen out of favor?

        1. re: PolarBear

          PB: I have not been back to Petit Valentin in so long I hate to still recommend it since I don't know if it changed, but as we both know it was a very good recommendation when it first opened and a lovely setting too.

          Good reminder. Yes, this is a good addition to the downtown choices. I got bedazzled by Julienne and Scarlet Begonia and just plain forgot about Petit Valentin.

          "French" seems to be trending right now in our "Spanish" town. But they have been swapping royal families for centuries so this seems to have worked in the past, why not now too?

          1. re: glbtrtr

            Petit Valentin has begun serving Ethiopian at lunch on the weekends.

        2. re: glbtrtr

          oh, how I wish Nipomo could claim Rick Mason as a local chef, but his Chef Rick's Ultimately Fine Foods was in Orcutt.

          Just a bit north of Beullton, Full of Life Flatbread pizza is open Thurs-Sunday nights in Los Alamos with soulful good food and brews. Also newer in town is Jamie's 'Bell Street Farms' open for lunch through 5-ish Fri-Sunday and Sunday breakfast. Very good sandwiches, soups, salads with finese and unexpected touches. Their caramel pudding is "oh-oh-oh!". Lots of fun to be had at both places due to quiky ambiance and warm staff.

          edhat.com is a good online source for the pulse of SB life issues.

        3. We moved to SB 3 years ago from Palo Alto area and I think food is better down here. I do agree that the area is sorely lacking in Indian, Thai and Vietnamese. Lots of good Mexican, though!

          Our favorite spot for better dining is Hungry Cat. We have had consistently great meals there and they stay open late. I really like Julienne's, but our last meal there was slightly disappointing. For Italian we like the casual Olio Pizza, Ca'Dorio and just went back to Tre Lune in Montecito after many years and had a good meal. Lucky's is a great people watching steakhouse in Montecito. We get burgers and salad in their bar or sit outside with our dog in the summer. All of the mentioned restaurants (except for Juliennes) are on Open table which makes reserving a lot easier.

          Just had great soft shell crab and tuna tartare at Arigatos-they do have an interesting selection beyond sushi rolls. For Mexican our fave is La Superica, try their specials and #16 Superica special.

          We have coffee and sometimes breakfast at Crushcakes 2-3 times a week. Also if you like coffee, French Press has just opened up a new spot on Anacapa and Cota. Welcome back, you can send pics of sunny SB back to your friends in NYC-it's 30 degrees there today!

          3 Replies
          1. re: macdog

            Handlebar is really good for coffee too, casual little place filling a brick-lined alley, near Julienne (East Canon Perdido opposite Presidio) which is getting to be a new foodie central area with around the corner C'est Cheese deli's extensive selections and soon to be departed for a new locale - Our Daily Bread which has unbeatable ciabatta breads and rolls.

            And smack dab in the middle of this collection is the old Sojourner Cafe, still going strong after all these years when they were the "hippie" organic alternative out of the 1960s' invading the meat and potatoes town we were back then. Yeah, they still have the "Cone head" on the menu and you have to be really old to remember that SNL skit. (Blush)

            1. re: glbtrtr

              Where is c'est cheese moving to? I just went in there for the first time to buy some wine and cheese and their sandwiches looked great.

              1. re: macdog

                Sorry, I got you confused. C'est Cheese is expanding into Our Daily Bread, while ODB is moving to the old Mimosa site on the corner of DelaVina and Alamar, where Mollies Trattoria got its first start. Don't know when this will take place but it has been in the local news so it should be soon.

                The other bit of update is the El Encanto Hotel and Restaurant is re-opening I believe in April. That should be a spectacular homecoming treat for us all to finally see what they did to that grand old spot.

          2. Actually, Santa Barbara has some good Vietnamese place, as good as any I had up in San Jose. My favorite is the Noodle Cafe in downtown Goleta on Holluster. Usually full of Vietnamese enjoying the great Pho. And cheap. For ten dollars you can get a great meal and a drink.
            There's another Vietnamese place by K-Mart which is also very nice.
            IMHO, Vietnamese cooking is where Tahi cooking was twenty years ago.

            1. Vietnamese in SB: There is also Saigon In and Out on 1200 block State Street, downtown amid many of the other well-recommended restaurants in this town.

              They do some things well and at least it is a different cuisine, if not necessarily as authentic as one would hope - fresh spring rolls and peanut sauce are okay, and make a great mid-day snack.