Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > California >
Mar 10, 2013 02:20 PM

santa barbara bound

my husband and i will be in santa barbara (our first visit) for 4 nights in april. we will eat at a food truck, a 5 star restaurant and anything in between as long as the food is delicious. love mexican, super fresh ingredients. let me know your not to miss restaurants!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. 1. Superica on Milpas for fresh Mexican - I like # 15 - bacon, melted cheese, fresh tortillas and fresh pico de gallo. El Bajio also a good choice close by on Milpas Street, if the lines are too long at Superica.

    2. Julienne for fresh "Five star" dining; along with some good competition now coming from Scarlett Begonia in Victoria Court. These two are in a class by themselves.

    3. Renaud's for croissants and French pastries and bakery; Brummi's for German; Via Maestra 42 for Italian; Arigato for Sushi; Fan for Thai; Ca Dario for its lunchtime Antipasto Misto and Affogato dessert. Nothing for Indian.

    4. Higher-end SB standards: Downey's, buchon, Olio e Limone, Wine Cask.

    5. Ones getting good reviews but I have not yet tried myself: Relais de Paris on State Street downtown, and the Anchor (something or the other) at the Lower State Street funky Indio Hotel.

    6. Local "secrets" for more casual dining with a special atmosphere: Stella Mares at the Bird Refuge, Petit Valentin in La Arcada Court, Tre Lune on Coast Village Road in Montecito.

    7. Worth a drive: Giannfranco's in Carpinteria, Ballard Hotel restaurant in Ballard Santa Ynez Valley), Mo's BBQ in Pismo Beach - 2 hour drive for their Philthy Phil ribs.

    8. If you are here Thur or Fri, try to snag a reservation a the Gourmet Dining Room at Santa Barbara City College - School of Culinary Arts - lunch or dinner.

    9. If you are here after April 18, (2013) see if you can dine at the brand newly opened El Encanto Hotel restaurant, high up on the Riviera, or stop by its jaw-dropping view terrace for a drink and new bar menu. Now re-opened as part of the Orient Express luxury hotel chain.

    10. Handlebar for coffee -- just naked, good coffee. C'est Cheese for cheese and Our Daily Bread for ciabattas. All in the same area, near Julienne - a new artisan ground zero in this town. And did I mention McConnell's Ice Cream at West Mission and De la Vina? The best from Brazilian Coffee Chip to their new Salty Caramel.

    Hate to just give you names here, but there is an online link to all of these restaurants on "Santa Barbara Dining" so you can read local reviews (not as discerning as Chow-Bows and often faked) and track them for their locations.

    You almost can't go wrong here - most are good, some are excellent and only a few I would avoid entirely but that is a matter more of personal taste than a universally bad experience - those restaurants close up pretty quickly anyway.

    PS: there are hundreds of other choices and others will be along to share their favorites too. This is just a list of mine and many others also belong on this list too.

    10 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Damn. You already mentioned McConnels. It's essentially my favorite ice cream joint anywhere. Perfectly modulated flavors and blissfully not too sweet.

      Turkish coffee and island coconut are just the best. Now I want to take a trip there just for these scoops.

      1. re: glbtrtr

        Has anyone been to Clementine Steakhouse in Carpinteria ??? Any good. Supposedly they have good pies there too. It seems like an out of the ordinary type of place.

        1. re: kevin

          Kevin, I have been to Clementine's. It's um... interesting. The decor probably hasn't changed much in 20+ years; it's kind of like having dinner at your grandmas (which certainly isn't a bad thing), but the food is just sort of meh.

          The portions are quite generous, every entree comes with soup or salad, so-so sides and dessert. Their steaks and prime rib are fair, but with places like Lucky's and Sly's around, it's worth getting your carnivore fix elsewhere. The fried chicken dinner looked promising, but it was overcooked. I'm not sure how they manage to over-salt a dish and still have it lacking in flavor? Boo.

          Their pies however, are the stars. My Mom lives in Carp and really loves this place, so once in a blue moon I take one for the team. ;) I've never asked, but I assume one could stop in and just get a couple slices to go?

          Mesa Cafe is still around and draws a good crowd, especially for breakfast on the weekends, where the college crowd licks their wounds from a debaucherous night on Lower State Street. The food is good, nothing mind blowing, but sometimes a large serving of greasy gut bomb carbs are just what the mind and body demands. Order their hash browns extra crispy, corn beef hash is decent; A bloody mary is mandatory.

          1. re: sbkat

            What where the pies that where hits at Clementine ? And do they serve fresh whipped cream on the cream pies ? I will have to go there if in the area just for a couple slices of pie and maybe a mug of coffee.

            1. re: kevin

              I remember the chocolate walnut and coconut cream pies were both excellent. And yes, they serve fresh whipped cream by request. There usually are at least a dozen different types of pies to choose from and I think they have daily special pies too. I wonder if they offer fresh fruit pies in season? Last time I was there was in November, so it wasn't an option.

              1. re: sbkat

                Shoot. I'll have to stop there for sure for a slice.

                1. re: sbkat

                  Coconut cream pie is one of my favorites.

          2. re: glbtrtr


            Is Mesa Cafe still there ? I distinctively remember the late Julia Childs singing the praises of this joint after La Super Rica.

            And at Super Rica, the thing to get is the rajas taco, the watermelon aguas freacas with bits of real watermelon chunks, and the formidable chile relleno with cream sauce only on special.

            1. re: glbtrtr

              glbtrtr- thank you so much for your thorough summary. My family and I just returned from several days in SB and we enjoyed many of the recommendations you provided. El Encanto was probably the most notable, more for the view although the food a drink were excellent. We intended to stop by for a drink on our way to elsewhere for dinner, but once we saw the beauty, we decided to stay for dinner.

              1. re: ketcher2

                Thank you, it is always so helpful to get feedback. Glad you enjoyed yourself and I see this thread now is quite old and some places have already changed hands and new ones come about. Surprising really, now many are no longer there on that list just two years ago

                But the view from the El Encanto on a clear day remains lovely no matter who runs it and their hamburger for lunch is a good enough way to enjoy it for anyone.

                Now I would add SamaSama (Indonesian), Toma (replaced Emilio's), and SB Public Market for informal grazing, but very nice quality in all their offerings.

            2. Some reviews for this new local little place that is getting some good buzz - have not been here myself - Anchor Woodfire Kitchen:

              1. There is a similar thread on the Cali Board right now that might help you -


                Also, since you mentioned mexican as a possible meal(s), there are many different options here in SB. Anywhere from a local whole in the wall (like glbtrtr reported with Superica) to some higher end take, such as Cielito - it's been open for several months now and has got some good reviews and they are a bit more upscale and seafood centric. Fresh ceviches, raw bar options (Executive Chef worked at Arigato for years.


                My personal whole in the wall mexican joint would have to be Lilly's Taqueria. Very small menu, but great flavors; Lengua, cheek & adobada tacos are amazing.

                Speaking of Arigato, it is still one of my favorite restaurants. They do not take reservations, but you can put your name down and stroll across the street to the Marquee for a nice cocktail and they will call you via cell when you table is ready; Sitting at the sushi bar IMHO is a must.

                Again, please check out the other current SB thread for more recommendations.


                12 Replies
                1. re: sbkat

                  I admit I only went once to see what the fuss was about but never went back to Liliy's for tacos - can't beat the prices, but wasn't wowed in any way and found the whole setting cramped and unappealing for real dining enjoyment - grab a greasy handful for take away maybe if you are already in this area but that is as far as I would go with Lily's.

                  The big gimmick in the beginning about Lily's was offering the alleged "eyeball tacos" (eye muscle meat). Okay, but I am finding "pork cheeks", "lamb necks" and other odd-ball eye-ball muscle meat offerings to be less than appealing due to their squishy softness and texture, rather than their admitted less than traditional origins (to American diners anyway).

                  When I order meat, I want good canine tearing meat. Otherwise, stick with foie gras. But then I am the one who finds almond paste a food of the gods, so it is good to have many dining perspectives available. Know before you go.

                  1. re: glbtrtr

                    "When I order meat, I want good canine tearing meat. Otherwise, stick with foie gras."

                    Brilliant. Why, after reading this, am I now craving a full rack of beefy, chewy ribs as big as my head? *insert image of Fred Flintstone balancing his dinosaur ribs on the roof of his car*

                    1. re: sbkat

                      If pork will do, this sounds like the moment to get in your car and head to Mo's BBQ in Pismo Beach for a rack of Philthy Phil's ribs. With all the fixings.

                      1. re: sbkat

                        You won't find good ribs in SB.

                    2. re: sbkat

                      Also love going to Arigato and waiting for their call at the Marquee. We really like a lot of the non sushi items at Arigatos-potstickers, soft shell crab, sobe noodles and hamachi.

                      Another good taco place is little Alex's in Montecito. They have really good and spicy rajas tacos until 3pm every day. Also like the chipotle burrito at Romanti Ezer on Chapala. Our fav at La Superica is #16, the Superica special taco and chili rellenos and enchiladas are great specials. Favorite at Los Agaves is the molcajete "sea and earth". One order enough to share with 2 people.

                      Also we like burgers at the Lucky's bar, Hungry Cat and Janes for simple but good food.

                      1. re: macdog

                        Macdog, I'm hopeful when I hear you mention Romanti Ezer. Years ago I really enjoyed the place, but then they changed the whole format and menu at the place. It went from a great little mexican whole in the wall, to an upscale(?) Italian. It was wretched. I have not been back since they went back to their roots, with more of a focus on mole and smoky sauces. I think I will have to stop by and give then a try, especially since it's right around the corner from me. Chipotle burrito? Um, yes please! Question: are the burrito options available in a 'wet' form? That is to say covered in sauce, cheese and broiled until bubbly, gooey and delicious?

                      2. re: sbkat

                        I finally had a chance to try Lilly's Tacos when I passed through in April 2012. Twice I'd pulled off 101 to try it to find it closed for vacation one time, and the other on a Tuesday which is it's regular closing day.

                        Yes, I was here for the cow head parts: cabeza, cachete, labio and ojos. Pretty good tortillas, properly sweated on the plancha. Good job handling the meats, braised to tenderness then chopped and given a turn on the griddle to give them a crisp tug around the edges. The texture was the same as duck confit. I found the labio (lips) rather bland, the ojos lacking the crunchy bits and viscous texture I recall from childhood, and the cachete and cabeza richly beefy but not that different from each other.

                        The big surprise was the special taco of the day: veggie. It was actually my favorite, spilling over with a variety of roasted and sauteed vegetables, and not dominated by pinto beans.

                        You help yourself to condiments from the salsa bar. The salsas, like at the cross town rival La Superica, are watery and weak. Not nearly as complex and well-spiced as found in the Salinas Valley.

                        Easy on and off the freeway, and the line moves quickly. I'm glad I tried it, but these are not destination tacos for me.


                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          We've had the same experience in the past trying to connect with Lilly's. Sad to hear the head parts didn't pan out, I would love to find a good version of ojo, and now labio thanks to you.
                          Here in the central valley cabeza seems to refer to beef cheeks and we never see cachete used, which apparently is the true term, which begs the question what is the real definition of cabeza .... just general "head parts"? TIA



                          PS Enjoying all of your recent road warrior posts, and be sure and give your Mom a hug from us.

                          1. re: PolarBear

                            I've not seen the term cachete often either. I remember being in King City about 10 years ago, seeing the word and having to ask someone what it meant.

                            Cabeza means head, and yeah, in my experience refers mostly to cheek meat. Another place that differentiated between cabeza and cachete on its menu said that its cabeza was the forehead muscle.

                            This flurry of posts (and I'm sure the folks in LA wonder why I'm talking up stuff from more than a year ago) comes up when I need to archive photos because I've run out of memory on my MbA. Two more posts and the 157 photos from this particular trip to Palm Springs and around will be tucked away.

                          2. re: Melanie Wong

                            taqueria el bajio is great in my opinion for lengua tacos.

                            1. re: kevin

                              Soft or firm style of lengua at El Bajio? Grilled and/or boiled? How are the salsas?

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                soft lengua. boiled. salsas are not bad, but weill still probably make you hunger for the ones in the central valley.

                        2. I highly recommend Scarlett Begonia.
                          Their delicious kale salad and grilled shrimp with grits and poached eggs is absolute genius in the pairing of ingredients. The restaurant is a small, intimate, lovely space with fresh, organic food. The service is impeccable and it's one of my favorite restaurants to visit when in SB.

                          1. Just up from La Superica on Milpas is Los Agaves, 600 N milpas, excellent Mexican food.