A Food Lover’s Guide to Santa Barbara | Neigborhood Food Spots
September 27, 2023
There’s a reason why Santa Barbara is the playground of the rich & famous. Pristine beaches and scenery, historic charm, and - of course - the food scene. With a range of restaurants and wineries that give Napa a run for its money, Santa Barbara has been a foodie favorite since the days of Julia Child. If you’re on the hunt for the perfect taco or red blend look no further - we’ve put together the ultimate dining (and drinking!) guide to Santa Barbara to give your trip the perfect pinch of flavor.
Local Fare (And Flare)
Does it even count as a California trip if you didn’t eat vegan food? Mesa Verde is loved by vegans and non vegans alike for the palm-covered dining room and surprisingly satisfying vegan cuisine. It’s walk-in only - so plan accordingly - but the flaky flatbreads and impossible tacos are more than worth it.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. literally started as a buying station for local fishermen and quickly transformed into the seafood staple that stands today. This family run restaurant serves fresh clam chowder, crab cakes, lobster pasta, and more. Don’t sleep on the specials - they change them up daily and feature the freshest catch of the day.
Located between the beach and local wineries, Santo Mezcal has it all — a gorgeous patio, expertly crafted cocktails and a killer taco menu. Executive Chef Ricardo Garcia has created the ultimate modern contemporary Mexican menu, inspired by traditional flavors and enhanced with seasonal ingredients from the Santa Barbara and surrounding regions.
Looking for an elevated Italian experience? Then add Caruso’s to your list immediately. This Michelin Star rated outdoor oasis is the perfect spot for an intimate dinner - it literally sits on its own private beach. The menu features classic Italian dishes with just the right upgrades (think champagne risotto and an assortment of caviar) with the ambiance to match. Tables are hard to come by so make sure to book in advance.
Self-proclaimed edgy Indian restaurant, Bibi ji, serves sea-to-table dishes enhanced by authentic eastern spices. We’re convinced there’s nowhere else you can eat Uni Biryani with a side of okra raita. The neon-covered space makes it perfect for any dining adventure and perfect for anyone looking to mix up their usual cuisine routine.
Simple, Italian dishes in the most aesthetic setting have made Bettina a neighborhood favorite. Run by a carb-loving couple, the pair is committed to bringing the finest pizza and naturally leavened breads to Santa Barbara County and serve approachable but elevated everyday dishes.
Part art space, part sushi lab, Arigato serves the best sushi in town. Period. Pair an innovative sushi or nigiri dish with expertly curated sake while taking in the local art scene at this low-key Santa Barbara favorite. P.S. Most rolls can be made gluten-free too.
Santa Barbara has become a hotspot for Pan Asian cuisine and Sama Sama Kitchen is one of the reasons why. Inspired by Balineses traditions, this upscale casual eatery seamlessly blends classic Indonesian dishes with local ingredients for a unique experience that’s still quintessentially Santa Barbara.
What’s better than an expertly crafted cocktail, right at your doorstep? Start your night off at Dusk, our on-site bar inspired by the local Mexican culture. With a curated mezcal and agave spirits list, artisanal cocktails, and an extensive beer and wine list, we guarantee Dusk will not disappoint.
With 20 beers on tap that change daily, a curated selection of local wines, and in-house specialties this Lama Dog Tap Room & Bottle Shop is a Santa Barbara experience. Pop in for a quick drink, a class or just to chat with their expert staff. You’ll probably leave with a new favorite beer and a case of it to go.
Craft cocktails with a Tiki twist. Test Pilot offers exotic cocktails and boozy slushies that are the perfect mix of potent and palatable, and the dreamy jungle decor is beyond insta-worthy.
Love a good dive? We do too. Don’t miss Good Lion, an award-winning Santa Barbara staple. This contemporary cocktail bar delivers a weekly rotating menu in an upscale setting inspired by the American Riviera.
A Wine Affair
Rock & Roll wine tasting? Say. Less. Babacock is known for the retro rock & roll feel, mid century decor and overall good time vibe. Plus there’s wine too. Visitors can pop in for tastings every day during normal business hours and there’s private event and B&B options for the more committed.
Sta. Rita Hills wine enthusiasts know that Foley’s is a non-negotiable. Known for their complex Pinots and Chardonnays the estate-style winery serves daily tastings in their 3,500-square foot tasting room. Reservations are required so make sure to book online - and check out their extensive events calendar while you’re at it.
Known as a local wine collective, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is a collection of wineries and tasting rooms off 12th Street that features all of the local favorites. The name is intentionally misleading - the world-class winemakers cater to true enthusiasts who appreciate the art and craft of small-batch wines.
Santa Barbara's idyllic coastal valleys are home to over 200 wineries which can get more than a little overwhelming. Book your own private Coastal Concierge tour at www https.sbcoastalconcierge.com/ for a stress-free tasting day tailored to your tastes.
Calling all Pinot Noir lovers - Sanford is the winery for you. This vineyard has been harvesting primo Pinot for over 40 years and is even home to the oldest Pinot vines in all of Santa Barbara. Book an hour long Estate Tasting for only $30 or a private all-terrain tour for $100 on Saturdays.
Lily’s Tacos - AKA Santa Barbara’s best rated Taqueria - is known for being authentic and affordable, and serves steamed and grilled taco fillings. If you're feeling adventurous make sure to try the Ojo - Beef Eye tacos available Friday - Sunday.
Julia Child's favorite taco spot? Say no more. La Super Rica is an unassuming order-at-the-window Mexican spot is more than worth the long line for its' under $10 pricing and assortment of authentic Mexican dishes. Don't sleep on the Especial or the Al Pastor Quesadilla - you won't be disappointed.
Craving a little east coast flavor on your west coast adventure? Norton’s is known for having the best pastrami in town, and possibly on the coast. This casual sandwich shop keeps it simple with top-notch ingredients and unforgettable seasoning. This NY-style deli serves everything from sandwiches to french fries for the ultimate comfort food experience.
Secret Bao may have started as a pop-up, but in a few short years it’s become a Santa Barbara food scene essential. The extensive Chinese menu includes everything from shrimp-stuffed baos to hamachi poke bowls, all for $20 or less.