Top 10 restaurants in Santa Barbara
All foodies know that one of the trickiest parts of planning a holiday is deciding where to eat. Especially somewhere like Santa Barbara which delivers an eclectic variety of restaurants serving everything from freshly caught seafood and locally sourced grilled meats to exciting vegan dishes and Mediterranean specialities.
Even if you plan for three meals a day and plenty of snack stops in between, there’s only so much you can eat – no matter how hard you try to savour just one more spoonful! To help you overcome the almost daunting volume of amazing eateries Santa Barbara has to offer, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 restaurants in the little pocket of paradise guaranteed to leave to satisfy your wildest foodie dreams.
Where: 1311 State Street, Santa Barbara
The scene: Dishing up fresh homemade food in the heart of Santa Barbara’s dynamic theatre art district, Jane is a tried and true restaurant immensely popular with both locals and visitors. The dining venue enjoys a fabulous setting inside a historical Spanish building on bustling State Street and offers cosy inside seating with a floor-to-ceiling fireplace as well as light and breezy outdoor seating on an intimate balcony overlooking the street below. The main evening menu is brimming with upscale Californian fare, such as seasonal salads and seafood platters designed for sharing, gourmet burgers and sandwiches bursting with epicurean ingredients, and grilled meat dishes made entirely from scratch. Visit early on a Saturday for the chance to indulge in their delightful brunch menu, comprised of heavenly plates ranging from goat cheese pancakes to slow roasted pulled pork eggs benedict.
Signature dish: Jane’s Burger – an all-beef burger topped with gouda cheese, caramelised onion and homemade aioli sandwiched together in a light and fluffy sesame bun.
Where: 131 Anacapa Street, Suite A, Santa Barbara
The scene: Named after the sleek overnight Southern Pacific Railway train which connected Los Angeles to San Francisco, this polished New American restaurant is set inside a former fish market, tucked in between the train station and the docks in what is fondly known as the ‘Funk Zone’. Promoting a shared dining experience while highlighting artisanal and seasonal ingredients designed to celebrate the incredible bounty of the central coast, this restaurant is the perfect place for a casual meal with friends. The flavour-bursting menu offers up fresh dishes like English pea hummus and marinated Californian vegetables to start, followed up by West Coast oysters on the half shell and crispy duck confit wings. There are plenty of delicious handcrafted cocktails, mocktails and craft beers on offer, as well as beyond drool-worthy desserts, like espresso ice cream sandwiches with mezcal caramel you’ve simply got to try.
Signature dish: Crispy Brussels Sprouts – deep-fried brussels sprouts served with medjool dates, garum, serrano chilli, sesame seeds and lime.
Where: 205 W. Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara
The scene: One of the best places in the city for superb farm-to-table cuisine, Barbareno uses top quality local ingredients to create fresh and exciting versions of classic Santa Barbara favourites. The restaurant’s charismatic patio is decorated with twinkling lights and cute succulent plants, creating the perfect rustic, homely environment that works just as well for a romantic dinner for couples or a relaxed cosy meal for families. Offering up a taste of pure California, the Central Coast menu takes inspiration from local traditions and delicacies and uses it to create out-of-this-world dishes suitable for all palates. From lamb gyro served with nasturtium pesto, sorrel and chickpeas, and local halibut with avocado leaf curry to kurobuta pork shank served with Mexican street corn and duck fat beignets with bacon custard, the menu is so lavishly decadent and tempting that you’ll want to try a little bit of everything.
Signature dish: Santa Maria BBQ – tri-tip steak served with pinquito beans, tomato and fresh coriander.
Where: 1225 State Street, Santa Barbara
The scene: A bustling Japanese eatery that pushes creativity to the limits, Arigato Sushi combines the timeless essence of delicate sushi with the bold, dynamic flavours of Californian cuisine. Top notch fresh fish, seafood and vegetables are used to create their stunning sushi, sashimi, nigiri and hand rolls which taste every bit as good as they look. To guarantee a smile on everyone’s face, there’s also a selection of hot starters and main courses, ranging from wok-fried edamame with garlic-soy sauce and firecracker ahi with a chilli cracker crust to miso-glazed black cod and grilled garlic beef. To complement the sublime food, there’s a wonderful selection of beers, wines and traditional sakes. The décor is warm, casual and approachable, with bare brick walls dominating the room, brightened up with colourful pieces of artwork, vases of fresh flowers and artsy hanging curtains. Grab a seat indoors for the ultimate romantic setting or take it to the outside tables to soak up the buzzing atmosphere street-side.
Signature dish: Arigato Roll – a hand roll stuffed with sushi rice, smoked salmon, crab, avocado, cucumber and smelt roe.
Bella Vista at Four Seasons Resort
Where: 1260 Channel Drive, Santa Barbara
The scene: Home of the iconic all-you-can-eat Biltmore Brunch, Bella Vista is the place to go when you want to surround yourself with unashamed luxury. The opulent dining area offers beautiful outdoor seating kept cool by the generous canopy of trees while still providing prestigious views of the ocean that stretch on for miles. If the sun gets a bit much for you, head into the undercover dining room, where delicate sheets draped high above block out the sun’s harshest rays and create the perfect environment for a decadent feast. Brunch features unlimited eats from seafood, caviar, cheese, charcuterie, carving and dessert stations, in addition to unbelievably tasty bottomless mimosas. For dinner, the menu takes on a more Italian vibe, with delights such as salmon tartare with quail’s egg, homemade zigi with wild boar ragu and pheasant cacciatore with buttery turnips all vying to be your choice of the evening.
Signature dish: Bistecca In Padella – pan-fried steak served with charred cippolini onions, chanterelles and a mushroom veloutata.
Olio E Limone Ristorante
Where: 11 West Victoria Street, Suite 17, Santa Barbara
The scene: Olio E Limone Ristorante is constantly receiving wonderful praise for its delectable Italian cuisine which succeeds in being both traditionally authentic and creatively inventive at the same time. Led by Italy-born husband and wife duo, this family-run restaurant blends fresh flavour combinations with locally grown ingredients and original Mediterranean cooking techniques to develop their gourmet seasonal menu. From beef carpaccio drizzled with the house signature dressing and Italian-style crab cakes to classic mushroom risotto with velvety mascarpone cheese and veal cutlets with fresh artichoke hearts, dining at Olio E Limone Ristorante really is the closest you’ll get to an evening out in Italy without leaving the US. The décor of the restaurant ties in perfectly with the high-end Italian theme – picture dark wooden chairs, elegantly pressed white linen tablecloths and immense wine racks laden with quality bottles imported straight from Italy.
Signature dish: Fettuccine con Sungnole e Asparagi – ribbon pasta served with morel mushrooms, asparagus and cream.
Where: 1919 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara
The scene: A vegan’s dream brought to life, Mesa Verde is bursting with beautiful, healthy eats with no animal products in sight. Offering much more than limp garden salads and dry veggie burgers that vegans have been forced to get accustomed to, Mesa Verde serves up a wealth of interesting Californian dishes that will pique the interest of even the most avid carnivores. From a delicious mushroom umami burger topped with melted butternut cheese and a larger-than-life macro bowl filled with loads of goodness to gluten-free lasagne with beetroot bacon and mushroom risotto with creamy celery root purée – vegan food doesn’t get any better than this. Although most of the dishes contain absolutely no animal products, there are a few slices of fresh mozzarella and perfectly poached eggs here and there, just in case you’re not ready to go full-on vegan just yet.
Signature dish: King Oyster Steak – grilled baby bok choy served with farro, sautéed baby carrots, sautéed turnip, tahini, broccoli purée and a drizzle of garlic oil.
Where: 230 E Victoria Street, Santa Barbara
The scene: Serving up a traditional Japanese multi-course dining experience, Yoichi’s is one of the very few places in Santa Barbara that offers no a la carte menu at all. Instead, diners are spoilt for choice with a epicurean tasting menu comprised of either seven or four courses of assorted appetizers, soup, sashimi, grilled dishes, steamed and simmered dishes, sushi and dessert. Some parts of the menu are chosen by the chef and others come with multiple options for you to select. Although since all the choices sound so overwhelmingly delicious, you’ll likely wish the chef chose everything for you! Bursts of colour from the fresh seafood and vegetables along with the art gallery-inspired presentation make the dishes at Yoichi’s almost too beautiful to eat. The menu changes regularly at this traditional Kaiseki-style restaurant, but there’s always a great choice of beers, wines and sakes to wash everything down.
Signature dish: Due to the seasonal nature of the menu, there’s no signature dish.
Where: 9 West Victoria Street, Santa Barbara
The scene: Taking full advantage of its prestigious coastal location, Bouchon combines the very best of French cuisine with local Californian flavours and ingredients to create an alluring fusion menu. The small, snug surroundings exude charm and warmth, thanks to rustic wooden accents, simple homely seating and an open kitchen where you can watch the magic unfold before your very eyes. These aspects work together to make Bouchon wonderfully gourmet without being overly stuffy. Delights such as anise-braised pork belly, forest mushroom ragout, and maple-glazed California duck breast are just some of the menu items available to tempt you. But whatever you choose, make sure you leave room for dessert. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the classic crème brulée with vanilla bean ice cream is a must-try and for those with a savoury palate, you’ll surely fall in love with the mix-and-match cheese plate which boasts nine sumptuous choices.
Signature dish: Bouchon French Four Onion Soup – classic French onion soup made from four different types of onion and topped with a piece of sourdough toast smothered in melted cheese.
Toma Restaurant and Bar
Where: 324 West Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara
The scene: Santa Barbara’s ultimate destination for Italian-influenced Mediterranean cuisine, Toma Restaurant and Bar is a romantic dining venue with moody atmospheric lighting, perfectly pressed linen napkins and exemplary service that makes is perfect for an extra-special date night. The extensive menu starts light with classics such as wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and steamed clams with chorizo before moving onto delightfully crispy flatbreads and homemade pastas smothered in all kinds of exciting sauces. The main courses take the gourmet level up a notch with the likes of roasted rack of lamb with sweet peppers and traditional cioppino with fish, prawns, scallops, crab meat, calamari and mussels gracing the menu. The combination of using solely seasonal products sourced from local producers and the incredible talent of the team of chefs makes every visit to Toma Restaurant and Bar truly unforgettable and one you’ll definitely want to repeat.
Signature dish: Tuna Cones – thin and crispy cones made out of sesame seeds stuffed with delicate slices of raw ahi sashimi tuna marinated with sesame, soy, chilli and chives.
Best of the rest
Narrowing the best restaurants in Santa Barbara down to just ten was such a tough job that we decided it was impossible! So to help give you a little more variety (and to make your dining decisions even more difficult) here are an additional four hot dining spots in the city you’ve simply got to make room for.
Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
A casual seafood spot located right on the water with stunning harbour views, a charming setting that oozes welcoming character and an exciting menu laden with generous servings of classic seafood favourites.
Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal mesmerising coastal views at this elevated and refined eatery which also offers a sun-kissed outdoor patio and fantastic aquarium bar to complement the menu, made up of Mediterranean flavours and local ingredients.
Boathouse at Hendry's Beach
An upscale brunch and seafood location on the beach which treats diners to panoramic sea views during summer and a cosy heated patio during winter, alongside incredible eats ranging from smoked salmon breakfast plates to spice-rubbed seabass.
Lure Fish House
Specialising in serving delicious, sustainable seafood exclusively from trusted sources, this excellent restaurant boasts a speciality cocktail lounge, decadent oyster bar and a simply gorgeous main dining room where you can enjoy Mesquite charbroiled seafood.