Welcome to the old way of California cooking and hospitality. Quality meats, poultry, fish and vegetables cooked over California oak.
What’s Old is New Again: La Paloma Reopens after 37 Years
Welcome back in time, back in Santa Barbara history to La Paloma Café. After 37 years “the dove” once again takes wing on the iconic corner of Anacapa and Ortega streets in the historic Presidio Neighborhood in downtown Santa Barbara. And like an old friend, the celebrated neon sign will once again glow with its original letters: La Paloma Café.
La Paloma Café’s menu celebrates the cuisine of the Californios, early Californian settlers who incorporated Spanish and Mexican influences into indigenous ingredients cooked over fire. Paying tribute to the age of the ranchero, our thoughtfully crafted California barbecue reflects both the past and present of our region and local community. Our food focuses on the traditions of Santa Maria and influences from Baja, Mexico. Santa Maria barbecue is a style of wood-fire grilling that dates back to the mid-1800s when the vaqueros who ran the local cattle ranches would throw big fiestas. To feed everyone, they would dig large pits, layer in coastal live oak and willow branches and grill large portions of beef, which was traditionally served with a chunky salsa and pinquito beans. Taking place across the Central Coast’s Santa Maria Valley, the barbecue style was eventually named after the area and Santa Maria barbecue was born.
La Paloma specialties include Oak Grilled Nopales (red onion, cotija cheese, radish, corn, jicama, avocado and lemon dressing), Vegetable Pozole Verde (organic hominy, green chile-tomatillo, broth, oregano, cabbage, sweet onion, radish), Santa Maria Style Angus Tri Tip (Santa Maria salsa, horseradish, BBQ pinquito beans), Santa Barbara Mission Rotisserie Chicken (lemon peel, rosemary, pink peppercorn apple sauce, rotisserie potatoes), Capirotada “bread Pudding” (golden raisins, almonds, cheese, cream, date syrup). The capirotada was one of the dishes that the original La Paloma Café was famous for. Our menu also features a multitude of vegetarian options, fresh seafood and has an emphasis on supporting local purveyors.
The cocktail menu at La Paloma will feature old classics with new twists. Cocktails like a classic Paloma will be offered with layered elements: a bite from ginger infused blanco tequila, bitterness from Aperol and a finishing balance of sweet from champagne simple. The Chingon Sangria hits all flavor notes with a winter profile, spiced and subtly sweet. The Hibiscus Margarita is a floral and delicate take on the classic margarita inspired by the hibiscus bush planted in front of La Paloma Cafe. The Single Village Fix is an inviting cocktail for those who don’t typically drink mezcal, balanced with a rich pineapple taste and the smoke from the mezcal with a hint of agave to round it out. The wine list will be focused on wines from the New World, with selections found locally and from afar featuring wines from Spanish speaking countries to compliment the cuisine at La Paloma.
A new extended garden patio will accommodate outdoor diners with plenty of social distancing. La Paloma will implement all recommendations presented by the California Department of Public Health. All Acme restaurants employ the most stringent sanitation protocols available and remain committed to doing our part to protect our employees and our guests.
The interior and exterior design of La Paloma was created by local designer Stephanie Greene Fuller and Acme’s Sherry Villanueva to reflect the vintage lifestyle of the Santa Barbara ranchero. Rich oak floors and tables, warm white walls and cast-iron details work together to create a warm, casual and convivial environment that instantly makes you feel “at home”. In the bar, the original 1940 mural was meticulously restored by local artist Jeffrey Skyles (the exterior mural is currently being evaluated for restoration). Original vintage tiles line the walls of the bar, including depictions of fighting cocks which is rumored to have taken place in the rear of the building many years ago. A newly designed “snug room” off the bar is perfect for small group celebrations (once that is allowed again). The original bar stools that Jennie Luera purchased from a catalog in 1938 once again line the front of the bar, this time upholstered in cow hide. Vintage holophane and vaseline shade lighting from the early 1900s light up the bar and create a welcoming environment. The walls are adorned with original works from critically acclaimed local artist Nicole Strasburg, whose work captures the emotion of the Santa Barbara landscape. Logo development and artwork was hand-drawn by local artist Michael Matheson.
Leading the culinary team for La Paloma is Chef Jeremy Tummel, well-known throughout the Central Coast. Jeremy’s experience draws from his time at Wine Cask, Bacara Resort & Spa, Pebble Beach Company, The Rosewood Miramar Beach, Santa Barbara City College Culinary Academy and The Bear and Star in Los Olivos. A third generation Santa Barbara native and part Chumash Indian, Jeremy’s love for Santa Barbara runs deep in his DNA.
La Paloma will be led by General Manager Christy Guzman who has worked her way through the ranks from host to busser, to runner and server at such acclaimed properties as The Mandarin Oriental Miami, Conrad Miami and Waldorf Astoria Park City. With a hunger to learn and a passion for food and beverage Christy continued to take on leadership roles at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, The Carlyle in New York City, and Rosewood Washington DC. Finally, Christy was brought on as the opening General Manager of Caruso’s for The Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito. Here she discovered her love and appreciation for all things Santa Barbara.
History of 702 Anacapa Street and the La Paloma Café:
In 1938 Jennie Luera purchased the 13,000sf corner property for $7,000, money she saved working at the laundry on State Street, to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant. The vintage brick and stucco building, designed by Chester Parker, was constructed in 1915 and housed an Italian grocery store and bakery. Opened in 1940, Jennie’s La Paloma Cafe was the premier Mexican restaurant on Ortega Street’s “restaurant row” and was frequented by stage and screen stars like Leo Carrillo who is rumored to be featured astride his horse on the exterior mural. During Old Spanish Days, vaqueros and cattlemen tied their horses in front of the corner bar and stumbled in to whet their whistles and to visit “La Patrona”. Ahead of their time, the original La Paloma Cafe was led by three generations of hardworking Luera family women; the family matriarch Jennie Luera, her two daughters Hortencia and Virginia and granddaughter Josephine. The building continues to be owned by the Luera family (now 82 years), specifically by their granddaughter Josephine Reynoso.
The restaurant buzzed with energy day and night where locals enjoyed the Luera family’s hospitality delivered in hearty meals and stiff drinks. The family lived in the three bedroom/one bath attached Victorian house that now houses the upstairs dining room. In 1950 the family expanded the restaurant by adding the square footage of their home and they built a new three-bedroom addition to the rear of the building to live in.
Jennie commissioned the interior and exterior murals to be painted in 1940. The mural over the bar was completely restored by the current owners and a plan is in place to restore the exterior mural as well. The interior mural depicts a tragic romance of Aztec Legends Popocatepetl (“smoking mountain”) and Iztaccihuatl (“white woman”). [artist unknown] Legend says Itza, a princess and daughter of a mighty ruler was in love with Popo, a brave but commoner Aztec warrior, who was sent away to battle to prove his worth of Itza to her father. While he was away, Itza was lied to about her warrior lover’s supposed death and she died of a broken heart. Upon his return, Popo was informed of his love’s death. He suffered great pain but carried her to her tomb atop a great mountain. There he kissed her lips one last time, and sat until the snow covered both of their bodies which formed two majestic volcanoes. It is said that every time the great warrior remembers his beloved his heart starts to beat faster; the fire and passion then causes the volcano to erupt. The exterior mural is commonly interpreted to be of Leo Carrillo (vaudeville and Broadway star and “adopted son of Santa Barbara”), though this cannot be confirmed. This mural was painted over an original Coca Cola advertisement that can still be read “Coca-Cola, the real thing”.
The original neon sign will be restored as it’s valued for its familiarity and has become an icon of a traditional corner restaurant that has been an important gathering place for people in Santa Barbara for more than 80 years. Lyle Reynolds, a quiet elder statesman on Santa Barbara City Council in the early 1980s made the defining statement that went something like this: “I worked in the News Press building during the war, when we had periodic black outs as cautionary practices for Japanese invasion or attack. It was grim, dark and scary. When power was restored, the first thing I could see from my window was the red and green neon sign saying “La Paloma”. It was then I knew we would be all right.”
In 1983 (after 43 years) the property was leased to Randy Rowse and Kevin Boss who reopened the restaurant as Paradise Cafe, a classic American restaurant. They expanded the restaurant further by creating a terrace on Anacapa Street, and brought in the first and only (at the time) grill to use Santa Maria live oak. Paradise was a beloved Santa Barbara institution for 37 years.
Acme Hospitality is honored to be a steward of this iconic property and to bring Santa Barbara a reimagined La Paloma Café, one that will pay homage the restaurant’s storied past, retain its familiar old-school vibe while celebrating its long history serving our community.