Must-Try Santa Barbara Restaurants

As any recreational foodie knows, the toughest part about trip planning is deciding where to eat. You only have so many days and meal slots to work with and there’s only so much one can enjoyably eat on any given day! With the daunting volume of quality, inviting eateries in our little pocket of paradise, it’s an impossible task to try and pick the best restaurants in Santa Barbara. So we put this list together to help you navigate Santa Barbara’s restaurant scene as a starting point. To compile this 2021 update, we did your homework for you, between cross-referencing the latest ratings across trusted user-generated platforms like Open Table, Resy, and Trip Advisor, and also polling the discerning palates of local hospitality pros and the all-knowing Michelin Guide. Narrowing it down was a serious challenge—there are dozens more that could have easily made this list. From icons and new classics to local darlings and award-winning establishments, these 13 must-try restaurants represent a smorgasbord of the Santa Barbara’s ever-evolving cuisine scene.

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Barbareño

The rustic chic Barbareño takes inspiration from Santa Barbara’s Chumash Indian heritage and celebrates local purveyors, turning out thoroughly modern, quality Central Coast cuisine—with a playful twist. Executive Chef Julian Martinez and Chef de Cuisine Preston Knox are behind the innovative dishes that taste all the more comforting thanks to the restaurant’s welcoming neighborhood vibe. Learn More

The Santa Maria BBQ at Barbareño pays homage to the regional culinary tradition rooted in the Santa Maria Valley. Photo Credit: Blake Bronstad

Bibi Ji

Bibi Ji wowed locals and visitors alike when it debuted back in 2018, giving the city its first contemporary Indian cuisine restaurant. A partnership between celebrated Chef Jesse Singh and owners Alejandro Medina and James Beard award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr, Bibi Ji serves playful spins on Indian classics and street food. Order the $50-per person Chef’s Tasting Menu to let chef take you on a flavorful journey—add the suggested wine ($30) or beer ($20) pairings for the full experience. Learn More

Even more delicious than it looks. Bibi Ji brings modern Indian cuisine to Sant Barbara.

The Black Sheep

The Black Sheep is a family affair that marries Chef Robert Perez’s delectable global-inspired cuisine with his son Ruben’s genuine hospitality. Expect an eclectic menu that draws from Latin American, European, and Asian flavors with locally sourced ingredients, and a welcoming, unpretentious atmosphere in a cozy downtown space just off State Street. Learn More

entree at The Black Sheep Restaurant in Santa Barbara
Braised short ribs and green tea-infused soba noodles at The Black Sheep. Photo Credit: @theblacksheepsb via Instagram

Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach

It’s pretty hard to beat the oceanfront location of Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, but it’s the quality food and drink that really keeps patrons coming back for more. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the family-friendly Boathouse menu runs the gamut from eggs benedict and fish tacos to burgers and classic wedge salads. Seafood lovers are in heaven here thanks to the raw bar offerings and variety of fresh catch. Learn More

breakfast pancakes at The Boathouse at Hendry's Beach
Breakfast of champions at The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach. Photo Credit: @sb_boathouse via Instagram

Bouchon Santa Barbara

If you’re seeking an intimate, fine dining experience and access to some of the region’s best wines, look no further than bouchon santa barbara. Established in 1998, bouchon (no relation to Thomas Keller’s) helped to put Santa Barbara’s wine country cuisine on the map with its French-accented, seasonal California fare. You’ll always feel like a VIP here, thanks to proprietor Mitchell Sjerven’s warm hospitality. Learn More

The original “Santa Barbara Wine Country” restaurant, bouchon santa barbara.

Convivo Restaurant & Bar

Convivo Restaurant & Bar is the consummate crowd-pleaser with its creative Mediterranean-inspired menu featuring wood-fired flatbreads and pizzas, house-made pastas, and seasonal salads and small plates. The restaurant’s prime seaside perch takes full advantage of Santa Barbara Inn’s location with abundant outdoor seating overlooking East Beach. Learn More

spring salad at Convivo Restaruant
At Convivo, life is a bowl of cherry tomatoes, burrata, summer corn puree, and chimichurri. Photo Credit: @convivo_sb via Instagram

La Super Rica Taqueria

The most casual and budget-friendly eatery on our list, La Super Rica Taqueria is a humble taqueria on Milpas Street. The late Julia Child couldn’t get enough of the authentic, flavorful Mexican far and often brought her visiting food critic and chef friends to taste the goodness for themselves. The consistent lines out the door are a testament to her endorsement and the quality of the food, which is indeed worthy of a pilgrimage. Learn More

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The Lark

The Lark instantly became a “new classic” when it opened in the Funk Zone. Busy and buzzy since day one, this expansive farm-to-fork restaurant is stylish, relaxed, and 100% delicious. Chef Jason Paluska’s seasonal menu changes frequently enough to keep it interesting month after month. Family-style portion sizes are excellent value for the price point and their craft cocktail program is another tasty draw. Learn More

Celebrate family style dining at The Lark in Santa Barbara, featuring artisanal and seasonal ingredients. Photo Credit: Instagram @thelarksb

Loquita

Spanish-style tapas is the specialty at Loquita, an always hopping, dinner-only restaurant in the Funk Zone. Chef Nikolas Ramirez concocts beautiful interpretations of traditional Spanish cuisine using Santa Barbara County’s abundance of fresh produce. The menu is comprised of hot and cold tapas, seasonal paellas, and wood-fired grilled seafood and meats. Loquita’s cocktail program—one of the best in town—pays tribute to Spanish classics. Learn More

Besides Paella, the other must-order dish at Loquita is the Carpaccio de Carne

Mesa Verde

Chef Greg Arnold’s Mesa Verde captured the attention of California’s Michelin Guide critics for his satisfying vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free specialties. The casual, seat-yourself restaurant in the namesake Mesa neighborhood serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch featuring super healthy and beautifully crafted flatbreads, salads, tacos, and sandwiches with something to suit nearly every dietary preference. Learn More

vegan burrito at Mesa Verde Restaurant
Mesa Verde’s classic, plant-based brunch burrito. Photo Credit: @mesaverdesb via Instagram

Sama Sama Kitchen

If you’re looking to dine somewhere that feels effortlessly hip and contemporary with a kick of spice, get yourself to the Michel Bib Gourmand-approved Sama Sama Kitchen. The dinner-only restaurant features Southeast Asian fusion-style cuisine prepared with ingredients sourced from local farms. It’s truly unlike anything else in town and the bright, innovative flavors will not disappoint. Learn More

Santa Barbara Public Market

Technically, Santa Barbara’s original food hall is more than one restaurant. However, given it’s the perfect place for grazing between multiple spots, we are counting is as one for the purposes of this list. Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar serves warming Thai-inspired dishes and Ca’Dario Pizzeria Veloce specializes in Italian-style pizzas. Corazon Cocina satisfies Mexican cravings with their Guadalajara-style street food while Fala Bar caters to vegans. Wabi Sabi hits the sushi spot and The Garden dishes out elevated sandwiches and salads. For something sweet to finish, hit Rori’s Artisinal Creamery for a gourmet ice cream. Learn More

Headed by Chef Ramon Velazquez, Corazon Cocina serves fresh ceviche, mouth-watering tacos and house-made aguas frescas.

Toma Restaurant & Bar

A regular on OpenTable’s “Most Booked” list, Toma Restaurant & Bar serves up crave-worthy Italian fare from its historic waterfront location along Cabrillo Boulevard. The relaxed fine dining experience features a coastal-inspired menu of artful pastas, vibrant flatbreads, perfectly grilled fish and meats, and divine desserts. Learn More

dinner entree at toma restaurant
Pan Roasted Halibut from Toma Restaurant & Bar. Photo Credit: @charliedelarbre via Instagram