Photo By: Blake Bronstad
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 even if you pack the stretchy pants, 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 instead, we put this list together to help you navigate Santa Barbara’s restaurant scene as a starting point. From icons and new classics to local darlings and award-winning establishments, these 10 must-try restaurants represent a smorgasbord of the Santa Barbara cuisine scene. Narrowing it down to just 10 was a serious challenge—there are dozens more that could have easily made this list!
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Brophy Bros. has been a Santa Barbara institution since opening in 1986. The picturesque waterfront setting is definitely a major part of the appeal. You can’t beat the harbor and mountain views and there’s not a bad seat in the seafood-centric house. Brophy’s is always packed during peak hours but given it’s open from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. daily you can usually get in without a wait if you time your visit strategically (or there are open seats at the bar).
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.
The Lark instantly became a “new classic” when it opened in the Funk Zone in a converted, historic fish market building. Busy and buzzy since day one, this expansive farm-to-fork restaurant is stylish, relaxed and 100% delicious. The 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.
The most casual and budget-friendly eatery on our list is La Super Rica Taqueria. This humble taqueria on Milpas Street was beloved by the late Julia Child, who couldn’t get enough of the authentic, flavorful Mexican fare. She raved about it in national media interviews and took 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.
Arigato is Santa Barbara’s premier sushi spot. Locals are crazy about it and you don’t have to be a sushi or seafood fan to appreciate the elevated cuisine—the menu also features a variety of meat and poultry entrees and they work serious magic with vegetables, too. Arigato doesn’t take reservations so plan accordingly and trust it’s well worth the wait!
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Olio e Limone Ristorante serves superb Italian cuisine in a fine dining atmosphere. The restaurant was opened in 1999 by husband and wife team of Alberto and Elaine Morello, who marry the authentic flavors of Italy with Santa Barbara’s abundance of farm fresh ingredients. The expansive pasta menu is anything but ordinary and the dishes are always flawlessly executed.
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. Lunch service was recently added, creating even more opportunities to feast on their hyper-local cuisine.
If you’re looking to dine somewhere that feels effortlessly hip and contemporary with a kick of spice, get yourself to 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.
Opal Restaurant & Bar has been a local favorite in the heart of the historic theatre district for more than 20 years, and its prime position adjacent to the Arlington Theatre makes it a go-to hot spot for pre and post-show feasts. Opal’s cozy, neighborhood bistro atmosphere, eclectic California-global fusion cuisine and killer specialty martini menu hit all the right notes. (The Perfect-10 Martini is an absolute must.)
Last but not least, Lucky’s on Coast Village Road always has a strong buzz going, whether you stop in for a leisurely lunch, grab a seat in the lively bar area or sit for a decadent steak dinner. Co-owned by local entrepreneur Gene Montesano, the man behind Lucky Brand Jeans, Lucky’s has an old Hollywood vibe polished with the understated glitz and glamour of its Montecito neighborhood. When it comes to the food, the menu skews classic steakhouse with plenty of seafood and veggie options for non-meat eaters. What’s not to love about an establishment that dedicates an entire category of sides to the divinely humble potato?!