From the sparkling waterfront to the vibrant Funk Zone, Santa Barbara is a treasure trove of Mexican cuisine. Dive deep into the city’s rich tapestry of flavors, where traditional meets contemporary, and every bite tells a story of passion, heritage and innovation. Read on to explore these top Mexican restaurants and uncover distinct flavors and traditions unique to The American Riviera®.
Hailed by the late Julia Child as her favorite Mexican restaurant, La Super-Rica Taqueria is an unassuming tacos and tamales joint most recognized for its turquoise exterior. A landmark of Santa Barbara’s legendary Milpas Street, you’ll often find a line out the door. But, trust us, its iconic dishes—like the Super-Rica Especial, a handcrafted tortilla topped with spicy al pastor, chile pasilla and gooey mozzarella—are worth the wait!
Located along Santa Barbara’s waterfront, Flor de Maíz offers traditional Oaxacan cuisine with a California twist. Choose from the restaurant’s large selection of avant-garde dishes, like the Pulpo al Pesto, grilled octopus marinated in santa leaf pesto served atop creamy huitlacoche rice, and the Burrata Azteca, burrata cheese wrapped in a fried tortilla and surrounded by black mole and sesame seeds. Each of these dishes are served best alongside its signature cocktails and margaritas.
Located inside the Riviera Beach House is another ingenious concept from the team at Los Agaves and Flor de Maiz—Santo Mezcal. Its urban-inspired decor, brick-laden walls and dimly lit booths create the perfect backdrop for the restaurant’s elevated Mexican cuisine and handcrafted cocktails, all of which utilize fresh, local ingredients. While there, try the Cóctel Campechana, a shrimp and octopus cocktail served with a distinctive broth of red onions, cucumber, tomato, cilantro and avocado.
Photo credit: @santomezcalsb via Instagram
Situated in the Funk Zone, one of the city’s most vibrant and evolving neighborhoods, Mony’s Mexican Food has been a local staple since 2013. Its simple yet innovative menu includes everything from chorizo-stuffed breakfast burritos and chilaquiles verdes to its legendary tacos that come topped with your choice of carnitas, carne asada, fish, veggies and more. While there, pay a visit to Mony’s self-serve salsa bar, arguably the best in town due to its variety and fresh, unique flavors.
Looking for fantastic outdoor dining? Check out Carlitos Café y Cantina, whose colorful, sun-filled patio perfectly accents its menu of authentic cuisine and award-winning margaritas. Imagine spending an afternoon overlooking the historic Arlington Theatre while dining on halibut ceviche and mezcal Negronis, mouth-watering quesadillas and blood orange margaritas, or fried calamari and a cold glass of sangria … perfection!
Photo credit: @hangry_hales via Instagram
Chef Ramon Velazquez grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, with a love for cooking that was nourished by both his mother and grandmother. Ramon immigrated to the U.S. in 1990 and has been making waves in the Santa Barbara culinary scene ever since. Located in Santa Barbara Public Market, his restaurant Corázon Cocina features an inventive take on Mexican food with lots of texture. Craving something light and refreshing? Try the seasonal ceviche, boasting locally sourced seafood and produce.
Be transported to the western coast of Mexico at the family-owned La Playa Azul Café. A local favorite since 1976, the restaurant specializes in California/Sonora-style cuisine influenced by the owner’s grandmother’s recipes. Here, you’ll savor traditional dishes like flautas and tostadas in its cozy, casual café or on the heated outdoor patio. Check out its popular happy hour Tuesday-Sunday from 3-6 p.m. where you’re sure to find locals sipping margaritas and snacking on chips and salsa.
While known for its contemporary Mexican cuisine, the vibe (and strong margaritas!) at Los Agaves Restaurant are what locals always rave about. Sit in the inviting indoor dining room or out on the patio while delighting in their incredible dishes, like the Quesadilla de Flor de Calabaza, a seasonal item featuring local zucchini blossoms. And, don’t forget to mosey over to the salsa bar for a taste of their highly coveted avocado salsa. Los Agaves also has two other locations in Santa Barbara.
Photo credit: @losagavesrestaurant via Instagram
Cabeza, cachete, lengua, labio and ojo (beef head, cheek, tongue, lip and eye) if you’re an adventurous eater, Lilly’s Taqueria is a must-visit during your Santa Barbara getaway. Serving only tacos, Lilly’s is located downtown where you’ll nearly always find a line wrapped around the building. The small yet scrumptious menu of authentic eats will immediately deliver you (and your tastebuds) to the streets of Mexico City with just one bite.
Photo credit: @glutenfreeinsantabarbara via Instagram
For more ways to savor the city’s wide array of mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, embark on a journey along Santa Barbara’s taco trail.