As any recreational foodie knows, the toughest part about trip planning is deciding where to eat. You only have so many lunch and dinner slots to work with and there’s only so much one can enjoyably eat on any given day. So, we put this list together to help you navigate Santa Barbara’s restaurant scene as a starting point. We cross-referenced the latest ratings across trusted user-generated platforms like Open Table, Resy and Trip Advisor and also polled 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 for some memorable lunches and dinners in Santa Barbara. From established classics and new favorites to local darlings and award-winning eateries, these 15 must-try restaurants represent a smörgåsbord of Santa Barbara’s ever-evolving cuisine scene.
Discover the unique flavors of French-California cuisine at The Black Sheep “SB Brasserie.” This modern pub-style restaurant sources its ingredients locally, ensuring that each dish is fresh and bursting with flavor. Savor its delicious filet tartare, made with the finest cut of meat and served with fresh shallots, chives and topped with shaved bottarga. Or try its mouth-watering burger, crafted from grass-fed beef and topped with gruyere cheese on a potato brioche bun. Wash it all down with a glass of wine from the extensive list of local and international selections.
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.
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.
Convivo Restaurant & Baris 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.
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.
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.
Technically, Santa Barbara’s original food hall is more than one restaurant. However, given it’s the perfect place for grazing between multiple spots (two in particular that you need to add to your must-try list), we are counting is as one for the purposes of this list. Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar serves warming and flavorful Thai-inspired noodle dishes and Corazon Cocina satisfies Mexican cravings with its Guadalajara-style street food.
If you’re looking to dine somewhere that feels effortlessly hip and contemporary with a kick of spice, get yourself to the Michelin Bib Gourmand-approved Sama Sama Kitchen. The lunch and dinner 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.
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.
If you’re on the hunt for delicious Asian-fusion cuisine, look no further than Secret Bao. This hidden gem offers a mouthwatering selection of bao buns, rotating noodle dishes and seasonal dumplings all made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Former Loquita chef Peter Lee has paved the way with his inventive and diverse menu that’s an all-around experience for the senses for lunch and dinner in Santa Barbara.
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.
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. Executive 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 its craft cocktail program is another tasty draw.
Bibi Ji wowed locals and visitors alike when it debuted in 2018, giving the city its first contemporary Indian cuisine restaurant. A partnership between owners Alejandro Medina and James Beard award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr, Bibi Ji’s menu includes playful spins on Indian classics and street food that make for a delectable dinner in Santa Barbara. Order the Uni Biryani, a “local delight” topped with and served inside a freshly caught, local sea urchin.
This charming restaurant is known for its delicious wood-fired pizzas, made with fresh and high-quality ingredients (think: hand-pulled mozzarella and farmers market greens). Bettina’s cozy and rustic atmosphere creates the perfect ambiance for a romantic dinner date or a casual night out with friends over a refreshing spritz cocktail.
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.
The Santa Barbara South Coast and surrounding wine country have long attracted foodies and culinary explorers, and these endorsements will no doubt pique the interest and palates of those who have yet to discover the area’s singular mix of flavors.