17 Santa Barbara Chefs You Need to Know

This guide introduces you to the top chefs behind the city’s most delectable offerings. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or simply in search of your next unforgettable meal, discover the chefs and restaurants that are defining Santa Barbara’s culinary landscape.

Dig your fork into Taste of Santa Barbara (May 13-19), a culinary celebration that highlights top local chefs as well as the region’s farms, fisheries, ranches and vineyards. Keep this list handy—it could be your secret ingredient to exploring the event’s best bites.

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Coastal Californian Cuisine

Executive chef Massimo Falsini, celebrated for his 25-year global culinary voyage, brings his artistry to Michelin-starred Caruso’s at Rosewood Miramar Beach. Falsini’s commitment to sustainability and ethical sourcing is evident in his choice of local farms, whose fresh produce not only inspires his kitchen creations but also reflects his dedication to environmental stewardship, earning the restaurant Santa Barbara’s first-ever Michelin Green Star. With top certifications and a rich history from Rome to Santa Barbara, Massimo crafts exquisite dishes that elevate local flavors and showcase his commitment to culinary mastery.

The Lark, helmed by executive chef Jason Paluska, epitomizes coastal Californian cuisine with a menu that celebrates the region’s abundance. With a storied career that spans from Texas to San Francisco and accolades including a Michelin Plate Award, Paluska crafts dishes that marry local ingredients with his comprehensive culinary background. At The Lark, diners are invited to savor the seasonal essence of California, making it a standout in Santa Barbara’s dining scene.

Terra at The Steward emerges as an under-the-radar culinary haven with the innovative leadership of chef Augusto Caudillo, showcasing the vibrant bounty of the Central Coast with seasonally-driven menus. Chef Caudillo brings a wealth of experience from esteemed local establishments, including Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Lucky’s Steakhouse, weaving his deep community ties and profound understanding of the local culinary scene into every dish. The Steward claims to have one of the first-ever avocado toast recipes—try one of the modernized versions of this popular dish for yourself!

At Satellite, executive chef Emma West curated an all-vegetarian menu that celebrates Santa Barbara’s seasonal abundance. Her famous Yoga Pants Salad—an ingenious blend of select greens, roasted root vegetables, sprouted lentils and a touch of sweetness from berries, all come together with a unique roasted garlic and almond dressing—is among the standout dishes that embody the local harvest’s freshness and flavor. The rest of the innovative, veggie-focused menu is designed to pair exquisitely with Satellite’s fair-trade, organic wine selection. 

Barbareño redefines California cuisine with a menu inspired by local history, traditions and the abundant produce of the Central Coast. Executive chef Julian Martinez and chef de cuisine Preston Knox craft dishes that capture the essence of the region, served in a setting that blends casual warmth with sophisticated flair. Try the Santa Maria barbecue-style tri-tip or local black cod mains for a quintessential Barbareño experience.

Executive chef Travis Watson brings a globe-trotting culinary repertoire to Blackbird at Hotel Californian, where his 20 years of experience and a passion for the Central Coast’s bounty converge. Watson’s tenure includes prestigious roles from France to San Diego, now manifesting in a seasonal menu that captures the essence of Santa Barbara, complemented by a cutting-edge cocktail and wine selection that showcases the region’s finest.

European Flavors

Gala uniquely bridges the vibrant flavors of Spain with local California essence, thanks to the vision of husband and wife duo Chef Jaime Riesco and Tara Penke. The Santa Barbara couple, rooted in decades of experience from Barcelona to Manhattan’s esteemed kitchens, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s JoJo and Public, have infused Gala with a spirit that mirrors their adventurous journey. The restaurant’s chic and minimalist interior is a place for locals and visitors to gather to revel in this Spanish-meets-California fare: from oysters and seasonal fresh salads to a melt-in-your-mouth steak with bone marrow butter and chimichurri.

Loquita is where the vibrant soul of Spain is brought to life under the guidance of executive chef Elier Rodriguez. With a deep-seated passion for Spanish cuisine and a rich background honed in some of the finest Spanish establishments in the U.S., chef Elier crafts experiences that transcend the ordinary. Loquita is celebrated for its exquisite paella, a dish that epitomizes the essence of Spanish culinary tradition.

At Bettina, Rachel Greenspan and Brendan Smith weave their passion for exceptional pizza and fresh, handmade pasta into the fabric of the community. Their journey from an energetic kitchen in Brooklyn to the sunny shores of California has inspired a culinary space dedicated to the art of simple, yet sublime, Italian fare. Embracing the bounty of local farmers markets and the craft of hand-pulled mozzarella, Bettina stands as a testament to the beauty of honest cooking that emulates the taste of a home-cooked meal.

A Taste of Mexico

La Paloma Café shines under the guidance of executive chef Jeremy Tummel, a figure celebrated across the Central Coast for his culinary prowess. With a background that spans esteemed restaurants like Wine Cask, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara and The Bear and Star in Los Olivos, Tummel brings a wealth of experience and a profound connection to the region. As a third-generation Santa Barbara native with Chumash Indian heritage, his deep-rooted love for the area infuses La Paloma with cuisine inspired by early Mexican culinary traditions. 

Chef Ramon Velazquez, blending innovation with tradition from his Guadalajara upbringing, has become a culinary staple in Santa Barbara with his ventures Corazón Cocina in Santa Barbara Public Market, Corazón Comedor and, most recently, Beast Taqueria inside M. Special on State Street. His unique take on Mexican cuisine, using local ingredients to create dishes full of color and texture, has made his restaurants beloved landmarks for both locals and visitors seeking authentic, flavorful food.

Santo Mezcal, brought to life by esteemed local restaurateur Carlos Luna and the Los Agaves Restaurants team, presents a modern twist on traditional Mexican cuisine through the culinary artistry of executive chef Ricardo Garcia. Here, authentic Mexican recipes are reimagined with Santa Barbara’s seasonal produce, creating a menu that celebrates the rich flavors of Mexico with dishes like tlacoyo de huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn—now considered a unique delicacy!) y hongos (mushrooms) and the succulent pulpo a las brasas (octopus).

Inspired by Asia

Secret Bao, led by husband and wife duo Peter Lee and Felicia Medina, captures the essence of his culinary journey from traditional Korean cooking with his mother in San Jose to prestigious kitchens like the three-Michelin star Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas. With a combined portfolio that includes working as the executive chef at Loquita and expertise in Mexican, Cuban and Chinese cuisine, Lee and Medina channel their passion for innovative cooking into Secret Bao—which is a secret no more. Try the flavorful K.F.C. Bao (with a bit of a kick!) and Avocado and Korean Pear Salad for a meal unlike any you’ve tried before (probably).

As the first Indonesian restaurant in Santa Barbara, Sama Sama is revolutionizing Santa Barbara’s Asian cuisine scene. After spending three years as a chef in Bali, owner and head chef Ryan Simorangkir has served up the bold flavors of Southeast Asia to life in The American Riviera ® over the past ten years with bite-sized and family-style dishes such as the restaurant’s signature chicken wings, crispy rice salad and braised pork mie goreng (stir-fried noodles with succulent soy-ginger braised pork).

At Ama Sushi, another Rosewood Miramar Beach jewel, executive chef Scott Yonamine weaves his rich experience from Japan’s prestigious kitchens, including under Michelin-recognized master chef Hiroyuki Kanda, into the fabric of each dish. Honoring Japan’s Edomae-style sushi and the legacy of Japanese free divers, Ama Sushi offers an authentic dive into sushi’s purest forms through the art of omakase, meaning, “I leave it up to you.” The restaurant is recognized by the Michelin Guide for its commitment to fresh, sustainable ingredients. 

Chef Jerry Lee’s passion for cooking has propelled Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar into a cornerstone of Santa Barbara Public Market, delighting diners with a diverse Thai menu. Chef Lee, born and raised in Taipei until he was seven, grew up in the kitchen—honing a skill set that would eventually bring him to the heart of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene. With his mother’s handmade dumplings, crafted from his grandmother’s original recipe, gracing the menus of this humble establishment, Lee’s story weaves family tradition with the food that he loves to cook and eat himself.

Craving still not satisfied? Check out these Michelin-rated restaurants and other must-try eateries in Santa Barbara.