Classics are deemed classics for a reason, and that stands true for the original Santa Barbara eateries that have been an essential part of the fabric of the community for decades. Whether they serve the stiffest drinks in town, specialize in traditional breakfast fare or fill bellies with unfussy Italian favorites and savory steaks, there’s something inherently comforting and homey about settling into a table at these eight tried-and-true institutions. And, really, what better stamp of approval is there than being long-loved by locals? So try ‘em out and join our loyalist ranks.
One of the oldest restaurants in all of Santa Barbara, Arnoldi’s Cafe was originally established in 1937 before it moved to its permanent home—lovingly built by hand with stone quarried by the original owner—in 1940. Ever since, it’s been a beloved Italian restaurant for casual gatherings and special occasions alike. The bocce ball courts on the expansive back patio are a big draw and add to the family-friendly atmosphere. When it comes to the food, Arnoldi’s stays true to its Italian roots and specializes in classics. Think sharable antipasti like bruschetta and calamari and vibrant arugula and Caesar salads to crave-worthy pastas and hearty meat and grilled fish mains. Be sure to save room for their lemon twist on tiramisu or a sinfully good cannoli.
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Established in 1979, Chase Bar & Grill has a prime location on State Street in the heart of downtown. The cozy restaurant features a few highly coveted outdoor patio tables plus a long wooden bar and red leather banquette seating inside. The lunch and dinner menu skews Italian, with ample pasta and parmigiana options, plus Milanese and Piccata-style poultry, veal and seafood preparations. Salads, gourmet burgers and sandwiches round out the menu. Chase hosts one of the most popular and generous happy hours in town, with two windows of opportunity to take advantage of discounted drinks and appetizers: 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Set on the corner of an unassuming strip mall on upper State Street, Farmer Boy has been a Santa Barbara staple since 1958. The classic diner recently got a refresh so it feels sparkling and new, yet it remains true to its old school roots, from the counter seating to the comfy booths. This is a proper breakfast spot, with traditional egg dishes, omelets and pancakes, plus decadent fare like fried chicken and waffles, carnitas chilaquiles and eggs benedict. An edited all-day breakfast menu is available at lunchtime, along with salads, burgers, sandwiches and fish tacos. When there’s room for something sweet, Farmer Boy serves up tasty throwback dessert staples like root beer floats, soda fountain shakes and banana splits.
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Stepping into Harry’s Plaza Café feels like traveling back in time with its red plush booths, antique liquor bottles and down home atmosphere. Opened in 1968, the restaurant’s walls are lined with historic photographs of the community, its leaders and legends. Set in the heart of Loreto Plaza on upper State Street, Harry’s is a community gathering spot and the kind of place where everyone knows your name—if you’re a regular, that is. Stiff drinks and “burnt ends” are Harry’s signatures, and the menu features traditional, straight-forward fare like patty melts, reubens, pork chops, filet mignon and mac ‘n’ cheese. Homemade desserts include individual fresh-baked pies (à la mode, please!) and cheesecakes.
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Joe’s Café opened its doors on State Street in 1928. Though opened by an Italian immigrant couple, it evolved into a classic American steakhouse. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Joe’s became an exclusive distributor of Acme beer from San Francisco, cementing its status as a go-to watering hole. Some of the staff who work at Joe’s have been with the restaurant for more than 40 years, helping to ensure that some things truly never change at Joe’s. Whether you come for a satisfying breakfast and Bloody Mary, pop in for a cocktail and appetizers at the bar or feast on a steak supper for dinner, Joe’s doesn’t mess around with portion sizes and is known for generous pours.
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Chad’s is a Santa Barbara original and the first of a one-time American chain that opened in 1957. Chad’s is still family-run today and the breakfast and lunch hot spot on Cabrillo Boulevard is always packed with happy customers. The breakfast menu is one of the most extensive in town, offering everything from breakfast burritos and benedicts to omelets and chicken fried steak and eggs. Chad’s Classics are throwbacks from the original 1957 menu with full and short stacks of pancakes as well as combos that don’t make you choose between sweet and savory. Come lunchtime, kid-friendly options like quesadillas and chicken fingers are in the mix with traditional sandwiches, salads and fish and chips.
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A lively little neighborhood restaurant and bar on upper State Street, Tee-Off’s slogan—“where the drinks are stiff but the people aren’t”—perfectly sums up its welcoming vibe. Small and to the point, Tee-Off has been a destination for both food and drink since 1964. The steakhouse-style menu features a variety of steaks, chops, prime rib and burgers, plus seafood that runs the gamut from oysters on the half shell and lobster to shrimp scampi and crab legs. The classic appetizer selection provides tasty cocktail companions for those just in the mood for snacking while sipping on a martini—think buffalo wings, shrimp cocktail, steamers and onion rings.
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