Any U.S. culinary destination worth its salt must have top-notch sushi in the mix, and we’re pleased to share that Santa Barbara’s line-up of good sushi restaurants keeps getting better and better. No matter what the price point, the Japanese art of sushi is a ritual worth experiencing and savoring. Whether you’re a connoisseur or a sushi novice, you’ll find a diversity of sushi restaurant styles spread out around the Santa Barbara South Coast. From high-end omakase and kaiseki restaurants to small, family-run neighborhood joints and fast-casual Japanese takeaway, prepare to have your senses delighted. As the Japanese say before beginning a meal, itadakimasu!
We start our Santa Barbara sushi restaurant guide at the highest end of the spectrum with two eateries that have earned the California Michelin Guide’s esteemed seal of approval. Sushi by Scratch Restaurants, an omakase restaurant located in the Montecito Inn, created by the combined talents of chef-owners and husband/wife duo Phillip Frankland Lee (a contestant from TV’s “Top Chef Season 13,” “Chopped” and other shows) and pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee. If you’re not familiar, omakase is an elaborate, multi-course sushi feast that leaves all decisions in the chef’s capable hands—dietary restrictions can usually be accommodated and the chef may change course based on diners’ reactions to previous dishes. With only 10 seats available for each of the three nightly seating (5:00 p.m., 7:15 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday), coveted Sushi by Scratch Restaurants reservations are available for prebooking on Tock. The 17-course meal starts at $145 per person and includes a welcome drink at the Montecito Inn. Kaiseiki is similar to omakase in its ceremonial nature, but this equally refined chef’s menu format is generally six to 15 dishes that expand beyond sushi. You can experience kaiseiki at Yoichi’s in downtown Santa Barbara, where the acclaimed seven-course dinner starts at $135 per person. Reservations are taken by telephone and bookings are available Thursday through Sunday between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Arigato Sushi is a highly-rated classic Santa Barbara sushi spot serving dinner seven days a week. The State Street staple offers an extensive six-page food menu including nightly specials based on what’s fresh and local, such as Santa Barbara uni and albacore. Vegetarians don’t have to miss out on the sushi ritual here, thanks to a robust selection of plant-based rolls. Just a couple blocks away, Kai Sushi Shabu-Shabu specializes in both sushi and shabu-shabu—the latter is an interactive experience that entails dipping thin slices of meat into boiling pots of broth at your table. Tokyo-born owner/chef Kaz Sato has deep roots in Santa Barbara’s dining scene and has been pleasing customers’ palates for more than 20 years at this specific location, which is open for lunch and dinner every day but Monday.
Tucked in the Santa Barbara Public Market, Wabi Sabi Sushi Bar was opened by Chef Buck Thananaken, a Thailand native who mastered his craft working at Kai and Arigato, among others. His accessible menu of sushi, sashimi (raw fish), and handrolls are complemented by bowls and salads. You can drop in for lunch or dinner seven days a week. Sushi Teri is a Santa Barbara County institution with four locations. The downtown Santa Barbara restaurant is on a quiet stretch of Bath Street and offers a reliable menu of affordable lunch and dinner items seven days a week. The family-friendly restaurant also caters to kids with a choice of teriyaki chicken or beef served with rice, salad, and steamed veggies. And Sushi Bar 29 is a straight-forward sushi and Japanese cuisine hideaway on Chapala Street that’s open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday.
Oku Restaurant is a newer addition to the coastal dining scene. Situated on waterfront Cabrillo Boulevard, this contemporary Japanese fusion restaurant has a dedicated sushi bar creating sashimi, nigiri (fish atop rice), and rolls (rice, fish, and/or vegetables wrapped in seaweed)—all pair nicely with their killer cocktails. Down at the Harbor, Sushi Go Go serves an array of rolls, combo plates, and bento boxes in a casual setting with views of the water and fishing boats. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
Heading uptown, Edomasa Sushi Bar & Restaurant was established by sushi master chef Taichi Fujita in 1989. Closed on Sundays and Mondays, Edomasa is open for dinner and offers a popular late-night happy hour menu from 8:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., along with a full range of sushi and Japanese classics. Kyoto Japanese Restaurant on upper State has been locally owned and operated by the Kim family since 2004. Here you’ll find stellar Japanese fare for lunch and dinner, a dedicated sushi kitchen, and private Tatami dining rooms for groups. Also on upper State, Shintori Sushi has that hole-in-the-wall vibe and is a low-key spot to pop in for a sushi combo, plate of sashimi, or cut rolls. And Sun Sushi is a well-regarded “mom and pop” sushi restaurant up the street, serving lunch Tuesdays through Fridays and dinner nightly (except Mondays).
In the “Good Land” to the north, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara recently debuted, San Setto, an upscale sushi bar within its Angel Oak restaurant now serving rolls, sashimi, and more plates—along with epic ocean views. At this time, San Setto is exclusively available for hotel guests, but that’s just one more sublime reason to book an overnight getaway in Goleta. On the casual side is the Goleta outpost of Sushi Teri, located in easy walking distance from The Leta Hotel and open daily. Goleta Sushi House is a charming, family-friendly restaurant in Old Town, where you can opt to sit at the sushi bar or on the back patio.
Just south of Santa Barbara proper in Montecito is Sakana Sushi Bar & Japanese Restaurant. The dark, moody restaurant, tucked in a shopping center adjacent to Montecito Country Mart, has earned the praise of Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop, which commended the breadth of the sake list in one of their travel guides. Sakana doesn’t take reservations, but you can take your chances walking in for lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday nights.