A couple hours north of LA along the 101, you’ll find a magical place called Santa Barbara. This coastal town is known for its sandy beaches and winery tours, but it feels more like an old Spanish settlement that’s been overrun by retired yoga instructors and perfectly-groomed dogs. People flock here to flirt with surfers, say their vows at sunset, and wear linen head-to-toe. But no matter what you've come for, eating and drinking should be a priority. From old-school taquerias to new wave seafood specialists, here are 32 great spots in Santa Barbara.
Where To Eat In California Right Now
If you’re craving the comfort of homemade baklava, Lokum should be on your radar. This Turkish bakery and cafe on State Street has over forty different kinds of Middle Eastern sweets like Turkish delights, knafeh, and almond cookies. Some have pistachios on top, some are drizzled with honey, others are filled with cream. We recommend mixing and matching at least a dozen Turkish delights (or whatever else catches your eye) to take back home. Lokum is also a great place to grab a cup of Turkish coffee and relax on a small sidewalk patio with free wifi.
photo credit: Liam Brown @broadstreetoysterco
Broad Street Oyster Company
Whenever you’re ready to be the kind of person who eats oysters and caviar while lounging on a shady patio along State Street, get yourself to this location of Malibu-based Broad Street Oyster Co. It’s one of the best, non-pretentious seafood spots in town, and it feels like it was decorated by thrift-store-raiding, hard-partying pirates. They’ve got everything from fried fish sandwiches and fresh oysters to Santa Barbara uni and one of the best lobster rolls on the West Coast (get it hot and buttered). There’s a cocktail bar up front and plenty of big booths in the back, and the whole operation stays open till 12:30am.
Flor De Maiz is a wharf-adjacent Oaxacan restaurant that should work well for anyone who loves homemade corn tortillas and a sea breeze. The menu is a long list of ceviches, tacos, and meat platters, but ordering the trio de mole—a sampling of their signature moles with a side of shredded chicken—is non-negotiable. The same goes for the lobster tacos, which are loaded with soft and buttery chunks of tail. Their indoor-outdoor dining space is complete with a mezcal-lined cocktail bar, colorful umbrellas, and lots of comfy booths where you can sit back and take in the ocean views.
Just down the street from La Super-Rica, Bossie’s Kitchen is the perfect cafe for when you need a break from the crowded restaurants downtown. This casual counter-service spot is part-deli, part-doughnut shop, and part-neighborhood bistro, and it’s located in a former dairy plant. There isn’t much space inside, but the string-lit patio out front offers a nice place to relax with lunch after a hike, or sit down to a leisurely dinner. During the day, the restaurant serves options like a Korean fried chicken sandwich and citrus salad, while dinner features rotating specials like lemongrass shrimp curry and chicken pot pie.
photo credit: Carter Hiyama (@carterhiyama)
Between Lucky Penny, Olio Pizzeria, and the occasional Little Ceasar’s location, Santa Barbara had its pizza bases pretty much covered. But in 2018, an ex-Roberta's baker opened Bettina, bringing speciality flour and slow-fermented dough to the Montecito Country Mart. Crowds have been lining up ever since to try the pizzeria’s inspired takes on Neapolitan-style pie. The bubbly crust is pleasantly salty, and each delicate slice gives a satisfying crackle when folded. You should probably book a table before coming here for caesar salad and carbonara pizza, but if you don’t mind a possible wait, try walking in for a seat at the bar.
Mesa Verde Restaurant
Located on Santa Barbara's mostly residential west side, Mesa Verde feels like a clubhouse for vegans who actually like the taste of vegetables. The dining room is shaded by palm trees and covered in dark wood finishes, and the fresh and filling plant-based menu works well for a casual lunch or weeknight dinner. We recommend starting with the flaky grilled flatbread served with a side of creamy hummus and moving on to the jackfruit chorizo street tacos topped with blueberry chipotle salsa. This walk-in only spot can get packed on weekends, but if you’re traveling with a vegetarian or vegan, consider this stop mandatory.
Calling Secret Bao a fast-casual spot that serves Chinese dishes is like calling Ferdinand Magellan a boating enthusiast. This downtown favorite isn’t just a lunchtime alternative to Sweetgreen: the shrimp-stuffed baos and katsu club sandwiches are a reason enough to make a quick stop before your beach trip or grab dinner during peak commute hours. From the hamachi poke bowl to chili noodles, Secret Bao has a dish for every appetite, and they all cost less than $20 or so.
photo credit: Rob Tran
You can find great wine in many of Santa Barbara’s tasting rooms, but if all you want to drink is pet-nats, head to Satellite on Upper State Street. Even if you know next to nothing about wine, this natural wine bar has a tightly curated wine list and a staff skilled at helping you find something exciting within any budget. Bottles line the walls behind the bar, and most of the glasses cost around $15. The huge sidewalk patio is where to snack on a panzanella salad or a cheese plate while watching the parade of adorable dogs strutting down the street like they own it.
photo credit: Rosewood Miramar Beach
Caruso's, located inside The Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel, meets all the criteria for a perfect sunset restaurant: it faces west (essential), the entire space is outdoors, and it sits on its own private beach. Plus, the white tablecloth-covered tables are spaced out so you won’t be elbow-to-elbow as you watch the sun melt below the horizon. As you might expect from a tasting menu Italian restaurant owned by LA billionaire power-broker Rick Caruso, the classic pastas and seafood dishes here are plated like they have their own stylists. The prix-fixe menu comes with four courses, including dessert, for $145 per person, and as a bonus, you just might be seated next to a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills dining with her actual friends off-camera. If you're looking for a place to get dressed up for a romantic dinner and don’t mind a splurge, Caruso's is it.
This high-style modern Indian restaurant (by way of NYC) is located right on State Street in a neon-light-covered space that works for anything from date night to a group dinner to solo drinks at the bar. We’d make a trip just for the uni with biryani rice, but as long as you’re here, you should order the grilled lamb chops dusted with turmeric and cumin, the curry made with local halibut, and the tangy passionfruit lassi.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. was founded on the pier in 1980 as a place for local fishermen to sell their freshest catches of the day. Slowly, they started taking the seafood being sold and cooking it into clam chowder, crab cakes, and lobster pasta until SB Shelling became the full-fledged restaurant that it is today. Come lunchtime, this tiny place is a certifiable tourist magnet, but if you bypass their regular menu and go straight for the daily specials , you will be rewarded with the freshest seafood in Santa Barbara. We wish we could eat their uni-topped scallops every afternoon for the rest of our lives.
The Lark is massive, modern restaurant in a former fish market that would fit in around DTLA's Arts District. This is a place where fun comes in the form of endless rounds of West Coast oysters, giant ribeye steaks, and eavesdropping on young couples who still seem to be in the honeymoon phase. It's fancy without being too stuffy, but a dinner here will make you feel like a chic, sophisticated version of your former self.
Thanks to Julia Child proclaiming that this was her favorite restaurant in America, La Super-Rica is easily one of the most popular spots in Santa Barbara (if not the entire California coastline). But trust us, this order-at-the-window Mexican spot is worth the long lines. La Super-Rica's tacos, chicken suizas, and gorditas make this a must-visit for anyone in SB. We recommend ordering the Especial, a platter of roasted chile pasilla stuffed with cheese and topped with marinated pork, confidently and often.
Having absolutely nothing to do with the now-closed restaurant in Beverly Hills, this Bouchon is a super-fancy French restaurant in Santa Barbara. It’s expensive and you’ll definitely need a reservation, but if you’re in Santa Barbara on a romantic trip of any kind, Bouchon’s meat-heavy menu and French farmhouse interior are exactly what you want.
Metropolous has been around for over a decade now, but the crowds have seemingly only gotten larger. Why? Because this place knows how to do lunch better than anybody. The Greek-ish market/deli is family-run and home to a gyro sandwich that will shake you to your core (as well as a giant menu of other sandwiches, salads, and baked things you’ll put in your bag for later). Just be sure to get there early because they stop serving at 4pm.
This is our completely made-up term for the group of three connected and very delicious concepts: Olio Pizzeria, a panini bar called Olio Bottega, and the more full-scale restaurant Olio e Limone. Olio is a Santa Barbara staple and you frankly can’t go wrong with any of these spaces. Since they all share the same address, you can walk into each and choose whatever feels right for your situation. However, we will say that the squid ink calamari at Olio Pizzeria is probably the best calamari we’ve ever had.
This upscale corner spot in the Funk Zone is a great choice for sipping cocktails and people watching. The massive patio makes it ideal for a big outdoor group dinner and the incredible Spanish food only sweetens the deal. From tapas to desserts, all of the food is flavorful and fun to share. The paellas are a highlight: many of them include a combination of traditional ingredients like chorizo and seafood, plus some not-so-traditional items like tempura squash blossoms or avocado. You can seamlessly finish your meal with an order of the crunchy churros, served with three different dips: dulce de leche, raspberry vanilla, and chocolate.
If Super-Rica is the king of Santa Barbara’s Mexican food, Lilly’s is the queen. Located in an old building up against a freeway overpass, this extremely popular taqueria doesn’t clutter your vision with burritos or quesadillas. Lilly’s is all tacos, all the time. Their marinated pork abodaba is a must-order, and while you may not have woken up thinking you’d eat beef lip tacos for lunch, you absolutely should here.
Of all the great food stalls at downtown's Santa Barbara Public Market, the one you need to be running to is Corazon Cocina. The seafood-heavy Mexican food counter is fantastic, and an ideal spot to grab a low-key lunch in between wine tours. Order any of the seafood tostadas (the yellowtail and watermelon-covered Sal Del Mar is our go-to), and don’t skip out on the mole chicken taco. Lines do get long.
You’re staring at the glorious structure that is The Lark, and suddenly you notice something in the corner of the parking lot that resembles an upscale construction trailer. Welcome to Lucky Penny: The Lark’s casual, all-day spot that’s a very solid lunch option when you’re wine-buzzed and ready to load up on carbs. This order-at-the-counter spot serves mostly pizza, but the sandwiches are solid too.
Located in the Santa Barbara equivalent of that terrifying “fishing village” in Marina Del Rey, Brophy Bros is an all-out tourist magnet. However, it’s a tourist magnet with good food and some of the best views in Santa Barbara. You’re on the water, so you’re here for seafood. More specifically, the clam chowder. Yes, it’s 82 degrees out, and no we don’t care. We just ordered two more cups.
If you’re a human who hangs out in the frozen foods aisle, you’ve no doubt heard of McConnell’s and might even be eating a pint of their double peanut butter chip as you read this. It’s some of the best ice cream on the West Coast, and a Santa Barbara original. Though the McConnell’s ice cream empire is far-reaching these days, paying homage to its State Street store is a worthy pilgrimage for anyone who enjoys the creamier things in life.
Located on a side street in the Funk Zone, Mony’s is solid Mexican spot that's perfect for a casual lunch in the neighborhood. Everything at this dime-sized taco spot is worth ordering, but our usual is the barbacoa combo or the chicken burrito. Whatever you do, get involved with the salsa situation. Particularly the pistachio salsa. Warning: weekend lines here get insane and they close at 3:30pm daily.
Barbareño calls itself Central Coast cuisine. We’re not entirely sure what that means, but it must have something to do with market vegetables, fresh seafood, and simple meat dishes, because that’s exactly what’s going on here. The space is modern, with a front patio perfect for a date night that won’t empty your wallet. Get the tri-tip and whatever the homemade ice cream is that day.
Sama Sama Kitchen shares some DNA with other State Street staple restaurants: It's a bright space lined with light wood with a massive backyard patio covered in vines and string lights. But this eclectic Indonesian spot isn’t just another place to bring your picky aunt who always orders the chicken. It’s where you cover your table in dishes like crispy rice salad, sweet and spicy mie goreng, and banana donut fritters. Their wings smothered in a tamarind-soy barbecue sauce are fried to perfection and exactly what you want in a drinking snack. You could just drop by the bar and order a white negroni with a date, but we can't imagine coming here without sharing at least a couple small plates, too.
If you've spent a few boozy Saturdays in Santa Barbara, you probably know about Los Agaves: a well-established Mexican restaurant with three different locations in town. Santo Mezcal is their more upscale sister restaurant serving Mexican dishes like massive plates of ceviche (get the halibut and ahi tuna), shrimp covered in creamy mezcal sauce, and an octopus in adobo dish you’ll think about late at night. Also important: the mezcal cocktails are very good.
This tiny sushi spot right on State Street is serving quality raw fish at the high prices you would expect. But it’s good enough that you’ll want to eat here anyway. Arigato’s menu is pretty big, but you can get a mayo-covered specialty roll anywhere. Stick to the nigiri and sashimi sections. Also, ordering that jalapeño yellowtail over and over again until you’re full is a move of which we wholeheartedly approve.
Every good food town needs an old-school pastrami place to brag about, and Santa Barbara has Norton’s: a tiny little dive a block off State Street that’s built a following for cheap and delicious diner classics. We always go for the pastrami dip—the oozing lovechild of a pastrami and a French dip sandwich. And yes, it does require extra napkins.
Among a solid roster of tacos, gorditas, and alambres (basically fajitas with lots of melted cheese), this little order-at-the-counter Mexican spot has some of our favorite sopes in the world. Perfectly crisp, yet perfectly doughy. They come filled with sautéed vegetables, chorizo, or chicken tinga. Or, just get all three on one plate.
The Funk Zone is known for its wine tasting rooms. But at The Nook/Lama Dog Tap Room, things take a hoppier turn. This beer hall is the best place to drink craft beer in Santa Barbara, with some pretty strong bar food as well. You order your food at Nook (get the short rib burger and lobster mac and cheese), then stroll over to the long communal tables at Lama Dog and proceed to drink your afternoon away with their 20 taps and over 300 cans and bottles.
Test Pilot is owned by the same people behind one of Santa Barbara’s other popular cocktail bars, The Good Lion. While Good Lion has an Old Europe theme going on, Test Pilot veers full on tiki: there’s tropical flora everywhere, bamboo lamps overhead, and more nautical knick-knacks than you can shake a Mai Tai at. Fruity-but-potent cocktails with names like the Loose Cannon and the Ken-Tiki Kentucky served in kitschy mugs are why you are here, but in case you need something to soak up all that rum there’s usually a food truck parked outside, or you can walk to one of a million nearby food spots in the Funk Zone. If you’re someone who doesn’t actually care that much about wine (gasp), this place offers a nice change of pace in grape-heavy SB.
The Blue Owl
Being one of the few late night spots in downtown SB, you might think The Blue Owl was only meant to be visited after a long night out at the bars. But you’d be wrong. This Thai-fusion restaurant serves food that tastes good no matter where you fall on the sobriety scale. The pork banh mi is great, and the gooey Thai basil cheeseburger is everything we want at 1am (or any other time of day, to be honest).