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SoCal cuisine is synonymous with the Santa Barbara area. The proximity to amazing local produce and fresh-caught seafood influences the area chefs to create beautiful dishes that honor these gorgeous products. There are so many fantastic restaurants to try in Santa Barbara, you can make an entire foodie-focused getaway and never leave the area.
These local, high-quality restaurants, guided by talented and award-winning chefs in Santa Barbara, make it difficult to select only a few. Below are some of my favorite selections in no particular order.
1. Brophy Bros Clam Bar And Restaurant
As we approached the unassuming restaurant entrance, an older woman and her grandson were entering the door. Slowly I followed them up the stairs; the woman was struggling with the short climb. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It went something like, “Grandma, why do we come here when you have so much trouble climbing the stairs?” She responded, “because I have been coming here since they opened, they have the best food in town.” Brophy Bros opened in 1986, which is a testament to the restaurant’s constantly crafted, high-quality menu.
Their conversation solidified our dining choice for the evening, and we slowly followed the pair up the stairs to be greeted with the most magnificent view of the harbor framed by mountains in the background. It was the right decision.
Brophy Bros Clam Bar and Restaurant is a must-dine when you are in Santa Barbara. A table on the deck is an alfresco dining experience that you won’t soon forget. Alternatively, grab a seat at the bar or a table by the window for a gorgeous view.
The Cioppino is a perfect start to your meal. Follow up with a fresh-caught entree of Seabass, Swordfish, or a Grilled Catch-of-the-Day Sandwich. Their seafood is expertly prepared with simple ingredients allowing the fish to take center stage on your plate.
Pro Tip: They offer a good selection of local brews on tap to round out your dining experience.
Small plate tapas and plated dinners grace the menu at the classic Spanish restaurant, Loquita. Sampling their seasonally inspired paella will transport you to a small taqueria in Barcelona.
Located in the heart of the Funk Zone, you should consider sharing an appetizer called Jamon Tasting which includes three different pork delicacies: serrano, iberico, and iberico de chorizo, all served with grilled ciabatta and tomato fresco.
Now that you have your taste buds warmed up, share several plates of locally inspired, Spanish-influenced tapas. If you have never had a Tortilla Espanola, an egg tortilla, you need to try Loquitas. It is served with caramelized potato and onion, chipotle aioli, and cantimpalo chorizo. For the star of the meal, order a specialty paella. The Mariscos is a delectable concoction of octopus, mussel escabeche, sea urchin, aji amarillo, and squid ink aioli. A seafood adventure on a plate.
Pro Tip: Pair your meal with one of their rich Spanish wines or their fruity sangria.
3. Toma Restaurant And Bar
A romantic dining atmosphere with classic Italian cuisine, Toma Restaurant and Bar interprets Italy’s traditional dishes and elevates them to culinary stardom. Located on the main thoroughfare, West Cabrillo Drive, experience outdoor dining on a gorgeous Santa Barbara evening with gorgeous sunsets in the background. You will be enchanted with Toma’s exciting creations.
Start with Tuna Cones, Ahi sashimi flavored with ginger, sesame, chile, and soy served in crunchy sesame seed cones. Then dine on the Braised Beef Short Rib served with whipped potato, red onion confit, jus, and arugula. Two dishes that you wouldn’t consider making at home and are perfect for sumptuous dining.
Pro Tip: Select one of their fun dessert libations like Gingerbread Coffee made with Ginger Liqueur and Frangelico. Or finish off your dinner with a glass of 20-year-old Tawny Port or the classic Italian Grappa.
4. Bibi Ji
If you are in search of a hip and vibrant Indian-focused restaurant, Bibi Ji has the answer. The food libations are both spicy and amazing.
A wide selection of vegan options include Baingan Bharta, a spicy tandoori-cooked eggplant seasoned with ginger and cumin is perfect when accompanied by Turmeric Basmati Rice with cumin and lemon. Not to worry, there are plenty of delicious options like Barra Kebab, lamb chops, and Butter Chicken, tikka masala style for the meat eater in the crowd.
Pro Tip: This spot is more than just a restaurant, it’s also a bottle shop. The perfect spot to grab a beautiful wine to enjoy with dinner or take away and open later.
Japanese multi-course dining is the heart of the menu at Yoichi’s. Immerse yourself in the full experience by ordering the seven-course or five-course Kaiseki Tasting Menu. The chef will take you on a culinary journey on this fresh, locally sourced, and beautifully plated dining adventure.
Alternatively, you won’t go wrong with a selection from the menu. Start with the chef’s selection of just-plucked-from-the-sea Sashimi. Followed by grilled miso-marinated Chilean Sea Bass or Wagyu Beef; both are delectable choices.
Pro Tip: Trying a Sake with dinner is the perfect way to complement Yoichi’s menu. You should also consider one of their other beguiling Japanese wines as a dinner accompaniment.
Gorgeous, almost too pretty to eat plates that showcase tantalizing, quintessential SoCal cuisine with a French essence. A wonderful spot for date night, a special celebration, or just a fine-dining treat, Bouchon is a dining experience.
Begin with the rich and flavorful Forest Mushroom Ragout, black truffle cheese, panino piccolo, tomato, and watercress. Explore the world of duck with the Bouchon Duck Duo entree. Maple glazed duck breast and thigh confit resting on a bead of corn, fava beans, leeks, smoked bacon, and butternut squash. Rich and flavorful, the food at Bouchon is refined, elegant, and oh so delicious.
Pro Tip: Their California-inspired wine list is the perfect accompaniment to the expertly prepared cuisine. For a fun twist, sign up for the chef-led, small group Market Tour followed by a three-course gourmet dinner and wine pairing market-inspired journey.
7. Corazon Cocina
Southern California is home to a slew of excellent Mexican restaurants. Corazon Cocina is at the top of the list in Santa Barbara. Located in the Santa Barbara Public Market, Corazon Cocina delivers fresh, south-of-the-border street food served up with the freshest ingredients to hungry shoppers and dedicated fans.
Sayulita Ceviche loaded with wild shrimp, mango, tomato, ahi, avocado, and dressed with habanero aioli is a forkful of heaven. The Cauliflower Taco with tempura cauliflower, crema, salsa, avocado, dates, and greens on a homemade tortilla will make you wonder why you ever need to eat meat again. But if you decide you want to, the El Paisa Burrito with roasted port, cheese, beans, fried potatoes, crema, and salsa mugrosa will satisfy the hungriest carnivore cravings.
Pro Tip: Wash all this gloriously seasoned Mexican fare with a Modelo or one of their signature Hibiscus Margaritas.
8. Goat Tree
A staple in the Hotel Californian collection, the Goat Tree is open for daily brunch. Brunch is the perfect meal for getaways. A hearty brunch and then a lovely dinner with all the time in between to explore the area.
Grab a freshly baked croissant or pain au chocolat with an Americano or latte and stroll down to the beach for breakfast by the sea. Or you can dine on their alfresco patio while munching on avocado toast with eggs, queso, pickled onions, and tomato for a healthy breakfast.
Pro Tip: Dine in and enjoy one of their signature brunch cocktails for a little day drinking. Choose between a classic Mimosa and Bloody Mary or start your vacation day with the likes of a Moscow Mule or Margarita.
No foodie list is complete without a pizza joint, and Bettina is an Italian-inspired, California seasonal, local-favorite slice of pie.
Start with a shared Antipasto, a dish designed to slow you down and anticipate the meal to follow. The pizza choices are mouth-wateringly delicious. The Carbonara with house-made ricotta, mozzarella, pancetta, pecorino, and black pepper will lull you into the namesake’s pasta memory. Of course, the classic Margherita pizza is always an excellent choice too.
Pro Tip: Sip a classic Italian Aperitivo while you ponder your pizza selection. Choose a daily Italian staple, the Spritz or Negroni, to join in the Italian dining spirit.
Globally inspired cuisine is at your fingertips in Santa Barbara. You can travel the world without leaving this beautiful vacation paradise. Wherever you travel, you can learn so much about the people and their culture by exploring their food. Take a small step out of your comfort zone and you may discover something wonderful.
For more great ideas about where to go and what to see, check out Weekend Getaway In Santa Barbara: The Best Way to Spend 2 Days.
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Sandi is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, food, wine, and bespoke fashion. After a long career in marketing, she has semi-retired and enjoys traveling with her husband, visiting her three daughters, babysitting her grandchildren, designing women’s clothing, and teaching fashion. Sandi’s goal is to finish her book about retirement careers. Read more about her travel adventures on her blog Travel With Sandi.