Beachside Bar-Cafe 5905 Sandspit Rd., Goleta, 964-7881
“I’m ecstatic,” said Chris Martinez, a 14-year employee and manager of this fine Goleta eatery right beside that city’s picturesque pier overlooking the university. “Our secret is to take care of our customers as best we can,” he said, adding that 70 percent of the people who dine there are repeat eaters, drawn often from the neighborhood, including university folks, medical tech workers, and “just plain Goletans,” he laughed. After 23 years, they’ve built on more than just a pretty location. “Thank you to the readers,” said Martinez.
Finalist- Natural Cafe
Restaurant more than 25 Years Old
Harry’s Plaza Cafe 3313 State St., 687-2800
Traditional haunts tend to carry a lot of history on their sleeves-the old menus at Cafe del Sol, the bocce courts at Arnoldi’s, and the roomful of photographs in Harry’s surprisingly huge back room. (If the bar could talk, there would surely be trouble.) This is a rendezvous spot, a place where regular banquets and anniversaries take place fueled by reliably strong libations and a menu that reflects a less trendy (and less calorie-anxious) dining era: e.g., the French dip, the Omaha sandwich. But the pictures haunt the atmosphere, bespeaking a place that was more than good enough for those who came before us and-according to the readers-is still excellent.
Finalists- Restaurant more than 25 Years Old: Joe’s Cafe; Neighborhood Bar: Elsie’s
The Palms 701 Linden Ave., Carpinteria, 684-3811
“Of course we’re excited we won,” said owner/manager Bill Bennet. “We’ve been working very hard to keep this place exactly the same as it always was, so it’s nice that people appreciate it,” he laughed. The grill-your-own-steak-and-seafood place has great meals that run between $9.95 to about $15, so the value has stayed constant. “It’s been in our family for 55 years now,” Bennet said, “and I just think in that world of change out there, people appreciate something they can keep coming back to.”
Finalist- Zookers Cafe
Isla Vista Restaurant
Freebirds World Burrito 879 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista, 968-0123
One of the few constants in the ever-changing I.V. marketplace of food ideas, Freebirds is also open way late for students coming back to earth after prolonged cramming sessions. Founder/owner Mark Orfalea is well pleased by the votes, though humbled, too. “I guess what you’re saying is that we were voted best burrito. It’s very flattering. I don’t think we deserve it, but I’m very happy that we got it,” he said.
Finalists- Isla Vista Restaurant: Silver Greens Burrito: Super Cuca’s Taqueria
In-N-Out Burger 4865 Calle Real, Goleta, (800) 786-1000
Witching-hour hamburger runs are maybe not the most important meal of the day, but probably are the most keenly appreciated. In-N-Out can be a scene, particularly if you are among the crowd whose driver’s license ink is barely dry. But it’s also a clean, polite environment easily accessed and (for a place with such a gimmicky name) surprisingly accommodating to off-the-menu requests. Cook it animal style, please, with well-done fries, and any time before 1 a.m. would be delicious.
Costco 7095 Marketplace Dr., Goleta, 685-3199
Your basic hot dog is a humble creature. Whether constructed of turkey, pork, or even tofu, it requires a certain minimum of cured deliciousness, a firm resilience to bite, and an internal juiciness. Less controlled and it’s merely a sausage; the rest is all condiment layer. The Costco dog was taking second place for a few years in the wake of newer, fancier wieneries. But here it is again, restored by the readers in all its mundane glory. A Hebrew National steamed and served on a fluffy fresh bun with your choice of smears. The simple pleasures at a price even those with a modest bank account can afford.
Finalist- Mad Dogs
5735 Hollister Ave., Goleta, 964-0366; 216 S. Milpas St., 962-7472; 628 State St., 892-5400
Even when it first began some 40 years ago, the Habit seemed something like a throwback-a little burger shack that promised quality at affordable prices appearing in the age when the big chains were digging into American consciousness. It’s changed some-and become a bit of a chain itself with more than 400 stands-but the Habit, with its charbroiled burgers on a thin bun with onions, pickles, and a mayo sauce, is the first place most Santa Barbarans will send friendly strangers and polite tourists seeking the traditional patty-shaped foodstuffs of indigenous Barbarians.
Finalist- In-N-Out Burger
Rusty’s Pizza Parlor Eight locations, 564-1111
Like Kinko’s, Rusty’s is a chain business that began in the unlikely, super-turbulent time/space nexus called Isla Vista, 1969. There are now eight area locations, two of which happen to be rare examples of vernacular architecture in this Mission revival forced-march town-an authentic pub on Carrillo Street and a faux lighthouse on Cabrillo Boulevard near the pier. This place has consistently served piping hot pies, with a good variety of toppings (from anchovies to zucchini), and it’s also fast and reliable from store to door.
Finalists- Pizza: Giovanni’s Pizza; Pizza Delivery: Pizza Mizza
Milk & Honey 30 W. Anapamu St., 275-4232
It’s only been a year since Alvaro Rojas-who also opened Alcazar Tapas Bar and Chilango’s-took possession of the little store front on Anapamu Street across from what is now the Hungry Cat. Between the two places, the neighborhood is suddenly the trendiest in town right now. But Rojas thinks it’s a lot more emotion than location: “We put a lot of love into what we do. And we just make sure the folks in this town stay happy,” he said. The restaurant isn’t even listed in the phonebook, because it’s meant to be for locals, Rojas said. “I’ve been in this town for 18 years and I love living here.”
Finalist- Alcazar Tapas Bar
Cajun Kitchen Five locations
More than two decades ago, a little restaurant on De la Vina Street started attracting long lines of hungry customers every weekend. Now there are five of these eateries in the county, each with lines of their own. It’s a simple concept: delicious American breakfasts that can be expanded into the world of Creole and Cajun flavor. Want hash browns or beans and rice? This is the place where you could have both at the same time.
Finalist- Summerland Beach Cafe
Sunday Brunch Buffet
Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel 1260 Channel Dr., 969-2261
Funny thing is, according to the Biltmore’s staff, there hasn’t been a buffet other than their notorious Sunday brunch in just over a year. So either the communal memory is that strong, or the people who voted meant that the brunch buffet was also The Buffet in our glorious town. “Our secret throughout the years,” said Gena Downey, the new director of public relations at the town’s almost-legendary hotel, “is hands-down our staff. They’re remarkable, and this award means everything to them. Thanks, Santa Barbara.”
Finalists- Sunday Brunch: El Paseo Restaurant; Buffet: Flavor of India
Savoy Cafe & Deli 24 W. Figueroa St., 966-2139
Originally (and still officially) called the Savoy Truffle after a Beatles’s song, the proprietors prefer a simpler name (just Savoy, please) to discourage the supposition that this restaurant only serves chocolate confections (which it does serve also, but that’s another story). Open for b, l, & d, the place has become famed for its big grazing salad bar for lunch. “We have an incredibly fresh variety,” said manager Corrie Ward. “Everything put out [is] new every day and a great variety, too. Where else can you get wild salmon, tofu, and roast beef?” Where else indeed, and Ward appreciates the fact that the town appreciates them. “It’s awesome that we won,” she said.
Finalist- Lazy Acres Market
China Pavilion 1202 Chapala St., 560-6028; 1070 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 565-9380
This is epicurean Chinese food: Peter Chen cooks dishes that sparkle with possibilities, like Peking pork and chicken cooked in clay pots with real chestnuts. His Shanghai dumplings compare favorably with the soup dumplings found in Manhattan’s Chinatown. And you can go off menu with a Chinese menu printed in English that Chen encourages all kinds of people to love. Not that you’ll have a problem; from the humble scallion pancakes to soups made from intoxicating innards of fish, China Pavilion represents the art of good Chinese food.
Finalists- Chinese Restaurant: Mandarin Palace; Take-Out Chinese: Panda Express
Mimosa Restaurant 2700 De la Vina St., 682-2272
“We give a lot of the credit for our success to our loyal customers,” said Mimosa chef and owner Derrick Melton. “We figure about 85 percent of our business is return customers. Some people come in three times a week and others three times a year. There’s a whole group of people who have a romantic history here. They come back each year for anniversaries, say. But I also think there are only a handful of fine dining places in town anymore, and Mimosa is one of them.”
Ca’ Dario 37 E. Victoria St., 884-9419
“I’m definitely excited that we won,” said manager Marissa Habich. “I think the main reason we’ve been so successful for the last 10 years is our chef [is] Italian, so we can make food that’s authentically Italian,” she said, referring to chef and owner Dario Furlati. “But the other reason is the whole restaurant works as a team, so everybody gets attention when they come in here.”
Celesta Billeci, Director of UCSB Arts & Lectures.
Favorite Italian restaurant?
“I love Ca’ Dario. My husband and I take all out-of-town visitors there. It reminds me of Manhattan and spending time in Little Italy. The energy and the food and service are all outstanding.”
Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant 14 W. Figueroa St., 962-5541; 1280 Coast Village Rd., 969-9059
“We just try to serve the best quality food, and we also have the best customer service possible. People love our staff,” explained Tony Arroyo, who first opened his Figueroa Street store eight years ago with his wife, Maria. (They opened their second store in Montecito five years later.) The other trade secret is freshness. “We make six different salsas three times a day. So if you visited our walk-in refrigerator, you wouldn’t find a giant bucket of salsa like at other places.” Arroyo knows what he’s talking about, having worked a number of restaurants in the decade before opening his own. “We make everything by hand,” he said. “And that’s what makes us the best.”
Finalists- Mexican Restaurant: Rose Cafe Take-Out Mexican: Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant; Salsa: Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch
Arigato Sushi1225 State St., 965-6074
Fodor’s guide to the region lists Arigato as one of the most notable restaurants, but even then warns of a sometimes 45-minute wait. However, this delay seems to trouble no one; the place does not take reservations and it’s always crowded. The best way to describe Arigato is it’s a permanent great party. Customers are bright and chattering, while behind the scenes efficient machinery grinds away at keeping customers pleased with artfully constructed dishes. It goes without saying that freshness is paramount; the subtle part is how spectacular the flavors remain night after crowded night of exquisite frivolity.
Finalist- Sushi Teri House
Chuck’s of Hawai’i 3888 State St., 687-4417
There’s an indomitable will that seems to lurk in the heart of this uptown establishment. It has withstood not only the vagaries of baby boomer food fads, but also the more recent importation of many worthy would-be successors to the steakhouse crown. Since 1967, though, Chuck’s informal, dark but fragrantly promising interior has beckoned city diners for a roasted artichoke, a trip to the salad bar-the first the town ever experienced-and then a well-aged and ample piece of choice cow flesh. This and Chuck’s Waterfront Grill, which is under the same ownership, are now well-established, and each of these restaurants hope to conquer the children of the children of the baby boom, one top sirloin at a time.
Your Place Thai Restaurant 22-A N. Milpas St., 966-5151
If you’ve lived long enough to remember a world without Thai food, you probably remember the first time somebody fed you pineapple fried rice from this restaurant. It was just step one into a larger world of previously unknown combinations like sweet basil with an underlying fish oil, or electrifying chili, smooth rice noodles, and a crunch of peanuts sprinkled on the top. The first Santa Barbara venue for this great cuisine, Your Place has been the readers’ favorite for more than a decade now.
Finalist- Your Choice Thai Restaurant
Restaurant for Dessert
Fresco Cafe 3987-B State St., 967-6037; 901 E. Cabrillo Blvd., 963-0111
Jackie Lopez thinks the Fresco secret is simple. “We have fabulous food made with lots of love,” said the uptown store manager, who has worked for the company, which includes two restaurants and a separate catering business, for five years now. “It’s awesome that we won and all I’m saying is that anyone who hasn’t tried our desserts, Caesar salad, or catering really should.”
Finalists- Restaurant for Dessert: Palace Grill; Caesar Salad: Pascucci; Caterer: Country Meat Market
Restaurant to Be Seen In
Chad’s on Chapala 625 Chapala St., 568-1876
Chad’s owner, Chad Stevens, hails from the restaurant-owning family that gave us Sambo’s, which may not be a chain anymore, but still draws lines of customers every morning of the week. Chad’s seems to be more one of a kind, though. In a comfy-cozy Victorian on Chapala Street, the place may seem to exude traditional wine-and-dine pleasures, including a gourmet take on American cuisine, but the atmosphere is pure young people’s scene. With great drinks, a congenial staff, and the allure of an automatic party, Chad’s is Santa Barbara in its most casual best: gourmet comfort food.
Finalists- Restaurant to Be Seen In: Lucky’s Martini: Blue Agave; Happy Hour: The Brewhouse
South Coast Deli 185-A S. Patterson Ave., 967-8226
There are two locations that began under the same management, but parted ways in 2001. What sets this deli apart from the rest, however, is a variety of delicately flavored mayonnaises, not to mention the invaluable word addition to the thesaurus representing Lord Sandwich’s invention: behold the Sammie. Hold the sprouts and double salsa, please.
Finalist- Cantwell’s Market & Deli
Palazzio 1026 State St., 564-1985
Opened in 1993, and at one time featuring two locales, Palazzio has been a staple of S.B. dining since its birth. “I figured it out the other day,” said owner and Santa Barbaran Ken Boxer. “During the time we’ve been open, we’ve sold a million pounds of pasta.” But it’s not just gross national product to the outlet, it’s a belief in quality for value. “It’s all about getting a good value for your dollar,” said Boxer. “People see the huge portions and the great service and they leave here feeling good,” he said.
Before this decade is over, it’s likely there will be a Panino in every fancy mall of America. Owner Carter Benson’s already swept down the mountain from what is his Santa Ynez family biz and set up three outposts in this town, stretching from Goleta’s Calle Real shopping center to the Von’s lot on Coast Village Road. He’s now busily scouting the great megalopolis to the south. But Benson is not too big for his baguette yet. “Once again, I’m very appreciative to the readers for voting for us,” he said. “I’ve used all my good lines thanking them for the previous two years, if I had any good lines. So I’ll just say thank you.”
Finalist- South Coast Deli
Flavor of India 3026 State St., 682-6561
“I don’t have a word to explain how this makes me feel,” said Rajinder Josan. Josan’s family began Flavor of India 17 years ago, and he feels they have something simple to offer. “The food is high quality. And it is very consistent and good. In other words, it’s not good one day and not so good the next. More than 90 percent of our customers are regulars, so we have to keep it good for them.”
Finalist- The Taj Cafe
Woody’s Barbecue 5112 Hollister Ave., 967-3775
Sometimes the allure of barbecue far outweighs your ability to light a fire and wait two hours for slow-cooked meat. We want it now! Woody’s, which is open late, is a place where barbecue cannot only be obtained quickly at a nice price, but it’s the one BBQ shack that the voting readers have picked for 19 years in a row.
Finalist- Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch
Restaurant for Eating Alone
Sojourner Cafe134 E. Canon Perdido St., 965-7922
It’s been there forever, at least by Southern California standards. The place that Bob Stout opened back when Jimmy Carter was prez is still where it’s rather chic to be a member of marginalized groups of the human family-and that includes the species known as the Solo Diner. Comfortable, reasonably priced, healthy, and gourmet, it all comes together at the Soj, even when you come in by yourself.
Finalist- Natural Cafe
Restaurant with a View
Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam Bar 119 Harbor Wy. (breakwater), 966-4418
For a town with geographical coordinates such as ours, we have surprisingly few restaurants with a view. Brophy Bros. not only has a view, though; it also has a variety of environs: the friendly seafood bar looking into the harbor, the small but lovely patio, and the relatively bustling dining area inside. In addition to the ambiance, Brophy Bros. has great seafood served fancy (raw and grilled) or working-class (great chowda). The Bloody Mary is the first experimental version many Santa Barbarans experienced, with a deep horseradishy pepper combo and salt and pepper on the rim. We should point out that Brophy rules the roost on the harbor-front and is the big winner in this year’s issue. Four categories, one place, and three great rooms with a view.
Finalists- Seafood Restaurant and Clam Chowder: Enterprise Fish Co.; Restaurant with a View: Brown Pelican; Bloody Mary: Mesa Cafe & Bar
Paradise Cafe 702 Anacapa St., 962-4416
“Hot dog!” said irrepressible owner Randy Rowse upon hearing the good news about the voters’ choice. The real thrill, besides winning, is celebrating 25 years of Paradise in paradise, said Rowse, who was there at the beginning. Their secret to success? “I just try to be simple and direct. We cook things over oak, which makes a nice flavor, and we try to treat people nice.”
Finalist- Natural Cafe
Natural Cafe 5892 Hollister Ave., Goleta, 692-2363; 508 State St., 962-9494; 361 Hitchcock Wy., 563-1163
This is one of those selections that says almost as much about the town as its honoree. Past recipients have included Taco Bell and that other chain made notorious by its protest of State Street art installations. But this year the town voted in an old-fashioned healthy food franchise, and the Natural Cafe does indeed offer organic and nutritious fare (i.e., Mr. Veggie Burger) at less than $10. A quick review of the menu reveals the Mount Fuji Stir Fry, their most spendy item, at a mere $9.95. So congratulations, Santa Barbara. For your healthy taste, you like to save money and avoid super sizing your cholesterol.
Finalists- Cheap Eats: Taco Bell; Veggie Burger: Habit
Palace Grill 8 E. Cota St., 963-5000
First impressions mean everything. The Palace, a renowned hangout since the early 1980s, often entails a bit of a wait at the door, since reservations aren’t taken after opening hour. You’d think that would sour people. But au contraire, as they sometimes say in New Orleans, the cuisinal font from which this place pours its edible jazz still ropes in the folks. Not only are there such delicacies as Cajun popcorn, chicken Tchoupitoulas, and those wicked jalape±o and sweet cherry pepper martinis, but the team-style service employed at the place means that once you sit down, the bon temps are about to roulez. Perennial winners, the Palace Grill still makes locals smile.
Finalists- Appetizers: Chad’s on Chapala; Stellar Service: Opal Restaurant & Bar
Cafe Buenos Aires 1316 State St., 963-0242
Besides having a winner of a Latin restaurant, proprietor Wally Ronchietto, a former physics professor, owns Bricks Cafe downtown and has part interest in a small bistro in Spain. In town, he has been promoting the preservation of live tango music and has an orchestra play on Sunday nights at Cafe Buenos Aires. Given all his accomplishments, he still has time to be proud. “This year, [Cafe Buenos Aires is] celebrating 15 years in business with a new menu that includes the favorite dish of each year,” he said. “The regular customers are really happy.”
Finalist- Carlitos Cafe y Cantina
New Restaurant (since Aug. 2006)
The Hungry Cat 1134 Chapala St., 884-4701
That spot at the corner of Anapamu and Chapala streets not long ago held a little Pakistani grocer, then an Italian bistro, then a nightclub, and then a Venetian-style wine bar. Now, it harbors the most buzzed-about restaurant in town. Upscale cuisine in a tiny room that doesn’t take reservations but is packed most nights since it opened, The Hungry Cat, owned by David Lentz and his spouse, Suzanne Goin, with Chef Dylan Fultineer at the cooking helm, has a menu that emphasizes seafood and inspired combinations-though skillfully grilled bread seems important here, too. It’s the readers’ tasteful choice.
Finalist- Milk & Honey
Montecito Cafe 1295 Coast Village Rd., 969-3392
When you consider the neighborhood, it’s a bit shocking that a place so sensibly delicious keeps garnering the readers’ votes. The Montecito Cafe offers bistro fare leaning toward California combinations of French creamy sauces and Mexican surprises like chilies hot and sweet. The coconut cake is justly famed and the bill is fairly priced for a joint in that rather rarified ‘hood.