536 State St., 966-4638, joescafesb.com
At this point, Joe’s — a Santa Barbara staple since 1928 — doesn’t really need an introduction or an explanation as to why it wins this category every year. The bartenders at Joe’s, a wholly professional crew unto themselves, have been pouring them stiff and fair for generations. Crafty veterans of the State Street crawl have long known that the most memorable nights (or, perhaps, the hardest-to-remember nights) begin with a drink or two at this classic California steakhouse. And if you really want to put your liver in the hurt locker, ending your night at Joe’s is a surefire way to accomplish that. For many of these same reasons and more, the bar is full and bustling around quitting hour each and every day with many of S.B.’s movers and shakers.
Finalist: Harry’s Plaza Café
Vices & Spices
3558 State St., 687-7196, vicesandspices.net
It’s been 40 years since Blue Booth opened his epic little coffee and tea hideout on upper State Street, and in his opinion, there’s never been a better time to be a tea drinker. “It is similar to what happened with coffee in the ’70s and ’80s: People are realizing there is a real specialty market for teas,” says Booth. “It has become more popular than ever, and there have never been more options than we have today, especially with organics.” Whether it is herbal, decaf, green, white, or black, Booth and company have scoured the international tea circuit to bring the very best home to Santa Barbara.
Finalist: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Enterprise Fish Co.
225 State St., 962-3313, enterprisefishco.com
Happy Hour is a bit of a misnomer at Enterprise. It is much more of a Happy Hour After Hour situation — really, a Happy Evening type of deal. From 4 to 8 p.m. every weeknight and 5 p.m. until close on Sundays, 20 oz. draft beers are $5, well drinks are $4, and house wine is $4.50 a glass. But the real savings happen on the food side of the menu, where an impressively long list of “Happy Hour” plates and apps are available at a deep discount. Oysters on the half shell, Hawaiian poke, shishito peppers, veggie pot stickers, ceviche, skirt steak satay, fish tacos, and salmon cakes are but a few of the tasty eats you will find for $10 or less.
Valley Tasting Room
6701 Foxen Canyon Rd., 686-2345, demetriaestate.com
Tasting wine at Demetria Estate is a much different sort of deal than most anywhere else in the valley. First off, the tasting room is open daily but available by appointment only. Secondly, there is no need to shoulder your way into a busy bar in order to sample the goods; instead, it happens outdoors on a grand patio with soul-nourishing views of rolling hills and row upon row of vines. Lastly, the pourers come to you and let you make your way through the menu at your own pace. “We are definitely not for the rushed crowd,” says general manager Alexis Zahoudanis, whose family started the winery a decade ago. “You get to sit down and relax here and maybe enjoy a picnic lunch or some light snacks. By design, it is a leisurely and wonderful experience.”
Finalist: Sunstone Winery
Beer Selection on Tap • S.B. County Brewery • Funk Zone Spot
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
137 Anacapa St., 694-2252, figmtnbrew.com
They won’t be celebrating the third anniversary of their Funk Zone taproom until next May, but this Buellton-born brewery is already a main draw in their neighborhood. Winning best Selection on Tap when you only sell your own beers is a telling bit of democracy and one that goes a long way to illuminating why they are also considered the best S.B. County Brewery and the best Funk Zone Spot by our readers. Offering a wide array of beers, 15 to 20 to be exact, the taproom always features mainstays like the Davy Brown Ale and the Hurricane Deck Double IPA, as well as unique one-offs and seasonal cask ales only available there. “We really try to create a true tasting experience for people,” says owner Jaime Dietenhofer. Seek out the Stearns Irish Stout (a recent Gold Medal winner at the 2015 Great American Beer Fest) and their brand-new Wet Hop Hoppy, made with fresh hops grown at Sea Smoke Vineyards.
Finalists: Eureka (Beer Selection on Tap)
Telegraph Brewing Company (S.B. County Brewery)
The Lark (Funk Zone Spot)
S.B. Wine Tour Company
Sustainable Vine Wine Tours
There is only one group and one private tour available each day from the fellas at Sustainable Vine. Often the public wants more, but owners Bryan Hope and Scott Bull aren’t interested in changing their commitment to small-batch, personal adventures in wine country. By exclusively touring wineries committed to organic and/or biodynamic growing techniques and doing so in fuel-efficient luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the duo — both of whom are blessed with the gift of gab, outwardly kind hearts, and vast amounts of both grape growing and drinking knowledge — have quickly become our readers’ top pick.
Finalist: S.B. Adventure Company
S.B. County Winery White Wine • S.B. County Winery Red Wine
Santa Barbara Winery
202 Anacapa St., 963-3633, sbwinery.com
There is a certain amount of poetic justice in Santa Barbara Winery getting the nod from our readers as the best makers of both red and white wines. After all, when Pierre Lafond started the place in 1962, it was the first winery in the county since Prohibition. With well nearly 200 wineries opening since then, the staying power of S.B. Winery is especially indicative of their excellence. “Of all the scores or medals or accolades that we might get, these awards from The Independent’s readers and the people of our city are the ones we are most proud of,” explains assistant winemaker Will Cannon. “It is very affirming that we are doing our job well.”
Finalists: Brander Winery (White Wine)
Foxen (Red Wine)
By Paul Wellman
Urban Tasting Room
22 Anacapa St., 931-6864, municipalwinemakers.com
Where once the Diver’s Den blazed a path in the scuba world, Dave Potter’s Municipal Winemakers tasting room is proving to be equally historic in our city’s urban wine-tasting scene. Though far from the first winery to open up shop in the Funk Zone, Muni’s casual fun vibe, hipster chic, and trademark tasty grapes helped craft the recipe for success in this part of town. Tickled by an ocean breeze, Muni’s downtown tasting room has a porch and patio to let you sip in the sunshine and a large, aesthetically pleasing inside space that also hosts various maker fairs and artisan workshops. It is a hub, it is a hangout, and it is the flagship tasting room for one of our region’s most exciting young winemakers.
Finalist: Corks n’ Crowns
Restaurant Wine List
813 Anacapa St., 966-9463, winecask.com
Originally opened in the 1970s as a destination wine shop, the Wine Cask eventually grew into the fine and celebrated full-service restaurant it is today. And the savvy roots of its wineshop days remain well intact: The Wine Cask’s list is 16 pages long, and servers are well versed in how the wines were made and, most importantly, how they might work with your meal. The owners are even willing to cover the exam costs for any employee looking to take the sommelier test. “To me, Indy readers bestowing this award upon us is not just for the book of pages filled with great wines but also an acknowledgment of the people behind both the selection and service of the wines themselves,” says co-owner Mitchell Sjerven, who also happens to be the proprietor of bouchon, the runner-up in this category.
3849 State St., 845-5247, thewinehound.com
“We taste at an alarming rate,” offers The Winehound’s Bob Wesley as insight into his store’s remarkably well-curated and consistent selection of wine. This year marks the seventh Best Of win in a row for Wesley and his cohorts, Dennis Ferguson and Victoria Newhall. Though the store features 1,000 different labels from around the world, it’s got a definite sweet spot for the Central Coast and is also home to S.B.’s largest champagne and sparkling wine collection. Then, of course, there is Wesley’s obsession with syrah. “We aim to please,” sums up Wesley. “From $10 to $100 and beyond, whether it is style or price or a certain occasion you are after, we have something for everybody.”
Finalist: Wine Cask
Harry’s Plaza Café
3313-B State St., 687-2800, harryssb.com
Huge and reasonably priced — that is Harry’s manager Bradley Bennett’s best guess as to why his bar’s martinis are so popular with Indy readers. The third reason — and one that anyone who’s tried the classic gin and vermouth drink at Harry’s can attest to — is the fact that they’re strong. Very strong. Brought to you in a 10-ounce martini glass, you also get the rest of the pint glass shaker that the cocktail was made in and a strainer so that you may reinforce your martini as you drink it down. “A lot of people find that it works quite well to share one,” advises Bennett.
Carlitos Café y Cantina
1324 State St., 962-7117, carlitos.com
Though wary of divulging the “magic” ingredients that go into their award-winning margaritas, Carlitos owner Carlos Lopez does admit, “We keep it simple and consistent. It is always 100 percent blue agave reposado tequila. That is critical for potent and delicious margaritas. And the default is on the rocks and with salt. If you come in and get one today, it will be the same way it was last week or last year or even 14 years ago.” Still, Carlitos offers 10 more margs on the menu, ranging from sour or spicy to fruity or blended. “Our location is beautiful, as well, and always makes even our margaritas taste just a little bit better,” concludes Lopez.
Finalist: La Playa Azul Café
The French Press
The French Press
Two locations, thefrenchpress.com
There was a time not too long ago when Starbucks won this category by a landslide every year. Then Todd Stewart and Julia Mayer opened the French Press on the corner of State and Figueroa streets. Combining clean, hipster aesthetics with darn good coffee and lively service, the couple quickly seized the Best Of Coffee House throne in the name of locally owned businesses everywhere. They have since opened a second location and a roasting company (Castle Coffee Roasters), added in-house baked goods to their offerings, and are about to open location number three in Goleta. This family is doing anything but resting on their laurels, and we’re all reaping the benefits.
Finalist: Handlebar Coffee Roasters
The Neighborhood Bar & Grill
235 W. Montecito St., 963-7600, theneighborhoodbar.com
Nestled between the Mesa, the Funk Zone, and downtown, The Neighborhood is in a prime geographic location to serve as a fully functional neighborhood bar for multiple ’hoods. But it is what happens on the inside that makes it our readers’ favorite for the seventh year in a row. Simply put, there is something here for everybody. Happy Hour lasts until 8 p.m. every day, and there is Ping-Pong, pool, foosball, Big Buck Hunter, darts, TVs galore with enough sports action to make ESPN blush, open-air patio seating, chalkboard walls covered with art and wisdom and drink specials, and a menu featuring burgers, pizzas, and other assorted pub eats big and small.
By Paul Wellman
“She has a knack for making really healthy food taste really good,” explains Juice Ranch co-owner Scott Walker of his partner in life and business, Erin Gomez, the mastermind of their 100 percent organic, raw, and mostly local (save for some tropical fruits) cold-pressed juice menu. This January marks the couple’s third anniversary of being open for business, and their signature glass bottles are already a status symbol for Santa Barbara’s health-conscious citizens. Ever have the urge to try a proper juice cleanse? This is the place to start. “We are like a bakery,” adds Walker. “We don’t believe in a long shelf-life for any of our products. Everything is pressed fresh each morning.”