Lick those chops, and ready your begging game because this town takes the fine art of eating seriously. In fact, so plentiful and powerfully delicious are the options in this fabled culinary landscape that Dot and I have begun to growl at each other about what places are the best of the best for our favorite chowhounds to dine at when they are in town. Pack problems aside, you won’t be disappointed if you wind up at any of these spots.
I’ve always had a bit of a drool problem when it comes to potatoes, so the discovery of Spudnuts has been sublime for this Midwestern pup. A good day always starts with a good doughnut, but a great day needs to start with a Spudnuts doughnut, all of which are made with potato flour. Not a doughnut dog? Trot over to Super Cucas for a breakfast burrito made bigger than some Chihuahuas. It’s okay if it takes a while and you don’t get there until lunch, because their regular burritos are just as belly-busting and delicious. Not into doughnuts or burritos? (Are you even alive? Just kidding—my buddy Danger Dog can’t eat the stuff, either.) It’s no problem as Cajun Kitchen has something on the menu for everyone, from beignets and waffles to jambalaya, cornbread, and gumbo to traditional egg dishes.
It feels and smells like a visit to a fresh farm stand back home in Ohio every time I venture to the bottom of Milpas Street. Tri-County Produce is a green grocer mecca with the informal feel of a quiet country road and a stunning ocean view. My tail wags every time I see owner John Dixon on the floor, ringing up customers and bagging up their biscuits. When I need a broader variety of health-conscious food, I make my way to Lazy Acres on the Mesa and let my inner hippie howl. This place is insanely popular with Australian shepherds and border collie types, as well as some of the prettiest pit bulls I’ve seen.
As for the standard Dug Daug staples of pizza, burgers, steak, and fried seafood, well, Santa Barbara does not disappoint. The double charburgers with grilled onions and avocado from The Habit are the type of thing you beg all night for and even consider learning a new trick to encourage your human to share with you. They are that good. For steak, it is always the Hawaiian shirts and dimly lit salad-bar ambiance at Chuck’s that I prefer, licking my chops over an 18-oz., center-cut T-bone.
My pizza problem gets resolved when I find someone with opposable thumbs and make them call Rusty’s to order up a delicious pie and have it brought to our door. The Santa Barbara original has been around since 1969, so they know what they are doing — from creation to the delivery.
And then there is Brophy Bros. I learned long ago, while on vacation along the sandy shores of Cape Cod, that the only surefire way to find good seafood is to head to the harbor. Three thousand miles and many years removed from that lesson, and the truth remains the same here on an entirely different ocean. With a big view of the boats, the sea, the pier, and all of downtown Santa Barbara and the mountains beyond, Brophy’s is the place to park whether you are looking for a quick cup of clam chowder, some fish ’n’ chips, or a memorable white sea bass fillet with a green tomatillo sauce. Prefer to be the master of your seafood creations? Just walk a few doors down from Brophy’s, and check out Brian Colgate and his crew at the Santa Barbara Fish Market for the freshest fruits of the sea imaginable. You can’t go wrong when the fishing boats are closer than where your human parked the car.
That’s it for my Ruff Guide to grubbing in paradise.
Dot will bark at you next with her preferred chow spots.
Bone appetit, Dug
By Paul Wellman
Woofers, Waggers, and all four-legged Food Hounds,
We often get a bad rap for being uneducated omnivores. Sure, most labs will eat the fuzz off of a couch, and some poodles like to eat candles, but for most of us, our palates match our olfactory superpowers. This leads to some most ill-timed drooling fits, especially when out walking the streets of Santa Barbara. The food here is beyond my most sordid bacon fantasies.
First, that Asian food fetish of mine that so often went unfulfilled during my Ohio days is being satisfied at an alarming rate. Your Place has become my place. It is a beloved Thai restaurant toward the bottom of Milpas Street that has big aquariums and colorful umbrellas hanging from the ceiling and panang curry that is deeply life affirming. When it’s time for my tandoor oven fix, the special lunch buffet at Flavor of India is the only place for me. Their lamb vindaloo is perfectly appropriate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as anytime in between. The dim-sum itch gets scratched regularly at China Pavilion, but now I keep going back for their scallion-wrapped Peking duck and flaming scorpion bowls. For sushi, any dog that knows her toro from her maguro will feel as if she has ascended to the pearly gates of that Great Dog Park in the Sky while dining at Arigato. Lastly, Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar takes the best of Thai and Taiwanese cuisines and brings them together for a truly tasty lunch and dinner experience. Just having plain old kibble will never be the same for me now that I know what other earthly delights a bowl can be used for.
When my gut growls signaling I need ruffage, I go to Paul and Kathy Shield’s Savoy Café. With homemade dressings, a dizzying assortment of veggies and greens, and savory chunks of grilled tri-tip and chicken, the eatery sets a salad-bar standard that is hard to beat.
However, if the pack is getting together and looking for a big night of public howling, feasting family style on the tapas delights at Milk & Honey is the way to go. Their cocktails are a nice bit of wind in the sails, as well. If your party turns into a prowl and you wind up on the streets late-night style, a visit to The Blue Owl is the mandatory last stop. The after-hours offerings of chicken and biscuits, bánh mì, and Thai basil burger are beyond the pale of delicious.
Should the occasion call for an Italian meal that will make even the most Pisan of Neapolitan mastiffs bark wildly with approval, Ca’Dario has you covered. Dario Furlati’s restaurant is always memorable whether it is your first time or your 40th.
Got one of those anti-gluten humans in your crew or just want a meal that prioritizes both your health and your desire to eat a tasty dish? Mesa Verde performs this rare type of cooking wizardry with every dish they create. Jackfruit street tacos, polenta fries, mushroom umami burgers, and smoked mushroom and chlorella risotto are but a few of the reasons why I have become a convert.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly to Dug, me, and everyone else who values the perfect, tasty ending to the perfect day, there is McConnell’s. It is an ice cream emporium of truly magnificent proportions. With a strict company commitment to using only the freshest ingredients available, including real-deal, wholesome, organic milk from California cows, this scoop house creates ice cream flavors that I would consider going to war over. I dare you to try the Whiskey & Pecan Pralines or Boysenberry Rosé Milk Jam and not have a religious experience.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m getting hungry and need a walk, so I am sure I will have some more favorites soon.
Until then, Dot
Spudnuts Donuts, many locations, spudnutsdonutssb.com
Finalist: Eller’s Donuts
Super Cucas, many locations, cucasrestaurant.com
Finalist (Burrito): Freebirds World Burrito
Finalist (Breakfast Burrito): The Daily Grind
Cajun Kitchen, many locations, cajunkitchencafe.com
Tri-County Produce, 335 S. Milpas St., 965-4558, tricountyproduce.com
Finalist: Santa Barbara’s Farmers Markets
Health Food/Nutrition Store
Lazy Acres Market, 302 Meigs Rd., 564-4410, lazyacres.com
Finalist: Whole Foods
By Paul Wellman