Best of 2009

The Neighborhood Bar on a Saturday night.
Paul Wellman

Coffee House


Various locations

There are a multitude of Starbucks outlets on the South Coast, and they all seem to thrive, even in competition with one mini-chain and at least five great, hopping Mom ‘n’ Pop shops in the same area. We’re talking about massive caffeination, my friends. Within this bustling phenomenon, our mocha-java-phile readers hew to the reliably ubiquitous pleasures of the Seattle-based shops that introduced the once-bohemian habit of exotic stimulants decked in fripperies like steamed milk, whipped cream, and ice to a Folgers-dominated Middle America. Add to that the affordable stimulus package (um, coffee?) the stores offer, and you see why our readers lean toward Starbucks’ beans.

FINALIST: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Tea Selection

Vices & Spices from Around the World

3558 State St., 687-7196

First opened in the rebel 1970s, Vices & Spices has a name that now seems to imply one of those new legal dispensaries, if you know what we mean. Well, it isn’t. V&S has been a steadfast purveyor of great teas, from lapsang souchong to jasmine and back again-as well as herbs, candies, and a fine cup of coffee while you’re in the neighborhood. Some businesses seem to transcend all the faddy changes of the world’s marketplace. This one has made each era passing a little more fun to endure.

FINALIST: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Happy Hour

Sandbar Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar

514 State St., 966-1388

“We’re stoked,” said Sandbar Promotions Manager Amber Heyer-Rasmussen about winning the big prize in this category. “But we do have amazing food and drink deals, and the venue is awesome,” she said. Two-for-one drinks, that is, and half-off on certain dishes served from this full-service Mexican menu. Besides, there are a lot of happy hours in any given week. “It’s seven days a week, from 4-8 p.m.,” she said. “A lot of people are surprised that we have happy hour on the weekend.”

FINALIST: Enterprise Fish Co.

Beer Selection on Tap

Zodo’s Bowling & Beyond

5925 Calle Real, Goleta, 967-0128

This second conquer-the-world scheme from Kinko’s mastermind Paul Orfalea has at least become a mecca for brewski aficionados, as well as South County’s only remaining bowling emporium. With 40 beers on tap-including foreign, domestic, and micro brands-Zodo’s does it all, with happy hours and big sports on a bigger screen. It may not become the kind of empire that took over copying and graphics in the last three decades, but we think Zodo’s has a good grip on the hearts and minds of greater Goleta and Santa Barbara. Can the world be far behind?

FINALIST: Brewhouse

S.B. County Brewery


229 W. Montecito St., 884-4664

“The election’s already over? Hey, that’s great-saves me the work of stuffing the ballot,” said brewmaster and arch-wag Pete Johnson. “Seriously, we’re very happy. It’s really good to be appreciated by your customers, but then to have them go out and vote for you is wonderful,” said Johnson, who describes his beer-making apprenticeship as a hobby that took over his life. “I hope people voted for us because the beer is good. That’s really all that matters. I hope they didn’t vote for us because I’m such a nice guy.”

FINALIST: Santa Barbara Brewing Company

Santa Barbara Winery's Assistant Winemaker Ryan Ralston proudly shows off some red and white selections, both of which were winners with this year's readers.
Paul Wellman

S.B. County Winery White Wine

S.B. County Winery Red Wine

Santa Barbara Winery

202 Anacapa St., 963-3633

“It’s the first time we’ve won both categories, so we’re very, very happy,” said Santa Barbara Winery’s Tasting Room Manager Suzanne Fitzgerald. Of course, it’s not absolutely clear which specific wines the readers were voting for in these categories-and S.B. Winery, the oldest winery in the area, makes a wide array of varietals from popular blends to obscurities like primitivo, which is the Italian equivalent of zinfandel. If forced to guess, Fitzgerald believes the white wine would be the sauvignon blanc and the red, the pinot noir; both are grown in Santa Barbara County. “We’ve been around for forever, but it’s funny because sometimes people come into our wine tasting room and say, ‘We never knew you were here,'” she related. Maybe, thanks to the readers, the word will get out.

FINALISTS: S.B. County Winery White Wine: Gainey Vineyard; S.B. County Winery Red Wine: Carr Vineyards & Winery

Restaurant Wine List

Opal Restaurant & Bar

1325 State St., 966-9676

“When we opened, we made a commitment to lower prices,” said Richard Yates, Opal’s co-owner and wine director. It helped them weather the economic downturn, Yates feels, but it’s also part of the guiding theory that helped him put together a 300-strong wine list. He leans in two ways at once, keeping an encyclopedic list of area winemakers from Au Bon Climat to Whitcraft, while making the big purchases of classic wines from all over the world so that people can enjoy the familiar and explore the nouveau. “We live in a great wine region, so this just makes good sense,” he said.

FINALIST: bouchon

Place for Wine Tasting

Kalyra Winery

Tasting room: 212 State St., 965-8606; winery: 343 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez, 693-8864

“We’ve only been open for two years and two months and we’re the big winners. That’s awesome,” said Trever Green, the tasting room host. “Overall, I think what people like about us is the laidback attitude. And we have a Tiki Room. But mostly it’s because we have a lot of variety. No matter what you want, we have it. You want sweet wines, we have those; you want red or white wine, we have those. We have a big array of wines that are really good.”

FINALIST: Carr Vineyards & Winery

Wine Shop

The Winehound

1221 Chapala St., 845-5247

Lots of oenophiles remember Bob Wesley from his fine wine selections at Lazy Acres. He must be pretty darned good because after opening The Winehound last April, he’s already plucked the championship of Bacchanalian merchants in this wine region town. “I was delighted to win,” said Wesley. “We got our name out as best as we could, and then somewhere a little after the Jesusita Fire, business started to pick up. We started out saying we have great wines from $5-$500, but now we realize it’s more like $8-$1,000.” But the true guiding principal has been good buys from all over the world. “We also like to say that good value never goes out of fashion,” he said. “I like to go into other wine stores when I travel and find surprises. I especially like it when customers come in and say they’re surprised.”

FINALIST: East Beach Wine


Elements Restaurant and Bar

129 E. Anapamu St., 884-9218

This most sophisticated and dangerous of cocktails (already it sounds like 007) generates tons of ink in food magazines every year-articles extolling certain methodologies (shaken, not stirred), primary ingredients (vodka or gin), and, finally, how it is served (straight up or on the rocks). Elements has several signature martinis and of course serves all kinds of crystalline libations, but food writers usually prefer to mention the firetini, which has habanero chili infused somehow into the intoxicating elements, and is, therefore, the hottest drink in town.

FINALIST: Harry’s Plaza Cafe


Carlitos Cafe y Cantina

1324 State St., 962-7117

Without a doubt, the margarita is the signature drink of a town that leans so heavily upon its Hispanic past that its annual self-celebration is called Fiesta. In fact, no self-respecting Fiesta gathering could exist without this thirst-piercing combo of tequila, lime juice, and triple sec (or Cointreau, for fancy pants) in a cold glass lined with salt. To put it mildly, owning this crown is tantamount to owning the celebrative soul of a fun-happy beach town between Los Angles and San Francisco. Carlitos, a short dash from the Arlington, makes margs from blue agave tequila. It’s a bold play, substituting good hooch for the cheaper brands most margarita palaces will do. And in Fiesta City, the recipe at Carlitos paid off grande with our readers.

FINALIST: Cafe del Sol

Stiffest Drinks

Joe’s Cafe

536 State St., 966-4638

“We are very happy,” said the comparatively sober General Manger Giuseppe Ricci, while a nameless co-worker in the background added, “Yeah, baby!” There is no official policy about pouring drinks, said Ricci, no recipe designation insisting on an oversized jigger or a liberal pour. “We’ve just been doing it for forever,” said Ricci. “And we’re going to continue this way, too.”

FINALIST: Harry’s Plaza Cafe

Neighborhood Bar

The Neighborhood Corner Bar & Grill

235 W. Montecito St., 963-7600

All due respect to the homies who live between City College and State Street below the freeway, but who’s even sure what neighborhood this is? Burton’s Mound-ville? Motel City? Don’t even tell us it’s the Funk Zone without registering some Sly Stone or George Clinton Slept Here-type monument. On second thought, there is The Neighborhood, a cavernous, eclectic blend of food, drink specials, dancing, and hangout-ability reserved for really great establishments that adopt the word “bar” into their identifying features. Once home to The Plaka, this corner now hosts a more contemporary, youth-oriented pub in a neighborhood where an identity is yet to be established, meaning it must belong to all of us.

FINALIST: Harry’s Plaza Cafe


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