Seafood Restaurant • Clam Chowder • Bloody Mary
Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
119 Harbor Wy., 966-4418, brophybros.com
Like a sentinel at its post, the Bennett family’s restaurant has been presiding over the Santa Barbara Harbor since it first opened its doors in 1986. A truly East Coast–inspired emporium of seafood, epic views, and well-made drinks, the two-story, waterfront eatery pulls double duty as a beloved local haunt and a crowd-pleasing tourist trap. It is also one of only two three-category winners this year, an especially impressive feat when you consider that each ballot is allowed to name the same business as “Best” only twice. Clearly, everybody knows seafood and clam chowder and bloodies all taste better with a sea breeze.
Finalists: Fishouse (Seafood Restaurant)
Beachside Bar-Café (Clam Chowder)
Health Food/Nutrition Store
Lazy Acres Market
302 Meigs Rd., 564-4410, lazyacres.com
This place was Santa Barbara’s personal version of Whole Foods long before Whole Foods ever thought about coming to town: health-conscious (with a bit of a bite at the cash register), impossibly nice and knowledgeable longtime employees, a full-service butcher, extensive bulk food bins, a sushi bar, a coffee bar, a mouthwatering deli, great wine and beer selection, a juicery, extensive and often local produce, and all the vitamins and supplements and general New Age health additives that you and your dream catcher could hope for. And its parking lot is actually user-friendly! Once again, Lazy Acres is tops with our readers.
Finalist: Whole Foods Market
Santa Barbara Farmers Market
Many locations, sbfarmersmarket.org
Make no mistake: Santa Barbara County is, first and foremost, a farming and ranching community. From this truth flows one of our town’s greatest luxuries, a fresh, affordable, and insanely varied Farmers Market nearly every day of the week. Whether you prefer the festival-like atmosphere and community vibe of the downtown Saturday market or the after-work breath of fresh air offered by the Tuesday-evening incarnation on State Street, or any of the other five pop-up markets throughout the week from Solvang to Carpinteria, it is clear that Santa Barbara Farmers Market is a lynchpin part of life on the South Coast.
Finalist: Tri-County Produce
Ice Cream Shop
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
Two locations, mcconnells.com
Ever wonder what a true and undisputed Santa Barbara institution looks like? You need look no further than McConnell’s. Though it has experienced a couple of ownership changes and local retail-rights sell-offs in the 60-plus years since Gordon McConnell opened the place, the important stuff hasn’t changed. The ice cream is still impossibly dense and creamy. The scoop shop on Mission is like some sort of frozen treat mecca that swells with crowds nearly every night. The newest shop on State is fast becoming the same way, and all the deliciousness is still made in the building under the cow statue just off Milpas Street.
Finalist: Rori’s Artisanal Creamery
Frozen Yogurt Shop
Two locations, yogurt-land.com
Welcome to frozen yogurt nirvana. Essentially a self-service establishment, Yogurtland explodes your brain with flavor and topping options while leaving your wallet a little less abused, thanks to a refreshingly inexpensive pricing scheme based on the weight of your serving size. The ingredients are real, and the yogurt is vitamin-packed, loaded with calcium, and full of living probiotic cultures. It’s practically medicinal, albeit with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and gummy worms on top. As for your actual yogurt options, the gamut runs from mainstream staples like vanilla and blue raspberry to less expected twists like guava grapefruit, mango piña colada tart, and churro.
Finalist: McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
15 W. Gutierrez St., 965-5956, chocolatemaya.com
At the root of Chocolate Maya’s popularity with our readers is a love story. Owner Maya Schoop-Rutten grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, and it was in those halcyon childhood days that she fell head-over-heels in love with high-quality chocolate. Her family even had a special ornate cabinet for chocolate storage. And so, back in 2007, Maya sold her popular breakfast/lunch spot the Comeback Café and focused singularly on bringing the finest natural chocolates and truffles imaginable to Santa Barbara, including her own artisan line of hand-dipped and decorated organic treats. Chocolate Maya was born, and life in S.B. has been a little sweeter for all of us ever since.
Finalist: Chocolats du Calibressan
Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Many locations, renaudsbakery.com
What first started as a simple place to get real-deal French pastries has grown into a dangerously toothsome culinary monster. Executive chef and namesake cofounder Renaud Gonthier has indeed achieved his initial goal of tasty pastries and croissants in the heart of the American Riviera — and then some. A trip to the display cases at any of Renaud’s three S.B. spots forces a quick reckoning with the limits of your own will power as row after perfectly lit row of fresh cakes, tarts, cookies, macaroons, lemon bars, and éclairs call to you. An equally appetizing bistro menu threatens to highjack whatever breakfast or lunch plans you may have. If you simply order what looks good, you very well might go home with everything.
Finalist: Jeannine’s Bakery
Many locations, spudnutsdonutssb.com
Again and again, Spudnuts takes home top honors in our Doughnut Shop category. Open 24 hours a day at some locations and offering a full line of raised, cake, and old-fashioned doughnuts, as well as pastries, croissants, coffee, and sandwiches, Spudnuts clearly has all your late-night cravings and early-morning needs covered. They also do a Maple Bacon Donut Bar that is a certifiable religious experience. But the real power of this place lies in its namesake main ingredient, the potato! That’s right, readers — all these world-beating donuts are made with a potato-based batter, and the end result is dangerously delicious and apparently quite addictive for our readers.
Crushcakes & Café
Many locations, crushcakes.com
The secret here, according to owner Shannon Noormand, is real butter, real fruit, real Belgian chocolate, and one guiding rule. “We don’t ever bake the day before,” says Noormand, before adding emphatically, “Ever.” Besides its all-but-predictable win in the cupcake category, Crushcakes also got runner-up in the Wedding Cake category this year, a nod from the readers that Noormand was particularly proud of. “We’ve been doing [cakes] from the beginning, but they have just been quietly delicious … It’s nice to see that recognition.”
Finalist: Enjoy Cupcakes
686 Linden Ave., Carpinteria, 684-6666, slysonline.com
An elegant collision of French cuisine and a coastal California steakhouse, Sly’s can induce a pleasant sort of mental dissonance while surveying their menu. Filet mignon meatloaf specials and racks of lamb share real estate with linguine and fried clams, local abalone, and some of the most decadent macaroni and cheese you can imagine. The bar takes drinking seriously, and so the cocktails are crisp, classic, strong, and organized on the menu by the year they were invented. “We are still just doing what we do,” says owner and chef James Sly. “It feels good to know that well-made food and drinks are still working so well.”
Finalist: The Palms
Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels
Two locations, bagelnet.com
It is a fine thing when the collective taste of our readers aligns perfectly with our own here at The Independent, and when it comes to the topic of bagels in Santa Barbara, we are in lock step with you once again this year. Every Wednesday morning, a large load of fresh Jack’s bagels with a full complementing array of cream cheeses gets dropped in our staff kitchen. It is a gift from the Indy brass to help us down the homestretch of the weekly deadline crunch, the light and fluffy assortment of garlic, jalapeño, bialy, everything, and sesame-seed bagels representing a particularly tasty bribe by our bosses. Turns out, most of you are bribing yourselves similarly.
Finalist: Bagel Café
The Blue Owl
5 W. Canon Perdido St., 705-0991, theblueowlsantabarbara.com
The last five years have seen Cindy Black’s place go from pop-up experiment to award-winning restaurant with expansion plans. Her uniquely flavorful twist on Asian fusion quickly outgrew its original location inside of Zen Yai and relocated to its current location on Canon Perdido, a spot she is now in the permitting stage for renovating and expanding later this year. The duck croissants, crab melts, and bánh mì by day and the Thai basil cheeseburgers and “Porkducken” by late night have proved so popular that Black is about to knock down a wall and begin offering a full dinner and happy hour menu in between her wildly successful lunches and after-hours meals.
5905 Sandspit Rd., Goleta, 964-7881, beachside-barcafe.com
“Location, location, location,” laughed Beachside General Manager Peter Crick after being asked what makes his restaurant such a hit with our readers. And while the on-the-sand locale of Beachside at the east end of Goleta Beach Park is certainly a draw, it is by no means the sole gravitational force that keeps people coming back year after year. The food pedigree is excellent, as the restaurant’s ownership includes the brain trust from Chuck’s of Hawai‘i and the late, legendary Goleta spot Jasper’s, and the staff — one that has hosted everyone from the Dalai Lama and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to area election-night parties and fishermen fresh off the pier — makes first-time visitors feel like old regulars. “We are basically just a warm, smiling, friendly place,” says Crick.
Finalist: Hollister Brewing Company
Fresh Fish Market
Santa Barbara Fish Market
117 Harbor Wy., Ste. A, 965-9564, sbfish.com
It is always a good thing when your fish market is as close to the harbor as it is to its parking lot. Shoots, Santa Barbara Fish Market is in the harbor! You name it, and chances are Brian Colgate and crew have got it fresh and ready. And while their menu can change daily depending on what is in season and what is biting in the channel, you can rest assured that they will have sashimi-grade cuts of salmon and tuna, fillets of locally caught sea bass and black cod, yellowtail, albacore, swordfish, Santa Barbara urchin and lobster, oysters, clams, scallops, and Dungeness crab, among others. Unable to make a run to the harbor? No problem — this fishmonger delivers!
Finalist: Kanaloa Seafood
Isla Vista Restaurant
Freebirds World Burrito
879 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista, 968-0123, freebirds.com
I wonder if anyone has managed to graduate from UCSB in the past three decades without having eaten a meal or two at Freebirds. My guess is no. The burritos are big and customizable, their hours of operation cater purposely to the sleepless lifestyles of college kids (the place is busiest after midnight), and they are named after a Lynyrd Skynyrd song. First opened in I.V. in 1987 by Mark Orfalea, Freebirds may have ridden its formula to nationwide success with 80 locations open now all over the country, but it remains #1 in the college town that started it all.
1295 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 969-3392, montecitocafe.com
It is a telling factoid that the Montecito Café, despite being attached to the Montecito Inn, gets the lion’s share of its patronage from ’Cito and S.B. residents as opposed to the out-of-town visitors who sleep so close by. It is just that type of place. All the dressings and stocks and sauces and buns and breads are made from scratch. The bar is cozy and quick with a drink. The produce is organic and local, the meat natural, and the menu straight-ahead and delicious with large portions. The vibe is a pitch-perfect blend of class and family-friendly. “Customers know that they are going to get the best bang for their buck here,” says manager Arielle Chang. “That has gotten pretty hard to find nowadays, so I think people appreciate our continued high level of service and value.”
Restaurant for Dessert
Sojourner Café (closed)
134 E. Canon Perdido St., 965-7922, sojournercafe.com
It is a bittersweet victory for the “Soj” this year, as they closed their doors for the last time shortly after voting for Best Of ended. Long celebrated as one of Santa Barbara’s healthiest and most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly places to eat out, they also, obviously, had one heck of a dessert menu. While ice cream for diets of all ilk was always available, it was the daily rotating dishes where the true magic happened. Things such as vegan chocolate-peanut-butter cake, raw lemon-avocado mousse, gluten-free honey-sweetened peach cobbler, and black-bottom banana cream pie are but a sampling of the treats that awaited you after dinner. So long, old friend. We will miss you.
Finalist: The Andersen’s Restaurant & Bakery
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant
3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez, 688-6899, trattoriagrappolo.com
Quaint, cozy, and utterly unassuming, Trattoria Grappolo is the little Italian bistro that could. Just a click off the increasingly well-beaten path through the Santa Ynez Valley, Chef Leonardo Curti’s place has been quietly blowing people’s minds since opening back in 1997. It is authentic Italian cuisine in the heart of S.B. County’s wine country. This means linguine, capellini, handmade raviolis, and wood-fired pizzas, and, of course, a stunning array of wines grown both far and near. This is the type of restaurant that, should you stumble upon it by accident, you will end up blabbering about fondly for years to come.
Finalist: S.Y. Kitchen
Milk & Honey
30 W. Anapamu St., 275-4232, milknhoneytapas.com
For eight years and counting, Milk & Honey has been setting the standard for appetizers in our Best Of elections. Dedicated to tapas since the day their doors opened, virtually everything on their menu could qualify as an appetizer. However, what the dishes may lack in size, they more than make up for in flavor. Things like honey lamb pops, bacon-wrapped dates, habanero-barbecue pulled-pork sliders, and brie cheese with caramelized shallots, green apples, and balsamic reduction would be signature apps at most other restaurants, but here at Milk & Honey, they are simply part of a delicious chorus of smaller plates. The creative cocktail menu, throwback silent cartoons on the flat screen, and an intimate, appetizer-sized atmosphere only work to enhance the entire experience.
Finalist: Alcazar Tapas Bar
Many locations, cajunkitchencafe.com
In a town like ours, where fun is a fundamental part of the community program, it is important to have places where eating breakfast is a tasty and worthwhile option all day long. Cajun Kitchen is just such a place, assuming you can get a table. Belly-busting omelets under $10, savory beignets, a variety of scrambles, shrimp and andouille grits, biscuits and gravy, pancake combos, and creole jambalaya with eggs are but a few of the reasons why the Jimenez family wins this category on a practically annual basis. They also have a catfish wearing a sombrero as a logo, but that is a whole other brand of awesome.
Savoy Café & Deli
24 W. Figueroa St., 962-6611, thesavoycafe.com
Celebrating its 10-year anniversary this fall, Savoy boasts a salad bar that has been a mighty fine reason to celebrate since day one. Owner Paul Shields ran the “prepared food” department at Lazy Acres for years before striking out on his own and opening Savoy with the guiding principle of a good and proper salad bar at the heart of his business plan. With greens and veggies bought fresh and local twice a week and an impressive lineup of other salad goodies like organic chicken, grilled tofu, wild salmon, shelled edamame, and some three dozen additional options, it is safe to say that he has delivered on his vision.
Finalist: Chuck’s of Hawai‘i
1202 Chapala St., 560-6028, china-pavilion.com
Stately with its vibe, flavorful with its food, and quick and personable with its service, Peter Chen’s China Pavilion has become a perennial readers’ favorite. They use certified Angus beef, have S.B.’s only legit weekend dim sum menu, and have a full liquor license that allows for mai tais, scorpion bowls, and zombies. There’s also a big booth in the corner with a lazy Susan in the middle of the table that makes family-style share meals even more fun. China Pavilion may be popular for take-out, but it’s even better to sit down and enjoy.
Finalist: Mandarin Palace
Flavor of India
3026 State St., 682-6561, flavorofindia.net
“Simple, fresh, and home-style Indian cooking,” explains Raj Josan when pressed for insight into the secret of success for his family’s eatery, “and consistency. We try to keep the quality of our food high at all times, no matter the meal or time.” Everything is made from scratch at Flavor of India and has been since they first opened in 1991, serving northern Indian cuisine. Two traditional tandoori ovens are the workhorses of the kitchen, pumping out skewered meats and fluffy fresh naan and chapati. Imported art and fabrics line the walls, adding to what is among the most sensually arresting places to eat on the South Coast.
Finalist: The India Club
37 E. Victoria St., 884-9419, cadario.net
It isn’t easy to be head of the class when it comes to high-quality Italian cuisine here in Santa Barbara, but Ca’ Dario has been doing it for years and is showing no signs of letting up. Head chef and honcho Dario Furlati spent time in his fair share of kitchens before making Ca’ Dario his primary focus, most of them elegant and excellent Italian spots both here in S.B. and around the world. His warm and inviting mahogany-walled flagship has a staff that is eager to please and northern Italian food that has been keeping our readers licking their lips and coming back for more since the beginning.
Finalist: Olio e Limone Ristorante
Mexican Restaurant • Salsa
Many locations, los-agaves.com
For a city that takes its Mexican food seriously, the fact that Los Agaves has risen to the top in a relatively short period of time is not to be overlooked. Carlos Luna opened the first incarnation of Los Agaves on Milpas Street just seven years ago and, spurred by the immense popularity there, has since opened three more locations between Goleta and Westlake. Lines out the door at all of them are more common than not. With a focus on fresh ingredients, a regularly rotating specials menu, and an appreciation for dishes that look as beautiful on the plate as they taste on your tongue, Luna and company are clearly onto something. And while it is hard to go wrong with their menu, things like their zucchini-blossom quesadillas, mole enchiladas, and piping-hot, stone-bowled “land and sea” molcajetes are sure to impress even the most jaded of south-of-the-border palates.
Finalist: Los Arroyos
South Coast Deli
Many locations, southcoastdeli.com
The only bad thing that can be said about South Coast is that during peak lunch hours, the place is impossibly popular. Other than that, it is hard to find a chink in the armor of this slick and outwardly energized local chain. You can get cold sammies, toasted sammies, triple-decker sammies, paninis, homemade soups, and salads. They cover the basics with style, taste, and a touch of humor (hello, “Mmmm Balls,” the meatball sub), and venture into more creative territory with a rotating Sammie of the Week. Since 1991, they and their superhero mascot, Deli Boy, have been saving Santa Barbarians from a less-than-delicious lunch, and clearly our readers know it.
Finalist: Three Pickles
1225 State St., 965-6074, arigatosb.com
Even with a surge in new sushi spots around town, Arigato remains at the top of the heap. The menu is a great balance of exotic and familiar, the ambiance is similarly balanced between upscale elegance and hip youthfulness, the dishes come out looking like fine art and taste even better, and the chefs have — thankfully — resisted the recent sushi trend of putting bright-colored sauces all over their rolls. Add it up, and this place is a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser for even the most uppity of sushi snobs, and the wait times for a table show it.
Finalist: Sushi Teri
22 N. Milpas St., 966-5151
If it seems as if Your Place has been winning Best Thai Restaurant around these parts since we started giving out the award many years ago, well, you might actually be right. At least nobody around Independent HQ can recall a time when this funky little lower-Milpas eatery, with its large aquarium, private booths, and upside-down umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, hasn’t been picked by voters as Thai Spot Numero Uno. While their menu doesn’t deviate much from the staples of a typical stateside Thai eatery, they don’t really need to, as they deliver favorites like spicy mint noodle, panang curry, garlic-pepper beef, and tom kha soup (complete with Sterno flame) at such a high and consistent level. Their daily $8.95 lunch special is equally hard to beat.
Finalist: Tap Thai Cuisine
Chuck’s of Hawai‘i
3888 State St., 687-4417, chucksofhawaii.com
Tiki torches, aloha shirts, captains’ chairs, a popular salad bar, and a dimly lit atmosphere that smacks more of the aged steakhouse it is than any similarly light-challenged romantic hot spot, Chuck’s of Hawai‘i has been a pillar of upper State Street since the late 1960s. Generations of Santa Barbarians have celebrated birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and assorted other special occasions in the place that Larry Stone built. Now, nearly 50 years after it opened, it endures as the local steak emporium by which all others are measured by our readers.
Finalist: Holdren’s Steaks & Seafood
Woody’s Bodacious Barbecue
5112 Hollister Ave., 967-3775, woodysbbq.com
Three years ago, on the occasion of their 30th Anniversary, Woody’s figured they had served up some six million pounds of their trademark ribs since first opening in 1982. With scores of events catered and three more Best Of wins notched since then, who knows what that number is up to now. Large and affordable portions are the name of the game at Gino Stabile’s place, whether you are ordering southern-style pork rib tips, beef BBQ ribs, baby-back ribs, spare ribs, or St. Louis ribs. As an added bonus, the collection of license plates, street signs, and animal heads and assorted other weirdness on the walls, plus the small gang of video games in the back, make this place a world of wonder for kids.
Finalist: Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch
The Habit Burger Grill
Many locations, habitburger.com
Born in Santa Barbara in 1969, the Habit’s Charburger has been a critical and juicy part of the South Coast’s diet ever since. More backyard barbecue than high-priced gourmet, their signature comes with mayonnaise, pickles, fresh tomato, lettuce, and caramelized onions on a toasted bun. However, the Habit crew isn’t afraid to dress things up without taking a big bite out of your wallet. The teriyaki option (with pineapple), the mushroom char, or the “Santa Barbara Style” (comes with avocado, of course!) are but a few of the ways you can ramp up the classic. Our readers aren’t alone in their froth for the Habit. Just last year, Consumer Reports named our little local the best-tasting burger chain in the country!
The Natural Café
Many locations, thenaturalcafe.com
There is no question why the Natural Café has won Best Veggie Burger yet again this year. The longtime, health-conscious regional chain has been serving up tasty eats that treat your body right since the beginning. The more pressing question is, which of the veggie burgers on their menu are people actually voting for? Is it the soy patty Natural Burger or the whole-grain-and-veggie patty Zen Burger or the tempeh veggie patty Good Karma Burger?
Finalist: The Habit Burger Grill
Many locations, cucasrestaurant.com
These burritos are enormous. We are talking forearm-sized elephant chokers that almost always survive until your next meal. And the size isn’t some thinly veiled makeup effort for lack of quality; each of these behemoths is packing major power in the taste and quality department. There are no canned beans or other less-than-fresh ingredients at Super Cucas, and their meat is well-seasoned and superior to most. There may be a wait, and you may have to unbutton the top of your pants before finishing, but there is no denying Cucas’ popularity, as they have won Best Burrito from our readers every year since opening in 1991.
Finalist: Freebirds World Burrito
Two locations, lillystacos.com
It is simple, people: Go to the dead end of Chapala, where the road hits Highway 101, and prepare your taste buds for taco time done right. There are no distractions once you are under the telltale teal awning, just a straight-up authentic street-taco emporium of world-class proportions. From grilled standards like carne asada, chicken, and adobada to steamed exotics like labio (beef lip), ojo (beef eye), and lengua (beef tongue), Lilly’s remains the undisputed Queen in a town that has gone taco crazy in recent years.
Finalist: La Super-Rica
Many locations, rustyspizza.com
It was nearly 50 years ago that the first Rusty’s pizza parlor opened in Isla Vista. Nowadays, the hyper-regional chain has seven spots scattered around the South Coast and an advertising history that includes a series of accidentally hilarious commercials featuring the late, great Jim Varney (a k a Ernest). Rusty’s has been a Best Of regular for decades, and this year is no different. They are the kings of pizza delivery around these parts (as well as hot wings, subs, and salads), can host a pretty darn fun pizza party inside any one of their respective eateries, and have a tremendously affordable and filling lunch special.
Finalist: Olio Pizzeria
The Palace Grill
8 E. Cota St., 963-5000, palacegrill.com
“It is not just food; it is an experience,” says General Manager Errol Williams of The Palace. And what an experience it is. Wait staff is hired less for résumé experience than “for attitude,” says Williams, the latter being a key ingredient in the Cajun/Creole restaurant’s unique team-service approach. There is a magician on hand every Friday night making the rounds, every Saturday features a full jazz band to serenade you while you wait for a table, and every Tuesday is a weekly celebration of Fat Tuesday. And, above all else, no matter the day, “we treat everyone like they are a guest in our home,” sums up Williams.