Health Food/Nutrition Store
Lazy Acres Market
302 Meigs Rd., 564-4410, lazyacres.com
Easy access to the shoreline, great views from the Douglas Family Preserve, close to downtown but feels like a sleepy surf town — there are plenty of reasons why so many love to live on the Mesa, one of Santa Barbara’s proudest neighborhoods. But Lazy Acres sits right near the top of that list, and it’s the primary reason so many of us from other parts of town find ourselves in the area, wandering the aisles in search of the latest nutritional godsend, herbal elixir, or trendy get-well beverage. This award specifically calls out the market’s healthy offerings, but Lazys (as it’s colloquially known) also offers a vibrant selection of fresh-made deli items, whose wholesome ingredients make for great medicine themselves.
Finalist: Trader Joe’s
Cantwell’s Market & Deli
1533 State St., 966-3902, cantwellsmarket.com
“Great food, friendly service, and the consistency of excellence” is why cashier Rick Wright believes Cantwell’s Market & Deli at State and Arrellaga streets is our readers’ favorite for everyday eats. Its deli offers great made-to-order as well as grab-’n’-go options, its wine offerings run the gamut from gourmet to super-affordable, and its snack options, while featuring classic Americana, lean heavily into the organic and trendy. That combo is corner-store gold.
Finalist: Santa Cruz Market
Fresh Fish Market
Santa Barbara Fish Market
117 Harbor Wy., Ste. A, 965-9564, sbfish.com
It’s almost like cheating: Where else are you going to find the freshest fish in town than down by where the fishing boats park in the Santa Barbara Harbor? That’s where the Santa Barbara Fish Market has sold right-off-the-boat cuts of halibut, salmon, sea bass, and black cod for more than 15 years, not to mention tons of shellfish, seafood salads, and all the fixings you need to make your dinner delicious. “Being best shows that our patrons appreciate the ongoing effort Santa Barbara Fish Market team members make to provide our community with the very freshest seafood and great service,” said Brian Colgate, the market’s president and operations director. “Thanks to all who voted for us! We are grateful for their passion of seafood and for supporting the Santa Barbara Fish Market!”
Finalist: Kanaloa Seafood Market
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market
Multiple locations, 962-5354, sbfarmersmarket.org
Where does one go to find the freshest produce straight from a farmer? It’s a no-brainer, when the Santa Barbara Farmers Market runs markets six days a week from Solvang to Carpinteria. “We are surrounded by a thriving agricultural sector, rich soil, and pristine weather. These are ideal growing conditions for everything from beets, carrots, and lettuce to avocados, dragon fruit, Satsuma mandarins, and figs,” said longtime manager Sam Edelman. “The face-to-face experience between our local agricultural producers and customers is amazing — seeing happy kids with a fresh spring strawberry, and those excited for a new culinary experience when encountering something they had never seen before.”
Finalist: Tri-County Produce
Ice Cream Shop
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
728 State St., 324-4402, mcconnells.com
Owner Michael Palmer calls the award “galvanizing” to his employees, explaining, “We’re engaged in a continuous process of bettering everything we do: our products, our processes, and, of course, our service.” Five years ago, Palmer and his wife, Eva Ein, took over the iconic creamery, which began in 1949, and set out expanding flavors and distribution beyond the Central Coast. Now it’s a household name in Los Angeles too, but it remains a Santa Barbara institution, with a flagship on State Street in the heart of downtown. “We will never stop trying to be better,” said Palmer. “Getting recognized for it just means that we’re fortunate enough that people notice.”
Finalist: Rori’s Artisanal Creamery
Frozen Yogurt Shop
Multiple locations, yogurt-land.com
Eui and Amanda Oh’s family moved to Santa Barbara nine years ago to open Yogurtland, and it quickly became a favorite for those seeking a cool, creamy treat, with a second location hitting Goleta in 2013. They believe the hands-on, DIY system of their fro-yo is why their self-serve lines are so jam-packed. “You can customize your creation your own way, as much or as little as you want,” said Eui. “The best part of owning Yogurtland here in Santa Barbara is that we want to create positive experiences, making someone’s bad day good or someone’s good day great! We hear all the time that parents bring in their kids to enjoy our healthy yogurt because it’s a great bonding experience with their family.”
Finalist: The Lovin’ Spoonful
15 W. Gutierrez St., 965-5956, chocolatemaya.com
Since 2007, when Maya Schoop-Rutten opened her eponymous chocolate store on lower State Street, the Swiss-born chocolatier has been entertaining our collective sweet tooth, educating all about the wonders of the cacao plant, and advocating for sustainable options. She credits the “gourmandism of our customers; the wonderful, laid-back atmosphere; and the vista out of our kitchen windows” as keys to success. “All of us at Chocolate Maya have great pride in being voted the best, and we will never stop trying to be even better!” she said.
Finalist: See’s Candies
Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Multiple locations, renaudsbakery.com
When Renaud and Nicole Gonthier opened their first patisserie in Loreto Plaza back in January 2008, Santa Barbara’s understanding of real French croissants changed overnight. The power pastry couple — he’s the chef, she’s the business pro — have expanded to other locations (with more on the way!), a partnership with Gelson’s, and a wholesale business, but Renaud’s remains the best place for fresh-baked anything. “We maintain a commitment to excellence in every aspect, from meticulous production to refined packaging to warm service to a fond farewell,” said Renaud. “Santa Barbara is a family-oriented community, and at its heart, we are a family business. It’s the perfect location to call home.”
Finalist: Jeannine’s American Bakery & Restaurant
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
2981 Cliff Dr., 898-2628, boathousesb.com
Whether it’s January or July, you can expect Boathouse’s glassed-in patio to be packed. If you’re lucky, you can squeeze into the few seats at the outdoor bar. It’s the who’s who of Santa Barbara while still being perfectly casual. The people watching (and dog watching) at Hendry’s Beach will keep you entertained all day. And if it’s Sunday (or any day that ends with “y”), chances are you’ll want Boathouse’s award-winning Bloody Mary, the perfect mix of spicy tomato, vodka, celery, olives, horseradish, pepper, and lemon. It’s practically a juice cleanse, especially if you have two.
Finalist (Sidewalk Café/Patio): Zaytoon
Finalist (Bloody Mary): Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
Multiple locations, spudnutsdonutssb.com
Spudnuts of Santa Barbara, which includes shops in Isla Vista and Goleta, follows the potato-based dough recipe invented by the Pelton brothers of Salt Lake City back in 1939. But that hasn’t changed the visceral reaction of its fans to the classic doughnut-shop aromas. “I remember two boys running into the doughnut shop, and one boy shouted, ‘Let it run through your nose! The smell, the smell! We’re here! Doughnuts! We are here for you!’” recalls manager Dolly Chang, who started the franchises more than 15 years ago. “They both just stood there on their tippy toes and took a big whiff with their eyes closed.” She loves being a part of people’s daily routine, explaining, “My favorite part of the job is to see how fast we can make someone smile with just a bite of a doughnut and a sip of coffee.”
Finalist: Eller’s Donuts
Crushcakes & Café
Multiple locations, crushcakes.com
It’s been nearly a decade since this cupcake-baking hub — not to mention quite a reliably tasty café — opened on the corner of Anacapa Street and Arlington Avenue, and it continues winning in this category that might as well have been created just for it. “Crushcakes Café is my dream, my passion, what I think about when I go to bed, and what I think about when I wake up in the morning,” said owner Shannon Gaston, who is looking to expand into more catering, wedding cakes, and, maybe, Portland, Oregon. “I am always imagining how we can do things better, what new menu items we can provide, and how to be the best we can be. Recently a customer thanked me for having a very ‘progressive menu.’ That meant a lot to me because I really take the time to try new things, such as our new Urban Tacos, which are gluten-free and vegan!”
Finalist: Enjoy Cupcakes
Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels
Two locations, bagelnet.com
Everything from rainbow bagels to proposals in their restaurants have been part of the Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels experience, said proprietor Doralee Jacobson, as she laughed heartily. And well she might. Since opening in 1995, her bagelry has won Best Bagel for the past 22 years. Jack’s easily bakes a million of the noshables a year, redolent with the high-gluten flour the bakers use to create a superior crust. And the tried-and-true remain Jacobson’s customers’ favorite: plain bagels with regular cream cheese.
Finalist: Bagel Café
6940 Marketplace Dr., Goleta, 770-5388, janeatthemarketplace.com
Buzz has been building about Jane at the Marketplace, a larger, outdoorsier version of Jane on State Street. Host Tara Egger attributed it to a “really exquisite atmosphere” that marks the cozy yet beautiful spot out at one of the most popular destinations on the South Coast. The phenomenal happy hour doesn’t hurt — the blood-orange margarita and lavender lemonade are big favorites, she mentioned — nor does the restaurant’s Jane’s Burger, a melt-in-your-mouth concoction of caramelized onions, gouda cheese, and a homemade bun topped with sesame seeds. Gourmet comfort food, indeed.
Finalist: Los Agaves
686 Linden Ave., Carpinteria, 684-6666, slysonline.com
Listening to James Sly talk about the crusty French loaves his restaurant bakes, or its Sunday chicken pot pies or the sand dabs — rated a “best choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch — is enough to make a person swoon even before Sly begins to mention the desserts of local berries or a sundae made with Rori’s outrageously delicious ice cream. Lucky Carpinterians can just stroll on over to Linden Avenue for a taste, something lots of people drive to do from all around. Praising his skilled kitchen staff and friendly wait and bar staff, Sly modestly said, “We are honored to have been chosen.”
Finalist: Padaro Beach Grill
Isla Vista Restaurant
Freebirds World Burrito
879 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista, 968-0123, freebirdsislavista.com
Freebirds World Burrito is a phenomenon unto itself, one of the best reasons to get in the car and head over to Isla Vista (aside from the beaches and its giant scholarly neighbor’s libraries, museums, and theatrical performances, of course). Mark Orfalea’s burrito stand has been keeping students from starving for three decades now, heaping giant flour tortillas with a fresh, healthy smorgasbord of beans and rice, veggies, meats, and cheese, not to mention a complete complement of salsas and the potential to order nachos or a quesarrito just for variety’s sake. Best of all, they’re open into the wee hours of the morning.
Finalist: Woodstock’s Pizza
The Honor Bar
1255 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 969-6964, honorbar.com
In just over two years, The Honor Bar has risen to top our readers’ favorites list as the place to dine in Montecito. General manager Nicholas Asoli didn’t even have to pause to think about what people most liked to order: “When I talk with our guests, they want to know about the crispy chicken sandwich; it is so popular.” And accompanying that buttermilk fried chicken with spicy slaw and baby Swiss tends to be the Honor Bar Margarita, the hands-down favorite on the cocktail menu, splashed with limes and lemons fresh-squeezed every morning.
Finalist: Los Arroyos
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant
Cold Spring Tavern
5995 Stagecoach Rd., 967-0066, coldspringtavern.com
“There’s nothing like us around, anywhere,” says general manager Donna Mudge, former owner of Sojourner Café, on what makes Cold Spring Tavern such a special place. “We’ve got the history, the location up in the mountains and in the trees, and it feels like a family.” From legendary tri-tip bluegrass brunches to gourmet game like venison, rabbit, and rattlesnake, the romantic saloon is a Santa Ynez Valley treasure that’s drawn traveling gourmands for decades. “We’re glad we’re still here and we made it through the fire, and we can all still have a place [where] everyone can come and gather and eat.”
Finalist: Industrial Eats
Milk & Honey
30 W. Anapamu St., 275-4232, milknhoneytapas.com
“Winning best Appetizers/Tapas for the 11th year in a row really feels like a milestone to us at Milk & Honey,” says front-of-house manager Julia McAdams. “Not only is it a pat on the back for our efforts … but it challenges us to best ourselves and continue to challenge ourselves to keep up with the ever-evolving dining scene in Santa Barbara.” Year after year, our readers love their small, flavorful, inventive bites, like prosciutto bundles with goat cheese, apricot, wildflower honey, and balsamic, or the Lamburgini lamb sliders with raisins and pesto. “We could go on,” McAdams says of the tantalizing small bites, “but part of the fun is deciding for yourself!”
Multiple locations, cajunkitchencafe.com
It’s the crack of dawn, you’re hungry, and you know where you’re going to go before you even shut off the alarm clock: Cajun Kitchen. Serving everyone from area families who bond over blackened meats and gumbo to police officers starting their morning shifts over beignets to bleary-eyed Isla Vista itinerants seeking hangover cures, Cajun Kitchen is nothing short of a breakfast institution to all walks of life. Breakfast excellence, it seems, is something of a family tradition there. “This award makes us appreciate all of the hard work our father [Richard] did throughout the years and inspires us to continue his legacy,” co-owner Juan Jimenez says.
Finalist: Jeannine’s American Bakery & Restaurant
Bella Vista at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
1260 Channel Dr., 969-2261, fourseasons.com/santabarbara
Of all mealtimes, none has seen such a recent renaissance as brunch, with drawn-out morning dine-outs of craft cocktails and eggy delights commanding Instagram foodie feeds. To our readers, there is no better place to make your lazy Sunday a luxurious one than Bella Vista, the Four Seasons Resort’s oceanside eatery, where you can indulge in champagne brunch, raw seafood, house-cured charcuterie, a rotating selection of carved meats, and beautiful desserts. Bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys are a good hook, says assistant food and beverage manager Tatiana Konovalov, but “the occasional dolphin sighting is the cherry on top!”
Finalist: Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
The Blue Owl
5 W. Canon Perdido St., 705-0991, blueowlsb.com
It’s late, you’re strolling (or slightly stumbling) down State Street with a grumbling stomach following your evening festivities, and where do you turn? Our readers like to head down Canon Perdido to The Blue Owl, the long-standing late-night haven that’s taken up roost in their hearts and gullets ever since it graduated from its Zen Yai pop-up space. Crazy good munchies like the Thai Basil Cheeseburger, the Crabmelt, and the Kimcheezer satisfy the kind of cravings you never knew you had ’til then. Should your hungers or labors linger into the dawn, they have brunch now, too.
Savoy Café & Deli
24 W. Figueroa St., 962-6611, thesavoycafe.com
With over 41 delicious and incredibly healthful ingredients to pick from, including an entire farm’s worth of vegetables, house-roasted meats, and homemade dressings, it’s no surprise why Savoy Café & Deli ranks as our readers’ favorite salad bar, and has year after year. Cofounder Paul Shields expressed deep gratitude to his loyal customers. “We simply wouldn’t be able to be doing what we love without all the support, encouragement, and appetites that everyone brings to us day after day!” he said. “Thank you to all who continue to fuel your bodies with clean, green salads!”
Finalist: Chuck’s of Hawai‘i
1202 Chapala St., 560-6028, china-pavilion.com
Dim sum and then some — for chowing down on Chinese eats, China Pavilion is the place to go. Our readers love the bounty of dumplings, buns, wraps, and rolls that head chef Peter Chen whips up with exceptional skill, along with an exhaustive menu of favorites, from orange chicken to steamed fish to authentic Szechuan hot pots. Serenely beautiful décor and a kind serving staff add to the charm in the Chapala spot, with its atmospherics heightening the savory flavors.
Finalist: Mandarin Palace
9 W. Victoria St., 730-1160, bouchonsantabarbara.com
According to our readers, bouchon c’est magnifique for whipping out classic dishes like salade Lyonnaise, French onion soup, and seared sea scallops with a Santa Barbara wine country twist. Just as our American Riviera recalls the French coast but with an incomparably Californian climate and vibe, locals and world travelers alike love how bouchon blends the culinary cultures. “Chef Greg Murphy has the best of both worlds,” says proprietor Mitchell Sjerven, as he combines classic techniques and “an abundance of local products” to help “elevate ‘old-school French’ to a fresher, more localized approach that modern diners crave.”
Finalist: Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Flavor of India
3026 State St., 682-6561, flavorofindia.net
A perennial favorite, Flavor of India has drawn the admiration of readers for over two decades. That must be some good karma there, or at least some very good food. Its all-you-can-eat lunch buffet remains a great deal, its curries are as creamy and delicately spiced as they come, and vegans will go happy here with the very veggie-forward menu. With other Indian restaurants having come and gone in Santa Barbara, it’s all the more a testament to Flavor of India’s quality that it continues to be our readers’ favorite.
37 E. Victoria St., 884-9419, cadario.net
In 2017, Ca’Dario celebrated its 20th anniversary, and 20 years on, the trattoria remains an enduring favorite for exquisite northern Italian food. While it’s known for its bubbling-hot-fresh pizza and rich, rustic ravioli, Dario Furlati says it’s his restaurant’s staff that deserves the real credit. “They have helped keep the consistency of food and service. The award should go to them,” he says. With Goleta and Public Market expansions expected in the coming months, readers will have even more Ca’Dario to choose from. Mangia!
Finalist: Via Maestra 42
Multiple locations, los-agaves.com
“Mil gracias!” say Los Agaves owners Carlos and Christian Luna to our readers, who picked the ever-expanding S.B. staple as their favorite Mexican restaurant in town. Calling it “an incredible honor,” the owners thank “our dedicated team of employees that work so hard every day, our loyal customers that we are lucky to call friends, and the great communities that we are proud to be a part of.” And part they are: With more locations than ever, there’s hardly a corner in town where you’d be bereft of their delicious burritos mojados, salmon tacos, and extensive salsa bar. From happy customers, the gratitude is mutual.
Finalist: Los Arroyos
Rusty’s Pizza Parlor
Multiple locations, 564-1111, rustyspizza.com
My next-door neighbor has Rusty’s Pizza delivered at least three times a week. It’s delicious, tasty, and always on time. There might be as many Rusty’s Pizza delivery cars as there are taxis in the city of Santa Barbara. With seven locations from Carpinteria to Goleta, Rusty’s is always just a short drive away. If you decide to dine in, you will for sure share the space with AYSO teams, Little Leagues, and boys’ and girls’ 6th birthday parties.
Finalist: Olio Pizzeria
22 N. Milpas St., Ste. A, 966-5151
“We did it again after 34 years of being the ‘best,’” says co-owner Kris. Year after year, Your Place has been the place for Thai in S.B. according to our readers, who crave its curries, drunken noodles, and sumptuous soups. The Eastside institution earns extra props for its fabulous décor. As for its recipe for success, it’s pretty simple. “People like our food, and we are proud of it,” Pawana says. “Thank you, and we love you!”
Finalist: Tap Thai Cuisine
1225 State St., 965-6074, arigatosb.com
A temple for creative takes on sushi, Arigato is still spoken of with unparalleled reverence among raw-fish fanatics years after its opening. From the Fiesta roll, with its spicy kick, to the delicately drizzled bluefin tuna carpaccio to the Rincon Magic sushi pizza, Arigato’s oh-so-S.B. reimaginings of classic sushi make it the no-brainer destination for refined raw and seared offerings. Chef and owner Bill Kaneko, the culinary wizard behind these creations, says he and the restaurant staff gladly accept the award with “honor” and “pride.”
Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
119 Harbor Wy., 966-4418, brophybros.com
Always jam-packed with diners clamoring for its clam chowder (a perennial Best Of winner), fish ’n’ chips, and fresh, raw oysters, the popular Brophy Bros. ranks as the seafood favorite for our readers. Whether it’s savory grilled offerings like sea bass or swordfish or crunchy fried shrimp and calamari, the seafood’s served straight-up here and best enjoyed with one of Brophy’s marvelous Bloody Marys. With sweeping views of mountains and mariners unloading their day’s catch, the Bros.’ sunset-perfect atmosphere assures the crowds will remain happy as clams.
Finalist: Lure Fish House
1919 Cliff Dr., 963-4474, mesaverderestaurant.com
Greening the Mesa neighborhood with a cornucopia of creative vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes, Mesa Verde makes a natural choice for our readers’ favorite veggie food stop. Nowhere else in town offers such imaginatively concocted meat- and dairy-free dishes like these, with jackfruit “chorizo,” pulled smoked mushroom, and cashew cheese holding their own as exciting centerpieces in tacos, sandwiches, and salads. For green gastronomes, it’s the top of the crop.
Finalist: The Natural Café
South Coast Deli
Multiple locations, southcoastdeli.com
A daily buzz and bustle surrounds South Coast Deli, our readers’ favorite spot to grab a sandwich. The sammies stack high with almost any meat a luncher could want, the lines run long, and smiles abound on both sides of the counter. It’s all about the customer service, says Richie Gonzalez at the Chapala branch, as they aim to make the deli “your home away from home.” Gissel Castano-Diaz at the Patterson location says, “The amount of smiles and good energy interchanged is unreal. Oftentimes I go home after a day of work with sore cheeks from all the smiling I did!”
Finalist: Three Pickles
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
38 W. Victoria St., Ste. 109, 335-2426, emptybowlnoodle.com
In S.B.’s rapidly rising ramen scene, the 20-seat, 640-square-foot Public Market noodle bar, Empty Bowl, beat out the competition. A few slurps in, it’s easy to taste why: Here, flavors run deep, with unctuous goodness inspired by the street markets of Thailand, bolstered by stick-to-your-rib ingredients such as filet mignon and stewed chicken. “It means everything,” said co-owner Jerry Lee of the award. “You don’t become successful in this town without the support of those around you. This award is shared with everyone who has ever taken a chance on us and given us opportunities to thrive.” Here’s to many more years, and many more happily emptied bowls.
Finalist: Noodle City
The Habit Burger Grill
Multiple locations, habitburger.com
A Santa Barbara original, The Habit is now a publicly traded enterprise with 189 restaurants. Its hamburgers are to die for, and its shakes are even better (try mixing strawberry and chocolate). If it’s the lunch hour, it’s packed. You can also identify it by the plumes of smokes coming off the charbroiled grills that look like they’d fit in at a Hawaiian roadside barbecue shack. You’ll eat on a picnic bench, and regardless of the season, the first juicy bite will make you feel as though it’s a hot summer day.
The Natural Café
Multiple locations, thenaturalcafe.com
The Natural Café is a healthy restaurant that is actually healthy, and the kind of place you actually want to go to every week. Sit outside on the patio and feel like it’s not Monday at noon. It has huge, hearty salads; beautifully stacked deli sandwiches; and a selection of soups. But it’s prized for its veggie burgers. Try the Good Karma Burger. And don’t even think about skimping on the avocado or jack cheese.
Finalist: The Habit Burger Grill
410 E. Haley St., 845-3995, wildwoodkitchensb.com
Located inside the new hipster Haley Street hangout known as The Mill, Wildwood Kitchen has a rustic wood-framing-and-exposed-brick ambience. Sit inside to watch the chef in the open kitchen, or head to the sunny patio. The first thing you’ll be presented with is five different sauces: super-hot habanero, coffee, traditional, mustard, and jalapeño. If you are unsure where to start, opt for the Sampler Platter. It’s filled with chicken, tri-tip, and ribs, each grilled to perfection. The salads are huge; the kale is garnished with cranberries and fried onions. Wash it all down with a Tea & T — Earl Grey–infused Tanqueray on the rocks.
Finalist: Cold Spring Tavern
Chuck’s of Hawai‘i
3888 State St., 687-4417, chucksofhawaii.com
It’s dark, it’s romantic, and the hand-cut steaks are perfect. The menu is on a lancer’s bottle. Don’t be fooled by the neighborhood made up of gas stations, banks, athletic clubs, and body shops. Once you walk into Chuck’s tiki-themed joint, you’ve entered a truly established Santa Barbara hangout. If you are not a carnivore, the seafood is also fresh and tasty. If you are a night owl, try the late-night food and drink menu, available from 9 p.m. until closing every night.
Multiple locations, cucasrestaurant.com
It’s not easy to master both the burrito and the breakfast burrito. Super Cucas, though, won first place for both. Owned by Rodolfo Rios, “Cucas,” as it’s known, prides itself on nearly three decades of service. Its flagship, the Micheltorena Street location on the Westside, has a meat counter, produce, and other groceries. It’s a real neighborhood joint with bulletin boards and gumball machines. One machine spits out dragon snot, which, in case you are wondering, is essentially noisy, stretchy, slimy, glittery goop.
Finalist (Burrito): Freebirds World Burrito
Finalist (Breakfast Burrito): Lito’s Mexican Food
Two locations, lillystacos.com
Don’t make the mistake of having friends in town for the weekend without taking them to Lilly’s. A hole-in-the-wall on the lower part of Chapala Street, the flagship location hugs the freeway (there’s also a location in Goleta’s Storke Plaza). It’s remarkably affordable (tacos are $1.94 each) and offers carne missing from most menus: cabeza (head), cachet (cheek), lengua (tongue), labio (lip), and ojo (eye). On the weekend, you can get tripas (that’s beef intestines). “If you want to be adventurous,” the server suggests you try the tongue, lip, or cheek. “If not, get the pork.”
Finalist: Corazón Cocina
8 E. Cota St., 963-5000, palacegrill.com
It makes perfect sense that a Cajun creole restaurant has Southern hospitality and, therefore, the best service in town. It feels like the waiter is reading your mind (I rarely even have to ask for the cornbread muffins and Cajun Martini.) The food is mouthwatering. Try the Gumbo Ya Ya and the rice and beans. You’ll be tempted to pocket the Tabasco sauce.
Finalist: The Lark