They say you’re not supposed to grocery shop on an empty stomach, but Santa Barbara offers many specialty markets that also serve great food for your post-shopping pleasure. If you’ve mastered the salad bar at Lazy Acres and the breakfast fare at Cantwell’s, here are four ways to branch out into more ethnic eats around town.
European Deli Market: A wall of imported vodkas, fresh produce, and all kinds of Russian, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern delicacies await in this Noleta store. As you wander and ponder between the smoked mackerel, the freezer full of pierogi, or braided Armenian string cheese, get your sandwich order on at the deli portion of this market. The list of salami is vast, so we recommend putting that in the center of your sandwich. For your bread and pastry needs, check out the extensive lavash and pita options. Near the register are also some incredible black poppy-seed pastries and other nutty goodies worth trying. 4422 Hollister Ave.; (805) 964-6600
Guadalajara Market & Deli: Bags of chicharrones (fried pork rinds) greet you at the deli/meat counter of this Westside mini-mart where they serve up some quality tortas. You have several different options, but I went with the tri-tip/carne asada. When they ask if you want cilantro and onions, you must say yes. This one decision will make all the difference in the sandwich. At the checkout counter, another question awaits: “Rojo o verde?,” referring to the salsas. The red is fire. This sandwich doesn’t look pretty — the bread keeps wanting to slip off — but the magic happens in your mouth, where it all becomes one. When you bite it, you get it. The steak is sliced thin, and the fresh cilantro and strong onions are begging to be paired with a Mexican beer from the cooler in the back. 601 W. De la Guerra St.; (805) 965-4130
Tino’s Italian Grocery: This downtown Italian market is gourmet-meets-neighborhood joint. When you aren’t lured by tubs of ravioli and gelato or fancy truffle salt, you’re ordering a legit original Italian sub at the counter. The menu is simple: regular, deluxe, and super deluxe. The regular has Molinari Salami, Coppa, Galantina, and Two Way; Swiss and American cheese; mayonnaise; mustard; and oil. And the Super Deluxe kicks it up a notch with the addition of lettuce, tomato, pepperoncino, and ham. Like all good, simple menus, you are free to modify, but their combo of cold cuts and cheeses should not be messed with — it’s been served that way since the 1940s, when the market was on East De la Guerra Street. 210 W. Carrillo St.; (805) 966-6041; tinositaliangrocery.com
Choi’s Oriental Market & Gifts: This is your home for sake sets, insane instant ramen flavors, and Japanese gummy candies. That’s why you come, but the hospitality and wonderful Korean food are why you stay. Order at the front of the store, and sit outside and wait for your delicious bowl, stew, soup, noodle, or chef’s choice to come to you. I highly recommend the Soondubu Jjigae, a hot and spicy soft-tofu stew. It comes with rice and some banchan, including spicy pickles, boiled potato, and kimchi. This stew with an egg on top is so delicate that you can’t discern by texture if it’s tofu or a soft-boiled egg-white bit. Each spoonful is delicate and creamy, and despite many dips in the pot, there is still so much left.
The best part is you don’t have to wait for a nice day to sit outside, because this stew will warm you right up. Equally warming to your heart is the employee who remembers your name and reminds, “If you have limited time for lunch, just call ahead, and your bowl will be waiting for you.” Return visit guaranteed. 185 S. Patterson Ave., Goleta; (805) 683-1892