Best of Santa Barbara® 2018: Drinking
Handlebar Coffee Roasters
Two locations; handlebarcoffee.com
Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson spent the better part of a decade as professional cyclists, sipping hot drinks in café atmospheres between races in Spain, Germany, and France. Not bad. The couple then found Santa Barbara through the Amgen Tour of California and opened their first café on Canon Perdido a few years back, more recently expanding what we think will become a coffee-drinking empire to a high-ceilinged De la Vina Street space. They serve goodies from Renaud’s Patisserie, bagels from the I.V. Bagel Café, and locally made Twenty-Four Blackbirds chocolates.
Runner-Up: The Daily Grind
Vices & Spices
3558 State St.; 687-7196; vicesandspices.net
Here’s a place trapped in time that we hope never escapes. The homey atmosphere of this tea and coffee shop belies a world-class selection of herbs, spices, and teas that puts others to shame, but in a sweet, grandmotherly way. Unexpectedly, there are lovely little gifts to buy, too, and old-fashioned candy bins for the kiddies. A few tables up front serve as a meeting place for untold San Roque residents on foot. Even fewer chairs and benches out back are for hiding out and sipping in peace.
Runner-Up: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Juicery ● Smoothie Bar
Blenders in the Grass
Multiple locations; drinkblenders.com
We all know Blenders. But here’s something you maybe don’t know: The indomitable smoothie chain has a secret menu. It’s a selection of monthly specials you can actually order year-round: Apple Pie, PB & J, Peaches & Cream, Tropical Fuzz, and so on. The full list is online. Of course, there are a couple that only come out in December ― Candy Cane and Eggnog. And for those who want to go über-healthy, try a wheatgrass shot or a juice with ingredients ranging from orange to cucumber.
Runner-Up (Juicery): Juice Ranch
Runner-Up (Smoothie Bar): Backyard Bowls
Lure Fish House
3815 State St., Ste. G131; 618-1816; lurefishhouse.com
Snatching this Best Of title away from a longtime winner, Lure Fish House is on a roll. The Santa Barbara location opened in La Cumbre Plaza just a few short years ago but is already one of the best seafood joints around. To boot, our discerning readers ― who take their happy hours very seriously ― discovered the fresh fish and oysters here pair perfectly in the late afternoon/early evening with Lure’s deep selection of wine and cocktails. My personal favorite? A dozen Crystal Point oysters washed down with a couple of Salty Dogs.
Runner-Up: Enterprise Fish Co.
Beer Selection on Tap ● Funk Zone Spot
Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop
116 Santa Barbara St.; 880-3364; lamadog.com
With 20 constantly rotating beers on tap and 420 different beers in the coolers, it’s almost obvious that Lama Dog should be honored for its beer selection. But throw in 40 different wines, Norbert Schulz’s adjacent Nook eatery, and the Guilded Table artisans around the corner, and they’ve also won the highly competitive Funk Zone Spot award. Why does Lama Dog work well in the Funk Zone? “We were able create a welcoming yet funky atmosphere in which people of all ages feel comfortable,” said owner Pete Burnham, who opened on Friday the 13th in May 2016. “Lama Dog was built on our company values, so being recognized as the ‘best’ for both categories validates our intention to provide a positive and fun environment with superior service.”
Runner-Up (Beer Selection On Tap): Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
Runner-Up (Funk Zone Spot): The Lark
S.B. County Brewery
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
Multiple locations; figmtnbrew.com
There’s stiff competition in the Santa Barbara beer scene these days, but Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company enjoys both longevity (it was founded eight years ago) and multiple locations on their side, with more than six taprooms from Westlake Village to Arroyo Grande. Most around these parts know their Buellton headquarters and Funk Zone spot, but this award is also for their bottles and cans, which continue to expand.
Runner-Up: M.Special Brewing Company
Valley Tasting Room
2990-A Grand Ave., Los Olivos; 693-5100; carharttvineyard.com
There must be nearly 100 tasting rooms in the greater Santa Ynez Valley, and Los Olivos is home to the largest concentration, with more than four dozen crowding the tiny town’s cozy cottages. Yet Carhartt Vineyard rises above that fray, thanks to a homey, wood-cabin vibe. “Our tasting room patio feels like being in your own backyard with a pond, lots of shaded trees, and furniture all crafted from wine barrels,” said Chase Carhartt, whose family planted their 10-acre vineyard in 1996. “We are lucky to wake up every day and work with our hands, crafting something that is tangible but also triggers emotions and experiences in people from near and far.”
Runner-Up: Sunstone Vineyards & Winery
Urban Tasting Room ● S.B. County Winery
Grassini Family Vineyards
24 El Paseo; 897-3366; grassinifamilyvineyards.com
Grassini Family Vineyards made quite the splash when it became one of the first estate wineries in Happy Canyon more than a decade ago. But their true momentum to becoming the county’s top winery came by opening their tasting room in El Paseo in 2012. Love for their Bordeaux-variety wines only grew last December, when they moved to a bigger, more comfortable space in the same downtown complex, an instant award winner. “Our staff really makes a huge difference,” said Katie Grassini. “They’re friendly and welcoming, [they’re] knowledgeable about the wines, and they love to talk to guests about not just wine but also their experiences in Santa Barbara. This makes both locals and visitors feel welcome.”
Runner-Up (Urban Tasting Room): Jamie Slone Wines
Runner-Up (S.B. County Winery): Margerum Wine Company
Restaurant Wine List
813 Anacapa St.; 966-9463; winecask.com
Since 1982, the Wine Cask has been the beacon of fine wine in Santa Barbara, and its exalted wine list remains that way today, even as bottle shops have opened, tasting rooms have proliferated, and general wine culture has matured over the past four decades. “We have been incredibly fortunate to work some of the world’s greatest wines and winemakers, representing everything from vertical selections of old Brewer-Clifton pinot noir to iconic Grand Cru Burgundy, classic vintages of top Bordeaux producers, and boutique producers from all over California,” said wine director David Fainberg. “For us it’s a balance between classic producers and the vanguard. The key is not only sourcing icons from great vintages, but also keeping an eye out for cutting-edge producers with new and exciting wines.”
Runner-Up: Opal Restaurant & Bar
S.B. Wine Tour Company
Sustainable Vine Wine Tours
3981 La Colina Rd.; 698-3911; sustainablevinewinetours.com
Bryan Hope, who founded Sustainable Vine Wine Tours as one of the world’s first eco-minded tour companies in 2007, credits personal relationships and trust with him being able to get his clients unprecedented access to top-shelf estates. “All of our appointment-only locations deliver seated tastings and property tours hosted by wine-industry experts, often the property manager, winemaker, or owner,” said Hope, who aims to match each trip to the preferences of that day’s customers. “This creates a more engaging day, where personal stories become not only a part of the experience but also a part of the wine. We really care about our wine-growing region — its land, its people, its wine, and its reputation — and we like to think that translates into a genuine experience for our guests.”
Runner-Up: Stagecoach Wine Tours
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant
131 Anacapa St., Ste. B; 284-0380; lesmarchandswine.com
Part of the original Funk Zone development for Acme Hospitality back in August 2013, Les Marchands instantly became a hangout for those seeking handcrafted, estate-focused wines from around the world, including geeky outliers and obscure varieties. “Our guests appreciate Les Marchands’ knowledgeable staff because they guide them to discover and enjoy wines they may have not known about before,” said owner Sherry Villanueva. “Our goal is to create an intimidation-free experience for our guests to explore the wide world of wine either in our beautiful restaurant or in their own homes.”
Runner-Up: Savoy Wines
Martini ● Place for Craft Cocktails
The Good Lion
1212 State St.; 845-8754; goodlioncocktails.com
Santa Barbara’s craft cocktail game stepped into another league in November 2014, when mixology master Brandon Ristaino and his design-minded wife, Misty Orman, opened The Good Lion. “We believe that our guests love our craft cocktails because they see and know how much TLC goes into our work,” said Ristaino. “We spend a lot of our time discussing and balancing our cocktails, sourcing ingredients, chatting with local farms, debating/testing recipes, and trying to improve our guests’ experience in every way. We love what we do, and we think it shows in our cocktails.” And that winning martini? “If there is a trick, it’s to listen to our guests’ preferences on how they like their martini,” he said. “We’ve found over the years that the classic martini is a cocktail that is highly personalized, and folks seem to know what they want out of their own version of the drink.”
Runner-Up (Martini): Harry’s Plaza Café
Runner-Up (Place for Craft Cocktails): The Lark
119 State St.; 883-3593; santomezcalsb.com
The competition in this category is fierce, so Santo Mezcal should be proud. Their classic margarita is as simple as it is delicious ― just agave nectar, fresh lime, a lime wheel, and your choice of mezcal or tequila. The flavored varieties include the Margarita Picante (choice of Fresno mezcal or serrano tequila, agave nectar, lime, Fresno wheel, chipotle salt) and the La Fresca Margarita (choice of Fresno mezcal or tequila, pressed strawberries, agave nectar, lime, strawberry). Maybe most important, there’s an extra-large option.
Runner-Up: Carlitos Café y Cantina
Bloody Mary ● Sunday Brunch ● Restaurant with a View
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
2981 Cliff Dr.; 898-2628; boathousesb.com
The Pacific sea breeze, the crashing waves, the sandy vibes of Hendry’s Beach — the Boathouse sure had a lot going for it when opening in August 2008, but the team has built on the good fortune with a great menu (especially brunch), solid drinks, and smiling service. “The views alone would bring anyone to our location,” admitted marketing director Justine Bosio, “but we like to think it’s because we treat our guests as good friends and strive to provide a comfortable environment for them to relax and enjoy a good meal.” As to the secret of their award-winning Bloody Mary, Bosio credited “a little bit of spice, just a touch of citrus tang, and the perfect garnish: an ice-cold prawn and crisp piece of bacon.”
Runner-Up (Bloody Mary): Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
Runner-Up (Sunday Brunch): Scarlett Begonia
Runner-Up (Restaurant with a View): The Dining Room, El Encanto
536 State St.; 966-4638; joescafesb.com
It’s not quite one and you’re done, but it’s close. Just watch how the ’tenders pour. The glass gets to be 90 percent full of booze before they throw a splash of soda on top, almost as an afterthought. Don’t get us wrong ― we love it, especially considering the outrageous prices other joints charge for their own wimpy cocktails. And don’t worry, Joe’s hearty, all-American fare always soaks up enough liquor in your belly to keep you seeing straight.
Runner-Up: Harry’s Plaza Café
The Neighborhood Bar & Grill
235 W. Montecito St.; 963-7600; theneighborhoodbar.showitsite.com
It’s all in the name, and camaraderie is their game. The Neighborhood Bar & Grill is the place to take friends and where you meet new ones, what with all the foosball, ping-pong, beer pong, and other games going on, each one more fun than the last, and every one made all the better with a couple of cold ones in ya. It’s down-home and proudly divey: Hipsters need not apply.
Runner-Up: The Pickle Room