Best of Santa Barbara® 2018: Eating
Health Food/Nutrition Store
Lazy Acres Market
302 Meigs Rd.; 564-4410; lazyacres.com
Lazy Acres finished an extensive interior remodel in 2018, and the new layout has created more space than ever for the items that have made it the best place in Santa Barbara to shop for healthy foods and specialized nutrition products. Their vast central display is stocked with an ever-changing array of carefully vetted supplements, vitamins, and organic beauty products, and the well-informed staff members are always ready to help you navigate the extensive selection. With more and more people turning to natural products to maintain their health and nourish their souls, Lazy Acres remains the city’s most reliable source not only of products but also of education.
Runner-Up: Whole Foods
Santa Cruz Market
Two locations; santacruzmarkets.com
Santa Cruz Market is the corner store of all corner stores. It carries everything from hard-to-find spices to freshly baked sweet bread — and it has one of the largest selections of meats in town. Its butchers know many customers by name and nine times out of 10 will special-order cuts of meat requested by customers. Die-hard fans of the neighborhood store can even purchase merchandise donning the Santa Cruz Market name and their on-the-nose slogans: “You can’t beat our meat” and “Friendly store that saves you more!”
Runner-Up: Cantwell’s Market & Deli
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market
Multiple locations; 962-5354; sbfarmersmarket.org
Set up six days of the week, the farmers’ market gives us a chance to pick up some fresh produce in Santa Barbara almost anytime. Grown just a stone’s throw away from town, the produce at our farmers’ market consists of the freshest, most local selections possible. Don’t take our word for it — visit one of their six sites and chat with the farmers themselves. And while you decide what to purchase, enjoy free samples surrounded by some of the friendliest people in town.
Runner-Up: Tri-County Produce
Frozen Yogurt Shop
Two locations; yogurt-land.com
This unassuming gem of a shop is a favorite among locals and great for the whole family or a fun date. The self-serve style allows kids and adults alike to go wild exploring flavor combinations and toppings. “Think of our empty cups as empty canvases,” staff tells visitors. The real secret is to begin by adding treats and then yogurt, creating layers of flavor and surprise!
Runner-Up: Mission Street Ice Cream & Yogurt
Ice Cream Shop
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
Two locations; mcconnells.com
For McConnell’s of Santa Barbara owner and CEO Michael Palmer, it feels equally good to make and to eat great ice cream: “To be able to maintain our independence and focus on the most important thing — the product — is a luxury and a pleasure.” McConnell’s has one of the more dramatic stories from 2018’s natural disasters. The company opened its “New Dairy” in December 2017 in Oxnard, and, according to Palmer, “when the mudslides cut off the 101 last January, we went into action, sending crews ’round the clock — by boat and car, on multi-hour trips — to Oxnard.”
Runner-Up: Mission Street Ice Cream & Yogurt
Two locations; sees.com
Famous for its boxes of chocolates, this venerable California candy company is coming up on 100 years in business, having been founded in 1921 in Los Angeles by Canadian immigrants. Now headquartered in San Francisco, See’s gets its good stuff — couverture formulas with lots of cocoa butter — from Guittard Chocolate Company, located in nearby Burlingame, and its nuts from Mariani Nut Company in the Sacramento Valley. Do you like free samples? We thought so. Find them in La Cumbre Plaza and Paseo Nuevo.
Runner-Up: Chocolate Maya
Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Multiple locations; renaudsbakery.com
“The best almond croissants. Period.” That’s according to personal experience and a number of Yelp users. Working with almost science-like precision, Pastry Chef Renaud Gonthier is known for being a perfectionist. Anything you purchase at Renaud’s you can trust will taste, and look, nothing short of incredible. With four locations in Santa Barbara and exceptional customer service, Renaud’s is always a sweet treat!
Multiple locations; spudnutsdonutssb.com
Spudnuts takes the cake, or doughnut, yet again for Best Doughnut Shop in town. The secret to making the delicious treats so fluffy is using potato flour. “That’s what makes the doughnuts stand out so much,” said Spudnuts employee Marcelo Rocha. While you can never go wrong with a classic old-fashioned, Rocha recommends customers try his favorite, tiger tails. “They are amazing!” he said. The doughnuts are twisted with chocolate and rolled in cinnamon, making them look like actual tiger tails — what a fun treat!
Runner-Up: Eller’s Doughnut House
Crushcakes & Café
Multiple locations; crushcakes.com
At Crushcakes & Café, the motivation to be the best comes from “people and food,” according to owner Shannon Gaston. “Making people happy with delicious food and coffee,” she said, equals “instant gratification!” Last winter, the downtown Santa Barbara store was broken into twice. Gaston reported that, while the person was not caught the first time, “a week later they broke in again and they were caught, thanks to our awesome neighbor, who called the police when he saw two legs and a torso wiggling and stuck in one of our windows!” Gaston sent out a “huge thank-you to the SBPD and the K-Nine Unit” for apprehending the cupcake bandit, who it turned out was also a frequent customer at the Carpinteria branch.
Runner-Up: Nothing Bundt Cakes
Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels
Two locations; bagelnet.com
Jack’s offers more than 25 different types of bagels and 10 different cream cheese flavors — that’s more than 250 combinations. Not to mention you also have the option of turning your bagel into one of their nine “bagelwiches” — a fancy name for a bagel sandwich with an extra dash of delicious. With so many options, it’s no wonder our readers love Jack’s!
Runner-Up: Bagel Market Café
Three locations; kyleskitchen.com
Lots of businesses give a nod toward good causes, but no restaurant takes that outreach further than Kyle’s Kitchen, which made fundraising for special-needs programs a leading edge of its brand. Pair that with fairly priced and freshly made burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and the mini-chain of three restaurants easily takes the Goleta cake. Owner Jay Ferro, who opened the first Kyle’s about four years ago, believes Goleta loves his place because of that “balance between great, affordable food and our commitment to giving back to the special-needs community.” He said, “We will continue to work every day to improve and be the best restaurant we can be. Thank you for your trust in us!”
Runner-Up: Beachside Bar Café
Thai Restaurant • Noodle Bar
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
38 W. Victoria St., Ste. 109; 335-2426; emptybowlnoodle.com
Though not a typical Thai joint nor simply a place for noodles, Empty Bowl is constantly elevating the overall Asian food experience in Santa Barbara — and will open a new place called Khao Kaeng on Coast Village Road soon. “We use all-natural, free-range meats and poultry, and we have very little space for storage, so it allows us to cut fresh produce daily,” said co-owner Jerry Lee, who served his first bowl of “Thai comfort street food noodles” on April 12, 2014. His favorite part? “Hearing customers tell me they dream about our noodles.”
Runner-Up (Thai Restaurant): Tap Thai Cuisine
Runner-Up (Noodle Bar): Nikka Ramen
Padaro Beach Grill
3765 Santa Claus Ln., Carpinteria; 566-9800; padarobeachgrill.com
Casual outdoor dining at its finest, this beachside fixture along Santa Claus Lane has long been a family go-to grub spot. After ordering burgers, tacos, sandwiches, shakes, and frosty adult beverages — among other favorites — at the bustling walk-up counter, patrons fan out across the grassy spread out back, all picnic tables and umbrellas, complete with ocean breezes, rumbling trains, and a big ol’ sand pit and other fun stuff for the kids.
Runner-Up: Rincon Brewery
Isla Vista Restaurant
Freebirds World Burrito
879 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista; 968-0123
There’s only one good reason to find yourself in Isla Vista late at night, and that’s to go to Freebirds. Legendary for its dinosaur-sized burritos and nachos, the place makes such an impression that locals find themselves missing it when they’re away. The walls are filled with pictures of people traveling the world, expressing their desire for a Freebirds World Burrito. If that doesn’t paint a picture of their quirky clientele, buy a burrito, take a seat, and enjoy late-night people watching.
Runner-Up: South Coast Deli
The Honor Bar
1255 Coast Village Rd.; 969-6964; honorbar.com
When it opened in February 2015, The Honor Bar, which is part of the nationally acclaimed Hillstone Restaurant Group, quickly became a go-to place for eating, drinking, and being seen in Montecito. It further cemented its importance when it became the first restaurant to reopen after the mudslide. “It’s approachable, but our bedrock principle is doing things well and paying attention to the preparation and ingredients,” said GM Nicholas Asoli of their focus on straightforward classics like the cheeseburger. “We also want the experience to feel special, so we worked a lot on the design and feel of the place to strike a balance between feeling casual [and] premium quality. Lastly, a genuine smile with graceful, efficient service never goes out of style.”
Runner-Up: Los Arroyos
Fresh Fish Market
Santa Barbara Fish Market
117 Harbor Wy., Ste. A; 965-9564; sbfish.com
Brian Colgate was just 19 years old when he opened the Santa Barbara Fish Market in a humble corner of the harbor back in 2000, but it’s been the prime place for about 1,000 weekly customers — not to mention nearly 100 restaurants in the tri-county area — to buy fresh-off-the-boat seafood ever since. “We are focused on providing the very freshest premium-quality seafood at a fair price,” said Colgate, who also serves as the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara’s direct outlet to the public, usually with more than 15 fresh items available each day. “The favorite part of my job is providing our community with a connection to the ocean through providing healthy seafood that is being harvested in a sustainable manner so generations to come can be happy and healthy!”
Runner-Up: Kanaloa Seafood Market
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant
181 Industrial Wy., Buellton; 688-8807; industrialeats.com
“We brought a space where you can get a beef-tongue pastrami Reuben and listen to Wu-Tang,” said Jeff Olsson of what he and his wife, Janet Olsson, gave the Santa Ynez Valley when they opened Industrial Eats in December 2013. The walk-up ordering style is casual, the wood-fired food is ingredient driven, and the scene is winemaker forward. “We just cook the food we want to eat and not what we think people want to eat, and weirdly it seems to be working,” he said. What’s his favorite part? “Hiring, teaching, and watching people get it,” he said. “With almost everyone who works here, there was a moment when I turned to Janet and said, ‘So-and-so just figured it out.’ It’s a good moment.”
Runner-Up: S.Y. Kitchen
202 State St.; 880-3380; loquitasb.com
No restaurant in Santa Barbara wears Spain on its sleeve like Loquita, which started serving authentic Spanish cuisine — from tapas, pintxos, and paella to txakolina, sherry, and gin ’n’ tonics — on the edge of the Funk Zone in October 2016. “It’s an easy way to try several different dishes and to share the experience with friends,” said owner Sherry Villanueva of the small-plates format. “We like to offer our guests an opportunity for exploration, and small plates are particularly conducive to that. You can try a few things without having to make an entire meal commitment on just one.”
Runner-Up: Milk & Honey
Multiple locations; cajunkitchencafe.com
Cajun Kitchen’s breakfast is everything comfort food should be — delicious, giant sized, and did I say delicious? This incredible area breakfast spot offers everything from genuinely Cajun to fantastic Mexican dishes. The Santa Barbara staple is owned and operated by the Jimenez family. In 1984, Richard Jimenez Sr., a prep cook with no management experience, decided to take over the struggling De la Vina location. Since then, they’ve opened four more locations — three in the Santa Barbara area and one in Ventura — and have provided locals with incredible chilaquiles, French toast, blackened catfish, and much more!
Late Night Eats
The Blue Owl
5 W. Canon Perdido; 705-0991; theblueowlsb.com
The Blue Owl is everyone’s go-to place after a late night of merriment. The small restaurant located on Canon Perdido Street somehow manages to accommodate dozens of individuals, making for a fun after-party vibe with incredible Asian-inspired dishes. One former customer, A.J., loved the food and atmosphere so much she applied for a job. “I need to work here!” she remembered thinking one late night. A.J. got the job the next day and has happily worked at The Blue Owl for over a year. “I’ve seen it all,” she said about the late-night shifts.
Runner-Up: Dave’s Dogs Grill
Savoy Café & Deli
24 W. Figueroa St.; 962-6611; savoycafe.weebly.com
Savoy’s colorful salad bar is enough just to ogle. With what feel like countless options, customers can create the salad of their dreams by mixing and matching the finest, freshest ingredients. With four different choices for greens; protein options such as wild salmon, steak, tofu, and roasted nuts; and the most flavorful homemade dressings and vinaigrettes, Savoy offers a rainbow of endless combinations for their loyal customers, who always come back for more. The best part — it’s great for your body, mind, and wallet!
Runner-Up: Lazy Acres Market
1202 Chapala St.; 560-6028; china-pavilion.com
China Pavilion is readers’ go-to when they need a Chinese food craving satisfied. Their dishes are packed with flavor, and they offer chicken, beef, pork, seafood, and incredible veggie options. Favorites among regulars are the spicy basil beef, the crispy walnut shrimp, and of course, the orange-peel chicken. The beautifully decorated restaurant also offers a special dim sum menu on weekends that customers love. China Pavilion has a great love and appreciation for their customers.
Runner-Up: China Palace
9 W. Victoria St.; 730-1160; bouchonsantabarbara.com
Truth be told, bouchon’s cuisine isn’t so much French as it is California “wine country,” but it did open on Bastille Day of 1998 and owner Mitchell Sjerven admits that they do employ classic French culinary techniques. How do they stay relevant 20 years later? “Update the cuisine without succumbing to fads, create a service culture that honors the true spirit of hospitality, and be sure to update the dining environment so you don’t look like an old, no-longer-relevant restaurant,” said Sjerven. “The four pillars of a truly great dining experience — be it taco stand or three-star Michelin — have to be right: great food, a proper beverage list that works with the food, fantastic people that you can tell really like their job, and a warm and inviting ambience.”
Runner-Up: Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Flavor of India
3026 State St.; 682-6561; flavorofindia.net
Since 1991, Puran Joshan and his family have served saag paneer, tandoori chicken, lassi, and other traditional Punjabi foods to Santa Barbara from the kitchen of their beloved Flavor of India restaurant on State Street. That’s made them the perennial winner in this category and a place that families return to month after month. “When a customer comes in, they are treating us,” Joshan told us a couple of years ago. “We have seen our customers grow up and bring their own kids to the restaurant. It’s very special.”
Runner-Up: Bibi Ji
Multiple locations; cadario.net
Dario Furlati’s Ca’ Dario empire is on the rise, now with five locations from the original 1997 restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara to the adjacent pizzeria, two spots in the Public Market, and a new location in Goleta. “Our customers are world travelers, especially to Italy, so they developed a palate for Italian food and recognized our dishes when they come back to our restaurant,” said Furlati. “We use authentic imported pasta, flour, cheese, tomatoes, and olive oil to create our dishes without cutting corners; therefore, our customers find our quality the same [as], if not even better than, abroad.”
Runner-Up: Via Maestra 42
Seafood Restaurant • Clam Chowder
Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
119 Harbor Wy.; 966-4418; brophybros.com
Overlooking the sea of sailboat masts in the Santa Barbara Harbor and the breathtaking Santa Ynez Mountains in the distance, Brophy Bros. epitomizes all that’s right about our oceanside town. Where else can you can eat seafood while watching a commercial fishing boat unload? “The small footprint forces interaction and creates a real intimate setting,” said owner John Bennett, whose family started the restaurant in 1986. “We make the chowder daily, thicken with roux, and add heavy cream right before serving. We are fortunate to have the volume we do — this helps keep the product moving.”
Runner-Up (Seafood Restaurant and Clam Chowder): Lure Fish House
1225 State St.; 965-6074; arigatosb.com
You can almost always expect a wait time at this first-come, first-served restaurant, but the incredible Japanese fusion cuisine and attentive service is well worth the wait! Servers are well versed with the menu and can help guide overwhelmed first-time visitors with the more than 65 sushi rolls and the many nigiri and sashimi options. If you’re looking for dinner and a show, you can’t go wrong with the popular “locals-only” appetizer — broiled scallops, crab, shiitake mushrooms, and onions served on a bed of sushi rice and brought out flaming! Not a huge surprise considering all of Arigato’s dishes are on fire!
Runner-Up: Sushi Teri
1919 Cliff Dr.; 963-4474; mesaverderestaurant.com
It figures that Santa Barbara would lead the way in taking vegetarian/vegan cuisine into the 21st century. We have always valued plant-based eating in this town, and now we have more choices than ever before when it comes to fine dining the vegetarian way. At Mesa Verde, the combinations on offer are not only healthy; they are exquisite both in flavor and in presentation. Whether you stick with the Mexican-influenced side of the menu and order one of their amazing tacos or empanadas, or you lean toward the delicious tajine and harissas on the main-course menu, you can be sure that you will leave Mesa Verde happy and feeling great.
Runner-Up: The Natural Café
South Coast Deli
Multiple locations; southcoastdeli.com
There’s a special place in locals’ hearts for this hometown sandwich shop. South Coast not only offers some of the best and largest sandwiches in town, but they also offer customers the option to turn those sandwiches into equally incredible and large salads. The only thing better than grabbing lunch at South Coast in Santa Barbara is knowing that in doing so you are supporting a local business that has long been committed to using products that are sustainable, renewable, and compostable. The deli boasts more than 15 years of being 100 percent plastic-free — go South Coast Deli!
Runner-Up: Three Pickles
The Natural Café
Multiple locations; thenaturalcafe.com
Meatless burgers seem all the rage these days, with ambitious culinary upstarts replacing animal protein with nutritionally sound and environmentally kind plant-based patties. But to longtime patrons of this Santa Barbara fixture of casual, fresh fare, much of that conversation was pushed to the back burner long ago with their very first bite of the Zen Burger. Or maybe it was the Good Karma Burger. Or the establishment’s Natural Burger. Whatever veggie option it may be, the experience — at three South County locations — delivers the comfort of a warm plate of food at a fair price.
Runner-Up: Finney’s Crafthouse
Shalhoob Meat Company
220 Gray Ave.; 963-7733; shalhoob.com
Last year, Shalhoob Meat Company — which opened its butcher shop in 1973 — launched its Funk Zone Patio, a food-and-drink oasis for locals and visitors alike along the waterfront, near the foot of Stearns Wharf. Among the burgers and falafel, the tangy spices of an old favorite have wafted to the top: the classic tri-tip cut, cooked in oakwood smoke and finished Santa Maria style before landing on your picnic table, sandwiched between slices of the house garlic bread. “The locals are saying that the tri-tip sandwich is the best in Santa Barbara County,” LJ Shalhoob has noted proudly.
Runner-Up: Creekside Restaurant & Bar
Jill’s Place Restaurant
632 Santa Barbara St.; 963-0378; jillsplacesb.com
Jill’s Place is a true local haunt — in fact, it would never have been called that if it weren’t for the customers, who frequently said they were going to Jill’s Place rather than Shalhoob Deli, which was the original name when it opened in 1987. In 2002, Jill Shalhoob, of the legendary butcher family, remodeled the place and accepted the name, and it’s now known for expert steaks, stiff drinks, and friendly times. “My food is simply clean, healthy comfort food — people like the simplicity of good ol’-fashioned home-style cooking,” said Shalhoob, who loves interacting with customers and knows she has a great staff. “They are loyal and hardworking, and they care about Jill’s Place. I hear compliments from customers all the time about the staff, from the back of the house to the servers and bartenders.”
Runner-Up: Chuck’s of Hawai‘i
The Habit Burger Grill
Multiple locations; habitburger.com
The Habit isn’t a favorite just among locals — the signature Charburger has been ranked as one of the best burgers in the United States. Since opening its first burger stand in 1969 in Old Town Goleta, the franchise has outgrown its hometown and claims more than 230 restaurants across the States and around the world. Just as the company’s reach has expanded, so has its heart. The Habit has raised more than $1 million for No Kid Hungry, which distributes nutritious food to children across the country.
Runner-Up: Mesa Burger
One of the many super things about Super Cucas is their assortment of breakfast burritos. The giant burritos — stuffed with your choice of meat, scrambled eggs, cheese, and potatoes and beautifully wrapped together in a warm flour tortilla — are the perfect on-the-go breakfast! And with 20 different options, how could you go wrong? The most popular breakfast burrito among customers is the Ranchero, which comes with both chorizo and bacon and is finished off with a fresh and colorful ranchero salsa. As the first taqueria in Santa Barbara, Super Cucas offers much more than just the best breakfast burritos in town. It has been providing the community with delicious Mexican food at reasonable prices in incredible portions since 1991. Locals could not be more thankful!
Runner-Up: The Daily Grind
Two locations; lillystacos.com
What gives? Lilly’s Taquería doesn’t serve beer and is closed every taco Tuesday. Yet the line is often out the door. Combinations of words may exist that could adequately describe human cravings for cooked animal protein, ample grease, and a simple wrap of processed corn, but it’s far more fair to let the asada, adobada, cachete, and lengua do the talking. Pithy posts prevail when it comes to food reviews across social media. In high praise of Lilly’s, we’ll single out “undefeated” and “national treasure.”
Runner-Up: Corazón Cocina
Rusty’s Pizza Parlor
Multiple locations; 564-1111; rustyspizza.com
In 1969, Roger and Carol Duncan pooled their pennies and opened Rusty’s Roast Beef in Isla Vista. Not long after, the Duncans saw a need for a family-style pizza parlor in Santa Barbara and decided to change their roast-beef business into an Italian pie restaurant. Not wanting to purchase a new sign, the couple pulled out the handsaw and cut their existing sign in half, leaving “Rusty’s” and adding “Pizza Parlor.” And the rest is history. Since then, Rusty’s has been a treasured part of the community, filling the paramount pizza niche with eight pizza parlors that are perfect for family gatherings, quick lunches, and, of course, perfect pizzas.
Runner-Up: Olio Pizzeria
The Palace Grill
8 E. Cota St.; 963-5000; palacegrill.com
This upscale downtown destination has long occupied Santa Barbara’s greater culinary palate as one of the region’s finest. From jalapeño martinis and popcorn shrimp — for starters — to soft-shell crabs and blackened catfish, its Cajun-Creole favorites have become classics. But there’s more. Don’t forget, these memory-making plates of food are prepared and delivered by friendly, knowledgeable, efficient folk, whose hard work has kept these downtown doors open over the decades. Plus, they won’t tell you what to order or drop the check too soon. Lift a glass to that.
Mexican Restaurant • Burrito • Salsa
Multiple locations; los-agaves.com
With Los Agaves being Indy readers’ choice for Best Burrito, Best Salsa, and Best Mexican Restaurant, the only logical next step is to rush over to one of their three locations in town for their incredible burrito mojado — a burrito topped with salsa roja. The next best thing is their chile verde burrito, filled with pork in salsa verde. Los Agaves brings together two of the most wonderful things, salsa and burritos — what a combination! Owners Carlos and Christian Luna take pride in the fact that “we are a family-owned-and-run business, so coming to Los Agaves is like coming to eat with family. We do our very best to make you feel at home and provide the very best service.” Owners Carlos and Christian Luna take pride in the fact that “we are a family-owned and run business, so coming to Los Agaves is like coming to eat with family. We do our very best to make you feel at home and provide the very best service.”
Runner-Up (Best Burrito): Super Cucas
Runner-Up (Best Salsa and Best Mexican Restaurant): Los Arroyos
Best Sidewalk Café/Patio
801 Shoreline Dr.; 568-0064; shorelinebeachcafe.com
When the patio includes optional seating right on the sand, there’s only one place in Santa Barbara you could be thinking of: Shoreline Café at Leadbetter Beach. A California institution that never fails to deliver on the dream, Shoreline combines the ultimate dramatic setting with a pitch-perfect beachy menu. As a result, every meal here, no matter how bathing-suit casual, becomes a memorable occasion. Manager Cameron Pyles cites serving hundreds of first responders who were weary and hungry from battling the Thomas Fire as just one of the unforgettable things that happened at Shoreline in 2018.
Runner-Up: Paradise Café