As the sun’s rays dance so perfectly from mirror to mirror, the twisting tree limbs overhead softly rustle in the breeze, and the murmur of laughs, clinking glasses, and music fill the air, it’s no wonder visitors of La Cocina stay from happy hour ’til close. The newly opened Mexican restaurant, located at 7 East Anapamu Street, invites guests to escape the daily humdrum and reconnect with family and friends while indulging in unique Mesoamerican, Spanish, and Mexican-Californian foods.
“Prepare yourself to have a completely different experience,” said general manager Johana Meraz. “Our chefs created the menu to echo a particular family feeling. For those who don’t know how Mexican families are in the home, we use different ingredients lying around and put them into our recipes. We don’t waste anything.”
It may come as a surprise that the conventional options like burritos and quesadillas do not exist on the menu. Instead, from their Baked Chicken Enfrijolada (made with aged cheddar, ancho chile, crema, and chive) to their Carne Asada (with papas fingerling, sprouting caulilini, enfrijolada puree, and chipotle salsa), La Cocina’s menu encourages all to open their minds and enjoy delicious twists on traditional Mexican cuisine.
Executive Chef Mario Alberto brings a wealth of culinary expertise to the new establishment, adding a unique flare to every menu option. “I want to offer locals food that is flavorful, clean, and light, as an ode to our favorite Mexican dishes, but with a subtle and unexpected twist,” Alberto said. “This may be with a flavor or spice, or how the dish is presented.”
La Cocina’s theme of curving expectations also translates into their drink menu. Picante de la Casa is one of their more popular house margaritas, created with mezcal, basil, cucumber, jalapeño, lime, and agave. Other guest favorites include the Pisco Sour cocktail, prepared with pisco, lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and Peruvian bitters, and the Piña Amarilla cocktail, made with rum, lime juice, pineapple, and coconut.
“The inspiration for La Cocina came from this beautiful space,” Meraz said. “It’s so unique and amazing, and we knew the food should be the same. When people come here, they forget about everything and just live in the moment.”
The restaurant’s relaxed and communal atmosphere inspires guests stay a while and feel at home when dining. La Cocina combines the bright and open concept commonly seen in Santa Barbara architecture with accents of warmth and comfort. The most popular seating area is the back patio, as its ability to transport visitors to a calm, fantasy-like environment is something special. With delicate green vines trickling over the tops of the walls, soft yellow lights peeking through the tree branches, and a great towering fireplace crackling in the back, this cozy patio is an exceptional aspect La Cocina has above the rest.
Since its grand opening at the end of June — following the closures of both Somerset and Smithy’s in the same space — La Cocina has already experienced much growth. From date nights and birthdays to wedding rehearsal dinners and company celebrations, the restaurant will continue to serve as a space everyone feels at home in. “It’s all about the experience and the ambiance,” said Meraz.
7 E. Anapamu St.; (805) 277-7730; lacocinasb.com