Best of Santa Barbara® 2020
by Leslie Dinaberg
Health Food/Nutrition Store
Lazy Acres Market
Being named the best “makes us proud to be selected by our customers, and, on behalf of my team, we are honored to serve the Santa Barbara community,” said Store Director Bryan Feil. Lazy Acres has been part of the community since 1991. Because of the pandemic, he explained, “Our food bar business had to shut down. With customers cooking more meals at home, the meat, seafood, and produce areas have had modest increases, but we have managed to keep our stock levels very high.”
Runner-Up: Sprouts Farmers Market
Santa Cruz Market
“[This year] has been especially challenging for everyone, and grocery stores being named an essential service forced us to work even harder to provide for our community,” said Santa Cruz Market owner Tom Modugno. “We endured some angry, frustrated, and unhinged people needing to blame someone for all this madness. We also witnessed some local Samaritans providing for their neighbors anonymously with huge acts of kindness. Being voted Best Corner Store this year means a lot to us, more than ever.”
Runner-Up: Cantwell’s Market & Deli
Fresh Fish Market
Santa Barbara Fish Market
Indy readers’ choice for best fresh fish once again, the Santa Barbara Fish Market is on the harbor, about 30 yards from the ocean. It’s been a popular spot to buy fresh-off-the-boat seafood since it opened back in 2000. With the pandemic sending many of us into our kitchens more often, they now offer a Santa Barbara Seafood Box, featuring three to four species of the freshest fish available per shipment, with free home delivery within 10 miles.
Runner-Up: Kanaloa Seafood
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market
With so many hitches in the food chain as a result of the pandemic, it’s comforting to see our local bounty still going strong. The first farmers’ market was held at the Santa Barbara Mission in 1979 and was among one of the first 20 farmers’ markets in the State of California. The nonprofit Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market Association was founded in 1983, and today the 120 grower members have six markets throughout the county, six days a week.
Runner-Up: Tri-County Produce
Farm Cart Organics
Farm Cart Organics was your pick for top CSA, a new category. “We are super stoked,” said owners Katherine and Jason Lesh, who gave props to our farms and businesses that are all pushing and supporting our local agriculture at a deep level. “CSAs are such an important tool for the sustainability of our local food systems, and we are super proud just to be a part of their growth and success, let alone to be named the best one.”
Runner-Up: Plow to Porch Organics
Ice Cream Shop
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your vote is really for the amazing people at this company. Thanks for voting for all of them,” said co-owner/CEO Michael Palmer. “It’s challenging. In a business dominated by investor-owned companies, most of whom don’t even make their own products, we’re a family business who does, just as we have since 1949.” One of the newest flavors — Honey & Cornbread Cookies — recently won the sofi Award, which is like the Oscars for the food industry.
Runner-Up: Rori’s Artisanal Creamery
Frozen Yogurt Shop
With dozens of flavors (Birthday Cupcake Batter, Rocket Pop Sorbet, Iced Coffee NSA, and the new Honey Roasted Peanut are but a few) and a delightful assortment of toppings to choose from, the possible combinations at Yogurtland are endless. They even have a new “froyo it forward” program to donate special treats to frontline workers and everyday heroes. It’s no wonder that Yogurtland has been our readers’ choice for best frozen yogurt shop for several years running.
Runner-Up: Mission Street Ice Cream
“Getting this recognition in the Santa Barbara Independent is so exciting and rewarding for our teams,” said CEO Pat Egan. “Our two shop managers from the Santa Barbara stores have been a part of the See’s family for a total of 49 years combined and have a loyal customer base. They work hard to be the best, and it’s great to see it recognized. We truly appreciate all of our See’s fans and could not be more honored to receive this recognition.”
Runner-Up: Chocolate Maya
Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
“I still remember when we first opened, and we had this customer who came in for a chocolate croissant. She left, and then came back to the store 30 seconds later asking for four more. She was super excited and wanted to share this novelty with her friend,” said CEO/Executive Pastry Chef Renaud Gonthier. “This is what we are trying to do every day, create an experience.”
Runner-Up: Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery
Place to Buy Bread
“Being the best for us means achieving a high standard of quality and service, which has always been our goal,” said GM Alex Natrielli. “It’s also an incentive to continue improving and offering a unique product and service to our customers. The relationship with our customers has been built over the years to offer a warm and familiar environment. We are honored and grateful for everyone who voted for us. You are the reason for all our efforts to always do the best.”
Runner-Up: Oat Bakery
Hook & Press
Co-owners John Burnett and Denisse Salinas were excited to win Best Doughnut Shop for the second year in a row. “Hopefully it means we have succeeded in making our customers feel like family, which is something we always strive for,” said Burnett. “Yes, we make doughnuts and serve coffee, but what we really aim to provide is a welcoming, happy place to enjoy special moments with friends and loved ones.”
Runner-Up: Spudnuts Donuts
Crushcakes & Café
Crushcakes crushed our readers’ votes once again! Though the Carpinteria location closed this year, owner Shannon M. Gaston said the Goleta and Santa Barbara cafés have been going strong. “We stayed open through COVID doing our entire menu as takeout and delivery, and we added additional patio space for outdoor dining.” After their Black Lives Matter artwork was defaced, Gaston started a new project called C2C (Crushcakes 2 Communities), donating the profits from specific baked goods to social justice organizations.
Runner-Up: Nothing Bundt Cakes
Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels
Consistently earning best bagel bragging rights since it opened in 1995, Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels is your go-to spot for yummy wheels of deliciousness in every flavor imaginable. “Great food. Fast service. Great outdoor seating,” said reader Zoe. “It’s cheap and easy to grab in the mornings to start the day, and the selection is broad and fresh,” said reader Kailyn. With locations in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, Jack’s is the closest thing you’ll get to New York here at home.
Runner-Up: I.V. Bagel Café
Beachside Bar Café
After 36 years as Goleta’s favorite beachfront spot, Beachside Bar Café has certainly nailed its winning combination of food, fun, atmosphere, and ambience. This perennial winner sits just above the sand and Goleta Pier, and serves expertly prepared fish and other items for lunch and dinner in the tropical-style dining room, on the glass-walled open-air patio, at the oyster bar, or in the big, full-service bar — all with wide views of the ocean and sandy beach.
Runner-Up: Kyle’s Kitchen
“Their food is always delicious and beer is always refreshing,” said reader Diana. “During this pandemic they have proven to place the health of customers and staff above everything to ensure we can still dine in and feel some sort of normalcy. I appreciate them so much.” She’s obviously not alone in her gratitude for Rincon Brewery, which opened its doors in Carpinteria in 2014. This summer they opened a craft tap room in the Funk Zone, as well.
Runner-Up: The Palms
Isla Vista Restaurant
Freebirds World Burrito
879 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista; (805) 968-0123
Catering to the late-night cravings of hungry college students since 1987, the original branch of this now successful chain is still locally owned and still churning out some of your favorite grub year after year. With readers’ comments like “the best burrito in the world,” “build your own, no comparison anywhere else,” “fresh and good,” and “good food, good mood,” it’s no surprise that Freebirds is once again the Best Isla Vista Restaurant pick.
Runner-Up: Woodstock’s Pizza
The Honor Bar
With reader comments like “excellence in flavor, ingredients, preparation, presentation, and customer service,” “everything on the menu is delicious,” and “the staff loves to smile,” it’s no wonder that The Honor Bar is your pick for Best Montecito Restaurant. The patio at The Honor Bar, which is part of the nationally acclaimed Hillstone Restaurant Group, has cemented itself as the go-to place for eating, drinking, and being seen in Montecito.
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant
Beckoning foodies to Buellton since Jeff and Janet Olsson opened Industrial Eats in late 2013, they’re still going strong, despite the global pandemic. When asked how they pivoted, Jeff (owner and self-titled busboy and trash can emptier) said, “Moving to our new parking lot dining room, loss of sales, loss of staff, trying to make food look nice in a cardboard box — but it’s nothing every other restaurant hasn’t had to deal with.”
Runner-Up: S.Y. Kitchen
“Thank you to all who voted for us for Best Appetizers/Tapas. We truly appreciate it. We would not be here today without your continued support, and for this we are truly thankful,” said GM Stephanie Perkins. “The community of Santa Barbara has always supported Loquita, so we want to be here to support our community during these challenging times. We are thankful and honored to serve you, and we look forward to hosting you again soon.”
Runner-Up: Milk & Honey
“It’s a great honor to be voted as Best Breakfast for another year,” said Operations Manager Jorge A. Peralta. Being named the best “confirms and validates our entire team’s hard work and dedication. We could not be in the position we’re in without them. Thank you from the front of the house, with their exceptional customer service, to our back of the house, with their strong work ethic and production to be able to pump out amazing dishes at a lightning-fast pace.”
Runner-Up: Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery
[See Drinking: Bloody Mary]
Dave’s Dogs Grill
“Your support means the world to us,” said Cynthia Reynoso, Dave’s Dogs manager and wife of owner Dave Reynoso. “‘Never give up’ is a quote that Dave lives by. You will find this on the walls of his restaurant, and when he started his food cart, he had this quote on his cart. Five years later, here he is winning Best Late-Night Eats and feeling overjoyed with this news.”
Runner-Up: The Blue Owl
Salad Bar * Parklet
Savoy Café & Deli
This year has been a roller coaster ride for restaurants. “I would never have guessed that we would have a window display of toilet paper and hand sanitizer to entice people into our café, but that’s exactly what happened during the initial shutdown, and it’s what helped keep Savoy alive during those difficult first few months,” said owners Paul and Kathy Shields. “From all of us at Savoy, we warmly and gratefully say thanks for voting, and more importantly, thanks for your business.”
Runner-Up (Salad Bar): Lazy Acres Market
Runner-Up (Parklet): Milk & Honey
“We want to thank those who took the time to vote for us. We understand that the honor comes with an undertone of responsibilities and challenges to continue the vigilance and innovation necessary to be worthy of the same honor next year,” said owner Peter Chen. “The pandemic has hit restaurants particularly hard, and we’re no exception. We’ve had to cut staff as we pivot to a 100 percent takeout/delivery business. Revenue is way down, and the name of the game is survival.”
Runner-Up: China Palace
French Restaurant * Restaurant Wine List
With a focus on local, fresh ingredients and wines with a French culinary influence, bouchon once again wins our readers’ hearts for both wine and cuisine. Proprietor Mitchell Sjerven said the Best Of honors mean “guests recognize and appreciate the professionals I have on my staff. Our kitchen staff is passionate about the cuisine, and our service team is truly dedicated to creating a wonderful dining experience for each and every guest.”
Runner-Up (French Restaurant): Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Runner-Up (Restaurant Wine List): Wine Cask
Flavor of India
“Thank you so much for your continuous support and loyalty. You are the direct reason for our success, and we are truly humbled and honored,” said Bita and Anil Kainwal, owners of Flavor of India. “Being the best restaurant really comes down to making people happy as often as possible. ‘Best’ means meeting and beating their expectations on how they’re going to feel when they leave my restaurant.”
Runner-Up: Bibi Ji
A consistent favorite for the Indy’s readers, Ca’Dario is once again your pick for Best Italian Restaurant. With voter comments like, “authentic Italian recipes, cheerful service, generous portions,” “delicious,” “great food,” “excellent food and service,” and “excellence in flavor, preparation, presentation, quality of ingredients, customer service,” it’s no surprise that Ca’Dario remains Santa Barbara’s number-one choice for exquisite Northern Italian food.
Runner-Up: Via Maestra 42
Mexican Restaurant * Salsa
Carlos Luna opened the first Los Agaves location on Milpas Street on Santa Barbara’s Eastside in 2008. Now with multiple locations around town, there is always a line at each and every one. Fresh ingredients (and lots of award-winning salsa varieties) are the key to this family-owned-and-operated restaurant group. The expansive menu meshes old standbys (tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas) with more unusual fare such as the piping-hot, stone-bowled “land and sea” molcajetes and the spicy Camarones à la Diabla.
Runner-Up: Los Arroyos
Seafood Restaurant * Clam Chowder
Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
Brophy Bros. can once again claim bragging rights as the top Seafood Restaurant and Clam Chowder spot (not to mention those killer views of the harbor). “It is humbling for Brophys to be considered the best,” said Operating Partner John Bennett. “Our team is filled with a bunch of great people that really enjoy serving others. I am very grateful our community has acknowledged our team by voting them the best.”
Runner-Up: Lure Fish House
Diners have been crushing on Arigato for 35 years, showering well-deserved praise — and awards — for decades. It’s clearly a local favorite, with our readers’ accolades including compliments like, “There is no competing here. Their seafood is consistently fresh and their menu is always creative and accommodating to people of all diets. They do such a great job of making guests feel welcomed. Two thumbs up all the way,” and “Their food and service instill addiction … in a good way.”
Runner-Up: Sushi Teri
Thai Restaurant * Noodle Bar
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
“Thank you so much for all your support for the last five years. We could not have done it without all the noodle lovers out there,” said Jerry Lee, co-owner. “I know right now times are hard, but we will all get through this together as one.” When asked about being the best, he said, “It means that we have created a concept that the community truly enjoys. Being the best, you must provide everything as a whole: customer service, food, price, and quality.”
Runner-Up (Thai Restaurant): Your Choice
Runner-Up (Noodle Bar): Nikka Ramen
Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant * Veggie Burger
The Natural Café
“We know Santa Barbara has an overwhelming variety of dining options, and the fact they’re still with us after 28 years is extremely gratifying,” said owner Kelly Brown. During the pandemic, “we have kept all the stores open, kept everybody employed, and tried not to mess with the menu too much. Our staff, all 150 of them, deserve a huge round of applause, which we try to give them every day.”
Runner-Up (Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant): Mesa Verde
Runner-Up (Veggie Burger): Kyle’s Kitchen
South Coast Deli
Serving up sandwiches since 1991, the South Coast Deli wins Best Of honors year after year. Being named the best means “that the hard work of our staff, day in and day out, for 29 years has not gone unnoticed,” said owner/DeliBoy Jim St. John. “We are grateful for being able to operate continually throughout the pandemic (with reduced hours). Thanks to the support of our loyal customers and the community of S.B.”
Runner-Up: Three Pickles
Barbecue * Sidewalk Café/Patio
Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio
“It means the world to us that the community supports our family business,” said partner LJ Shalhoob, part of the third generation of Shalhoobs to join the business, a staple in the community for more than 40 years. “Being able to serve locals great food and drinks as a form of working is a dream that we never even realized could be so rewarding.… ‘Thank you’ doesn’t even scratch the surface of our appreciation.”
Runner-Up (Barbecue): The Creekside Restaurant & Bar
Runner-Up (Sidewalk Café/Patio): Shoreline Beach Café
Holdren’s Steaks & Seafood
To say this was a tough year for restaurants is an understatement. But after serving Santa Barbara seafood, meat, and poultry dishes complemented by copious wine and spirit choices since 2003, owner Clay Holdren said, “It is so fun to have this place and have the chance to meet so many outstanding people in our community. I am very lucky to share great stories, food, wine, and maybe a cocktail or two with everyone.”
Burger * Takeout
The Habit Burger Grill
“We have grown over the years but have never forgotten where we came from or deviated from our core value: ‘There’s No Substitute for Quality,’” said founder Brent Reichard. “It is also important for our customers to know that all of the Santa Barbara County restaurants are still family owned and operated.” He added, “There are lots of great burgers out there, but we will proudly put our burger up against all others at a $3.95 price point.”
Runner-Up (Burger): Mesa Burger
Runner-Up (Takeout): Los Agaves
Burrito * Breakfast Burrito
Super Cucas is known for their ginormous, forearm-sized burritos. As reader Dylan put it, “They literally serve the heartiest, beefiest, juiciest, and most delicious burritos in town, point blank. They are intensely filling and sometimes can make two meals for somebody. Literally no other place in town can match Super Cucas. And, yes, the same also applies for their breakfast burritos.” With the addition of vegan options to the menu, Super Cucas really is superb.
Runner-Up (Burrito): Los Agaves
Runner-Up (Breakfast Burrito): The Daily Grind
Being voted the best means that “as a team, our hard work and dedication to bring you the best taco experience does not go unnoticed. Awards like this one motivate us to keep giving our community outstanding food and service,” said owner Lilly Sepulveda. “Thank you. We owe everything to our clientele. Without their support, we simply wouldn’t be Lilly’s.”
Runner-Up: Corazón Cocina
Rusty’s Pizza Parlor
A treasured local institution, as reader Jenna put it, “If Rusty’s pizza isn’t your favorite, are you even from here?” A little-known fact is that the original Rusty’s specialized in roast beef. Roger and Carol Duncan opened Rusty’s Roast Beef in Isla Vista in 1969 and — after realizing there wasn’t a pizza place in town — soon converted the cuisine into what’s become Indy readers’ favorite pizza. Still family owned, Rusty’s now has nine locations in the greater Santa Barbara area.
Runner-Up: Olio Pizzeria
The Palace Grill
When it comes to stellar service, as reader Julia proclaimed, “Duh, the Palace. No one can even come close! They’re genuinely delightful.” The Palace Grill is a lively, friendly spot where the authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine has the soul of hospitality embedded into every dining experience. It’s known for its unique style of “team service” (some of the team members have been there for more than a quarter of a century), and, from the moment you walk in, you’ll know you’ve found a special place.
* This asterisk indicates the winner won in multiple categories.