Best of Santa Barbara® 2021
by Charles Donelan
Handlebar Coffee Roasters
In the depths of the pandemic, Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson of Handlebar Coffee Roasters saw an opportunity. Armed with an in-depth analysis of COVID protocols and animated by a desire to do everything possible to support the community and keep their employees working, they turned the De la Vina Handlebar location into a quarantine canteen, complete with bags of flour, batches of honey, and bottles of wine. Masked folks showed up, a few at first, then more as time went on, grounding their days in the warm comfort of a fresh cup of coffee.
Runner-Up: The Daily Grind
Vices & Spices
With roots that stretch back through three generations of the Booth family and a dedication to sourcing and delivering the best teas from all over the world, Vices & Spices provides tea drinkers with a place to call their own. While the selection of teas is unsurpassed, thanks to founder Blue Booth, there’s always freshly roasted Kona coffee in the store and a vibe that radiates exploration and adventure.
Runner-Up: Dune Coffee Roasters
Juicery • Smoothie Bar
Blenders in the Grass
According to founding partner Keric Brown, at Blenders in the Grass, being the best means “using the best ingredients to make a healthy and delicious meal in a cup, and doing it quickly.” Started back in 1995 by three friends with a common passion for endurance sports and healthy eating, Blenders has become one of the great Isla Vista entrepreneurial success stories. Just look for the giant cup on the roof.
Runner-Up (Juicery): Juice Ranch
Runner-Up (Smoothie Bar): Backyard Bowls
Beer Selection on Tap • Funk Zone Spot
Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop
For Pete Burnham of Lama Dog Tap Room, all the hard work that went into building a great business in a new neighborhood like the Funk Zone seems entirely worth it when your efforts bring you Best of Santa Barbara® in two highly competitive categories. Burnham says that “it means so much to win the Best Of, especially having won two awards!” He credits his amazing employees and says that they also feel “a huge sense of pride.”
Runner-Up (Beer Selection on Tap and Funk Zone Spot): Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
S.B. County Brewery
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
Figueroa Mountain founder and CEO Jaime Dietenhofer acknowledges that “it has been a challenging few years for the brewing and restaurant industry,” adding that going through hard times makes receiving an award like this one “very humbling and a testament to how hard our team works.” His favorite part of the job is “sharing a beer with our amazing patrons.” Look for an expansion of Figueroa Mountain operations soon to be announced.
Runner-Up: M. Special
Valley Tasting Room
Blessed with a prime Santa Ynez location and cultivated by multiple generations of the Rice family, Sunstone Winery consistently ranks as one of the region’s most visited tasting rooms. Under the watchful eye of Director of Winemaking Brittany Rice, organically grown Rhône and Bordeaux varietals come together to make some of the region’s most respected wines. Add to that the spectacular Sunstone Villa, with its marvelous assortment of salvaged European architectural elements, and you’ve got a winning formula for the perfect tasting experience.
Runner-Up: Stolpman Vineyards
Urban Tasting Room
Margerum Wine Company
At this elegant space in the Hotel Californian, the Margerum team is clearly doing a lot of things very right. Combining the Margerum and Barden wine lists, serving great food, and staying open until 8 p.m. (9 p.m. in the summer) are all strategies that have proved to be winners with our voters. For Doug Margerum, the best thing about his job is “the seasonality of the wine business. It’s very busy during harvest, and of course bottling is stressful and very important, but between those times, there’s lots of time to relax and enjoy wine and sell it to our friends in the restaurant and retail wine business.”
Runner-Up: Grassini Family Vineyards
S.B. Wine Tour Company
Sustainable Wine Tours
For Scott Bull, owner of Sustainable Wine Tours, “there is truly no greater joy than being of service and inspiration to our very own community!” Bull says that approval and recognition from Santa Barbara locals “means the absolute world to us,” adding the message, “Thank you so much! We raise our glasses to you!” He and his team look forward to curating your next wine-tasting adventure and providing “an incredible, delicious, and unforgettable experience in the world and wonders of small-batch sustainable winemaking.”
Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours
Santa Barbara County Winery
Grassini Family Vineyards
Truly a family operation, Grassini has captured this coveted category for four consecutive years now. Larry and Sharon Grassini planted Bordeaux varietals in the 1990s on land they bought in Happy Canyon in the 1980s, thus beginning an extraordinarily successful tradition of crafting great wines from cabernet and sauvignon blanc grapes. Their approach to winemaking goes back to the 17th century in its use of natural cooling caves and looks forward to the future with a sophisticated system of solar power and water reclamation. In addition to the grapes, Sharon and Larry also raised four daughters on the property, including Grassini’s CEO, Katie.
Runner-Up: Sunstone Winery
Restaurant Wine List
Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch
Although we’ve all had our ups and downs over the past few years, the tale of the Stonehouse wine cellar is hard to top. Heading into 2018, the collection stood at approximately 12,500 bottles, including some of the most sought-after wines in the world. In one night, when the Montecito mudslide wiped out the Stonehouse’s cellar, that total effectively went to zero. Now, just three years and a few months later, Stonehouse Restaurant & Wine Collection Manager Tristan Pitre has restocked the new cellar, and the list is as impressive— perhaps more impressive— than ever.
Runner-Up: The Lark
Judging from our voters’ response— and from the crowds that flock to their parklet nightly— wine guy Drew Cuddy and Chef Emma West have a hit on their hands with Satellite. Its central State Street location, combined with an emphasis on natural wines and sustainable local produce, appeals to a new generation of health- and climate-conscious connoisseurs. Add in live music outdoors, and a scene is born.
Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Wine Therapy
Jenna Allensworth and Steve Wayne were surprised and delighted to learn that they had won the highly competitive Best Wine Shop category. They write, “The sense of community that goes along with this shop is truly amazing to us. We are so lucky in Santa Barbara to have such a fantastic group of wine professionals, novices, and everyone in between. We feel truly blessed to be awarded this honor by our community. Thank you!”
Runner-Up: Vino Divino
Negroni • Place for Craft Cocktails
The Good Lion
When Brandon and Misty Ristaino started mixing craft cocktails at The Good Lion, they knew what they wanted to accomplish— beyond making great drinks, that is. Brandon puts it this way: “We are, and always have been, a safe ‘third place’ for our community: a place to exchange ideas, build relationships, and to have a good time, and we’re honored that our guests have spent time with us during this most difficult last year and a half.” The Good Lion’s new parklet is the perfect place to enjoy their prize-winning negroni, itself a newcomer category in this year’s Best of Santa Barbara®.
Runner-Up (Negroni): The Lark
Runner-Up (Place for Craft Cocktails): Test Pilot
Harry’s Plaza Café
What more could you ask for on a beautiful Santa Barbara evening than an ice-cold martini in a classic restaurant with decor lifted straight from Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood? If you answered, “A small decanter of martini refill,” then you are familiar with one of Harry’s Plaza Café’s winning strategies for this competitive category. While they have four martini options on the printed menu, including the CEO (Chopin vodka, vermouth, and blue-cheese-stuffed olives) and the Tanqueray-fortified classic Dirty, Harry’s supportive staff will be happy to prepare your personal recipe, and they won’t stint on the refill.
The superb margaritas at this hip lower State Street offshoot of the Los Agaves empire come in multiple flavors; all can be enhanced with one of the many fabulous mezcals on view behind the bar that give the place its name. Happy Hour 2-5 p.m. Monday through Friday offers one tempting alternative to working from home, and Taco Tuesday, a lunchtime deal with seven types of taco all priced at $3.95, is another. Unmatched quality and a convivial atmosphere mean that Santo Mezcal will be hard to displace as our town’s new master of margaritas.
Runner-Up: Flor de Maíz
Way before any of the Johnny-come-lately Best of Santa Barbara® categories like … well, you get the idea, there was “Stiffest Drinks.” Present at the creation of said category, there was Joe’s Café. A launch pad for thousands of Santa Barbara stories, each one harder to remember than the last, Joe’s carries on a tradition that we hope will never die— good food, good people, and an almost fanatical devotion to the stiffness of your drink. Long live Joe’s, since 1928.
Runner-Up: Harry’s Plaza Café
The Pickle Room
Thanks to the new outdoor seating amid the hay bales on East Canon Perdido, the Pickle Room continues its reign as Santa Barbara’s most resilient and beloved neighborhood bar. When your neighborhood is the Presidio, that can mean a lot of things: great cocktails, delicious food, beautiful music, and, most importantly, a friendly vibe that encourages socializing and conversation. And with winter approaching and the sun setting ever earlier, don’t forget about the $2 off food and specialty drinks 4:30-6:30 p.m. every day the Room is open, Monday-Saturday.
Runner-Up: Harry’s Plaza Café