Best of Santa Barbara® 2021
by Charles Donelan
Health Food/Nutrition Store
Lazy Acres Market
At a time when concerns over wellness and healthy grocery shopping have never been more central, Lazy Acres continues its decades-long run as Santa Barbara’s favorite destination for health food and nutritional products. Store director Bryan Feil says that being the best means “setting the standard in Santa Barbara for service and natural and organic products.
Runner-Up: Tri-County Produce
Santa Cruz Market
At both the Santa Barbara and Goleta locations, the staff at Santa Cruz Market prides itself on providing the kind of personal service that comes to mind when you think of the Best Corner Store. Store supervisor Tom Modugno says that “being voted the best in town means we were successful at treating our customers with the care and respect that they deserve.”
Runner-Up: Cantwell’s Market & Deli
Fresh Fish Market
Santa Barbara Fish Market
“Santa Barbara is the perfect location for a fish market,” writes Erika Tai James, marketing manager for Santa Barbara Fish Market. Thanks to the thriving marine habitat that surrounds the Channel Islands and their location at the harbor, the market can support local fishermen while pleasing a diverse clientele that loves to prepare seafood at home. One thing that still gets a laugh from the employees is when the phone rings and it’s someone who thinks the store is also a restaurant and asks for a reservation.
Runner-Up: Kanaloa Seafood
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market
Accept no substitutes. The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market rolls on as our top way to buy fresh produce, not to mention the best place to see your neighbors, catch up on what’s going on in the community, and revel in the bounty of all our amazing regional farms. With six locations — two in Santa Barbara, plus Solvang, Montecito, Carpinteria, and Goleta — each operating on a different day of the week, you’re never long or far from the freshest produce around.
Runner-Up: Tri-County Produce
Farm Cart Organics
Already widely appreciated in Santa Barbara County, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model got a significant boost from the COVID quarantine, when people sought a better way to acquire healthy organic food while supporting their local farmers. Katherine and Jason Lesh of Farm Cart Organics have a history that goes back to the 1970s through Katherine’s dad, Tom Shepherd, and the family farm she grew up on in Carpinteria. To this day they still use the original farm cart for their stand, which is open Sunday-Tuesday at 5103 Carpinteria Avenue.
Runner-Up: Plow to Porch Organics
Ice Cream Shop
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams
Nationally known for its superior freshness and flavor, McConnell’s Ice Cream has grown up along with Santa Barbara. “McConnell’s couldn’t exist without Santa Barbara,” said CEO Michael Palmer. “This city is our roots.” In addition to packing untold numbers of pints, the shop on State Street continues to hand deliver the goods in the form of ice cream cups and cones, something that Palmer cites as still his favorite part of the job: “handing an ice cream cone to a kid.”
Runner-Up: Rori’s Artisanal Ice Cream
Frozen Yogurt Shop
Mission Street Ice Cream
Savvy Santa Barbarans know that Mission Street does frozen yogurt right. With a rotating weekly selection that goes way beyond chocolate and vanilla, they excel when it comes to delivering such delicacies as Sweet Honey Greek, Horchata, Original Tart, and Country Custard. There’s even an almond milk alternative for vegans.
Runner-Up: The Lovin’ Spoonful
Visitors to Chocolate Maya encounter chocolate in a way that’s different from anything they’ve experienced before, even when it’s not their first time in the shop. Thanks to the creative imagination and resourcefulness of owner Maya Schoop-Rutten, the flavors and appearances of her chocolate treats change constantly. Maya wishes to thank those who voted for her for “14 years of fantastic support,” and those who know and love the store wish to thank Maya and her dedicated team for 14 years of fantastic chocolate.
Runner-Up: Chocolats du CaliBressan
Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
For Renaud Gonthier, the culinary genius behind Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro, the twin satisfactions that keep him going occur both in front of and behind the scenes. On one hand, he relishes the role of mentor and loves “seeing team members growing and self-developing skills.” On the other hand, he’s sensitive to the “great reward in feeling you made someone’s day better” that comes with providing superior baked goods and meals. In the future, he looks forward to expanding Renaud’s locations and to achieving wider recognition for the brand.
Place to Buy Bread
When they voted for D’Angelo’s as the best place in town to buy bread, were people responding to the dozen or more delicious types of loaf available, or to the exceptional customer service that makes every trip to the shop on West Gutierrez so relaxed and satisfying? Probably both, although I suspect that the great breakfast and lunch options available there played a part as well. Whether you take it out, eat it in, or pick up a baguette at one of the many retail outlets that carry their products, D’Angelo’s bread is a proud Santa Barbara tradition.
Runner-Up: Oat Bakery
Hook & Press
Owners John Burnett and Denisse Salinas said a heartfelt mouthful in their acknowledgement of being voted Best Doughnut Shop. “To win this award during a pandemic means so much,” they wrote. “Our team had to work so much harder this year; they had to learn quickly and be flexible with all of the changing rules and regulations. From hundreds of curbside drop-offs and contactless deliveries to washing and scrubbing so much our hands were cracked to the seemingly endless shifts while wearing masks. To crawl through this and come out clean on the other side makes us feel like the Andy Dufresne of donuts!” Does this mean we can expect a Shawshank doughnut coming soon?
Runner-Up: Eller’s Donut House
Crushcakes & Café
When Shannon Gaston left corporate HR behind to start Crushcakes back in February 2008, she could not possibly have anticipated either the perfect storm of challenges that would arise, starting with a recession, or the extraordinary successes that she and her team would achieve, not only in the highly competitive world of cupcaking, but also in empowering women and underrepresented communities through their business. Serving breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at both the Santa Barbara and Goleta locations, Crushcakes continues its mission of providing peace, love, and cupcakes.
Runner-Up: Enjoy Cupcakes
Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels
With two locations, one on Milpas and the other in Carpinteria, Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels serves up delicious breakfast and lunch fare to hundreds of in-person customers every day. They do so while simultaneously offering one of Santa Barbara’s best catering services, providing offices and individuals with the bagels, sandwiches, and salads they need to power through the day. California isn’t known for its bagels, but thanks to Jack’s, Santa Barbara is.
Runner-Up: I.V. Bagel Café
Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant
Tracy Collins, administrative coordinator for the busy network of Los Arroyos restaurants, counts working with a team that can make jokes while accomplishing great things as one of her favorite parts of her job. She writes that “this award is particularly special to us because we love being part of the Goleta community and are happy that our customers love us too.”
Runner-Up: Jane at the Marketplace
Padaro Beach Grill
For Will Ransone of Padaro Beach Grill, this award is very much about teamwork throughout the pandemic. He writes that “it’s a direct reflection on all of my employees, and their excellent efforts throughout the past year providing an enjoyable experience to our guests.” He’s also a generous supporter of everyone in the local restaurant community, voicing his feeling that “there are so many talented operators who put out excellent food and service daily” in Carpinteria that they all deserve our support.
Runner-Up: Rincon Brewery
Isla Vista Restaurant
Freebirds World Burrito
This Isla Vista institution has been feeding hungry college students since 1987. With a fast, efficient assembly setup behind the counter, and a new, COVID-safe system for keeping most of the waiting line outside, Freebirds can still handle the late-night rush better than any other spot in town, and it’s open until 11 p.m. every night.
Runner-Up: Woodstock’s Pizza
Montecito Restaurant • Fried Chicken Sandwich
The Honor Bar
The bar/restaurant experience doesn’t come any better than this. Situated in the heart of Coast Village Road, The Honor Bar serves up great shareable snacks, delicious sandwiches (including the winner in our new category for Fried Chicken Sandwiches), and healthy salads alongside great drinks, wines, and beers. The cozy indoor booths and club-like bar seating offer one kind of experience, while the seats outside deliver another: the unique people-watching vibe that makes Montecito special.
Runner-Up (Montecito Restaurant): Bettina
Runner-Up (Fried Chicken Sandwich): Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant
It’s no secret that some of the region’s most exciting restaurants are in the Santa Ynez Valley, where experimenting with great ingredients and novel presentation techniques has become the norm. When Jeff and Janet Olsson of New West Catering opened Industrial Eats in late 2013, their intention was to create an atmosphere that was welcoming and casual yet appropriate for serving dishes such as oysters with caviar or smoked pheasant salad alongside their amazing pizzas. The concept took off immediately, and now our voters have chosen Eats as their favorite in this highly competitive category.
Runner-Up: S.Y. Kitchen
The corner of State and Yanonali has not been the same since Loquita took up its position there as the city’s premier exponent of Spanish cuisine. Serving a wide variety of tapas along with such spectacular mains as their much-vaunted paellas, Loquita is fully booked on the regular. “It’s fun to see people become completely immersed in Spanish-style food,” said GM Michael Bowlds, especially “when it’s their first exposure to it.”
Runner-Up: milk & honey
Lines for tables forming outside on weekends are one way to know you’re doing something right, and another is winning a big category like Best Breakfast. Owner Richard Jimenez Jr. is proud of what he and his staff have achieved in their multiple Santa Barbara and Goleta locations. “We do our best to give our customers an enjoyable experience and to have their support is awesome,” he says. “We’re super grateful.”
Sunday Brunch • Happy Hour • Bloody Mary
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
2981 Cliff Dr.; (805) 898-2628
The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach has always been blessed with an extraordinary location. The views from its restaurant, bar, and patio are all unsurpassed. Yet there’s more to the Boathouse than the beach, and that’s quite evident from their triple crown of Best Sunday Brunch, Happy Hour, and Bloody Mary.
Runner-Up (Sunday Brunch): Scarlett Begonia
Runner-Up (Happy Hour): La Playa Azul Café
Runner-Up (Bloody Mary): Brophy Bros.
The Blue Owl
In a town like Santa Barbara where the sidewalks can seem to roll up after 11 p.m., The Blue Owl performs something of a public service by dishing up delicious meals on Fridays and Saturdays until the almost unimaginable hour of 2:30 a.m. Add to that distinction a menu that’s full of great options for any time of the day, including an excellent fried rice, and you have a recipe for success even when the sun’s out.
Runner-Up: Dave’s Dogs Grill
Savoy Café & Deli
Salad aficionados know to head to Savoy on Figueroa Street, as year in and year out, they claim this category. Owners Paul and Kathy Shields make sure that the bar is stocked with more than enough fresh vegetables, house-roasted meats, and homemade dressings to satisfy even the most discerning greens lovers.
Runner-Up: Chuck’s of Hawaii
Delivering outstanding service every day and delicious dim sum on the weekends has put China Pavilion on Chapala Street into a class of its own when it comes to Chinese food in Santa Barbara. Their extensive lunch and dinner menu offers everything from familiar favorites like Kung Pao Chicken to Szechuan Spicy Peppercorn Hot Pot and even classic Peking Duck. There are plenty of vegetarian options, and when the dim sum menu goes into effect on Saturday morning, they add dozens of different dumplings and other small plates to the selection.
Runner-Up: China Palace
Leave it to chef Greg Murphy and the team at bouchon Santa Barbara to come up with an elegant yet playful solution to the challenge of bringing fine dining outdoors during a pandemic. The fact that this California cuisine restaurant continues to rack up wins in the French restaurant category testifies to the extraordinary attention to detail and extreme devotion to seasonal ingredients that have been at the heart of their approach from the beginning. For something out of the ordinary and educational, sign up for one of Chef Murphy’s Market Tour & Gourmet Dinner packages. You and a maximum of seven others will hit either the Saturday or the Tuesday market with the chef and then return to bouchon to feast on the fresh ingredients you helped select earlier that day. You’ll never look at the market, or your plate, the same way.
Runner-Up: Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro
Flavor of India
At Flavor of India on upper State Street, they keep two traditional Tandoori ovens glowing in order not only to grill the skewered meats to orange-tinted Tandoori perfection but also to give the delicious assortment of Indian breads such as chapati, naan, and aloo paratha their beautiful golden crust. Owners Anil and Bita Kainwal express their appreciation for those who voted, saying that they “are deeply honored by our loyal customers for this recognition of winning the Best Indian Restaurant.”
Runner-Up: Bibi Ji
Via Maestra 42
Maybe it’s the way that Via Maestra 42 gets going at 8:30 in the morning with a delicious Italian-style breakfast that won them so many votes in this highly competitive category, or it could have been the consistently high quality of all the ingredients that longtime owner Renato Moisio (who recently sold to original manager Nicole Bitar) imports from Italy and vends through the restaurant’s grocery store. Ultimately, the one thing we know for sure is that customer loyalty could not be higher for this mainstay of the Santa Barbara dining scene since 2000.
Mexican Restaurant • Salsa • Takeout
Now with five locations, including Oxnard and Westlake in addition to two in Santa Barbara and one in Goleta, Los Agaves scored top marks in three of our most popular categories, including the COVID-crucial Best Takeout. There’s no secret to Los Agaves’ appeal, which is based on attentive service, delicious food, and an all-encompassing positive attitude that has led them to grow rapidly in the 13 years since opening their first location on Milpas Street. Owner Carlos Luna feels grateful for the community support his restaurants have received, “especially during these past 18 months of a pandemic which have been most difficult not only for my business but for so many others. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you to all you beautiful people for your continued support!”
Runner-Up (Mexican Restaurant • Salsa): Los Arroyos
Runner-Up (Takeout): Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
Seafood Restaurant • Clam Chowder
Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant
One look at the view from Brophy’s outstanding location upstairs in the Santa Barbara Harbor and you will know immediately how they maintain such high standards when it comes to serving fresh seafood and delicious New England–style clam chowder. To get any closer to the source of the fish, you would have to eat on a boat. The unflappable staff keeps things running smoothly even when it seems like everyone within a mile of the breakwater wants a table at the same time. Brophy Bros. is a true Santa Barbara experience that keeps getting better.
Runner-Up: Lure Fish House
Sushi Restaurant • Parklet
Two-category winner Arigato has carried on its long-standing tradition of serving perfectly fresh nigiri and sashimi in the midst of a quarantine shutdown that stymied many restaurants that depend on regular shipments of perishable ingredients. Not only that, when State Street went to a promenade, they expanded their already formidable sidewalk seating into a parklet that you, the readers of the Indy, judged to be the best in show.
Runner-Up (Sushi): Sushi Teri
Runner-Up (Parklet): Opal Restaurant & Bar
Thai Restaurant • Noodle Bar
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
awards this year by continuing to serve delightful noodle dishes that fill you up as you empty the bowl. Co-owner Emre Balli says that even though it’s hard to be sure of anything about the future given all we’ve just been through, he does know that he will be “serving noodles, pouring wines, and raising my kids” for the foreseeable future. He loves coming to work in the heart of Santa Barbara and reminds us all that “you can travel the world, but nothing comes close to the Golden Coast.”
Runner-Up (Thai Restaurant): Your Choice
Runner-Up (Noodle Bar): Nikka Ramen
Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant • Veggie Burger
The Natural Café
Double winner The Natural Café has plenty of experience dishing up vegetarian food at multiple locations throughout Santa Barbara and the South Coast. With more and more people switching to vegetarian and vegan diets, or at least choosing to forego meat on frequent occasions, the demand for dependable plant-based dining options continues to rise. And with four different veggie burger options on the menu, it’s easy to see how The Natural Café garnered a win in that category.
Runner-Up (Vegetarian/Vegan): Mesa Verde
Runner-Up (Veggie Burger): Mesa Burger
South Coast Deli
Now with four fabulous locations — three in Santa Barbara and one in Goleta — South Coast Deli remains at the forefront of our city’s thriving sandwich scene. Focusing on freshness when it comes to ingredients, South Coast stands apart from the pack with its inventive menu, which is filled with original recipes, including the RBC, a pressed roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions and cambozola cheese, and the two Nom Noms, Viet (with pork shoulder) and Vegan (with plant-based Hungry Planet chicken).
Runner-Up: Three Pickles
Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio
When the Funk Zone flipped from an industrial area to an art-and-wine-fueled tourist destination, the Shalhoob family pivoted right along with it, clearing the large cutting room of their wholesale butcher shop, converting it into a kitchen, and outfitting their large parking lot on Gray Avenue with comfortable picnic tables. Suddenly surrounded by hungry hordes, they sent up plumes of fragrant smoke as a signal that they were open for barbecue business. The rest is culinary history, as our readers have spoken, and they are now recognized as the city’s top barbecue spot.
Runner-Up: The Creekside Restaurant
The best things in life may be free, but there are certain other things that are also pretty great, and eating at Lucky’s is high up on that list. Impeccable service, a warren of tastefully discreet dining areas, and a menu that’s flush with aged USDA Prime steaks and other exquisite delicacies all add up to one thing: a fine-dining experience that’s the equal of other great restaurants anywhere in the world. They don’t call it “Montecito’s second living room” for nothing. You should see the first one!
Runner-Up: Chuck’s of Hawaii
The Habit Burger Grill
Now that the popular Habit Burger Grill restaurants developed by brothers Brent and Bruce Reichard have broken big nationally with multiple awards, including Best Regional Fast-Food Chain of 2019 from USA Today’s readers, and an acquisition and subsequent rapid expansion under the aegis of international mega-company Yum Brands, it’s good to know that, according to our discerning readers, their local operations, which the brothers still own themselves, haven’t lost a step. Staying true to their formula, which is based on the iconic Charburger and a freshness-first policy for all ingredients, The Habit remains just that, a habit for thousands of hungry Santa Barbarans across their multiple locations.
Runner-Up: Mesa Burger
Burrito • Breakfast Burrito
Big burritos and an even bigger heart have made this Westside institution a perennial favorite in both the Burrito and the Breakfast Burrito category. Now with outposts on the Mesa and in Isla Vista, Super Cucas continues to deliver the kind of delicious belly bomba that keeps surfers, firefighters, and all other kinds of hardworking Santa Barbara people from running out of steam on long days. There are other items on the menu, and it’s all good, but when what you want is a burrito, Super Cucas is your go-to spot.
Runner-Up (Burrito): Los Agaves
Runner-Up (Breakfast Burrito): The Daily Grind
For Lilly Sepulveda of Lilly’s Taqueria, this recognition means that the “hard work and dedication” of her team “to bring you the best taco experience does not go unnoticed.” When people travel from far-off lands in search of truly authentic taco culture, Lilly’s is what they are looking for. For those of us who live here, and don’t have to dream of tacos like these, Lilly’s creates a sense of continuity and belonging that only comes with years of hard work and patience. Swing by on a weekend to snag a tripas taco, or come any day but Tuesday for their steamed delicacies, all served on the perfect hand-pressed corn tortilla.
Runner-Up: Corazón Cocina
Sama Sama Kitchen
Seasoned with sweet and spicy tamarind BBQ sauce, cilantro, and lime, the Mary’s chicken wings at Sama Sama Kitchen have developed a following. In this culinary moment of peak chicken wing, Sama Sama thus stands atop the pyramid of bones that marks the result of 2021’s hottest fast-food trend.
Runner-Up: Wingman Rodeo
Rusty’s Pizza Parlor
With roots stretching back to 1969, when entrepreneurs Roger and Carol Duncan began serving roast beef in Isla Vista under the name Rusty’s Roast Beef, Rusty’s has been a trusted name in family dining for half a century. With nine locations stretching from Goleta to Summerland, you’re never far from a hot pizza pie. For a trip down televisual memory lane, check out the vintage commercial’s that Jim “Ernest” Varney made for Rusty’s on their website.
The Palace Grill
After 35 years on East Cota Street offering authentic New Orleans cuisine and a tempting menu of “Bourbon Street Beverages,” The Palace Grill remains a legend for the stellar service of its waitstaff. A perfect spot for a group celebration, The Palace Grill will feed you, quench your thirst, and raise your spirits in a way that you won’t soon forget. Now that takeout cocktails are a thing, consider the possibility of a 16-ounce Sazerac in your future. Now that’s stellar.
Carlitos Café y Cantina
Just steps away from the Arlington and New Vic theaters, this charming patio offers diners a pre- or post-show experience that’s second to none. Our readers love the ambience, which, now that State Street has become a pedestrian promenade, is more welcoming than ever. Whether you’re in the mood for a margarita and some “botanas” or hungry for something more substantial, Carlito’s will take care of you, al fresco.
Runner-Up: La Paloma Café