Best of Santa Barbara® 2022
By Leslie Dinaberg
Beer Selection on Tap • Funk Zone Spot
Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop
As our readers’ favorite beer selection (for six years running) and favorite Funk Zone spot, there’s a lot to love about Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop. With 20 revolving craft beers on tap, plus another 350 varieties available by the bottle, there’s always an additional gluten-free beer tap, as well as an excellent selection of non-alcoholic beverages, and, well, the list goes on and on. Voters also rave about the “knowledgeable and friendly staff, great atmosphere,” “amazing food at the Nook right next door,” “hard kombucha, wine, and cider,” “super nice and helpful employees,” and of course, the real star of the operation: owner Pete Burnham’s dog Lama, an adorable Tibetan mastiff.
Runner-Up (Beer Selection on Tap): Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
Runner-Up (Funk Zone Spot): Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio
Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach
Runner-Up: Brophy Bros.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters
Former professional cyclists Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson wheeled their way into Santa Barbara’s coffee culture with their first Handlebar Coffee Roasters on Canon Perdido Street in 2011. It quickly became a local favorite hangout and remains so, as does their second, larger store on De la Vina Street, which became home to the roastery as well as a small kitchen. Both stores are equally renowned for their friendly service and casual vibe, as well as the coffee.
Runner-Up: Dune Coffee Roasters
Santa Barbara Cider Company
A new Best Of category this year, cider is part of the rising trend of beer alternatives, and with so many people going gluten-free, its popularity will likely continue to rise. That’s good news for Santa Barbara Cider Company, which is actually located in Old Town Goleta. Celebrating its fifth year in business, the place has a relaxed, family-friendly vibe and 12 rotating ciders on tap. With flavors like Caviar Lime (using limes from Goodland Organics), Homemade Apple Pie (a personal autumnal favorite), Loquat You Made Me Do (with loquats from their neighbors), and Resting Beach Face (a hibiscus blend that earns props for the clever title), try a taster flight to figure out what you like the best.
Runner-Up: Apiary Beverage Co
La Playa Azul Café
The words “Playa Azul,” “margarita,” and “Happy Hour” are apparently synonymous for our readers, who voted La Playa Azul Café as Best Happy Hour this year. They’re closed Mondays, but Happy Hour deals are available both inside and on the expanded patio seating Tuesdays through Sundays (yes, that includes the weekends, almost unheard of in these parts) from 3-6 p.m. With Happy Hour deals on 12 different margaritas (try the Watermelon Mint or Habanero Mango) and close to a dozen different botanas, this is a lovely spot to enjoy what readers dubbed “the best authentic Mexican food and best margaritas.”
Runner-Up: Santa Barbara FisHouse
Juicery • Smoothie Bar
Blenders in the Grass
Voted Best Juicery and Best Smoothie Bar for many years running, Blenders in the Grass opened its first store in Isla Vista in 1995. Now headquartered in Goleta, with seven shops in the greater Santa Barbara area and another dozen or so scattered around the Central Coast, it’s still the go-to place for health conscious folks of all ages, including athletes on the run, hungry students, and anyone looking for healthy, low-fat, high-energy meals.
Runner-Up (Juicery): Juice Ranch
Runner-Up (Smoothie Bar): Backyard Bowls
For five years running, our readers have crowned Santo Mezcal’s margaritas the best in town. With creative flavors like blackberry cassis and blood orange/sage/thyme on the menu, all of which can be enhanced with mezcal (an agavebased spirit usually produced in Oaxaca), this hipster sister to the Los Agaves empire has the delicious Mexican food we’ve come to expect as well. Also check out the Happy
Hour deals on margaritas, cocktails, wine, beer, and a limited food menu Monday through Friday from 2-5 p.m
Runner-Up: La Playa Azul Café
Alex Rangel creates some signature craft cocktail magic at the Good Lion. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
Harry’s Plaza Café
Even the most hollow-legged among us only need ONE Harry’s martini to make a party their evening. Harry’s giant martinis come with an extra chaser of MORE martini for those who can’t get enough of the four martini options on the menu, which include a Dirty Martini (with Tanqueray, vermouth, and a splash of olive juice), the CEO (a “classic”—although for purists, the real classic martini has gin—with Cutler’s vodka and blue-cheese-stuffed olives) and the fruity Lemon Drop and Cosmopolitan (which are really just cocktails in a martini glass, in my humble opinion).
Runner-Up: The Good Lion
La Paloma Café
Runner-Up: Test Pilot
Negroni • Place for Craft Cocktails
The Good Lion
Misty Orman Ristaino and Brandon Ristaino, owners of The Good Lion | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
Reflecting on the significance of being named Best Of, Good Lion Hospitality founder Brandon Ristaino says, “It’s tough to put into words how difficult the pandemic was for us, and for our industry. We lost our life savings and were days away from losing the Good Lion on multiple occasions because of the COVID business mandates and restrictions imposed on us. We barely survived, and the combination of our team’s tireless work and the amazing support of our local Santa Barbara guests are the only reasons why we made it through.” On the upside, “It was a dream to open this business, and it’s a dream to continue to own it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Runner-Up (Negroni): La Paloma Café
Runner-Up (Place for Craft Cocktails): Test Pilot
The Pickle Room
Voted Best Neighborhood Bar for four years running, Pickle Room owner Clay Lovejoy says the award “means we’re doing something right here. And it makes me want to keep improving.” Bar Manager Willy Gilbert recounts the funniest thing that ever happened: “It would have to be the first time I met Bob Lovejoy [Clay’s late father] at Jimmy’s [Pickle Room’s predecessor, where Willy also poured a mean Mai Tai]. The rest of his softball team had left, unbeknownst to him, sticking him with a rather sizable tab. He had no money and wanted to borrow 20 bucks for a cab. He returned the next day, and we became lifelong friends.”
Runner-Up: Elsie’s Tavern
Restaurant Wine List
San Ysidro Ranch
Runner-Up: Intermezzo by Wine Cask
S.B. County Brewery
M. Special Brewing Company
Winning this award means “that years of hard work from dozens of talented people is recognized. After being Runner-Up for years in a row, I’m mostly happy for our people and our loyal customers because they are what makes M. Special ‘the best,’ ” says cofounder/brewmaster Joshua Ellis. Asked about the pandemic, Ellis says, “After being at a point with the business where our staff was down to four full-time people—hustling, surviving, and thriving at a time when we realistically weren’t sure if we’d make it through—all that hard work and effort in the face of adversity is punctuated by this award.”
Runner-Up: Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
S.B. County Winery • Urban Tasting Room
Grassini Family Vineyards
“Being voted Best S.B. County Winery for five years in a row is truly an honor,” says CEO Katie Grassini. “It’s incredible to have the local Santa Barbara community recognize the hard work of both our vineyard crew and our winemaking team for making outstanding wines. Not only that, but to win Best Urban Tasting Room for four of the past five years is a wonderful ‘tip of the cap’ to our incredibly knowledgeable and friendly tasting room staff. We’re so thankful for all of the support over these past years—we feel grateful to have our business in the heart of such a wonderful town with such a generous community!”
Runner-Up (S.B. County Winery): Babcock Winery & Vineyards
Runner-Up (Urban Tasting Room): Municipal Winemakers
S.B. Wine Tour Company
Sustainable Wine Tours
As one satisfied reader wrote about Sustainable Wine Tours, “This was the best experience of a wine tour, and I have taken quite a few wine tours throughout California, Oregon, and Mexico. This was by far the best!” Winner of our Best Of poll for three years in a row, owner Scott Bull and his team of hosts bring a vast understanding of the local wine industry to each tour and can also curate customized experiences based on your preferences.
Runner-Up: Captain Jack’s Santa Barbara Tours
Historically speaking, the legendary Joe’s is no place for wimps. Serving up Santa Barbara’s stiffest drinks since 1928—and the first place for at least two generations of my family to legally belly up to the bar on their 21st birthdays—Joe’s Café is once again the top choice for Santa Barbara’s stiffest drinks. Whatever your cocktail preference, it’s just about guaranteed that Joe’s will serve you a version that is 80 percent booze with a splash of mixer.
Runner-Up: Harry’s Plaza Café
Vices & Spices
Riley and Emily of Vices & Spices | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
Tucked in a cozy spot on upper State Street since 1975, our readers’ perennial favorite pick for Best Tea Selection is still going strong, and still family-owned and -operated, almost 50 years later. Dedicated to sourcing an impressive and ever-growing collection of fine tea leaves, specialty coffees, exotic spices, and botanicals, Vices & Spices is still unsurpassed when it comes to both selection and service. It’s also a great place to pick up unique gifts from all over the world.
Runner-Up: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Valley Tasting Room
Roblar Winery & Vineyards
“I genuinely enjoy working with every single team member,” says David Burrola, Director of Hospitality & Tasting Rooms at Roblar Winery & Vineyards. “We have a group of professionals that are warm, inviting, and funny as hell. Each person brings an array of talent and unique personality. From our amazing winemaking team under Max Marshak to the culinary talent of Chef Peter Cham and his crew, and delivered by the most welcoming and gracious service staff at Roblar. We have the whole package, and coming to work here has never felt like a ‘job’ with this group. They are the real reason why we were voted the best tasting room in the Valley.”
Runner-Up: Babcock Winery & Vineyards
Voted Santa Barbara’s favorite wine bar for the second year in a row, Satellite’s farmer-to-table and farmer-to-glass approach is a clear success. With an emphasis on natural wines curated by “Chief Winestronaut” Drew Cuddy and cuisine from Chef Emma West (former partner in Santa Barbara’s famed Julienne Restaurant) that focuses on ethical, environmentally beneficial agriculture and the freshest locally grown ingredients, this place has loads of appeal, especially for young health- and climate-conscious consumers.
The Liquor & Wine Grotto
This award “means that our efforts to listen to customers’ needs and provide personalized service is being noticed and appreciated. We are truly humbled by this feedback from our customers and will continue to strive to make their experience with us even better in the future,” says Liquor & Wine Grotto
owner Brian Brunello. The customers are his favorite part of the job. “Getting to know them is fun and allows us to go from a transaction to a relationship. Being entrusted to understand a customer’s palate and recommend a special bottle is an honor. Having them return with thanks and stories of amazing times makes our jobs truly rewarding.”
Runner-Up: Renegade Wines