While Santa Barbara’s dining options are tried and treasured, it’s fun to expand your palate beyond our beloved haunts — and Valentine’s Day just might be the perfect time to get slightly out of town. Whether it’s taking your partner out for a new experience or just looking for a little me-time with a solo meal, Ventura is the perfect destination to enjoy a delicious date, whatever that means to you. So take a jaunt down the sunset-soaked 101 and dive into one of these lovely little spots in the “City of Good Fortune.”

Frontside Café

The stunning smashed avocado toast at Frontside Café | Credit: Kim Baile

Looking for a low-pressure yet beautiful spot? The easy-breezy Frontside Café gracefully checks that box, with scents of Beacon coffee and a bright interior putting you in a state of uplifted ease. “It’s the kind of food that we wanted to eat,” said Charne Huff, an Australian who opened this dreamy outpost with her husband, Joel, in 2020, inspired by the fresh, healthy delicacies they ate while living abroad. What better place for a date than one created from a love story?

The stunning avocado toast dotted with pink pickled vegetables on house-made seeded dukkah satisfies the desire for elevated classics, while the Aussie meat pie — full of braised short rib and vegetables — takes the coffee shop game to a new level, pairing up with a smart selection of wine, beer, and spritzes. Monthly pop-up dinners let Joel flaunt his years of executive cheffing alongside such notables as José Andrés.

“I hope that people can spend their time in a nice relaxing space and enjoy the interior and enjoy the food,” Huff said.

1070 E. Front St., Ventura; (805) 628-9566; frontsidecafe.com

Immigrant Son Caffé

Not quite ready to travel abroad together but craving the thrill of a European excursion? Immigrant Son Caffé is just the ticket for a fraction of the price.

Alessandro Tromba’s decadent brunches, lunches, and pastas whisk you away to Italy from the comfort of Main Street, where you’ll appreciate the homey ambiance and high ceilings. The colorful walls are decorated by photographs and paintings from his personal collection, which he said make “for fun conversation pieces.”

A delectable spread at Immigrant Son Caffé | Credit: Courtesy

Celebrating his father’s Molise roots, Tromba infuses the menu with such family recipes as Cousin Michael’s Pasta Carbonara. “People don’t really think of pasta for breakfast, but that’s a recipe from our little town in Italy,” he said. “We use a really good pancetta that we import from Italy.”

I was blown away by breakfast lasagna, filled with prosciutto cotto and bacon, steeped in flavorful marinara sauce, and topped with a perfectly fried egg. For dessert, Tromba offers freshly made pizzelle, thin Italian waffle cookies hot off the press. If that’s not amore, I don’t know what is.

543 E. Main St., Ventura; (805) 667-9085; immigrant-son.com

Fluid State Beer Garden

If you haven’t yet figured out your new friend’s drink of choice or dietary preferences, Fluid State is an ideal choice. “The concept of Fluid State is open to interpretation,” said Aaron Duncan, who co-owns the beer garden with his partner, Jen Schwertman. “We didn’t design it to be any one thing, but rather adaptable to whatever our customers want it to be.”

The vibrant bar features a rotating cast of two dozen craft beers plus wines and cocktails such as the seasonal coffee nog handcrafted with Humboldt Distillery organic spiced rum, heavy cream, farm egg, cane sugar, and Bonito Coffee Roaster Cold Brew. I didn’t even know I liked nog until I had a sip of theirs — a perk of remaining “fluid,” I suppose.

Pizza from Fluid State | Credit: Courtesy

The star of the kitchen is pizza. “In my 30-plus years of pizza experience, I have made every style: from Neapolitan to thin-crust East Coast to American Pizza Parlor,” Duncan explained. “The pizza program at Fluid State is essentially a blend of all of those.”

The key is Duncan’s house sourdough starter, which he made while harvesting wine grapes with vintner Drake Whitcraft. “The yeast and bacteria on the skin of that fruit was the foundation of our starter and our pizza program,” Duncan said. Brimming with thoughtful delicacies and convivial conversations, Fluid State is a fantastic spot to create your own story.

692 E. Main St., Ventura; (805) 628-3107; fluidstatebeer.com

Paradise Pantry

Fine wine and cheese, handmade comfort food, cozy yet upscale vibe — Paradise Pantry has the right ingredients for a dreamy date. Owned by Chef Kelly Briglio and wine curator Tina Thayer, the restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch while the attached artisan market offers a dizzying assortment of gourmet eats. After surveying their treasure trove of a menu, from cheese plates to salmon to pasta, I ordered the roasted turkey panini filled with aged white cheddar and homemade basil pesto, but I’ll be back for the Italian Truffle Mac.

“When I met Chef Kelly, I fell completely in love with her food — her tastes, textures, ingredients,” said Thayer. “So choosing a favorite is nearly impossible unless I choose one for today and one for tomorrow and every day of the year.” Daily returns sound like a fabulous plan to me.

222 E. Main St., Ventura; (805) 641-9440; paradisepantry.com

Credit: Courtesy

Rumfish y Vino

Pamela Solomon believes the ambiance of this Central American gastropub — which is tucked into a cobblestone nook just off Main Street with a glowing fireplace, candlelit tables, and sprawling patio — is what makes a perfect backdrop for date night. But I’d argue the food in the foreground is just as enticing.

“Couples will love to share bites and sips with each other because everything has such unique and balanced flavors, you’ll want your date to experience what you’re having,” said Solomon, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Jon. “It adds intimacy to the experience.”

Start with an inventive cocktail, taste your way through conch fritters and beef garnachas, and then order the Creole Sea Bass, which is swims in cherry tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, onions, sweet peppers, and plantains atop a bed of coconut rice and draped in lobster coconut pan sauce. Shareability extends across the entire menu, from cochinita pibil or pork belly tacos and chorizo flatbread to ceviches and “our mussels in an addicting garlic mustard broth,” said Solomon.

And the staff is so kind that you’ll be sure to feel the love — even if you don’t bring a date.

34 N. Palm St., Ventura; (805) 667-9288; rumfishyvinoventura.com

A flatbread from Rumfish y Vino | Credit: Courtesy

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