Jump to content

Santa Barbara, CA


Recommended Posts

I'm making my biennial trip to the Santa Barbara area next week and I'm looking for recommendations. I seriously know nothing about the area except for the fact that there are a lot of wineries and an In N' Out close to the 101.

Help!

Make a point of having oyster shooters and a basket of fried Santa Barbara shrimp with a cold beer at Brophy Brothers on the Pier.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I visited Santa Barbara for a wedding this past December and had a lot of fun visiting this really laid back town. Here is a summary of my exploration:

Restaurants

China Pavilion. My friend's rehearsal dinner was held here. There is a Chinese menu available, probably upon request. I didn't order off the menu because it was a pre-set 8 course type of dinner, but was pretty solid as far as Chinese restaurants go. I would come back for a second visit to order off the regular menu. No MSG used that I could detect and dishes tasted light and not oily.

Lucky's. This is really in Montecito, which is such a pretty little place. But because of the folks who live here, it is destined to be a place of overpriced mediocrity at best. I do like all the celebrity pictures on the wall. Good for business dinners, as it is definitely old-world Morton's type of steakhouse. I would make this place a backup to the backup or only if someone else took you here.

Backyard Bowls. Okay, this isn't really a restaurant, just a really-uber-clean eating, healthy sort of place. But I LOVED it! I guess because it was really light and filling way to start off my day. Plus, for $7, I got a pretty decent sized bowl of yogurt, fruit, granola, and acai mix. Can't really beat that. I wish it was closer, but then I would go every day. A good substitute is South Block Company in Clarendon. They also have an acai bowl for $7, but it is about 1/4 of this place's size. :-(

Bakeries

D'Angelo Bread. They don't have a website. But this is also a recommended brunch place on some of the search results I found. This is a nice, reliable, old-fashioned bakery that makes all sorts of desserts and breads. I was only drawn to their cinnamon bun, which, for $3.25, was slightly above the price-to-food ratio that I had hoped for. It was a decently made bun, but not very big, nor very filling. It was nice, but probably not $3.25-nice. Brunch looked nice.

Renaud's Bakery and Bistro. I think this bakery is the town's darling, being "authentically French" and all. But it felt like Patisserie Poupon:  small portions, slightly expensive, and the food looked prettier than when it went down the hatch. I had a decent coconut croissant ($2.80), but again, for the size, the price-to-food ratio just falls flat. I still think this place is worth visiting, but maybe more for their tart, tortes, and cakes?

Coffeeshops

The French Press. Really the only place you should visit and purchase your coffee. Small business that roasts their own beans, I believe, they are an unexpected gem in a small town, such as SB. There are other coffeeshops, but I liked the rich smoothness this place offered compared to the slight bitter aftertaste I had at the other place below. Bonus is they have their own bakery, so you can enjoy a nicely made donut while enjoying your coffee or espresso.

Santa Barbara Roasting Company. Came here en route to Stearns Wharf for a nice pier walk. It has more of a Tryst or Northside Social feel here; probably too hip for me. Service is very nice, as was the place above--people are very friendly here, which is a nice deviation from the curmudgeony attitudes some baristas have in this area. But I digress. The espresso I ordered as a wake-me-up sort of did the trick. For a mere $1.90, it was a solid shot of hot bean goodness. Except it went down a bit more sour and bitter than I would like. This is probably close to some of the hotels near the wharf, so I would recommend visiting, if you are close.

Touristy places

Corks n' Crowns. Along Anacapa Street, which is where this wine tasting place is located, a tasting room is a mere stone's throw away in any given direction. I couldn't make the famous wine tasting trail that others could, given my genetic disability, but visiting here was not a bad substitute. There are different flights to choose from, with a few pourers on the ready to answer any questions you have or make suggestions based on your taste preference. They were friendly here, with a nice atmosphere (full of couples), and a few nice bottles to taste. They also took me seriously when I said one of my tastings tasted corked. Sure enough, the pourer tasted it, affirmed my concern, opened up a new bottle and gave me a fresh tasting portion. That felt nice.

Stearns Wharf. Gosh, what a relaxing and magnificant place to stroll, eat, lounge, visit the beach, take lovely pictures, and rest. I loved visiting, with the only regret that I was there before any of the restaurants opened. But it didn't shortchange my experience any, with plenty of photographic evidence to boot. I recommend taking time to enjoy this place, even if you need to bring a small picnic from the nearby places.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Coffeeshops

The French Press. Really the only place you should visit and purchase your coffee. Small business that roasts their own beans, I believe, they are an unexpected gem in a small town, such as SB. There are other coffeeshops, but I liked the rich smoothness this place offered compared to the slight bitter aftertaste I had at the other place below. Bonus is they have their own bakery, so you can enjoy a nicely made donut while enjoying your coffee or espresso.

Re: French Press.  It is great - the owners are good friends.  But no, in fact they use Verve to roast their coffee.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Had a quick few days in SB a few weeks back and here are my impressions:

McConnell's is a must-go for ice cream. My favorite since Salt & Straw up in Portland. Ridiculously rich and creamy, with some interesting flavors, including the now-ubiquitous salted caramel, but with chips!

Picking between La Super Rica and Los Agaves (on the same block), we went with the longer line and the much more appealing-looking plates at the latter. Their focus is genuinely different, on plated food meals rather than street taco-type meals, but having eaten at both (albeit many years apart) I much preferred Los Agaves. It's beautiful and interesting Mexican food, which is not something I see a lot of after living in SoCal for 2 years (tacos tacos tacos everywhere). I had a darkly flavorful, tenderly stewed lamb in a mole-ish sauce, and he had seafood enchiladas? Something like that, which was quickly and completely consumed. The sauces in the serve-yourself bar are fresh and fragrant we saw lots of plates go by with options we'd like to have tried. The main menu is online but they have a whole board of daily specials (where we ordered both of our dishes). Highly recommended!

China Pavilion is pretty decent Chinese food, though we ordered entirely off the Chinese menu (which was not offered to us but is online in English. The server was very amused and approving that we knew about it). We had beef noodle soup (not house-made noodles, but good broth, though not too spicy), szechuan chicken (which is not fried like we were expecting but is sauteed with a LOT of peppers/peppercorns), and some greens (gently sauteed). It was a nice break from continental food.

Bouchon is not part of the TK group, though it is a nice place on its own. I wanted to love it, but I've rarely had to send my entree back to the kitchen TWICE (1st time wrong dish, 2nd time not cooked to specification, and I'm under dietary restrictions - that were explained up front - so I genuinely couldn't eat it as made) so that definitely made an impression. Plus we didn't care for one of the preps of scallops 3 ways (fennel-marmalade punch! Yowza, really didn't like it) though the scallops themselves were gorgeous and perfectly cooked. But the  mushroom ragout and soups were very good and desserts were great versions of common dishes (molten cake and blueberry cake), plus they serve McConnell's ice cream. So I'm torn on whether we'd go back, as it was quite a mixed experience.

The Blue Owl, on the other hand, is a place I'd visit over and over again. We had a bahn mi and the BLTA and both were FABULOUS. Excellent versions of typical sandwiches with noticeably good ingredients and super friendly service. I wish their hours were more accessible (no Sunday or dinner??!!) and that they were still serving the duck sausage (on the sandwich and porducken, which are both still taunting us from the online menu, though the restaurant is no longer allowed by the City to make and serve this item because of certain health code/charcuterie rules) and that I had one in my town.

---

[super post, Sundae. Cheers, Rocks.]

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

My wife and I just came back from Santa Barbara.  I have eaten Mexican food all over America and believe that I have eaten among the best.  Prior to this trip my benchmark for a "basic" dish like a red chili enchilada with beef was L and G in El Paso.  On another thread I rhapsodized about flying on Southwest to Texas only to visit this biker bar/Tex Mex palace for their enchiladas.  They were THAT good.

On Sunday night I had it's equal.  At Los Agaves in Santa Barbara which is more of a real Mexican restaurant and less of Cal/Mex or El Paso like.  (seafood Molcajete, cazuela poblanos)  Considered to be Santa Barbara's best-I think the equal of any I have ever been to.

We want to go back.  There or El Paso.  Doesn't matter.  I never thought I would have a red chili enchilada as good as what I found next to a graveyard in Texas (!) but I found it in Santa Barbara.

Is there anywhere, anywhere (!) in the greater D. C. area that does a genuinely outstanding job with enchiladas?  I'm almost afraid to ask this because last week's was so good.  But my wife doesn't really want to fly back only for an enchilada.

Well, maybe if we also had the molcajete and the cazuela and the....

I should also mention something about the Santa Ynez valley and pinot and syrah but that is another thread.

Who is doing the absolute best job with interior Mexican style Mexican food right now in the D. C. area?  Anyone?

I just went to L&G last week!  So very good.

The only enchiladas that come close around here were at Taco Fiesta back in it's college park days.  They are now up in Baltimore but may be worth the trek.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just went to L&G last week!  So very good.

The only enchiladas that come close around here were at Taco Fiesta back in it's college park days.  They are now up in Baltimore but may be worth the trek.

Toogs, just read your post.  Sorry for the delay.   You went to L & G?!?  I am jealous.

Almost worth Southwest's next fare sale to return...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just back from a weekend in Ojai and SB with some old industry friends and have to put in plugs for Les Marchands and Handlebar Coffee Roasters.

Handlebar was a great little diversion when we landed in town a little early. They're roasting some nice coffee and pulling a mean shot.  Sunny little courtyard, gluten free options as well as standard pastries and a very friendly attitude. Reminded me of Albina Press in Portland back when Billy was still pulling shots. As always I don't understand a third wave shop that doesn't have simple syrup on the bar, particularly when they have a hot plate but that was my only complaint. Definitely recommend.

I hate 'curated' as an adjective but it's applicable to the selection at Les Marchands - nice esoteric wine shop with items to please any wine nerd on your list at good prices. They'll open any bottle for $10 corkage in the cafe side, and they have some very tasty little bites. We tried almost all the small bites from the delicious charcute board to the homemade onion dip with house chips. Really nice space both indoor and out of the sort you just don't find done as well out here on the East Coast.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would seriously promote Los Agaves as the overall best Mexican restaurant in the United States.  I've eaten at what are considered the best in Dallas, Houston, Tucson, El Paso, L. A., San Diego, and I would put this up against any of them.  Passionately love the place.    Seafood molicajete, campuestre, red chili enchiladas that that don't exist this side of El Paso, we literally will build a return trip to Santa Barbara around being able to return here at least twice.

La Super Rica is not in the same league although it's quite good.  This was Julia Child's favorite Mexican restaurant in the U. S.  Los Agaves had not opened yet when she made that statement.

We also liked Bouchon.

Sanguis Six White Horses '09 syrah is a benchmark for CA.  Serious pinot, too:  Loner 12b.  Unctuously rich and worth the $75 price.  Nearby Sanata Ynez valley north to Paso Robles is ground zero for syrah in CA.  Real value, too, for some of them. (Beckmman Ballard Canyon $32 2012 syrah is worth every penny.  94 pts from one wine publication.  Jaffurs petit syrah rated 93 by, I believe, the WS and it's around $35 or so.  Still, Sanguis is the benchmark.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/16/2014 at 2:51 PM, Sundae in the Park said:

McConnell's is a must-go for ice cream. My favorite since Salt & Straw up in Portland. Ridiculously rich and creamy, with some interesting flavors, including the now-ubiquitous salted caramel, but with chips!

Picking between La Super Rica and Los Agaves (on the same block), we went with the longer line and the much more appealing-looking plates at the latter. Their focus is genuinely different, on plated food meals rather than street taco-type meals, but having eaten at both (albeit many years apart) I much preferred Los Agaves. It's beautiful and interesting Mexican food, which is not something I see a lot of after living in SoCal for 2 years (tacos tacos tacos everywhere). I had a darkly flavorful, tenderly stewed lamb in a mole-ish sauce, and he had seafood enchiladas? Something like that, which was quickly and completely consumed. The sauces in the serve-yourself bar are fresh and fragrant we saw lots of plates go by with options we'd like to have tried. The main menu is online but they have a whole board of daily specials (where we ordered both of our dishes). Highly recommended!

The Blue Owl, on the other hand, is a place I'd visit over and over again. We had a bahn mi and the BLTA and both were FABULOUS. Excellent versions of typical sandwiches with noticeably good ingredients and super friendly service. I wish their hours were more accessible (no Sunday or dinner??!!) and that they were still serving the duck sausage (on the sandwich and porducken, which are both still taunting us from the online menu, though the restaurant is no longer allowed by the City to make and serve this item because of certain health code/charcuterie rules) and that I had one in my town.

On 4/30/2014 at 11:50 PM, goodeats said:

Backyard Bowls. Okay, this isn't really a restaurant, just a really-uber-clean eating, healthy sort of place. But I LOVED it! I guess because it was really light and filling way to start off my day. Plus, for $7, I got a pretty decent sized bowl of yogurt, fruit, granola, and acai mix. Can't really beat that. I wish it was closer, but then I would go every day. A good substitute is South Block Company in Clarendon. They also have an acai bowl for $7, but it is about 1/4 of this place's size. :-(

Check, check, check, check, and check. My new favorite flavor at McConnell's is the double peanut butter, which also has chips. I really like chunky stuff in my ice cream, and I think their salty flavors shine the brightest (I tried a bunch of other flavors, but still ended up liking the salty peanut butter and caramel the best). The coffee flavors are particularly intense, and the new Earl Grey with butter biscuits has a robust tea flavor, which is nice if one likes Early Grey.

We did La Super Rica and Los Agaves (Milpas in SB) back-to-back this time, to better compare the two, and found that they are different enough experiences to both be well worth the trip/calories/belly space. I prefer Los Agaves, with its more upscale preparations and wide-ranging (and changing) menu, and my husband prefers the simplicity and constancy of La Super Rica. At Los Agaves we got the Arrachera, which is "grilled 7oz Angus skirt steak with a grilled poblano chile stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese and a pasilla chile. Served with rice and pinto beans," a side of guacamole, and a side of grilled vegetables. Everything is worth eating, especially the vegetables, rice (fluffy, with each distinct grain coated with flavor), and chile (not that the meat wasn't good, just that the side stuff is superb so it particularly noteworthy), and their red salsa from the bar is earthy without being too spicy (IMO, though I can take some heat). At La Super Rica we got the Super Rica Especial (roasted chile pasilla w/ marinated pork), lomito suizo (basically a pork quesadilla), a chorizo taco, and a pork tamal (special). The meat portions are quite generous and the chiles are roasted till dark and sweet. Red salsa is more interesting than the green, and you can eat as much pico as you can. Good stuff all, just a bit more rustic than Los Agaves. The folks at the counter are really nice and used to dealing with board-gazing tourists. Still cash-only, and their take-out packaging is expertly done (individual plates covered and labeled and all placed in a box). Right now La Super Rica is closed Tuesday and Wednesdays, and Los Agaves is pretty much open all day, every day. 

The Blue Owl (downtown SB) is now open for dinner!!! So it's available for lunch, dinner, and late night on the weekends, but still no service on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Same impressions as last time - awesome sandwiches, laid-back atmosphere, pricey, a little precious, but totally worth it. I tried the fried rice this time (in addition to the BLTA and bahn mi) and it was perfectly fried with lots crunchy sprouted legumes - doesn't fried rice always have these? :P - plus a poached egg (of course).

Backyard Bowls is the natural SB evolution of Jamba Juice. I tried the berry acai bowl and it was cool, refreshing, and healthful-feeling, but wow! that's a lot of sugar in the morning! Albeit healthier sugars, but still, a large bowl is a ton of food and a lot of sweet stuff (it probably doesn't help that I'm normally a savory person in the morning). It's a great value for what you get, though. The acai mix is sort of like a sludgy smoothie mix, and they don't stint with the berries. I tried the Goleta location. Fast service and great for carry-out.

Yankee Noodle (downtown SB) wasn't originally on my SB eating itinerary, but, with our family's preferences, we couldn't pass it up once we saw it. It's an Asian-American fusion spot in an old industrial space with huge communal wooden tables, soaring ceilings, and inside-outside seating. They look very hipster but have high chairs, and the soda machine stocks only fancy, cane-sugar sodas (if I were still soda-ing, I would have tried every one!). The classic ramen was good, great porky stock, springy noodles, and even the lowest spicy request was still quite hot. The Indian fry bread was less successful - ours was cool/cold by the time we got it, and even though the toppings are good (the pork > than the chicken) the bread was too thick. My Hawaiian BBQ plate was decent, with bigger portions of good-quality meats, smothered in the various sweet sauces. The mac salad that came with it was boring, but the cole slaw was good, not overly dressed. We wanted the kim chee tacos, but they were out. I'd say this place would be best for drinks (they had all sorts available that we didn't check out) and ramen. 

Cajun Kitchen Cafe is...fine. An absolutely fine place to grab breakfast at one of the many locations (I tried Goleta). I had a CA eggs benedict and, while the hollandaise wasn't special, it was worth eating some of it, and the eggs were pretty. The others in the dining rooms looked perfectly happy with their big plates of breakfast. I think I was mostly annoyed that my plate came out way after a bunch of people who were seated after me while I was in a hurry. 

Goodland Kitchen and Market (Goleta), however, is EXCELLENT. Can't recommend it enough if you're in the mood for fresh, salad-y food, even though the parking situation stinks (crowded street parking only). I went back for lunch the 2nd day after enjoying my mezze plate (their 3 daily salads, plus hummus and homemade pita chips) so much the first day. Over the two days I tried the Moroccan carrot salad, a grain and vegetable salad (needed salt), roasted carrots and beets, roasted carrots and cauliflower, a couple different pasta/veg salads, and the sesame noodle salad with chicken. All excellent, and all tasting quite different while maintaining a fresh, crunchy (as appropriate), green, flavorful vibe. I'm not generally a salad person (usually I would have gotten a sandwich or soup, which also looked nice), but the displays called out to me and they were as good as they looked! The prices are reasonable for the portions and the cookies are decent as well. If you're flying in/out of the Santa Barbara airport, this spot is right down the street and ready for your refreshment! I felt full and just good (healthful food choices, didn't eat too much, really tasty food) both times after eating there.

I've been to Brophy Bros. in SB and a few times in Ventura and it really isn't my jam, since its always crowded, I don't eat shellfish, and the fish choices are limited and seem to stay the same. My husband and son ate All The Fried Things at the seafood shack on the end of Stearn's Wharf (probably SB Shellfish Co but they weren't paying attention. Twice.) plus the clam chowder over a couple days and loved it all. He also said that the ice cream on the pier is fine but not as good as McConnell's.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...