Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara

Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara

My Santa Barbara favorite restaurant guide

• With top choices for seven different categories •

Moving to Santa Barbara thirteen-plus years ago from New York City, my husband and I were used to incredible food and restaurant choices available to us at any given time. We used to live in the West Village - a wonderfully charming neighborhood - where we had five different ethnic restaurants just on our single block. And all of them were unique, lively, and excellent. So we were spoiled coming from NYC. I would even go so far as to call my husband - who is also an incredible cook - a bit of a "food snob" (Pssst! - Don't tell him I said that ;)

So take it from a native German, traveling and working around Europe for years, indulging in incredible cuisine from around the world, and married to a foodie.

→ Here are some of my favorite choices for dining in Santa Barbara

I am dividing this guide into different areas of interest. There are many more restaurants I like. And I love trying out new venues. I frequently report some of my local visits on my Instagram - Follow me there for more. Check out my IG guides and local highlights for dining inspiration. And DM me anytime if you need specialty recommendations - I love to help with all things Santa Barbara.

Search top 5 choices for these categories within this guide:

  • Dine and play
  • Ethnic Cuisine
  • Top restaurant picks by neighborhood
  • High-end choices
  • Dine on a budget
  • Hip Spots
  • Top Waterfront Venues

Would you like me to add another category?

 Let me know in the comments


At Shoreline Cafe on the sand

Dine and play 

If you are looking for restaurants offering some extra entertainment beyond your dinner, you might like to try out these options.

  • Arnoldi's Cafe (a traditional family-style Italian restaurant with a bocce ball court)
  • Eleven 14 (an entertaining sports bar with arcade & games, great outdoor seating at La Arcada Plaza by the turtle fountain)
  • Padaro Beach Grill (Carpinteria beachy restaurant with casual menu located next to the ocean. This place is very entertaining for little kids due to an oversized sandbox in the middle of the outdoor dining area and the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner coming by once in a while) 
  • Palace Grill (Cajun-Creole cuisine with comforting dishes, occasional live music, and a magician coming to your table throughout the evening)
  • Zaytoon (Lebanese food in a romantic setting with fire pits downtown. Enjoy belly dancing for extra entertainment on Saturday evenings)

Churros at Eleven14 - happy kids!

Ethnic Cuisine

If you are looking for food from around the world, try some of these options.

  • Arigato Sushi (Sushi - one of the best options in town, in my humble opinion)
  • Sama Sama Kitchen (South East Asian - great fresh and unique flavors, inviting patio)
  • Empty Bowl (Thai - Public Market is a European-style food hall with different vendors. The noodle soups at this place are super tasty)
  • Petit Valentien (French & Ethiopian - another noteworthy option at La Arcade Plaza. Lovely service, intimate setting)
  • Olio e Limone (Italian - very classic with solid service, reliably delicious food, and seasonal specials on the menu)

Olio e Limone Ristorante

Top Neighborhood Picks

If you are looking to stay in your neighborhood, try out these options by location.

  • Mesa Verde (Mesa neighborhood - high-quality vegan restaurant)
  • Lure Fishhouse (West San Roque neighborhood - lively seafood restaurant with lots of space for larger groups)
  • Via Maestra 42 (San Roque neighborhood - authentic, intimate, and unassuming Italian trattoria with traditional recipes)
  • Los Agaves (Upper East / Mission Canyon / Oak Park / Samarkand neighborhoods - popular choice Mexican restaurant bustling with locals from all surrounding neighborhoods)
  • El Encanto Hotel (Riviera neighborhood - gorgeous dining terrace with luxurious ambiance overlooking the city and ocean)

Mesa Verde Restaurant

Higher-end choices

These fine dining options are some of my favorites for a special night out.

  • Bouchon (Elegant restaurant, yet relaxed atmosphere with thoughtfully prepared dishes and wine list)
  • Stonehouse Restaurant (American cuisine with local ingredients in a ridiculously romantic setting at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, one of the most renowned hotels in the country)
  • The Lark (a Funk Zone classic with an innovative menu and stylish venue paired with a lively scene)
  • Stella Mare's (quality cooking with French influences in a sunroom-like atmosphere by the bird refuge. Never disappoints. It is also ideal for larger groups or events)
  • Coast and Olive (Classic venue at the historic Montecito Inn with delectable fish and seafood options and lovely ambiance)

The Lark

Dine on a budget

For a quick and casual meal, these are all fantastic options.

  • Habit Burger (Fast Food option - a local's favorite)
  • La Super-Rica Taqueria (Authentic Mexican - famed for having been Julia Child's favorite taco joint - tip: come during odd times, as the lines here can be long)
  • Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio (Tri-Tip sandwich - a mouthwatering meaty sandwich for your hearty appetite)
  • On the Alley (Fish & Chips - the favorite on the menu paired with a cold beer and a harbor view)
  • Third Window Brewing (Smash Burgers on weekends - undoubtedly a must-try for the ultimate burger lover. Super flavorful)

La Super-Rica Taqueria

Hip Spots

If you are looking for a fun scene or some people watching, check out these options.

  • Loquita (great spot to come for a girl's night out with fabulous cocktails and sharing dishes, tapas-style)
  • La Paloma Cafe (lovely patio for the perfect summer dining with a Mexican twist)
  • Oku (a cool restaurant by the waterfront with Asian fusion dishes and a fun atmosphere)
  • Flor de Maiz (quality Mexican and Latin American food with craft cocktails, coastal setting and a fun Happy Hour menu)
  • Lucky's Steakhouse (excellent steak as well as lively Montecito bar scene)

La Paloma Cafe

Top Waterfront Venues

Dining with an ocean view is particularly pleasant at these spots.

  • The Boathouse (located by Hendry's Beach, a local's favorite with a nice variety of seafood dishes and tasty blood orange margaritas overlooking the ocean)
  • Shoreline Beach Cafe (super casual restaurant on the sand at Leadbetter Beach. Perfect for bringing the whole family, enjoying Mexican-inspired food and drinks and watching the kids play on the sand. Parents! - You might even make it through an entire adult conversation)
  • Reunion Kitchen & Drink (a little bit of everything in relaxing atmosphere right on East Beach)
  • Convivo (enjoy Nomad Italian dinner at the Santa Barbara Inn with a great terrace facing the ocean)
  • Caruso's (luxury dining at the Miramar Rosewood Hotel in Montecito with a spectacular beachside setting)

Convivo Restaurant & Bar

Here are some other articles you might like:

→ To learn about the top 5 neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, watch this video.

 For your home search visit my website here.

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