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State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara, California
State Street in Santa Barbara
Photo by: Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

16 Terrific Restaurants to Try in Santa Barbara

The beautiful coastal city just north of Los Angeles has plenty of creative drinks, food, and history

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State Street in Santa Barbara
| Photo by: Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Every big city has road trip destinations, and Los Angeles is blessed to have Santa Barbara. Without traffic, the drive is an hour and 40 minutes from Downtown LA, and slightly under three hours if relaxing on an Amtrak train. Both have stunning views throughout the route, but Santa Barbara’s entire landscape is breathtaking. The ocean is always nearby, buildings historic, with rolling hills wrapped around the harbor that include some of the region’s best hotels, restaurants, seafood spots, and beachside dining.

Strolling through Downtown Santa Barbara can be particularly pleasant on the car-free section of State Street, especially when on a Saturday or Tuesday for the walkable farmer's market utilized by local eateries. Just start plotting a trip for moderate temperatures, endless views, and good eats at these 16 Santa Barbara restaurants.

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Toma Restaurant & Bar

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There’s a lot to like about Toma with its Mediterranean menu of grilled octopus, roasted lamb meatballs, and hearty cioppino. Take in the views and toast to one of the best cocktail programs in the area.

Bluewater Grill - Santa Barbara

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After walking on the Pier or the waterfront, head into the Bluewater Grill for crabcakes, baked crab and artichoke dip, bouillabaisse, prawn linguine, or the popular seafood staple: fish and chips. Bluewater’s wines hail from California vineyards including Santa Barbara’s Margerum grenache.

The Black Sheep

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The one-of-a-kind Black Sheep is Santa Barbara’s Californian-French pub where everything is solid from the wine list and inventive cocktails to the casual bites. Try the rich French onion soup and coq au vin. Those who know arrive between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. for the $39 prix fixe dinner.

Bibi Ji

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Modern Indian spot Bibi Ji secured a mention from the Michelin Guide in 2021, but locals and tourists have been fans of the State Street restaurant since it opened in 2018. Order the chicken tikka, dal makhani, saag paneer, chutneys, and fluffy naan. Order the lychee, and ginger coconut sorbet to finish the meal.

Caruso's

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In Montecito, Caruso’s is all about luxury. The Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel’s restaurant faces the Pacific and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The prix fixe dinner menu runs $165 per person, but one can also partake of chef Massimo Falsini’s full tasting menu for $275 per person. Options might include hand-pulled burrata, Channel Islands snapper crudo, and when in season, Santa Barbara spiny lobster. It’s also the best spot to people-watch.

Gala is an easy neighborhood restaurant with an uncomplicated menu that changes with the seasons. Try the Hope Ranch oysters, fried green tomatoes, crudos, and the cheesecake. There’s even a menu option to buy a neighboring table a glass of Cava.

La Paloma Cafe

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La Paloma is Santa Barbara history. The restaurant opened as Jennie Luera’s La Paloma Cafe in 1940 and later became the Paradise Cafe in 1983. Then four years ago, Acme Hospitality reimagined La Paloma and reopened it inside the building still owned by the Luera family. It was restored it to its former glory in recent years with new murals and an expanded patio. La Paloma is open for lunch and dinner where margaritas are the house specialty, as is the pozole verde, salads, oak-grilled local catch of the day, or the wagyu tri-tip steak with Santa Maria salsa and pinto beans.

La Paloma Cafe’s barbecue pork burrito in Santa Barbara, California.
La Paloma Cafe’s barbecue pork burrito.
Ali Beck Photography

Upon entering Lokum, take in the hanging lights, bright colors, and display case. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the choices. The vastness of the colorful Turkish delight and baklava will make one want to order everything. Best to eat one on-site with incredibly strong coffee, and take the rest home.

Bettina

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Santa Barbara’s Bettina remains busy, no matter when visiting for a meal. People can’t get enough of the wood-fired pizzas, local wines, sourdough ricotta cavatelli, creamy tomato soup, or whipped ricotta and focaccia. Given Bettina’s popularity, the Carpinteria location will also be packed when it opens in 2024.

Meatlover’s pizza from Bettina in Santa Barbara.
Bettina.
Matthew Kang

Taqueria El Bajio

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Operating for over 20 years adjacent to Downtown is Taqueria El Bajio. This unfussy spot won’t be as busy as the more popular El Super-Rico Taqueria, but the quality is high along with ample outdoor seating. Try the quesadilla adobada with juicy shredded pork, cheese, onions, cilantro, and onion.

Sama Sama Kitchen

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Santa Barbara’s Southeast Asian specialist Sama Sama is across the street from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Take in the art collections before or after visiting Sama Sama and try the Indonesian nasi goreng, Javanese chicken curry bowl, Peking duck-inspired salad tossed with a sweet chili fish sauce dressing, and outstanding sticky chicken wings.

Secret Bao

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Secret Bao began as a pandemic-era pop-up by former Loquita chef Peter Lee and partner Felicia Medina. His menu is creative and delicious with spicy hamachi wonton tacos, honey walnut shrimp, a Korean fried chicken bao, and udon noodle carbonara.

Corazón Comedor

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After receiving a Michelin Bib Gourmand for his sister Santa Barbara restaurant Corazón Cocina, Ramon Velazquez opened Corazón Comedor in late 2022. At Comedor, Velazquez opts for traditional Mexican dishes where options include tacos, a perfectly pounded flat and breaded milanesa, enchiladas, tamales, and a hearty, puffy quesadilla.

La Super-Rica Taqueria

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By far Santa Barbara’s most famous restaurant, Isidoro Gonzalez founded La Super-Rica in 1980. People still flock to the aqua building with a covered patio for comfort and thick, pressed-to-order corn tortillas that made Julia Child a regular. Ask staff for recommendations but order the tacos de bistec where chunks of thin beef are pounded and salted right into the flat-top griddle.

La Super Rica special in Santa Barbara, California.
La Super-Rica special.
Mona Holmes

Oat Bakery

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Oat Bakery’s prowess spreads across Santa Barbara County with one location in Downtown Santa Barbara and one slightly north in Goleta. Montecito resident Oprah Winfrey is known to favor Oat’s bread and pastry which vary from traditional to gluten-free along with additions like chia seeds, chopped almonds, or fresh spinach, to name a few. Always ask for the specials as staff are always concocting something new.

Cold Spring Tavern

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Fill up the gas tank of gas before heading through the San Marcos Pass. This twisty stretch of Route 154 rises north of Santa Barbara and is worth the drive to Cold Spring Tavern, a former stagecoach stop that’s been serving food since 1865. The restaurant remains popular with bikers and wine country tourists thanks to a Western setting that includes wagon wheels and picnic tables. Order the beer battered onion rings for the table, or the wild game black bean chili, baby back pork ribs, and buffalo burger

Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara, California.
Cold Spring Tavern
Farley Elliott

Toma Restaurant & Bar

There’s a lot to like about Toma with its Mediterranean menu of grilled octopus, roasted lamb meatballs, and hearty cioppino. Take in the views and toast to one of the best cocktail programs in the area.

Bluewater Grill - Santa Barbara

After walking on the Pier or the waterfront, head into the Bluewater Grill for crabcakes, baked crab and artichoke dip, bouillabaisse, prawn linguine, or the popular seafood staple: fish and chips. Bluewater’s wines hail from California vineyards including Santa Barbara’s Margerum grenache.

The Black Sheep

The one-of-a-kind Black Sheep is Santa Barbara’s Californian-French pub where everything is solid from the wine list and inventive cocktails to the casual bites. Try the rich French onion soup and coq au vin. Those who know arrive between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. for the $39 prix fixe dinner.

Bibi Ji

Modern Indian spot Bibi Ji secured a mention from the Michelin Guide in 2021, but locals and tourists have been fans of the State Street restaurant since it opened in 2018. Order the chicken tikka, dal makhani, saag paneer, chutneys, and fluffy naan. Order the lychee, and ginger coconut sorbet to finish the meal.

Caruso's

In Montecito, Caruso’s is all about luxury. The Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel’s restaurant faces the Pacific and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The prix fixe dinner menu runs $165 per person, but one can also partake of chef Massimo Falsini’s full tasting menu for $275 per person. Options might include hand-pulled burrata, Channel Islands snapper crudo, and when in season, Santa Barbara spiny lobster. It’s also the best spot to people-watch.

Gala

Gala is an easy neighborhood restaurant with an uncomplicated menu that changes with the seasons. Try the Hope Ranch oysters, fried green tomatoes, crudos, and the cheesecake. There’s even a menu option to buy a neighboring table a glass of Cava.

La Paloma Cafe

La Paloma is Santa Barbara history. The restaurant opened as Jennie Luera’s La Paloma Cafe in 1940 and later became the Paradise Cafe in 1983. Then four years ago, Acme Hospitality reimagined La Paloma and reopened it inside the building still owned by the Luera family. It was restored it to its former glory in recent years with new murals and an expanded patio. La Paloma is open for lunch and dinner where margaritas are the house specialty, as is the pozole verde, salads, oak-grilled local catch of the day, or the wagyu tri-tip steak with Santa Maria salsa and pinto beans.

La Paloma Cafe’s barbecue pork burrito in Santa Barbara, California.
La Paloma Cafe’s barbecue pork burrito.
Ali Beck Photography

Lokum

Upon entering Lokum, take in the hanging lights, bright colors, and display case. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the choices. The vastness of the colorful Turkish delight and baklava will make one want to order everything. Best to eat one on-site with incredibly strong coffee, and take the rest home.

Bettina

Santa Barbara’s Bettina remains busy, no matter when visiting for a meal. People can’t get enough of the wood-fired pizzas, local wines, sourdough ricotta cavatelli, creamy tomato soup, or whipped ricotta and focaccia. Given Bettina’s popularity, the Carpinteria location will also be packed when it opens in 2024.

Meatlover’s pizza from Bettina in Santa Barbara.
Bettina.
Matthew Kang

Taqueria El Bajio

Operating for over 20 years adjacent to Downtown is Taqueria El Bajio. This unfussy spot won’t be as busy as the more popular El Super-Rico Taqueria, but the quality is high along with ample outdoor seating. Try the quesadilla adobada with juicy shredded pork, cheese, onions, cilantro, and onion.

Sama Sama Kitchen

Santa Barbara’s Southeast Asian specialist Sama Sama is across the street from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Take in the art collections before or after visiting Sama Sama and try the Indonesian nasi goreng, Javanese chicken curry bowl, Peking duck-inspired salad tossed with a sweet chili fish sauce dressing, and outstanding sticky chicken wings.

Secret Bao

Secret Bao began as a pandemic-era pop-up by former Loquita chef Peter Lee and partner Felicia Medina. His menu is creative and delicious with spicy hamachi wonton tacos, honey walnut shrimp, a Korean fried chicken bao, and udon noodle carbonara.

Corazón Comedor

After receiving a Michelin Bib Gourmand for his sister Santa Barbara restaurant Corazón Cocina, Ramon Velazquez opened Corazón Comedor in late 2022. At Comedor, Velazquez opts for traditional Mexican dishes where options include tacos, a perfectly pounded flat and breaded milanesa, enchiladas, tamales, and a hearty, puffy quesadilla.

La Super-Rica Taqueria

By far Santa Barbara’s most famous restaurant, Isidoro Gonzalez founded La Super-Rica in 1980. People still flock to the aqua building with a covered patio for comfort and thick, pressed-to-order corn tortillas that made Julia Child a regular. Ask staff for recommendations but order the tacos de bistec where chunks of thin beef are pounded and salted right into the flat-top griddle.

La Super Rica special in Santa Barbara, California.
La Super-Rica special.
Mona Holmes

Oat Bakery

Oat Bakery’s prowess spreads across Santa Barbara County with one location in Downtown Santa Barbara and one slightly north in Goleta. Montecito resident Oprah Winfrey is known to favor Oat’s bread and pastry which vary from traditional to gluten-free along with additions like chia seeds, chopped almonds, or fresh spinach, to name a few. Always ask for the specials as staff are always concocting something new.

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Cold Spring Tavern

Fill up the gas tank of gas before heading through the San Marcos Pass. This twisty stretch of Route 154 rises north of Santa Barbara and is worth the drive to Cold Spring Tavern, a former stagecoach stop that’s been serving food since 1865. The restaurant remains popular with bikers and wine country tourists thanks to a Western setting that includes wagon wheels and picnic tables. Order the beer battered onion rings for the table, or the wild game black bean chili, baby back pork ribs, and buffalo burger

Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara, California.
Cold Spring Tavern
Farley Elliott

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