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Santa Barbara’s Compelling Culinary Scene

photo courtesy of Flor de Maiz

The bounty of Flor De Maiz. Photo courtesy of Flor de Maiz | Visit Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s culinary options have always included gems both well-known and under-the-radar, but the American Riviera now overflows with epicurean surprises, fueled by passion and creativity inspired by the region’s abundant bounty.

A recent al fresco lunch enjoyed at Santa Barbara’s Satellite restaurant confirmed the region’s culinary unity and joie de vivre. As Kyle and Ashley Hollister shared the origins of their T.W. Hollister & Co. vermouths, which are made with botanicals from their family’s historic Hollister Ranch, Satellite proprietor Drew Cuddy served bespoke cocktails created with the fortified wine, while backyard gardener Sarah Bourke poured her Sideyard Shrubs made with locally gathered fruit. 

Bettina Greenspan, founder of Michelin Bib Gourmand-recommended Bettina Pizzeria, waved a friendly hello as she wandered by, and Jane Chapman of Jane Restaurant pulled up a chair to join the conversation, sharing the COVID-19 origins of her Communal Table dinner party venture. On this day, at this hour, the palpable camaraderie of this group of gastronomic entrepreneurs revealed a cohesive community of artisans and dreamers who are shaping Santa Barbara’s food and beverage scene and its farm-to-table, Coastal California ethos. And their efforts are spectacular.

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While Santa Barbara’s culinary options have always included gems both well-known and under-the-radar, the American Riviera now overflows with epicurean surprises, fueled by passion and creativity inspired by the region’s abundant bounty. Following is a list of some of our current favorites, the offerings of which are deliciously stellar. But beyond the palate, each combines to create a culinary community that serves a greater good – one that nourishes both body and soul.

While Santa Barbara’s culinary options have always included gems both well-known and under-the-radar, the American Riviera now overflows with epicurean surprises, fueled by passion and creativity inspired by the region’s abundant bounty.

Dinner at Caruso's. Photo courtesy of Rosewood Miramar Beach

Dinner at Caruso's. Photo courtesy of Rosewood Miramar Beach | Visit Santa Barbara

CARUSO’S | ROSEWOOD MIRAMAR BEACH

1759 South Jameson Lane

Caruso’s four-course prix fix menu features so many delicious options, you’ll need a second and third visit to satiate your curiosity. This waterfront, Michelin Guide-recommended jewel is designed to resemble the stern of a yacht, helmed by the charming Massimo Falsini. Raised in Rome, Chef Falsini indulges his passion for Southern Italian Cuisine with items such as a deceptively simple Cacio e Pepe and Cappellacci Alla Mantovana with Kuri, Delicata, Chanterelle, butter sage and Parmigiano Reggiano. 

In addition to pasta dishes, selections from land and sea are complemented by an extensive selection of hyperlocal and international wines. And the sunset view simply can’t be beat.

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Sushibar Montecito Yellowtail Corn Pudding Photo By Jessy Lynn Perkins

Sushibar Montecito Yellowtail Corn Pudding Photo By Jessy Lynn Perkins | Visit Santa Barbara

SUSHI BY SCRATCH RESTAURANTS

1295 Coast Village Rd. 

Having received its first Michelin star, this tiny, ten seat spot located at the historic Montecito Inn is a hot ticket. Imagined by Scratch|Restaurant founders Phillip Frankland Lee and his wife, pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee, Sushi by Scratch Restaurants is helmed by the talented Lennon Silvers-Lee who adds unexpected touches to his 17 omakase courses such as seared unagi with bone marrow drippings. Enhance the experience with the ‘bartender’s choice’ drink pairing which includes a panoply of Japanese whiskies, sake, crafted micro-cocktails, local beer, and wine.

Satellite Yoga Pants Salad, Photo by Blake Bronstad

Satellite Yoga Pants Salad, Photo by Blake Bronstad | Visit Santa Barbara

SATELLITE

1117 State St.

This farm-to-table/farm-to-glass restaurant and natural wine shop focuses on ethical, beneficial agriculture, and the freshest locally grown ingredients. Satellite’s ever-evolving vegetarian menu, overseen by Executive Chef Emma West (owner of Santa Barbara‘s late, famed Julienne restaurant) is a place to discover uncommon flavors. Don’t miss the Yoga Pants Salad, fully vegan and loaded with a seasonal mix of the best farmers market produce with ingredients subject to seasonal change. Under West’s deft hand, even a humble dish of slow cooked Confit Tomatoes transports.

FLOR DE MAIZ

Flor De Maiz | Visit Santa Barbara

FLOR DE MAIZ

29 E. Cabrillo Blvd.

Restaurateur Carlos Luna owns many popular Mexican eateries in the area, including Santo Mezcal and the Michelin Guide-recommended Los Agaves trio of restaurants. Flor de Maiz is his celebration of Oaxacan cuisine. Favorites include any of the colorful ceviches, and the Tacos de Langosta. The East Beach adjacent space features an open kitchen where guests can watch the preparation of fresh tortillas. The lively bar serves decadent cocktails such as the Oaxaca, featuring El Silencio mezcal, house-made mole mix, lime and orange juices, and orange bitters.

Costa entry, courtesy of Mar Monte Hotel

Costa entry, courtesy of Mar Monte Hotel | Visit Santa Barbara

COSTA KITCHEN & BAR

1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd.

At this charming Mar Monte Hotel restaurant, menu items expertly meld influences from coastal Italy and the eastern Mediterranean, with emphasis on local purveyors. costa’s seafood-driven menu features shareable plates and signature dishes, such as whole roasted branzino with brown butter kale, Santa Barbara halibut crudo and Santa Barbara uni served with homemade angel hair pasta. 

Classic craft cocktails include those both light and refreshing, and spirited, richer libations. Central Coast winemakers play a starring role; their wares are housed in an 800-bottle glass wine display.

Loquita nighttime Photo by Blake Bronstad

Loquita at night. Photo by Blake Bronstad | Visit Santa Barbara

LOQUITA

202 State St.

This menu is a love letter to the Spanish origins and history of Santa Barbara, created with input from celebrated Spanish chef Perfecto Roche. Items include hot and cold tapas, wood-fired grilled seafood and meats and seasonal paella. 

The wine list is comprised almost entirely of Spanish wines and the cocktail list showcases Spanish vermouths, farmers’ market Sangria, hand-crafted cocktails and a rotating selection of Spain’s king of cocktails, the Gin & Tonic. Loquita was recently added to the Michelin California Guide as a Bib Gourmand.

BibiJi kebab. Photo by The Last Peach

Bibi Ji kebab. Photo by The Last Peach | Visit Santa Barbara

BIBI JI

734 State St.

Yet another Michelin California Guide Bib Gourmand, Bibi Ji offers an approachable and modern twist on traditional Indian cuisine. Owner Alejandro Medina, along with James Beard award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr and Chef KK Bheemarao (a former chef at Bukhara, a World’s 50 Best restaurant) offer a menu that highlights the abundance of local seafood served sea-to-table with traditional Indian curries and a bounty of fresh produce cooked in house-roasted Indian spices. 

The extensive list of low-intervention, sustainable, and organic wines is the perfect way to settle into any night, either on the private back patio or inside the vibrant dining room.

 

JANE CHAPMAN’S COMMUNAL TABLE 

Jane Chapman’s family has been feeding the Santa Barbara community for years at popular Jane Restaurant. As things quieted during Covid, Chapman took her hospitality know-how and created Communal Table, a small, monthly dinner and conversation gathering for women, held at secret, bucolic spots throughout the area. 

Communal Table is a place to share stories, explore different areas of thought, process new ideas, and expand worldviews, all while enjoying an incredible meal –  the epitome of body and soul nourishment.

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