Early visitors to Santa Barbara called the city the American Riviera due to its similarities to the French Riviera, the region of southeast France on the Mediterranean coastline. One similarity shared by both the French Riviera and Santa Barbara is great food. Like the French Riviera, Santa Barbara has so many restaurants that it is hard to try all of them in order to compile a list of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is the poster child of rich and fancy beach towns. With gorgeous beaches and a beautiful old town for walking, Santa Barbara is a top tourist destination in Southern California. In addition, the city has a thriving food scene that invites you to taste a lot of different food. So# come along with me as we explore some of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
1. La Super Rica Taqueria (Mexican)
Fresh Mexican food at La Super Rica Taqueria
See my photos from Santa Barbara
Family-owned and located off the beaten path, La Super Rica Taqueria offers some of the best Mexican food and deserves a place on my list of best restaurants in Santa Barbara. One of Julia Child’s favorite places to eat, La Super Rica Taqueria attracts diners who patiently wait in a line that stretches out the door in order to enjoy authentic and affordable Mexican cuisine.
Diners at La Super Rica Taqueria often choose the Super Rica especial, consisting of al pastor, chile pasilla, mozzarella, and poblano peppers; the chile relleno; the chorizo especial, made with cheese fondue and chorizo, and including three freshly made tortillas; the al pastor quesadilla; and the tacos de bistec.
2. East Beach Tacos (Mexican)
East Beach Tacos has an unusual location for a restaurant, as it is next to the East Beach Batting Cages, making it a convenient spot to work off a taco or three. Located near East Beach and Santa Barbara Beach, East Beach Tacos makes some of the best Mexican food in Santa Barbara by incorporating distinct, unique flavors into delicious gourmet fusion tacos.
The menu at East Beach Tacos features both traditional and fusion tacos. Traditional tacos include carnitas, carne asada, and the popular grilled shrimp. The fusion tacos blend Mexican and Asian cuisine like ahi poke, banh mi, and the Gangham style, with Korean marinated steak, cabbage, cilantro, spicy chili vinegar, and pickled daikon. Give it a try and you will see why it has earned a place on my list of best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
3. Los Arroyos (Mexican)
Tony Arroyo, an immigrant from La Piedad, Mexico, realized the American dream and opened his first restaurant, Los Arroyos, in a 590 square-foot space in downtown Santa Barbara in 1999. The restaurant quickly became a favorite among Santa Barbara locals, allowing Arroyo to expand the restaurant to a larger space next door and eventually to three additional locations in Montecito, Camarillo, and Goleta. The use of high quality ingredients, an emphasis on freshness, huge portions, and an attention to detail result in Los Arroyos having some of the best Mexican food in Santa Barbara.
Los Arroyos’ diners enjoy the restaurant’s enchiladas, including the Arroyo enchiladas, with fish and shrimp; the crab enchiladas; and Maria’s enchiladas, with grilled chicken or steak plus salsa verde and salsa fresca. Diners also like the vegetarian mojado burrito, the Arroyo burrito with fish and shrimp, the chicken fajitas, the chile relleno combination plate, the Tostada Ranchera Salad, and the Arroyo molcajete, with chicken or steak, grilled chorizo and nopales, and queso enchilado.
4. Los Agaves (Mexican)
Family-owned, Los Agaves opened its first restaurant on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara in 2008. Now with five locations in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, Los Agaves places a creative spin on classic dishes while maintaining a simple, yet sophisticated presentation, resulting in some of the best Mexican food in Santa Barbara.
Los Agaves’ menu covers most of the traditional Mexican delicacies. Stand out menu items include the Agaves enchiladas, with fish and shrimp; the mole enchiladas, which takes chicken enchiladas and tops them with mole and Monterey jack cheese; and the flautas tapatias, featuring chicken and beef taquitos topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, and salsa roja.
5. Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro (Breakfast)
One sign of an excellent patisserie is when their baked goods appear on other restaurants’ menus. Renaud’s Patisserie’s croissants are also sold at Handlebar Coffee and other Santa Barbara restaurants. Not only is Renaud’s well known for its pastries, but their bistro is considered one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara for breakfast, lunch, and brunch.
The signature item at Renaud’s Patisserie are the croissants. The flaky and buttery plain croissants are served with house made jam. Filled croissants, in flavors like almond and chocolate are decadently delicious. The egg, ham, and cheese croissant uses gruyere cheese instead of cheddar. The veggie quiche and the quiche Lorraine are well-liked.
6. Alessia Patisserie (Breakfast)
Founded in 2021 by a Santa Barbara native whose parents owned restaurants in Germany, Alessia Patisserie is a bakery and café serving French pastries made with fresh and sustainable ingredients. Alessia Patisserie quickly became one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara by serving pastries that make you feel as though you were transported to Normandy.
Alessia’s pastries include flaky and buttery croissants, which one online reviewer described as being “better than Paris.” The croissants also come filled with almond, chocolate, and pistachio custard, among other flavors. The breakfast and lunch menus feature croque monsieur, with ham, gruyere, and bechamel; and an elevated avocado toast with edible flowers, French feta, micro greens, and a soft boiled egg.
7. Handlebar Coffee Roasters (Coffee)
Handle Bar Coffee is a popular palce for fresh coffee
See my photos from Santa Barbara
Aaron Olson and Kim Andersen, former professional cyclists, learned to roast coffee using a vintage coffee roaster and opened Handlebar Coffee Roasters in 2011. By roasting coffee without the bitterness or acidity commonly found in other coffees and creating a low key, inviting atmosphere, they make Handlebar Coffee Roasters one of the best coffee shops in Santa Barbara.
Handlebar roasts Central and South American and African coffee beans 2-3 times weekly at their second shop in midtown Santa Barbara. The limited breakfast menu includes pastries from Renaud’s Patisserie, bagels from Isla Vista Bagel Cafe, granola, eggs, a rice and bean bowl, and an avocado toast with pomegranate seeds, tahini, tomatoes, and watermelon radishes.
8. Dart Coffee Company (Breakfast)
The Dart Coffee Company doesn’t have the frenzied ambiance that permeates the major coffee chains. The relaxed atmosphere, combined with perfectly crafted coffee drinks from knowledgeable baristas, and a zen-like garden space makes the Dart Coffee Company one of the best coffee shops in Santa Barbara and a great place to hang out, relax, or get some work done.
Dart Coffee’s organic fair trade coffee beans, sourced from small-lot indigenous farmers, are roasted on-site. From those beans, Dart makes both classic and specialty coffee drinks, including a June bug lavender latte; Lorena churro cortado, a Spanish drink made with espresso, steamed milk, simple syrup, and warm cinnamon; and the beach brew, combining cold brew, milk, sugar, and sea salt.
9. McConnell’s (Ice Cream)
Established in 1934, McConnell’s Ice Cream makes ice cream from scratch using Central Coast milk. The milk, pasteurized in-house, is combined with cage-free eggs and sugar to create a base from which other ingredients, either made in-house or sourced from carefully selected farms and suppliers, are added to create some of the best ice cream in Santa Barbara.
The flavor selection at McConnell’s rotates seasonally. Popular flavors include chocolate chocolate chocolate, made with Guittard Cocoa, chocolate ganache, and bittersweet chocolate chips; coffee, made with cold brew and espresso and resembling the taste of Turkish coffee; Eureka lemon and marionberries; double peanut butter chip; Earl Gray tea and shortbread cookies; and Santa Barbara strawberry, loaded with large strawberry pieces.
10. Rori’s Artisanal Creamery (Ice Cream)
Using her grandmother’s freshly churned ice cream as inspiration, Rori Travato opened Rori’s Artisanal Creamery in 2011. Travato personally created the recipes for each ice cream flavor along with the cones, sandwich cookies, and candy toppings. Churned in small batches, one taste will make it easy to discover that Rori’s makes some of the best ice cream in Santa Barbara.
Rori’s flavor selection rotates seasonally and includes honey lavender featuring Santa Ynez Valley lavender steeped with cream, and San Marcos Farms honey; brown sugar banana; root beer float, which tastes like a root beer float; and cinnamon toast crunch. A few vegan flavors, including passion fruit, are also available.
11. Olio Pizzeria (Italian)
A simple, casual pizza bar, Olio Pizzeria offers an extensive menu of artisan Sicilian and Camparian dishes, considered by many to be among the best Italian food in Santa Barbara. The less formal companion to Olio e Limone Ristorante and breakfast spot Olio Bottega, Olio Pizzeria takes its inspiration from the neighborhood pizzerias and wine bars located near almost every Italian piazza.
The large menu at Olio Pizzeria includes two stand-out pizzas, the boscaiola pizza with fennel sausage and mushrooms and the Margherita DOC pizza, with buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce. A popular appetizer is fried squid ink calamari while diners choosing a dessert often have tiramisu. These popular pizzas will show you why Olio is one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
12. Lucky Penny (Italian)
Diners looking for great Neapolitan style pizza know to look for the building in the Funk Zone with the shiny facade, which is the home of Lucky Penny. The building’s façade is covered with 150,000 pennies which, in the right light, makes the building shine like a copper penny. Once inside Lucky Penny, diners will find some of the best Italian food in Santa Barbara.
Lucky Penny’s wood-fired thin crust pizzas include the farmers market pizza, which takes a vegetarian pizza and puts a farm-to-table spin on it with the ingredients changing based on what’s available and fresh on any given day; the crazy surfer pizza, with Italian prosciutto, San Marzano tomato marinara, and wood fired pineapple; and the Californian pizza, featuring basil pesto, lemon ricotta, marinated artichokes, and pine nuts. Salad lovers can’t go wrong with the Caesar salad.
13. Ca’ Dario (Italian)
Ca’ Dario, located near the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, was one of the first restaurants serving northern Italian cuisine in Santa Barbara. Always bustling, the moderately priced Ca’ Dario’s friendly staff excellently serves some of the best Italian food in Santa Barbara.
Open for lunch and dinner, Ca’ Dario offers traditional Italian appetizers, salads, pastas, meats, and seafood using both Italian and local ingredients. The lunch menu also includes eggs and paninis. Daily specials are posted on a chalkboard above the bar. There is an extensive dessert menu. Gluten free pastas are available.
Many diners at Ca’ Dario enjoy the pastas, especially the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, which is spinach tagliatelle with a traditional meat ragout sauce; the spaghetti con polpette della Nonna, which combines thin spaghetti with Grandma’s meatballs and marinara sauce; and the ravioli al burro e salvia, featuring spinach and ricotta ravioli served in a brown butter and sage sauce.
14. Pascucci (Italian)
Pascucci attracts a crowd to the lower State Street restaurant, which serves up some of the best Italian food in Santa Barbara thanks to an affordably-priced lunch and dinner menu that focuses on traditional dishes served in large portions. The busy restaurant is a great place for a date night or to meet friends for a meal.
Pascucci’s diners rave about the chicken picatta, the fettuccine alfredo, and the chicken parmesan. The ravioli sampler includes five different raviolis: three cheese, butternut squash, portobello mushroom, gorgonzola, and Italian sausage.
15. Third Window Brewing (Burgers)
Kristopher Parker, the grandson of actor Fess Parker, opened Third Window Brewing in 2016. Kristopher Parker wanted to carry on a 100-plus year old tradition of Trappist beer brewing. In 2020, when California required breweries to sell food in order to remain open during the pandemic, Kristopher Parker, who owns a herd of Wagyu beef cattle, decided to sell delicious Wagyu beef smashed burgers grilled in the brewery’s kitchen. As a result, Third Window Brewing became one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
The perfectly cooked Wagyu smashed burgers offered by Third Window Brewery come four different ways. The classic smashed burger is a double cheeseburger with grilled onions, special sauce, and homemade pickles. The Smash LT adds lettuce and tomato. Other smashed burger varieties are avocado jalapeno and peanut butter and jelly.
16. Mesa Burger (Burgers)
Owned by celebrity chef Cat Cora, Mesa Burger serves up burgers using fresh, locally produced beef and locally baked brioche buns. The reasonably priced, juicy burgers, combined with a friendly staff, and a casual atmosphere that invites diners to bring their family and friends, make Mesa Burger one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
Mesa Burger’s popular burgers include the Montecito burger, which is topped with glazed mushrooms, grilled onions, goat cheese, arugula, an onion ring, and a truffle aioli; the Funk Zone burger, with a sunny side up egg, smoked bacon, roasted tomato, cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce; and the shoreline veggie burger, which features a vegan patty topped with pickled red onions, arugula, salsa verde, and red pepper hummus.
17. Loquita (Spanish)
Considered one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara and recognized with a Bib Gourmand from Michelin, Loquita brings authentic Spanish cuisine to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone with a flair that have diners think they are in Barcelona.
Open for dinner, Loquita’s menu offers hot and cold tapas, including grass-fed beef carpaccio, the charred broccolini; the croqueta de jamon with ham, and the pulpo, with Spanish octopus. Loquita’s paellas include chorizo y pollo (chorizo and free range chicken), borrego (braised lamb shank), mariscos (grilled local squid), and verduras (vegetarian). The restaurant’s gin and tonic program, combining the finest gins and specialty tonic waters, adds to Loquita’s Spanish authenticity.
18. Lure Fish House (Seafood)
Diners don’t have to visit Stearns Wharf or the Harbor to enjoy some of the best seafood in Santa Barbara. Part of a family-owned chain of restaurants in Southern California and Arizona, Lure Fish House is conveniently located at La Cumbre Plaza, making it an ideal place to enjoy a meal during a shopping excursion.
Popular items on Lure’s menu include New England clam chowder, New England lobster roll, oysters, and ceviches. The oyster selection varies by what is available. The ceviches feature wild Pacific rockfish and wild shrimp.
19. Santa Barbara Shellfish Company (Seafood)
Originally a shellfish buying station, the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company enjoys one of the city’s most scenic locations, on Stearns Wharf, with views of both the Pacific Ocean and the city. It isn’t just the location that makes the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company a place to get some of the best seafood in Santa Barbara, as the chefs create seafood delicacies using locally sourced ingredients and recipes created in-house.
Open for lunch and dinner, the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company serves a simple menu of appetizers and entrees utilizing some of the freshest seafood. Some of the restaurant’s popular menu items include locally caught uni, or sea urchin, served over raw scallops with ponzu sauce; sweet and tender box crab; clam chowder; kumamoto oysters; and a sweet lobster roll. Even though it is a very casual and simple place, the Shellfish Company is one of my best restaurants in Santa Barbara.
20. On The Alley (Seafood)
On The Alley, located at the Santa Barbara Harbor, is the relaxed fast casual sister restaurant to Santa Barbara’s iconic Brophy Bros. When On The Alley opened, the owners wisely placed several of Brophy Bros’ signature seafood items on the menu. This allows diners to enjoy some of the best seafood in Santa Barbara while soaking up beautiful harbor views and without worrying about waiting for a table at Brophy Bros. This fast seafood casual place is located right around the corner from the Santa Barbara maritime museum which is one of the best places in Santa Barbara to visit with kids.
The Brophy Bros items available at On The Alley are New England clam chowder, fish & chips, fried shrimp, and fried calamari. Seafood items unique to On The Alley are the Baja fish tacos and the salmon salad.
What is the Best of the Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara?
This is a tricky question I cannot answer, as it all depends on what you like. In my article about, I have listed some of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara along with some of my favorites. I have mixed fast and casual restaurants with some more formal places in an effort to show you how diverse and exciting Santa Barbara food scene is. So pick something you like on the list and give it a try. You will love it!
Take My SMART Travel Course and learn how to plan your travel confidently through step by step videos. Save money and frustration and become a SMART traveler using my time-tested travel strategy.
Read My SMART Travel Book and learn my best travel tips from 20+ years of international travel experience in less than 40 pages. These will save you lots of money and frustration on your next trip.