Santa Barbara Restaurant Recommendations...
Food is important to us! It really guides the way we travel and we likewise strive to provide a thoughtful and restorative lunch on the bike tour, one that sources local flavors and features selections from the Farmer's Market. In that spirit, here are some of our favorite restaurant recommendations for a special night out and great Santa Barbara experience.
Via Maestra 42 -- Just as the picture suggests, this is a humble little location; but its old world Italian charm, fun staff, and Chef Renato's great flavors put this place at the top of our list. It is UPTOWN, so you won't find it on the tourist maps or have a lot of places to walk to afterwards. But if you have a car, it is worth a special trip. I won't tell you what to order except for dessert -- Torta della Nonna!
Arigato -- Really great fresh sushi, creatively taken to another level. You can have a traditional sushi experience at the or fine dining experience in the dining room. Wiki Roll and Jalapeno Yellowtail are favorites. You can also experience a true local delicacy here, Santa Barbara Uni.
bouchon-- A true "special occasion" experience featuring California Wine Country cuisine and impressive wine list. Proprietor, Mitchell Sjerven has a well-deserved reputation as a great restauranteur. The dining room and service are elegant without being overly formal or stuffy. Impressive ratings in the Zagat guide.
Finch & Fork-- Located in Kimpton's beautiful Canary Hotel. Although a room at the Canary is on the high side, the restaurant has always kept prices reasonable, especially considering their dedication to fine ingredients and attentive friendly service. The feature a lot of local produce and seafood and often run interesting specials and prix fixe menus. We are grateful to have such a fine and welcoming spot downtown.
Milk & Honey-- Voted Best Tapas 7 years in a row. They also have my vote for best cocktails (Ginger Mojito- personal fave) and Happy Hour. The atmosphere is dark, sexy, mysterious, arty. The staff are skilled and attentive. Interesting flavor combinations make these small plates rise above the sum of their parts. Also try their sister restaurant, Alcazar if you are up on the mesa.
Olio Pizzeria-- They call themselves a casual pizza bar/wine bar. But the artisanal ingredients, warm atmosphere, and interesting wine selections make it feel like something much more. I always like to grab a spot in view of the pizza makers and watch them roll out the dough and toss those perfect spirals in to the air. I wish I could do that!
The Palace-- Featuring the Cajun and Creole cuisine of New Orleans and The South, The Palace is always a fun time and they never disappoint us. The service sets a gold standard for attentiveness while still remaining genuine and upbeat. We especially love the fried artichoke hearts and crawfish popcorn on the appetizer menu, and the soufles are always good...just remember to order them in advance.
Trattoria Vittoria-- OK. You've probably guessed that we love Italian food. This is a quaint and romantic eatery right in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Great atmosphere and well executed Italian favorites. Buon Appetito.
Harry's Plaza Cafe-- Old School. Farm to Table it ain't! But it is a Santa Barbara institution, even if it's quite un-Santa Barbara. Vintage style, dim lighting, red-leather booths, comfort food. They have the stiffest drinks in town and that's no joke. Careful. We like going sitting at the bar and chatting with the pros there. Fried Chicken is always good when it's on special. Other old fasioned favorites like Meat Loaf and Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Via Maestra 42 -- See above under PERSONAL FAVORITE. We're mentioning them again here becaouse they're uptown and we love them.
Waterfront & Funk Zone:
Endless Summer Bar Cafe-- Our favorite casual, California lifestyle spot. This is where you will find the locals on the Waterfront. You will also find great guitar music Tuesday through Saturday. If you would like a more formal restaurant experience, their sister restaurant Watefront Grill is right downstairs. But you'll find me upstairs at Endless enjoying an Endless Summer Blonde, Grilled Artichoke or Popcorn Shrimp, and the Baja Chicken Sandwich.
The Lark- The foodie's favorite in the heart of the Funk Zone. Small gourmet plates in a sophisticated yet casual setting are served family style for a wealth of tasting experiences. This place has got quite a buzz around it, so be sure to make your reservations well in advance.
Toma- When a restaurant has a beautiful location and building like this, it's not unusual for them to be complacent with food and service, because people will always come. Not so at Toma, it's a really lovely experience all the way around here. Our guests rave about this place. Italian favorites like Squash Blossoms, Heirloom Tomatoes with Buratta Cheese, and House Smoked Guanciale will set the tone for a great dining experience.
Clementine's Steak House- Walking up to the quirky little blue house, you'll know you're not at the latest hip, happening spot on the Central Coast. But you will get that sweet, homestyle warmth that is getting harder and harder to find. Traditional American favorites like steaks, chops, salmon, fried chicken, and...homemade pie! Included! It's from a bygone era and we love it. Can you check the menu on their webite? Of course not, they don't have a website!
The Palms- The ambiance is a little, well, divey. The service is, um, informal. And, you cook your own steak. You know what, we still like this place because it's a one of a kind community experience. We always have fun here. Some places are just kind of perfect the way they are.