Pacific Coast Highway Travel visits the best restaurants in Santa Barbara and recommends where to eat for the finest food and top local wines.
Ah, Santa Barbara, the coastal city where the mountains meet the sea. The idyllic setting surely puts a smile on the face, but it's the culinary wonders that truly delight the food connoisseur in us.
We’ve put together a page on the best restaurants in Santa Barbara (in our opinion), based on several visits on our drives up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. We made it sound like one long foodie tour, but we didn’t eat in them one after the other. Where would we have put it all?
The first stop on our gastronomic journey has to be The Lark. Nestled in the city's vibrant Funk Zone neighborhood, this top gourmet restaurant in Santa Barbara is praised for its innovative farm-to-table fare.
As we tasted the Crispy Brussels Sprouts, we were hooked! The flavors were
simply divine, a literal explosion of sweetness and spice. We love Brussels
Sprouts, so we’re biased. Mike loves baking them in the oven with oil, garlic,
and parmesan, while Donna turns them into a fantastic soup, with almonds.
The creativity at The Lark stretches beyond their cuisine. Their cocktail list is like a liquid interpretation of their kitchen philosophy – local, fresh, and totally surprising. Feeling adventurous? Try the "Barbary Coast". It’s a heady mix of rye, apricot, lemon, and aromatic bitters.
131 Anacapa St
Next, we found ourselves at the Bouchon, an intimate eatery in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Their attention to detail and commitment to local ingredients were evident. From a tender Maple Glazed Pork Belly to a phenomenally cooked Santa Barbara Sea Bass, we savored every bite.
And you definitely can't say no to their wine selection. After all, what’s a visit to Santa Barbara without indulging in a fine glass of local wine? We particularly enjoyed the Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. The bold flavors and smooth finish were the perfect complement to our meal.
We admit we were first drawn to try this place because of the name. We’ve also been to France’s gourmet capital, Lyon, several times, and Lyon is home to the type of restaurant known as the bouchon. And Santa Barbara’s Bouchon is worthy of the name.
9 W Victoria St
As we continued our quest of exploring where to eat in Santa Barbara, we found ourselves drawn to the enchanting Spanish architecture of Loquita. Here, we were transported to the coastal towns of Spain with their authentic tapas and innovative cocktails. The Gambas al Ajillo was pure heaven!
As food lovers, one aspect we really appreciate about Loquita is how they elevate simple ingredients to a whole new level. The balance of flavors in their dishes, a combination of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami, is nothing short of extraordinary.
Again, we’ve been to Spain many times, including to the coast of Andalucia, and tucked into tapas a lot. And we can definitely say that Loquita is an authentic taste of Spain in Santa Barbara.
202 State St
The next of our choice of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara is yet another international cuisine: Bibi Ji. This is an untraditional Indian restaurant that effortlessly bridges the gap between east and west. Here, we got to experience an eclectic blend of Indian tastes and Californian sensibility. The Seafood Curry, with its rich, sumptuous flavors, quickly won us over.
The charm of Bibi Ji lies not just in their culinary prowess but that it's paired with an ambiance that marries modern chic with traditional vibrancy. And let's not forget their award-winning wine selection – they have a wine for every palate!
734 State St
Next on our list is Santo Mezcal, and if you know your spirits then you’ll know where we were headed next. Here, you are transported to a Mexican hacienda with their remarkable line-up of traditional dishes and innovative cocktails. Their Tostada de Ceviche is a must-try, perfectly showcasing the brightness and robustness of Mexican cuisine.
The heart of Santo Mezcal lies in their unique Mezcal flights. These give you a chance to sample and understand this traditional Mexican spirit. Try the premium flight for an exquisite experience that takes you through three diverse expressions of Mezcal!
For half of the year we live in southern Arizona, where there are top-notch Mexican restaurants galore. So we can say from experience that Santo Mezcal is top-notch indeed.
119 State St
Toma Restaurant &
If you’re a sucker for Italian cuisine, and who isn’t, then Toma Restaurant will quickly become a favorite. From homemade pasta to mouthwatering steaks, this spot lightens up your palette with an authentic taste of Italy right in Santa Barbara.
Toma makes their pasta from scratch, and believe us, it shows. The Linguine Frutti di Mare is sheer perfection. The sea's bounty mingles beautifully with the rich, yet delicate tomato and saffron sauce.
Let's not forget their vibrant wine list. From local varietals to traditional Italian bottles, the selection carefully curates to complement their menu. We highly recommend pairing your pasta with a glass of Sangiovese.
324 W Cabrillo Blvd
The Black Sheep
Now we must talk about The Black Sheep, a true gem among the best restaurants in Santa Barbara. This cozy, family-run joint combines local Californian ingredients with a range of international cooking techniques.
Their menu changes seasonally, ensuring that the most fresh and vibrant produce stands out. We utterly fell for their Moroccan Lamb Meatballs. The North African spices mixed with local flavors truly demonstrates their boundary-pushing, yet completely delicious approach to cooking.
The hidden gem of The Black Sheep is their adventurous cocktail list. You wouldn't believe the concoctions they come up with. We got the Floral Cloud - a mix of gin, peony tea, elderflower, and lavender bitters. It tasted just as amazing as it sounds! We rarely both order the same cocktail or dish, but the sound of this one grabbed both of us. We’re glad it did as if only one of us had it we would not have been sharing!
18 E Cota St
Now, we move onto Jane. It's another family-run restaurant that really encapsulates Santa Barbara's laid-back, yet discerning food culture. Their menu is a delightful twist on comfort food, and trust us; it's comfort food at its finest!
While you can choose from a variety of dishes, their truffle fries are a must. They're crispy, packed with flavor, and pair perfectly with just about anything on their menu. A perfect sharing plate!
Jane also excels in desserts. Their homemade pies and cakes are the perfect end to any meal. We can’t resist their Chocolate Mousse Cake – it’s a silky, rich piece of heaven.
1311 State St
Sama Sama Kitchen
And now for something truly special – Sama Sama Kitchen. This Indonesian-inspired restaurant brings a unique Southeast Asian flair to Santa Barbara. Their menu feels like a love letter to Indonesian cuisine.
Sama Sama's Nasi Goreng, a classic Indonesian rice dish, was particularly memorable. It was seasoned to absolute perfection and had a delightful variation in textures with the inclusion of pickled cucumber and fried egg.
1208 State St
Lastly, we found ourselves at Yoichi's, an authentic, multi-course Japanese dining experience. It’s a must visit for anyone looking to truly immerse themselves in different cuisines from around the world while in Santa Barbara.
Their menu, crafted in the 'kaiseki' style, offers a thoughtful progression of flavors that evoked the seasons and traditions of Japan. The Sashimi course, with brilliantly fresh seafood presented artfully, was an absolute delight.The beauty of Yoichi’s is its simplicity. Its interior, with minimalistic wood furnishings and delicate Japanese artworks, allows its culinary artistry to take center stage
230 E Victoria St
Olio e Limone
And finally a shout-out for Olio e Limone, the Italian restaurant where we had our very first meal on our first visit to Santa Barbara. Read it here.
Our culinary journey along the Pacific Coast Highway, seeking the best restaurants in Santa Barbara, left us incredibly sated and remarkably impressed. From California cuisine to dishes from around the world, Santa Barbara offered an extraordinary gastronomic experience. It wasn’t just a chance to sample Mexican, Indian, Italian, Spanish and other cuisines, it was a chance to sample the best of them, using prime Californian produce.
So there you have it, fellow food adventurers, our guide to the
best restaurants in Santa Barbara. For local, for global, for the unexpected, we
invite you to try these top gourmet eating places in Santa Barbara. Get ready
for a flavor ride like no other, and they won’t break the bank.
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