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Photograph: Courtesy Sama Sama Kitchen

The best restaurants in Santa Barbara

The best restaurants in Santa Barbara cover all the bases, from stylish oceanfront dining to casual walk-up windows

Michael Juliano
Edited by
Michael Juliano
Stephanie Breijo

If you’re headed to Santa Barbara, we can bet you’ve got sun, sea and a lot of great beaches on your mind. But after all that fun in the sun, don’t miss out on another of the city’s best bits – the food. From little beachside shacks and authentic taquerias to organic brunch in the centre of the city, Santa Barbara has everything you need for a foodie break. 

So whether you’re visiting for the Film Festival, the World of Pinot Noir or the Strawberry Festival, save a couple of days for a food tour of the city. And while you’re at it, check out its array of fabulous bars too. Here are the very best restaurants in Santa Barbara right now, hand picked by us. Enjoy!

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Best Santa Barbara restaurants

The first thing you'll notice about Barbareño is that prime patio—exactly where you want to sit as you sip glass after glass from the lengthy menu of Central Coast wines. As you try and decide between acorn tagliatelle and the market fish with black garlic bouillon, take in the salt air—because hey, you'll only be about eight blocks from the ocean—and then dig into whatever "Central Coast Cuisine" really is. This is a restaurant defining it.


There's no relation to Thomas Keller's famed Bouchon, but you're not far off. Santa Barbara's Bouchon is wine-country food at its finest. It's not exclusively French bistro cuisine—unlike its Napa sibling-in-name-only—because this charming white-tableclothed hub in the heart of downtown also offers dishes like cabernet-braised short rib with risotto and a serious trio of chilled and seared sea scallops, all to be capped off with the decadent chocolate molten lava cake. Be sure to snag a reservation before your visit—this is one of the town's go-tos for fine dining and date nights.  


Indonesian-Californian fusion is the mashup you never knew you needed. With a vibrant and spicy menu peppered with ingredients from local farms, you'll want one of everything, and that's okay. Go ahead and do it. This is a brilliant spot for sharing, and after all, can you really be expected to choose between chicken wings in a sweet & spicy tamarind glaze, crispy duck salad, and seared octopus with leek and chili oil? Shut up and take our money.


The Lark is no seaside shack (though those are great too). This is Santa Barbara’s most hip n’ happening restaurant, found inside a building which used to be a fish market in downtown Santa Barbara. Grab a few drinks in downtown’s Funk Zone, before heading to The Lark for an enticing menu focused on locally sourced ingredients, split up into ‘farm’, ‘ocean’ and ‘ranch’. Burgers, crudo and fresh veggies like you’ve never seen them before. If you can’t get a reservation, hit up wood-fired pizza joint Lucky Penny next door. 


Cold Spring Tavern is only 20 minutes from Downtown Santa Barbara, but the Los Padres National Forest outpost feels like an entirely different world. The unimaginably charming 1860s stagecoach stop is known for its tri-tip and regularly hosts cookouts with the lean cut on weekends. The dark, cozy restaurant is perfect for a romantic meal, while the lively Log Cabin Bar hosts live music and dancing on weekend nights.

Lilly’s Taqueria resides in a no-frills space right next to the freeway. When you walk in, you’ll find a menu that doesn’t so much ask what type of meat you would like, but which part. Don’t let that overwhelm you; Lilly’s serves up some of the best, most authentic tacos around, even if you stick to the tried-and-true grilled steak or pork.


The Shop is a walk-up window and patio that is as good a place to nurse a hangover as it is for a healthy start, where fried chicken and organic oatmeal both have a place on the breakfast menu. Make sure to try one of the sweet or savory toast selections—with gluten-free options available—that's more like a hearty open-faced sandwich.

You can credit Julia Child’s endorsement and a Katy Perry shout-out for turning a tiny corner taqueria into a foodie frenzy. But we’d rather let the tortillas and cuts of grilled meat at La Super-Rica Taqueria do the talking. The tacos—any of them, really—are the main attraction, and you can dress up your dish with full-plate specials like a cheese-stuffed pasilla chile. Go as early as possible on a weekday (note that it’s closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) to avoid the lines, and secure a plastic chair on the covered patio.


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A post shared by Norton's Deli (@nortonsdeli)

This spot's about as lackluster as you can get, but c'mon, would you really have it any other way from a great deli with a walk-up counter? A Santa Barbara institution, Norton's slings enormous salads, griddled melts, subs, and, of course, the best pastrami in the city. Get it classic, in French-dip style, or smothered with grilled onions—you can't go wrong any which way.


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