It might be obvious what some of my favorite restaurants and food shops are, based on the frequency that I go there, but just in case, here’s a running list. And why.
Top 5 in no order
Kobachi Izakaya Dining – this is not your standard Japanese restaurant of sushi and teriyaki bowls. The izakaya selection is unique in Santa Barbara and extensive. This is a locally owned restaurant, related to Ahi sushi. It is off the beaten path. It is a special place for me.
Romanti-Ezer – again, not your standard fare, for a Mexican restaurant. This is Oaxacan and south American style food, with spiceful sauces and fresh Oaxacan cheese. Best birria in town! Their tortillas are made fresh. This is also moderately inexpensive, with meals in the $10 or less range. Great “hole-in-the-wall” type of place, if you can figure out when they’re open.
Petit Valentien – this is a great place that’s at the peak of the bell curve between gourmet food and affordability. The chef has some unique items for this town – like frog legs, French style. Or truffle oil and pea risotto, a small serving for $7. Small plates are a big deal to me, and Petit Valentien is great at providing them, and at great prices. The cheese plate is good for budding cheese enthusiasts, and won’t break the bank. Their Sunday Supper, four courses for $24, is the best priced prix fixe in town for the quality.
La Chapala Market – this is not a dedicated eatery, it’s just one portion of a large food market. Order at the cashier, and collect food at a separate pick-up window. Best carnitas tacos in town – they are juicy and not over fried. Tacos come in a limited number of meat options, and cost about $1.39 each. They also have a freezer case of Mexican fruit juice popcicles and I love this for lunch. Two tacos and a 99c popcicle is about $5. It’s not a gut-buster meal, but it’s very good and quite inexpensive. Try the carnitas and the lengua. yes, that’s tongue. A most soft, tender and juicy tongue.
Seagrass – added to the favored ones in May 2011. This is changed ownership since it first opened, it’s now operated by the Perez family. Their attention to quality products and details have kept be going back numerous times. They are creative with the foie gras and their housemade spaghetti with bottarga is a steal at $12. Fine dining is affordable, thanks to these guys. I wish I could come here for often.
Note: added to the Graveyard is a former favorite. RIP.
* Square One – I considered this one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara. The owners grew up here, they sourced locally where they could, and they strived to serve the best quality ingredients, or wouldn’t serve it at all. They’d evolved with the market, and while the menu had a more stable line of well-known items available in place of the more innovative emulsions, reductions and foams of their earlier years, it was still possible to dabble in their creative (and more expensive) options, provided they had a good lead time for them to prepare. Unfortunately, shortly after they acquired their liquor license and changed the menu, the restaurant closed.
Here are some favored photos via Foodspotting.