Go to Sama Sama Kitchen in downtown Santa Barbara for satisfying, Indonesian-inspired dishes and cocktails. Exotic flavors like anise, cumin and starfruit are de riguer here. There are classic dishes, like chicken sate and nasi goreng, and unexpected ones, too. Curried poutine, anyone? Many of Sama Sama's ingredients are sourced from local farms. Enjoy bar or table seating, or choose to dine al fresco. There are a few small tables out front where you can watch the shoppers pass by, and there's also a large area out back with handsomely hewn communal tables, fresh herb and veggie gardens, and romantic twinkling lights.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: Sama Sama Kitchen serves up Indonesian flavors that are unique in the Santa Barbara area.
Geneva's expert tip: If you like cocktails in the proper sense of the the word, do not skip the bar. From bitters to syrups to garnishes, they do it right.
Ca' Dario is a charming neighborhood Italian restaurant with an intimate setting, tucked just one block to the side of busy downtown Santa Barbara. Born and raised in Italy, chef Dario Furlati dishes up a menu featuring savory Northern Italian fare including pastas, daily risottos and rotisserie selections, a fresh fish of the day, succulent osso buco, baked chicken and grilled meats. The wine lists includes a wide range of Italian and Californian varietals. There is also a full bar if you prefer to start or finish your evening with a cocktail. A local favorite, dinner reservations are recommended. They now also have another location in Goleta.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: Ca'Dario dishes up authentic Italian food in decent-sized portions in a cozy and jovial environment. Ideal for a date night!
Geneva's expert tip: Everyone loves going to Ca' Dario for their ravioli, but if you go on a Thursday, you'll have the chance to try their other (secretly) famous pasta: gnocchi.
Brophy's isn't downtown exactly, but if we left this beloved seafood spot off any Santa Barbara best-of list, hordes of locals and regular visitors would be aghast. Brophy's recipe for success pairs unbeatable harbor views with delicious seafood and classic cocktails. Bustling and busy, it serves up some of the city's most coveted clam chowder, along with awesome garlic baked clams and hefty portions of cioppino. Their appetizers are amazing and perfect for sharing, too. Grab a table on the patio overlooking the water for the most scenic experience. These are the best seats, even on wet, gloomy days. Arrive early because weekend waits can be over an hour.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: One word: GBCs! (It's actually three words: garlic baked clams. The can't miss appetizer for those in the know.)
Geneva's expert tip: Although the upstairs restaurant usually has a long wait, you can visit the ground level bar for drinks and appetizers without checking in with the hostess.
For ceviche, tacos and other Mexican favorites that are farmer's market fresh, visit this restaurant tucked inside The Santa Barbara Public Market. Chef Ramon Velazquez prepares dishes you won't find elsewhere in town, like fresh scallop ceviche tostadas dressed with coconut milk and pomegranate seeds and cauliflower tacos that get a secret sweetness from Medjool dates. Try a crispy pork belly quesadilla in a chile-infused corn tortilla. Vegetarian dishes and daily specials are always available. The menu changes now and then, but it's guaranteed to surprise and delight your taste buds. Stop in for a quick snack or a more substantial meal. Beer and house-made aguas frescas are available.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: If you come to Santa Barbara and don't have a taco at Corazon Cocina, you've done something wrong and should plan another trip.
Geneva's expert tip: Plan to spend an afternoon at the market. Stop here for lunch, then grab some ice cream, beer or wine at a neighboring stall.
If you like fancy food but hate stuffy atmospheres, The Black Sheep might be just the place for you. Located on a welcoming side street in downtown Santa Barbara, this is the kind of restaurant you hope to stumble into on your first night of vacation. The menu is a mix of global flavors and local ingredients. Think shoyu ramen, potato croquettes and heavenly scallop crudo. Nightly specials are always worth a try - you might have a foie gras taco or some wild boar stew. The Black Sheep shares a kitchen with Oveja Blanca next door so if you see something on that menu that you really want (and you're really nice about it when you ask), you just might get to experience the best of both worlds. Respectable beer and wine lists and reasonable corkage charges.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: You're not going to find a more varied menu in a more welcoming environment in Santa Barbara. Great for dates, solo diners and friends.
Geneva's expert tip: Whatever the nightly special is, order it. Unlike some restaurants who use specials to get rid of surplus ingredients, The Black Sheep creates specials based on what's fresh and available in limited quantities.
The Lark is a popular indoor/outdoor restaurant located in the heart of Santa Barbara's Funk Zone. The menu here celebrates Central Coast fare, from fruits and vegetables to meats and wines. Food is intended for sharing and served family-style. Start with their famous brussels sprouts, try the grilled octopus, then pass around something heartier, like a lamb shank! There is a fun cocktail list, too. It is strongly suggested that you make reservations online well in advance. The Lark fills up quickly, but walk-ins may luck out and find a seat at the bar or the long communal table. Attached to The Lark is Les Marchands, a chic wine bar and market with select nibbles available. Valet parking onsite. Street parking and city lots nearby.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: The Lark opened in 2013 and the wait for a table has only gotten longer since - a testament to their delicious and ever-changing menu.
Geneva's expert tip: Plan to arrive early or stay late and pop through the hallway to Les Marchands, an attached wine bar that feels like a place all the cool kids hangout.
For cuisine that makes the most of regional ingredients, look no further than Bouchon. This intimate restaurant is located in the heart of Santa Barbara, and that is definitely reflected in their local-centric menu. Fresh vegetables are sourced from our daily farmers' markets, and meat is purchased from local ranchers. Typical entrees include roasted venison medallions, braised Kurobata pork shank and pan-roasted salmon. Their considerable wine list includes many California legends, available by the glass or the bottle. A private dining room with an exclusive seasonal menu is available for meetings and celebrations. Patio seating is available. Reservations are recommended.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: Bouchon is very "classic Santa Barbara." It has a gorgeous dining patio and an amazing wine list.
Geneva's expert tip: Bouchon is very romantic. It's a great place to impress a date!
Enjoy a traditional Japanese multi-course dining experience at Yoichi's, the place to get the freshest seafood in Santa Barbara. Get seven-courses that change with the season at this traditional Kaiseki-style restaurant in the heart of downtown. You'll find everything from sashimi to Waygu beef to grilled crab here. You eat what the chef is serving, with a few optional choices sprinkled throughout the set menu. Sake, beer and wine are also served. Open Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are highly recommended. This is not the kind of meal that you rush, so prepare to sit back and indulge in a fine dining experience.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: Go to Yoichi's for the freshest seafood and a memorable multi-course dining experience with absolutely zero pretension.
Geneva's expert tip: It's not just the food that's beautiful at Yoichi's. Take a moment to notice the dishes your meal is served on - each piece is handcrafted for the restaurant and wonderfully unique.
Billing itself as "unauthentic Indian," Bibi Ji is home to some of the brightest flavors in Santa Barbara. Helmed by chef Jessi Singh, known for his Babu Ji restaurants in San Francisco and New York, and opened in collaboration with celebrated sommelier and winemaker Rajat Parr, this restaurant and bottle shop is a hip destination for hungry people. Menu items change with the season. Most ingredients are bought fresh at the local farmers market or brought in by local farmers and fisherman. Start with the chutney platter, definitely try the uni biryani if it's available and leave the rest to fate when you try the chef's menu. Open for lunch and dinner, walking distance from almost everything downtown.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: Bibi Ji is the bright new flavor star in town and lives up to the hype - with a friendly staff and great location too!
Geneva's expert tip: Bibi Ji isn't just a food destination. It's also a bottle shop. Stop in and grab a bottle of beer or wine to parch your thirst.
Take a romantic trip to Spain without the expense of air travel. Loquita is a Spanish restaurant in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone that serves tapas, dinner and more. Decorated with patterned tile floors and copper cookware, the setting is a beautiful place to indulge in an expertly crafted plate of grilled octopus or dig into a shared dish of paella. Start with a refreshing cocktail at the bar, then relocate to the heated patio for a memorable evening. Between the sea breezes (it's just two blocks from the ocean) and red tile roof views, you'll feel like you've gone somewhere exotic without ever leaving city limits.
Recommended for Downtown Santa Barbara's Best Restaurants because: Enjoy the flavors of Spain just blocks from the ocean. One of the best menus in town, designed for sharing.
Geneva's expert tip: They serve four different gin and tonics here. Try the Plata y Oro made with Monkey 47 gin and 24kt gold!