Best Italian Dining in Santa Barbara: Wine, Spaghetti, Gelato and Amore!



Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean influences extend far beyond the red tile roofs and balmy gardens, right onto our dinner (and lunch and breakfast) plates. There seem to be an endless supply of Italian restaurants dotting our streets. From small Mom-and-Pop counter hideaways to fancy white linen affairs, Santa Barbara’s Italian eateries run the gamut.

If you want to cut straight to the chase and enjoy a meal as close as possible to one you'd have in Italy, head to Via Maestra 42. Tables are small, pasta is handmade, and Julia Child used to eat there when she lived here. But if you have more than one meal, the possibilities really open up. Olio Crudo Bar has incredible cocktails and stunningly fresh seafood drizzled in fragrant olive oil. Arnoldi's, a staple since 1937, has bocce courts, taxidermy and giant antipasto platters. And Ca'Dario has one of the best steaks in town.

With so many choices, how do you choose the best restaurant for you? When you’re in the mood for a taste of Italy, look no further than this list of the best Italian restaurants in Santa Barbara. We’ll tell you exactly where to eat for the most flavorful experience - whether you’re searching for an authentic Italian pizza or a crisp cannoli like Grandma used to make - so you don’t waste a mouthful on food that doesn’t fit the bill. Now start reading so you can hurry up and make a reservation already!

  


10
Arnoldi's Cafe
Photo courtesy of Wine Cask - Santa Barbara


 

On a balmy Santa Barbara night, head to Arnoldi's with a few friends for drinks, dinner and a little evening sporting. That's right, in addition to serving hearty Italian food, Arnoldi's also offers you the rare chance to play bocce ball - a game vaguely reminiscent of bowling. Established in 1937 by Guiseppe and Ilda Arnoldi, Arnoldi's Cafe boasts a big, beautiful back patio with two bocce ball courts for recreational play... a great way to work out after eating a hearty plate of gnocchi or lasagna. And you can't miss the beautiful, old bar presided over by Bucky the Tule Elk. Also worth noting, this is one of the few restaurants in Santa Barbara big enough to accommodate large (and loud) parties.


9


 

A welcome addition to the local restaurant scene, Convivo serves large, shareable plates of food that change daily with what's in season. The Italian-leaning menu includes wood-fired pizza, grilled seafood that's often locally caught, house-made pasta and farm-fresh vegetables. To complement the food, there's a beverage menu complete with spritzes, negronis and, of course, vino. Convivo is located at the Santa Barbara Inn, across the street from East Beach. So in addition to beautiful food, there are beautiful views and fresh ocean air. Very romantic, incredible menu, sunny patio, lots of free parking... are you on your way yet? Did we mention they serve brunch too?


8
Pane e Vino
Photo courtesy of Pan e Vino


 

Head to Montecito to visit Pane e Vino. A local favorite for almost 30 years, this superb trattoria maintains a strong reputation for ambience, service and food quality. Fashioned from impeccable ingredients, Pane's Northern Italian dishes are both deceptively simple and deliciously complex. Fresh fish from local waters benefit from a quick grill, and homemade pastas are just the right texture, topped with mouthwatering sauces. Daily specials are seasonal and change according to availability and quality. A small, outdoor patio is a favorite with regulars, and a strong wine list guarantees an appropriate accompaniment to any dish. Bring a few friends so you can try as many dishes as possible!


7


 

Tucked away in a quiet outdoor shopping area off busy State Street, Olio Pizzeria is a haven for hungry people - the place to go for a light snack, drinks with friends or even a decadent, authentic Italian pizza experience. Appetizers include artisanal salumis, aged cheeses and crostini topped with all manner of regional delicacies, from guanciale to ricotta and cherries. Pizzas are handcrafted to order then cooked while you wait in a wood-fired brick oven. The full bar boasts a unique cocktail menu heavy on Italian classics like Campari, amaro and prosecco. Book early to secure private dining for large parties.


6


 

Enjoy Italian and Mediterranean dishes with a view of the ocean! This romantic waterfront restaurant is located near some of the best hotels in the West Beach area of Santa Barbara. Enjoy fresh salads and delicious pastas, like gnocchi with rock shrimp, fava beans, roasted garlic, dried tomato and truffle butter. Toma has an extensive wine list with a mix of local and Italian wines, as well as a full bar with a specialty cocktail menu. Try the Toma Martini, crafted with Tito's handmade vodka and served with a cheese-stuffed olive. Toma is open for dinner only. Reservations are strongly recommended.


5


 

Olio Crudo Bar is the third restaurant from the team behind Santa Barbara's established Italian favorite Olio e Limone Ristorante. But it's our first favorite for happy hour, which happens from 5-7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and offers killer deals on some of the best dishes in town! Olio Crudo specializes in Italian seafood dishes, served raw or minimally cooked and dressed with quality olive oil, sea salt and lemon. Think of it as the Italian version of sashimi. The bar is located on a bustling side street, just doors away from its sister restaurants. Cocktails, beer and wine are available to pair with your small bites. The atmosphere is chic and intimate. Olio Crudo Bar adheres to a strict first come, first served policy. Reservations are not possible.


4
Santa Barbara
Ca'Dario
Photo courtesy of Ca'Dario Ristorante


 

Ca'Dario is a charming neighborhood Italian restaurant with a cozy 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. Furlati says his passion for food was born from spending time with his mother and grandmothers in their kitchens. The wine lists includes a wide range of Italian and Californian varietals. There is a full bar if you prefer to start or finish your evening with a cocktail. A local favorite, dinner reservations are recommended. Lovely, sugary meringues come with your bill, so it's impossible to leave without a sweet aftertaste.


3
Trattoria Vittoria
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives


 

For a memorable Italian lunch or dinner in an intimate but animated setting, make a reservation at Trattoria Vittoria. All of your favorites dishes are waiting for you: penne arrabiata, spaghetti al pomodoro, lasagna al ragu... the list goes on and on. The gnocchi is perfectly pillowy, and the calamari fritti is, quite possibly, the best in town. Order a specialty cocktail from the full bar or choose something off of the extensive wine list to complement your meal. Located at the upper end of downtown, near residential neighborhoods, Trattoria Vittoria has a very loyal local clientele. Park in the city lot to the rear of the restaurant, on the street or, better still, ride your bike!


2
Santa Barbara
Olio e Limone
Photo courtesy of Kevin Steele Photography


 

This accomplished Italian restaurant receives constant kudos for its authentic yet inventive cuisine. Husband and wife team Alberto and Elaine Morello opened Olio e Limone Ristorante in 1999 with the goal of providing Santa Barbara with creative Italian fare in an inviting setting. Fresh flavor combinations featuring locally grown ingredients abound. The menu changes often and offers everything from ravioli with roasted eggplant and goat cheese to fresh fish, rack of veal, roasted quail, free-range chicken and veal scaloppine with lemon and artichokes. Olio E Limone's extensive wine list boasts local vintages and Italian selections. A small room is available to reserve for private dining.


1
Via Maestra 42
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives


 

Tucked away on landlocked upper State Street is a gem of an Italian eatery, Via Maestra 42. The restaurant is very small and, at first glance, barely resembles a restaurant at all. There are freezers full of Italian delicacies, a gelato counter, cases of tasty takeaway items and a few tables inside (there are also a couple of tables outside). Do not let this casual appearance affect your decision to eat here. Settle in and wait for a seat - it can be very crowded - and your tastebuds will be rewarded. Every dish is delicious and authentic. Portions are small, more European than American, so start with an antipasti. And, whatever you do, save room for dessert: Via Maestra 42's classic Italian desserts - cannolis, tarts and more - can't be topped.


Map

Meet Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it...  More About Geneva

×