Best Lunch in Santa Barbara

The Best Lunch in Santa Barbara (We Promise)

It’s time for lunch. You’re in Santa Barbara, California, and boy are you hungry. Look around. No matter where you’re standing, there are probably at least three restaurants in view, with many more tucked just around that bend or behind this stand of palm trees. But how do you determine which restaurants merit a visit and which restaurants fall short? Enter the 10Best lunch list, featuring the 10 most delicious lunch spots in town.

If you’re in the mood for seafood, you’re in luck. Simply head toward the water to find some of the freshest catches in the area at local favorites like On The Alley and the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. For something more traditional, check out Dave's Dogs for incredible hot dogs or Lucky Penny for wood-fired pizzas in the heart of Santa Barbara's happening Funk Zone.

Continue reading to discover 10 great restaurants to visit for your midday meal. Whether you want to sit down and stay awhile or grab a bite and go, we've found the perfect place. In fact, you might try to squeeze in two lunches after seeing what this town has to offer. (Don’t worry, it’s ok; you’re on vacation!)


The Spot
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Located just past the train tracks on Linden Avenue, mere steps from the beach, is The Spot: a trusty little shack of a restaurant that all the locals know. Serving up delicious burgers and fries since 1914, The Spot is Carpinteria's go to for a quick, savory bite. The surprisingly vast menu also includes veggie burgers, select Mexican specialties and fish n' chips. There's no dress code so come in your bikini or trunks if you please. There is seating outside OR you can just walk across the street to the park for an impromptu picnic! A can't-miss in Santa Barbara. Cash only.

Recommended for Lunch because: The Spot is a legendary lunch stop in the sleepy surf town of Carpinteria. A short walk from the beach and sinfully delicious.

Geneva's expert tip: Order a milkshake, any milkshake for a cold, creamy treat. Our pick is banana; it's made with fresh bananas instead of that artificial flavoring.

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A happening place to go for small bites and tasty cocktails in Montecito! Hit up the Honor Bar when you feel like catching up with friends - or making new ones. The social atmosphere at the bar is fun, and the sunny patio is ideal for soaking up the sun over lunch and drinks. There are burgers and sandwiches, lots of tasty appetizers (like deviled eggs) and plenty of wines available by the glass. You can also pick up grab and go pizzas if you're in a hurry. Located on one of the best shopping streets in the area, and the patio is dog friendly.

Recommended for Lunch because: For a refined lunch - with good drinks - in fancy, schmancy Montecito, this is the place! Great patios, great crowd, great nearby shopping!

Geneva's expert tip: Dining solo? Get a tasty burger or crispy chicken sandwich and pair it with a local wine by the glass at the welcoming bar.

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Seafood doesn't get any fresher than this. At the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, you can pick your lunch right out of the tanks. Established in 1980, this restaurant began as a shellfish shop before popular demand (and secret family recipes) transformed it into the bustling eatery it is today. Their menu includes all types of shellfish, but live abalones, crabs and lobsters - many locally sourced - are the real stars. Local and national beers are available on draft and pair nicely with a bread bowl of chowder on a cold or foggy day. There is bar seating inside, table seating outside and a even walk-up window for to-go orders.

Recommended for Lunch because: The Shellfish Company has the best clam chowder in town, tanks full of live shellfish and a view of the ocean. Lobster anyone?

Geneva's expert tip: If you're in a hurry and there's a line to get in, skip the wait and order from the outside walk-up window instead.

Read more about Santa Barbara Shellfish Company →

Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

We begin with a warning: do not even think about setting foot in this specialty deli unless you are prepared to buy a handful of assorted delicacies you didn't even know you needed. That said, if you are the type of person that likes discovering exotic seasonings, buttery cheeses and unusual European ingredients, this is the lunch stop for you. First you must attempt to walk straight to the counter - no getting distracted - to place your order for a decadent sandwich or panini made with luxe ingredients like prosciutto and cranberry-fig confit. And then, while your order is being crafted by the wonderful staff, you are free to browse. The cheese counter, the dessert case, the rows and rows of gourmet seasonings, chocolates, wines and more... all of this is yours for the choosing while you wait.

Recommended for Lunch because: In addition to amazing sandwiches and salads, Metropulos has a great deli counter and stocks everything you need to pack the perfect picnic.

Geneva's expert tip: Get the gyro! Soft, warm pita bread embraces house-made gyro meat - a combination of lamb and beef - drizzled in delicious tzatziki sauce.

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Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
Photo courtesy of Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar

For the most delicious noodles in Santa Barbara, head to Empty Bowl Noodle Bar inside the Santa Barbara Public Market. This casual noodle bar makes everything fresh. You can grab at seat at the long counter or order your food to go and take it home or eat it at any of the open seats in the marketplace. They craft a variety of Thai-inspired noodle dishes to order. Appetizers are equally delicious; the green papaya salad with heirloom carrots is almost too pretty to eat. To drink, there are craft beers on tap, wine and sweet and spicy Thai iced tea. Empty Bowl Noodle Bar is right in the center of Public Market, with other shops and food vendors in the same building. There is a free subterranean parking lot.

Recommended for Lunch because: For a lunch that's soupy, noodly and just plain delicious, head to Empty Bowl. Be sure to get some of their Thai iced tea!

Geneva's expert tip: Go on Tuesday or Thursday to try their specials: Hungry Man Noodles and Tom Kha respectively.

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Lucky Penny
Photo courtesy of Rob Stark for Lucky Penny

Go for the wall, stay for the thin-crust pizzas. Lucky Penny is a cute pizza restaurant that is centrally located in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone. If you're trying to find it, you could map it on your phone, BUT you'd really have an easier time just looking for the building that's tiled with thousands of real pennies. It really is something to behold! At the Lucky Penny, they have a nice patio and assorted sandwiches and salads. But the stars of the show are their signature thin-crust pizzas made with local ingredients. To drink, try their house wines. Reservations are not accepted here, and seating is first come, first served. You can also enjoy Lucky Penny pizzas while drinking beer at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. across the way.

Recommended for Lunch because: Get a wood-fired pizza and a glass of frose (slushed pink wine) for an al fresco lunch you won't soon forget!

Geneva's expert tip: Don't miss your opportunity to take a picture in front of the outside wall - it's made of solid pennies!

Read more about Lucky Penny →

Santa Barbara
On The Alley
Photo courtesy of On The Alley

On The Alley is a more casual sister venue brought to you by the owners of Brophy Bros., Santa Barbara's wildly popular seafood restaurant. Serving fresh fish tacos, tasty sandwiches (try the pulled pork) and burgers, On The Alley dishes up great lunch fare in view of the harbor. Included on the menu are a handful of Brophy Bros. classics. Breakfast is also served, included bowls packed with scrambled eggs, tots and avocados. Communal seating is available in front of the restaurant for dining al fresco, or you can take your food to go. And, as if the sea air, generous portions and wallet-friendly prices aren't already enough to ensure a feel good experience, everything in the restaurant - from the floor tiles to the refrigeration units - is a result of the owners' commitment to using only products that are made in the USA.

Recommended for Lunch because: Garlic baked clams, fish tacos, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches... the menu at this casual harbor restaurant is spectacular.

Geneva's expert tip: On The Alley's tater tots - yes, those little fried potato hash balls of your school days - are served hot, crisp and delicious with just the right amount of seasoning.

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Santa Barbara
La Super-Rica
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

For an authentic taste of Mexico, drive up Milpas until, on the right, you see a little white shack with aqua trim. There is no sign, but a line extending from the doorway will let you know that you're at the right place. This is La Super-Rica, famously lauded by the legendary Julia Child as one of her favorite places to eat. Their tacos are good, but the other specialties on their menu are better, from tamales and chilaquiles to gorditas and pozole. Portions are small and prices are fair, so be sure to order a little more than you usually might. And while you're standing in line, peek through the windows to admire the view: each and every tortilla served at this establishment is made by hand in plain view.

Recommended for Lunch because: La Super-Rica was a favorite lunch spot of the late cooking great Julia Child. Go for the specials!

Geneva's expert tip: Worth noting: it's cash only, you order by saying the number of each dish, and beans and rice are not served on the side here.

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Santa Barbara
Dave's Dogs 805
Photo courtesy of Dave's Dogs

If you love hot dogs, you're in luck. And if you only like hot dogs, prepare to love hot dogs. Dave's Dogs looks like a humble hot dog cart, but it's so much more. Think mac n' cheese dogs topped with bacon, pizza dogs and jalapeno popper dogs mounded with creamy cheese and spicy peppers. Wait, you're a vegetarian? No problem. Dave's has veggie dogs too! Prices are super affordable. Keep your eye out for the special dog of the week. Although Dave's is open for lunch at this address every weekday, you can also find their cart out late night on the weekends. Or reserve it for a private party!

Recommended for Lunch because: Get next level hot dogs topped with avocados, bacon, mac and cheese and more right here without breaking the bank!

Geneva's expert tip: Ask if there's a secret or special dog of the week. Chances are, there is (and it's amazing).

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Corazon Cocina
Photo courtesy of Julia Garcia

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 regularly, 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. In easy walking distance to many Santa Barbara shops and attractions.

Recommended for Lunch because: Head to Corazon for a modern take on Mexican food. Chef Ramon Velazquez serves up market fresh tostadas and the best fish tacos!

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.

Read more about Corazon Cocina →


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