Photo courtesy of Rob Stark / Tyger Tyger
Santa Barbara's rising foodie scene
San Francisco and Los Angeles get all the attention when it comes to California dining, but for a small city of less than 100,000 people, Santa Barbara has a surprisingly outstanding and diverse culinary scene. In recent years, chefs have been making use of Santa Barbara County’s year-round farmers markets, sustainable seafood, ranch lands, world-class wine, and now craft beer to an extent we haven’t previously seen. Buzzy chefs from major metropolises are opening up shop, mini food complexes are popping up, there's excellent craft coffee and food artisans are partnering for interesting – and delicious – collaborations.
Photo courtesy of Rosewood Hotels
Top chefs: Massimo Falsini
Top chefs from Los Angeles, New York and beyond have moved to Santa Barbara for the quality of life, adding a contemporary global perspective to the city's restaurants. For example, Massimo Falsini oversees six restaurants and bars at the Rosewood Miramar Beach and was previously the executive chef of Michelin-starred Solbar in Napa. He brings an authentic Italian touch to the Rosewood's signature restaurant, Caruso's.
Photo courtesy of Jakob N. Layman
Top chefs: Phillip Frankland Lee
Phillip Frankland Lee of The Monarch, The Silver Bough and Sushi | Bar is bringing an ambitious new level of fine dining to Montecito. The Top Chef alum previously worked at Providence under Michael Cimarusti (who won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: West 2019), as well as at Alinea Group in Chicago. His $550 tasting menu at The Silver Bough is among the best in the country and an unforgettable theatrical experience – like stepping into the eponymous Celtic myth.
Photo courtesy of Jakob N. Layman
Superb sustainable seafood
Santa Barbara's bounty of local seafood is coveted throughout the country and nowhere will you find fresher spot prawns, sea urchin, halibut, red snapper, black cod and abalone. You'll find these succulent fish and shellfish on menus all around town, and if you're curious, visit Santa Barbara Fish Market right in the harbor to try freshly cracked sea urchin right from the shell.
Photo courtesy of Rob Stark / Visit Santa Barbara
Mini food complexes: Tyger Tyger
Instead of the large food halls with a dozen or more vendors now so common in major cities like New York and Chicago, Santa Barbara has scaled down the concept to fit the city's size with a number of mini food complexes, usually anchored by one restaurant and one or more libations purveyors. It’s a great way to share costs and also offer more diverse options to diners. Tyger Tyger complex in the Funk Zone is a great example featuring the trio of Tyger Tyger, Monkeyshine and Dart Coffee Co.
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Herman
Mini food complexes: The Mill
The Mill on the city's east side was a former feed mill constructed in 1904, now an artisan marketplace with Potek Winery producing onsite (there's a tasting bar too), Third Window Brewing, and Brasserie Solera, serving brewpub fare and operated by the same owners as Third Window Brewing. Brasserie sources ingredients from the owner's family farm and ranch in Los Olivos, and uses the brewery's spent grain to feed their wagyu beef herd, which is served in the wood-fired meat pies and burgers.
Photo courtesy of Hook & Press Donuts / Visit Santa Barbara
Mini food complexes: Mosaic Locale
Mosaic Locale brings together three very different culinary specialties under one roof. Draughtsmen Aleworks makes small batch beer from familiar ales to more experimental varieties. You'd be surprised at how well beer can pair with browned butter and blueberry pancake donuts from Hook & Press Donuts, not to mention the Argentine empanadas from Buena Onda.
Photo courtesy of Blake Bronstad
Craft coffee: Handlebar Coffee Roasters
The craft coffee scene here is excellent, too. Handlebar Coffee Roasters has two cafe locations in town, including a mid-town all-day cafe and roastery that transitions to evening with a wine list curated by renowned wine expert Rajat Parr. Founders Kim Anderson and Aaron Olson were former professional cyclists and discovered Santa Barbara while riding in the California Amgen Tour. Their single-origin roasts are served alongside locally made pastries from Renaud’s Patisserie.
Photo courtesy of Amber Gibson
Craft coffee: Cajé
Rise Coffee Roasters, Cafe Ana and Dune Coffee Roasters are all excellent as well, but the most exciting and newest of all is Cajé. They serve complex non-alcoholic coffee cocktails like the Burnout – hot breve latte, bourbon pecan syrup, activated charcoal and a ginger salt rim – and Maillard's Folly – an iced latte with roasted pineapple syrup, housemade caramel, cacao powder, macadamia and coconut milk. Plus, the space turns into speakeasy Lab Social at night.
Photo courtesy of Twenty-Four Blackbirds
Artisan collaborations: Twenty-Four Blackbirds
There's a lot of camaraderie among the culinary community in Santa Barbara and collaborations between chefs, brewers and food artisans elevate everyone's game. Twenty-Four Blackbirds supplies cocoa nibs to local brewers Telegraph and Third Window, among others, to make beer, and uses Handlebar Coffee in one of its chocolate bars. Pastry chefs at local restaurants Sama Sama and Barbareño have used their chocolate and Hook & Press also uses their chocolate in their donuts. Rosewood Miramar Beach leaves Twenty-Four Blackbirds bonbons at turndown and stocks their chocolate in the minibar.
Photo courtesy of Rori's Artisanal Creamery
Artisan collaborations: Rori's Artisanal Creamery
Rori's Artisanal Creamery has several locations in Santa Barbara, including at Montecito Country Mart and the Santa Barbara Public Market. The beloved ice cream shop also collaborates with some of the best hotels in town, serving ice cream at Finch & Fork at the Kimpton Canary Hotel and Belmond El Encanto. For the Rosewood Miramar Beach, founder Rori Trovato even makes three specialty flavors – boozy limoncello, snickerdoodle and a vegan eucalyptus lime ice cream made with organic coconut cream – served at their adorable poolside scoop shop.