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Santa Barbara Restaurants Recommended by Michelin

By
Real Estate Agent with Santa Barbara Real Estate 00898298

Santa Barbara has joined the prestigious ranks of Michelin Star dining destinations in the newly released MICHELIN Guide California.  Sushi-Bar Montecito earned One MICHELIN Star, becoming the region’s first ever to receive the coveted accolade.

Santa Barbara offers a wide range of high-quality dining establishments that are celebrated for their culinary expertise, fresh ingredients, and innovative menus. The city is renowned for its farm-to-table cuisine, fresh seafood, and international flavors. Many of the top-rated restaurants in Santa Barbara showcase California’s local produce, organic ingredients, and sustainable dining practices.

Sushi by Scratch RestaurantsSushi-Bar Montecito is right by the tony Montecito Inn, this eatery from Chefs/owners Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee is no ordinary omakase spot. The nigiri is infused with original touches—like the dab of sweet corn “pudding” and sourdough breadcrumbs that coat slices of hamachi. Expect other bites like shima aji with a fresno kosho or Hokkaido scallop with poblano kosho, as well as kanpachi with a beet mustard sauce and puffed quinoa.
The iconoclastic vibe extends to the beverages, including cocktails, sake and beer. Despite such originality, this “bar” does indeed adhere strictly to one tradition: a mini counter with seating for just ten to ensure a deeply personalized experience. Your time here is bound to pass in a blissful haze of convivial chatter. Scratch Restaurants

Blackbird: A mainstay of the Funk Zone, Blackbird offers an iconoclastic, upscale take on your favorite flavors that pays homage to the culinary bounty of the Central Coast. Our coastal location allows Executive Chef Travis Watson to bring you the best of both land and sea. Enjoy inventive cocktails by legendary mixologist Devon Espinosa alongside an extensive list of local wine and craft beer that highlights the terroir of the region. With its striking brass fixtures and black box-like aesthetic, Blackbird upends the conventional upscale dining experience in Santa Barbara and offers a subtle nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s haunting, yet timeless thrillers. Here, guests are offered a pulse on contemporary Santa Barbara.

The Stonehouse: Set inside a 19th-century citrus packing house on the grounds of the storied San Ysidro Ranch, the Stonehouse Restaurant, recently named the #1 Restaurant in Santa Barbara by OpenTable exudes the rustic romance of its historic setting. Whether dining indoors by a wood-burning fireplace, outside on an ocean-view terrace framed by twinkling lights, or in one of the restaurant’s magical private dining areas, guests enjoy imaginative regional cuisine accented by fresh-picked herbs and produce from the chef’s organic garden. 

Caruso’s: Executive Chef Massimo Falsini presents a gastronomic journey through California’s central coast while paying homage to his Italian roots. The cuisine showcases the chef’s intimate relationship with neighboring farmers, fishers, and ranchers, as well as his commitment to the preservation of the Ocean. Caruso’s menu follows the changes of the seasons and is complemented by an extensive selection of Central Valley and international wines as well as traditional hand-crafted signature cocktails.

AMA Sushi: In celebration of Japan’s Edomae tradition, which celebrates sushi in its purest form, and inspired by the legacy of Japanese free divers, AMA Sushi showcases always-fresh ingredients complemented by an extensive selection of wine, sake, and innovative cocktails. AMA Sushi, recently recommended by the 2022 MICHELIN GUIDE and recognized as a committed SmartCatch restaurant, presents two distinct dining experiences. The first is an omakase tasting – an experience built around trust and spontaneity between our chefs and their diners. The second is a prix fixe menu, which serves as a supported but self-guided journey through traditional Japanese flavors – supplemental courses available upon request. For more discerning pallets, children 12 years and under can enjoy the Okosama menu that features a selection of more approachable items.

Yoichi’s: This quaint little house run by a husband-wife team just happens to be one of the area’s favorite spots for traditional Japanese dining. This should be no surprise, as Chef Yoichi Kawabata’s background includes cooking at Nobu Tokyo. The dining room is quiet and serene, filled with white walls and dark wood tables—there is no sushi counter. Service is both friendly and informative.

The seven-course menu respects all the rules of kaiseki dining, using top seasonal ingredients and pristine, top-class fish. Meals begin with an array of four appetizers (zenzai) including delectable Wagyu beef that has been grilled and glazed in a sansho pepper sauce. The grilled duck breast may be prepared with perfect tenderness in sweet soy sauce with green peppers.

The Lark: This former fish market is located in the Funk Zone arts district, just a stone’s throw from the oceanfront. The vibrant dining room has become one of the trendiest places in town, largely thanks to the urban scene it fashions through an edgy décor and vintage lighting. Service remains cool and laid-back as ever, while also taking very good care of each guest.

Meals are served as large, family-style portions that are meant to be shared and spotlight the central coast’s finest ingredients. Well-mastered original creations may unveil blistered shishito peppers and roasted eggplant with cilantro yogurt, sweet and sour pickles as well as duck-fat breadcrumbs.

Bibi Ji: With their name emblazoned in pink, this trendy Indian from co-owners Alejandro Medina and noted sommelier Rajat Parr makes quite the splash. Inside, the space is small but well-appointed, with vaulted ceilings and chandeliers; the patio outside is a verdant, summertime delight. Harnessing the best of land and sea, these dishes are born for sharing. Behold such inventive bites as crispy cauliflower tossed with chili-garlic sauce and finished with sesame. Barra kebab highlights intensely spiced tandoor lamb chops with mint chutney; while vegetables like baingan bharta (eggplant with ginger) are a heady treat. The cooking is strong and the flavors are well executed. No wonder, dessert is an afterthought.

Barbareno Smoke lures guests to the covered patio or casually cool dining room, set just steps from downtown Santa Barbara’s hustle and bustle. Start with a local craft beer or wine to accompany any one of their diverse small plates. Dishes are bold and flavorful, and the kitchen showcases their distinct vision with attention to detail and a touch of whimsy. Grilled avocado is unapologetically Californian, balancing creamy with a subtle, smoky char. Eggamuffins, or cornmeal blini with a piped whipped seascape cheese foam, speck and grated, cured egg yolk, are as adorable as they are tasty. Five different single chocolates from different climates and a non-dairy panna cotta with a mead granita and fresh fruit are among the desserts.

Sama Sama Kitchen: This eatery in the heart of downtown is not only good fun but also good for the wallet. Here, the Chefs/partners bring their disparate expertise—one is a barbecue aficionado from Nashville, the other is Indonesian, and together they turn out a menu of thoroughly pleasing Southeast Asian food. Attractions include a well-spiced rendition of green papaya salad, mixing aromatic herbs, chilies, and peanuts. Bao can be ordered fried or steamed, which yields a pillowy soft bun to be filled with crunchy fried chicken in a tangy sauce.

The interior is appealingly simple, but the back patio is a hidden gem, filled with string lights and communal tables that can be booked for parties. Weekday happy hour simply means steep discounts on a variety of food and drinks.

Loquita: Loquita is located just blocks from the beach and inside a cream-tinted building with a red-tiled roof. Small and stylish, the space oozes with creative flair—picture colorful tiles, a humming bar framed by soft pink stools, and starburst light fixtures. Find a perch at the beloved wood counter or outside in the inviting and attractive patio. Servers know the menu by heart, so follow their lead and start with tapas like crusty pan con tomate, before digging into hearty chorizo y pollo paella. An homage to the El Bullí olive is a contemporary signature, while carpaccio garnished with pickled mustard seeds and aged sherry vinegar is fittingly popular.

Corazon Cocina: The Santa Barbara Public Market is full of alluring eateries, but after your first taste of this charming taco stand, you’ll want to pledge your heart. Chef/owner Ramon Velazquez mastered the craft of handmade tortillas and zesty salsas at the feet of his Guadalajaran mother and grandmother, but he also has a few tricks of his own that often involve additions of delightfully unique local produce.
Standouts include a cheesy, griddled taco piled with grilled octopus, white shrimp and avocado, as well as a veggie-packed Oaxaca cheese quesadilla bursting at the seams with confit tomatoes, broccolini, and radishes. Definitely say yes to all three of the different salsas handed out with your order.

Los Agaves: Serving generous portions of hearty south-of-the-border favorites by way of California, along with a relaxed, family-friendly vibe, this place deserves every bit of praise lavished upon it. The staff may bring chips immediately to your table, but salsa and drinks are both self-service. Remember to order at the counter and collect a number before taking a seat. Start with the likes of lime-marinated halibut ceviche tostada with cilantro and avocado. Then pick from a variety of sizeable burritos or go for the satisfyingly cheesy and crispy costra taco al pastor, with pineapple, marinated pork, and chipotle—enlivened with pickled onions.

Mesa Verde : Don’t be swayed by this vegan restaurant’s less-than-swanky location tucked between a gas station and a 7-Eleven. Inside, it’s homey, with wood paneling and colorful chairs, along with a wide-open kitchen that turns out the kind of food that everyone will enjoy. From the first bite of a mushroom umami burger with crisp lettuce and heirloom tomatoes, it is abundantly clear that these ingredients arrive fresh from the farm. Be sure to sample dishes like Brussels sprout tacos or the squash blossom quesadilla. The hits keep on coming through to dessert–save room for the birds nest baklava.

Bettina: After making a match at NYC’s Roberta’s, Brendan Smith and Rachel Greenspan took their pizza-powered love affair to the west coast, leaving bohemian Brooklyn for a gleaming perch in the Montecito Country Mart. Each night, the pair dishes up a dozen pie varieties tattooed with the delicate char of their wood-fired oven. Standouts include the carbonara with pancetta, egg and pecorino, or even a summery peach number with fontina, poblano, and red onions.
For those strong enough to resist pizza, other notable items include fried eggplant with harissa-spiked marinara and shrimp scampi over saffron risotto. This oven also does a solid sideline in baked goods, so grab some brown-butter chocolate chip cookies or a crusty sourdough loaf on your way out.

And elsewhere in northern Santa Barbara County in the town of Los Alamos Bell’s Restaurant also received a Michelin Star for its excellent cuisine.

Bells Restaurant: After cutting their teeth at top NYC kitchens, Daisy and Greg Ryan settled in the Santa Ynez Valley. Their particular skill lies in blending phenomenal products (90% of products are sourced from within 20 miles), focused flavors, and methods. This is cooking that tastes as good as it looks, and crowds keep coming for their unpretentious dishes. Wild snails drip with luscious garlic and parsley butter, while the Santa Barbara uni crêpe cake is layered with crème fraîche and caviar. Lamb en croûte may be next, served over Calabrian chili aïoli with asparagus. The meat is tender and the aïoli perfectly cuts through the rich, savory elements.
Desserts are equally worthy—from a buttery gâteau Breton to black pepper cookies laced with dark chocolate.

Posted by

Mark Danforth Lomas