Artfully incorporating local ingredients, the best eateries in Santa Barbara, California, paint a vivid picture of Central Coast dining. Here are five spots where the chefs take seriously the concept of farm to fork:
Barbareño, 205 W. Canon Pedido
On a quiet corner just off State Street, Barbareño bustles with a steady flow of patrons most nights of the week. Menu ingredients are sourced from the local farmers’ market as well as small-scale local providers like Shalhoob Meat Co. and Hope Ranch Mussels. Chef Julian Martinez takes inspiration from seasonal produce and Central Coast traditions to form an ever-changing menu that includes familiar dishes, like seafood and steaks, with his own twist.
You might see avocado gazpacho with local bee pollen and lemongrass, or pork served with beet gnocchi, chive oil and pickled ginger. Reservations are highly recommended — walk-ins will face a long wait for a table.
Mesa Verde, 1919 Cliff Dr.
Fittingly located in a modern cottage perched atop a mesa beyond the bounds of downtown, Mesa Verde adds an artisan flair to vegetarian dishes. Chef Greg Arnold treats each plate like a canvas, garnishing pan-seared farmers’ market carrots and many other dishes with vivid nasturtium, an edible flower.
At the charming indoor-outdoor restaurant, gluten-free macadamia nut butter crostini come accompanied with smoked vegetables, almond puree and butternut squash, while cacao black bean and jackfruit “chorizo” street tacos are topped with blueberry chipotle salsa and jalapeño onion slaw. The eclectic variety of ingredients will leave you feeling full and inspired.
The Lark, 131 Anacapa St.
Just two years old, The Lark has already become a local institution. Its location in Santa Barbara’s artistic quarter, the Funk Zone, means you can take the afternoon to visit art galleries and go wine tasting before settling in for a sumptuous candlelit meal.
Served family-style to share, the menu includes dishes like stone fruit and burrata with pickled Bing cherries, roasted cashew praline and Persian lime gastrique; roasted bone marrow with rosemary and brown butter cornbread, apricot marmalade and watercress; and grilled Spanish octopus with blistered grapes, squid ink, grapefruit, rosemary and toasted almonds. Make sure you save room for dessert so as not to miss out on funnel cake with spiced strawberry, malted milk cremeux, candied cocoa nibs and lime Chantilly cream.
Julienne, 138 E Canon Perdido St.
Known for its charcuterie plates, Julienne is a dinner-only American bistro with a farm-to-table approach. The appetizers reflect this artisanal approach — think dishes like braised octopus served with buttered popcorn puree and beef tongue pastrami.
Moving on to the mains, ricotta ravioli isn’t typical, either — it substitutes tomato sauce for charred strawberries, grilled chicories and Saba vinegar. The brisket meatballs with sautéed market beans are another don’t-miss choice. Be sure to book ahead: Meal time begins at 5 p.m., and concludes at 9 p.m. most nights of the week.
Scarlet Begonia, 11 W. Victoria St. #10
Scarlet Begonia, specializing in “thoughtful food,” is known for its creativity. Your evening meal might start with a house-made salt pretzel with spicy mustard butter and end with Maple Leaf Farms duck breast served with sunflower seed risotto, harissa glaze and brown butter figs.
Happy hour at the Scarlet Begonia features such culinary musings as Buffalo chicken oysters, lobster corn dogs and craft cocktails like the Scarlett Peppernell: house-infused black pepper vodka with strawberries, mint and lemon. Among locals, it’s perhaps best known for its brunch — think quinoa oatmeal and brioche French toast with house-made syrup — and quaint location in a quiet, off-street courtyard.