Sure, you might not think about driving to Santa Barbara for a meal every day, but these five new restaurants make a compelling case for it. Whether you’re headed to SB or further north, put these eateries on your road trip culinary radar.
“Convivo” means to come together. And the restaurant has the big plates — created by a local potter — to justify the name. Shareable portions of spit-roasted chicken and strip steak arrive at the table still smoldering from the wood-burning ovens, dressed in North African chili pepper paste (harissa) and marinade (chermoula). “We burn food properly,” says chef Peter McNee, who, after 16 years of San Francisco living, decided to join forces with Larry Mindel (Il Fornaio group) to reinvent this restaurant at the Santa Barbara Inn. It’s a decision he doesn’t regret as he looks out Convivo’s windows at the sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean. The menu focuses on fresh; the menu is printed daily five minutes before the restaurant opens. Bread is not served before the meal, but the house-made focaccia – with basil oil, onion and caciocavallo – can, and should, be ordered for $2. For brunch, sample specks of heaven: maple bourbon bombolini (doughnut holes) with espresso, pistachios and pancetta.
901 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara. (805) 845-6789, convivorestaurant.com.
From the same food-loving entrepreneurs as the Lark (located in a former fish market on Anacapa Street), Acme Hospitality has its hands full with Loquita, at the mouth of the Funk Zone, an historically industrial area that’s experiencing a renaissance with artists, restaurants and bars (think Abbot Kinney). True to the meaning of its name — a wild, fun-loving young girl — the festive vibe starts with starburst light fixtures on the ceiling, spills out onto the outdoor patio and sneaks all the way into the back room, which is a tapas bar called Poquita. The chefs in the kitchen dance to their own simmering beats — switching stations, waving utensils, grilling lemons and plating three different types of paella. Loquita isn’t lacking for animals en español. It serves gambas, pulpo, pescado, vaca, cerdo and pollo. The pulpo (octopus) is the right type of tender, seasoned with black garlic aioli and pickled red onion. Kick off your fiesta de comer with a pintxo, like the Manchego with membrillo (quince paste) and pistachio.
202 State St., Santa Barbara. (805) 880-3380, loquitasb.com.
Helena Avenue Bakery
In the heart of the Funk Zone, and housed in the same warehouse as Santa Barbara Wine Collective, Helena Avenue Bakery serves up hearty breakfast sandwiches and freshly baked pastries until 11 a.m., and sandwiches, salads and goodies from the picnic counter till 6 p.m. The green eggs & ham gets its name from green harissa, and the egg & cheddar, with bacon added, gets a flavorful lift from tomato jam. Both are served on a fluffy buttermilk biscuit. The apricot thyme croissant is great for a lighter breakfast. One big bonus at Helena Avenue Bakery, besides the Mexican chocolate doughnuts, is watching the bakers at work behind oversized glass panels, handcrafting baguettes, breads and pastries daily. Some of the grab-and-go items — created by baker Bryan Foehl and sous chef Bridget Bottoms — include a cold fried chicken sandwich on ciabatta with blue cheese and dill pickles, and a summer squash and sun-dried tomato sandwich with mozzarella and arugula. To satisfy a sweet tooth, grab a stout brownie or peanut butter brittle cookie for the road.
131 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara. (805) 880-3383, helenaavenuebakery.com.
Angel Oak at Bacara Resort & Spa
Whether or not you’re staying at the Bacara Resort & Spa, the newly opened Angel Oak is worth the short trip to Goleta — for many reasons. But a prime one is the 18 oz. bone-in rib-eye. Chef Vincent Lesage has set out to reimagine the traditional steakhouse. The menu has ample options of broiled dishes: 10 oz. center cut, 12 oz. New York prime, 18 oz. T-bone steak, 12 oz. bison rib-eye, certified Kobe beef, rack of lamb with apricot puree and 10 oz. dry-aged New York steak with shaved black truffles and brown butter. For the unsauced meats, there are choices: béarnaise, red wine sauce, assorted peppercorn sauce, horseradish crème fraîche and Angel Oak steak sauce. Or, just order the house butter: coriander-lime-espelette, or truffle and herb. It’s a mighty meal worthy of an even mightier appetite. But a leisurely stroll around the Bacara property can make a guest hungry. And the scenic ocean views tend to make diners linger a little longer.
8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta. (844) 436-2089, angeloaksb.com.
A third new restaurant to open recently in the Funk Zone, the Nook is the eat to Lama Dog Tap Room’s drink. Bright and airy, long communal tables fill the refurbished shipping container, and there’s a patio, too, that’s perfect for pets. It’s just one of the community gathering spots inside 120 Santa Barbara Street’s Waterline, an industrial warehouse that’s been freshly re-envisioned as a place for food, beer, wine and an artisan collective. The Nook is a family enterprise, started by 35-year food veterans Norbert Schulz and his wife, Brigitte Guehr (creators of a long list of successful restaurants, including Norbert’s and Brigitte’s), and their two adult children. They call what they serve global comfort food: blackened rockfish soft tacos, beer-braised brown sugar pork belly bao bun, lobster mac and cheese and spicy barbecue Jidori chicken wings. Some of the Nook’s dishes have been created with the idea of pairing them with particular beers and wines available inside the Waterline. It would seem a brew is the perfect match for a tempura soft-shell crab sandwich or purple potato waffle and fried chicken.
120 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara. (805) 880-3365, waterlinesb.com/the-nook.