I’ve already covered the wonderful Julienne, but here’s a quick roundup of a few other restaurants that made for a fantastic family vacation in Santa Barbara. Check back later for the second installment about our eating experiences in the northern Santa Barbara County area.
La Super-Rica has its legions of fans, most notably counting Julia Child among them. Handmade tortillas are outstanding, they’re great with the stewed rajas and cheesy dishes, and the covered outdoor patio is quite a dramatic place to witness a sudden rainstorm followed by an astonishing double rainbow. But after this last meal, the bloom is kind of off the rose. The steak was dry and bland, guacamole had absolutely no tangy zing whatsoever, and it really says something when I — she of modest heat tolerance — add the hottest salsa to all of my dishes. It’s cash only, and the line snakes out the door. And yet this S.B. institution is loose and beyond casual, food is made freshly in-house, the kids ate just about everything, and all utensils and plates are easy peasy (and environmentally incorrect) disposable. So yeah, chances are we’ll return to Super-Rica in our future Santa Barbara travels, as we tend do to. Until someone else steers me in a better direction, for which I’m ALL ears, please.
622 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara; (805) 963-4940
The Hungry Cat outpost in Santa Barbara distills all the best parts of the original and inserts them into an even better setting. There’s no bizarre generic mixed-use architecture, and no reluctant relationship to the street and sidewalk outside. Instead, the Downtown Santa Barbara location just off State Street offers the same stellar cocktails and market-based, seafood-centric menu, simple yet slick interior design, and friendly bar all within a 1920s commercial building that shows some age and character. Kind of like Julienne, it’s that warm, glowing neighborhood restaurant on the corner. The only obvious downside: there’s no outdoor patio area for the kids to romp around like at the one in Hollywood. But given that we slipped out for a quick post-kiddo-bedtime cocktail date, we thankfully didn’t have to worry about that stuff. As long as the Hungry Cat fries are the same, most kids will be golden.
1134 Chapala St.; Santa Barbara; (805) 884-4701
THE FRENCH PRESS
I didn’t take any photos at the French Press — all of our hands were occupied in this busy cafe carrying kids and hot coffee — but our friend just happened to email my husband a pic this week while he was there. (So thanks, Allen!) Anyway, it’s definitely your best option for Third Wave style coffee in the area, and it’s conveniently located on State Street in the heart of S.B. Make this your regular morning coffee or tea stop. And get the poppy seed-crusted bear claw twist for a breakfast treat.
1101 State St., Santa Barbara; (805) 963-2721
The Biltmore Santa Barbara is one of the region’s best, most gorgeous historic hotels. I’ve had a big crush on it as long as I can remember since back in the day when we’d sneak over from the now-defunct funky Miramar down the road. Bella Vista is most useful at breakfast when kids under five eat for free at the buffet. Otherwise it’s about $30 a head for adults, so bring your hearty appetite (or go to Jeannine’s in town instead, where they serve Stumptown Coffee). Because the hotel has the right mix of fancy-and-romantic-for-people-without-kids while also being super perfectly attentive to families, the restaurant also gets it, with spot-on service, a big kids’ menu that’s relatively fairly priced ($6 burger, mac n’ cheese, quesadilla etc.). Crayons and activity books are also provided. Arrive for an early dinner and take advantage of an ocean-view seat by the window, less crowded dining room, and maybe even watch the sunset over that spectacular beach. The Cal-Med, supposedly mostly local organic menu boasts dishes such as Liberty duck, and mentions which variety of lettuce is used in the salads and such. The style of food coming out of the kitchen(s), however, with hulking proteins towering over creamy vegetable purees, shows this is a business that’s more geared towards cooking for banquet and big event guests, i.e. it’s no small, charming Julienne, if that’s the flavor/vibe you’re looking for (probably not, if you’re with really little ones!).
1260 Channel Drive, Santa Barbara/Montecito; (805) 969-2261