Santa Barbara, CA (PRWEB) December 27, 2013
Santa Barbara County is a foodie’s haven, and there is no shortage of diverse cuisines to taste and devour. One of the most prominent cultural cuisines is without a doubt—Mexican food—a Southern California staple. With Mexican restaurants all over Santa Barbara and surrounding areas, it is almost impossible not to stumble into one from time to time. Santa Barbara is unique in that the authentic, small, and fresh Mexican restaurants outnumber the chains and tourist traps that can flood bigger California cities. Not sure which taco joint to start at? Keep reading.
There are the more well-known spots in Santa Barbara that consistently draw crowds and have great food, but locals know not to ignore the numerous small, hole-in-the-wall places that offer the chance to skip the line and explore something different. Take a stroll down Milpas, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and try to fight the urge to enter one of the many humble façades coaxing passer-byers with the aroma of freshly-baked tortillas. If time and transportation are an object, step into one of the hidden gems off State Street for a quick and satisfying hunger fix. If a post-meal margarita is in the cards, stay tuned for Santa Barbara’s top margaritas makers.
THE MILPAS TACO TREK
A quintessential Milpas joint is Taqueria El Bajio. A family-run business offering traditional homemade Mexican dishes, it’s impossible to go wrong ordering from the extensive menu. Some favorites are the carnitas tacos and the tamales, especially the sweet corn and pork renditions. A short block away is La Colmena, another quaint taqueria with a quality selection of meats. Locals love the rajas tacos (peppers and gooey cheese slathered over a handmade tortilla) and rave about the homemade orange-peanut-habanero salsa.
Cesar’s Place gets two thumbs up for its fresh seafood—and there is plenty of it on the menu to choose from. Order the ceviche campechana, a fresh blend of fish, shrimp, and octopus, served with a side of homemade crispy tortillas and saltine crackers. Or, go the nontraditional route with a big plate of fish and chips. Whatever menu item is ordered, guests will leave full and happy.
Pay a visit to Altamirano’s for a homey atmosphere and friendly service—look no further than the paintings on the walls of the owners cooking traditional dishes in Mexico for confirmation that this place is the real deal. Lucky diners may even spot Mama, the chef behind it all, taking a break from preparing her famous gorditas or sopes. Chile rellenos are another high demand item here.
One place on Milpas that isn’t such a secret is Los Agaves, and it’s easy to see why. A cheery interior with wood-and-tile tables greets eager customers as they line up at the front to order. The menu features several seafood and authentic Mexican dishes. Not to be missed is the self-serve salsa bar, arguably one of the best in town due to the variety of choices and fresh flavors.
It might not be solely Mexican food like the restaurants lining either side of it, but The Shop Café does make some mouthwatering fish tacos that are worth trying. The “Really Good Fish Tacos” (appropriately named) are homemade blue corn tortillas with grilled Santa Barbara Cod and sliced tomato salsa—refreshing and delicious. Named “The Shop” because it is located next to a tire shop, this little café’s motto is “slow food, fast.” It’s true, as most of the ingredients used seem as if they belong in a gourmet, sit-down restaurant—not a hut where customers order through the window.
La Super Rica Taqueria was a favorite of Julia Child’s. Not much more than a cement shack with a bright blue exterior, La Super Rica has attracted a ton of media attention for its celebrity clientele and terrific tacos. The widespread attention does have its downsides, like the almost-constant line wrapping around the corner from where this shanty stands. It has remained an iconic figure of Milpas taquerias throughout the years, however, so it’s safe to say people consider it worth the wait.
STATE STREET AND BEYOND
Meat lovers beware—there are abundant exotic choices in store for those willing to comply. The legendary Lilly’s Tacos downtown, and with a new second location in Goleta, serves cabeza, cachete, lengua, labio, and ojo tacos—or beef head, cheek, tongue, lip, and eye. Tamer options such as chicken and veggie are available to those who aren’t feeling as adventurous. There is nearly always a line out the door, as Lilly’s is a scrumptious option that won’t break the bank. A bit down the road from Lilly’s Santa Barbara location on Chapala Street is Romanti-Ezer, a taco stand with the motto “Weird name, delicious food.” Walk up to the inconspicuous stand to order, then head around the corner to the hidden patio in the back to feast on traditional Mexican delicacies. Bar hoppers rejoice: on weekend nights, this is one of the few late-night SB haunts, open until 3 am.
Casa Blanca Restaurant & Cantina is an upbeat State Street stop with Spanish-style architecture and décor, designed by renowned architect Jeff Shelton. A hand carved Acacia bar accompanies 120 tequila options while brightly colored tiles line the floors and walls. As for the menu, Mexican classics such as chile rellenos and fajitas are served alongside more rare options such a birria (lamb shank). The outdoor patio features people watching and a fire place—perfect for a chilly Santa Barbara evening.
No taco list would be complete without mentioning Super Cucas, the self-proclaimed first Taqueria in Santa Barbara. Winner of the Santa Barbara Independent’s “Best Burrito” contest every year since 1991, Cucas offers hearty portions made with authentic ingredients. With two locations in Santa Barbara and one in Isla Vista, diners can check out firsthand whether Super Cucas deserves this coveted title.
Another frontrunner on the scene is El Sitio, a local chain with four locations that include Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista. Owners Jose and Sanjua Gil named El Sitio after the small Mexican town they grew up in, located in the state of Zacatecas. The first branch opened in 1990, and the restaurant maintains its popularity today serving the culinary delights of interior Mexico. Soccer games and Spanish soap operas regularly broadcasted on the flat screen TV’s contribute to a relaxed atmosphere.
The scent of pan dulce baking in the oven is enough to draw anyone into Los Tarascos in Santa Barbara or Goleta. It promises tasty Mexican sandwiches (tortas) and pastries, as well as fresh-squeezed juices. The pastry menu changes daily, offering dessert and lunch pastries hot out of the oven. From the torta selection, “La Tarasca” is a top pick—ham, egg, tomato, beans, bacon, lettuce, onions, cheese, and roast beef all on homemade Bolillo bread.
Look no further than Beach Liquor Tacos To Go in Carpinteria for an inconspicuous taco joint. Located inside a general liquor store, Tacos To Go serves some of the most popular breakfast burritos in town. Food can be taken to go (as the name suggests) or enjoyed at one of the few tables available inside. With amazing views and beaches in town, it’s highly recommended to get the food to go. Whatever decision is made, be sure to sample the salsa bar, and for those in a hurry, call ahead to have the order ready upon arrival.
Heading north to Santa Ynez? The award-winning Dos Carlitos has a lively ambience and great Mexican cuisine served in generous portions. The chicken, steak, shrimp, carnitas, and mahi-mahi tacos are hard to beat, as is the ceviche. A beautiful terrace complete with a fireplace sets a picturesque scene for a feast. Dos Carlitos has two sister restaurants: Carlitos Café & Cantina in Santa Barbara and Cava in Montecito, also local hotspots.
For those looking to quench their thirst after some savory and authentic Mexican cuisine, luckily there are several restaurants that doubly serve as a watering hole—of the libations sort, that is.
Sandbar in downtown Santa Barbara has a large menu of margs, ranging from the Watermelon Fresca, which includes fresh watermelon and Elderflower liqueur, to the “Pepino Diablo”, which features muddled cucumber and jalapeno. Sandbar also serves just about every kind of taco imaginable, perfect for pairing with a fun margarita.
The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach offers incredible beachfront views and a mean Blood Orange Margarita (add jalapeno for an extra kick!). Its isolated location on Hendry’s Beach makes for a peaceful setting, until it strikes 5 pm on weekdays and the working crowd races in to unwind. As if that isn’t close enough to the beach, try Shoreline Café on Leadbetter Beach where customers can be seated on the actual beach for a margarita in the sand.
Located in the historic La Arcada shopping center, Cielito offers an impressive atmosphere coupled with an equally impressive margarita. The “Cielito” Margarita is their signature, with fresh lime juice, tres agaves blanco, and agave syrup. Add-ins like Grand Marnier, serrano, fruit purees, and mezcal encourage customization of the classic. Another locale with a variety of options is Blue Agave, also in downtown SB. The Guava, Prickly Pear, and Habanero Margaritas are just a few of the unique and flavorful choices to pick from.
Heading south down the 101, Cabo’s Baja Grill & Cantina in Carpinteria is the perfect place to relax and sway to live music while sipping a margarita. Here they are available by the pitcher and made from local limes and oranges. Sit outside and enjoy the sea breeze and peacefulness that is characteristic of this pleasant coastal town.
ABOUT SANTA BARBARA
Featured on the cover of Travel + Leisure in May 2013 and voted Best Getaway by L.A. Times Readers’ Choice Awards in 2012, Santa Barbara is located just 92 miles north of Los Angeles and 332 miles south of San Francisco, on the Pacific coastline. Visitors can arrive via scenic Highway 101, train, bus or by flying into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport or Los Angeles International Airport. For travel and accommodation information and to request a free copy of the official Santa Barbara County Visitors Magazine, contact Visit Santa Barbara at 800.676.1266, 805.966.9222, tourism(at)santabarbaraca(dot)com or SantaBarbaraCA.com. Visitor information is also available at the Visitor Center, 1 Garden Street (at Cabrillo Boulevard).
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