International travel isn’t as simple as it used to be. While globetrotting is temporarily on hold for most of us, there are still ways to take in some culture, color and flavor closer to home. Santa Barbara is a glorious melting pot of international cuisine, offering up plenty of tempting cookery and libations to sip and savor from all four corners of the world.
In a time when overseas travel has been drastically limited, it’s about time to reinvent the “staycation.” Santa Barbara has plenty of dining options that will make you feel a world away – without the PCR test. Travel the globe with these culinary experiences while staying within Central California. We’ve listed a few restaurants below, but do know, this list is just scratching the surface of the international cuisine Santa Barbara has to offer. Here are seven restaurants where you can sample the flavors and culture of another country without crossing the state line.
French paired with California wine
Experience France in California wine country. Dubbed “the original Santa Barbara Wine Country restaurant,” Bouchon features French-accented California cuisine that intentionally pairs well with local wines. This restaurant is a must-visit and has been featured in numerous, respected fine-dining publications. Using as fresh as possible ingredients, including fish from the Santa Barbara Channel, Bouchon’s menu offers a light California touch to the richness of French cuisine. Dine in leisurely European style in a warm and inviting ambiance for a truly enjoyable evening. https://www.bouchonsantabarbara.com/
Look out onto the blue waters of the Mediterranean without leaving the American Riviera. Santa Barbara’s Toma Restaurant & Bar features Italian-inspired Mediterranean handcrafted cuisine in a charming building directly across from the beach. Enjoy classic Italian dishes with contemporary flair, like tomato bisque to start – a puree of tomato, lobster-sherry cream, herb oil and basil. Then choose from a simple, yet mouthwatering selection of flat bread pizzas or new twists on old favorites, like black spaghetti – fresh squid ink pasta with clams, pork calabrese salame, garlic, white wine butter and parsley. https://www.tomarestaurant.com/menu
Corazon Cocina has been a favorite among locals since its humble pop-up beginnings. Since opening its permanent home in the Santa Barbara Public Market, the restaurant has only flourished. Get there early or prepare to wait in line at this popular spot serving up authentic Mexican tacos loaded with locally sourced ingredients and dripping with flavor. Chef Ramon Velazquez offers a menu of comforting and deliciously familiar, yet colorful and inventive Mexican favorites inspired by local markets and early years in Guadalajara with his mother and grandmother. Handmade tortillas cradle tasty meats like braised short rib, as in the Birria, or octopus and shrimp in the Tia Juana taco. Savor comforting favorites like tortilla soup with a pasilla chile broth, grilled chicken, avocado, oaxaca cheese and braised local greens or chorizo queso fundito, a warm bowl of melted jack and oaxaca cheese, roasted poblanos, caramelized onions, mushrooms and three flour or corn tortillas. https://corazoncocinasb.com/menu
Best Indonesian, Southeast Asian food in Santa Barbara
Travel to Southeast Asia for a rewarding yet affordable Indonesian fusion meal. Meaning “together” or “same to you,” Sama Sama aims to bring you to the islands of Java and Bali and beyond without leaving State Street. Asian food aficianodos will love fresh starters like the gado gado salad or the green papaya salad and traditional staple meals like mie goreng, which is stir fried noodles with cabbage, gailan, eggs and fish sauce or nasi goreng, a stir-fried rice dish with cabbage, gailan, eggs and fish sauce. Enjoy rich and spicy Indonesian soups like Soto Ayam and Soto Betawi. Make sure to try the Kue Gula Merah for dessert, a palm sugar cake with house-made pineapple ice cream, plantation rum caramel, and salty short bread. Sama Sama also has an extensive bar menu with a wide variety of clever cocktails, sake, wine and spirits. Head to the back patio for delightful seating and large table seating perfect for weekday happy hour. https://samasamakitchen.com/
Another long-time local favorite brings you to the streets of Saigon where you can savor delicious Phở, Vietnamese rice noodle soup with a choice of beef mignon, roasted duck, chicken, seafood or meatballs. Come for the Phở and stay for the Hot Pot, turmeric curries and a variety of noodle or rice plates. The food is fresh and so reliably good, this Vietnamese favorite will be your new alternative to Chinese Takeout. https://saigonsantabarbara.com/menu/
Local Michelin Star and Michelin Guide mentions
Sushi | Bar Montecito is the proud recipient of 1 Michelin star. Just down the street from Santa Barbara, this truly authentic Japanese sushi bar with seating for just 10 people ensures your dining experience is deeply personalized. Sitting up front and center to the chef’s cutting boards in this omakase-style sushi restaurant offers a uniquely intimate dining experience. Enjoy a meticulously crafted 17-course meal where before each course, chefs will explore flavor profiles so that no one ever experience the same 17-course meal twice. In addition to the fresh sushi, look forward to the wine, sake, cocktail and beer pairing. Book weeks in advance, as only 10 seats are available to keep the experience intimate. https://www.exploretock.com/sushibarmontecito/
Though no Michelin star, this Indian restaurant was most recently added to the Michelin Guide California. Bibi Ji is a contemporary Indian restaurant on State Street where guests can eat like kings sitting under chandeliers and vaulted ceilings in this Downtown spot just a short stroll or bike ride from Stearns Wharf. “The cooking is strong and flavors well executed,” writes the Guide’s description. The modern twist on Indian cuisine features local seafood served sea-to-table, traditional Indian curries, locally sourced produce and sustainably and organically farmed wines. Bibi Ji is not the usual Indian hole in the wall joint. This restaurant is the perfect stop on your Santa Barbara wine tour, with a wine list curated by the talented sommelier and co-owner Rajat Parr. https://bibijisb.com/menus
Where to stay in Santa Barbara for international dining experiences
International travel may still be in the distant future and most of us will probably be spending our vacation days stateside. Get away without the hassle or the PCR test and take a trip to Santa Barbara where you can enjoy tasty cuisine from around the world. Choose a vacation rental home in Santa Barbara that is within walking distance from local restaurants and cafes and have fun exploring the city’s international cuisine one country at a time. Search vacation rental homes in Santa Barbara now and book in advance for the best rate.