Rev up your winter by checking out a raft of new restaurants sprinkled around town from Goleta to the Mesa.
Hitting the mark in downtown dining is Benchmark Eatery (1201 State St., 805/845-2600, benchmarkeatery.com), located in the former home of longtime local fave State & A in the theater and arts district. Sporting one of the best patios in town, this is the place to meet friends for lunch, grab a bite before or after a show, or just lollygag at the indoor or patio side of the large, airy bar with a cocktail (try the signature Benchmark). Owned by the Bennett family of Brophy Bros. renown, the casual eatery does American fare proud, with everything from soul-satisfying pastas, pizzas and fresh salads to juicy burgers and generous sandwiches. Dig into entrees like smoked beef short ribs, carnitas tacos, grilled ahi and fish and chips.
Owner Ruben Perez draws on his experience at Seagrass, his family’s next-door restaurant, in opening The Black Sheep (26 E. Ortega St., 805/965-1113, theblacksheepsb.com). The intimate space has a cool, casual vibe, but serves seriously good farm-to-table food. Not afraid to think outside the box, Perez and his crew dish up some creative small plates that are perfect for sharing while sipping, say, a glass of Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah. Try scallop crudo, roasted bone marrow or re-constructed chicken stuffed with walnuts and dried apricots. Large plates include succulent sautéed sea bass and rolled slow-braised pork shoulder in barbecue sauce with cornbread biscuits. Cap it off with creamy rice pudding with housemade strawberry preserves made from Shepherd Farms strawberries.
Barbareño (205 W. Canon Perdido St., 805/963-9591, barbareno.com), newly opened in the former D’Vine Café space, is the creation of chef/co-owner Julian Martinez and general manager/co-owner Jesse Gaddy. Along with chef de cuisine Owen Hanavan, the trio turns out Santa Barbara-centric dishes with a contemporary twist in a casual, refined rustic setting. “We’re re-interpreting things that have been eaten here for a long time, from Santa Maria-style barbecue to fish tacos,” says Martinez.
“The food is a modern interpretation of traditional dishes that are rooted in the area.” The farmers’ market-driven menu changes weekly—think re-imagined Santa Maria barbecue as cold-smoked beef tartare, served with pico de gallo ingredients and pinquito beans.
Chef Greg Arnold creates some imaginative and delicious vegetarian dishes at MESAVERDE (1919 Cliff Dr., 805/963-4474, mesaverderestaurant.com), sourcing most of his produce from the farmers’ market and his own herb garden. The menu is divided into share plates, salads, mains, flatbread pizzas and desserts, and fuses Arnold’s modern organic plant-based cuisine with Mediterranean flavors from Morocco, the south of France, Spain and the Middle East. You’ll find artfully presented and swoon-worthy share plates such as wild mushroom tacos with lemon crème fraiche, harissa and a crunch of pepitas; and thyme-roasted baby carrots with Beluga lentils and cashew yogurt. Don’t miss the tasty black bean, walnut-and-grilled-kale burger. Dishes are vegetarian, but can be tweaked to vegan if requested. Stop by for morning coffee and housemade pastries, lunch, dinner or weekend brunch. And don’t leave without snagging a baklava.
The Goodland Hotel, a Kimpton boutique property, flung open its hip and welcoming doors in Goleta this fall. Making a splash is Outpost (5650 Calle Real, Goleta, 805/964-1288, outpostsb.com), the hotel’s highly anticipated restaurant. Acclaimed chef Derek Simcik is at the helm of the casual, fun spot. The seasonal menu of shareable plates, entrees and fresh salads includes fish tacos with battered halibut, flat iron steak with salsa verde, pork bao buns and a caper-studded Caesar salad with grilled romaine. For weekend brunch, look for Market Benedict with poached egg, asparagus, Serrano chile and crab béarnaise. Oh, and a seasonal housemade pop tart with that? Twist my arm.