The Best Patio Restaurants To Dine at This Summer
Written by Anna Constantino
Photos by Silas Fallstich
Whether you’re enjoying brunch under the sun or heading to aperitivo hour with friends, there is no better way to celebrate the start of summer than with outdoor dining. Liven up your palate with craft cocktails, seasonal tasting plates, and exquisite entrées at these renowned local restaurants.
La Paloma Café
I enter the doors of La Paloma Café where a stunning mural enhances the bar. I make my way to the patio, twinkling lights and a pink neon sign illuminate me as I gloss over the menu. The resurrection of this 80 year old restaurant pays homage to the cuisine of the Californios, incorporating Spanish and Mexican influences into Californian fare.
I start with the Oak Grilled Napoles, a brined and smoked cactus dressed in a light slaw, cotija, and lemon dressing. Next, I dive into the Crispy Brussels in a syrah-porcini mushroom reduction topped with pomegranate seeds. The brussels are textured and crunchy, picking up the earthiness of the bright reduction.
My appetizers are swept away for the All Natural Pork Shoulder Carnitas–a cut of pork shoulder atop black bean purée, tomatillo, pickled onions, adorned with matcha sauce and tomatillo. I open the basket of steaming corn tortillas and assemble my version of a carnitas taco. The pork quite literally melts in my mouth, the juices running down the plate, and is juxtaposed by the refreshing tang of matcha and tomatillo.
I always leave room for something sweet, and there was no better choice than the Cobbler a la Mode. The vanilla bean McConnell’s ice cream melts into the crevices of the crust as I crack in, revealing the warm peaches and blueberries. It is the ideal summer dessert, reminding me of my grandmother’s picnic cobbler, and I find myself cleaning the dish in record time. La Paloma evokes the ideal contrast between comfort food and diverse experimentation with flavor, allowing for a pleasant and delicious dining experience.
I step across the patio lined with fuchsia bougainvillea and twisting vines to my seat overlooking the stunning waterfront and the palm trees of East Beach. Inside Santa Barbara Inn lies Convivo Restaurant, a hidden culinary gem. Inspired by the sea and farmlands of the Central Coast, their menu features an array of delectable dishes that evoke Italian roots.
I quench my thirst with the Convivo Spritz, a play on your typical Contratto aperitif, topped with prosecco and orange peel. As I sip, the table is adorned with our first two appetizers, the Pesce Crudo and Charcoal Avocado. The buttery ahi and artichoke pairs wonderfully with the acidity of the cara cara orange slices and mustard seed, leaving a zing on my palate. The charcoal avocado, grilled to perfection, is filled with ponzu. I cut through the middle of the avocado allowing the ponzu to dress the salad of radicchio, strawberries, an array of citrus, and pomegranate seeds. This delightfully refreshing summer salad is an explosion of vibrancy and flavor, and looks just as beautiful as it tastes.
My eyes meet the tentacles of an octopus on a bed of frisée, topped by pork belly and a fried egg. Although a daunting bite, I dive into the crisp octopus dressed in melty egg yolk and it pleases my taste buds. The pork belly accompanying it is delectably rich, countering the array of fresh spring vegetables. One cannot indulge in Italian fare without having pasta, so naturally, we opt for the Lemon Ricotta Cappellacci. Each bite is folded into the shape resembling a petite hat, topped with Santa Barbara rock crab and saffron shellfish brodo. The crab and shellfish are subtle and complemented by buttery lemon sauce and ricotta.
Our meal is finished with the Panna Cotta and Créme Fraiche & Pistachio Cheesecake. The vanilla panna cotta sits on a bed of shortbread crumble and is dressed in strawberries and kaffir lime. The heavenly cream melts in my mouth, and is soon devoured. The crust of the cheesecake incorporates pistachio, a unique play on a classic dessert. The fresh berries and creamy middle culminate the evening, and I am left satisfied beyond measure.
Pico Los Alamos
The sun sets over the breathtaking garden oasis of Pico Los Alamos as I sip my Unicorn Margarita, a potion of bright fuschia and purple. An assortment of small plates adorn the table accompanied by an amuse-bouche of watermelon radish and edible flowers. Our first appetizer, the Uni Tostada with uni pate and avocado is garnished with peanuts, unagi sauce, and grilled lime, making for an eclectic play on a seafood dish. To complement these flavors we dive into our second endeavor, the Stuffed Avocado Crudo, an orb of spicy tuna, avocado, and black tobiko over a yuzu ponzu. The kick of togarashi and yuzu tang dance on my taste buds as the fresh avocado cools my palate.
An array of DaVall medjool dates wrapped in bacon, stuffed with ricotta and house mangalitsa chorizo, are garnished with purple petals. Each piece is decadently rich and bursting with flavor. I sip my Lost Almost margarita in between bites, the smoky mezcal complementing the harissa-smothered dates. Our starters are swapped for two picturesque entrées: the Local King Salmon and the Pico Burger. The presentation of the confit salmon is carefully crafted, a salmon chicharron balancing atop, dotted with homemade labneh and red roe. The piece is tender and melts in my mouth, and the earthy black rice pairs perfectly.
A fried egg yolk bursts onto the plate below as I dig into the burger, the balsamic grilled onions and bacon adding a sweet-and-salty dynamic. The combination of truffled fries and house-made garlic aioli is heavenly–and soon both plates are swept away.
No meal is complete without dessert, so naturally we opt for the Chocolate Lava Cake and Rhubarb Tart. The lava cake erupts with a flow of dark chocolate sauce, as the whipped cream atop seeps into the interior. I switch over to the tart, a starkly contrasting flavor profile, nonetheless bright and refreshing. I make my way through the garden, the scents of orange blossom and rosemary engulfing the air, as I reflect on my meal. The use of local ingredients and attention to quality paired with the botanical ambiance makes for a wonderful meal.
Dusk settles over the garden patio as the scent of oak and herbs wafts into the air. I sip on an apple-jasmine kombucha as a dainty plate of Market Crudo is placed before me. The dish is a spectacle–avocado and radish balance atop the bluefin tuna, garnished with an airy foamed garlic and their signature yellow flower petal. Barbareño takes a creative approach to Coastal dining, as they are known for fine attention to detail in flavor pairing and presentation.
A loaf of house-made sourdough and butter with kaffir lime shavings is brought to the table with my second appetizer of the evening, the Grilled Avocado. Two avocado halves balance over a yuzu mousse dusted in shaved horseradish, filled to the brim with black garlic ponzu. The avocado has a robust char from grilling over California Oak, a staple cooking technique of the Central Coast adopted into their methods. I soak up the last drippings of avocado and ponzu with the crusty bread, and soon my plates are swapped for my entrée: Acorn Tagliatelle.
The tagliatelle is a rich brown, stewing in a charred oak broth with charred vegetables, wolfe ranch mushrooms, and fresh herbs. The dish is an homage to the culinary traditions of the native Chumash, who often utilized acorns as a cooking staple. The dish is light and refreshing while maintaining layered and strong flavors.
I settle my taste buds with a Sei Querce vermouth as the Baked California is placed before me. A tower of toasted meringue insulates mango and basil semifreddo, lemon, and hop cake, garnished with lavender candied pistachios. The meringue is infused with OG Kush terpenes making for an extra relaxing end to my evening.