Some places seem to defy time — institutions that always just exist and have become vintage in the best way. Here are four of Santa Barbara’s best.
Joe’s Cafe in the 1930’s
Joe’s Cafe in 1981
Joe’s Cafe Today
Joe’s website welcomes its visitors with the big, all-caps statement “Dining, Drinking, and Socializing since 1928.”
Being one of the oldest restaurants in Santa Barbara, Joe’s has certainly had enough time to perfect the art of big, all-caps drinks as well.
Locals know Joe’s as the place to “enjoy a stiff one,” however, my early 20s taught me that lingering too late means stiff drinks may segue into limp pick-up lines. I distinctly remember a potential suitor informing me mid-conversation that he was “homeless,” and looking for somewhere to sleep that night. He wasn’t too thrilled by the confused look on my face coupled with directions to a local campground. While I know this outcome wasn’t really “what he had in mind,” I don’t fault him for trying. After all, The Game was a popular read then.
These days, happy hour at Joe’s is more my speed: same homey food, same strong drinks, less surprise conversations about sleeping arrangements.
Birte & Charlotte Andersen Today
Who among us hasn’t enjoyed a slice or two of delectable birthday cake from The Andersen’s (until now, haven’t we all just called it Andersen’s?)? It’s been a staple in the Santa Barbara treat-lover community for over 40 years, but until recently, I hadn’t enjoyed its “time honored traditional European cuisine.”
When I learned about its daily happy hour, I investigated the menu and found dishes like “butcher plate” and “roastbeef” (that is not a typo, it is one word – hence the intrigue). With names like these, I couldn’t resist a visit and really loved the unique, tasty dishes!
Definitely say hi to Charlotte Andersen, daughter of the founder Alfred Andersen, and see why this shop of delights has endured in Santa Barbara.
Chuck’s of Hawaii in Santa Barbara opened in 1967 when Hawaiian culture had been appropriated across the mainland. Jimmy Buffet’s parrot pandemonium was in its early stages, floral shirts were abundant, and luaus were the “it” party theme.
Chuck’s is nothing if not true to its roots serving the highest-quality hand-cut steaks and seafood with a delicious Hawaiian flair. Go for happy hour, and you’ll get a taste of what could be with teriyaki steak bites and rice. Eventually, bites will not be sufficient, and the whole steak will be necessary.
The Mai Tai is a tropical vacay in a glass, and the surrounding brightly-lit tiki torches will make you feel like you’re the Drapers in Waikiki (post-Betty). Aloha.
I’m channeling my Sophia Petrillo. Picture it–1922. El Paseo’s dining room is shaded by huge swaths of Venetian sailing cloth, a colorful, tiled pool complete with floating roses lulls diners, and “Mexican bowls with trailing plants and long strands of cherry-red chili peppers hung in the courtyard arches.”
This iconic Mexican restaurant is still a gorgeous landmark, and upon entry feels like you’ve entered a Spanish villa.
I’m not proud to admit it, but El Paseo is the only restaurant I have ever been semi-politely asked to leave. Before you judge, it was NOT my fault, but I maybe should have been more discerning about the group of friends I accompanied to Sunday’s all-you-can-drink brunch. I guess people don’t like it when strangers at the next table try to reach their drinks with an extra long straw?
Anyway, evidently I’m not persona non grata because I was allowed back for happy hour. I happily slurped down a $6 margarita and cheesy nachos sans badly-behaved “associates.”
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