I was lucky enough to spend the long weekend in Santa Barbara visiting dear friends and attending a wedding. I always love to travel and try new places, but with Celiac that can be a slightly nerve-wracking experience as there sometimes aren’t a lot of safe, gluten-free options. I went into the weekend really excited but expecting to subside on bars and snack foods (if you need ideas, check out this post) but was so pleasantly surprised to find that Santa Barbara is an incredibly gluten-free city! In fact, I would say that they are even much more accommodating than the Bay Area. Rather than do full Gluten-Free Spotlight posts on each restaurant, I thought I’d round up the restaurants in a handy post for any of you planning to visit!
My first meal of the trip was at Mesa Verde, a cool, farm-to-table restaurant that apparently was Santa Barbara’s first vegan restaurant! If vegan restaurant is synonymous in your mind with a hippy, dated restaurant, Mesa Verde couldn’t be farther from that idea. Rather, it has low lighting and clean lines and the plating is all beautiful, with Chef Greg Arnold creating “visually arresting compositions using imaginative vegan ingredients.” For my meal, I went with the Macro Bowl (rainbow chard, quinoa, grilled cabbage, kale, broccolini, shishito peppers, romesco, tahini, chimichurri) and left out the white beans and hummus as I don’t eat beans. This was seriously one of the best meals I have had since going gluten-free and I don’t say that lightly! When cooking I usually think of using one sauce but I’m re-thinking that strategy as the combination of romesco, tahini and chimichurri was seriously unreal. It was a huge portion and I ate every single bite because I loved all the flavors so much. It had the perfect amount of heat and was complex and delicious. If everyone could eat meals like this one, I think that we’d have more gluten-free/vegan believers out there!
Pickles and Swiss
When we stopped for a quick lunch the next day, we went to Pickles and Swiss, a cafe who’s tagline is “fresh bread and produce every day, nothing frozen, nothing deep-fried, gluten-free, no fillers, no nitrates, no artificial flavors or transfat.” Basically, it’s a cafe that actually believes in healthy eating and makes it easy and accessible. Normally at a cafe I would only order a salad due to cross-contamination of bread, but the staff at Pickles and Swiss was amazing. I spoke with the manager and he explained to me that their gluten-free bread was made locally and showed me the ingredient list and I was happy to see that it isn’t made with corn flour or dairy. I did a custom sandwich with Boar’s Head turkey (all Boar’s Head deli meats and cheeses are gluten-free) and they even heated up the bread on a special, gluten-free tray in the oven and were totally aware of cross-contamination. The sandwich was delicious and a rare treat and I would definitely stop in again.
Alchemy Cafe is connected to the Alchemy Wellness Center & Spa and is definitely a hidden gem. As you walk into the restaurant it feels a little like leaving the world behind and entering a more zen-like space. The menu is local, organic, healing, seasonal, vegetarian cuisine. One thing that is not mentioned on the menu or website, however, is that the entire menu is gluten-free, with the exception of one roll they offer and they are currently looking for a locally-made, gluten-free bread that is 100% organic. Upon hearing that I could have basically anything on the menu, my eyes lit up, as this pretty much never happens! I debated long and hard between sweet (buckwheat crepes made without any cross-contamination!) and the Thai curry. I ended up going for the latter and it was absolutely delicious and creamy and paired it with a green juice. My best friend went for the Alchemy Rolls (rice paper wraps with fresh carrots, avocado, sunflower sprouts, basil, cilantro, mint and cashews served with creamy Thai dressing) and after tasting them, I can agree that they were fantastic as they were light but packed with yummy, fresh ingredients. I also tried their Vanilla Coconut Macaroon and Almond Butter Goji ball and both were great for when you went a sweet way to finish the meal!
I’m a huge fan of acai bowls and frequent a few places in the Bay Area, so I was excited to try Santa Barbara’s version, Backyard Bowls. Because I can be slightly high maintenance when ordering an acai bowl (I wish there was a “create your own” option) I modified the Berry Bowl by leaving out the apple juice, bananas, blueberries, granola and honey and added almonds, coconut and cacoa nibs, the latter of which are my latest obsession! It was delicious and although I missed the greens which are in the ones I get normally, it was like a treat for breakfast and perfect for an on-the-go kind of morning.
-What’s your favorite foodie city?
-Any other gluten-free friendly cities I should know about?