While Thanksgiving is recognized as a time of appreciation and generosity, it can be unimaginably difficult to find a restaurant-crafted Thanksgiving dinner that is truly worth being grateful for. More than 40 dining establishments in the greater Santa Barbara area offer a traditional Thanksgiving meal, complete with oven-roasted turkey and all the decadent trimmings. As a favor to all of you, I ventured to three of the most dynamic Santa Barbara restaurants open on this upcoming Turkey day in an attempt to survey the competition and discover a meal that is truly worth the praise. Don’t worry, you don’t have to thank me.

Joe’s Café
536 State St.
Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 966-4638
Hours: Mon-Sun 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: $10 to $20

Nestled in the bustling center of picturesque State Street lies a gem of an establishment known as Joe’s Café. As I came through the checker-floored entrance, I was greeted with smiles from customers and employees alike. Most of the cooks have been working there for generations and many of the other employees, including Supervisor Carol Paquette, have been coming to Joe’s their whole lives.

The establishment’s house chef ­– who wished to be known simply as Rick — is a former Gaucho who used to frequent Joe’s Café during his own college years.

According to Rick, Joe’s Café is a business that has survived for years, and for good reason.

“This business has been passed down for generations. … We take pride in its history, and pride in its consistency of quality, well-made and reasonably priced food,” he said.

According to Paquette, the Café also takes pride in its usage of local and fresh ingredients to make superior meals.

“Joe’s is one of the only restaurants that has never had a microwave, and [we continue to] use locally grown fruits and vegetables in our cooking,” Paquette said.

On Thanksgiving Day, Joe’s Café typically serves over 130 hungry patrons and is expecting to see a similar amount of customers come tomorrow.

As part of its Thanksgiving dinner, Joe’s will offer either roasted turkey paired with cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, cranberry relish and pumpkin pie, Honey Dijon ham served with yams, Brussels sprouts, biscuits, baked beans and pumpkin pie, or a slow roasted prime rib, complete with au jus, mashed or baked potato, vegetables, biscuits and pumpkin pie.

While these meals are rather hefty, they are generally meant to serve one person and run about $20 per plate. Joe’s Café will be operating on Thanksgiving Day from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cold Spring Tavern
5995 Stagecoach Rd.
Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 967-0066
Hours: Sun-Sat 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 8
Sat-Sun Breakfast 8 a.m. to 11, Fri-Sat close at 10 p.m.
Price: $5 to $20+

In 1886, Cold Spring Tavern was merely one stop on a dusty road where stagecoach drivers and horses refueled and migrated over to the Santa Ynez Valley. The establishment itself is replete with culture and history, with the very foundation of the restaurant totaling well over a hundred years in age.

It is no wonder that such a historically charged location would be perfect to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

The front of the restaurant is usually hectic with people of all ages eating, dancing or appreciating a local band that may be playing on the stage directly outside the restaurant. Inside the establishment, cozy tables invite patrons to enjoy the multiple fireplaces and oil lanterns found throughout the tavern.

Everything in the restaurant, from the foundation of the building itself to the food, is authentic and homemade. There is a vast array of choices on the menu, with the Tavern’s specialty encompassed by the many different kinds of game meat that can be incorporated into a meal. According to the general manager, John Locke, all of the produce utilized by the establishment is organic and delivered directly from the Amapola Ranch.

According to Locke, some of the game meat comes from a local distributor in Lompoc, while the majority of meat is shipped in from Australia.

Cold Spring Tavern will be showcasing these specialty meats as well as other more traditional meals come this Thanksgiving Day. The joint offers a comprehensive Thanksgiving meal complete with appetizers, traditional stuffing, seasoned potatoes, assorted vegetables and a choice of either pumpkin pie, pecan pie or bread pudding for dessert. While these tantalizing plates cost a steep $55, they come with a choice of either roasted turkey or prime rib as the main course and are guaranteed to redefine what Thanksgiving is supposed to taste like for those lucky enough to stumble into Cold Spring Tavern tomorrow evening.

9 W. Victoria St.
Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 730-1160
Hours: Dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Price: $20+

Bouchon is a restaurant that continues to push the pinnacle of culinary class and refinement to new heights. This quaint establishment is garnished with lovely draping foliage that adds a sense of privacy and exclusion to the French restaurant. While the restaurant has a variety of French cuisine, its main emphasis, according to restaurant manager John Loewen, is something far more universal.

Loewen states that the “Santa Barbara Wine Country cuisine and experience … an experience that is not cookie-cutter” is the young restaurant’s specialty, with over 300 red and white wines available on hand for patrons to pair with complimentary dishes.

The high quality of Bouchon’s meats and produce can be attributed to its correspondence with Santa Ynez livestock farmers and local organic fruit and vegetable cultivators.

All of the exquisite and decadent courses I tried — including my favorite item, the Bourbon & Maple-Glazed California Duck Breast — were inordinately delicious and left nothing to be desired either in way of preparation or presentation. Everything was cooked to perfection, made to order and served immediately after it had been prepared. According to restaurant representatives, this same speedy service, in conjuction with perfectly prepared items can be expected come tomorrow’s feast.

Bouchon will operate within regular business hours on Thanksgiving Day and is expecting well over a hundred diners in their establishment. The menu will include a choice of turkey breast meat or dark meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing with orange zest, giblet pan gravy and a spin on regular cheesecake, pumpkin-infused cheesecake. The menu items will be served à la carte, and will be priced individually as such.