Anytime my family visits me in Santa Barbara from the Bay Area, I’m tasked with securing a dinner reservation for a restaurant that truly encapsulates Santa Barbara cuisine. What comes to mind when I try to define the cuisine of this area are locally sourced seafood, fresh ingredients, great drinks and a strong Mexican influence.
Augie’s, located on the corner of State Street and E Ortega Street, opened in October of 2022 with all of these hallmarks of Santa Barbara restaurant culture in mind. The restaurant’s menu was created by chef Eduardo Gonzalez, a Santa Barbara native who was raised in Guadalajara. Gonzalez told the Santa Barbara Independent that he wanted to introduce elevated Mexican cuisine to the area, as most Santa Barbara residents limit their consumption of Mexican food to burritos, tacos and other quick bites.
Diners can choose to enjoy their meal outside on Augie’s bright and airy patio or inside among the restaurant’s expansive spirit selection and full-service bar. Augie’s places a strong emphasis on its drinks menu and invites diners to explore its collection of tequila, mescal and other Latin American spirits through curated tasting flights.
As someone who turned 21 a mere six months ago, I feel under qualified to judge Augie’s drink selection and award their Punta Mita the title of the best margarita I’ve ever had, but I’m going to anyway. The Punta Mita features blanco tequila, lime and housemade mango-habanero syrup and is garnished with mango con chile and a half-salted rim. Unlike most of the other margaritas I’ve consumed, I truly felt like Augie’s perfected the ratio of sweetness, spice and full-bodied flavor with the Punta Mita. Plus, I’m a sucker for beautifully presented drinks.
Augie’s sources ingredients for its elevated Mexican dishes locally from the Santa Barbara deep water channel fishery and Santa Barbara farmers markets, which explains the higher price points of the menu items. But trust me, you can taste the difference when restaurants emphasize local ingredients. Chef Gonzalez encourages people to order several dishes and enjoy their meal family style, starting with one of the fish- and vegetable-centered appetizers then trying one of the tacos or empanadas before diving into a meat-based entree.
Following the chef’s recommendation, we began our meal with the Tuna Aguachile, a fusion of Hawaiian poke and Latin American ceviche, complete with ahi tuna, cucumber, onion, radish, cilantro, habanero and Augie’s tangy black sauce. With plantain chips as our vessel for the chunks of ahi, we absolutely devoured the aguachile. This light and refreshing starter graciously donates $2 to the Latino Community Foundation with every order. Next, we enjoyed a trio of the Baja Tacos consisting of fried shrimp drizzled with jalapeño aioli before diving into our main courses. I was very hesitant to order the Empanadas de Mariscos, a duo of blue corn empanadas filled with lobster, shrimp and oaxaca cheese, but I’m glad that I stepped outside of my comfort zone because this unexpected combination was surprisingly delicious and satisfying.
We ended our meal on a sweet note by sharing the Coco Loco dessert. Once again, Augie’s presentation wowed us. The Coco Loco is served on a bed of corn kernels in a hollowed coconut shell, filled with rich, coconut ice cream layered atop chocolate pearls and pineapple pieces which are buried underneath; it was divine.
I was thoroughly impressed with the creative methods in which the restaurant highlighted Santa Barbara’s local catch and allowed the freshness of each ingredient to shine without overwhelming each dish with additional sauces and accouterments. Securing a reservation at Augie’s has become increasingly challenging, as the restaurant has become a popular fine dining staple on State Street in recent months. However, if you are looking for an establishment to honor the school year coming to a close, consider Augie’s as the perfect venue for such a celebration!