By Rebecca Horrigan
Walking into Augie’s of Santa Barbara feels at once familiar and enticingly new. The long-abandoned spot on the corner of 700 State Street was remodeled with the help of Jeff Shelton, Santa Barbara’s adored architect known for his almost Gaudi-esque buildings.
This clean white Spanish style restaurant, complete with a sprawling indoor outdoor patio and crisp blue tile accents, clearly jibes with SB but it’s a playful design nonetheless. As you enter the inviting arches, the bottom lit bar boasting hundreds of craft liqueurs, spirits, and of course, a library of tequila, sings of adventures yet to come.
“The combination of quality in design, bar, ingredients and presentation is top notch,” Bar Manager Ryan Linden said.
This attention to detail is top of mind for owner Berkeley “Augie” Johnson whose drive to create a meticulously crafted reposado known as Augie’s Tequila propelled him into opening the restaurant as well.
Back in 2008, the prime spot was a restaurant called Left at Albuquerque. Still a youngin’ at UCSB, I remember walking down State Street on Cinco de Mayo with friends and fantasizing about when we’d be old enough to celebrate there in style.
I never made that dream a reality, but with Augie’s incredible food and mouth-watering drinks, I have a feeling my college self would be OK with this upgrade.
Photo: Rebecca Horrigan
Chef Eduardo Gonzalez who was born in Santa Barbara but raised in Guadalajara brings a menu of elevated Mexican cuisine. My meal there began with a beautiful bite of fresh ahi, a flavorful omen of delicacies to come. From there the tuna tiradito complete with bluefin, avocado, ginger tea, ponzu foam and jalapeno, creatively served with plantain chips on the side, continued to prepare my taste buds for a thrilling ride.
“Chef shops at the farmer’s market weekly for produce and we use local fish whenever possible,” Linden explained.
Of course each dish was enhanced with a sip of the perfectly balanced Augie’s Margarita consisting of Augie’s reposado tequila, combier, agave, and lime.
“The cocktail list is a mix of classics, and new variations on classics and some originals which too are twist on classic,” Linden said. “Cocktails are focused on quality spirits and craft liqueurs. Fresh squeezed juices of course mean simple delicious margaritas.”
As our meal progressed, we shared items from the primero, segundo, and mains options, wanting to get a taste of their diverse menu. Highlights included the mouth watering Gubenador tacos layered with Mexican shrimp, poblano pepper, onion, and oaxaca cheese as well as the mixote de barbacoa, banana leaf-wrapped barbacoa served with cilantro, onion, tomatillo salsa, and of course, a warm treasure trove of handcrafted tortillas.
Photo: Rebecca Horrigan
Their commitment to showcasing real Mexican cuisine extends to their lovely collection of Mexican wines, a rare find for Santa Barbara. I enjoyed a gorgeous tres raices rose from Guanajuato, Mexico.
“The wine has some really rad Mexican wines sprinkled in with some local and Old World wines,” Linden said. “We offer 3 oz and 6 oz glasses plus a rather affordable bottle selection.”
Though I was trying to embrace experimentation throughout the night, whenever I see churros on the menu, it’s impossible to stray, and I’m glad we didn’t. The cinnamon sugar dusted beacons of doughy warmth, served with two delectable dipping sauces, satisfied on all accounts. I also rarely stray from a cappuccino when it comes to dessert beverages, but Augie’s version of an espresso martini is absolutely worth the late night it could induce. Augie’s warm and friendly service from the moment we were greeted enthusiastically by our hostess, to waving goodbye to our fantastic server, Laila, was icing on the cake.
For a town that’s full of food we know and love, Augie’s of Santa Barbara offers a portal to exciting and innovative Mexican cuisine. Whether you’re there to share chips and guac and a marg with a friend for happy hour, or are there for a full dining exploration, Augie’s is a beautiful place to get lost.
Rebecca is a food & dining/culture writer and also molds young minds teaching middle school English in Santa Barbara.