When I asked friends to name the best waterfront seafood restaurant in Santa Barbara, two establishments were consistently cited: the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and Brophy Bros. Seafood Restaurant & Clam Bar. We decided to try both.
The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is located at the end of Stearns Wharf and offers panoramic views. Alas, even at 11:30 a.m. the waitlist was almost two pages long. There is a side window through which you can order food to go, but the benches nearby are restrooms for seagulls. After waiting for nearly an hour, we were seated at a prime table on the waterside deck. The staff was efficient without being pushy, the view was beautiful, and we could smell the salt of the ocean. Our appetizers arrived at the same time as our mains, which was irritating, so as my guest ate his scallop ceviche, he watched his shrimp tacos get cold. My clam chowder starter seemed to be virtually clam-free and consisting primarily of large chunks of potato. And the Dungeness crab Louie salad was served over mixed greens that had been drowned in Thousand Island dressing. Although the service and the views were first-rate, the food was extremely disappointing.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
230 Stearns Wharf Tel. (805) 966-6676
Brophy Bros. Seafood Restaurant & Clam Bar was our lunch destination the next day. Established in 1986, this friendly spot faces the harbor and is set next to the Santa Barbara Fish Market and the Santa Barbara Yacht Club. We headed upstairs to the main restaurant on the second floor, where the charming hostess told us that it would be a 30-minute wait. We were given a pager, which allowed us to sit in the small bar on the ground level, where there are about 15 stools. Our pager buzzed, and we were immediately seated, with cocktails already in hand. As we glanced over the menu, it became apparent that we were one of the few tourists. The staff knew the first names of the guests at nearby tables and also what they wanted to eat. We ordered two bowls of the restaurant’s legendary New England-style clam chowder. It was outstanding: creamy, but not overwhelmingly so, and overflowing with tender clams, soft potatoes and thin slices of celery. Afterward, my grilled swordfish came with a flavorful rice pilaf and sides of guacamole, homemade salsa and a light coleslaw. Ahi breaded with roasted cashews and served with a mustard cream sauce proved a standout as well.
While both of these restaurants provide memorable harbor and ocean views, in our experience the food at Brophy Bros. is greatly superior.
Brophy Bros. Seafood Restaurant & Clam Bar
119 Harbor Way Tel. (805) 966-4418