Santa Barbara’s Loquita does proper paella and Spanish tapas in the heart of the city.
The aroma of spices, wood smoke, and night blooming jasmine mingles in the warm evening air, I’m at Loquita, it’s a summer night, and we have the perfect table outside next to the fireplace.
Their menu has a selection of hot and cold tapas, grilled seafood and meats, and seasonal paella. I knew the few vegetarian choices would be pan con tomate, Spain’s famous pan de crystal, tomato fresco, garlic, thyme, bay leaves (I’ll have it without the jamón), and the verduras paella. Ahh the verduras paella, let me count the ways…
The vegetables on the menu:
Remolacha local beets, honey vinaigrette, ricotta salata, kumato tomato, pistachio dukkah meringue, tangerine
Patatas peewee potatoes, preserved bergamot crème fraîche, pepita, za’atar, calcots
Champiñones oyster mushroom, cabrales crema, mojo picón, minus 8 l8 harvest vinegar
Coliflor cauliflower, caper raisin, idiazabal espuma, almond, grape
Tortilla Española Spanish tortilla, potato, caramelized onion, herb aioli, frisee, thyme, parsley
Brusela brussels sprouts, peanut romesco, cecina, garrotxa, gremolata
All of which may please flexitarians and part-time vegetarians, but not for those who are strictly vegan or vegetarian. There are all sorts of cheeses (like manchego and idiazabal espuma, a Basque sheep’s milk cheese) and other non-vegan items used in traditional Spanish cuisine. Some dishes are fine if you leave out the cheese, but having once been a devoted cheeseatarian, I don’t know if cheese should be left out of any of the dishes.
Just go with the veggie paella instead. Have some olives and a glass of wine. Dining at Loquita on the patio is lovely with friends, and the perfect romantic date spot, besides.
I won’t pretend that Spanish food has much to offer the vegan and vegetarian diner, however, the few veggie-friendly options on the menu are well worth it. The most notable being the verduras or vegetable paella. Perhaps it’s a humble name, but this was a stand out dish on its own, delicious enough to make me want a second taste of the paella the following day.
Smoky tomato, paprika, charred lemon, fresh watermelon radish slices, tofu aioli. sugar snap peas, royal king trumpet, hon shimeji, smoked cabbage, mint salsa verde.
The paella I’ve made at home wasn’t quite like this. Maybe I was too careful, not risky enough with the process of making paella. This was what I needed to taste: the smoky tomato sauce that cooked into a sticky paste around the edges. It’s not a creamy risotto. It’s paella.
The Japanese hon shimeji mushroom and the king trumpet gave more earth to the char and fire in the pan with the tart burnt lemon squeezed all over the paella. Bites of bright watermelon radish cleansed the palate for another mouthful of smoky tomato paprika rice. Charred snap peas and cabbage, mint salsa verde, tofu aioli.
I scraped the pan clean of all the caramelized flavors on the bottom.
The next morning we had plenty of time after our hotel checkout to wander around the downtown area near State Street. It was the weekend of the Summer Solstice Festival, so we reveled with the fest goers awhile, then made our way into a local coffee house for some afternoon tea. I wasn’t eating in order to save my appetite. That’s how much I was craving the verduras paella. It was a matter of waiting all day until the restaurant opened its doors again, since they only open for dinner.
The name “Loquita” means “crazy little girl” en Español. And I’m just a little loco for the paella.
Oh, and I had some of the juiciest manzanilla olives of my life. You can’t forget to try them.
The wine list boasts both Spanish and local wines to pair with the cuisine. Loquita’s cocktail list has Spanish vermouths, farmers’ market Sangria, hand-crafted cocktails, and Spain’s king of cocktails, the Gin Tonic.
If you’re open to tasting some of the best paella you’ve ever had outside of Spain, Loquita is the place.
202 State Street, Santa Barbara, California 93101
email@example.com | 805 880 3380
Sunday – Thursday 5 pm to 9 pm
Friday – Saturday 5 pm to 10 pm