Photo Courtesy CielitoRestaurant.com
Cielito Restaurant and Taqueria, the newest addition to the historic La Arcada District of State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara, already has a promising future. Opened at the end of 2011, Cielito offers a variety of regional Mexican and South American inspired food. The restaurant emphasizes many of its plates on seafood and seasonal offerings, but does not fall short of providing alternatives to those who would like to avoid fish.
You might need some background information on how the restaurant is run and food is served before you’re ready to order any one of Cielito’s delicious plates. Half of the menu consists of antojitos, which translates to small plates, even appetizers. Before my dining companions and I ordered, our very informative waiter explained that antojitos are meant to be shared amongst friends. Furthermore, the chef has discretion on the order in which each of these plates is served, with the most sincere intent to provide the best meal experience possible. So, for lack of a better word, Cielito offers a plethora of “tapas.”
My friends and I began with empanadas de jaiba y camaron, or Mexican white shrimp and fresh crab stuffed into a corn turnover, accompanied by Mexican cheeses, tomatillo-avocado sauce and mango-habanero glaze. It was hard not to fight over these two very satisfying empanadas. They proved to be perfectly crispy, with a surprising melt-in-your-mouth sensation.
Up next: the antichucho de filete, which is a Kobe beef skewer marinated with an Argentine sauce called chimichurri. These three small (but nevertheless tasty) skewers were cooked to perfection, avoiding the soggy taste of rare meat and the chewy-ness of well-done meat. For those who usually avoid meat in our dining commons, it can be quite the treat to feast on some quality meat.
The last item we ordered, and perhaps the most delicious (and filling), was the cazuela de chorizo con rajas. I think this was the prizewinner of our course. The dish consisted of homemade Mexican chorizo, mixed in a beautiful Spanish bowl with an assortment of melted cheeses, including Sonoma jack, Manchego cheese and queso cojita. To top it all off, incredible corn tortillas were provided on the side to help us devour this work of art. The blend of cheeses, chorizo and sliced bell peppers ended the night fantastically.
To say the least, the quality of food at Cielito is outstanding. The unique plates escape the stereotypical idea of Mexican food, and introduce many South American delicacies that aren’t easily found around town. ??
Spearheading Cielito’s kitchen, Head Chef Ramon Velazquez does not fail to deliver savory foods with elegance, not only appealing to the eyes of the customer, but their palate as well. Velazquez was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, then moved to Santa Barbara to further pursue his interests in culinary work. After working 12 years as head sushi chef at Arigato, Velazquez has taken on the reopened Cielito, where he has created an atmosphere of classic Mexican food, along with the new cosmopolitan feel of the entire restaurant. ??
Completely remodeled, Cielito offers outside seating, formal downstairs seating, informal upstairs seating, and of course, a bar. Illuminated with hanging lights, chandeliers, and tea light candles, Cielito is the perfect atmosphere to dine with family, friends, or even a date. Open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., and from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Cielito is mostly meant for the dinner crowd; although the Taqueria taco bar is open throughout the day.
Cielito is definitely the place to go on a Friday night, but make sure to have reservations. After waiting for half an hour to get seated, I asked the hostess if they were always this packed. She said, “We’re packed pretty much every night!” Trust me, it’s definitely worth the wait.