Jack Shea
Staff Writer

Sunlight broke through gray clouds on a brisk Sunday afternoon, glistening onto Santa Barbara’s vibrant State Street. Soothing, brisk ocean air replaced my mints as I breathed in its freshness and the aromas of elegant restaurants. An amalgam of accents from around the world fill the atmosphere, mixed with laughter and passionate musicians producing aural sensations. I was in downtown Santa Barbara; it enlivens the heart.
The sunlight danced along the blanched Spanish architecture, glistening into the eyes and unto Tangonadas’ colorful tables of bright red, yellow, and green.

It’s new but looks at home here. State Street is Santa Barbara’s most popular spot for window shopping and quick bites. Tangonadas fits right in.

Describing the multicolored and distinct decorations within sections of the store, Jesica Max, Tangonadas’ owner, explains that each section’s art is “handmade” by her mother and herself.

“Every single detail has to have some history, “ explains Max. She puts everything she has into every inch of her store to provide an unforgettable experience that “can tell something” to its visitors. Each section of the store and each decoration has a story or meaning that contributes to more than just the ambiance; they contribute to an experience.

Biting into my first bite of the “classical” empanada, spinach never tasted so good. The lightly buttered crisp of its shell opens into a thick, soft coating surrounding rich greens, a fulfilling taste of home-cooked perfection. The tasty snack is enough on its own, but the “special” Argentine sauce (a secret recipe) vitalizes the taste buds with fresh, intense spices.

A parsley base coalesces into a garlic and olive blended warmth. It’s a feeling of fulfillment after a meal, not through quantity but taste. The luring beat of the Latin music welcomes guests to jump into a tango, share some good laughs, or enjoy the visual entertainment.

These visuals know no bounds. Homemade chandeliers divert the eyes to rousing fashion and fetching sweets. Max says “small pieces of colors are because of the leftovers” of ships washed upon Argentine shores used for houses by Italian and Spanish settlers. She describes this as the Argentine section of the store, with distinct blocks of mixed decorations, colors, and architectural styles. The mix within this section alludes to Max’s goal for the customer’s experience: partaking in all three sections in one visit. The store’s mixture of three distinct sections blends into a cozy atmosphere.

An Argentine section, a Californian section, and a Hawaiian paradise styled section unify this unique boutique, bakery, and restaurant extravaganza. Vibrant colors across the walls compliment the eclectic boutique for visitors to enjoy their freshly made snacks and treats while checking out the decadent signs, walled plants, and busy tables.

“Someone told me my name means flower of heaven when I was in Hawaii,” says Max through contagious smiles. “Tango and empanadas” are for the food’s name and main attraction. The Hawaiian theme materializes into the boutique section, giving visitors a lively transition after the California-themed front. These include tropical colors on the walls of the Hawaiian section and an antique bicycle representing Santa Barbara bicycle culture and California coastal living.

Empanadas make an excellent mini-meal for shoppers looking to get a quick fix after a long walk on State Street. There are far more than just the “classical empanada,” including meat-filled delights for the typical American audience. The bakery case is full of a diverse range of pastries from muffins to tart, fruit-filled pastries, which kept me from walking out too soon with their appetizing display.

I purchased a mix of chocolate and vanilla pastries. Although each were iced, the treats proved to be a perfect balance of sweet and fulfillment without leaving one feeling guilty for the pleasures. Their soft insides and crisp outsides, textures of the empanadas, continued to please that intrinsic need for home-cooked goodness.

Tangonadas is a new chapter for Max, but her daring style convinces visitors, including the informed, into thinking it’s already an established Santa Barbarian haunt. Max’s relaxed, friendly demeanor conveys professionalism such that it makes it all seem easy. Creating one of Santa Barbara’s most unique joints never looked so enticingly simple.

Tangonadas is located at 1014 State St., Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101.

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