Ventura is a laid-back California coastal city, about 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles. Recently it was named one of the happiest cities in America by National Geographic. My brother Rick White will attest to that. He and his wife Eliane have lived in Ventura for 25 years. Not only is the small surfing town known for its beaches, and long, wooden Ventura Pier, but it offers a flourishing culinary and bar scene.
While exploring the landmarks with my brother and family, we started walking downtown on Main Street by the Mission San Buenaventura. Built in 1809, the public is welcome to walk inside the church and visit the gardens. Nearby is a newer tile mosaic mural of the city. My brother loves to point out the Ford Woody, similar to his 1950 classic surfer wagon.
Along our tour, Rick took us to his favorite dining and drinking spots in town. We sat in the warm sun, out on a sunny al fresco patio sipping Mai Tais. We visited gastropubs with a great craft beer and burgers, and enjoyed live entertainment and Italian cuisine at Cafe Fiore.
Ventura’s thriving beer scene has breweries and tap houses on every street. All are within walking distance, so park once and discover a great day-cation, weekend destination or stopping point along the drive up the 101 freeway for breakfast, lunch or a sunset dinner.
Here’s 8 Noteworthy Culinary Experiences in Ventura:
Rumfish y Vino
Owners: John and Pam Solomon opened their first Rumfish y Vino in Belize. Enjoying Ventura’s relaxed vibe, they opened up a second location in the heart of downtown Ventura.
Atmosphere: Elegant with a tropical Caribbean beach vibe. The owners chose this location for its huge outdoor patio. During the evenings it’s romantic with a fireplace and twinkle lights. Experience the flavors from the Yucatan, Belize and the Caribbean while listening to classic reggae, Latin and Caribbean music.
Most popular dishes: Conch fritters that are unique to the area, fresh Peruvian ceviches, tacos, creole sea bass, Caribbean fish stew and plantain chips.
Dessert: Chocolate-Habanero cannoli.
Cocktails: Orange jalepeno margarita with fresh squeezed juice. They also make a killer rum punch, that after one sip you will feel transported to Belize.
Fun Fact: Besides locals loving Rumfish y Vino, this has become a favorite stop for a meal before a trip to Santa Barbara or Ojai.
Hours: Open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Address & Phone: 34 N. Palm St. Ventura (805)667-9288.
VenTiki Lounge & Lanai-
Atmosphere: After a day at the beach, locals come to this island theme bar in flip flops for the best mai-tais in town. Sit outside on the lanai among tikis, flowers and a warm fire pit for chilly nights. Inside the festive Polynesian tiki lounge, bartenders wearing their favorite aloha shirts make intoxicating cocktails.
Most popular drinks: Navy Grog, Planters Punch, Channel Islands Mai-Tai.
Most Popular Polynesian inspired pupus: Sushi, seared Diver scallops, Kalua pork sliders, and pepper seared ahi sliders.
Fun Fact: VenTiki has one of the best rum selections in California. Sounds of volcanos erupting are heard when certain tropical drinks are ordered.
Hours: Open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Address & Phone: 701 E. Main St. Ventura (805)667-8887.
Paradise Pantry –
Co-Owners / Chef: Kelly Briglio and Wine Curator Tina Thayer.
Atmosphere: Cozy rustic-chic coffee house and wine bar with a brick wall and window seats.
Culinary Style: Gourmet small plates, sandwiches & wines. Attached to the long and narrow restaurant is a small upscale market with a multitude of wine and 140 cheeses from all over the world.
Most Popular Dishes: Kel’s Killer Mac n’ Cheese, Babaganoush with seasoned pita chips and an heirloom and burrata salad.
Popular Drinks: Specialty beers, ciders and ales. Non-alcoholic selections include hot press pots of dark roast coffees and assorted teas.
Desserts: Handmade butterscotch pot de creme, Pantry S’more with homemade graham cookie, milk chocolate & sea gris, with Ken’s homemade marshmallow.
Fun Fact: They offer curated French wine flights and Rich Rhones.
Hours: Closed on Mondays. Opens Tuesday through Sunday at 11 a.m.
Address & Phone: 222 E Main St, Ventura (805)641-9440.
Atmosphere: Locally sourced seafood, wine & beer restaurant decorated in an upscale Fisherman theme with fish artwork hanging on the wall. There is a chic oyster bar and friendly bullpen-style bar filled with locals. The private party room is fully enclosed in glass.
Most popular dishes: Fresh oysters and lobster, grilled fresh fish with two sides, Lure crab cakes and Sally’s sand dabs.
Most popular sweets: Lure Mintini made with local McConnell’s mint ice cream and a tart and sweet Key Lime pie.
Fun Fact: Lure also has locations in Westlake Village, Camarillo and Santa Barbara.
Hours: Open Daily at 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. expect Friday and Saturday Lure stays open until 10 p.m.
Address & Phone: 60 S California St, Ventura (805)567-4400.
Atmosphere: Intimate, yet lively trattoria offering classic Italian fare along with live music & patio dining. Sisters Maria and Anna Fiore import Italian products that are shipped to this Ventura restaurant weekly. Everything is homemade and fresh from local farmers markets with recipes from their Pugliese roots.
Interior: Cafe Fiore uses refurbished, reused and reclaimed wood, and iron to create a comfortable and homey design. There is a cozy and private dining room in the back of the restaurant.
Most popular cocktail: Avocado martini.
Most popular dishes: Homemade breads, pizzas rolled by hand, housemade porchetta and tortellaci (very large tortellini).
Fun Fact: My brother Rick plays in a band the first Tuesday of every month. Cafe Fiore is filled with locals who enjoy their weekly specials. Anna and Maria make a point to know everyone’s name. The bar scene is similar to the television show Cheers.
Hours: Open 7 days a week at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. On Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Happy hour: Daily Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.
Address & Phone: 66 S California St. Ventura (805)653-1266.
Fluid State Beer Garden
Atmosphere: Comfortable, light and bright with a horseshoe shaped bar and a large open outdoor deck with beer garden style seating. It’s great for groups of all sizes to gather. This spot is casual where guests order drinks at the bar and receive a pager for their food order.
Most popular drink: This tap house showcases 24 rotating beer lines from independent craft brewers from all over the state. They are all good. If a brewer doesn’t distribute to this area, the owners will travel to acquire kegs to bring the beer to Ventura for locals and visitors to experience. They also have creative spirits and a nice wine list with two whites and two reds on tap at all times. Wines are rotated just like the beer.
Most popular dishes: Chef Aaron Dunkman makes sourdough crust pizza from a three-day fermentation. The starter for this dough is made with natural yeast off of a cluster of Pinot Noir grapes from a friend, Drake at Whitcraft Winery. The pizza is served by the slice or by the entire 18″ pie. They also have Mary’s organic chicken wings, a beautiful half pound meatball, and a pickle plate loaded with various pickled vegetables.
Fun Fact: Fluid State is located in a unique historic building in Downtown Ventura. It was a 1937 insurance building that was converted to a restaurant space several decades ago. The owners redesigned the entire space and added a bar top made out of a 150 year old redwood tree from Santa Cruz County.
Hours: Closed on Mondays. Tuesday through Thursday 3 to 11 p.m. Friday -Sunday they open at 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Address & Phone: 692 E Main St., Ventura (805)628-3107.
Topa Topa Brewing Co.
Atmosphere: Newer building with 12 -16 rotating taps of hand-crafted beers.
Most Popular: Depends on the time of year. During the summer Chesapeake West Coast IPA. They focus on freshness and guarantee you won’t have a bad beer here. They make a pilsner that is less hop-forward and lighter bodied.
Most popular dishes: They don’t serve food, but have really good food trucks onsite, such as So Truck, Escabeche and Mom & Pops Tacos.
Fun Fact: They are a 1% For The Planet member. They donate 1% to the non profit organization dedicated to protecting the environment. This is a family friendly spot for kids with games, and books about hiking and surfing. It’s also dog friend when they are on a leash. They have a tap room in Santa Barbara and soon will be opening in Ojai.
Owners: Kyle Thompson, Jack Dryer and Casey Harris.
Price: $-$$. Keeping the prices at or below neighboring restaurants.
Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Monday through Saturday at 12 p.m.
Address & Phone: 104 E Thompson Blvd., Ventura (805)628-9255.
Barrel House 101
Atmosphere: Relaxed Industrial-style alehouse with over 100 IPAs, ales, ambers, stouts, saisons, fruit beers, fruit ciders and more. The bar has multiple televisions displaying different sporting events.
Favorite dishes: Scratch Angus beef burgers, salads, short rib poutine, and German-style pretzels with a choice of artichoke cream cheese dip or mac n cheese sauce.
What’s Unique: Best Beer Tap Selection in Ventura County 2012-2017. On cask, on nitro and growler fills.
Hours: Opens at 11:30 a.m. daily
Address & Phone: 545 E Thompson Blvd., Ventura (805)643-0906.
Parts of this article we featured in Sip. Savor. Taste –