A month after opening, I recently dined at the new Islands restaurant in La Cumbre Plaza on a rainy Monday night and the place was packed. Manager Ryan Coghill tells me that this has been the busiest opening of any Islands restaurant he has ever seen, and that he has worked at many of them. Islands Santa Barbara has been serving nearly 6,000 guests a week which makes it one of the busiest restaurants on the South Coast. We enjoyed the Malibu Burger, Hawaiian Burger and the Beach Bowl. Service from the waitstaff Summer and Matthew was outstanding.

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  1. E says:

    I live within walking distance, but haven’t really felt the need to go. Is this just Kahuna Burger with table service or Eureka! with a tropical theme? What’s the draw here?

  2. Richard says:

    Seems like many of our Santa Barbara residents love chains and calorie-laden mediocre menus, crummy wine, and sweet syrupy cocktails designed for the masses (sorry, a Mai Tai should only have Jamaican rum, orgeat, and fresh lime juice in it).

    Personally, I’d rather support fine dining and locally-owned budget-friendly restaurants such as Petit Valentien, Black Sheep, Barbareno, and The Nook – along with several others of course. The last time I ate at Islands was about 15 years ago and swore “never again.”

    And if a person wants a burger and fries, or other simple cuisine, I’d recommend old local favorites like The Paradise Cafe or even Hamburger Habit. And if you only want a decent cocktail, go to The Good Lion, Test Pilot, or Imperial Lounge.

    It’s kind of sad to see these chains taking over the local dining scene recently, but I guess it’s a sign of middle class America, although I didn’t think we had much of that here.

    • Rich says:

      Careful what you wish for! If the hordes descend on those restaurants, then you won’t be able to get a seat and the ambience will be ruined 😛

  3. RAMBO says:

    Place Sucks food is way below par

  4. El Guapo says:

    Its exactly what we needed in the Upper State area, a place where families can go and it’s affordable. So glad I won’t run into any of the naysayers above there.

  5. Rex Of SB says:

    The hamburgers are nothing spectacular, but they’re okay—pretty much indistinguishable from Eureka or Mesa Burger. A little pricey, slightly forgettable, but certainly adequate. The Cobb salad, however, is one of the best in town.

    Every Tuesday is Mai Tai Tuesday, with the house specialty Mai Tais going for $5. That would be great if the drink wasn’t what appears to be 85% ice. For some reason, Islands Mai Tais are made using crushed ice, which completely loads up the glass, allowing for less actual liquid. If you make the mistake of ordering it on the rocks, the glass is totally filled with ice, and if you wind up with four sips of Mai Tai, consider yourself fortunate. Ordering your drink with “light ice” accomplishes nothing. If I were paying full price for this drink, which I think is around $9, I’d feel I was getting gypped. At five bucks, though, I’ll let it slide.

    Parking during the lunch hour is a total nightmare.

    Other than all that, yeah, I’d go back.

    • John Dickson says:

      I have never had problems parking at La Cumbre Plaza. The parking lot is massive.

      • Rex Of SB says:

        I agree about the massive parking lot. The problem is that during the noon hour, there is no parking anywhere at all near Islands itself. Since the demographic of Islands tends to be perhaps a little more “senior,” I feel sorry for the people who have to park clear across the lot near Vons.

    • Justine says:

      Have been there once, on a Tuesday especially for the Mai Tais. Yes, they were disappointingly weak and filled with ice. Happy Hour cheddar fries and spinach/artichoke dip were tasty and generously portioned. Will probably go back to try a burger, but not super-excited about it.

  6. Angie says:

    Islands is a great addition to La Cumbre Plaza! Not everyone can afford to eat at expensive restaurants in town and yes Islands is not that cheap either but it does have a great happy hour for reasonable prices. Matthew is great! He’s waited on our table a couple times now and is always consistent with his service.

    Everyone has their own taste in restaurants so this is not for the bad and bougie folks!

    • Richard says:

      I really don’t want to keep forcing my feelings on anyone about Islands and chains in general, and I respect your opinion, but to claim Islands is “great” is not really accurate – I’m sorry, mass-produced food that caters to the masses and is totally mediocre will never be great. I have no idea what their prices are either, since they curiously don’t post them on their website (perhaps to protect the guilty?).

      If a bargain is what motivates you, again I’d suggest Petite Valentien’s $25 three course pre-fixe Sunday menu, the $10 bowl of Ramen at Black Sheep, or the $14 pork belly quesadilla at The Nook – not some chain trying to lure (no pun intended) customers in with a Happy Hour. Of course you won’t be part of the “in crowd” at places like these, but at least you’ll be dining on some of the best quality food offered in Santa Barbara.

      As for the Mai Tai’s, one reviewer stated that they are 85% ice. When I noticed they contain pineapple, orange, sweet and sour, and grenadine I could only laugh. Note that Mai Tai’s have become a misguided attempt to serve a sugary concoction masquerading as the classic cocktail served and perpetrated by places like Islands – the original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai only contains fresh lime juice, simple syrup, Orgeat, and Jamaican rum.

      But if places like Islands make you happy, then enjoy with gusto!

      • Ted says:

        Please post pictures of you eating at Petite Valentien, Black Sheep, and The Nook with your 6 year old.

      • David says:

        The fact that your suggestion for budget is to do a 3 course prix-fixe is disturbing. I don’t care if that’s a better value but when someone doesn’t have money, you can’t sell them a $60k Porsche 911 when they have $10k for a used car.

        • Richard says:

          I’m not sure what you are trying to say. You could easily spend more than $25 at Islands and not have the quality you’d find at that price at an establishment like Petit Valentien, Again, if you are on a budget, go to the Habit and get a burger for less than $5 and save yourself from the $13 burger at Islands.

          • Foodie Dan says:

            “I have no idea what the prices are”…so your placing a review without trying it? SHAME on you!

          • Richard says:

            Hey “Foodie Dan”, I think you’re funny.

            If you had read through all of my comments you would see I tried Islands many years ago. The food was mediocre then and I don’t see any reason to believe it’s any different now. I really don’t want to go try this local location and spend $25 bucks, and probably more, for food and drink to confirm what I experienced in the past. I think the phrase is: “once bitten, twice shy.” Of course, if you’d like to pick up my tab, I’d be more than welcome to accept your offer in an attempt to revise my feelings about this chain.

            Also, please correct your grammar in your response to me – “your” is spelled “you’re” when trying to say “you are.”

            Can you explain why they can’t post their prices on their website? A person has to go to Yelp or elsewhere on the Internet to see actual menus that people have posted for their pricing, and it looks like about thirteen bucks is what they list for burgers, so I actually do know what they are charging.

            If you truly are a “Foodie”, as your moniker proclaims, I don’t think you would be patronizing Islands.

            I would be interested to hear from you what your favorite restaurants actually are in Santa Barbara and elsewhere in the world.


    • E says:

      I agree that Santa Barbara could use some family/wallet friendly options, but I’m not sure how Islands fits in. Price is comparable to Eureka and Mesa burger, but Habit is better value. I’m just having trouble figuring out what their niche is.

  7. Lily says:

    I wasn’t too impressed by the burgers. The patty was juicy and beefy, but the toppings were lack luster. For example, the bacon was thin and the buns were typical grocery store sesame buns. I do think the atmosphere and location were convenient for families. For similar price point, I think Eureka, Nook, Creekside, and the Funk Zone Patio all have better burgers. For cheap burgers, Habit and Cal Taco are great. For the king of all burger, you have to drive north and get the bacon burger from Side’s Hardware. It was pricey, but big enough to feed two people. I shared it with my 9 year old 40/60, and I was in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon.

  8. mikeyr says:

    I have seen Petit Valentien mentioned twice now in this review of Islands, I have been to Petit Valentien a few times and its a awful place. They advertise as French food but that is like saying McDonalds is Irish food. They also advertise Ethiopian food, I would not know, never been to Ethiopia but I must say the 2 times I went, I was absolutely not impressed at all, there is NOTHING remotely French there.

    As far as Islands goes, I unfortunately have been 3 times so far, the wife and daughter love the place. I find their $13 (and up) burgers to be half the flavor of the Habit’s I ordered a Margarita one time and it was really good, the second time I am pretty sure they forgot the alcohol. Luckily some of their salads are pretty good since it appears I will be stuck going there often.

    • Richard says:

      Although this thread is about Islands, I was very surprised to hear your comments about Petit Valentien.

      I have no affiliation with them, of course, but have dined there at least 20 times over the past few years and have always had a good to excellent meal; for the prices, it is a true bargain especially for the high quality. It definitely has a French slant in regard to ingredients, preparations, and presentations. Many of my friends are “foodies” and all of us agree that Petit is one of the top 10 restaurants in SB, and probably in the top 5 at their best.

      I realize many have complained about erratic service, but I have had horrible service on occasion at El Encanto, Convivo, The Lark, Angel Oak, San Ysidro Ranch, and virtually every restaurant in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, very few restaurants in America have the service standards that Europe offers – that is a fact. I must be lucky, because I have never had such bad service at Petit that would prevent me from enjoying my meal or returning.

      I have never had the Ethiopian cusine as it is only offered at limited times, but I know the owner’s wife is from Ethiopia, so I have no reason to believe it isn’t authentic.

      So, sorry both about your feelings on Petit and that you will be stuck going to cheesy Islands, but it’s your choice so enjoy your salads, cocktails, and burgers there.

  9. michael says:

    Lily is spot on about burgers……

  10. Cris says:

    No one is going to say Islands is home of the greatest burger in the world. It’s a chain, and caters to families. It’s a perfect fit for that area, and exactly why Red Robin existed there for so long.

  11. Christine says:

    Why doesn’t it have a review page here, yet?

  12. Frequent Diner says:

    Most of their burger and fry meals exceed the daily recommended calories for an adult. Over 2000 calories. Not to mention sodium and fat. And, that’s exactly what their customers want! Just look around at the patrons and you’ll get my point. Add a few sugary drinks and a dessert and the calories and fat reach into the stratosphere. A successful restaurant means a big payroll and lots of tips. So that’s not a bad thing.

    Will I go there? Most likely not. I watch my fat and calorie intake. What others do is not my concern if that’s what they enjoy.

  13. N says:

    Just because a place is local doesn’t mean the food is any better than a chain. I don’t understand those saying that the Habit is good. Sure, it’s cheaper, but it’s fast food, and it’s not that great. Admittedly, I don’t eat beef burgers much, but I don’t like the chicken (way too dry) at the Habit, the regular fries are often mushy, and the sweet potato fries are oily and not fried well. I’ve gotten good regular fries at the Habit rarely, but most times (at the La Cumbre location), they are bad.

    As for Eureka, their turkey patty is terrible, extremely salty. Maybe they’ve changed it since they 1st opened, but unlikely. I actually really like the turkey patty at Islands, mild, moist, and not salty. Sometimes I feel as if people have de-sensitized taste buds, especially when I see someone salting their dish before they even taste it…

    Reading some of the comments here, you’d think that all the local places are so great. But that’s definitely not true. There are plenty of bad local places.

    • Brian says:

      I agree, the turkey burger at island is really good. I tried it last week.. so are their grilled and fried chicken sandwiches. I have had both, and really enjoyed them.. You are right about the Fries at Habit.. they’re pitiful.. I only get rings there.

    • Richard says:

      No one here said every locally owned restaurant are great. But the good ones are, well, good – and far better than anything you’d get at Islands.

  14. Jim says:

    For a good inexpensive burger….Chubbies…as long as you’re not bothered by the rude help.

    • Richard says:

      Good suggestion – the burgers there are good, inexpensive, and it’s locally owned. But, darn, they don’t serve sugary, fake mai tai’s or have a happy hour, hah, hah!

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