by Allison Costa
photo by Steve Cattanach
Casual dining and farm-to-fork cooking takes a unique approach in Ventura, where flip-flop friendly restaurants and food trucks showcase fresh seafood, local produce, and the creativity of local chefs. Pair that with the region’s vibrant craft-beer scene and a growing community of local winemakers, and you’ve got the recipe for something really, really good.
With a year-round growing season, Ventura County farmers produce more than 100 commercial crop varieties. This means fresh strawberries, citrus, avocados, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, and herbs are mainstays on local menus when in season — and there’s always something in season. Local chefs are often found wandering the weekly farmers’ markets, looking for inspiration and building daily specials around treasures from the market.
Look for seasonal produce from farms like Rio Gozo Farm and McGrath Family Farms in the creative soups, salads, and grilled cheese sandwiches at Paradise Pantry; this downtown spot is also known for its artisanal cheese counter and gourmet market. Minutes from downtown, The Cave at Ventura Wine Company offers an ever-changing menu of small plates bursting with local ingredients.
At Scratch Food Truck, Chef Tim Kilcoyne crafts his menu around what the local farmers bring him — house-made strawberry jam shines on his smoked pork PB&J sandwich; local lettuce and goat cheese add layers of texture to juicy burgers; pickled local veggies top the Sriracha-orange fried chicken sandwich. And when in season, local brussel sprouts reach nirvana in the fryer before being draped with a creamy aioli.
Speaking of food trucks, don’t miss The Jolly Oyster at San Buenaventura State Beach Park. Oysters and clams are available for purchase at the Shuck Shack, then shuck them yourself at one of the nearby picnic areas. Not up for cooking? Let them do the magic for you at the Kitchen — their food truck offers specials like fried oysters, steamed clams, and tangy ceviche.
Food Truck Fridays are offered at Pacific View Mall on the third Friday of every month. You’ll find around 20 food trucks all in one spot, complete with live music and fun for the little ones.
Around the city, there’s a good mix of casual and fine-dining eateries to round out the restaurant scene. At the Harbor, Brophy Bros. serves fresh seafood and bowls of clam chowder with a view of the boats. After a day at the beach, grab a specialty burger at Bombay Bar and Grill (the Beach Breakfast burger has smoked bacon, fried egg, and house-made maple aioli). Tuck into a plate of pasta at Ferraro’s, a Ventura institution. Say aloha to Mai Tais and poke bowls on the lanai at VenTiki, the local tiki bar. Looking to get more gussied up? Make a reservation at Café Nouveau, Lure Fish House, or Cafe Fiore.
If ethnic food is calling your name, Himalaya is a unique find. At the base of Ventura Avenue, this restaurant excels at Tibetan, Himalayan, and Indian fusion cuisine. Try the chicken tikka masala pizza made on naan bread. A bowl of steaming ramen at Kao Ramen by Mama always hits the spot, and if you like coconut milk, order it Mama-style. Just down the street, Rice Thai Cuisine will satisfy your Thai food fix. Don’t miss the pumpkin curry and red rice.
Ready to dig in?
Allison Costa is a freelance food writer and owner of Ventura Food Tours (venturafoodtours.com). When she’s not leading food tours, writing, or dining out, she can be found hanging out with her husband and three children in Ventura.