As a kid growing up in Santa Barbara, Carlos Lopez-Hollis spent considerable time in the Santa Ynez Valley, traveling to baseball games and visiting friends who moved there. “There was something about the valley,” he says. “It was a world apart. And it’s still beautiful and relatively undeveloped. That frontier element has always drawn me to it.”
Given his restaurant pedigree — his parents opened the popular Carlitos in Santa Barbara 32 years ago and Cava in Montecito 13 years ago — it was only a matter of time before Carlos combined his fondness for the valley with his family restaurant heritage. It all came together at Dos Carlitos Restaurant and Tequila Bar, which opened in the heart of Santa Ynez township in January 2009.
Those who know Carlitos and Cava may sense the family resemblance when they enter the rustically handsome dining room, a pleasing expression of both the family style and Carlos’s own sensibility. “We want to be the kind of place people feel comfortable coming to multiple times in a week,” Carlos says.
Vibrant pottery from the renowned Mexican artist Gorky Gonzalez is scattered throughout the restaurant, just as at Cava and Carlitos. But here cowboy, ranchero, deer and roosters motifs reflect the Old West feeling and the agricultural essence of the valley. “It’s the Carlitos and Cava vibe with a bit of the cowboy-vaquero aesthetic,” Carlos says.
The open-beam ceiling supports a tin roof, high above a floor of traditional red Spanish-tiles. Stick-and-leather chairs surround wood tables covered with butcher paper, spacious banquettes suggest the satisfying essence of leather saddles and horse blankets, and custom-made cabinets with chicken-wire doors serve as space dividers and tequila storage.
Ahh, yes, the tequila.
“I had a longtime desire to open a tequila bar,” says Carlos, now the proud owner of a wood-and-copper bar backed by rows of spirits and a top shelf lined with top-shelf tequilas. “It gives the restaurant a bit of a bang.” Dos Carlitos stocks sixty premium tequilas, all 100-percent blue agave, and it’s the only place in the area that offers tequila flight tastings. It also has a slew of appealing margaritas, from the unadorned original to pomegranate, mango and an agave-nectar version made with fresh lime and ripe blanco tequila. “It’s low-cal, organic, pure,” says Carlos, who complements the margaritas with pisco sours, sangria and caipirinhas.
They’re the perfect warm-up for the restaurants upscale fare from Mexico and other Latin cuisines. Traditional tamales, seafood enchiladas, chile rellenos, halibut ceviche keep locals coming back and tourists wanting to, as do fajitas, sizzling halibut, chicken mole, and baby back ribs with a chipotle glaze. Spanish paella and zarzuela (fisherman’s stew from Barcelona), and Cava’s much-loved gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) extend the menu beyond Mexico.
“We take an upscale, refined approach to our food and combine it with a relaxed and casual setting,” Carlos explains. “The emphasis is always on the freshness and quality of ingredients, innovation in the kitchen and presentation at the table.
DOS CARLITOS • 3544 SAGUNTO STREET • 805.688.0033