Monday, October 15, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 32

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Black Bear Diner in Santa Maria brings country kitsch front and center


I’ve never really been one for a lot of fake corporate kitsch in restaurants. That cute rusty license plate from 1956 Montana hanging on the wall over your table was probably made in a Taiwanese factory anyway. But I have to say, the Black Bear Diner is pretty damn charming.

The locally owned franchise, which opened on Aug. 7, offers down-home style food in what can be best described as a woodsy log cabin setting. Imagine Twin Peaks meets Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree and you have an idea of what we’re working with. It’s kitschy and vibrant, a sort of pop art exploration of an ice fishing trip deep in the Canadian wilderness. And I am here for freaking all of it.

Chicken and waffles is a classic combo featured on the menu at Santa Maria’s Black Bear Diner, along with a large variety of down-home style comfort food options.

The menu is a small folded newspaper that adds to the overall “you’re not in Santa Maria anymore” vibe. It’s got a ton of food on it, too, starting with breakfast options that leave little to be wanting. They serve breakfast all day, so feel free to dive into dishes like chicken fried steak, stacks of pancakes, country-style red potato hash, or biscuits and gravy any time of the day or night.

The cornbread is a huge highlight on the menu, and everyone who goes needs to make sure they snag an order. It’s big, warm, and tastes perfect with a dollop of butter. The butter at Black Bear (which is sweet and delicious) tasted suspiciously house-made but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet so don’t hold me to it.

I dove into a plate of chicken and waffles. I’m more accustomed to getting whole pieces of fried chicken served alongside the waffles, but Black Bear serves up a boneless chicken breast that looks a little more like a patty on top of a waffle. The waffle is absolutely resplendent. It’s soft and sweet and complements the salty battered crust of the chicken really well. The breaded patty is (like I said) different, but it really does go well if you’re trying to eat the chicken and waffle as one bite together. Don’t be afraid to get your syrup on the chicken; that’s part of the overall flavor experience. They also serve it with a fruit salad by default (fries would make much more sense to me with an indulgent classic dish like this, especially one that’s already loaded with sweetness) but I have to say, the fruit I got was impeccably and surprisingly fresh, so I guess it works.

Black Bear Diner actually has its own line of inhouse hot sauces, including the mild “Baby Burn,” the chipotle “Mama Burn,” and the habanero “Papa Burn.”

I like to add a little hot sauce to my chicken whenever I order this dish, and to my great surprise, I discovered Black Bear offers its own tableside brand of hot sauces. They come in three varieties: “Baby Burn,” a nicely mild sauce, “Mama Burn,” a chipotle sauce, and “Papa Burn,” which I opted for on my chicken. It is a hot habanero sauce that packs a kick, but nothing anyone can’t handle. Remember, heat is best when balanced with something like sweet, so pairing spicy chicken with sweet syrup and buttery waffles is pretty much a no-brainer.

Across the table, my fiance was working on a plate of meatloaf that hit all the notes for perfect comfort food. He thought it tasted “sweet,” which is the result of being loaded with onions. I would have ordered mine with the gravy on the side (restaurants always give you way too much gravy/sauce) but that’s not to suggest there is anything wrong with Black Bear’s gravy. It’s good, and it’s especially good with their mashed potatoes, which I’m about to devote a few paragraphs to.

Really, it’s all about the cornbread on the menu at Black Bear Diner in Santa Maria. The delicious sweet treat is one of the best options at the venue on Betteravia Road.

I think one of my top five favorite foods of all time has to be mashed potatoes. I’ll take them any way they come—whipped, skin-on, garlic, or chunky—it really makes no difference to me. If I was ordering a last meal, it would be my mom’s mashed potatoes, French fries (the kind they serve at classic mom and pop diners, with lots of ketchup), and probably more of my mom’s mashed potatoes. They’re so good they can’t be duplicated; NASA scientists have reportedly tried to perfect a copy of my mom’s recipe and come up short.

So I’m a bit picky. But I think my mom would be pleasantly surprised by what Black Bear’s mashed potatoes are like. (Full disclosure: I scarfed down a giant bowl of their leftover mashed potatoes the night before I wrote this at about midnight, so they’ve been on my mind).

Portions were huge (the venue offers tiered options of meal sizes so you can pick which is appropriate for your appetite) and I could barely finish the full size. That means leftovers for days, and yup, I’m still snacking on leftover waffles. 

Bear necessities
Black Bear Diner is located at 335 E. Betteravia Road, Santa Maria. More info: (805) 354-7701.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is also sweet and hella spicy. Contact her at




Hanukkah dinner at K’Syrah Catering and Events.

Here’s a really unique and fun foodie event coming up. From Dec. 12 through 19, chef Drew Terp of PICO and chef Brooke Stockwell of K’Syrah Catering and Events will host a collaborative eight-day Hanukkah food fest. Eight Days: An Edible Hanukkah Collaboration will build up to an event on Dec. 18, the final candle night, with an eight-course seated dinner featuring wine tastings from some of Santa Barbara County’s Jewish winemakers. The dinner at K’Syrah Catering and Events will include eight courses of chef Drew’s and chef Brooke’s collaborative Hanukkah menu (one of which is pictured) and an optional selection of associated wine pairings. Tickets for the finale event are $85 per person with optional wine pairings for an additional $40. Advanced purchase required; order tickets at Venue is located at 478 4th Place, Solvang.

Also, Chipotle Mexican Grill locations in Santa Barbara County are participating in a charity fundraiser to benefit the Surfrider Foundation. Surfrider’s mission is protecting the ocean, waves, and beach. On Dec. 7, Chipotle will donate 50 percent of sales; customers just need to show an image of the flyer located at on a smartphone or tell the cashier they are supporting Surfrider. (Online orders are not eligible for the fundraiser at this time.) The restaurant’s Santa Maria location is 236 E. Betteravia Road, Santa Maria.

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