While he didn’t know it at the time, in 2012, Alejandro Medina started down a road that would eventually bring the city of Santa Barbara, California to the culinary cutting edge. The journey began while Alejandro was working his way through an economics degree at UC Riverside. After completing his degree, he landed a position as a general manager with Acme Hospitality, known for their innovative collection of food & beverage businesses. Here he learned that acquainting people to novel flavors, when done with finesse, could transform a night of dining out into a cultural experience. It was this inclusivity of a contemporary, global cuisine that he challenged himself to bring into his future restaurant.
“With Bibi Ji, I wanted to provide an experience, not just dinner,” Alejandro said. As a second-generation immigrant (his father moved here from Bolivia) Alejandro wanted to build a restaurant that appealed to a broad demographic — a place where people from all over the world would feel comfortable. There was just one problem — he hadn’t seen much of the world. Compelled to explore before launching his entrepreneurial dream, he spent time in big cities, including New York and Los Angeles. Back in Santa Barbara, he consulted with the acclaimed Melbourne and Manhattan chef, Jesse Singh. As the owner of Babu Ji, an edgy Indian restaurant located in NYC’s Union Square, it was a serendipitous meeting.
Both interrupters at heart, the two shared a similar vision — to bring the energy and inclusivity of big city dining to Santa Barbara, CA. In Hindi-Urdu, Babu is a respectful title for men and Ji is a term of endearment—Bibi Ji, the female variation, was picked to seal their connection. Their business savvy and farm-to-table dishes, combined with the top wine picks of the award-winning winemaker and co-owner Rajat Parr, was a recipe for success. Bibi Ji, which serves modern Indian cuisine under neon pink uplighting, opened in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara on Feb. 3, 2018. Along with an increasing number of patrons, Medina’s restaurant serves an enormously diverse demographic. This is because word has spread about their locally-sourced menu which boasts a wide cultural variety of food that appeals to a diverse demographic. When asked what he loves best about being a young restaurant owner, Alejandro said, “It’s about building community and seeing my guests’ faces light up with delight.”
Staying on schedule to open less than a month after one of the worst disasters to ever hit Santa Barbara was intentional. While some businesses left Santa Barbara, Alejandro doubled down. His thinking was, “What better way to uplift a community than by bringing new energy into it and creating a space for people to commune together over a hot meal.” And that’s exactly what he did. Bibi Ji has gotten more than just local attention. In a recent New York Times article where Santa Barbara was listed number three out of a global curation of 52 Places to Go in 2019, Bibi Ji was the first restaurant mentioned. Don’t be fooled by its nondescript exterior (a black door and two shaded windows). With its exposed brick, bold music, airy-ceilings and signature pink uplighting, walking into Bibi Ji is like stumbling across a local favorite in Brooklyn.
Each guest is warmly welcomed, sat at a table with a small bouquet of freshly cut irises and served water in a steel cup. The menu includes both stylized fusion fare — think Indo-Chinese General Tso’s Cauliflower — as well as traditional Indian food, such as their Chana Masala, which is more interesting than you’d expect, underscored with dried pomegranate and Thai chili. The presentation of their locally-sourced Uni Biryani, served in a sea urchin shell, stuffed with flavorful rice and topped with the uni itself, is spectacular. I recommend pairing a glass of their fiery Chantereves L’Intrus Rouge with their not-to-be-missed thali platter. So, if you haven’t yet, stop by Bibi Ji to thrill your taste buds and soak in some urban Bollywood vibes. We think you’ll agree with us that they’re kind of a big daal.