Splurge on a Bloody Mary or a martini at the Mesa Café, a popular Santa Barbara restaurant that has a full bar and an extensive menu. This strip mall restaurant, not far from west end beaches, is a Santa Barbara institution, with great breakfasts, table service and a cheerful wait staff.
Sandwich lovers will rejoice at the creative fare available at Panino, a family-owned business that has five locations in the Santa Barbara area ( Goleta, Solvang, Los Olivos, in addition to the two listed below). Take your pick from 30 selections such as English Stilton with Asian pear ($8.95), goat cheese with roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes ($8.50), or roast turkey with Genoa salami combo ($8.95). There are also nine salads.
1014 Coast Village Road, Montecito, (805) 565-0137 or 834 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara; (805) 963-3700, http://www.paninorestaurants.com Tab: $8.50-$9.95.
7. Presto Pasta
Order at the counter and — presto! — it appears at your table. Albert Baltieri's restaurant looks more like a fast-food eatery than a dining room, but the food is plentiful and tasty. We can't imagine a place where you could feed a family so well for the price. Pick your favorite pasta, sauce and extras (i.e. meatballs, vegetables, chicken, etc.) and you'll get garlic bread, a large salad and bottomless beverage served with it for as little as $7.98. Pizzas (8-inch) start at $4.89.
827 E. Montecito St.; (805) 568-1678, http://www.prestopasta.com. Tab: $4.89-$8.99
8. Renaud's Patisserie
You'll think you're in Paris while dining at this chic sidewalk bistro and pastry shop in the Loreto Plaza mall. Great sandwiches, salads and breakfast items prepared and served with a touch of class; the café is so good that chef Renaud Gonthier's small restaurant wins our Best of the 10 Award. Don't forget to try the beautiful pastries, which a fellow diner described as "to die for."
3315 State St.; (805) 569-2400, http://www.renaudsbakery.com. Tab: $4 -$13
9. Rose Café
This Santa Barbara institution has been voted "Best Mexican Restaurant" 14 times in local newspaper surveys (Santa Barbara Independent and the News Press). A bonus: You get table service, south-of-the-border ambiance and free chips when you buy a budget meal here.
1816 Cliff Drive; (805) 965-5513, http://www.rosecafe2.com. Tab: $4.25-$12.50.
10. Rudy's Mexican Restaurant
If you're biking, running or rollerblading your way across town, stop for lunch at Rudy's, where you can carbo-load for a pittance. This local fast-food chain (Goleta, Carpinteria, Buellton, besides the three Santa Barbara locations listed here) offers super-sized portions of Mexican favorites such as burritos ($4.75 to $6.75); most plates include beans and rice.
305 W. Montecito St., (805) 899-3152; 3613½ State St., (805) 563-2232; Paseo Nuevo Mall, (805) 564-8677; http://www.paseonuevoshopping.com. Tab: $4.25-$7.50
15 free (or low-cost) things to do
1. Hit the beaches: East Beach is at the heart of it all and is best for volleyball; Leadbetter Beach wins the prize for being family-friendly; Butterfly Beach offers great people watching.