A selection of the better restaurants in the Santa Barbara area, by Charles Perry, a Times' restaurant critic . Prices listed are for food only; tax, tip and beverages are not included. NC = no credit cards are accepted; AE = American Express; CB = Carte Blanche; DC = Diner's Club; MC = MasterCard; V = Visa.
Beach Burger, 801 Shoreline Drive, (805) 965-2917. OK, it's a cinder-block burger shack tracked with sand, but this is Santa Barbara. Along with burgers you find vegetarian dishes, mineral water (Crystal Geyser, plain or flavored) and a blackboard menu featuring things like a crab sandwich on a croissant and a terrific abalone burger on a sesame bun. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Lunch for two is about $7.50. NC.
Biltmore Hotel, 1260 Channel Drive, (805) 969-2261. You wouldn't come to Santa Barbara just to eat at the Biltmore, but it does turn out one of the world's great Sunday brunches in its pretty, glass-enclosed Fountain Court. There are likely to be anything from blintzes to Boston cream pie to eggs Benedict--and a couple of ice sculptures to boot. Open for dinner daily and Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Brunch is $25 per person. AE, DC, MC, V.
Chalkboard, 621 State St., (805) 962-2773. The newest hot place for California cuisine (it hosted one of the perennial winery-sponsored wine tastings its first month) leans toward pizzas (for example, with roast lamb, shallots and peppers) and grilled dishes. Curiously, it has antecedents in Tulsa, as a vast bank of wall clippings testifies. Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Dinner for two is about $30. MC, V.
Downey's, 1305 State St., (805) 966-5006. John Downey is the local Wolfgang Puck, the chef whose light, fresh, inventive style sets the area's ground rules. It's largely because of Downey that you find mussel soup and mesquite-grilled dishes with fresh peach chutney in so many other restaurants. Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday and for dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Dinner for two is about $35. MC, V.
Joe's Cafe, 536 State St., (805) 966-4638. Not the old Santa Barbara you might think of, but a rambling, smoky, high-ceilinged bar and grill (and, hey, pressed-tin ceilings are fashionable again!) serving a 100-item all-American menu: ham steak, meat loaf, split pea soup--you name it. A real relic of the 1940s, like some of the customers. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner for two is about $20. AE, MC, V.
La Super-Rica, 622 N. Milpas St., (805) 963-4940. Call it a taco stand if you must, but La Super-Rica is a remarkably high-minded and ambitious one. The blackboard menu lists authentic and unhackneyed Mexican fare such as tamales wrapped in banana leaves (on Friday only) and soft-shell tacos filled with grilled beefsteak--and the beans are not the heavy refrito sort. Open for lunch and dinner Friday-Wednesday (closed Thursday). Lunch for two is about $9. NC.
The Palace Cafe, 8 E. Cota St., (805) 966-3133. Pretty orthodox Paul Prudhomme-style Cajun food (using genuine Louisiana redfish for blackening purposes) and probably the best key lime pie in California. Open weekend mornings for beignets and coffee; "C'mon down in your pajamas," they say, showing they can be Very Santa Barbara. Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday and for breakfast Saturday and Sunday. Dinner for two is about $35. AE, MC, V.
The Plow and Angel, at San Ysidro Ranch, 900 San Ysidro Lane, Montecito, (805) 969-5046. Steeped in tradition, the Plow and Angel is located in a stone-built 19th-Century citrus-packing plant and decorated in a sort of Western-Colonial style. The cooking is many cuts above Resort Continental--say, medallions of veal with walnut sauce and artichoke mousse. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner for two is about $45. AE, MC, V.
Tutti's, 1209 Coast Village Road, Montecito, (805) 969-5800. A sophisticated Italian delicatessen-cafe in quiet Montecito, great for fresh orange juice, an afternoon espresso or a changing array of salads and sandwiches. (They say Julia Child likes the hamburger.) At dinner, it's a more serious Italian restaurant with pasta dishes. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Dinner for two is about $15. MC, V.
Your Place, 22A N. Milpas St., (805) 966-5151. This is one of several good Thai places on Milpas Street, Santa Barbara's ethnic restaurant row. The usual Thai specialties are available, as well as frog legs (with ginger or mint leaves), yellow-curry crab claws, and rice and seafood cooked in a pineapple. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Dinner for two is about $12. AE, DC, MC, V.