With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, locals and students alike are preparing to celebrate a favorite Mexican holiday. In anticipation for the fiesta of the year, On the Menu scoured the streets of Santa Barbara to bring the party to UCSB. So, slap on your favorite sombrero and let your taste buds go wild! Olé!
El Rincon Bohemio
4141 State St., Santa Barbara
Price: $10 to $20
Nestled in the El Mercado shopping center on upper State Street, El Rincon Bohemio is a treasure trove of delights. The family-owned restaurant’s beautifully tiled tables and framed pictures of Mexican culture are only a taste of the rich flavor this eatery has to offer.
According to Carmen Diaz, who has worked as a server at El Rincon Bohemio for almost 15 years, hungry diners looking for a taste of culture can’t go wrong at El Rincon Bohemio.
“Some people say this is the best Mexican food in town,” Diaz said. “They come because they want to, because they like the food.”
The eatery offers a wide selection of Mexican cuisine, including an extensive breakfast menu. To start the day off with a bang, try the New Mexico Enchiladas, which consist of cheese and salsa between two corn tortillas and topped with two fried eggs, cheese and more salsa, and is served with a side of rice and beans. El Rincon Bohemio offers a special breakfast menu only available Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until noon. This limited offer includes traditional morning meals, like pancakes and eggs, as well as many different variations of the eatery’s Mexican omelettes. Each one is made with three eggs, and specialties include the mushroom, Mexican salsa and cheese omelette or the chile verde omelette.
For diners who prefer their daily dose of culture a little later, Diaz said the #17 combination meal tops the customer-favorite list. This hearty entree includes a chicken taco and a cheese enchilada, and is served with rice and beans. The combo meals are large enough to fill up any stomach and keep the wallets bulging, too, Diaz said, as each dish is less than $10.
For those customers with a spicier appetite, try the restaurant’s fajitas. The beef and chicken fajitas come with rice, beans and tortillas, as well as soup or salad. Diaz said the meat is marinated in a secret recipe and served with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, and comes with guacamole and pico de gallo. For only $14.25, this zesty meal is sure to spice up your life.
Each table is offered two complimentary baskets of chips with salsa that, Diaz said, is made fresh at the restaurant.
“Everything is handmade,” she said. “Even the salsa for our chips and our enchiladas.”
El Rincon Bohemio offers its patrons 21 and older a large selection of alcoholic beverages, including wine, beer and margaritas. The tequila-based drink is available in small or large glasses, or in a pitcher for larger parties.
Be sure to save room for dessert at this Mexican find, as the flan and tamales dulces are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.
From spicy to sweet, El Rincon Bohemio is open to satisfy any craving Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.
If You Like Piña Coladas
New Baja Grill
7024 Camino Real Marketplace, Goleta
Price: Under $10
For a cultural experience that is just around the corner, head over to the Camino Real Marketplace to try the New Baja Grill. This nearby restaurant offers all the delights of Mexican cuisine at a price that will make any customer wish it were Cinco de Mayo all year long.
To ensure healthy meals for their customers, general manager Carlos Villa said Baja Grill uses only the freshest ingredients.
“We make everything as fresh as possible, and make it as they order it,” Villa said. “Everything is homemade, except the tortillas. There’s no lard, no chicken bases.”
According to Villa, the restaurant prides itself on creating dishes with very classic tastes.
“The only spices used are meat seasoning, a little salt, oregano and cumin – very simple, no heartburn,” Villa said.
Baja Grill offers a wide selection of Mexican dishes, like the Nachos del Rey, which are made with jack and cheddar cheese melted over fresh chips and beans, and is served with homemade guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. The entire meal is only $5.50 – great for hungry students with starving wallets. For patrons looking to add a little meat to their meal, the menu offers the same nachos with charbroiled steak, roasted red pepper salsa marinated pork or marinated chicken breast.
Villa said that one of the most popular dishes is the Rosarito Burrito, which comes with a choice of charbroiled steak or marinated chicken breast, rice and jack and cheddar cheese, and is topped with pico de gallo and guacamole.
The Baja Grill receives a lot of support from the student population, Villa said, especially on Tuesdays when the restaurant hosts its popular Taco Tuesday night. From 4 p.m. until closing, the eatery offers its customers two tacos for only $2.99, sodas for 99 cents, two Pacifico beers for $3.50 and a free salsa bar.
“Tons of students come to Taco Tuesday,” Villa said. “They really enjoy it.”
Among the most prized taco options is the carne asada tacos. The dish comes with two tacos in corn tortillas, topped with seasoned strips of charbroiled steak, chopped onion and cilantro. Villa said the restaurant uses only lean meat, which is one of the reasons the tacos taste so fresh.
For taco-lovers who prefer greener meals, the veggie taco includes roasted chilies, grilled peppers and onions, and includes cheese and shredded lettuce.
Most tacos at this eatery are only $2.50, making them the perfect meal any day of the week.
The Baja Grill caters to customers of age through its selection of beer, which includes Corona, Pacifico, Negro Modelo, Haake Beck and Coors Light.
It does not take much for the food at this eatery to hit the spot, Villa said.
“Mother Nature makes everything to taste good, so we keep it very simple,” he said. “The food only needs a little salt and lots of love.”
Head over to New Baja Grill for tastes and prices anyone is sure to love Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Cesar’s Place Fish & Chips
712 N. Milpas St, Santa Barbara
Price: Under $10
For a Mexican menu large enough to satisfy any customer, Cesar’s Place is the ideal spot. Located on Milpas Street between Ortega and De la Guerra Streets, this restaurant offers everything from breakfast food to seafood.
Cesar’s cashier Blanca Deleon said the restaurant sees plenty of students looking for a tasty meal in the afternoon
“Santa Barbara High School students come everyday,” Deleon said. “They come for lunch all the time.”
According to Deleon, the family-owned restaurant has been in business for about eight years. They offer an extensive breakfast menu, which Deleon said draws in the locals earlier in the day.
Customers cannot go wrong with the Omelet Ranchero for a hearty morning meal. This typical breakfast is made with two eggs any style, stuffed with cheese and pork meat and served with a green chile sauce. Another popular early treat is the Huevos con Jamón, which, like its title indicates, consists of two eggs and ham.
Cesar’s Place offers several exclusive menu options, like the daily special, which varies depending on the day of the week. These meals are only $7.99 each, and include dishes like the Caldo de Res – beef soup – which is served on Monday. The restaurant also incorporates a weekends-only section into the menu, which offers homemade lamb soup, or Birria de Chivo. This Saturday and Sunday dish is only $7.50, and is sure to provide customers with a feeling of dining in an authentic Mexican home.
Deleon said her favorite meals from Cesar’s Place are primarily seafood dishes, like the shrimp cocktail, or the Seven Seas Soup. The eatery offers several ocean-based meals, like the fish tacos, which are served with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and bacon. For a meal that balances traditional Mexican entrees with the splendors of the sea, customers can try the camaron (shrimp) burrito, or the pescado (fish) burrito, both of which are under $10 and are large enough to satisfy any boca hambrienta.
For patrons with appetites that veer toward the more traditional Mexican options, Cesar’s offers a wide selection of tostadas, quesadillas and burritos. For customers looking to expand their stomachs, the dinner combo meals are served with a side of rice, beans and a salad. The dish comes with two enchiladas, tacos or chile relleno, or diners can combine two of the three dishes for an entrée that incorporates the restaurant’s multitude of flavors.
This eatery also offers a selection of imported and domestic beer to complement the meal.
Stop in at Cesar’s Place for breakfast or a beer Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
What’s in a Name?
424 E. Haley St, Santa Barbara
Price: Under $10
For a truly unique dining experience in an atmosphere that blossoms with charm, head over to the Rose Cafe. Just off the Garden Street exit from Highway 101, this amiable Mexican restaurant is sure to make any customer feel like part of a family.
Assistant manager Lisa Urzua said that her grandmother and the restaurant’s owner, Agnes Guevara, opened the cafe independently in 1944.
“My grandma is 90 years old,” Urzua said. “She is here seven days a week. She comes in at 5 a.m. every morning to prepare all the sauces for when we open at 8 a.m.”
According to Urzua, the Chicken Molé Poblano is a customer favorite. This popular dish consists of two pieces of chicken, and is served with a chocolate, peanut butter and chile sauce.
“You can’t taste the chocolate or peanut butter,” Urzua said. “It’s just for the coloring.”
Urzua said that another prized meal at this eatery is the chilaquiles – a breakfast dish that is made with chopped pieces of corn tortilla, and scrambled with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and eggs. The meal is topped with melted cheese for a flavorful finish.
The eatery also offers combination meals, which include a side of beans and rice. For patrons looking to fill up for the day, try the #1 combo – a meat tostada, cheese enchilada and a chile relleno for only $10. For a lighter meal that is still sure to fill up any stomach, the #8 meal includes a taco and meat tostada.
The Rose Cafe is one of Santa Barbara’s favorite places for a Mexican meal, voted number one in the Santa Barbara News-Press’ Best of Reader’s Poll for Mexican Food. According to Urzua, the restaurant’s homemade salsa was voted the best in the area.
“She [Guevara] makes all the sauces herself,” Urzua said. “She won’t tell us how to make them.”
The family-owned and operated restaurant offers dining-style seating, with a bar surrounding the cooking area, and tables on the perimeter for larger groups. The set-up makes for easy conversation between the customers and the cooks and servers, establishing the Rose Cafe as a friendly and open dining experience.
Stop in and say “hello” to the family at the Rose Cafe from Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., on Friday from 8 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., or on Sunday from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.
From breakfast burritos to chile relleno, and from cheese enchiladas to fish tacos, these local Mexican restaurants are ready to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a feast to be remembered.