Even though your mother always told you to eat your vegetables, you always managed to find a way to skillfully hide those Brussels sprouts in your napkin, or to swallow them whole to minimize their contact with your taste buds. But now, you’ve probably come a long way from your eight-year-old self’s bad case of vegetable-phobia. And if not, even the unhealthiest of college-aged eaters can agree that salads are a delicious way to getting those five a day out of the way.

So make your mother proud – dive into some of the best salads that Santa Barbara has to offer.

It Just Comes Natural

As its name would suggest, the Natural Cafe, located on 5892 Hollister Ave., offers only the freshest and healthiest dishes to its devoted customers. Just one of several locations throughout Santa Barbara, this earthy retreat has something for everyone – including vegans and vegetarians – on its impressive menu, which features a wide array of salads, vegetarian chili, burgers, pasta dishes and burritos.

“We have such a variety in our food selection,” Cheyne West, Natural Cafe’s manger said. “It’s really good food – from the chicken specials to the Mexican food.”

The most impressive part of the cafe’s menu is the salad section – which includes the gourmet Old Town Salad, a unique blend of mixed greens topped with short grain brown rice, carrots, feta cheese, tomato and guacamole. According to West, the dish is among the most popular choices at the cafe.

Guests should also be sure to try the Spiritual Spinach Salad, which is topped with carrots, olives, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, veggie-bacon bits and sprouts.

The only thing harder than picking what delicious salad to eat at Natural Cafe is choosing which of the five freshly made dressings to accompany it. Each salad can be paired with the eatery’s own tangy lemon herb, low-calorie tofu dill, zesty Italian, creamy ranch or mouthwatering sesame-based tahini dressings – making the combination options for a great tasting healthy meal practically endless.

The cafe itself is spacious and plays up its nature motif with earthy green tones, while simultaneously maintaining a light, modern California atmosphere. With a nice patio in the front that looks out onto the Old Town Goleta street, Natural Cafe would be an ideal venue for a first date or a great place to have lunch with a few friends.

“The whole atmosphere is very positive,” West said. “It’s a great place to hang out and with our young and friendly service it really is a fun place to work and eat.”

Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday, Natural Cafe’s extensive menu, reasonable prices and filling entrees give guests a friendly, hip and tasty approach to eating healthy.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Located conveniently in the center of bustling Isla Vista on Pardall Road, Silvergreens Restaurant is exactly what every doctor would prescribe for a healthy diet. The popular eatery features salads, sandwiches, pastas, soups and burgers. With nine different salads, 10 homemade dressings and the option to create your own salad to satisfy any specific hunger pang, Silvergreens is a great place to have a flavorful meal – without sacrificing nutritional value.

Each of the salads on Silvergreens’ menu is an expert combination of a base salad, dressing and all the extras that can give a normally boring dish a ton of extra pizzazz. By tossing different textures into the mix and packing every bite with flavor, salads like the Chinese Chicken Salad are delicious, satisfying and reasonably priced.

Or, for those out to expand their salad horizons by trying something new, general manager Ron Gleiberman has a few suggestions.

“Our best sellers are the Crispy Thai Chicken Salad and the BBQ Chicken Salad,” Gleiberman said. “I personally like the Green Apple Salad the most.”

Since all salads come in whole or half orders, you can gauge your hunger and your wallet no matter what your mood.

If calories are your main concern, Silvergreens has something to offer you as well. The eatery’s specialized Nutricate reports – printed on every receipt – are a great resource for the conscious eater, detailing a complete run-down about your particular meal’s nutritional information right at the bottom of each copy.

“[Salad] is a refreshing, healthy alternative,” Gleiberman said.

So when you’re hungry and faced with all the tasty temptations that I.V. has to offer, head over to Silvergreens to satisfy both your hunger and desire for healthy living. The eatery is open 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily and delivers to I.V. residences every night of the week from 5 p.m. till midnight.

Finding More Than Just Truffles

Conveniently located just off State Street, Savoy Truffles cafe & deli is the perfect respite for a healthy lunch. Whether you prefer to create your own scrumptious salad or delve into the pre-made delights, everyone can find a salad they’ll enjoy at this downtown eatery.

There is a make-your-own salad bar, where patrons can customize a meal to their heart’s content. A veritable garden of choices is available every day for your bowl.

“We have organic spinach, organic baby greens, natural roast beef, free range chicken, sweet potatoes,” owner Paul Shields said.

If your taste preferences veer more toward traditional fare, the restaurant has many classic greens-based dishes along with a few that feature a fruity twist. According to Shields, the Strawberry Spinach Salad, served with walnuts and a poppy seed vinaigrette, is a popular choice. More exotic combinations include the Quinoa Mango Salad – Shields’ personal favorite – which is served with a curry vinaigrette.

Aside from their exquisite taste, Savoy Truffles’ salads are also made with organic ingredients and the dressings are made with no trans fat oils, Shields said.

“We use 90 percent olive oil in our dressings and sea salt – not iodized salt,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why people say the food is so good here.”

While a plethora of vegetarian options are available at Savoy, carnivores need not shy away – the restaurant has plenty of dishes for meat eaters as well.

“The tuna salad is very popular,” he said. “It’s dolphin-safe, line-caught albacore with cranberries, almonds and tarragon.”

Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Savoy’s wide assortment of salads are great anytime.
Fresco Means Fresh!

Just off La Cumbre in the Five Points Shopping Center is Fresco!, an exciting cafe with a history for famous salads.

“Our Caesar’s won a bunch of awards from both the Independent and the News-Press,” Adam Brouillard, manager and co-owner, said. “We’ve won … every year for the best Caesar in town.”

But if you’re craving something a little more exotic, Fresco! offers two special salads every week in addition to the dozen salads that appear on the menu regularly, he said.

While there are many choices for one’s appetite, Fresco!’s most popular salad is its Gorgonzola Walnut.

“I’ve been walking down the street and had people yell ‘gorgonzola salad’ at me,” he said.

The line is often out the door at lunch, but worth the wait. The salads and dressings are made fresh daily to feed to stream of people who swarm the restaurant, many of whom are repeat customers.

“At least half of our guests every day are regulars,” Brouillard said. “They come in multiple times every week.”

Enjoy the fleeting great weather by dining al fresco in their patio seating area or sit inside to avoid the winter storms. The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, so be sure to stop by and gorge yourself on the famous Gorgonzola Walnut – or something else green and healthy.

The next time your friend gets a salad for dinner, don’t be green with envy – you can enjoy the best that any garden can grow, simply by dining at one of these healthy and outstanding Santa Barbara restaurants.

– David Saidi contributed to this article.