Spring is in the air in Santa Barbara, and there’s no better way to celebrate the season than with fresh pasta primavera and other Italian fare. So when you’re longing for the flavors of dear old Napoli, escape to these Santa Barbara restaurants for some cheesy pizza loaded with all your favorite toppings or a plate of penne covered in your sauce of choice – now that’s amorŽ.

Mario Bros.

Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta
5711 Calle Real
(805) 964-6433
Price: $10 and under

Just down the road in Goleta, you’ll find Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta. Specializing in pizza and pasta, this family restaurant has been in business for 20 years, and continues to impress customers with its wide array of options to tempt the taste buds.

“By far, the customer favorite is our Meat Supreme pizza, which is piled high with pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, salami and extra cheese,” manager Luis Gonzalez said.

Luigi’s offers hearty Italian cuisine for a small fee. Pizzas range from $5.45 for an individual with no toppings to $21.95 for a large with the works (ham, pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, bell pepper, onion and olive). You can also save money with their steal-of-a-deal lunches.

“We offer a lightning-fast lunch special Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., that includes a slice of pizza, salad and a soda for only $6.45,” Gonzalez said.

If you’re looking for a more authentic dish, try Luigi’s Chicken Picatta, which is a breast of lightly breaded chicken and capers, sautŽed in white wine and lemon juice and served with fresh fettuccini and Alfredo sauce on the side.

No matter what your heart desires, you are sure to find it on Luigi’s menu, especially with their latest additions.

“A new item on our menu is the Picolo Pizza, which is pita bread piled high with your choice of toppings,” Gonzalez said. “It also comes with salad and bread for a mere $6.45.”

Whether you are looking to grab a quick bite to eat or to have a party in Luigi’s banquet room, which can hold up to 40 people, this restaurant also offers plenty of booth seating and an arcade. So, come down and entertain yourself while you eat a delicious Italian meal.

When in Rome

Aldo’s Italian Restaurant
1031 State St.
(805) 963-6687
Price: $10-$25

Downtown Santa Barbara offers many dining choices, but not many restaurants offer as much variety in their dishes as Aldo’s Italian Restaurant. The eatery is open for lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on the weekends. With generous portions and a lively atmosphere, dining at Aldo’s is a satisfying experience.

“What most people do not know is that at Aldo’s, you get a complete meal,” said Mark Sherman, Aldo’s owner and manager. “A side of vegetables and a salad or a homemade cup of soup accompany each entrŽe. Most people think that we are expensive, but when it comes down to it, our restaurant is not overly expensive, considering how large the portions are. For what we do, we are an incredible value.”

With a plethora of pastas and other Italian dishes on their menu, it can be hard to decide which meal to savor.

“Our most popular dishes include the Chicken Picatta, as well as the Ravioli Rosa,” he said. “The ravioli are a good choice for anyone who prefers a vegetarian dish.”

Aldo’s also offers a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. You will not find an American-style buffet here though; instead, you can choose from lunch menu items, as well as a few tasty breakfast dishes.

“Everyone loves the Aldo’s Benedict, the Salmon Benedict and the Crabby Benedict for brunch,” Sherman said.

Besides the restaurant’s great food, Sherman said Aldo’s friendly staff and quiet, intimate atmosphere make Aldo’s a perfect spot for a romantic date.

In particular, Aldo’s heated patio is the perfect place to enjoy Santa Barbara’s warm spring breeze with a companion. And if you decide to stop by on a Friday or Sunday evening, you can listen to live entertainment while you enjoy your outdoor meal.

“On Friday, we have a guitar and percussion duo to entertain our customers. On Sundays, a guitar and mandolin duo serenades the restaurant. Both are amazing to listen to while dining,” Sherman said.

Aldo’s also offers a socially conscious way to quell your hunger pangs. Every Tuesday, the restaurant’s management donates 10 percent of its profits to the Surfrider Foundation and the Rape Crisis and Prevention Center.

So when you’re in the mood to splurge for an evening in Roma, be sure to stop by Aldo’s Italian Restaurant instead, and save some travel time.

Like Famigilia

Petrini’s Family Restaurant
14 W. Calle Laureles
(805) 687-8888]
Price: $10-$20

Until recently, only Santa Barbara’s most in-the-know locals frequented Petrini’s Family Restaurant. Gauchos can eat to their stomach’s content Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. This full-service restaurant is a great place to fulfill your pizza passions.

“We are literally world-famous for our thin-crust pizza,” Joe Bohnett, Petrini’s owner, said. “Our most popular pizza toppings range from BBQ chicken to vegetarian, but everyone still enjoys the classic pepperoni.”

Petrini’s family-run establishment has been open for 49 years. Its lively interior resembles a Chicago-style pizzeria, with the red-and-white checked tables in the dining area and Italian-inspired art on the walls exuding the atmosphere of an authentic East Coast Italian restaurant.

With a menu filled with Italian delights and great prices, Petrini’s is the Godfather of local Italian restaurants.

“We give our customers lots of food options, including sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and salads, and all of our portions are large,” Bohnett said. “Our lunch specials start at $5.25 and go up to $9.00. Dinner prices range from $5.50 to $14.50.”

The famous pizza crust is a must-try, and the Chicken Picatta is also another option for those who prefer that protein kick. Petrini’s has it all – and as Santa Barbara locals always know the best when they taste it, they keep coming back for more Italian favorites and flavor time after time.

“A secret of ours is that we have the best cheeseburger in town,” Bohnett said. “You would never guess, but all of our customers rave about our special bun recipe.”

Italian goodness mixed with a dash of American cuisine is what you will find at Petrini’s Family Restaurant. It’s enough to make you exclaim, “Mama Mia!”

A Real Pick-Me-Up

12 W. De La Guerra
(805) 962-3805
Price: $10-$20

While there is a wide array of shops and restaurants in Paseo Nuevo in downtown Santa Barbara, Tiramisu stands out among them with its remarkable Italian appeal. The eatery features European-inspired decorations and rustic Italian cuisine.

While enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of the restaurant, you can sample the taste of its tantalizing entrees, like vegetable lasagna, raviolis and risottos, which Tiramisu’s manager said are made from scratch with homemade pasta. The menu here consists of typical Italian dishes, as well as fish and poultry entrees. Prices range from about $16 to $28 for dinner items, but sandwiches and salads served during lunch are only around $10. The eatery also offers daily specials at market prices.

Tiramisu serves fish with either a mighty mound of mashed potatoes or risotto and vegetables. In addition, the restaurant’s beef, chicken and duck entrees are typically served with one of the menu’s many tasty side dishes. Daily soup choices range from lentil to butternut squash, with a hearty minestrone available every day.

From the thin-crust New York style pizza to the fresh sandwiches on focaccia bread, you can’t go wrong with an authentic Italian meal and a decadent tiramisu from Tiramisu for dessert.

It’s a long plane ride to Italy from Santa Barbara, so enjoy Italian flavors in the pasta, vino and tiramisu at the outstanding Italian eateries right here. But remember: Leave the guns, take the cannolis.