At times, it’s hard to determine what you want to eat for dinner. Some ask themselves the eternal question of “ramen – or mac ‘n’ cheese?” on a nightly basis. But alas, there is an answer for even the most indecisive of diners: fusion foods which combine the best of both worlds. Since springtime is the right time to let your inner wild child out, don’t be shy when it comes to trying new things.

A Real Gem

Opal Restaurant and Bar
1325 State St.
(805) 966-9676
Price: $10-20

French wall art and an open kitchen welcome you into the hip atmosphere of Opal Restaurant and Bar, located at 1325 State St. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and for dinner seven nights a week at 5 p.m., this quaint establishment is always ready to cater to your fine-dining desires.

“We are eclectic Californian cuisine. We have such a large variety of things on our menu,” manager Josephy Granado said. “The best part about this restaurant is our team service motto – everyone works together to serve our customers.”

Customer favorites include the lemon grass crusted fresh salmon filet with a Thai curry sauce accompanied by sautŽed julienne vegetables and jasmine rice timbale. Locals also favor the flavorful warm seafood salad on fresh baby spinach and gourmet greens with roma tomatoes, cilantro and garlic dressing.

According to Granado, the outstanding homemade food is always worth the restaurant’s mid-range prices.

“Salads, pastas and pizza range from $11 to $16 and other entrŽes, such as lamb, duck or steak are priced up to $28,” he said.

Opal’s chic interior, full service bar and dimly lit seating area makes for the perfect date environment. Take advantage of this amazing eatery – it’s a Santa Barbara treasure.

Earth, Wind and Fire

Elements Restaurant and Bar
129 E. Anapamu St.
(805) 884-9218
Price: $10-25

Situated just out of the bustle of downtown on a quiet side street is Elements Restaurant and Bar – a Santa Barbara diner’s delight. When it comes to the food, this eatery’s name says it all, offering patrons cuisine that is surely “of the elements” – the chefs list their menu items in earth, air, water and fire categories.

The restaurant’s unique charm and ultimate tropical fusion atmosphere – reflected by the rare orchids accenting the room – is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and for dinner seven days a week, with extended hours from Thursday to Saturday. This gourmet eatery also features a happy hour Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., as well as a delicious weekly Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

With convenient hours and a prime location just one block off State Street, this eatery also makes it easy to immerse yourself in the delicious fusion items on its menu.

“We are California fresh with an Asian fusion influence,” Bernadette Pometta, Element’s supervisor, said.

Begin your journey through the elements with a bang by trying the fire-roasted tomato soup, which is quite a starter for a mere $7 a bowl. And of course, a well-rounded meal always includes appetizers, but very few are as enticing as the pan-seared scallops, priced at $14 per order.

For your main course, feel the earth move under your feet by requesting Elements’ pistachio and dried apricot stuffed Berkshire pork loin entrŽe for $27 – a steal for the creative and flavorful design it feeds your mind and appetite. If you’re not the carnivorous type, though, don’t worry – the Elements staff caters to all their guests’ needs, welcoming your vegetarian or special requests any time of day you visit.

Like hydrogen fuses with other “elements,” the perfect fusion of California and Asian cuisine is sure to be the bomb.

The Good Stuff

Le Bon Cafe
138 E. Canon Perdido St.
(805) 965-7025
Price: $10-$20

It is easy to see that Santa Barbara has a large population of health-conscious people who prefer to quell their hunger pangs with soy and gluten-free products instead of devouring a large pizza from Domino’s after their workouts. Le Bon Cafe strives to offer its customers only the best in healthy dietary staples.

“Our philosophy here is based on health food with taste,” JeanPaul Luvanvi, Le Bon Cafe’s manager and head chef, said. “We have a dietary menu composed of delicious fusion, gourmet, organic health food, and [we] do not use a lot of butter, dairy products or sugar while cooking. Instead, we use soy substitutes or whatever the healthiest option is.”

If you are craving worldly cuisine that will keep you within your budget, Le Bon Cafe is the perfect place to enjoy an affordable, healthy meal that will fill you up and keep your calorie count in check.

“For lunch, our most popular items are the gluten-free plantain sandwiches on spelt bread, which is a whole grain bread,” Luvanvi said. “Dinner plates, such as salmon and sirloin, are also great choices for those who are not vegetarian. We also have a great Bison burger that is low in cholesterol and fat, but is lean and high in protein. For a side, our popular sweet potato fries are cooked without hydrogenated oils and are trans-fat free.”

A microwave-free kitchen allows this establishment to uphold its ideal of made-to-order, fresh food. For instance, Le Bon’s fresh smoothies are pure fruit, and their “raw” shakes are composed of honey, hemp milk and fruit – the fruit peel is even ground up to ensure a truly healthy vegan snack.

In addition, the cafe adds its own unique, all-natural supplements to its smoothies for those extra health benefits. Luvanvi said Le Bon offers a dietary supplement known as XanGo, which contains mango extract, a great source for plenty of antioxidants that also gives you an extra boost of energy.

“We supplement this into our smoothies, and offer shots of this to our customers if they are looking for something more powerful than wheatgrass,” Luvanvi said.

Le Bon Cafe is owned by Luvanvi’s mother, Kim Shaw, which makes this restaurant both a family- operated and -oriented establishment. The congenial atmosphere and “food that is explosive in flavor” should make you want to say “Bon Appetit” over and over.

Layers of Wisdom

Sage & Onion
38 E. Ortega St.
(805) 963-1012
Price: $20+

Just around the corner from the action of downtown, Sage & Onion conveniently awaits your hungry palette. The romantic mood lighting – candles decorate every table – and modern art adorning the walls make your dining experience feel like an intimate a gallery show.

“At Sage & Onion, you will find fine dining that is relaxed at the same time,” Jonathan Hughes, the restaurant’s supervisor, said. “It is a great place for special occasions and first dates.”

From the English Stilton soufflŽ to the Rainbow Trout and pistachio risotto cake, customers keep coming back for a new experience. A new addition to the menu is the Peking Duck breast with sweet potato au gratin and baby carrots in an orange vanilla sauce – an entrŽe no Santa Barbara local should miss.

Whatever you do, don’t let the older Montecito crowd and the higher price range deter you from venturing to this fine eatery – you won’t be disappointed. But remember as you’re enjoying your extravagant meal to save room for dessert; Sage & Onion churns its own homemade ice cream. And as you can imagine, a scoop of Rocky Road placed delicately atop this cafŽ’s gooey Liquid Center Chocolate Cake is sure to become one of your new favorites.

Experience the fusion of your senses and an empty stomach – the combination will make an altogether perfect match at any of these memorable Santa Barbara restaurants.