It is difficult to decide what Italy is most famous for, but, without a doubt, the food is a top contender. Alfredos, pestos, marinaras and more delight the taste buds in Italian restaurants up and down State Street, and On the Menu is here to bring some of the best.

Bella Notte

436 State St.
(805) 957-4177

A pleasant weekend afternoon is guaranteed to fill the patio at Bucatini, the perfect place for al fresco dining and people-watching in the Old Town area of State Street.

Bucatini manager Ariel Xique said the covered patio is a big draw for patrons, but the real star of the place is the menu, which has a selection of pastas and pizzas to choose from that is the size of Vatican City.

The Ravioli al Burro and Salvia is one of the favorites, Xique said.

“It’s spinach and ricotta ravioli in brown butter, sage and marinara sauce,” he said. “People come for that dish.”

For seafood lovers or those hoping for a glimpse of Neptune’s creations, Xique suggests the Linguine ai Crostacei, which comes in a spicy garlic, tomato and white wine sauce.

“It is a very good serving of shrimps, scallops, lobster and more,” Xique said.

Bucatini’s pizzas have a crispy, thin crust and are baked in a wood-fire oven. Xique said the tasty pies are another reason customers keep coming back to Bucatini. The crunchy crust and wide variety of toppings are sure to prove an exquisite treat.

“The wood adds a lot of flavor to whatever is cooked in that oven,” he said.

To truly experience the Italian tradition, pair the meal with a glass of red or white wine available on Bucatini’s list of fine wines.

“We have a very, very extensive variety of wine,” Xique said. “Most are Italian.”

Xique said that, although Bucatini is not usually a hot spot for students, the trattoria fills up for graduation dinners, so plan ahead because the menu at Bucatini will please everyone in the party.

“People come for everything,” Xique said. “You’ll be satisfied with anything you get.”

Bucatini is open to take your taste buds on a gondola ride of delight all week long from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. during the winter and until 10 p.m. during the summer.

Mamma Mia

Palazzio Trattoria Italiana
1026 State St.
(805) 564-1985

A family-style restaurant situated on State Street, Palazzio Trattoria Italiana has drawn patrons back for more for 15 years because of its mouth-watering food, great value and large, shareable portions.

Owner Kenneth Boxer said there are to-die-for options for your meal from start to finish. He said the Caesar salad and the garlic rolls are local favorites.

“We’ve sold over one million pounds of those rolls,” Boxer said. “And our Caesar salad, as an appetizer, is asked for a lot.”

For the main course, Boxer said he suggests three different meals that are sure to tempt.

“First, the Penne al Fumo is a smoked mozzarella dish with basil and eggplant,” he said. “Then Mama Pearl’s Spaghettini with Meatballs and Papa Ruby’s Rigatoni, both dishes named after the owner’s parents, Pearl and Reuben.”

Mama Pearl’s Spaghettini with Meatballs is flavored with bell peppers, garlic, chili pepper, fennel, mushrooms and basil in a delicious tomato sauce, and Papa Ruby’s Rigatoni consists of grilled chicken, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes in a roasted red bell pepper cream sauce.

For a chief of state finish to your meal, try the Presidential Ronald Reagan Tiramisu, which Boxer said Palazzio served to the former president and his staff in his presidential office in Los Angeles in February of 1994.

Most menu items are available as half orders or full orders, with full orders serving approximately four people, Boxer said.

Along with the value of sharing a full order with three friends, Boxer said Palazzio patrons can expect excellent service, as the restaurant operates with a teamwork-style service, where the whole staff is your waiter.

Boxer said he also believes guests appreciate the trust the trattoria places in them. Three decanters of wine are placed throughout the restaurant for customers to help themselves to on the honor system, and there are pencils on the table to keep track of how many glasses they drink.

“When a customer comes into this restaurant, we’re saying explicitly ‘We trust you,'” he said. “If they’ve had six glasses of wine and they tell us three, we charge them for three.”

Boxer said these reasons are what draw students back to Palazzio, and perhaps are the reason the trattoria has won the Daily Nexus’ “Best of” award for Best Place to Have Your Parents Take You out to Dinner.

“We’re delighted to have won that award several times,” he said.

Stop by on Saturday night to have a glass of vino with the entire restaurant staff while singing Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” to celebrate the traditional Italian enthusiasm.

Visit Palazzio for a meal with value Monday through Thursday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 5:30 to 11 p.m., Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to midnight, Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Yes, Maestra

Via Maestra 42
3343 State St.
(805) 569-6522

Via Maestra 42 is a gem hidden in a strip mall on upper State Street – a deli, coffee bar and full restaurant that prides itself on authenticity.

Owner Renato Moiso said he brings everything he can from Italy to ensure the flavor and atmosphere is as Italian as possible.

“The products we use, they’re all from Italy,” he said. “We try to bring everything from Italy, except the produce of course – that’s local. The prosciutto is the real thing, aged 18 months; all the cheese is from Italy, all the wine, even the dishes and silverware. We try to keep it as authentic as possible.”

For a scrumptious start to the day, head over to Via Maestra 42, as this restaurant is one of the few Italian eateries in Santa Barbara open for breakfast. Moiso said there are many dishes to choose from, from baked goods to egg dishes.

“The croissants are baked fresh every day,” he said. “The Abruzzo Frittata is an egg dish, some potatoes, smoked porchetta, onions and red-hot peppers. All of our breakfasts come with toast with an Italian fig jam.”

Moiso said one of the morning favorites is the Bonjourno Adriana, named after one of the regular customers.

“One of our customers came in and said, ‘Why don’t you make breakfast like this?’ and it’s become very popular,” he said. “That is two eggs – all of our eggs are farm fresh – cooked in rye bread with yellow and red roasted peppers.”

The lunch and dinner menus are similar to each other, Moiso said, with a few added specials for dinner. Also, for dinner, Via Maestra 42 switches over from guests ordering at the counter to a full-service restaurant.

The menu ranges from traditional pastas to fancier dinner specials, and Moiso said some of the more asked-for meals are the meat dishes.

“The Osso Buco is veal served with saffron rissoto,” he said. “Our lamb rack is very popular.”

Moiso said Via Maestra 42 has a casual atmosphere that sets it apart from other State Street restaurants.

“The atmosphere is not too intimidating; it’s comfortable – not too fancy,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing.”

Stop in to Via Maestra 42 for a traditional Italian breakfast, lunch or dinner Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. or Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mi scusi, but Italian food could only be better if you were sitting in old Napoli, so grab a date or some friends and enjoy the best pastas and pizzas Santa Barbara has to offer. Now that’s amore.