Correction: A source was identified incorrectly as Joanne Hsian, the owner of SpiritLand Bistro, when it was actually Jessica Hsian, a kitchen manager and line chef at the restaurant. The Nexus regrets this error.
If you’re looking to experience the sensation of Mediterranean cuisine, then let On the Menu be the perfect gateway to take you on a grand tour through the beautiful, sun-splashed region with these local eateries and their exotic flavors and authentic selections.
Raise Your Spirits
230 E. Victoria St., Santa Barbara
Price: $10 to $20
Located downtown, SpiritLand Bistro is an excellent choice for those looking to satisfy any craving for healthy Mediterranean fusion food. The restaurant uses all organic ingredients and its menu conveniently includes a guide to inform customers if a dish is vegetarian, vegan, raw, gluten free, soy free, egg free or dairy free.
Jessica Hsian, kitchen manager and line chef of SpiritLand Bistro, said the restaurant pays attention to customers’ nutritional needs and healthy practices.
“Our menu is inclusive of all different dietary practices.” Hsian said. “It is 95 percent organic, which is becoming increasingly important, especially in Santa Barbara.”
One of the best-selling dishes is the Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breast, which is free-range chicken breast stuffed with spinach, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, and served over butternut-squash mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
The restaurant also offers numerous vegetarian dishes, such as the Mediterranean Fusion, which is Greek Moussaka – an eggplant-based dish layered with potatoes, vegetables and tomatoes – served over Italian seitan risotto with sautéed leeks and broccoli and topped with a mushroom non-dairy cream sauce.
According to Hsian, SpiritLand’s cuisine is an excellent combination of food that is both healthy and comforting.
“Our food is really good,” Hsian said. “The raw food is really tasty. We provide health-conscious comfort food. It is a little healthier and lighter, but with all the satisfaction of comfort food.”
Hsian said that the restaurant is a popular choice for graduation, and also that lunch is a good option for UCSB students – especially with the balmy Santa Barbara spring weather.
“Lunch is a good time to come,” Hsian said. “The lunch menu has affordable prices and quality ingredients for people on the go. We also have outdoor dining, and it is really nice to sit out and enjoy the atmosphere.”
SpiritLand offers several different programs, ranging from the Wine & Dine Social on Wednesday nights to group health discussions on Tuesdays.
“We feature a varietal of wine every month and design a four-course dinner to go with it.” Hsian said. “Everyone comes with their own bottle, so there are about 20 to 40 different kinds of each varietal and there is no corkage fee. Everyone really enjoys themselves.”
The restaurant offers a Tuesday Night for Healing Program, which Hsian said includes discussions on health topics from various health practitioners from the community, including nutritionists, massage therapists and yoga instructors.
“People have been responding well to this program,” Hsian said.
Hsian said the restaurant also supports artists from the area.
“We offer entertainment for the younger crowd, where local artists come in and perform live music,” Hasian said.
SpiritLand Bistro is an “organic, inclusive and diverse,” restaurant with Mediterranean-inspired flavors that will surely please the palate. To meditate on the Mediterranean meals, head to SpiritLand Bistro Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30 until 9:30 p.m.
Holding Out for Gyro
Mediterra Cafe & Market
5575 Hollister Ave., Goleta
Price: less than $10
Mediterra Cafe & Market is a convenient choice for a quick Mediterranean lunch during a break between classes. After enjoying a bite to eat, you can bring some of the savory flavors to your own kitchen by purchasing some of the delicious meats and foods from the market.
Mediterra Cafe & Market owner Mell Demir recommends the gyro, which is made with meat, fresh tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, tzatziki yogurt and cucumber sauce, and comes wrapped in a fresh Greek pita bread or, for those counting carbs, on a plate.
“Our customers say we have the best gyros in town,” said Demir.
The family-owned eatery also offers several different salads that change weekly, such as the chicken salad and couscous, and the classic Mediterra salad featured on the menu. The Mediterra salad includes a fresh green mix, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, carrots, red cabbage, olives and feta cheese, all served with pita bread.
Demir said the customers are attracted to the eatery because of the welcoming feel of the family-owned restaurant.
“They like the atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a very warm family atmosphere and the food is good.”
Mediterra’s menu offers several varieties of paninis, including the Roma Panini, which includes fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, basil pesto and olive oil grilled ciabata bread. Another popular menu feature is the panini weekly special, which Demir said changes each week.
“Last week we had a Portobello mushroom panini,” Demir said. “It was very popular.”
Mediterra Cafe’s selection of gyros, panini and other Mediterranean cuisine – like the spicy Turkish sausage, soujouk, and the flavor-soaked baklava – make this eatery the ideal place to experience a unique Greek meal.
You can also purchase a vast array of products, such as quality olive oil, black olive paste, grilled eggplant salad and aged kashkaval cheese from Mediterra’s market to enhance your own cooking at home.
To enjoy some quick and flavorful food on the go or to stock up on ingredients essential to Mediterranean cuisine, head to Mediterra Cafe & Market Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Chef Karim’s Moroccan Restaurant
1221 State St., Santa Barbara
Take a stroll down State Street and discover the abundant Mediterranean-inspired menu and ample entertainment of Chef Karim’s Moroccan Restaurant.
Owner and chef Karim Chhibbane said the restaurant’s specialty is the Marrakesh, which is lamb seasoned with prunes, honey, sesame seeds, saffron, cumin and paprika. The special honey sauce is made with honey, sesame seed, saffron, ginger and cinnamon.
“It is the dish that everyone loves here,” Chhibbane said.
Another favorite that keeps patrons coming back is the shrimp dish, Chhibbane said.
“We have a nice size of shrimp marinated overnight in a garlic sauce,” he said. “It’s very tasty.”
One of the eatery’s big attractions – which Chhibbane said is different than all other Santa Barbara eateries – is its atmosphere and unique seating which includes benches decked out with cushions and pillows for some of the most comfortable dining in town.
“Our food, service and atmosphere are amazing,” he said. “It’s something different than all other places in town.”
Chhibbane said the eatery is also popular with students, and not just because of its delicious dishes, but student discounts are available Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and the restaurant also offers a student menu and group discounts.
“Students come here from all over Santa Barbara,” he said. “Our prices are affordable, and most of our entrees are for feasting. Everyone that comes here has fun without spending a lot of money.”
The restaurant’s special menu for students is a big draw, according to Chhibbane. It includes the choice of entrees such as the honey lamb, saffron chicken, beef kebab and salmon, harira soup, Moroccan salad and bread, couscous, vegetables, tea and Moroccan cookies for a price of $15.75 per person. The restaurant also prides itself on its health-conscious and vegetarian-friendly dishes.
“You get a great, full, healthy dinner,” said Chhibbane. “We only cook with olive oil and all of our vegetarian and vegan dishes strictly adhere to standards.”
According to Chhibbane, the restaurant incorporates many different influences in its dishes to provide patrons with an eclectic selection.
“I’ve cooked French, Italian, everything,” Chhibbane said. “I’m not just for one cuisine.”
While the restaurant does not offer a full bar, it does offer a variety of beer and wine from around the world to add an international edge to its filling meals.
The entertainment and atmosphere at Chef Karim’s are also big draws for customers. Belly dancers perform Wednesday through Sunday, and the restaurant encourages audience participation in the belly dancing, according to Chhibbane.
“We have music and belly dancing,” he said. “We play several types of music – Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian, Israeli. It’s from all over.”
Chhibbane said he would like to see more students enjoy his restaurant.
“I want to thank all students that come here that love it here,” he said. “I would like to see more come here because it’s different. I want to make it a great place not just for food, but prices and everything.”
Chef Karim’s Moroccan Restaurant is open to customers Wednesday to Sunday from 5:30 p.m. until closing, and will open for groups larger than 20 people on the days that it is normally closed with advance reservations.
While pricey plane tickets and pesky midterms may prevent you from jetting off to the Mediterranean right now, these restaurants are sure to help you soak up the sun on Santorini. So, if you’re looking to expand your palate for Mediterranean cuisine, visit these Santa Barbara eateries – especially if it’s all Greek to you.