Every college student subsisting on the DLG and junk food knows that a visit from family members is the best time to go out for some fine dining, free of charge. For those individuals fortunate enough to have parents in town for the weekend, On the Menu is here to help. We’ve scoured the streets for the spots to go out to dinner for a lavish meal, atmosphere and service you can only afford when your parents are treating.

Earth, Water, Fire, Air
Elements Restaurant & Bar
129 E. Anapamu St.
(805) 884-9218
Price: over $20

A fresh, elegant venue with an artistic twist, the Elements Restaurant & Bar in downtown Santa Barbara is not just any run-of-the-mill restaurant. Located within walking distance of downtown attractions, and with a picturesque view of the beautiful courthouse across the street, Elements is a must for a sumptuous dinner.

Based on an “Asian fusion” motif, Elements’ stylish decorations pay tribute to each of the ancient four natural elements: earth, fire, air and water. The menu also reflects the four substances in every item’s preparation. In the unique menu, each delicacy served is assigned an element based on its ingredients, flavor and spice.

Shift manager Mira Lazaro said Elements is renowned for its preparation of the freshest, finest quality sea bass. In particular, the Lemongrass Panko-breaded Sea Bass – complimented by the Thai Green Coconut Curry sauce and chili oil – is superb when served over gingered basmati rice and stir-fried veggies.

While the sea bass falls under the “water” theme on Element’s menu, “fire” meals are also a huge hit with restaurant patrons looking to kick up the heat. The Black Sesame Encrusted Seared Ahi Tuna Steak with its passion fruit-soy butter sauce and accompanying sides of wasabi-whipped potatoes and braised Asian greens is a delicious example of the fire element.

“That’s a fun thing about the restaurant.” Lazaro said. “Sea bass is water, Ahi is fire because of the wasabi – all the elements are a great part to the menu that really contribute to the ambiance of the restaurant. And we’re also really well known for our elementinis – martinis that follow our element theme – like the Firetini [which is] habanero infused Skyy vodka shaken, passion fruit puree and a sugar rim.”

Elements offers happy hour Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., so when the midweek rush of work gets too overwhelming, head over to the bar for an element essential to any college kid.

With its inspired naturalized décor and ingenious menu of distinctive tastes, the Elements Restaurant & Bar is a one of a kind restaurant everyone should enjoy, so why not eat there when someone else is footing the bill? Dine at Elements for brunch on Sundays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., for dinner Sunday through Wednesday from 5:30 until 9 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday night from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Hold On to Your Plate!
Holdren’s Steaks & Seafood
512 State St.
(805) 965-3363
Price: over $20

The oldest standing bar in Santa Barbara is by no means decrepit; with a festive atmosphere and heaping portions of savory steaks and seafood, Holdren’s Steaks & Seafood is a surf-and-turf joint with class – the Rolls Royce of steakhouses.

Known for the quality of its meat, Holdren’s serves top choice Midwestern corn-fed beef steak, lightly garnished with an all-purpose seasoning salt to minimize the loss of the meat’s natural flavor and charbroiled to juicy perfection over a mesquite barbecue grill. All steaks are served with the choice of one of Holdren’s three famed homemade dipping sauces: Rosemary Bleu cheese, Brandy Peppercorn Reduction or Bourbon Teriyaki sauce; a soup or salad; and a the choice of one of the six side dishes: rice pilaf, garlic mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, twice-baked potatoes with cheddar and bacon, French fries or mixed vegetables.

Rich Hollowell, Holdren’s manager, said that the filet mignon is one of the most popular meals on the menu because it is simply “one of the best steaks you will ever have.” Grilled on the mesquite barbecue, a patron can order either a 6-ounce or 10-ounce cut, which is served with one of the delectable homemade dipping sauces, a soup or salad and a side.

Another favorite of steak purveyors is the Cowboy Cut, Holdren’s signature steak. A 24-ounce bone-in rib eye steak, the Cowboy Cut is aged to exact specifications before going on the mesquite grill, and topped with spicy onion rings. According to Hollowell, the Cowboy Cut is a phenomenal rib eye steak jam-packed full of flavor, but at the price of $41, that might be an entrée for mom and dad to buy.

Not craving beef? No matter. Holdren’s offers delicious chicken, pork, lamb and seafood meals as well. The head chef even has a seafood portion of the menu starring the new house-favorite seafood dish, bouillabaisse. A seafood lover’s delight, the bouillabaisse is a robust combination of calamari, clams, mussels, salmon, sea bass and half a Maine lobster tail in a pernod broth and topped with toasted crostinis.

According to Hallowell, Holden’s was recently voted the best restaurant in town for its atmosphere by the Santa Barbara Independent Reader’s choice and the Santa Barbara News-Press. It was voted the best steakhouse by the same publications three times in the last five years.

“We’ve got a real festive vibe here.” Hollowell said. “We’ve got really high ceilings, the bar is tied into the dining room – it’s an atmosphere of everyone in the restaurant having a lot of fun. I would recommend the place knowing that you are getting a very good quality dinner.”

For the generous portions of delicious entrées and the relaxed atmosphere, visit Holdren’s Steak & Seafood Monday through Friday for lunch starting at 11:30 a.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with dinner served on Saturday from 4 to 11p.m. and Sunday from 4 until 10 p.m.

30 E. Ortega St.
(805) 963-1012
Price: over $20

Catering to the “pescatarian” crowd, Seagrass is the only fine dining, fresh fish and seafood restaurant in Santa Barbara.

Located downtown, this unique fish and seafood venue caters to its patrons’ every whim with the freshest fish and seafood available and a plush environment of leather chairs, classic art and exceptional service that will leave diners relaxed and pampered.

The Seagrass menu focuses on the choice of four different types of fresh fish, prepared differently each night by a team of classically trained French chefs, but also includes first courses and other entrees suited for those not so inclined to seafood.

Mitchell Sjerven, owner of Seagrass, said the restaurant only uses four kinds of fresh fish every night to ensure the freshest quality fish.

“Early on, we decided to provide only four types of fish so we could personally insure that each and every meal we serve used the finest, highest quality fish available, and that it is literally the freshest fish we can get.” Sjerven said. “White fish, tuna, salmon and sturgeon are really popular, but we change our fish selection frequently so we can know that we are getting that incredibly fresh fish.”

Seagrass restaurant includes a private and secluded dining ambience, so if you want to relax and enjoy a long lasting three-course meal prepared in classic French fine-dining standards, then settle in for a night at ease. Thickly carpeted floors provide a lush environment perfect for intimate conversation, and the 20-foot-high ceilings create an open and airy atmosphere. At most, only 50 to 60 patrons are permitted in Seagrass for dinner to provide the best service and atmosphere possible; patrons are allowed the chance to lounge at the dinner table for hours to enjoy the amazing food and award-winning wine list – many stay for dinner for up to two or three hours.

To the secret fish lovers out there, swing by Seagrass for a truly luxurious and delectable seafood meal Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

A Taste of Utopia
Paradise Cafe
702 Anacapa St.
(805) 962-4416
Price: $10 to $20

With its simple presentation of steaks, fresh fish and burgers, the Paradise Cafe’s philosophy is straightforward: use unbelievably high quality and fresh ingredients, prepare them to mouthwatering proportions on its live oak wood grill, and then let the meals speak for themselves.

Randy Rowse, manager of Paradise Cafe, said the Paradise Burger is one of the restaurant’s most popular items because of the unique flavor the oak wood grill imparts on it. A half-pound chuck patty of prime-grade beef, the Paradise Burger is served with a slice of Tillamook cheddar cheese, hefty wedges of fresh beefsteak tomatoes, sliced Bermuda onion and nestled on an onion roll with the choice of shoestring potatoes or a green salad on the side.

“It’s all food done very simply here.” Rowse said. “We get the best ingredients we can find, and grill it on our oak wood grill. The grill has a real pungent smell that gives all of our meat a really unique, delicious flavor that you can’t find anywhere else in Santa Barbara.”

Another sought-after item on the dinner menu is the Steak Paradise, an oak grilled porterhouse T-bone steak brushed with garlic, butter and herbs and served with the choice of rice, shoestring or garlic mashed potatoes. Another example of the simple preparation of high-grade meat by the chefs at Paradise is the Steak Paradise, a meal that has a distinctive quality from the oak grill that will lure you in to the restaurant like Hansel and Gretel.

Aside from the array of oak-grilled delicacies at your fingertips, the Paradise Cafe also has a fun local Santa Barbara vibe, and the building has a rich history. Inside, the full bar has a 1930s art-deco motif with vintage barstools and back-bar, as well as a full-length mural behind the bar portraying an extravagant Aztec legend. Patrons are invited to sit at the bar, in the dining room upstairs or in the comfortable outdoor patio.

“[The Paradise Cafe] is fun, it’s off the beaten path; it’s not a part of the downtown State Street scene.” Rowse said. “We have a great local Santa Barbara atmosphere that everyone will enjoy.”

For the oak-grilled wonders and its vintage art-deco theme, stop by the Paradise Cafe Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 11 p m.

When you’re looking for a top-notch meal, stop by these local eateries – just make sure the family is in tow!