Well, summer is officially over. The kids have roared back into Isla Vista and taken over the dorms. Flocks of students are patronizing the various restaurants on Pardall Road and Embarcadero del Mar, cars are lining the streets as far as the eye can see and suddenly the neighborhood is feeling a little bit crowded. With the perpetually rising price of gas and fear of losing your parking space forever, leaving the hustle and bustle of UCSB can be a risky venture. In light of these serious issues, On the Menu hopped on Line 11 on the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District and scouted out several delicious, cost-efficient eateries, all of which are just a free bus ride away with a registration sticker. Please, keep all limbs tucked inside the vehicle, make sure you have your student ID and appetite and away we go!

Sweet Valley

Del Valle Grill
5746 Hollister Ave., Goleta
(805) 683-1719
Price: Under $10

Whoosh! The doors open, and you find yourself standing on Hollister and Pine Avenues. Just one block east, you spot it: Del Valle Grill, a tiny Mexican restaurant carved into the wall and beckoning you in with the promise of fresh ceviche.

Ruben Valle, manager of Del Valle Grill and cousin to the owner of the establishment, said that the restaurant’s appeal comes from the freshness of its ingredients.

“Everything here is homemade,” he said.

It’s hard to beat homemade Mexican dishes, especially with the wide variety available at Del Valle Grill. Meals like the shrimp or fajita Burrito, which are stuffed with grilled peppers, tomatoes, rice, beans, onions and cheese, are topped with the fresh flavors of homemade guacamole and salsa.

“I really like the burritos,” Valle said. “They’re probably our most popular item.”

The menu boasts an impressive selection of platillos for the hungrier bus riders. It includes options such as carne asada and shrimp, beef or chicken fajitas. For a hearty morning meal, try the huevos rancheros, which come with eggs, rice, beans and a zesty side of salsa. All the plate dishes are served with rice, beans, cheese, fresh lettuce and homemade guacamole – enough food to keep you happy through the end of the bus line.

The prices at Del Valle Grill are just another reason to explore this Mexican restaurant’s menu, as the quesadillas go for only $1.50, or $3.00 with the addition of meat.

Del Valle Grill offers vegetarian options as well, like the vegetarian burrito. This filling dish is stuffed with rice and beans, cheese, lettuce, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.

The family-owned business has been operating in Goleta for just under 12 months and offers quality meals for quality prices. For an authentic taste of Mexican cuisine, bus down to Del Valle Grill, open every day of the week from 10:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Pizza My Heart

Valentino’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza
4421 Hollister Ave.
(805) 967 7338
Price: $10 to $20

Ding! When you exit the bus in an orderly fashion and find yourself with a grumbling in your stomach on the corner of Modoc and Hollister Avenues, don’t panic. Cheesy, satisfying nourishment is a mere stroll away. Valentino’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza is ready and waiting with sandwiches, salads and – of course – pizza.

According to the owner of Valentino’s, Tracy Tsilis, the pizza parlor’s unique style ensures a fresh, fabulous taste every time.

“I like take and bake because families can come pick it up and cook it themselves, so it’s hot right out of the oven,” Tsilis said.

Customers at Valentino’s are in charge of their orders at this eatery. They call in and order a pizza with any choice of toppings or one of the restaurant’s creations, take the pizza home and cook it in their oven for only 10 to 12 minutes.

“It’s fresher than grocery-store pizza, and it’s less expensive than pizza from a [dine-in] restaurant,” Tsilis said. “It’s an economical, healthy way to eat.”

At Valentino’s, the cooks use only fresh, healthy, economically-responsible ingredients, resulting in a delicious and guilt-free pizza experience. The dough – regular and honey wheat – and the sauces are all made on site, and the pizzas are made with low fat mozzarella cheese. The vegetables are fresh, and patrons can choose from a wide variety of toppings to create their ideal pizza, like pineapple, olives, zucchini, jalapenos and artichoke hearts. For a pie with more meat, try topping it with salami, pepperoni, chicken, sausage or bacon.

Don’t be fooled by the joint’s modest exterior – Valentino’s offers a long list of menu items, like the Santa Barbara Q Chicken pizza. This creation consists of barbecue sauce smeared on the homemade dough and topped with chicken, pineapple and onion and sprinkled with low fat cheese.

“The House Special pizza and the Mediterranean pizza are our most popular pizzas,” Tsilis said.

Homemade pesto sauce and mozzarella cheese are the basic ingredients for the Mediterranean. It’s topped with garlic, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, onions and feta cheese for a healthy and fresh bite every time. Val’s Special Pizza comes with pepperoni, sausage, black olives, fresh mushrooms and bell peppers and is topped with low fat mozzarella and the eatery’s secret sauce.

The pizza wheels are available in four sizes: a 10-inch small, a 12-inch medium, a 14-inch large and a 16-inch mega pizza – the size of an average steering wheel.

Valentino’s menu doesn’t end with pizzas; the restaurant’s selection of salads and sandwiches is extensive, to say the least.

“The salads are big, beautiful and delicious,” Tsilis said. “The Italian Salad and the Chicken Artichoke Salad are our most popular.”

The Italian consists of a blend of fresh, crisp greens, marinated cucumbers and red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, pepperoncinis, salami, olives and provolone and mozzarella cheeses. The Chicken Artichoke, another crowd favorite, is served with chicken, walnuts, vegetables and marinated artichoke hearts, all served on a bed of organic mixed greens. These options are accompanied by an array of other fresh, mouth-watering salads that are sure to provide a uniquely healthy meal.

Valentino’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza has been in business for 26 years, but in the past four years as owner, Traci Tsilis has implemented significant green decisions into the joint – in more ways than one.

“We added organic greens to the menu, and all our takeout utensils are made out of cornstarch,” she said. “We use bamboo material, and we stay away from Styrofoam. We use only recyclable materials.”

For a healthy and environmentally friendly Italian meal, be sure to roll down to Valentino’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza, open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., until 8 p.m. on Saturday and on Sundays from noon to 7 p.m.

Friday Night Lights

4123 State Street
(805) 683 3074
Price: $10 to $20

Gazing out the window as the bus rumbles on, a bright array of cheerful flags catches your eye and your hand automatically reaches for the yellow rope draping the bus windows. The doors open, and you step out of your free ride and into a warm and brightly decorated restaurant. Plants and ocean views are painted on the walls, and sombreros hang from the ceiling. A cozy, vine-covered carpet adorns the floor inside, while outside, colorful tables cover an impressively festive patio.

Palapa’s warm, inviting atmosphere is due in large part to the ease with which its three owners work together. Mary Weeks, Genaro Avila and Leonardo Jimenez worked together for years before opening Palapa – a jungle-themed Mexican restaurant with quality food, affordable prices and a comfortable dining experience. Perched at the foot of the San Marcos Pass on State Street, this charming eatery offers an extraordinary selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options.

“We specialize in seafood,” Avila said. “We have a great Salmon á la Veracruzana.”

“That’s grilled salmon with tomatoes, olives, capers and salsa,” Weeks explained, demonstrating the owners’ comfortable relationship with one another.

As far as seafood goes, Palapa’s selection is nothing to scoff at. The menu boasts three types of ocean-inspired soup, all of which are served with corn tortillas: Caldo de Pescado Fish Soup, Caldo de Cameron Shrimp Soup and Caldo 7 Mares – which includes seven types of seafood. Palapa also offers seafood salads, like the Plato de Ceviche de Cameron[[none should be caps]]. This enormous tostada is served on three corn tortillas and comes with shrimp, tomato, lime, cilantro and avocado. The dish costs less than $20 and is large enough to satiate an entire group of weary travelers.

According to the owners, the fish tacos are the most popular item on the menu.

“We get tons of raves for the tacos,” Weeks said.

Grilled sole served in warm tortillas and stuffed with tomatoes, cilantro, cheese and a creamy sauce make up this crowd favorite.

Palapa’s menu has an entire section devoted to Filete de Pescado: filet of sole, and is offered to customers in a variety of styles. The sole can be marinated in garlic sauce and served with tomatoes, onions and spices; breaded; grilled and other options. For diners looking to indulge, try the restaurant’s oysters or order the campechana – a cocktail made up of shrimp, octopus and abalone.

For customers who aren’t seafood aficionados, Palapa offers an enormous selection of fish-free dishes. The machaca is a traditional breakfast dish – served all day – made with scrambled eggs, beef, tomato, chile and onions and is served with rice, beans and tortillas. The owners also recommend the chicken or steak tostadas, or one of the eatery’s many burritos.

The platillos section of the menu is loaded with options designed satisfy a wide array of palates. Palapa offers 17 plate dishes, among which are enchiladas, fajitas, tamales, taquitos, tacos and chile rellanos. Each dish is served with a choice of red or green rice and black or refried beans. Diners can also bypass the beans and instead order rice with a side of grilled vegetables and choose between flour and corn tortillas.

Hungry animal lovers will find a refreshingly large selection of non-meat meals, as Palapa offers healthy, flavorful veggie dishes.

“We offer vegetarian options like tacos, tostadas and chile rellanos,” Weeks said.

The vegetarian tostada comes stuffed with a variety of vegetables like broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, as well as ranchera sauce, cheese and black beans.

One of the reasons the dishes at Palapa are so delicious is the freshness of the ingredients.

“The three of us personally select all of the ingredients,” Weeks said.

At Palapa, customers can treat themselves to a filling and delicious meal while nourishing their bodies with healthy ingredients.

“The black beans we use are without animal fat,” Avila said.

“Everything we fry is trans-fat free,” Weeks added.

Putting a personal touch into every part of the restaurant is what helps make Palapa such an inviting, warm restaurant, as well as one that is patronized by locals and visitors alike.

“We get a fair amount of students, especially on Fridays,” Weeks said.

The popularity of this Mexican restaurant on the weekends is no mystery, since diners are treated to a live mariachi band starting at 8 p.m. every Friday night.

“It’s a fiesta every Friday,” Avila said.

Palapa does not offer a full bar yet, but it does offer half-strength margaritas made from all fresh juice, and its selection of beer is certainly Gaucho-worthy. Legal customers can choose from Corona, Tecate, Bohemia, Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, Carte Blanche and more. To raise your spirits, head down to Palapa Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. for the restaurant’s happy hour. Margaritas are reduced to $3.00 and beer is offered for only $1.50. Appetizer prices are happy, too, with the restaurant’s nachos and quesadillas starting at only $4.95 and tacos going for $1.50.

By the time the bill is paid and the bus is waiting, the trip to Palapa will have been one of complete enjoyment. Let the bus be your designated driver, and head down to Palapa for a remarkable meal seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Reassuring as it is to see the familiar line outside Freebirds as you rumble back to Isla Vista, public transportation offers infinite possibilities for adventure. These exceptional food detours are sure to entice you back on the bus for another tasty voyage. This time, it is definitely the journey, not the destination.