When hunger strikes, there is no luxury greater than a fresh all-you-can-eat buffet at your fingertips. For the hungry masses, On the Menu comes to the rescue. These local restaurants all host delicious daily buffets at affordable prices, but take it slow, because it’s all you can eat.

The Taj Cafe
905 State St.
(805) 564-8280
Buffet: $8.95
Regular Menu: $7 to $24
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday through Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In the mood for traditional Indian cuisine, and lots of it? The Taj Cafe on downtown State Street is Santa Barbara’s little India.

Decorated along the lines of a small palace in India, the Taj features authentic wall paintings from India and an authentic menu – not to mention Indian chefs.

Restaurant manager Singh Khinda said the Taj follows “traditional Indian village” cuisine.

“Coming to this one, particularly among other Indian restaurants, the ambience makes you feel like you are in India,” Khinda said. “It’s very, very unique. We serve very traditional meals, and we have real Indian chefs preparing the food.”

The Taj Cafe’s all-you-can eat buffet is open seven days a week and features over 22 items to choose from.

Chicken curry, lamb curry, pork curry and the restaurant’s renowned chicken tikka masala are some of the most popular items on the buffet menu, as well as the regular menu, Khinda said.

“We keep on changing [the menu] everyday,” Khinda said. “The curries are always very, very popular, but we always change the menu.”

The Taj’s naan (warm flatbread), Khinda said, is also always a hit on the buffet line.

At $8.95, the Taj’s impressive buffet is a must when the mood strikes for a hearty traditional Indian meal prepared with exotic natural ingredients and spices.

The restaurant’s regular menu also offers many of the same buffet favorites, as well as daily specials and an extensive list of traditional Indian delicacies – at a reasonable price to boot.

Bistro 11 11
1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd.
(805) 730-1111
Buffet: $14
Regular Menu: $10
Hours: Breakfast 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dinner 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Sunday

Situated facing the Pacific Ocean, Bistro 11 11’s elegant California coastal cuisine is matched only by the beautiful ocean front view from its dining room.

According to Bistro’s supervisor, Johnny Miranda, the restaurant is a Santa Barbara icon because of its breathtaking view of the ocean.

“People love the views,” Miranda said. “Boats pass by, you can see the islands – most people want to sit by the windows for the view. That’s why we have a lot of window seating.”

Blending traditional all-American favorites and coastal cuisine, the Bistro’s menu features fresh fish tacos and a Louie Salad that is always in high demand. Made with crabmeat, jumbo shrimp, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, and tossed in mixed greens with house-made Louie dressing, the Bistro 11 11 Louie salad comes highly recommended, Miranda said.

A perfect way to start your day, the bistro hosts a breakfast buffet everyday from 6:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. At $14, the all-you-can-eat buffet may be edging the price border for a buffet, but once you’ve loaded your plate with scrambled eggs, home potatoes, French toast, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, cold cereal, bagels and Danishes, taking a seat by the window and enjoying a scenic ocean-front breakfast makes you realize what you are paying for.

Anyone interested in enjoying a bistro breakfast with friends? The restaurant has capacity for up to 200-person events, such as a breakfast buffet, or a banquet dinner.

However, Miranda said, while the venue can maintain a large number of diners, the Bistro always has a quiet, cozy vibe to match its serene sea view.

Aside from its breakfast buffet, the Bistro offers a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, with an average cost of $10 per dish. Bistro serves Happy Hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily, offering $3 beer, $5 wine and a fully stocked bar, as a well as a wide range of appetizers for $5.

China City Restaurant
5688 Calle Real
(805) 683-4676
Buffet: $8.25 lunch, $10.95
Regular Menu: approx. $10 a meal
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Sunday

Hidden away in the middle of the Calle Real Center, China City Restaurant offers up a delectable dining selection for its patrons.

The menu, composed of Mandarin, Szechuan and Hunan cuisine, features a vast array of appetizers, soups, and vegetarian, duck, seafood, fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes, as well as chop suey, chow mein, pan-fried noodles and the chef’s specialties.

Staffed with friendly, helpful waitresses, China City serves a lunch buffet daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and a dinner buffet from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The buffet has rice, fried rice, chow mein, soup, salad, vegetarian and meat entrées galore, as well as a dessert section.

Dan Wang, a waitress at China City, said the buffet, heaped with over 30 gourmet Chinese delicacies, blends traditional Chinese fare – such as chicken potstickers and Kung Pao chicken – alongside their more American counterparts – like the infamous orange chicken.

Once you’ve piled a leaning tower of Chinese buffet on a plate barely large enough to contain it, seat yourself in the simple blue booths lining the walls. Artful paintings of Koi ponds on the wall lend a peaceful air to the restaurant, although the juxtaposition of having paintings of Japanese fish in a Chinese restaurant is slightly odd.

The lunch buffet, at $8.25 is a great option for a huge midday meal. At $10.95, the dinner buffet – which features some pricier entrees – is still a good idea for a Great Wall dining experience. And, in either case, all the food in the buffet is MSG free. Our only complaint: the buffet plates are a tad small. With a decent appetite, you’ll be running back to the buffet at least a few times for seconds, thirds and on.

Pepe’s Mexican Food
254 Orange Ave.
(805) 967-0313

In a nook off Hollister Rd., Pepe’s Mexican Food is “your classic Mexican restaurant,” according to the menu – which doesn’t seem to be too far off.

Established in 1958, the restaurant resembles much of the Spanish Mission-style architecture of downtown State Street, with brick arches, earthy red tiles and tan walls.

Once inside, the earthy tones of the decorations become even more apparent. Mexican beer posters, banners and mirrors adorn the walls, next to paintings of matadors and elaborate tile work.

Maria, the manager of Pepe’s, said the restaurant exemplifies a traditional Mexican restaurant.

“It’s beautiful. We have the real Mexican food, traditional Mexican tile, red bricks and Mexican pictures hang on the walls,” she said.

Pepe’s serves a lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day, as well as a dinner buffet on Tuesdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. On Tuesdays, youngsters eat free.

The buffet, which does not differ from lunch to dinner, is amply stocked with enchiladas, chimichangas, chile verde, spicy chicken, chile rellenos, rice, beans and tortilla soup. It also has a salad bar, as well as a fruit bar, and a taco and tostada bar.

While Maria argued that everything on the menu is popular, the chile verde burritos, simmered in a sumptuous spicy sauce of tomatoes and green and yellow chiles, are phenomenal, according to the manager.

“Everything is great,” she said. “The fajitas, the taquitos, the tacos – it’s all very popular, but the pork chile verde is a big hit.”

Our recommendation: rush the Pepe’s buffet line by day or night when you are craving some Mexican food. The outdoor patio is an excellent spot to spend a couple of hours chowing down on some quality food.

Whether it’s Indian, costal, Chinese or Mexican cuisine that you’re craving, all of these scrumptious buffets will keep you coming back for seconds.