I must admit, I’ve never been the biggest fan of sandwiches. Something about wrestling a towering mass of bread, subpar condiments, overly dry or watery deli meat, slimy tomatoes and floppy lettuce into my mouth seemed like too much effort with too great of a mess involved. Yet, at the same time, lunch is typically the most difficult meal for me to put together — do I keep pretending that I’m still enjoying the bagel and cream cheese I’ve been eating for months on end or try to whip up something quick and satisfying without running late to my afternoon classes?
Recently, I’ve been on the hunt for affordable lunch spots in Santa Barbara and Goleta — restaurants that have menu items in the $10-$15 range and have a selection of vegetarian-friendly options for me to choose from that are more creative than a slice of cheese pizza or a bean and cheese burrito. Panino, a family-owned and Santa Barbara-based sandwich shop, fits my criteria.
Panino has six locations across Santa Barbara County, with the closest location in proximity to UC Santa Barbara on Calle Real in Goleta. This humble-looking lunch spot serves up Italian-inspired sandwiches and salads with the freshest ingredients. As a vegetarian, my options for sandwich combinations are pretty limited and often pretty pathetic. I will no longer settle for bland hummus, greens and sliced veggies on whole wheat bread; I’m looking for something with a little more substance! Panino understands the vegetarian’s conundrum and provides not one, not two but a list of nine, delectable, meatless sandwiches, silencing any jealousy I held toward the list of options for meat-eaters.
I’ve tried several of Panino’s vegetarian sandwiches, which are all priced at $13.95 yet are served in two large halves and big enough to split with a friend, meaning both of you could enjoy a delicious lunch for just $7!
If I could only eat one sandwich for the rest of my life, it would have to be The Greek Sandwich from Panino, made with house-made Kalamata olive tapenade, feta, cucumber, red onion, tomato and greens with your choice of bread — I always choose their focaccia that perfectly offsets the saltiness of the tapenade. Panino’s vegetables are never soggy and wilted, providing a good crunch factor.
Another favorite of mine from Panino’s vegetarian menu is the Artichoke Hearts, Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella sandwich, which consists of marinated artichoke hearts, mozzarella, tomato, basil green leaf, mayonnaise and freshly squeezed lemon. This one is so tasty, I completely forgot about my previous hatred for mayonnaise. I’m not one to think about putting a hunk of mozzarella and whole basil leaves in a sandwich but when Panino does it, it just makes sense.
Panino’s meatless offerings all sound very similar in theory, with most referencing the tried-and-true Italian pairing of tomato and cheese, but each sandwich still has its own distinct flavors. Take the Black and White Panino, for example, a sandwich whose ingredients are very similar to The Greek Sandwich, but the addition of roasted red peppers and the absence of onion gives it a milder flavor.
I’ve given rave reviews of the vegetarian sandwiches, but trying bites of friends’ Curried Chicken Salad or Roast Chicken W/ Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Fresh Basil & Provolone sandwiches has convinced me that all of Panino’s sandwiches prioritize quality ingredients and thoughtfully balanced flavor combinations. My discovery of this locally owned lunch spot was enough to make me finally understand the goodness that is a freshly made sandwich.
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