Santa Barbara recommendations?
For some reason I always seem uneasy about recommending this, but the best steak I ever had was at Chuck's steak House Of Hawaii in Santa Barbara. It helped that their wine list was extensive and I was able to get a 'cult' wine for around $70 - never seen elsewhere under $100.
THE BREW HOUSE (229 W Montecito Street on the other side of the freeway). The place looks like a dump, but the food is incredible and the restaurant is packed at any time of day - very local hangout. They have an amazing mixed green salad with champagne vinaigrette, candied walnuts and gorgonzola. The grilled polenta, corn cakes and grilled artichoke are great - and those are just the appetizers. And they have great beers, including Hoegaarden, a Belgian wheat beer that you will rarely come across.
MOUSSE ODILE(on Cota St. just off of State St.) for breakfast; don't miss it. Yes, the service is sometimes slow, but the food is really worth it.
BUCATINI (on the corner of State and Haley) for lunch or dinner - you must have the Fusilli Tartufati with leeks, artichokes, shiitakes and truffle oil! Unbelievable.
PACIFIC CREPES (at Anacapa and Ortega) for breakfast or lunch. Sometimes they don't tell you when they're substituting brie for reblochon or some other crazy thing, but you should definitely try it out.
These are local favorites and not the hyped, bank-breaking restaurants that try way too hard to impress you. They are, however, all excellent!
If you only care about a good view, then go to the touristy spots along the beach. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother. The food is all pretty standard.
I tend to agree with most of your assesments of the places by the beach. However, I must recommend one of my favorite places in all of SB: Emilio's, on Cabrillo. Every meal I have had there has been perfect; and although it is expensive, I believe that going out less often to unremarkable places in order to save for a meal that is truly worth the price is the way to go. Furthermore, the service is not pretentious; the waiters are quietly attentive, and the atomosphere is relaxed. In short, I recommend the place without any qualifications at all.