Since i often ask for recs and rarely write reviews I thought it was only fair...
We had a great three days in Santa Barbara - the culinary hilites are below
Scarlett Begonia - Creatve and healthy menu. Nice courtyard setting. The food was good and fresh.
Cajun Kitchen - Not so healthy but very good. Basic American breakfast with Cajun specialties if you desire. Great egg dishes and excellent potatoes. There are several locations.
Hitching Post Two (Bueltomn) - Suprisingly the steak was excellent. It was very tasty and super tender. The fries were incredible. I recently had dinner at The Palm and this steak was much better!
Ca'Dario - Amazing Italian meal. Four people each had different meals and everyone loved it. I had the chicken baked in a clay pot and it was extraordinary
Kai - Fun Japanese and Shabu Shabu on State Street. The staff was great.
This is primarily a tourist corridor so it does not have as much in top picks between these two locations as other parts of town, but a few blocks more north on State Street can put you into some very interesting choices -- there is a shuttle that covers this area too if you don't want to walk. That takes you up to 'restaurant ground zero" in the 1100-1300 blocks of State Street. City Hall is in about the 800 block (?) - Amtrak around the 300 block. (?)
Seagrass is probably the top pick which is a block off State Street between your two points- I have not been since the new people took over but it is getting strong reviews again and has always been a good choice for quieter, more refined dining.
I used to recommend Bucatini's which is a perfect midway point, but recent reviews have not been so good, but it is still worth a stop to sniff things out - great outdoor patio for people watching and open for lunch and dinner. Zen is good for Thai.
City Hall is close to El Paseo which opens up the Wine Cask and a few more blocks to Julienne and Handlebar for coffee on Canon Perdido. You are also across the street from Paseo Nueveo Mall and I like Sakura for a good carry-out type Japanese combo in the courtyard tables in one of the passageways to the Mall.
The old El Paseo restaurant itself in the heart of the El Paseo complex also has new management and an improved menu - worth it even if for a margarita because the setting is so lovely
Mimosa recently moved down into that corridor on State Street between the train station and City Hall and that continues to get nice reviews from its fans at its former location.
The old standbys for local color and pretty good bar/restaurant food in this area are Joe's (on State Street) and the Paradise Cafe (right behind City Hall) - at one time these were almost the only games in town a few decades ago for everything - dining out and drinking and they remain local favorites. There is a little crepe place on Anacapa Street right next to city hall too which can be good for a light lunch - city council people go there for their "business" lunches.
The Palace Cafe, one block off Cota Street again is in your train station/city hall parameters was made famous by the Washington Press Corp when Reagan came here for the winter Whitehouse - Cajun and lively.
Mac's Fish and Chips has great choices in a very casual setting, also within your location limits.
The top restaurant in town for dinner is Juliennes, which is a few blocks outside your zone but well worth the extra trip - open for dinner only. And actually now that you got me thinking about this - you should have no problem at all - just follow your fancy and you will have some interesting choices all along this corridor and maybe open our own local eyes to some we have overlooked ourselves.
Cadiz is a good spot on lower State. Address is 509 State. it's a Spanish Tapas restaurant with a pretty lively bar scene later in the night. The rest of lower State leans more touristy and twenty something bar scene. Further up State, Julienne's is wonderful as well as Hungry Cat on Chapala. If you are alone they both have a bar where you can eat. For very casual Italian we like Olio Pizza and again they have a friendly bar you can perch and eat.
We actually had great service at Scarlett Begonia. We sat upstairs and the waitress walked up the stairs to check on us often.
Yes, Kai Sushi was very good. The shabu shabu is more about the fun than the taste but the meat was very tender and the sauces were delicious. I let my daughter ( who graduated Sunday from UCSB) choose anyplace in Santa Barbara to eat and this is where she chose. I had thought she would have picekd Lucky's or The Four Seasons but it was the perfect place for a fun, large meal. They have a full Japanese menu in addeition to the Shabu and the vegetarian in our group was very happy with her noodle and veggie dish.
Thanks for reporting back. One area we don't spend a lot of time recommending here is our asian offerings -- few ever ask about them so thanks for giving us a heads up on a few more. We do like China Pavillion downtown and Arigato has long been a favorite for sushi, but priced a bit out of our own casual dining budget when we go out - we tend to stick to heartier fare, but it is exquisite.
Just checked the local reviews for Scarlett Begonia and sad to report an additional one about poor service. It was so good the day we were there, just dropped in and the place was busy too and no problems at all. With anonymous reviews it is hard to know the full story, so I only have my own experience to report - a very wonderful addition to the SB dining scene.
Yet this is also reminiscent of the early days at Hungry Cat - great food, but really bad attitude service. The Cat has survived very nicely, though I doubt if we will ever return, so hopefully Scarlett Begonia finds its niche too and when I walk past it, it is certainly not lacking for happy looking customers. I wish it the best and I will continue to recommend it. It would be great to get your feedback, OJMama.
Gosh, so I guess I am also just going to have to go back a few more times soon to check out the facts here - and I will have not problem working my way through the menu because it was so inciting. But my next breakfast foray will be for eggs benedict at Crocodile because of the great reviews those too are getting and we do like it for dinner.