Santa Barbara Meals for a Steal: No Pricey Tabs Here!

There are plenty of great places to grab a meal for a steal in Santa Barbara. Every one of these top 10 best value eateries has delicious options for under $10. And best of all, each restaurant featured is a local original. There's not a nationwide chain on this list! Whether you're in the mood for breakfast, lunch or dinner in Santa Barbara or Goleta, you're sure to find something on this list that satisfies every member of the family... without stretching your budget.

If you want to start your day with a full belly, look no further than the Cajun Kitchen Cafe. This cozy breakfast and lunch spot serves up legendary egg and potato feasts, along with sweeter morning favorites and Cajun specialties. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is cozy, and the selection of bread options can't be beat. Forget wheat toast, consider splurging on blueberry muffins or sweet cornbread. Mmmmmmm!

For lunch or dinner, Mexican food is a great choice. There are many Mexican restaurants in town, and most are well known for a signature item or two. If you want the most authentic tacos, for example, try Lilly's Tacos. Fresh steamed or grilled meat served up on corn tortillas for less than $2 a pop. For a fancier experience, visit Los Agaves, beloved for their seafood specialties and flavorful soups and stews.

You don't have to be rich and famous to enjoy a good meal in Santa Barbara - you just need this 10Best list!


The Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch has been serving Mexican-style mesquite BBQ chicken and tri-tip to hungry area patrons for over 20 years. Try one or both with a side of tortillas, rice and chips. They cook over actual fire (there's no hidden gas grill or frier in the back). Great for takeout; party packs are also available. Their burritos are delicious, and everything is very affordable. And don't miss the salsa bar! It's stocked with fresh salsas, pickled onion and jalapenos that will bring out the smokey flavors in your meal. Sides of fresh guacamole can be ordered, too. Plenty of parking onsite. Open seven days a week!

Santa Barbara

Head to South Coast Deli when you're in the mood for a big, delicious sandwich or fresh, filling salad. With four very busy locations in the Santa Barbara area, South Coast Deli is a local lunch spot, perfect for grabbing a bite with a friend or picking something up on your way to work. Cold "sammies" (their word for sandwiches), hot sammies and paninis cover all the carb-lover's desires while huge tossed salads cater to the more calorie-conscious. Scrumptious and affordable breakfast options - including egg sammies and toasty bagels - are also served Monday through Friday until 10:30 a.m.

Cajun Kitchen is a Santa Barbara tradition, a local breakfast and lunch joint with something like a million different area locations. And every location is packed, too! Hearty food, good prices and quick service keep us coming. Standard fare at Cajun Kitchen includes big, three-egg omelets, syrupy french toast and classic sandwiches. Breakfast is served all day. In addition to your usual toast options, they also offer cornbread and blueberry muffins. This a great place to take kids, even if they're notoriously picky eaters. It's also a fun, informal place to dine with a group. Prepare for a wait on weekend mornings when the hangover crowd comes running.

Santa Barbara
La Super-Rica
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

For a truly local taste of Mexico, drive up Milpas until, on the right, you see a little white shack with aqua trim. There is no sign, but a line extending from the doorway will let you know that you're at the right place. This is La Super-Rica, famously lauded by the legendary Julia Child as one of her favorite places to eat. Most famous for their tacos, the other specialties on their menu are equally as enticing, from tamales to gorditas to pozole. Portions are small and prices are fair, so be sure to order a little more than you usually might. And while you're standing in line, peek through the windows to admire the view: each and every tortilla served at this establishment is made by hand, directly in plain sight.

Santa Barbara

Loa Agaves is a casual Mexican food restaurant in Santa Barbara. They serve tacos, burritos, nachos and other customary fare, but the highlight of their menu is their wide assortment of specialty dishes. Try an order of pulpo ceviche, rack of lamb mole or crab empanadas. Their specials change every day with an emphasis on what's in season. Place your order at the counter, make your choices at the fresh salsa bar and then take a seat while you wait for your food. The bright flavors and reasonable prices are both remarkable and well known, as indicated by the line of hungry patrons at dinnertime. This entry is for the original location on Santa Barbara's East Side. There are also two more locations in town.

The Natural Cafe
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

With nine locations in the surrounding areas, The Natural Cafe is a Santa Barbara small business success story. A local favorite for vegetarian and vegan options, this popular lunch and dinner restaurant also serves up delicious chicken and fish entrees. In all of their semi-casual establishments, you place your order at the counter and then wait for your food to be delivered to your table. Prices are very reasonable. Popular dishes include their fresh fish tacos, savory meatless burgers and signature caesar salad generously topped with avocado. To drink The Natural Cafe offers beer, regional wine, natural sodas and delicious custom blended smoothies and shakes.

Santa Barbara
On The Alley
Photo courtesy of On The Alley

On The Alley is a casual venue brought to you by the owners of Brophy Bros., Santa Barbara's wildly popular seafood restaurant. Serving fresh fish tacos, tasty sandwiches and burgers, On The Alley dishes up great lunch fare in view of the harbor. Included on the menu are a handful of Brophy Bros. classics. Breakfast is also served. Communal seating is available in front of the restaurant for dining al fresco, or you can take your food to go. And, as if the sea air, generous portions and wallet-friendly prices aren't already enough to ensure a feel good experience, everything in the restaurant - from the floor tiles to the refrigeration units - is a result of the owners' commitment to using only products that are made in the USA. There is now a second location in Goleta as well.

For the most authentic tacos in Santa Barbara, head to Lilly's tacos. Unobtrusively tucked in an out-of-the-way shopping center at the oceany end of downtown, Lilly's tacos has been serving up sizzling meats on soft corn tortillas to lines of customers for years. There are no chips, no rice and nary a bean in sight... just tacos. For around $2 a pop you can choose from a variety of meats, including asada, adobado and even ojos. Yep, you read that right! Lilly's proudly offers a variety of less-common taco fillings like eyes, tongue and cheek. Order a few, dress them up with salsa and lime, and scarf them down.

The Habit Burger Grill is a Santa Barbara-based hamburger chain that is truly a local favorite. From their signature smoky charburger and the albacore sandwich made from line-caught tuna to freshly tossed salads, the Habit serves up fresh food fast (and for a fair price). They also have a delicious veggie burger, crisp fries, heavenly onion rings and rich, frosty malts. Established here in 1969 and still family-owned, there are now over 70 locations - mostly in California. This location is right in the heart of downtown, so it's the perfect stop if you're out shopping or headed to the movies. They also have a truck that you can rent to cater weddings, parties and corporate events. Recently named best burger in America.

Think sandwiches and salads are boring? Think again! This recently expanded local gem of a restaurant serves a creative lunch menu that includes crab melts, waffle sandwiches and filling salads. Most dishes start are under $10, but they don't skimp on the quantity or quality. Chef Cindy Black dishes up an variety of late night gems on Friday and Saturday nights, so you don't have to settle for boxed mac n cheese or cardboard pizza after the bars close. Try fried rice with a poached egg or a Thai basil cheese burger instead! The quirky cute interior and tasty selection of draft beers really seals the deal here. Truly one of Santa Barbara's best food finds!


Meet Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it...  More About Geneva