Man does not live by popcorn alone. Woman either. So the hottest question for those committed to a full day of binge filmgoing at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is where to go to gain enough sustenance to carry you through six to eight hours in the dark without risking the evil additive buzz you get from too many wolfed-down hot dogs and Diet Cokes in a row. (Though a couple of days lived like that wouldn’t be the worst experience a human ever had.)
For my money, I say take it as quick and inexpensively as possible, with health and safety coming in slightly second.
The most obvious place for an inter-film pit stop is still The Habit (628 State St.), which is convenient and now world-famous. Recently named the country’s best burger by no less an august body than Consumer Reports, The Habit is also unreasonably fast and inexpensive. Close to the Metro 4 theater, where most film festing takes place, it may look very crowded in the peak tweener times of noonish and dinnerish, but the lines move fast and the menu is varied enough that vegetarian film-fest maestro Roger Durling can be caught there often. Alternatively, The Natural Café (508 State St.), a little further down from the movies, offers food with vitamins and nutrition in it (whatta concept) in a convenient forum. Go up, order, and then have food delivered to a nice table. Also reasonably priced.
Up closer to the Lobero: A fancier, more-European break can be had at C’est Cheese (825 Santa Barbara St.), where you simply go in, point at some cheesy or meaty comestible — say gorgonzola and prosciutto — put it in a bag with a bottled drink, and then eat on the run, in a park or on those pesky film-fest lines. They have a sit-down side, too, if you have a few more minutes before the film. While in that neck of the fest, another fast and surprisingly overlooked alternative is South Coast Deli (10 E. Carrillo St.), where the sammies are okay, but the salads are delicious, reasonable, and gargantuan. (Two can easily share.) The latest arrival in that part of town for delicious, fast, and comfy is Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria (905 State St.), where you can stand in line, order one of the best pizzas and salads in town, and get it in your hands eight minutes later.
Up by the Arlington is a wealth of great food, though the fastness factor is diminished. We now have the Santa Barbara Public Market (38 W. Victoria St.), where pasta (The Pasta Shoppe), sandwiches (Belcampo Meat Co.), Asian noodles (Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar), and ice cream (Rori’s Artisanal Creamery), among others, live. Many of these places are small and very busy at peak times, but when it slows down, the opportunity for grazing and people-watching increases the payoff. Most places are not cheap.
Everybody hip loves Sama Sama Kitchen (1208 State St.); older cognoscenti take a fast dip into Olio Pizzeria (11 W. Victoria St.), but the smartest money for often-uncrowded delicious meals occurs at nearby Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant (1230 State St.), a sit-down place where brave, bright flavors of Vietnam can take you away from all that glitzy cinema, long enough to go back palate-refreshed, ready to swill more popcorn and to live among the stars again.
More Advice from Fest Vets
“Sojourner (134 E. Canon Perdido St.) is my perfect stop for lunch. It’s a block away from the Lobero, and the food is super healthy without sacrificing taste. The counter is ideal for a quick stop. I’m not alone, for I see a lot of lanyards and pocket guides open during lunchtime.” —Roger Durling, SBIFF executive director
“Conquering the beast that is the SBIFF requires cunning, stealth, and a healthy dose of extravagance. Nowhere in the vicinity of the Arlington does a better job of stimulating all three of these qualities than Olio Crudo Bar (11 W. Victoria St.). Perfectly situated to facilitate a last-minute dash up the red carpet, Olio Crudo can prime you for the big tributes, with carpaccio and cocktails, or offer a soft place to land afterwards and bask in the glow of the bar’s signature luminous back wall with some oysters and champagne.” —Charles Donelan, The Indy’s executive arts editor
“My go-to is Kotuku, the little health bar on De la Guerra Plaza, in the lobby of DiviniTree (25 E. De La Guerra St.). Olly the proprietor is a master with vibrantly healthy foods and healing elixirs that he custom blends to keep me going during festival madness. One of S.B.’s best-kept secrets.” —Russ Spencer, filmmaker and SBIFF consultant
“You can usually find me drinking pints of Guinness between movies at Dargan’s (18 E. Ortega St.), just down the alley from the Metro 4, because, well, it’s fast, it’s like liquid food, and it’s tasty. Sometimes a quick fish and chips or shepherd’s pie doesn’t hurt, either.” —Matt Kettmann, The Indy’s senior editor
“I like going to Olio and Limone (11 W. Victoria St.) or bouchon (9 W. Victoria St.) before events at the Arlington. Great food and festive atmosphere, and how great is it that you can just stroll across the street to be entertained?!?” —Mimi deGruy, SBIFF boardmember
“SBIFF usually has one or two foodie films that leaves me craving for whatever fare was featured on the big screen. Fortunately, there are a variety of restaurants just a hop away from Metro 4, such as Kai Sushi after a Japanese film, or Pascucci’s for some Italian, or Pacific Crêpes for je ne sais quoi.” —Mayor Helene Schneider
“Been forewarned that the film you’re about to catch at the Lobero is a heavy one? Soften the blow with a stiff drink at the Pickle Room beforehand, and don’t forget to soak up some of the sauce with an order of fried pickles.” —Shannon Kelley, The Indy’s SBIFF social-scene peeper for 10 years
“I think I’ll try to steal away for a relaxing stroll through the downtown wine tasting rooms celebrating the magic of movies. Many have paired their wines to films made in the last 30 years. Sipping wine, nibbling on cheese, and watching a great movie. Does life get any better than this?!!” —Kathy Janega-Dykes, head of Visit Santa Barbara
“Joe’s has a great quick menu; their tri-tip or pulled pork sandwich are quick and great, washed down with their very ample drinks, from iced tea to the classic manhattans and bourbon sours.” —Marianne Partridge, The Indy’s editor in chief and 29-year fest goer
“I mostly bring my own food that I often eat during the movies and try not to make any noise — nothing crunchy, so this limits many items. Candy is one of my faves, so in between films, I still go to See’s to move my body a little before the next film and get a free sample — dark chocolate only.” —Phyllis de Picciotto, SBIFF founder
For the fifth year in a row, Visit Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Downtown enlisted dozens of restaurants and hotels to offer special menus and deals during SBIFF under the banner of “Film Feast.” The full list is at sbfilmfeast.com, but here are some especially creative offerings:
Ce’st Cheese + Wallace & Gromit = Selection of Wallace’s favorite cheeses (cestcheese.com)
Ty Lounge @ The Biltmore + Michael Keaton = The Birdman Martini (fourseasons.com/santabarbara)
Fire & Ice Museum Café + Chef = Mojo Pork Cubano Sandwich Special (fimuseumcafe.com)
Belcampo Meat Company + Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs = 30% percent