Eye on Isla Vista

I’ll be honest, right now all I can think about is how hungry I am. Here’s the deal, I am currently fasting in observance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the year for most Jews and a day on which most Jews fast to atone for the sins they committed during the year. I live in Isla Vista; I have a lot of sinning to atone for. So, I’m not eating until tomorrow night. Some might argue that I shouldn’t be writing this column either, but I’ve never been one to completely abstain from doing things for religious reasons—hence all the sinning I have to atone for. Anyway, the point is that right now, food is pretty much all I can think about, other than atoning, of course.

So, this week I’m going to share my feelings about the culinary fare available year-round—unless you have to spend a whole day fasting for religious reasons—right here in sunny Isla Vista. Sure, everyone knows about Freebirds and Woodstock’s and, aside from the fact that nobody should be able to charge $9 for even the most mega of nachos, I have no problems with either of those restaurants. But , I do think that if you spend four years living in and around I.V. and manage to only eat at Freebirds and Woodstock’s, you’re cheating yourself out of some of the best in dining, art, music, and culture this tiny town has to offer.

Isla Vista may be small, but it’s got a lot going on when it comes to culinary experiences. From Vietnamese noodles to soup and salads and, of course, the surplus of Mexican restaurants, I.V. is a haven for food that’s fast, cheap, and delicious. In fact, with so many options for students to choose from, restaurants around here often have to do a little something extra to lure customers in the door and keep them coming back for more. For that reason, many of the restaurants in I.V. have started combining food with art, films, and music in an effort to become more than just a place to grab a burger in between classes.

For art aficionados and people who just like to have something pretty to look up at while they chow down, Silvergreens and Java Jones on Pardall Road have unique and interesting art on their walls. Both places often showcase work by an eclectic group of up-and-coming local artists, and at Silvergreens all the tabletops are painted by local artists, which guarantees that your eyes get as much of a treat as your mouth does. And I don’t want to do any shameless plugs here, so I will preface the following statement by saying that I happen to work at I.V. Drip on Embarcadero del Norte, so I might be a little biased. But I do think that if you’re checking out the convergence of food and art in the area, the prints of famous paintings and the Dali-inspired clock on the wall at The Drip are worth seeing. Plus, I don’t want to brag or anything, but I do have to say that a well-made cookiewich is a work of art in and of itself.

If movies are more your thing, then check out Sushiya—a relatively new sushi place on Embarcadero del Mar that boasts a huge screen and an incredibly eclectic film collection. Aside from Sushiya’s killer Baked Scallop California Roll, Sushiya is worth checking out because its film collection runs the gamut from musicals to animated flicks and there’s no telling what will be on the big screen when you walk in the door. A fun way for film buffs to get a free meal is to make a bet with friends that you can guess what the movie is before they do—but trust me, you only want to do this if you’re fairly confident you can figure it out first, otherwise you could get stuck with a hefty bill and unspecified costs to your feelings of film geek superiority.

Music lovers also have plenty of options when it comes to satisfying their palates and their passions. I.V. is a magnet for musicians of all types and, on the weekends especially, there is almost always a place where you can get a good free show to accompany your meal. Giovanni’s and Cali Roll on Pardall Road both play hosts to a variety of live, local bands as well as shows by some surprisingly big-name bands. Gio’s, as the pizzeria and part-time music hall is affectionately referred to, also offers open mike nights on Thursdays as well. For up-to-the-minute show listings for both venues, check out and keep your eyes open for the flyers that are guaranteed to distract you on the bike path before any big local show. If your inner diva is craving a side of some stage time to go with your meal, check out the karaoke at Saigon Express on Pardall Road or Dublin’s Sports Grill on Embarcadero del Norte. Both places offer alcohol in addition to their food menus, so getting up the courage to belt out “I Will Survive” in front of your friends will be a piece of cake, and having to listen to your drunk friends singing their hearts out won’t be half as painful.

Ultimately, when it comes to finding good food with an extra helping of local culture, I.V. is the best place to be. With everything within walking distance, you can experience a range of art, films, and music without spending any extra money on your entertainment—and that means you’ll have plenty of extra cash in your pocket when the 3 a.m. drunk munchies make it imperative that you purchase $9 nachos immediately.

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