Living in Isla Vista for several years now, I’ve seen a revolving door of restaurants trying to serve the student town. That’s been especially true at the corner of Embarcadero del Norte and Seville Road, where a number of establishments have come and gone — in just the past few years, the same building has been home to the Grilled Cheese Truck, Santa Ynez Burrito, Kogilicious, Korean BBQ House, and Berrilicious.
The latest contender is California Tacos and Taproom, and the family-owned enterprise has a running start, already operating restaurants in Solvang and Buellton. As I arrived, Chef Jesus Bulfeda was just perfecting his Mexican caramel-infused churros that will soon be added to the dessert menu. As I sampled the delicious treat, Bulfeda talked about how the restaurant has surpassed the three-month mark that many places did not in this property. In fact, they’ve passed the six-month mark and are continuing to evolve to serve the Isla Vista eater by integrating into the town’s free-spirited culture.
“What separates us from other establishments around I.V. is our high level of quality of ingredients and authentic and immersive community involvement,” said general manager Sheldon Katz. He explained that the number-one rule is to have a good time and be present while eating at Cali Tacos, which he hopes to make a pillar of the community.
Some of the big plans include live music, weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas, and a customizable stein club to take advantage of the 12 beers on tap. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they have deejays on the large open-floor patio. No matter what time you arrive, the atmosphere is perfect for watching the game with friends, because the outdoor patio is lined with televisions.
The restaurant’s social media director Lily Wright said that one of the crowd favorites is the slushy margarita machine — the only one in I.V. And Bulfeda’s team take pride in their house-made, gluten-free tortillas, which are cooked daily to order.
Popular dishes include the Cali Nachos, which is like an opened-up Cali burrito: a bed of tortillas and French fries, layered with cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, carne asada, waca chilé sauce, and jalapeños. The Hawaiian pork burrito is a unique take on fusion food, with carnitas, adobada, rice, Peruvian beans, lettuce, cilantro, onions, green salsa, pineapple, and waca chilé sauce. With so many ingredients, it is packed with a blend of sweet and savory flavors.
Overall, California Tacos and Taproom is a friendly place, with a staff that’s focused on “good vibes, great drinks, and delicious food.” They’ve got a good chance of surviving in a notoriously tough location.
956 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista; (805) 770-8226; californiatacos.net