Insider’s Guide to Eating Freebirds World Burrito

Isla Vista’s 33-Year-Old Cal-Tex-Mex Institution Continues Evolving

Freebirds employee Oscar Batarbua makes a burrito for a customer at Freebird’s in IV. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Freebirds World Burrito — the Isla Vista landmark packed with nostalgia for most every UCSB alumni of the past four decades — still stands today the way it did when first opened by Mark Orfalea in 1987. That brand was built into a Texas-based chain that was sold to the Tavistock Group in 2007, but Orfalea — the brother of Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea — retained ownership of the I.V. location, and continues to run it today. Mark’s nephew Andy Orfalea manages operations today and said that, during COVID, “We are focusing on making the best food possible and keeping our coworkers and customers safe.”

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Freebirds enjoys a consistent and passionate fanbase, myself included. With a buffet-style lineup, each item is customizable, with options starting from Spanish rice, black, pinto, or refried beans, and a choice of steak, chicken, veggies, and shredded beef. As you progress, Freebirds offers mild, medium, and hot house-made sauces — the once ubiquitous barbecue-flavored sauce is now a mere option — with other familiar burrito ingredients such as sour cream, lettuce, cilantro, and onions available, as well.

Here’s a guide to each menu item at Freebirds, and how to make the most of your experience.

Freebirds employee Pedro Zarmaro makes a burrito for a customer at Freebird’s in IV. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Burrito: The most traditional menu item has to be the famous arm-sized burrito, starting with a classic flour tortilla with thick, even layers of each topping. To make the most out of burritos, it is recommended to get Freebird’s guacamole, barbeque, or hot sauce on the side to switch off between each bite. Others have asked for a quesarito, a sibling of the burrito in which they melt cheese on the burrito before adding on toppings. To further experiment, some bravely request the queso-nacho-rito, an unofficial secret item consisting of a quesarito with crushed tortilla chips added at the end.

Nachos: This popular table food is perfect for a group of two to three folks venturing in between 2 and 3 a.m. It’s the usual assortment of your choice but spread on house-made chips with freshly melted cheese. The fresh ingredients in combination with crunchy salted chips make memories. A hack discovered by some recent graduates is to ask for another box to keep the topping and chips separated. It allows you to thoroughly mix the toppings while also preserving the crunch of the chips for later consumption.

Quesadilla: As a newer member of the menu, the quesadilla is an honorable choice for those who are comfortable with a messier option. The quesadilla is essentially an unwrapped burrito with your usual ingredients, but with a layer of melted cheese within. The fact that this item is folded in half rather than folded in like a burrito creates a messier experience, but a memorable one. Tip: To avoid the messiness of a regular quesadilla, ask for a quesarito and do not forget the refried onions at the end.

A Freebirds employee makes a burrito bowl for a customer at Freebird’s in IV. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Burrito Bowl: For someone unable to finish a regular burrito, a bowl is the safer option. This item has gained much popularity, as it does relieve people of a chaotic chow down. With better packaging and a smaller portion, this might be a friendlier option for those with a tighter stomach and budget. Unfortunately, you do miss out on the tortilla, so ask for a warmed tortilla on the side if you prefer.

879 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista; (805) 968-0123

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