Isla Vista is a community in constant motion. There is a sense of ebb and flow, of transformation as the old makes way for the new. This is true not only of the tenants of I.V. but for the buildings and businesses as well. The constant fluctuation is particularly true of I.V.’s array of restaurants and cafes. Certain cornerstones of the food scene have remained grounded, but most are fleeting.
Isla Vista’s newest eatery is a Mexican restaurant called Santa Ynez Burrito. It took the place of Kogilicious Korean BBQ on the corner of Embarcadero del Norte and Seville across from People’s Park and next to SOS Liquor.
It was a Thursday night when I dropped in, and there were few other customers. The cashier greeted me politely as I walked in. I ordered a steak burrito, paid $8 with card, and briefly went to wait outside.
The restaurant offered a more inviting atmosphere than its predecessor. Rows of lights were strung up above the open-air seating giving off a warm glow. The tables were clean, well-arranged and interspersed with live plants. Pop music played from hidden speakers. The songs weren’t particularly aligned with my tastes, but they fit in well with what I believe the majority of the patrons would enjoy.
The man behind the counter called my number in under four minutes. The burrito was wrapped in tin foil and presented on a plastic serving tray with a scattering of chips, a cup of salsa verde and a cup of pico de gallo. The chips were perfectly crispy, and both dips were well prepared with the right amount of spice. I finished them quickly and wished there’d been more. The burrito itself was smaller and thinner than I’d expected. The steak was cooked fine, but the taste, even in combination with the beans and rice, was rather bland. Guacamole could have provided a palatable vitality, but I did not want to pay more for the addition.
The meal was satisfying but that’s about as much praise as I could offer. I did not dislike Santa Ynez Burrito, but I was not impressed either. I’d hoped for the sake of this review to fall one way or another but unfortunately this was not the case. Santa Ynez Burrito is a fine establishment, my only major critique being its prices. For eight dollars I expect more. I left feeling full but only just, and I felt little incentive to return.
Given its proximity to several other Mexican restaurants, Santa Ynez needs to either provide something fresh or reveal a strength over its contenders. At the moment, it presents itself as a middle-of-the-road restaurant that lacks any strong suit. If nothing changes I foresee Santa Ynez Burrito lasting until the end of 2016, at which point 956 Embarcadero del Norte would have to find a new owner.
It’s a savage competition, and I wish the restaurant all the best of luck to find footing, but that being said, I’d suggest to readers that your money can be better spent elsewhere.