The latest addition to Isla Vista’s ever-changing selection of restaurants, California Tacos & Taproom, has opened for business, occupying the spot formerly inhabited by The Grilled Cheese Truck.
Though the restaurant offers takeout, it is apparent upon entering that it’s designed to be a comfortable place to spend time — whether you’d like to take a seat and dig into your freshly-made Mexican food immediately or share a drink with friends. The glowing heat lamps that line the outdoor section make it comfortable to eat outdoors even during chilly nights.
The welcoming environment is further bolstered by the eclectic mix of seating arrangements, offering the option of sitting around indoor or outdoor tables, as well as along a bar-style counter for television viewing.
Comfort continues to stand out as a strength at this restaurant through the classic nature of the menu. Featuring tacos, burritos, and a modest breakfast section, California Tacos & Taproom provides variety in available meats and toppings, but keeps it simple by wrapping their selections up in recognizable tortilla-based homes.
The menu here also features an “A La Carta” section, which features more unique items such as the jalapeño-laden Nachos Supreme as well as meat-free options such as a vegan rice bowl and Chile Relleno, a stuffed pepper served with tomato sauce and cheese.
Given the restaurant’s name, it seemed essential to try their tacos, a decision I would repeat and recommend. During my visit, I tried two classic tacos — carne asada and carnitas — as well as the Cali Fish Taco.
Both classic tacos came loaded with a generous helping of meat under a flavorful mound of mixed onion, cilantro, and sauce. Betraying my Los Angeles upbringing, I ended up reaching for a fork as the structural integrity of the tacos faltered. The soft, warm tortillas did their best, but couldn’t hold up against the volume of their contents.
I’m glad to report, however, that the quality of those contents was well worth having the tacos fall apart.
The crispy pieces of carne asada provided enjoyable bursts of flavor, providing the perfect base for their time-tested pairing with refreshing cilantro and the kick of chopped onions. The carnitas taco was satisfying in its own characteristic way. The savory meat was so tender it seemed to melt mid-bite, complemented outstandingly by its green salsa.
The Cali Fish Taco offered a completely different flavor profile, pairing tilapia with tartar sauce and toppings like fresh cabbage, pico de gallo, and shredded cheese. The addition of cheese on this taco elevated its status to prime comfort food, while the pico de gallo was light and refreshing. Still, the well-cooked tilapia itself stood out among its fellow ingredients and shone as the star of each bite.
Rounding out this visit, I decided to try out a quesadilla found on the “A La Carta” section of the menu, choosing not to add any meat — this is an available option, however, featuring the same wide variety of meat options as the taco selection. While the components of a quesadilla seem simple, there are still many ways that one can go wrong, and this quesadilla successfully avoided them all.
The quesadilla was stuffed with a mix of shredded cheese, amounting to a substantial thickness which made the center of each bite soft and chewy while the surrounding tortilla provided a crispy contrast. This dish came with lots of fresh cabbage and pico de gallo for topping the main attraction, and makes a filling meal on its own.
Expanding out of their original Solvang and Buellton locations, California Tacos & Taproom’s recent arrival in Isla Vista brings a fresh new taste of classic and comforting Mexican food to the area.