A new Mexican restaurant called Zócalo recently opened in Isla Vista (I.V.) at the left corner of the loop. Its location is convenient — situated after passing Kaiju Ramen, it’s easy to spot.
Zócalo is a lovely little restaurant, fitting around twenty customers. There are four large tables that can seat four to five people, and three small tables suitable for two. We arrived just after the rush at 7:30p.m. The owner is friendly and conversational — he and his son recommended the Birria Ramen, the Torta Mexicana al Pastor, the Horchata, and Mango Mint Ice Tea.
A loud blend of Mexican and American music filled the space, making it difficult to converse clearly with one another. Overall, the conditions were ideal: tables were clean and organized with simple decor.
Our meals were prepared promptly and the waiter called our name only ten minutes after ordering. I was surprised when I first saw the Birria Ramen, as I thought it would be served in a bowl, but it was in a single-use plastic cup. The dish included ground coriander, diced onion, and a quarter of a lime on top of the ramen. The smell of fresh coriander and onion was so rich that I could smell it before even taking a bite. Besides coriander and onion, Zócalo uses common cup noodles to make this dish. The noodles were soft, each filled with a special, slightly sour soup.
The beef was hidden under the noodles. Even though I felt the amount of noodles was not enough for a full dinner, there was a healthy amount of beef — it was flavorful and well seasoned. However, the meat does overwhelm the taste of the dish and brings a small sour taste to the sinuses. The Birria Ramen is above average, but the serving is small. Another gentleman sitting near us also ordered Birria Ramen plus two tacos. He agreed the ramen was not sufficient as a complete dinner so he ordered additional tacos, which he seemed to enjoy.
We also had the Torta Mexicana al Pastor. The customer has a choice between pork, chicken, or beef for the inside. We chose pork, a recommendation from the owner. I have to admit that it was really delicious. The pork was cooked with apples, so the pork is mixed with a slight apple flavor and there are some small pieces of apple inside. The top and bottom slices of bread were fried in butter, so the Torta had a bit of crunch when I ate it.
A shortcoming of this dish is that the bread quickly gets wet because of the juicy pork, so one is inclined to finish it fast. Another disadvantage of the Torta Mexicana al Pastor is that there’s not much lettuce and tomato inside. Thus, I felt a bit sick from the grease at the end. Despite this, it was still delicious.
Out of the two drinks we’ve ordered, I preferred the Mango Mint Ice Tea because it’s fresh and helped decrease the greasy taste of the Torta. I think there are stronger hints of mint and cumquat even though “mango” is in the name.
I asked two other girls in the restaurant about their opinions on Zócalo. One girl told me she “really likes this place,” and that it was her eighth time coming. Her friend said she thought, “the beans and rice here are different from other places.”
Overall, Zócalo is a cute spot with loud music and a personable owner. The food isn’t too pricey, totaling around fifteen dollars per person. It’s a good place to grab a meal in a hurry due to the short wait times. If you’re a fan of Mexican food and seeking a pleasant meal without leaving I.V., Zócalo is a great location to check out. I would give my overall experience at Zócalo a 7/10.