Zócalo: the new Mexican restaurant in Isla Vista

Photo by Shirley Wang

Shirley Wang

Contributing author

A new Mexican restaurant called Zocalo recently opened at Isla Vista (IV) on the left corner of the loop. It’s location is convenient – located after passing Kaiju Ramen, it’s easy to spot.

Zocalo is a charming little restaurant, welcoming about twenty customers. There are four large tables that seat four to five people and three small tables that seat two people. We arrived just after the rush at 7:30 p.m. The owner is friendly and chatty – he and his son recommended the Birria ramen, the Mexican pastor tortathe Horchataand mango mint iced tea.

A loud mix of Mexican and American music filled the space, making it difficult to converse clearly with each other. Overall, the conditions were ideal: tables were clean and organized with simple decor.

Our meals were prepared quickly and the waiter called our name only ten minutes after ordering. I was surprised when I first saw 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 cilantro, diced onions and a quarter lime on the ramen. The fresh cilantro and onion scent was so rich I could smell it before I even took a bite. Besides coriander and onion, Zocalo 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. Although I felt the amount of noodles was not enough for a full dinner, there was a good amount of beef – it was tasty and well seasoned. However, the meat overpowers the taste of the dish and brings a little sour taste to the sinuses. the Birria The ramen is above average, but the portion is small. Another gentleman sitting near us also ordered Birria Ramen plus two tacos. He agreed that the ramen wasn’t enough for a full dinner, so he ordered some extra tacos, which he seemed to enjoy.

We also had the Mexican pastor torta. The customer has the choice between pork, chicken or beef for the interior. We chose pork, a recommendation from the owner. I have to admit it was really delicious. The pork was cooked with apples, so the pork is mixed with a slight apple flavor and there are a few small pieces of apple inside. The top and bottom slices of bread were fried in butter, so the torte I had a bit of a crunch when I ate it.

A flaw of this dish is that the bread gets wet quickly from the juicy pork, so one is inclined to finish it quickly. Another disadvantage of the Mexican pastor torta is that there is not much lettuce and tomato inside. So, I felt a little sick from the fat at the end. Despite this, it was still delicious.

Of the two drinks we ordered, I preferred the Mango Mint Ice Tea because it’s cool and helps lessen the greasy taste of the torte. I think there are stronger notes of mint and cumquat even though “mango” is in the name.

I asked two other girls in the restaurant for their opinion on Zocalo. One girl told me she “really loves this place” and this was her eighth time. Her friend said she thought “the beans and rice here are different from other places.”

Globally, Zocalo is a cute place with loud music and a friendly owner. The food is not too expensive, totaling around fifteen dollars per person. It’s a good place to grab a quick meal due to the short wait times. If you are a Mexican food lover and looking for a nice meal without leaving IV, Zocalo is a great place to check. I would give my overall experience to Zocalo a 7/10.


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