The Isla Vista food scene experienced a significant shake-up in 2023. The struggle to return to pre-pandemic customer numbers led many beloved establishments that had become I.V. landmarks to close. According to a 2022 report conducted by Hayes Commercial Group on the Santa Barbara County real estate market, average rent for commercial spaces in Goleta increased in 2022 15% compared to the 5-year average, contributing to fewer commercial leases signed in late 2022 in Isla Vista. Some closures were met with deep dismay from the local community, such as the shuttering of one of Isla Vista’s few bars. Amidst these departures, several new restaurants arrived — some alumni-owned, others with preexisting locations in Santa Barbara County — expanding the selection of dining options for students. 

In early January, I.V. dive bar The Study Hall closed after a 26-year-long run. The space has since remained vacant, yet rumors of a new business taking its place sparked after the storefront’s lights were on and construction noises were heard from the street in mid-December.

Eateries that operated for less than a year also left I.V. in 2023, including Checos. After only nine months of operation on Trigo Road, the taco shop, which held its grand opening in October 2022, was replaced by Pueblo del Pollo in November 2023. Pueblo del Pollo was originally located on upper State Street before closing in 2022. This I.V. newcomer’s menu is a fusion of Mexican and Indo-Pak cuisine with most items centered around their fire-grilled chicken.

A go-to spot for UCSB students to grab burgers and pints, Rockfire Grill closed this month. Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

Another I.V. staple, Rockfire Grill, closed unexpectedly this month. Rockfire, known for its fries, burgers, wings and karaoke, opened in November 2018. As of now, it’s unclear which new restaurant will take over the space at the corner of Pardall Road.

Meanwhile, some restaurants kept their cuisine but rebranded and elevated their previous offerings. 

Pizza My Heart branding left 6533 Trigo Road and officially reopened in January under the name I.V. Pizza Pub and ownership of Doron Friedman, owner of I.V. Bagel Café. The pizzeria features Pizza My Heart classics as well as a brunch menu with pizza bagels. 

Vietnamese restaurant Pho Bistro closed in June and was replaced by Asia 101, which is owned by UC Santa Barbara alum and Mojo Teahouse owner Boxi Wang. Pho lovers can still get their fix at Asia 101 along with quick bites such as spicy chicken wings. 

I.V.’s fourth coffee shop, KOZY Coffee, opened on May 19 on Pardall Road. A UCSB alum-operated business, the coffee shop features a full coffee and tea menu, pastries and rotating, seasonal drinks.  

This past June and July, Maria’s Tacos and Social Eats opened their doors. 

Maria’s Tacos, the fifth taqueria in I.V., features a pared-down menu and rotating specials. 

Social Eats, I.V.’s first mini food hall, allows customers to choose from offerings from six different restaurants with options ranging from vegan burgers to poke bowls. 

Oakberry Acai opened its second location in Santa Barbara County, dishing acai bowls and smoothies. Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

And despite a winter chill in the air, açai bowl café OAKBERRY Açaí opened its doors on Pardall Road in December. The smoothie bar has a preexisting location in Santa Barbara’s Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center and over 600 locations worldwide. 

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Stephanie Gerson
Stephanie Gerson is a third-year Art History major and On the Menu Co-Editor. She can usually be found taking long walks, wandering about museums or grocery shopping.