Picture this: it’s Friday night, you’ve asked someone in your class to go on a date, and you have twenty minutes to pick the least cringey restaurant to take them to. Ensue panicking! Isla Vista isn’t exactly the most romantic setting for small talk over good food. Even worse, eating in town introduces the possibility that you might run into someone you know—a first date nightmare. But if you don’t have a car, your options are limited. Don’t despair! As a senior who has gone on more than a few (good and bad) dates within the confines of downtown Isla Vista, read on for my list of the best (and worst) first date locations.
Let’s start with the worst—the following are in no particular order. All are bad options. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Unless you and your date are die-hard Domino’s fans, this date location sets the bar for all future dates extremely low. What’s your plan for date number two? A trip to Jack in the Box? The only acceptable way to indulge in Domino’s is after getting it delivered to your home past 10 p.m. because everything else was closed and your inebriated brain chemistry is fixated on carbs. Not to mention the nightmare of navigating what to order. Asking someone what their go-to pizza preference is before truly getting to know them is just asking for trouble — too many problematic toppings, like anchovies, pineapple and olives, invite the opportunity for icks to form. As a rule of thumb, you’re better off choosing somewhere that offers silverware.
I have one word for you: messy. While you and your date might both love digging into a tray of saucy chicken wings, neither of you will feel comfortable asking about each other’s childhoods while soiling two dozen napkins with BBQ sauce. Even worse, Wingstop’s outdoor seating on the corner of Pardall practically guarantees that you will run into someone you know — an uncontrollable variable that might end up with you and your date’s photo spammed in the group chat or an embarrassing story that completely sours your date’s opinion of you.
Deja Vu Cafe
Deja Vu Cafe is inadvisable for the same reasons as Domino’s: if you aren’t currently influenced by taste-bud-altering substances, you shouldn’t be there, and you definitely shouldn’t be there with someone you’re trying to impress. Deja Vu Cafe is like a vampire: it shouldn’t be seen in broad daylight. Trust me, there’s something about sitting under those fluorescent lights and listening to rap hits from three years ago that just brings out the worst in people. If you bring your date to Deja Vu Cafe, I guarantee you can kiss your good first impression — and your chance at actually kissing your date — goodbye.
Now on to the three best restaurants in I.V. for a first date. Not only do all of these restaurants provide a cute and comfortable atmosphere, but they also serve up quality food.
As I.V.’s only micro food hall, SocialEats has it all. The inside space is aesthetic, well-lit and perfect for private dining. Plus, the outside patio provides a sunny spot for an afternoon lunch date that’s just far enough removed from the bustle of Pardall Road. Even better, their diverse menu makes sure that no matter your date’s eating preferences, they’re bound to find something appetizing to order. And, of course, SocialEats serves drinks: there’s nothing like a nice cocktail or pint to help stave off awkward silences and keep the conversation going.
Cajé Coffee Roasters
If you and your date are only free to meet during the morning or early afternoon, Cajé is your go-to option. While coffee dates sometimes get a bad rap, there are plenty of benefits: most notably, grabbing coffee with someone is low-key and low-stress. And, if you want something more substantial, Cajé offers plenty of breakfast and bakery items to tide you and your date over. Plus, their patio provides a semi-public atmosphere that takes the pressure off meeting up with a near stranger while providing just enough succulents to block your date from the view of passersby. Hot tip: if things go well, keep the conversation going by taking your drinks to-go and walking to the beach entrance on 65 block.
Sizzling Lunch might be one of the most underrated food spots in I.V. Nestled next to the Amazon lockers on Trigo Road, Sizzling Lunch serves up dozens of shareable appetizers, customizable Japanese street food entrees and a variety of hanabi cakes for dessert. With available reservations, waiters and exclusively indoor seating, Sizzling Lunch is the closest you’ll get to a true sit-down restaurant experience in I.V.
Honorable mention: I.V. Drip
In my opinion, I.V. Drip is the nighttime equivalent of Cajé. Grabbing dessert is a perfect idea if you’re looking for a quick, low-stakes date option after dark. I.V. Drip offers cookies, ice cream, cupcakes and more, ensuring satisfaction for anyone’s sweet tooth. I recommend ordering a variety of baked items and splitting them between you and your date. I.V. Drip also offers a full drink menu, including coffee, tea lattes and hot chocolate. Keep in mind that chocolate is an aphrodisiac (if you know what I mean).
By following this easy guide, you can save yourself from committing any fatal first date faux pas. I.V. has plenty to offer if you know where to look! If you’re still a little nervous about running into someone you know, remember that ordering food to-go and setting up a picnic along the bluffs is a reliable option, especially during sunset hours. You’ve got this! Just remember, no matter where you choose, use a napkin, turn off your phone and — of course — tip your cashier.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the February 8, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.