Festival goers waited hours to receive their free meals. Nina Timofeyeva / Daily Nexus

Hundreds of hungry students descended upon the tents serving tacos at the Isla Vista Spring Festival, and one could practically feel the hunger radiating from these jaded party-goers. Four brave local restaurants dished out meals for the seemingly never-ending crowds of Deltopia attendants from 1-6 p.m. For five hours, students enjoyed and judged the tacos for the first-ever “Best of I.V. Taco Contest.” The contestants included Zocalo, Roger’s Tacos, Maria’s Tacos and Elubia’s Kitchen. 

The “Best of I.V. Taco Contest” took place during the Isla Vista Spring Festival, which was hosted by the Isla Vista Community Services District in collaboration with partners such as Farmacy Isla Vista. Apart from the tacos being served, the event included live music, arts and crafts, snack and water stations, face painting, henna and more. The tacos, however, held the spotlight. Due to the massive amounts of people, some stood in lines for over an hour to receive their meals. This difficulty of accessibility dampened the “contest” aspect of the event, as visitors would be lucky to eventually receive one meal from any of the four businesses. In the end, it could be said that all businesses won in terms of getting their names out and giving Isla Vista residents an opportunity to try their food in hopes of gaining returning customers. 

Chicken, carne asada, vegetables and rice and beans tacos were available for free. Nina Timofeyeva / Daily Nexus

Among the four tents, the taco varieties being served included chicken, carne asada, vegetables and rice and beans. Different types of salsa, guacamole and toppings differed among the businesses as well, with each restaurant offering their own personal take on this classic dish. 

I was able to get my hands on the chicken tacos from Maria’s Tacos. While the meal was free and certainly satisfying after hours of walking around Deltopia, I can’t say that these tacos were particularly delicious. Perhaps it was because the cooks were more focused on the speed of food delivery rather than the details of preparation. The tortillas were a bit raw, the chicken wasn’t particularly seasoned and the presentation was quite messy overall. I was also left desperately wishing that avocado was present in the meal since the overall dish was a tad dry in texture, even despite the salsa. The flavors that were present were good though, with the salsa being quite spicy and the onions adding a punch as well. Generally, the ingredients were fresh and came together nicely to form a colorful and balanced dish, which I’m certain satisfied many customers on this day. Trying these tacos does leave me curious about whether Maria’s Tacos can provide an even better dish under less pressured conditions on the home turf of their restaurant. 

For five hours, the local restaurants dished out meals for hungry Deltopia participants. Nina Timofeyeva / Daily Nexus

I would like to thank the four businesses and take a moment to appreciate their efforts to provide so much food under high-stress conditions. The workers of these small businesses undertook a tremendous effort to carry out this operation, and even if some businesses didn’t serve their most grandiose meals this weekend, they should be given the chance of impressing customers at their restaurants. So head on out to your local restaurant serving tacos and support the small businesses keeping Isla Vista fed and satisfied.

A version of this article appeared on p. 11 of the April 11, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.