Three-empanada special with a hibiscus tea. Josh Rhodes / Daily Nexus

To the left of the Chase Bank and the now abandoned building that once housed the famous Study Hall bar on Pardall Road sits Maria’s Tacos: a quiet, underground restaurant in Isla Vista. Typically not busy because of its proximity to Freebirds and the Pardall shopping circle (consisting of the neighboring The Habit Burger Grill, Wingstop and Dublin’s Sports Grill), Maria’s is the perfect place to eat great Mexican food at an affordable price, avoid running into any concerning situationships and dodge other people until you are socially freed by the grace of summer break.

I received a good tip from a friend about Maria’s from winter quarter and finally decided to pay it a visit last week while I was suffering from extreme midterm procrastination syndrome. The blackboard outside advertised their new deal for three empanadas for only $11. I was stunned at how amazing that deal sounded and knew I had to give Maria’s a visit. 

The interior has a cute, quaint, almost garden-like atmosphere to it. The all-white walls sport vibrant, floral vine streamers dangling down from the ceiling, which evoke a sense of calm and tranquility from diners. While there isn’t much indoor seating at Maria’s due to its relatively small size, the bar style seating at the base of the main window overlooking the road was nice to look out on while eating. Overall, I found Maria’s very charming, and while I can’t say its design helped me vanquish the looming sense of doom developing in my mind as I procrastinated further on my studies, being at Maria’s helped me momentarily forget my troubles.

After chatting with the cashier about the restaurant and practically stalking the cooks as they prepared my meal — the kitchen is completely visible — I returned to my crusty apartment to eat my three-empanada special featuring carne asada, cilantro, onion, goat cheese, lettuce and chipotle sauce and slurp on a hibiscus tea the shade of wine, all for the price of $15. 

As I opened the takeout box containing my empanadas, I was stunned by how much of the box’s surface area was covered by the rich, delicious food inside. The empanadas were absolutely enormous. Thinking back, I don’t even remember seeing the bottom of the box until after I had eaten one of the empanadas. Furthermore, the empanadas looked absolutely gorgeous. They definitely warranted an Instagram story post as the vibrant yellows, purples, oranges and greens visible on the surface of the empanada looked like a five-star restaurant creation. If you are looking for beautiful, protein-packed and filling takeout food that can last about two meals or can be eaten by three people, Maria’s is definitely a great option. The empanada crust was the perfect level of crispy, yet still flexible enough to be held without crushing the entire surface of the shell off. The tangy, slightly spicy chipotle sauce paired excellently with the rich tasting carne asada and goat cheese, which helped bring out the light, slightly crunchy bites of onion and lettuce. My only gripe was that I felt the carne asada lacked some flavor. Overall, I would rate Maria’s empanadas an 8/10.

The reason I got the hibiscus drink wasn’t initially because I thought it would pair well with my empanadas but because I was enchanted by the rich, maroon hue of the hibiscus in the refrigerator next to the register while I was paying. I felt like such a baddie biking back to my apartment looking like a student openly drinking wine from a plastic cup around I.V., so for that alone, I rate the drink highly. I enjoyed experiencing the sweet berry flavors in the beverage while eating my meal; it paired well with the rich tasting empanadas. However, I think I would’ve struggled to enjoy the drink on its own as the sweetness factor and overall flavor of the beverage quickly became tiring. I think it deserves a 7/10 rating.

Wrapping up, I believe that Maria’s Tacos is slept on too much by the residents of I.V. Maria’s is a 9/10 based largely on how good I felt, as the deal I got on the empanadas was amazing compared to other Isla Vista eateries charging upwards of $15 for less. While my food in my opinion did not taste as incredible as other I.V. eateries, I was extremely satisfied with my meal and will definitely be returning again for more amazing grub and great deals.

A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the May 16, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.