North Goleta: CalTaco Avoids Rice Trap

We admittedly had no intention of eating at CalTaco that particular day.

Boomer and I had the idea to grab lunch at the Citrix Cafe, which is apparently a decent eatery on his work complex.

I was planning on a bike ride, and I told him I’d come to his office on North Hollister (between Storke and the Bacara), and we’d give the cafe a try.

Lake Los Carneros

It was a classic Santa Barbara day and I made my way over to Lake Los Carneros to ride the bike paths and check out the peaceful setting.

A lot of people who live in the surrounding Goleta neighborhoods walk/bike the trails.

The mountain views are a big reason why – and I couldn’t help but think how perfect the setting would be for a warm, summer-night walk as dusk approaches with a significant other.

The rest of the ride was along Cathedral Oaks – a beautiful road with lots of green scenery and lemon groves lining the road (Goleta was once ALL lemon groves).

View from Cathedral Oaks Road in Goleta.

Boomer bikes this road to work everyday – beats the hell out of the subway, no?

Unfortunately when I arrived at Citrix we realized that the cafe was not open… whoops (you’d think we would have verified the times?).

But all was not lost as we decided to check out CalTaco, a place we’ve passed by hundreds of times – a small, fast-food looking eatery next to Cheer’s liquor store.

There was a sign out front advertising $1.99 charburgers on Sundays, and not really being a big fan of greasy spots, I had my reservations, but figured it had more upside than one of the many chain/generic places in the area.

Then owner Chris Russell (who was working the counter) told me that CalTaco has been around for 23 years and that he is typically the one to run the counter – that his presence that day was not uncommon.

A very friendly guy, he went over the menu and said people love the charburgers, and Boomer quickly ordered one.  I went with the chicken burrito – anxious to see how it stacked up to Chicken Ranch, Freebirds, El Sitio, and the other 1,000 burrito spots in the Santa Barbara area.

Something all those aforementioned eateries can learn from Russell and CalTaco: rice is filling.

When I took my first bite and realized that there was no rice in the burrito – only chicken, beans, tomato, onion, avocado, sour cream, cheese and lettuce – I thought to myself, hey, I just might be able to finish this damn thing and not regret it in an hour.

The size of the burrito has sort of gotten a little out of control at some places, and the decision not to include rice was a welcomed idea.  Just as bad sushi places use rice as a crutch to hide their crappy fish, so too do a lot of restaurants offering Mexican fare.

But there was nothing to hide in this particular burrito, and I ate the whole thing and felt content – the thought of a nap never entering my mind.

Keep up the good work, Chris, as this is a great place to check out if you work in one of the many business/industrial complexes in Northern Goleta.  I guess I’ll have to stop in for a charburger one Sunday, as Boomer claimed they were “better than Habit.”

Habit burgers are solid, but one thing is for sure – you won’t be served your food by the owner.

Some more photos:

View from the bike ride along Cathedral Oaks in Goleta.
Lemon groves along Cathedral Oaks.


  1. Fortunately I work close to CalTaco so if I forgot my lunch one day or something, I would choose CalTaco over anywhere else close by. Sure, the competition isn’t tough with 7-11, Jack-in-the-Box and more than likely a Wendy’s somewhere. CalTaco tastes fresh to me, and I really liked how the french fries were served plain. That way I was totally able to doctor them up as I saw fit. I love when a restaurant has a personal touch to it. Next time my brother comes into town, we are going for Sunday’s 1.99 Charburgers(notice the plural). +.50 cents for cheese, but definitely well worth the investment as most everything tastes better with cheese. Me gusta CalTaco.

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