A little aloha comes to Isla Vista

HiWi focuses on family-friendly dining in the heart of IV, serving healthy tropical fusion cuisine

By Leah Etling

If you’re craving a trip to the Hawaiian Islands this summer but a family vacation isn’t in the cards, a trip to Isla Vista might be the surprising solution.

“Isla Vista!?” you might gasp. “Brave the gauntlet of students riding bikes down Pardall? Hit the beach below Del Playa? Sounds like taking a trip back in time to me.”

But for locals who live nearby, mellow summertime in Isla Vista is a best-kept secret. With student populations diminished by about two-thirds, the seaside college town is drivable, walkable and family friendly.

Now that school is out for the summer, it’s a great time to take your kids to the UC Santa Barbara campus (check ucsb.edu for bookstore and museum hours, as well as summertime events), hit the beach (find free parking along Camino Majorca – access the beach via steps at the end of Del Playa Drive), or try a new affordable family restaurant in Isla Vista.

Nareh Shanazarian and her family, who own one of Isla Vista’s newest restaurants, are hoping that local families will take a chance on IV this summer.
Photo by Leah Etling

Nareh Shanazarian and her family, who own one of Isla Vista’s newest restaurants, are hoping that local families will take a chance on IV this summer.

“When you walk into HiWi, and into this patio, you don’t really notice where you are. It feels like you are in paradise,” said Shanazarian, gesturing around the palm tree-studded patio of the restaurant at 6555 Pardall Road. In the heart of Isla Vista’s business district, the restaurant is on the lot that locals will remember as Craig Geyer’s longtime plumbing business and supply yard.

Today, the space is transformed to a modern walk-up restaurant with plentiful seating shaded by young palm trees. The menu includes many Hawaiian-inspired foods, but also features influences from Asia, Vietnam, Mexico and California. Customer menu favorites include the poke bowl, shrimp burger on Hawaiian bread, musubi and island tacos.

Last month, HiWi received a “REAL Certified” designation from the United States Healthful Food Council, which entails an in-depth analysis of the restaurant’s menu, food sourcing, and invoices from product purchasing. Shanazarian said that while purchasing locally sourced and organic products can be expensive, it’s a priority.

“We are a very health-conscious family and love organic products and gluten-free options. Being able to bring that here at affordable prices is really great,” Shanazarian said.

Just out of college herself, she earned her undergraduate degree at Cal State Northridge in marketing and management. She’s now working toward a master’s degree at the University of Redlands, where she commutes for classes one day a week.

HiWi is a family venture, with Nareh’s aunt Monica and father Vartan both playing significant roles. Monica’s son is studying at UCSB, and after attending his soccer games the family realized there really wasn’t an ideal restaurant in Isla Vista for them to enjoy. About six months later, HiWi was a reality.

“The music, the vibe, the customer service that we have – we want to make sure that everyone is comfortable. We don’t play music with bad language, shows on TV are appropriate, and we don’t serve alcohol. It’s very family friendly, especially during the UCSB off-season,” Shanazarian said. “We look forward to welcoming more local families to our little slice of paradise.”

HiWi restaurant is at 6555 Pardall Road in Isla Vista. For more information, call 805-845-1717 or go to hiwifusion.com.