The affluent city of Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera. Its sprawling south-facing beaches are dotted with luxury hotels and its hills to the north are home to some of the world’s most famous people, including Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres and, recently, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
It’s also one of the most popular destinations for tourists from neighboring cities who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and relax in one of the most beautiful places in America.
So as a major tourist hub that has an economy that relies heavily on hospitality, why is a budget pizza chain one of the most recommended restaurants in the city?
It’s complicated and, admittedly, a bit stupid (in a fun way).
It all started on the social media site Reddit. The website is a powerful aggregation tool for niche topics and localized content – it’s also full of inside jokes and memes.
Those inside jokes are exactly how Little Caesars on Milpas Street became a go-to recommendation for people hitting up Reddit for dining advice.
To understand how this happened, it’s important to understand how Reddit works.
Reddit as a whole is an amalgamation of smaller sites (subreddits) that exist to allow for people to discuss specific topics with other people with similar interests. The National Football League has a subreddit, there’s a subreddit for people interested in the stock market, photos of dogs using pillows has its own subreddit, and there are even more hyper-specific subreddits to discuss the minutiae of life or the darkest corners of the internet.
There are also subreddits dedicated to cities, one of which is /r/SantaBarbara.
The idea of a city subreddit is, in its purest form, a place for locals to discuss the day-to-day events of the city, squabble over decisions made by city politicians, complain about the cost of rent or just reminisce about the “good ol’ days” before the city was ruined by this or that.
But because anyone can post in these subreddits, there’s also a heavy dose of non-locals asking residents for advice on how to spend their time and money in the city. With a city as popular as Santa Barbara, posts by tourists asking locals to essentially plan their trips for them were becoming an annoyance.
A few weeks ago, user deepsea333 sarcastically summarized it best:
“I’ve never been to Santa Barbara or heard much about it … I want to plan a detailed trip with my significant other, girlfriends, fiancé etc. I’m just not sure how google works and Yelp! is kinda hard, and I read a blog that said Santa Barbara is really nice and friendly for tourists, especially first time visitors. Soooo, I’m hoping some kind internet-but-local-stranger will do all that legwork for me, decide what I might like best, and basically unlock the secret door to cheap hotels, fine dining and entertainment.“
Needless to say, the steady stream of tourist posts can often overtake the online space which, in theory, is meant for locals.
Years ago, in an attempt to inconvenience and poke fun at the tourists who were seemingly incapable of doing their own research, one intrepid user by the name of PapaParmesano saw an opening.
In July 2016, the earliest example we could find because the account has since been banned by Reddit, PapaParmesano recommended a “local favorite for fine Italian cuisine on the central coast.”
It was the Little Caesars on Milpas Street.
The Milpas corridor in Santa Barbara is one of the city’s less affluent neighborhoods, with working class residents and a large grouping of the city’s fast food locations. It’s a far cry from the Montecito, Hope Ranch and Mesa neighborhoods that celebrities and literal royalty call home.
It was meant to be an absurdist idea: an outsider looking for a fancy night out with their friend or significant other is encouraged to visit a pizza shop known for $5 pre-cooked pizzas in a lower-income neighborhood.
But the inside joke caught on like wildfire.
The original commenter who came up with the joke continued to recommend Little Caesars, sometimes only giving out the address, while other times styling the name in a pseudo-Italian style in hopes of tricking some oblivious tourist to visit the local “hot spot.”
In June 2020, a poster asked for a good recommendation for a “good daily restaurant for a date.” They included no details about what they were looking for in the restaurant, when they would be visiting or how much they intended to spend.
PapaParmesano’s response: “Le Chateaux de Petit Cesar en rue de Milpas” — aka, Little Caesars on Milpas.
Years later, the joke has outlived its originator, oftentimes abbreviated as just LCOM. Users regularly post photos of the restaurant, while others who missed the boat ask about the joke’s origins.
“‘Le petite Cesarito,’ my aunt was pissed when I recommended that place to her,” user joeandjulius2021 wrote in a Reddit thread in November.
“I hear the reservations are booked months out now that it won a Michelin Star,” ChaseECarpenter commented on another thread from early December.
“We do it for annoying tourists and out-of-towners,” another user, aptly named SBisMine, wrote.
The joke has mostly been contained to Reddit, but it has been referenced on other sites. A Yelp review of the restaurant calls Little Caesars on Milpas “Santa Barbara’s #1 restaurant on reddit.” The reviewer admitted to not fully understanding the reasoning for the joke, but added that there’s also adequate parking at the pizza shop.
We reached out to Little Caesars corporate to ask if they knew anything about the joke or if they could comment on its existence. Here’s what they said:
“Santa Barbara locals know a good value when they see one. They’re probably in the know about how we make our dough fresh in house every single day, unlike most other national pizza chains. They probably know that we use a fresh, never frozen, blend of cheeses. And they’ve probably tried one of our newest toppings, the Fanceroni Pepperoni, that brings high-end crispy cupped style pepperoni at a great value.”Jill Proctor, Director of Strategic Communications at Little Caesar Enterprises
In many ways, the inside joke has served its purpose. By being told to go to an affordable quick-service restaurant, tourists hoping to live like a local are doing just that.
“The locals like to go to places where there aren’t tourists, so we’re not going to advertise those places here. If we did advertise it, it wouldn’t be a place locals like to go anymore,” user Cartheonn wrote. “When someone asks, they get rebuffed with Little Caesars. Which is accurate, as I’m sure locals eat there, because it’s still open and tourists definitely aren’t eating there.”
So if you’re looking for a recommendation of where to eat on a night out in Santa Barbara, and you don’t feel like doing any of the research yourself, ask a local. The only answer is Little Caesars on Milpas.
Editor’s note: Some responses have been edited for clarity.