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Noriega Hotel in Bakersfield - a great experience

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Last week we had a great evening at the Noriega Hotel - it's located in a quiet out of the way part of Bakersfield. On Sunday night there is only one seating at 7pm - everybody gathers in the bar area and then at the appointed time folks are admitted into a large room with two very long tables and a few small ones on the side. The food comes very soon thereafter. A hearty soup, salad with a bleu cheese dressing, beans (ranch?), bread,plate of tomatoes & onions,pickled tongue, a spicy salsa, a fall off the bones oxtail stew with delicious buttery, flavorful potatoes that had soaked up much flavor from the cooking liquids, over cooked pasta with a marinara sauce, vegetable, the best french fries - fried in lard I hear, and then some very good fried chicken slathered with a sauteed garlic paste, slices of bleu cheese and some vanilla ice cream for dessert. A house wine is on the table. All for $17 (includes tax). The room is buzzing with energy and conversation. I knew there would be lots of food but I was really impressed by how good some of the items were - it's not easy to make good crispy fries for 100 folks....the oxtail stew was satisfying in a low key way, and the fried chicken was very tasty.
At night the neighborhood is very quiet - it's like everybody is coming to a secret event. This is not fine dining but nevertheless, a very satisfying evening - of a type that is not available in many places anymore. The two Basque restaurants in SF have closed.

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  1. You should also try Woolgrowers, at the corner of 19th street and Baker (620 E. 19th St.). I thought it was superior to the Hotel, although the price is a tad higher.

    3 Replies
    1. re: TomSwift

      Yes, I also had Woolgrowers on my list but I opted to try the Noriega just because I wanted the old Basque Hotel experience with communal seating. I'll have to give WoolGrowers a try next time - is the Los Banos one as good as the Bakersfield branch?

      1. re: gordon wing

        I've only been to the Bakersfield edition but I seem to recall some good press on this board about Los Banos.

        1. re: gordon wing

          I went to Woolgrowers in Los Banos in 2010 and found it very much up to Basque standards. I've gone to Noriega since I was a kid in the 50's. I'm so happy with them that I've never gone to the other supposedly excellent ones in Bakersfield since my folks took me to the Pyrenees way back then.

      2. I had a recent off board request from a hound wanting to take their elderly father out for a Basque "blast from the past experience" and wondered what was available in Fresno. I had to do a little research since there's been a few recent changes and thought I'd pass it along to the board.

        I suggested the old Basque Hotel (see link) since it was the only one I had been to recently and wasn't up on the changes the others had experienced, also its proximity to Hwy 99 makes it the logical choice for those traveling through. (exit Fresno St., two short blocks toward downtown, right 1 block on F St.). It's in the old part of DT but has a fenced parking area with a security guard but we park on the street and have never had a problem. This was *the* place in the old days then seemed to slip off the radar. About three years ago we heard the quality was back and began having dinner there again. The food is excellent, basically the same as described by Gordon. Not sure if others offer this but you can have your entree cooked with a chopped garlic coating, it takes the fried chicken over the top. A Google search returned some outdated and confusing information (e.g. no menu at lunch) so I stopped in to get the scoop. Lunch ($8-12) is the standard Basque offerings, fried chicken, pork chop, lamb chop or steak with all the sides. Dinners ($9-15) add the standards, choice of New York, T-bone, Beef KeBab, frog legs fried or sauted, shrimp fried or sauted, fish and Prime Rib (Fri-Sat-Sun) and children's (under 12) steak or chicken plates at $6. On our last visit I ordered the most expensive wine in the house, a $9 bottle of local dago red that was actually pretty good, served chilled in the little flat bottom glasses of course. At lunch the long (sheep herders) table is apparently reserved for the hotel residents, but there are plenty of tables and a banquet room available. No Credit Cards are accepted.

        Stopped by the site of the former Santa Fe Basque (only other remaining in the downtown area, the Yturri having closed years ago) across from the Amtrak Station. the Santa Fe Hotel is still operating (another historical building) and the restaurant has been taken over by the Stone family and operating as the Shepherd's Inn, 935 Santa Fe Ave, (559) 266-2228. The long table seating here is available, the Shepherd's lunch is $5.75, the entrees run $7.75 - 8.50, with grilled or Cajun catfish added to the usual suspects. Burgers and a variety of sandwiches are available (roast pork loin w/sauteed onions, peppers & melted cheese, and pickled tongue among the more interesting). Mon. through Sat. specials: Spare Ribs, Lamb Shanks, Roast Pork, Roast Beef, Catch of Day or Steamed Clams, and Roast Leg of Lamb. Sunday special is Paella and Roasted Chicken. Other additions to the dinner menu include Calamari steak, prime rib or steamed clams (last two Fr-Sa only). Will definitely make a point of trying this place and report back.

        The original Santa Fe Basque has moved into new digs in the site of a former Mexican restaurant at 3110 N. Maroa Ave, (559) 226-7499. Standard Basque lunch menu ($7.50-$9.50) top end prices for Calamari Almondine or Charbroiled Sirloin Steak. Burger or serveral sandwiches with the Lamb Dip looking the most interesting. Dinners run from $10 for fried chicken to $17 for the charbroiled lamb chops. Several steaks and orange roughy are available. Specials: Mon&Sat - Roast leg of lamb, Tu-prime rib, wed-pork spareribs, th-roast pork, fri-orange roughy, Sun- roast chicken in sauterne wine (prices $8-8.50). They offer the family style lunches and dinners, but the long sheep herder's table is missing. This was our favorite for decades when it was across from the train station so I would expect the quality is still there (they we're still packed when I popped in @ 1:30 yesterday) but the atmosphere is more plush, not really upscale but definitely not what you'd want if you're trying to relive that old ambiance. Again, will have to try and report back.

        So, maybe we're not San Diego but we still have 3 Basque restaurants our of 4 from the good old days.

        Dave in Fresno (actually in Fresno)

        (sorry Jim Strain, just couldn't resist) ; >P

        Link: http://sunfive.fresno.edu/courses/pre...

        1. I lived in Bakersfield for awhile and always enjoyed the Basque dinners. Noriega's is the most fun due to its family style. You never who you will meet. Last year it was agricultural inspectors from New Zealand.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Jerry Houser
            Vincent Recalde

            Last week I saw this restaurant featured in the KCET TV show "Visiting California" by Hull Houser - It was very well done, and very complimentary. So much, that I was ready to drive over there for dinner.

          2. almost 7 years after Gordon Wing's post on Noriega's, we had dinner at the place last night, the experience was pretty much the same as he described, and it was a blast. for whatever reason, they served beef stew where we expected oxtails (a disappointment, but so what?) and the bill was $20 a head, a bargain, the chatter with our tablemates (only one of the six or seven within talking range was a local, fwiw) was a lot of fun...we'd come back.
            this was in some ways better than our last Basque dining experience, in Reno--and made us nostalgic for the Basque places at home in San Francisco, now as Gordon said, long closed.

            1. PS--and the Irish bar lady makes a fine Picon Punch--more reason for nostalgia

              1. Anyone been lately? What are the prices like now?

                1 Reply
                1. re: hhc

                  The last time I went (Sept '10, IIRC), it was $20 per, plus tax & tip for dinner.

                2. Thanks, I found out they have a website. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Wow!

                  Noriega Hotel
                  525 Sumner St, Bakersfield, CA

                  Noriega Hotel
                  525 Sumner St, Bakersfield, CA 93305

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: hhc

                    Could you pls do us a favor and input that website in the Place record? Then it will be one click away from all the threads that link to that page. I can't do it from mobile, as saving doesn't work. Thanks.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      ok, the website is in the Place record now.

                      1. re: hhc

                        TQ! I very much wanted to check it out last month, but the severe storm slowed down our drive so much, we didn't have enough time.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      That is good news, but I am sure the place will be more of a madhouse.
                      I've eaten there three times, the food was good, especially the beans and soup, but I felt the entrees were overly spiced and inconsistent.
                      An example is the fried chicken, slathered in minced garlic.
                      But I agree their oxtails are awesome.
                      Glancing at their menu, I think Weds, Thurs, and Saturdays offer the best menu items.

                    2. Because of all the buzz, I decided to give Noriega's a try when I was in town visiting family last week.
                      Overall I felt the food was mediocre, most of the food tasted bland and tired.
                      They were serving fried chicken and oxtails that night, even the oxtails tasted lazily braised.
                      I think the novelty of the place helps it stay popular.

                      1. there used to be a lot more than two Basque restaurants here in SF--of the Noriega style, let's say; I can recall up to four in the mid-1970s--not that it matters, as, yeah, that era has passed. people keep opening up-market Basque-inspired places and some are fabulous (Fringale), some run a couple years and don't make it...

                        1. Made a return visit about a week ago...and...everything was "the same", lots of food, great chatter around the communal dining tables, $20 each for mammoth amounts of food, people making nostalgic returns to a place they'd loved years ago, great soup, great fries, good fried chicken (stringy oxtails), plentiful red wine, happy sounds...and the place was only about 2/3 full on a Saturday night. No idea what to make of this.