I’ve been wanting to try Bakersfield since it opened about six months ago and the buzz began. One of the things that’s been keeping me from reviewing Bakersfield is that it is usually incredibly crowded and I have very little patience for that sort of thing. A friend of mine recently had cause to celebrate during a very low-volume time of day (about 5 on a Tuesday), so I voted to try this place out.
A lot of people don’t know this, but Bakersfield is actually a chain, albeit a small chain, with at least one branch that I know of in Cincinnati. The concept of the restaurant is ” …inspired by a city (Bakersfield, CA) known for spawning an era of music called the Bakersfield Sound. The “Sound” was a reaction to the slick, pop country music coming out of Nashville. It was firmly country but had more of a rock n’ roll influence, and was a bit less polished than other records of the time.” This means there is always pretty loud country music playing in the restaurant.
The interior has a Restoration-Hardware-Meets-Rodeo feel to it: it wants to be gritty and cowboy-industrial but tries way too hard. There are giant upended barrels for tables. That said, the whole restaurant opens to the outside via massive windows lining the front wall, which compensates for the lack of outdoor seating and makes this a great spot for a summer night drink.
The Bakersfield theme gets a little confusing at this point ”Bakersfield CA was a small agricultural city with Mexican influence. Therefore Bakersfield will be throwing down Mexican-influenced street fare with a focus on tacos, tequilas, and whiskeys.” Now, I love whiskey, but the thought of drinking it with a taco is just plain confusing for me. Nevertheless, they have their story and they’re sticking to it. The menu consists of basically tacos and tortas.
Christina and I decided on house margaritas, which I had heard were good, and chips and guacamole. I’d had their Milanesa torta on a previous visit and was rather underwhelmed, so I decided to try a taco on this trip. I picked the crispy mahi taco with tabasco lime sauce and citrus slaw. Christina ordered the short rib torta with caramelized onions, chihuahua cheese, arugula, black beans, and roasted tomatillo salsa.
I’ll start, as did our meal, with the positive, which is that our drinks and guacamole were outstanding. The guacamole comes in a cup that looks small but must contain two whole avocados. This guacamole is one of my favorite restaurant guacamoles-giant chunks of avocado, lots of garlic, no raw onion. Aces.
The margaritas were perfectly sweet and salty and disarmingly strong. Even with the chips and guacamole, I had to walk this one off for a bit. It was delicious and at $6, put Bakersfield right near the top of my list for a drink with friends.
The meal got a little disappointing from there. My fish taco was beautiful but tiny-literally a 1 oz piece of fish-and the taste was a bit subtle for me. And $4 for that tiny of a taco is a little ridiculous. The whole thing was over in 2 bites.
Christina’s torta was more substantial and reasonably priced. The braised shortrib was very sweet and barbecue-like, but the flavors were unremarkable. It was a fine sandwich, although nothing the more authentic tortas I’ve had. Not that authenticity is a requirement for me at all, but don’t have expectations of a sandwich like the ones you’d get from Super Tortas. Basically this torta was like eating a good pulled-pork sandwich.
Another note, which I’m sure was a fluke but probably would have improved my experience a significant amount, was that the limes served with everything I ate seemed to be having a really rough day. You can see in my photos: absolutely not one drop of lime juice could be elicited into my cocktail or onto my taco. I love citrus juice and I think limes are actually kind of a big freakin deal for a Mexican place, so I hope this was just a one-time bad order.
I will never suggest Bakersfield if a friend asks me for a good place for Mexican. But If I’m on Mass Ave on a warm summer night and I need a drink and a snack? Absolutely! It’s got an outdoor feel, cheap tasty cocktails, and decent snack food. There’s a reason this is where the beautiful people are.