Bakersfield's Noriega Hotel
Ian Dagnall/Alamy

Bakersfield's Noriega Hotel

Bakersfield's Noriega Hotel
This classic Basque restaurant is a must-try in Bakersfield

When Spaniards began descending on Bakersfield in the 1800s, searching for gold and herding sheep, they brought with them an appetite for roast lamb, oxtail stew, and baguette upon baguette of French bread. While the shepherds have (mostly) come and gone, the tradition of Basque cuisine remains in Bakersfield. Few places stick as closely to the script as the Noriega Hotel, a former boarding house founded by Basque expats in 1893, still bustling near the town’s train tracks.

Known locally as Noriega’s, the restaurant picks up action before the meal at the bar, where patrons listen to music, chat, and sip Picon Punch (a Basque cocktail). Then it’s time to grab a seat at the long communal tables, where each meal begins with appetizers both common—salad and rolls—and not—cottage cheese cut with mayonnaise and pickled tongue. After that come platters of Basque classics like paella, lamb stew, bacalao (a salted cod dish that hails from the Basque region), and fried chicken with freshly chopped garlic. Loaves of French bread and hunks of blue cheese fill the spaces in between. Meals are all-you-can-eat fare and all-you-can-drink red table wine—or coffee, tea, or milk for non-tipplers. 

In 2011, Noriega’s caught the attention of the James Beard Foundation, which named the institution—run by the same family since 1931—an American classic. “We were very surprised by that,” says Linda Elizalde-McCoy, who owns Noriega’s with her sister, Rochelle Ladd. “They determined that yeah, it was something different.” The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and L.A. Weekly have also heralded the restaurant, which keeps the 120-person dining room humming. (Ms. McCoy notes that summers bring more tourists, while locals pack the place year round.) Though Noriega’s harks back to a time before gluten-free regimens became a thing, most dietary restrictions can be accommodated: Vegetarians who eat eggs are offered omelettes, and those who can’t consume flour can opt for baked chicken instead of fried.

Lunch runs $17 a person, dinner $22; children are charged a dollar per year of age, up to 8 for lunch and 12 for dinner. Reservations are recommended.

Laura Flippen

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