From the Basque restaurants of Bakersfield to historic Galt, drive California's heartland in search of upmarket meals and classic comfort foods.
Along the Basque Block of the Old Town Kern neighborhood, you can savor such classics as roasted leg of lamb and oxtail stew at Noriega’s, a restaurant that opened in 1893 and was honored with a prestigious James Beard Award in 2011.
Take a short side-trip to Visalia’s historic downtown and The Vintage Press. A local favorite for more than 50 years, it’s an elegant spot for dinner and a sure lunch bet, thanks to a delicious Armenian lamb shish kebab sandwich.
While the Central Valley is best known for its fruits and vegetables, man does not live by produce alone. If you’re hankering for beef, Merced has a pair of meat-centric choices to consider. With its vintage neon sign proclaiming “Charcoal Broiled Steaks,” there’s little mystery about the specialty at The Branding Iron. Around since 1952, this local institution is famous for prime rib and a coffee-rubbed ribeye. Or try the double French burger (actually made with four patties!) and a root beer float (delivered by a car hop, no less) at the vintage H & W Family Drive-In.
Modesto was the town that inspired the classic film American Graffiti and still has casual spots well-suited to its cruising tradition and eating on the go. At breakfast, check out Mr. T’s Delicate Donut Shop, which officially made it to the A Team after earning honors as one of America’s top 15 donut destinations. Its bacon maple bars are utterly irresistible—and best of all Mr. T’s is open 24/7. Or you can relive the glory days of drive-in dining at Modesto’s A&W Restaurant, which has been around since 1957.
Cruise over to Mr. T’s Delicate Donut Shop, which officially made the A Team after earning honors as one of America’s top 15 donut destinations.
Surrounded by bounteous farmland, Stockton is all about fresh, local foods. Its most famous crop is asparagus and in April you can watch cooking demonstrations and even taste asparagus ice cream (really!) at the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival. On Saturday mornings, browse the Downtown Farmers' Market where more than 80 vendors peddle an array of Chinese, Indian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Korean groceries—plus mountains of vegetables. Stop at The Fruit Bowl on Waterloo Road for a bucket of peaches, nectarines, or apricots. Then sit down for a slice of this farm stand’s fresh peach pie. And speaking of baked goods, the Genova Bakery, an Italian deli that has been filling the air with the aroma of traditional breads for a century, draws long lunch lines to its landmark yellow wood-framed building.