Noriega Hotel: Dining at Basque People’s House in Bakersfield

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We had a reservation for the 7 PM seating at Noriega Hotel, Bakersfield’s most famous Basque restaurant, and were warned not to arrive late, since they wouldn’t seat us. We left Los Angeles at 4:30 PM, seemingly leaving plenty of time to make the 100-mile drive. Unfortunately, since it was the Friday before Memorial Day, get-out-of-town day, the 5 North was a parking lot. Thankfully, traffic shook loose near Valencia and we reached Noriega Hotel at 6:56 PM. Phew.

According to the menu, The Noriega Hotel was founded in 1893 by Faustino Noriega. Juan and Gracianna Elizalde took over in 1931 and it’s been in the family ever since. In 1940, the hotel expanded to include the present bar and dining room. In Basque, the establishment is known as Eskualdunen Etchea (The Basque People’s House).

Basque Restaurant Bakersfield
There’s breakfast at Noriega Hotel from 7 AM – 9 AM, which features the agonizing decision: wine or coffee? Most people turn out for the noon lunch or the 7 PM dinner seatings. Reservations are a good idea. People congregated in the bar, waiting for their names to be called. Oddly, a handball court was attached to the bar. The owner informed us that Europeans have been known to visit and put on jai alai exhibitions in the court. No, “jai alai” isn’t just a word used in crossword puzzles, as evidenced by the cestas (basket-gloves) mounted on the bar walls.

Basque Restaurant Bakersfield
The colorful sign on the left features the Elizalde family crest. On the right, there’s a drawing of what I’m guessing are early owners.

Basque Restaurant Bakersfield
Stuck to the bar was this hilarious take on the bumper sticker that brags about children making the honor roll. Lerdo is a detention facility just north of Bakersfield.

Cocktail Bakersfield
To fill the four minute gap between our arrival and seating, I ordered a famous Basque beverage: picon punch ($3.25). The bartender described the drink as “Basque people’s martini,” meant as a pre-dinner drink. Picon punch contains Torani brand Amer, grenadine “for sweetness,” and brandy on top.

Basque Restaurant Bakersfield
At Noriega Hotel, dining is family style, creating opportunities to meet interesting locals like Errol, who’s been eating at Noriega Hotel for forty years, and fellow gastronauts like Cameron, Patrick and Chet, buddies from L.A. who were on their way to Kings Canyon.

Basque Restaurant Bakersfield
On the dining room wall, there’s a portrait of Grace Laporte Elizalde, a member of the Basque Hall of Fame and former owner of Noriega Hotel, who passed away in 1974.

Basque Food Bakersfield
For a flat fee of $19, including tax, we received a ridiculous amount of food. When we arrived at our seats, we were already faced with a big basket of crusty bread, a bottle of house red wine, and a bowl of salad dressed with vinaigrette…

Basque Food Bakersfield
…plus thin-sliced pickled lamb tongue, pinto beans, eggy potato salad and clam chowder – the soup of the day…

Basque Food Bakersfield
…plus spicy salsa and cottage cheese.

Basque Food Bakersfield
It wasn’t long before our waitress started bringing plates. Arrival #1 was this house-made blue cheese. Turns out “Blue Veins” isn’t just a Raconteurs song.

Basque Food Bakersfield
Noriega Hotel offers different twin dinner entrees each day of the week. On Tuesday: chicken cacciatore and steak. Wednesday: lamb stew and prime rib. Thursday: beef stew and spare ribs. Saturday: oxtail stew and fried chicken. Sunday: beef stew and beef chicken. Our first entree: juicy beef stew.

Basque Food Bakersfield
For a side, we received a big plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce, dusted with Parmesan cheese.

Basque Food Bakersfield
For another side, we were treated to peas and carrots.

Basque Food Bakersfield
Our second entree consisted of lean leg of lamb with crisp French fries.

Ice Cream Bakersfield
Dessert consisted of a single scoop of chocolate chip ice cream. Our waitress admitted it wasn’t made in house, but it still tasted good, with shards of chocolate instead of whole chips. Errol predicted that the ice cream was produced at Dewar’s Candy Shop, our next stop.

Basque Restaurant Bakersfield
Noriega Hotel is incredibly generous with their portions, but they implore customers not to take advantage of their generosity.

I haven’t eaten much Basque food, but after Noriega Hotel, I can see the appeal of the cuisine of the mountainous region that straddles the borders of Spain and France. Since there’s a relatively large Basque population in Bakersfield, I look forward to sampling some of the other Basque restaurants in the city. If I can keep myself from Noriega Hotel.

Noriega Hotel: Dining at Basque People’s House in Bakersfield

525 Sumner Street Bakersfield CA 93305
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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

A group of us former Marines meet for breakfast at 0800 Hrs.last Sunday of every month. If there’s a better breakfast for $10 in the world I’d like to find it. Wine for breakfast ? If you haven’t tried it don’t knock it. Semper Fi

[…] … in Paris, where he was raised by a Basque mother and a Spanish father, both of whom had …Food GPS Noriega Hotel – Bakersfield, CA – May 25, 2007In Basque, the establishment is known as Eskualdunen Etchea (The Basque People’s House) … I […]

I don’t make these comments as a know-it-all but our family has been visiting Noriega’s since 1915–before they started serving food.
The tongue is definitely beef tongue. Pickled beef tongue was an Italian addition to the menu in the 1920’s. You will find roast beef tongue in many other Basque restaurants but very few offer the pickled variety: None outside of the southern San Joaquin Valley and, maybe, Chino.
The bleu cheese is commercially purchased. The ice cream is not from Dewar’s, but it’s good. (Don’t miss Dewar’s when you’re in Bakersfield.)
As was mentioned, it is not necessary to take home leftovers, they’ll bring you all the food you can possibly eat. (One doesn’t take home leftovers from a buffet.) Twenty years ago I asked them if they took the leftovers just a block or two away to the homeless shelter. They said they couldn’t because of liability issues. Unfortunately, because of our litigation-crazy society, the leftovers are thrown out.
Dinner, including tax and all that was pictured–and sometimes more–is now $20.

Esteban,

Thanks for the clarifications. Sounds like only the owners may know more about Noriega.

Anthony,

Glad to hear you like Noriega Hotel so much. You may be right, but I was basing the lamb’s tongue and blue cheese assessment on my waitress’ comments.

I think that tongue is beef. Soup is usually a cabbage style; really fantacstic. Are you sure that they make the blue cheese?

I’ve eaten there for years and it is where my friends all join together when I return home from Portland Oregon.

This is the best Basque eatery anywhere.

All the food is family style. If you run out, they bring more. There’s no reason to order more than you can eat, so no reason to send leftovers home. This is the BEST of all the local Basque restaurants in Bakersfield, and one of only 3 that have maintained their original locations and decor in Old Town Kern. Friday nights serves Clam Chowder but the usual is their fabulous Basque cabbage soup, made even better with beans and salsa stirred in. If you ever thought you didn’t like cottage cheese, you had better try theirs. They add garlic, parsley, and maybe mayo or soft cream cheese – it is to die for. We are taking a group of 28 the night before Thanksgiving. We love the bar atmosphere.

Nice beautiful yummy post, I have lived here all my life and never went there but have been to other Bakerfield Basque Resturants. The Noriega Doesn’t want you to take left overs with you? what does that cool looking sign mean at the end of your post mean? Don’t steal the sliverware? were do the left overs go?

hm nice crest

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