Longtime residents will remember all the drama associated with the Lamont restaurant El Jacalito. Luis Aquilar took what was a shack and built such a following that people from Bakersfield would drive there and wait quietly, patiently, for an hour or more just to get fed on a weekend night. Being the wise businessman he was, he decided to expand his restaurant to a new building nearby and expected he could take the name, but the landlord objected, saying the name went with the building.
Eventually Luis gave in and opened El Pueblo and the shack continued under new tenants as El Jacalito. El Pueblo prospered, and the lines vanished outside El Jacalito but it continued under new ownership and now that owner with a 22-year track record, Frank Pinto, has opened his own place on Brundage Lane in Bakersfield, Los Panchos Restaurant & Bar, bringing a bit of that Lamont authenticity to the big city.
The place is a tad hard to find. We had assumed it was in the Olde Port Fish Grotto building slightly east on Brundage, a location that has been home to dozens of restaurants since that seafood restaurant closed. Instead it’s located at the western edge of a strip mall that is mostly vacant with an interior that is clean, shiny and a radical contrast to what you see outside.
I think what you can expect is solid basic Mexican food if nothing innovative or radical in a part of town that really isn’t rich in Mexican restaurants really. Check it on Google Maps and you’ll see only Los Molacajetes (which is always crowded) and Santiago’s Grill & Seafood nearby on Wible. We were recently in the Rosedale area and befuddled by a Mexican restaurant that is always packed despite horrible service when we visited. My companion noted that there wasn’t much competition nearby and people do like to have a neighborhood Mexican restaurant to visit. Oleander now has a new one.
If they keep up the hospitality we received from the owner’s son, I suspect Los Panchos will have a long run. The young man had the most perfect head of hair I’ve seen in my lifetime. If you’re wearing a hat to cover up your bald spot, you won’t want him as your waiter — he’ll depress you. I originally requested a Negra Modelo from the beer list, but he came back with bad news, they were out, and he suggested another dark beer. When he was out of that, he comped a dark Bohemia. That cost just got rolled into his tip. One good gesture deserves another. He was also quite charming, knowledgeable about the menu and explained that the family had a long run in Lamont before the family fixed this place up and struck out on their own.
As we mentioned, the menu covers most of the Mexican basics you expect — the most unusual item was lobster fajitas ($16.99). My companion selected a tostada compuestas with chile verde ($9.99) and I went for the beef flautas ($9.99). One thing you will notice about the prices is they have a bit of the Lamont in them, as a touch lower across the board than what we’re accustomed to in Bakersfield. It’s kind of like what I find in Taft. Small-town prices.
Both choices were truly solid. The chile verde was medium spicy at best, so don’t expect a flaming tongue out of this, but my companion noted the pork chunks were free of fat, tender and tasted of a slow simmer. The shell, the iceberg lettuce, everything else was what you see often. I haven’t ordered beef flautas regularly, but what I received was flour tortillas tightly wrapped around stringy beef and deep fried, the tendrils of the beef crispy extending out the ends and moist inside with no cheese, beans, rice or other filler — just the beef. Rice and beans were also respectable. Nothing you’d have to tweet about, but with the family’s history of understanding they’re in the hospitality business, I think they’ll be winning over customers one at a time.
I went back to try one of the lunch specials, the enchiladas suizas ($7.99) and it was a choice really indicative of the typical product from the Los Panchos kitchen: The green sauce had a real, slow-cooked homemade appeal, and the chicken inside was simply prepared but satisfying.
The salsa served with the chips had a particularly fresh taste as if they made it minutes ago, and it will be very familiar to anyone who patronized the Lamont restaurant.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com.