Chili verde

Chili Verde

“Don’t go east beyond the 99” is a phrase I frequently heard as the new kid on the block in Bakersfield.

With rumors of dangerous streets, questionable faces and the homeless running rampant, hearing those things would concern anyone. However, once I heard about a little “hole in the wall” Mexican restaurant, Arizona Cafe, with amazing soups and stews, nothing could stop me.

As a former resident of downtown Los Angeles, I’ve definitely braved my fair share of tough streets and tent cities on the daily. So, in going to East Bakersfield, I felt prepared for whatever came my way (I’ll obviously almost do anything for some chips and killer salsa).

As I turned onto Baker Street, I was shocked at how “normal” the street actually was. It was definitely evident I wasn’t on the west side anymore, however, the area around Arizona Cafe is full of old-world Bakersfield charm and industrial storefronts. I was pleasantly surprised.

Arizona Cafe is nestled just south of the railroad on Baker Street under the cutest signature marquee I’ve ever seen. Though the street was quiet, upon opening the door to Arizona Cafe I found a bustling business filled with happy regulars and aromas that were out of this world.

I was immediately greeted, seated and my drink order was taken right off the bat.

Arizona Cafe is family owned and operated and it truly shows in its great service and chipper demeanor.

The menu is short and to the point and has been this way ever since the restaurant’s opening in 1953. No frills and thrills, just the family classics. There’s something refreshing about not having to flip the page on a menu. I ordered the chilaquiles, albondigas soup and their signature chile verde.

Chilaquiles is traditionally served as a breakfast dish, but in my opinion, they can and should be eaten at any time of the day – and are even better after a night out on the town. Luckily, Arizona Cafe serves its entire menu throughout the day. Chilaquiles are basically breakfast nachos smothered with cheese, salsa and a meat of your choice. The majority of Mexican restaurants get this dish wrong by serving a plate of soggy, cheesy chips. Yet, Arizona Cafe gets it just right with a balanced plate of cheese and sauce with chips that still have a crunch with every bite.

Though chile verde is a classic stewed pork dish that can be found on the menu of any Mexican restaurant, Arizona Cafe has a family secret salsa used in its version of that has convinced me to never have chile verde anywhere else ever again. It is just that good!

Truth be told, albondigas soup is also a traditional dish that I love. I order it anywhere I can. If it’s on the menu, I order it. However, at many places, I can tell, or taste, that the soup has come from a can or a large batch that has been reheated. This is not the case at Arizona Cafe. The meatballs are beautifully formed and flavorful, the vegetables are fresh and vibrant, and the broth screams homemade with multiple depths of flavor. Truly a beautiful dish.

Arizona Cafe is a diamond in the rough. In a town with multiple Mexican restaurants with similar menus, Arizona Cafe shines from the east. It’s a classic, historic place run on family values and secret recipes. Every employee is a delight. No matter what their service title is, every single person at Arizona Cafe will seat, greet and serve you and do it with a smile. You may even get a hug farewell.

As far as going “east beyond the 99” for a second time, I will do it again and again to continue to find the flavors of old-town Bakersfield. Arizona Cafe was the best way to pop my eastside cherry and I can’t wait to see what else the east has in store! 

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