Editor's note: The restaurant is currently closed, as are many others, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Parlaying the success of a food truck into a stationary restaurant isn’t a walk in the park and doesn’t guarantee that it will be a slam dunk. But Vatos Tacos is proof that Bakersfield customers will follow food from the west side to the east side for a sit-down experience that doesn’t compromise the taco fantasy experience they had at the truck.
Dining curbside from a food truck is something everyone should experience at some point, especially if you consider yourself an “epicurious” foodie. So when I met my husband and his co-worker at the Vatos Tacos truck on their lunch break and I smelled the wonders of al pastor in the air, I knew I was about to have another truck on my list of “go-to” spots in town.
I ordered their mulita, a wonderful mini quesadilla filled with al pastor, tons of melty cheese, onions and cilantro topped with pickled onions. As I chowed down, I was raving about every bite, relaying my every thought of every bite. My husband’s co-worker then asked me if I’ve been to the Vatos Tacos cantina, their brick-and-mortar location.
“Um, no!” I replied. I mean, I’m “Dining with Dre.” How did I not know about this place? I knew I had to dine there ASAP.
Fast-forward to earlier this month, where I dragged my editor to have lunch with me at Vatos Tacos Grill & Cantina, nestled in northeast Bakersfield, right off Highway 178. As soon as I opened the door I knew it was going to be a good time. The same smells of the truck filled the cantina, bringing back memories of my mulita experience. The music overhead took me back to the late ’90s, with the sounds of Michael Jackson and Biggie complete with Chicano and Dia de los Muertos art on the walls.
When I skimmed the menu, it did not disappoint. Vatos Tacos’ menu consists of Mexican-style street food with a modern twist, sugarcoated with family recipes from the owner. I love a good restaurant with a family foundation.
I tried the Vato burger, tacos dorados de birria, the sampler platter and, of course, the mulita. I HAD to have it again! The Vato burger is not for the faint of heart and is pretty darn delicious — a housemade patty on a bed of lettuce topped with guacamole, bacon, cheese and jalapeno poppers. Just make sure to ask for a fork and knife on the side when you order this bad boy.
Vatos Tacos’ sampler appetizer platter is not your average or traditional Mexican platter. Move over chips and dip and make way for bacon-wrapped shrimp, bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, loaded chicken taquitos and chili verde. After trying all the items on the platter while I sipped on their signature mango mule, I was in heaven. And pretty full.
But I still had to relive my mulita experience! The true test of this whole experience was if the cantina mulita stood up to the truck’s mulita. As it was served in front of me, with the cheese still bubbling from the flat-top grill, the same aroma filled my nose. As I took the first bite, it transported me back to that hot summer day sitting in the parking lot of the Vatos Tacos truck. I felt silly for even questioning the comparison between the truck and the cantina.
One thing about Vatos Tacos to keep in mind is that it’s not your average Mexican restaurant. If you’re looking for a simple bean and cheese burrito or chicken tacos, turn around and go to Mexicali — you won’t find that here. What you will find is a fun family oriented and family owned restaurant that takes traditional flavors to the next level for a melt-in-your-mouth experience that will keep you coming back for more. ￼