If you've lived in Bakersfield for a few years, there is just an expectation that you will have visited some of our restaurant institutions, including but not limited to Luigi's, Wool Growers, Mama Tosca's, Frugatti's, Jake's Tex-Mex and Mexicali.
And, of course, the Arizona Cafe, that Old Town Kern institution that's been in business for decades, well before I arrived here in 1980. In fact, it's celebrating its 70-year anniversary this year.
Yet a few years ago, I was stunned to hear that former Californian photographer John Harte, had never been there even though he lives on the east side. This occurred in a discussion with another former colleague, Leonel Martinez, and we talked about how I was going to take them there some Saturday for breakfast.
The pandemic intruded and only recently has John felt comfortable enough to go to restaurants, but as chance would have it, he had to bow out and it was only Leonel and me.
Leonel was fortunate enough to grow up with decent Mexican food in Lamont, whereas I was deprived of any such fare in Wisconsin. He is a big fan of the Arizona Cafe and its menudo, but on this occasion, he went for another old favorite of mine, the huevos rancheros ($18), while I chose the machaca ($17).
We reminisced about how I used to love going there when it was open till 7 p.m., as dinner is less crowded and has such a relaxed vibe. Unfortunately, a business decision to close at 2 p.m. every day was probably prompted by the assorted characters that can chase away customers.
In any case, the food is as good as it ever was for a lot of reasons: freshly made tortillas, great pot beans and that famous chile verde that Leonel confessed that he loved for the same reason I do — you get to pick out the bones. Any chef will tell you that meat cooked with bones tastes better than meat that is far away from any potential source of marrow. I don't know the chemical reasons why, but when it comes to chicken, beef or pork, it's always better with the bones.
So, Leonel got the chile verde with his eggs, tortillas and beans and ended up with three small rib bones on his plate when it was all over. But it was worth the slight inconvenience. If you don't want to do the work, I can recommend the wet chile verde burrito ($8) on the side dishes menu, which is an old favorite.
The machaca is another thing I like to order mostly because I cannot believe how finely minced the tomatoes, jalapenos and onions are in the mix of ingredients, and how the kitchen so expertly blends together the scrambled eggs, beef and veggies, the plate being particularly heavy on the portion of meat. Also, how great it works in either variety of their tortillas with the refried beans and rice on the plate.
Other menu items I really like are the chilaquiles with or without meats ($13.25-$17), the potatoes with chorizo ($13.25) and the carne guisado ($17), a steak with jalapeno and onion strips on top.
The ambiance hasn't changed much, but would you want it to? There's a new small sign up top on the outside, and the bar is a full bar. It will be hard to get a seat on the weekends, so arrive early. To some people it isn't Saturday without the Arizona.
John knows he has a standing invitation for that breakfast treat. After that we'll work on getting him to Luigi's.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.