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PETE TITTL: Can’t beat the carnitas at Carniceria El Amigazo

On social media, a friend was asking for Mexican restaurant recommendations, and the usual flurry of great places were offered, with someone chiming in again how Bakersfield residents are spoiled by the quality of what is offered here compared to many U.S. cities (I’ve believed that for years). But a humble, family-owned small place in east Bakersfield popped up, and I realized I’d never even visited it.

Carniceria El Amigazo is known for its carnitas, so I started with that on a Wednesday when the $20.99 special features 2 pounds of carnitas, 18 corn tortillas, 32 ounces of beans, 16 ounces of shredded cabbage and 8 ounces of jalapenos.

Wow, this is one of the best values in town, with an entire white clamshell container filled with some of the most authentic carnitas in town, crispy on the exterior and presented in chunks but very ready for shredding. I have to laugh when I think about the “family packs” we’ve purchased from some restaurants for twice the cost and with seemingly less food.

If you don’t live on the east side, believe me this is worth the drive. The beans are old school all the way, some whole, some refried and with the kind of substantial taste that hinted at some lard. There are days when beans like that are just perfect. The cabbage and jalapeno garnish are wonderful, though bring your own hot sauce and cheese or white onions and cilantro if you want to spice it up. (They do sell salsas a la carte.) For this price, I don’t mind pitching in.

There are other specials worth investigating including burritos on Monday for only $6, made with any meat except lengua, and tacos for $1.25 on Tuesday with the same restriction. Tortas are $6 on Thursday and fries or nachos with meat for $6 on Friday. Saturdays and Sundays are reserved for menudo, which they describe as famous, so there’s that. The menu has 15 different meat choices, including cabeza, ham and tripe. They also do catering, which will be on your list after the first visit undoubtedly.

I will admit there is absolutely no seating area in this small market that reminds me a lot of Wood Dale, with a big white refrigerator case with fresh meats on the left as you enter, the food-prep area on the far right and one cash register near the door. When we visited, there was a steady stream of customers getting food to go, and it sure seems like the specials are the stars on the menu though they also offer soups, plates, breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros.

Another restaurant we saw praised on social media for being a low-profile gem was Sebastian’s Taqueria, a small Rosedale Highway place that we last wrote about in this column five years ago. We wanted to try the carnitas for comparison purposes but the only meats available when we visited were al pastor ($10.99) and carne asada ($12.99).

You should know going in that the pandemic has really impacted this restaurant, which used to be open long hours but is now closing at 2 p.m. and completely closed on Sundays and even on a Monday when we tried to visit.

The food is a lot like what we sampled at the east side meat market, and the carne asada plate is one of my favorites, the thin beef steaks topped with browned onions and a roasted jalapeno, a dollop of guacamole and sour cream on the side, refried beans that had a reddish-brown tint to them and Spanish rice that was bright red with tomato sauce, not pink or orange.

The pastor is OK, but the carne is the must-order item at Sebastian’s. There’s a big menu on the wall with a lot of breakfast choices, tacos, etc., but until business picks back up the owner seems to be in survival mode, hoping as he told me that the worst is over, and they’ll soon be back on track.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.

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