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PETE TITTL: La Imperial Taqueria more than your average Mexican restaurant

Those of us living in Bakersfield have been spoiled for so long by the availability of great Mexican food. I read stories in this paper of people moving away to go to Washington state or Idaho and I think where, once you’re there, can you find simple but amazing tacos made with fresh-made corn tortillas like they’re serving at La Imperial Taqueria on Rosedale Highway?

Even if you’re spoiled with simple Mexican fare and you already have your favorites, there are real reasons to check out this new place located near Hooters in what used to be Fred’s Barbecue Factory (before it moved across the street in 2019 and became a more formal steakhouse). This is the third location of the small local chain that also has restaurants in Wasco and Shafter.

My companion noted the tasteful redecorating inside even though we were among the crowd dining in the parking lot tent outside. It was legal on this particular date to dine indoors, but we were there in October when the nights were perfect for alfresco dining and everyone else was out there, possibly discouraged by the sign on the door saying customers could dine inside as long as capacity didn’t exceed 25 percent. Once math is involved, humans seem to take the path of least resistance.

Everything was great, even though we possibly ordered too much. Tacos are available a la carte for $2 to 3, with an additional $1 charge if you want it made with homemade corn tortillas. What kind of question is that? Of course we’re paying that extra buck.

There were 13 different protein sources available, including carnitas, chile verde and asada (a trio that we ordered), as well as tongue, head, tripe, shrimp, fish, chorizo and birria de chivo (braised goat meat). We also ordered two of the specialty platters: the flautas ($12) and the enchiladas ($12), choosing chicken for the former and shredded beef for the latter.

Even the jaded Bakersfield Mexican restaurant veteran will be impressed by the fare here. The flautas, for example, were rolled tighter than a Cuban cigar, grease free, crispy enough to shatter at the pressure of a tooth, the moist chicken inside seasoned with the perfect touch. My enchiladas had a sauce that did not have the bitter notes you sometimes get from red enchilada sauce, and the beef had that same moist, alluring texture that the poultry in the flautas possessed.

As for the tacos, those tortillas, soft like pancakes and moist, would have made anything taste great. The chile verde was not excessively spicy, the carnitas had a mix of crunchy and moist pork strands and the asada was so good my companion wished she had ordered the asada fries ($9) or a plate of those tacos.

The food is presented in black plastic clamshell containers and the utensils are also plastic but given the food, we hardly noticed. No wine is available, but there are five beers in bottles, two on draft (Blue Moon and Modelo), micheladas and White Claw are also on the list.

We didn’t get a chance to sample any of the eight seafood items, but if we need a reason to return the camarones a la diabla ($16) at a nearby table looked like the ticket. And menudo ($13) and pozole ($13) are available on Saturdays and Sundays.

Service was fine, well-organized, but you order at a counter and they give you a beeper that buzzes when the food is ready, so it’s a bit of self-serve. Inside there’s some very cool woodwork on the walls, a salsa bar, pendant lighting, the still trendy open industrial black ceiling.

La Imperial Taqueria can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

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