I've read that one positive benefit of the pandemic has been a big boost to the Bakersfield real estate market as we are probably the most affordable big city in the state. Since many are working from home, why not live in a place where an ordinary person can afford a home? Supply of said homes is another issue, but let’s hope that the market will take care of that.
And so now we have established family businesses taking advantage of our more business-friendly climate by opening up here, such as the impressive Sancho’s Tacos, which debuted in a small space adjacent to the Silver Fox Starlite Lounge downtown.
The owners have locations in Huntington Beach, San Clemente, Newport Beach, Laguna Niguel and Oceanside, all opened since 2010 by founder Donnie Lancaster.
You might have a tendency to prejudge, but I went with an open mind, even though I know how insanely competitive those restaurant markets are and also acknowledging that we have some amazing, heavily praised taco places established here.
Prepare to be wowed, as we were when we took four people on a Wednesday and ordered a passel of food that included a bean burrito ($5.99), a chicken burrito ($8.35), chips with salsa ($3.95), almost every taco on the board including the OG ($3.35, tri-tip), the amazing Federale ($3.20, carnitas), Skrimps ($3.95, a grilled shrimp taco that can compete with the amazing Manuel’s just to the south of this place) and the Surf & Turf ($5.45, made with tri-tip and sautéed shrimp).
Everything was good in ways that will inspire future visits, though we’ll probably go back on Tuesdays when the manager told a nearby table that all tacos were $2 from 4 to 8 p.m. Crowds get so thick at their other locations that they stay open an hour later on Tuesdays.
One complaint we had was that you couldn’t get a cerveza with the tacos; those two are natural companions. In our eavesdropping we heard the manager commenting that the Silver Fox next door didn’t want them competing with them and as the landlord wouldn’t let them sell beer or wine. I seriously doubt there will be people skipping the Silver Fox for Sancho’s. Seems like two different crowds.
Even the atmosphere is festive, with all sorts of freehand painting done by a guy who goes by Kool Hand Luke. He’s decked out a Big Boy-like character ("Gran Chico") near the door wearing a sombrero and holding a plate of tacos. Inside there’s more artistry that will put a smile on your face as you’re probably waiting in line. It’s a tiny place where you order and pay at the counter and they will bring your food out to the small patio outside.
They get the smallest details so right, beginning with things like the chips and the ice in the drinks. The ice is what I call Sonic ice, those small cubes like the drive-in chain offers, which bring great comfort during our hot summers no matter what drink they’re floating in. The chips are not those thin, magazine-cover perfect chips you get in so many restaurants. These are gnarled, some thick, some split, some broken, some complete with small pockets that are perfect for entrapping some of their impressive salsas. Sure, they’re not free, but mark them down as a must-order.
The good impressions on that first visit just kept continuing. The bean and cheese burrito was made with refried beans that had some whole beans mixed in, a fresh grilled flour tortilla and a mix of cheddar and Jack cheese. It just oozed excellence.
The shrimp in my taco (I wouldn’t share — it was that good) were medium-sized and fresh tasting, grilled first then sautéed till lightly brown in butter and garlic, topped with chopped cabbage. You can get either the fish or shrimp deep fried with a beer batter, but with this sort of graceful treatment why would you?
The carnitas was soft and almost served with a gravy of sorts, so moist was the mixture with onions, cilantro, sour cream and Sancho's Chubbie Sauce. Some restaurants give you shredded strands, some give you chunks, this is a genuine original to me, like a great stew. The tri-tip is like elevated carne asada tacos, really flavorful and not tough in the least. And the grilled chicken in the burrito was similarly satisfying.
The burrito itself is where I will head for future visits because it was just rich with ingredients and textures and so balanced: rice, beans, fresh onions and cilantro, just the right amount of meat. They also have a tri-tip burrito with french fries in it, the CaliGuey ($10.75).
A friend told me afterward that we made a big mistake not ordering the churros, which are stunning and available in small or large sizes, made on the premises in the small kitchen as almost everything here is. The taco made with grilled marinated flounder ($3.35) is also supposed to be amazing. Motivation for future visits.
If you love upscale Mexican food, Sancho’s Tacos is a must visit. It can be recommended for a fine dining experience and is one of the best restaurants to open in Bakersfield this year.