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THE DISH: Scholar pays tribute to now-departed Noriega Hotel

We're not the only ones still missing the Noriega Hotel. Most recently, the Zócalo Public Square published an ode to Bakersfield's oldest Basque restaurant, which closed in April.

Iker Saitua wrote the essay titled "Sunset falls on a sheep hotel of the American West," which was published Thursday on the nonprofit's website. Saitua is an assistant professor of economic history at the University of the Basque Country in Spain and author of "Basque Immigrants and Nevada’s Sheep Industry: Geopolitics and the Making of an Agricultural Workforce, 1880-1954."

The scholar explores the rich history of boarding houses in Southern California and the southern San Joaquin Valley, which were home to scores of Basque immigrants who were drawn to the open-range sheep industry in the West in the second half of the 19th century.

Although they always served food, many establishments converted to restaurants when Basque immigration slowed and the sheep business began to fade in the late 1960s, Saitua writes.(Surviving converted businesses include Wool Growers Restaurant in Los Banos; the Star Hotel in Elko, Nev.; and Leku Ona in Boise, Idaho.)

Purchased by Jean and Grace Elizalde in 1931, the Noriega Hotel eventually evolved into the restaurant it remained for decades, remaining in the family until this year.

It set a culinary standard with its Basque family-style lunch and dinner service featuring the setup of bread, soup, salad, beans, salsa, vegetables and entrees such as oxtail stew and roast lamb.

Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold spoke fondly of the restaurant, which he visited periodically until his death in 2018.

The restaurant was also honored with a James Beard Foundation award for American cuisine in 2011.

Owners Rochelle Ladd and Linda Elizalde McCoy told The Californian in April that the decision had been a long time coming although it was certainly affected by the shutdown in March.

Many of Bakersfield's remaining Basque restaurants will have to reassess their style of dine-in service since social distancing requirements run contrary to the close seating of family-style dining rooms.

Although Noriega won't return to Old Town Kern, its name will continue: Restaurateur Bill Osathanugrah, owner of KK's Cafe and Happy Wings, bought the Noriega Hotel name and liquor license and plans to reopen in a new location.

The restaurant's iconic green neon sign remains part of the original building but its 80-year-old wooden bar is now safely preserved at the Kern County Museum.

Read Saitua's essay at the Zócalo Public Square website at zocalopublicsquare.org.

Other bites

• As outdoor seating continues to grow, Sorella Ristorante Italiano (7900 McNair Lane) is one of the latest to add an outdoor patio in its parking lot. Opened Tuesday, the southwest eatery's patio can now serve dine-in customers.

Sorella has also promoted its family meals and deals, which rotate during the week. For example, its $40 family meal on Thursdays feed six, with a choice of fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce or rigatoni with marinara or meat sauce along with salad and bread.

For more information, visit the restaurant's Facebook page (search "Sorella Ristorante Italiano").

• Speaking of deals, Chef's Choice Noodle Bar has designated August as Customer Appreciation Month.

For every purchase on Mondays and Tuesdays, there is an opportunity to receive a gift card, with a $10 card for every $50 purchase and $25 card for every $100 purchase.

The offer is good for dine-in on the patio, takeout or curbside pickup and is valid on meal deals such as "Feed 4 for $44" and "Feed 2 for $25," $5 appetizer/cocktails/dessert weekly specials and the "wine by the bottle at below retail" special.

Gift cards must be used on subsequent visits.

Know of any other current local restaurant deals? Send the details to thdish@bakersfield.com.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.