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Daily Crave

First look: Bakersfield

By Carrie Schedler

Posted on:

It just so happened that, while visiting friends in Indianapolis a few months ago, we ended up starving and standing in front of Bakersfield, the taqueria mini-chain that opened its first Columbus location in the Short North (in China Bar’s former home at the corner of Buttles and High) last week. So, by the time I got my first meal in at the High Street space last week, I’d had a chance to sample a large chunk of the menu—here are a few quick thoughts on my experiences at Bakersfield so far:

Don’t expect it to be anything but crazy-busy for the first several months.

Like The Pearl before it, the combination of trendy new restaurant, small plates and High Street will prove intoxicating. Throw in a group-friendly layout (the Indy location featured several communal picnic tables to squish in as many diners as possible), a high-traffic location and a low price point, and you can be certain you’ll be side-stepping spillover crowds waiting for a table on the sidewalk out front for the forseeable future. Even when popping in for a late-evening bite Tuesday, we waited for more than 30 minutes.

It’s the ideal drunk food.

Salt on salt on salt—both times, we opened our meal with extra-salty, fresh-fried tortilla chips and a lime-heavy guacamole before delving into the tacos, served on a communal platter much like in a pizzeria. I could feel my blood pressure spiking as I ate—not that it stopped me from continuing to gorge on the chips as a fresh batch appeared. I opted to up the hipster-kitsch factor by sipping my PBR out of a boot-shaped mug.

About those tacos.

The consensus was that the tacos were good—not great, but good enough to make me okay with paying a little more than I might at the average taco truck. Overall favorites were the al pastor, laden with sweet caramelized pineapple (don’t expect Los Guachos, but it’s serviceable), and the smoky cochinita pibil. Chicken tacos fared less well—the drier meat begged for extra sauce, and the mole and rojo versions we tried just weren’t pungent enough. For a fun detour, go for the huitlacoche—just don’t Google photos of it first (all you need to know is that it tastes like mushrooms.)Taco-truck obsessives might be able to point you towards better, more “authentic” versions, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find somewhere else you can enjoy some with a pristine country soundtrack. (The name Bakersfield itself is a reference to the Bakersfield sound, that rougher, Merle Haggard-style country rock popular in the late 1950s.)

So count me among those excited for Bakersfield conquering Columbus—and among those waiting in line alongside you on the sidewalk, ready for a margarita and cheap tacos to wash away a long week.