Review: Bakersfield OTR

PhotoNavigating this whole “food blogging” thing can, even for someone who’s been doing it for four years, be difficult.  There’s a great article I read the other day on the history of food writing, as well as the impact of bloggers on food writing.  Some of it I agreed with, and some of it I didn’t.  One of the things I wrestle with is “When do you post about new restaurants?”  Here’s my thing:  the first couple of weeks of any restaurant, even with “soft openings”, is a time for them to work out the kinks.  I may go and eat at the restaurant, but I won’t write about it– I just don’t think it’s fair.  However, there’s a lot of pressure to be “first” in this day and age of Yelp and Urbanspoon and other social outlets.  I usually say “wait a month”– which is actually fairly traditional, considering I’m not a traditional food writer.  By waiting a month, I generally end up pushing my reviews out even further, as I don’t want to have a review come out the same week City Beat or The Enquirer covers the same restaurant– that’s why it took so long for me to get around to writing about Abigail Street. I think I’ve amended my rule slightly: “Wait 3 weeks”.  Does that seem fair to you?  I know that you want to hear about places right away, but I can’t help but give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt as well.  Let me know in the comments.

PhotoI’ve been smelling Bakersfield for weeks now, as they worked on their menu and had some soft openings.  I’ve stopped in twice since they opened– once by myself, and once with both my mother and The Better Half.  A tip: get there early.  Even getting there around 6, both times I sat at the communal table.  I have no issue with this– I like to eat at the bar if I’m by myself– but if you do, fair warning.  The environment is very OtR– half of the old Metronation space was turned into Bakersfield.  They kept the old brick, and did great things with lighting and the bar space as well as a mural near the booths to switch up the space.  My mother commented that it looked a lot like the inside of Senate– a fair statement, probably because of the exposed brick and the shotgun architecture.  There’s also a natural comparison to Nada:  both serve tacos and margaritas.  They’re different styles– Bakersfield is California,  Nada is more fusion.  But really, get both of those places out of your minds: Bakersfield is not either of those places.

PhotoThere aren’t a ton of tables in this place– a few at the front, near a window that opens to a small patio on the street, a long communal table, a bar, a round communal table, and a few other scattered tables.  If you go at peak time, you’ll have a wait, or else you can eat at the communal table.  I’ve been there three times– twice at the round table, once at the bar.  The trick is to get in early– no wait then.  Or, you know, go the night the Moerlein Lager House opened to the public and everyone is there (the first time I’ve actually been able to physically see the bar at Bakersfield).  Major credit is due for being open on Mondays– a rarity.  The crowd is also pretty diverse (which my ever-insightful mother also commented on)– she often feels like she’s the oldest person at the restaurants I take her to, but there was a great range of demographics represented, which is what should happen at a place that is well-priced and in a diverse neighborhood.

PhotoService is fast, friendly and efficient– this is a great place to get a quick bite.  Start out with the guacamole, which is hands-down the best guacamole I’ve had in Cincinnati.  It’s light, with a nice hit of lime and just enough heat.   Wash that down with a margarita, which is easily the best margarita I’ve had here (outside of my own, of course).  It’s not too sweet, a little sour, and made with real juice.  Delicious. The pitcher of their regular margarita is reasonably priced– $22 and it provides two glasses for three people (The Better Half split one with my mom for her birthday, and it was perfect).  A solo margarita is $6, and they have a premium version at $12– honestly, the “regular” is so good that I haven’t even been tempted to buy the premium.

PhotoTacos are the feature, of course, and they come in varieties that will make carnivores, vegetarians, and pescatarians equally happy.  The corn truffle (huitlacoche) taco is interesting, though it needs a bit more spice (easily amped with the provided, house-made salsas).  The short rib taco is very flavorful, and the pastor is a nice combination of sweet and savory.  My favorite is the cochinita pibil, which I tried on one server’s recommendation:  it’s moist, spicy pork with kicky habanero salsa and balanced out with pickled red onions.  The portion sizes look small, as their handmade tortillas are a little smaller than other tacos you may have had, but they are packed with filling– 2 tacos per person is plenty.

They have other things besides tacos, and honestly? They’re even better than the very good tacos.  On Monday, I had a June salad (peppery arugula, oranges, jalapeno, pumpkin seeds and a cumin-lime dressing) which was light and refreshing (and just a little spicy).  I followed it up with a short rib torta, which is now my favorite dish on their menu: lots of the short rib, tomatillo salsa, chihuahua cheese, and caramelized onions.  It’s very hearty (a sandwich could serve two), and perfectly balanced with spicy, creamy, sweet and savory, all on a really fantastic crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside telera roll.  Heavenly.

PhotoYou also need to check out their barrel-aged cocktails.  I chose a Manhattan, which had been aging since November, and it picked up a subtle flavor of the charred oak it was stored in.  I’d love to try the Negroni (made with tequila instead of gin) as well.  They have an extensive whiskey list, including some Ohio whiskeys (a Woodstone Creek that has the same kind of body and mouthfeel as Grand Marnier– I swear– is the highlight) and just about any tequila you can think of, as well as an extensive tap beer list (including $2 PBRs in a glass boot. Cute.).

They do not serve dessert– but you’d be well-served by going next door to 1215 (which I’ll write about later).  What they do serve is really great– and a great addition to the Gateway Quarter’s burgeoning restaurant scene.

Bakersfield OTR on Urbanspoon

  • http://trescherie.wordpress.com/ Cherie

    Three weeks is fair.

  • Jennifer Eisenstein

    I totally agree with you that it’s not fair to write about a new place without giving them a little time to work out the kinks…and am not sure what the race to be first all the time is about….we ate there this week and had a great experience too!

  • http://www.eatwithflourpower.com/ Becky

    I like either style of review. But I prefer reviews after soft opening when the whole menu is defined.

  • Phitauken

    I enjoyed the place the Friday night of the Winter Blues Fest. Got there at 7pm and it was wall-to-wall people. I walked to the back, and was about to walk out when three people got up from the bar to leave. Perfect opportunity, I snagged a seat! Molly at the bar recognized me from Maribelle’s and she is quite friendly. I tried the Mexico City cocktail which was delicious. I can’t recall what was in it but it did have tequila. Molly recommended the queso dip with black beans and I enjoyed it.  It was certainly meant to be shared. I also had the Short Rib Torta and was in heaven! Lots of meat and flavors. I like certain foods that pack some heat so I did add a bit of both the green (cilantro based) and dark red (chipotle based) sauces.

  • Lindsay Laubenstein

     My husband and I have been here way too many times already–also a bonus that they serve late night…a SEVERE rarity downtown.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      Yes, we definitely need more late night.

  • Guest

    Why is a taco place also a whiskey bar? Everyone knows that whiskey is the new beer, but tequila is totally the new whiskey. Cincy is always just a little bit behind the curve in food trends. In 2012 I predict underground dining “clubs” and more whiskey bars.

    • John

      They serve whiskey and tequila.  Barrel aged drinks being the theme, and speaks to the rebel, outlaw vibe, and the preferred spirits of some of the guys fromt the Bakersfield sound era–Cash, etc..

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      We already have underground dining clubs, and there are plenty of whiskey bars already.  

  • http://www.eatdrinkandbemarried.co/ Leah

    Yum!  Tried to get a drink in this place last weekend and they were happily packed! I think it’s good to have general principles of blogging, like not panning a place that recently opened.  Those early reviews that are especially positive (I’m thinking Taste of Belgium) are just a further testament to the yumminess of a place! Also, totally agree about the guac.  I could eat that by the bowl-full…sigh. 

  • http://visualingual.etsy.com/ visualingual

    It’s interesting to read all the comments about Bakersfield. I had a chance to check it out last night and, wow, I will seriously investigate the possibility of take-out next time. That’s how much I loved the food but hated the space, service and ambiance. I’m being generous and assuming that the service is still a work-in-progress, but it was really atrocious and uncoordinated. The food, on the other hand, was delicious and flavorful.

  • Bakersfield stinks

    I ate at Bakersfield last night and today I feel awful. I have the worst case of food poisoning. We were seated next to the kitchen and I watched as the refrigerator remained open from when we arrived to when we left. The wait was nearly an hour and a half for 7pm on a Wednesday night. The guacamole was great, but the rest of the food was under portioned, over priced, and of awful quality and horrible taste. It tasted like the chef lost the lid to the curry and dumped the whole jar on each one of my tacos. It was very difficult to choke down these tacos because they were so horrible. I tried so hard not to throw up as I attempted to chew the food. Each taco is 3 inches in diameter and costs on average $4. Four of us ate and were still starving and forked out $85 for the table. Bakersfield is scamming their clients and providing horrible food. I will never go there again. Enjoy being panhandled while you wait for your table for an hour and a half in the middle of the Ghetto! It’s in a neighborhood with the second highest murder per capita in all of Cincinnati. If you want Mexican, go to chipotle and don’t waste your time and money at this overrated restaurant!

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      It sounds like you had a bad experience, but please don’t trash my neighborhood in the process.

    • Lauren S. Altman

      Hello,
      My name is Lauren Altman and I am the General Manager of Bakersfield . Please contact me at 503-953-4820 . We take a huge amount of pride in our food quality and I would like to hear more about your experience.

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