Friday, January 13, 2017

America's Breadbasket - California's Central Valley: Tulare County

Upon learning that we’d be going to one of his favorite restaurants in the world while he was at camp, Tim was not a happy camper. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “the weekend after you get back is a three day weekend…let’s go up there when you get home.”

Of course, if you followed our trip without Tim to Paso Robles, you’ll know that we had to make an emergency trip to pick him up because he got sick.  And sick he was for a couple of days.  We didn’t know if he’d be well enough by the weekend to go, but thankfully he did get better and off we went.

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The restaurant, as many of you who know us will already guess, is the wonderful Los Tacos de Huicho in Bakersfield, California which sits at the southern end of the San Joaquin, or Central, Valley.

Yes, we did go to Huicho’s and, yes, the food was as absolutely delicious as always, but this trip is not about Huicho’s or even one of our favorite destinations, Bakersfield, all that much.
After dinner, it’s back on the 99 north to our next stop about an hour’s north…the Charter Inn and Suites in Tulare.  The hotel, which sits adjacent to the freeway as Prosperity Avenue, is about the best hotel I know of in the Central Valley along the 99 corridor.
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Big, spacious rooms with a great hot breakfast buffet.  Monday through Wednesday, they also include dinner. There’s a lending library in the lobby, a nice pool area with spa, a patio area with a barbecue, and a very good staff.
Our room was a king size suite. Not technically accessible but at least as accessible as many other “handicap” rooms we’ve stayed in that didn’t feature a roll-in shower.  Wide access areas for the wheelchair, comfortable bed, a queen size sofabed, a large bathtub which more than accommodated our bath chair, and good wifi access.  There are even robes in the closet.  All for around $90 – 100 per night.
The Central Valley is the biggest agricultural area in the country. It’s not the California of beaches and palm trees, but plays a vital role in providing you with the food on your table. This morning, we’ll see some of that first hand.

After breakfast, it’s over to nearby Visalia where a farmers market sets up in the local Sears parking lot each Saturday.  It’s jammed packed with produce, cheeses, eggs, and more.  It’s not set up like a lot of farmers markets back home where there are more craft vendors and kiddie rides than there are farmers.  Here, while there are a couple of non-food vendors, it’s all about the food.
And the food is amazingly good. Sweet donut peaches, large red grapes, figs, oranges, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini bigger than my arm, and many items that, frankly, I have no clue what they are but they look delicious.
Our plan is to load up on all the fresh produce we can, keep it in our air conditioned hotel room, and then pack on ice for the trip home in the hot, valley summer heat.  It worked like a charm and we dined like royalty on all that farm-fresh produce for a couple of weeks.
Back at the hotel, we pack the most perishable items into the small in-room fridge, and turn the a/c up for the rest.  We have a nice swim in the pool and then head over to Hanford, which is about 15 miles west of us.
It’s the 4th of July weekend and the temps are over the century mark.  In downtown Hanford, it’s 106 degrees. Not a problem.

The main reason we’re here in this beautiful little town is ice cream. One of the state’s…and probably the country’s…great, classic ice cream parlors sits across the street from the town’s plaza.  We’re talking about Superior Dairy.
In this location over 80 years, Superior is a gorgeous, small town ice cream emporium with brass chandeliers, pink booths and counter stools, and some of the most generous portions of frozen cream you’ll ever see.

Letty has just one scoop of rocky road.

Tim and I share two scoops of cookies and cream, covered with a rich caramel sauce and whipped cream.  Look at those two pictures.  That is quality ice cream served in gigantic portions.  Together, that’s about $7 worth of dessert.

Superior is also known for their S-O-S (Superior Oversized Sundae) sundae, pictured above, a gargantuan banana split that can easily feed four or more.

The cold ice cream cools us down nicely from the furnace outside. We walk across the street to the shady park that houses some beautifully restored buildings…the Municipal Auditorium, the Veteran’s Memorial Hall, and the old courthouse…across the street from an equally impressive restored Fox Theater.
It’s shady, with a cool fountain, a couple of snack stand, and lots of cool grass to play or lay on.  We see this little parakeet, probably someone’s escaped pet, happily chewing on stalks of grass.
In the evening, it’s back over to Visalia to visit the Rawhide.

Just south of Visalia’s great and walkable downtown is Recreation Park, an old minor league stadium. The team, going through lots of names over its 65 year history, is currently affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rawhide are the Diamondbacks single A team playing in the California League.
In 2009, the stadium was renovated with new club level and grandstand down the right field/first base line. There are wheelchair seats along this area, where we sat, and also in the stands along the left field line.  There are a couple of accessible seats behind home plate about six rows back, but they’re behind an aisle and not too desirable.

Access to the level we sat at was via a slow, creaky lift that had to be repaired before we could use it…you can read more about in our stadium review.
At the game, it was a salute to military night with veteran’s throwing out the first pitch, different branches being honored each inning…i.e., one inning Navy active members and veterans were asked to stand up so the audience could applaud their service…another veteran singing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, and…most poignant of all…cadets setting and serving a dinner to an empty table in front of the mound to POWs and MIAs who should be there but are not.
The game itself was pretty exciting with the Rawhide easily handling the visiting Lake Elsinore Storm…even though the PA announcer called them the Inland Empire 66ers for two innings before he caught on.
The food was miserable and delicious.  The miserable was the Italian sausage that Letty had, the delicious was the incredibly good bratwurst that I got to replace it from a grill near our seats. A very good selection of beer, including local microbrews, topped the concession selections.
All in all, a very fun game with just a couple of glitches. Visalia’s a very fun place to be.
In the morning, we checked out, shopped the outlet mall behind our hotel, and moved south to Bakersfield. Here we checked in to the Marriott Springhill Suites, which is pretty much our vacation condo these days with all the time we spend in this town.
We wanted to take one more night and go to Huicho’s one more time.  Before that, though, we went to our favorite bar. I’m a fan of the margarita and love when one is made right. Here in Bakersfield is one of the best.

Mexicali, on 18th Street on the eastern edge of downtown along Mill Creek, makes the best I’ve had. Their house margarita made from scratch is a tarty little piece of heaven. Their Cadillac margarita takes what is the best plain margarita I’ve had up several notches on the taste scale. It is the nectar of the gods.
Along with the great drinks, the bar here is so comfortable and the people so friendly that it feels like home, having drinks with some old friends.  A truly classic, great, and dark bar.
On the morning of the 4th, after a fitful night of sleep as some other rude guests were shooting off firecrackers in the parking lot (necessitating many calls to security) in the middle of the night, we check out and head to Huichos. (Note…after complaining at checkout, the hotel manager knocked our rate down to $50).
On Friday, the people at Huichos told us they would be open on the 4th.  Between then and now, someone must have changed their mind because now they’re closed. Darn!
We’d saved up our appetite for this and were now disappointed.  Back in downtown, we were looking for somewhere…pretty much anywhere…that would be open on this holiday.  I see a burger stand with people working out back so I pull in.
Juicy Burger is a Five Guys knockoff located on 24th and  M Streets, in the same building as the University of La Verne’s Bakersfield satellite campus.  It looks just like Five Guys when you walk in and has a very similar menu.  It also has both Coke and Pepsi machines, so Coke and Pepsi fans should all be happy here.
We order some burgers and fries, not really expecting much.
The burgers were amazingly good. Juicy, cooked to perfection, with great, tasty produce.  The fries were also good, not served in quite the heaps that Five Guys does, but the burgers were the star of the show here…incredible!
The staff here was very friendly and competent.  Each meal comes with a cookie but the counter person also gave me one to sample while we waited for our food.  Great food, great service, and fast food pricing.  What more could you want?  We now have another very good place to eat on our ever-growing and long Bakersfield food list…seriously, this is such a good food city.  Come here for that if nothing else.
I hunted down the manager and let her know just how much I loved this place.
Our appetites nicely sated, our disappointment at missing Huichos subsiding, we climb into the van to make that one last trip over the Grapevine to head back home.

Copyright 2011- Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved


  1. Glad you enjoy Bakersfield restaurants. Our city definitely has many great ones to choose from. Try one of the great Basque restaurants like Wool Growers, then check out the Condors or the Blaze next time you are in town.

  2. Anonymous, look up our reports on Bakersfield on our blog when you get a chance. I LOVE Bako, have done everything you've suggested and more. It's one of the great, underrated cities to visit.


  3. Darryl-

    I read your Bakersfield reports, and you definitely know the great places to check out here. Regarding Sam Lynn, check out this website for pictures of the rehab work the owners are doing at the stadium. Should be much nicer this season.


  4. Thanks, Anonymous. We plan and getting to at least one game there this season.