Monday, May 30, 2022

Our Basque Restaurants Visited and Impressions of Each

To go along with our recent Basque-themed posts of our travel in northern Nevada and Idaho, we thought we'd reminisce about the Basque eateries we've visited over the years. Sadly, this is kind of a dying breed as the list of Basque restaurants in America seems to get smaller each year but when you really want a friendly feast, there's not too much better.

The first Basque restaurant my wife and I visited is the now defunct Overland Hotel in Gardnerville, Nevada. There's another restaurant there, now, but it's not the Basque restaurant that was there before.

I remember this one in particular because, after we'd been seated, without asking anything the waiter poured us red wine and left the carafe on the table. Soup was served, then salad, then bread and pasta. Finally, after all that, he asked us what we wanted. Steak for me, lamb for my wife. It was delicious and we left very satisfied and looking forward to our next Basque experience.

Next, we tried Le Chalet Basque in La Puente. We were the only diners in the restaurant, which may explain why it also went out of business, but is was another very good one. 

A bit dusty around the edges but the food was good. Being a "French" Basque restauant, the salad came last but the many other courses were in the usual order and on point, starting with the split pea soup, pickled tongue appetizer (delicious!), cheese, bread, pasta, and the entre with fries followed by dessert.

The Continental in Glendora is more like a leather-boothed steakhouse but serves in the Basque tradition. Unfortunately, we've never had a great experience there...hopefully, yours will go better if you try it.

For a Basque breakfast, we head to Taylor's, a sort of dive bar and truck scale in Chino, where you can get delicious and inexpensive ribeye to go with your eggs.

It's nothing fancy but the food is hearty and delicious.

The last Southern California Basque restaurant is the outstanding Centro Basco in Chino which offers not only regular restaurant seating but also the Basque "boarding house" style dining where you sit at long tables with strangers passing the food and making new friends.

This is the one we've eaten at the most and rate it as one of the top Basque restaurants we've every been too. Try the tongue, ribeye in wine sauce, lamb...all great go along with soup that can be a meal in itself, the stunningly good local Galleano house wine, pasta, salad, bread, pasta, dessert and more.

We like this one so much we had Tim's college graduation dinner here.

Going north over the mountains is the hotspot of California Basque culture, Bakersfield. Noriega's was the most famous here but, unfortunately, we never got a chance to dine there. We did hit a trio of restaurants there, however, including my favorite.

Starting with the one that's no longer there, my wife still rapsodizes about the Basque Cafe that used to be on Coffee Road. It was our first Bakersfield version of one of our favorite cuisines.

Tim just loved the garlic fried chicken there.

Not to worry too much because down the road on Rosedale Highway is my all-time favorite, Benji's. Here, you start off with the best salad I've had anywhere...a fresh selection from the garden with their delicious creamy vinegarette...vegetable soup, pickled tongue and jack cheese, pasta, bread and salsa, the vegetable dish, your choice of potatoes, the entree, then dessert.

Some Basque restaurants are more of a diner atmosphere, which describes Woolgrowers in Old Bakersfield very well. The food is still top notch but maybe just a little more inexpensive.

Back over in Nevada, there's another restaurant in Gardnerville, JT Basque, just up the street from the old Overland Hotel. 

While we've really enjoyed some pretty unique entrees (my stew of beef offal selections was not visually enticing but it was delicious), we have notice a little slippage in quality in the wake of the Pandemic.

Up the road in Reno, we lament the loss of the Santa Fe Hotel that sat hard in the shadow of the giant Harrah's hotel near the train station.

Again, it was a great parade of salads, soups, pasta, vegetables and more before your delicious entree. It was also strictly boarding house style where you'd sit with strangers who became friends by the end of the meal.

Moving east is my wife's new favorite (I'll give it a close second), the Martin Hotel in Winnemucca over in a quiet part of town by the train tracks. Instead of the pickled tongue appetizer, she had the tongue entree. 

She loved it but I like my ribeye covered in cloves of garlic and mushrooms better.

In Elko, we wanted to try the Star Hotel on the edge of the red light district but it was closed for renovations. Instead, we went to the Toki Ona, a diner type restaurant on the main drag.

Again, my wife had the tongue and I had the ribeye. It was good but not as good as the Martin, above.

Finally, we went to the Leku Ona in Boise, Idaho. This is not the typical Basque feast that the others on the list above are. It's more of a nice dinner house, where you choose an entree which will come with some vegetables on the side and maybe a side salad. No one will be sharing your table with you (we were told at the Basque Cultural Center down the street that "they don't do that kind of Basque dining in Idaho").

The food, like the others, is pretty outstanding. I had a nice Basque steak sandwich. My wife had the salmon with garlic. It was all very good and very filling.

While we've been to quite a few Basque restaurants, there are still many to go and we're looking forward to every one of them.

Darryl Musick
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