Bakersfield Shows Cleveland Why it Shouldn't Settle When it Comes to Tacos

As much as we obsess over tacos in this town, it's shocking how little regard many diners have for the quality of the actual taco shell. Just as long as that taco is cheap, fast and filling, who gives a crap if it's bundled up in a cold, stiff and pasty flour wrapper?

Corn tortillas are like bread; they need to be made fresh and consumed quickly. There is a huge difference in quality between fresh and frozen corn tortillas, and the fresh ones notoriously are challenging to store and serve. That's precisely why so many restaurants ditch the corn in favor of flour, despite the fact that the results are inferior in just about every way.

For the above-stated reasons alone, Bakersfield immediately rises to the top of the heap. This new Ohio City taqueria goes the extra mile by making corn tortillas in-house every day. Warm, fragrant and yielding, while still supporting the ingredients inside, those tortillas make all the difference in the world. That's just one of the reasons why this Cincinnati-based restaurant group has exploded to seven locations in just five years.

One of the well-worn axioms of the restaurant world is: Do a few things and do them well. That's Bakersfield's tack, executing a concise menu of just 20 items spread across five categories, which allows the eatery to focus on making each and every one of them as good as possible. From the chips and guacamole to the tacos and margaritas, quality almost always shines through.

When it comes to those tacos, Bakersfield also bucks the build-your-own trend in favor of a system that puts chefs in charge. The result is a selection of tacos that is the opposite of haphazard. Instead, they are thoughtfully conceived creations that take into account flavor, texture and presentation. Take the cochinita pibil ($4), which sets earthy achiote-braised pork against the punch of pickled red onions and hot-as-Hades habanero salsa. Or the al pastor ($4), smoky chunks of juicy pork topped with summer-sweet pineapple and crunchy diced onion. Or the fish taco ($4), a SoCal-inspired combo of crispy fried mahi-mahi, bright and creamy lime sauce, and crunchy cabbage slaw, all bundled up in a fresh, supple tortilla. I never seem to end up with such satisfying creations when designing my own from an endless list of options.

As tasty as those tacos are, it was one of the tostadas that made the biggest impression. The braised short rib tostada ($9) is a multilayered delight that has everything going for it. A mound of tender, flavorful shredded beef is perched atop a pair of crispy fried corn tortillas. Up above, a perfectly cooked fried egg oozes yolky goodness into the meat when pierced. Down below, a shredded romaine salad tossed in a refreshing cilantro-buttermilk dressing offers a cool counterpoint. Other tostadas are constructed with chicken chorizo, black beans and salsa verde, or the vegetarian-friendly mashup of potatoes, poblano peppers and black beans.

Bakersfield offers just a pair of tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, and goes about them in the right way. That means stuffing a ciabatta-style bun to overflowing with a handful of compatible ingredients. The kitchen swaps the pork in the classic torta de Milanesa ($9) for a pounded, breaded and fried chicken cutlet paired with arugula, black beans, salsa verde and avocado mayo. Another is filled with that luscious braised short rib ($10), savory grilled onions, Chihuahua cheese and roasted tomatillo salsa.

Even the salads, usually an afterthought (if a thought at all) at other taco shops, are well designed and executed. Named after Bakersfield Sound artists like Johnny, Loretta and Willie, the "ensaladas" are big, bright, fresh and visually appealing. We enjoyed the Willie ($9), a large toss of crisp greens, roast chicken, bacon, black beans and veggies in a tangy buttermilk dressing.

Starters like thin, crisp and salty chips, ripe and chunky guacamole ($8), and well-seasoned queso ($6) served in a cast iron crock go great alongside a tall glass ($9) or pitcher ($32) of margaritas, all made with fresh citrus, good tequila and zero industrial sour mix.

Just as they've done with the food, the Bakersfield boys have taken ubiquitous design elements like reclaimed wood, concrete bar tops, Edison bulbs, outdoor string lights and garage doors and assembled them in such a way as to make them current and fresh. They've transformed the old Grind spot at the corner of West 25th Street and Keene Court, just a block south of Lorain, into a sleek, chill spot to enjoy some lively honky-tonk and tacos whether it's #tacotuesday or any other day of the week.