Your Guide to Basquing in the Old West

What are the best restaurants for authentic Basque cuisine?

Louis Basque Corner is one of the rare restaurants in Nevada that serves Basque cuisine (Louis Basque Corner)

Central California

The California gold rush brought the first Basque immigrants to the United States in the 1840s. After the gold dried up, many of their descendants stayed in the Central Valley region, turning to the more stable professions of ranching and sheepherding.  The modern community is tight-knit and proud of their heritage; the Kern County Basque Club throws one of California’s largest Basque festivals every year in an exhibition of traditional dances, pelota (Basque handball) matches and music by bands who travel from the home country.

But, as you might expect, the most powerful cultural marker of the community is the cuisine. Bakersfield is the capital of American Basque, touting one of the largest cluster of Basque restaurants in the country. Ever since the oldest, Noriega Hotel, opened its doors in 1893, generations of exhausted sheepherders have flocked to the worn, pioneer-chic warehouse for a hearty family-style dinner, crammed side-by-side at the long communal tables. There may be a few non-native culinary tourists in the mix, drawn by Noriega’s 2011 James Beard Classic Award. If it’s not too busy, Wool Growers is another bright spot, literally and figuratively: watch for the attention-grabbing neon sign out front, walk in, and be instantly greeted by one of the members of the Maitia family—“the royalty of Bakersfield’s restaurant dynasty families,” according to Bakersfield Magazine—who have been running the restaurant since J.B. and Mayie Maitia launched it in 1954.

Wool Growers Restaurant
620 E 19th St
Bakersfield, CA 93305
(661) 327-9584

Noriega Hotel
525 Sumner St
Bakersfield, CA 93305
(661) 322-8419

Pyrenees Café
601 Sumner St
Bakersfield, CA 93305
(661) 323-0053

Benji’s French Basque Restaurant
4001 Rosedale Hwy
Bakersfield, CA 93308
(661) 328-0400

The Landmark
644 E Olive Ave
Fresno, CA 93728
(559) 233-6505

Pacific Northwest

One in ten Boise residents have some Basque blood in them, which explains how very Basque Idahoan culture is. The Columbia River Basin, which includes eastern Oregon and Idaho, became a popular destination for shepherds and ranchers migrating from California in the late 19th century. Much of the community sprawled out over secluded ranches and farms, but Boise offers a concentrated dose of Basque culture for locals and enthusiasts alike. It’s worth a trip to stroll through the downtown “Basque Block,” a single block lined with three Basque restaurants, the Biotzetik Basque Choir, cultural centers, a Basque market, two dance companies and a music school. And since 1992, Boise can also boast a sister city relationship with Gernika, a city in the Spanish Biskaia (Biscay) province (from where almost all Idahoan Basque originate).

About Aviva Shen
Aviva Shen

Aviva Shen is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining CAP, Aviva interned and wrote for Smithsonian magazine, Salon, and New York.

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