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Cincinnati Bites
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Posted Saturday, January 5, 2013

In the course of only a few short years, Cincinnati has gone from taco-starved to tacos out the ears. Multiple choices now abound, including taco trucks, authentic and not-so-authentic taquerias, highbrow tacos and lowbrow, hole-in-the-wall tacos. Authentic mainstays like La Mexicana and Taqueria Mercado now compete with the likes of Taco Azul, Tacos Locos, Tacocracy, Django Western Taco and one of the most recent entries in the realm of tacolisciousness, Bakersfield OTR.

Located in Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter, Bakersfield is one of several newer taquerias adopting a decidedly upscale approach, with smaller-than-average tacos priced higher than the full-sized counterparts you'd find elsewhere. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have the money to spend, like to be seen in a trendy atmosphere, and are willing to endure the long waits and crowds of people clamoring to get their foot in the door.

Miraculously, we managed to land a couple stools along Bakersfield's bar one recent weekend afternoon, basking in the glow of LCD screens, a Westernesque ambiance manufactured via DVD replays of Clint Eastwood's, "A Fistful of Dollars." Their menu is blissfully abbreviated, whittling down their take to just a handful of Mexican classics: seven varieties of tacos, two tortas, two salads, a corn-poblano chowder, chips, salsa, guac, and cheese or bean dip.

We tried five tacos: the fish, huitlachoche (aka "corn smut" or the less pornographic "corn truffles"), cochinita pibil, rajas and the short rib. All were varying degrees of delicious.

Five tacos from Bakersfield OTR

The tacos arrived on a large platter with a visual appeal that's hard to beat. There were prodigiously generous crumbles of cotija cheese and queso fresco; handsome slices of radish; colorful interplays of cilantro and tomato; and heaping mounds of pork, mushrooms, short ribs and corn truffles atop their respective diminutive, hand-made tortillas.

The fish taco seemed to be missing something, clearly the mildest in flavor among the five taco varieties we tried. It was in dire need of acid, like you'd get from a couple squeezes of fresh lime. That's when we realized our server had forgotten the lime wedges. Not a big deal, but it probably would have elevated and sharpened the flavor. Given its mild profile, I was surprised when I overheard the fish taco is Bakersfield's biggest seller.

My hands-down favorite was the cochinita pibil: it's rich achiote-braised pork and habanero salsa kick easily won me over. My girlfriend's favorite was the huitlacoche. Corn truffles are essentially a fungus that grows on corn, so we both appreciated the taco's very organic, natural marriage of the two ingredients, elevated by the cotija cheese, onion and fresh cilantro.

The handmade tortillas, while good, were roughly 3/4 the size of a normal street taco. Given the fact that Bakersfield charges between three and four dollars apiece, the tacos are considerably pricier than the larger, $2.50 varieties found at other taquerias.

One could argue that you're paying for high-end quality, but that would be a smack in the face to places like Taqueria Mercado and La Mexicana, as neither are exactly slackers in the authentic ingredients department. Both offer delicious, full-size tacos under $3.

Which brings me to my #1 beef with the Gateway Quarter: the trendy, hipster-friendly nature of the area seems to be the excuse restaurants use to charge Manhattan-level prices. I simply don't get why everything new has to be upscale. The freshly gentrified district now caters almost exclusively to a young, diversity-starved demographic of people with seemingly inexhaustible discretionary income. Why?

Consider places like The Banks and the new Metropole area and any of the new apartments and condos offered downtown. Nearly all of them seem to target wealthy people. I struggle with the logic of focusing so much effort on the one or two percent of the population who can afford to patronize these businesses and live in these condos. There are, after all, a finite number making up the elite class, and they can't all live and work downtown. At some point (read: when the trend dies down), local developers and restaurateurs will need to realize that they're missing out on attracting the vast majority of us out there with collective buying power.

Bakersfield OTR on Urbanspoon
Bakersfield OTR

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

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Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo: they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Swad Indian:
    @MJ: I heard family members of those who'd run Dusmesh now work out of the former Amol India in Clifton. It's called, Grill of India (
    posted: Thu., Dec 29th, 2016 @ 11:45 PM
  • From mj about Swad Indian:
    It seems Swad has changed hands. Have not see the former Dusmesh owners in my last visit (10/1/2016) and the food is just ok. Wonder where they went this time?
    posted: Wed., Dec 28th, 2016 @ 8:22 AM
  • From Rachel about Bamboo Kitchen:
    Hey there,
    I would recommend Basil Thai and Bangkok Terrace. They have wonderful Thai foods there :)
    posted: Sat., Nov 19th, 2016 @ 11:28 AM
  • From Tabitha about Maplewood Kitchen and Bar:
    Looks good - I definitely have been wanting to try this place!
    posted: Wed., Nov 9th, 2016 @ 2:55 PM
  • From Georgia about Maplewood Kitchen and Bar:
    So you order and pay at the counter before you get your food and they expect you to tip? That's not right.
    posted: Tue., Oct 25th, 2016 @ 10:19 AM
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