After crossing the threshold away from the infamous Bakersfield sun and into the Hawaiian décor of the restaurant, Creedence Clearwater Revival greets you by asking you if you’ve ever seen the rain. The soft blend of guitars mirrors the eatery; warm lights wash over the place and bounce off the massive yellow umbrellas perched above tables, as if the sun is setting inside the building and you’ve dropped by for a meal after a long day at the beach. A tiki statue proudly stands against the myriad of eclectic Hawaiian license plates, road signs, and street posts hanging on the walls, their rust backing up the long history those signs have lived through. The sheen of sleek wooden benches and barrels-turned-into tables glistens from the kiss of the golden hour’s sunbeam, oozing in through the wide windows at the front as the reflection of slowly moving cars glimmers throughout the place. Fans hypnotically swirl up above as grainy, vintage footage of surfers plays on a couple of televisions at each section of the place, and The Zombies let you know the time of the season – this season runs year round at Coconut Joe’s, nestled at the back of a busy shopping center in the southwest side of Bakersfield, California.
Rebranded from Gateway Café, Coconut Joe’s is a Hawaiian-style beach grill in the heart of Bakersfield and has been locally operated since its inception more than twenty years ago. Renowned through food reviews in local papers and magazines, the restaurant is notorious for having some of the best tri-tip and fish and chips in town, not to mention to consistent quality food and customer service. Coconut Joe’s has also gained quite the notoriety throughout the years – due to demand, the restaurant not only offers catering, but even the option to rent out a Hawaiian themed banquet hall for private events. Coconut Joe’s has developed a bit of a reputation in the city over the years that has cemented itself as a landmark in Bakersfield’s food scene.
Initially torn between their salmon sandwich and their original burger, I opted for the latter with a side of rice – not the ideal side when having a burger, but what a combo it was. The attention to detail on the burger is remarkable; the butter-glazed buns – slathered in a mysterious, sweet house sauce – are impeccably toasted to a delicate crunch, with just the perfect amount of tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce in between the hearty patty. The first bite proved to be a sweet serenade of flavor; everything was in perfect harmony, as the sauce did not overpower the juicy patty and the veggies didn’t dilute the rest of the palate. The patty was garnished with pepper and sea salt, and again, wasn’t overdone – there’s a harmony among ingredients throughout the burger where nothing overthrows the blend of meat, vegetable, and grain. This is something other restaurants need to note: more sauce doesn’t always mean a better dish – it just masks the core elements of the dish, which should be at the forefront. As for the rice, which was long grain with a hint of saffron, it was equally harmonized – soft, moist, and packing tons of flavor. A perfect substitute for fries and making for an interesting companion to the burger, the rice was a delightful surprise to an astounding entrée.
With an incredibly charming ambiance that embraces good vibrations and an easygoing flow, Coconut Joe’s is not only perfect for dining in, but checking into a quiet booth with a passion berry iced tea to get some assignments done is just as fulfilling. Commencing the scoring bit of this review and in spirit of the beach theme, I’d have to give the ambiance five surfboards out of five. Prices are stellar for the quality of the food – my burger and rice amounted to the grand total of nine dollars – and are even solid for the seafood fare, which ranges from $10 to $13. Given how difficult it is to come across impeccably valued meals, let alone seafood, in Bakersfield, prices are also awarded five surfboards out of five. Customer service here is as friendly as a restaurant can be, with staff constantly making sure your dining experience is the best it can possibly be – with their friendly demeanor and attentiveness, it transcends. Ten surfboards out of five. The food itself was prepared with the utmost quality and meticulousness that is so rare to find; I was never one to overflow my dishes with extra condiments or toppings because I always valued the base of the dish, which the cooks wholly respect here. The food deservedly earns five surfboards out of five. If you ever find yourself passing through Bakersfield, I wholeheartedly urge you to go a bit out of your way and try a place unlike any other in the city that prioritizes quality and value over flashiness and unbecoming prices – please, ride a wave over to Coconut Joe’s at 4158 California Avenue. To find out more about Coconut Joe's click here...