Densely packed conversations flutter across long, communal tables packed even more densely with hearty courses of sourdough bread and blue cheese, homemade soups, and oxtail stew. Platters of rustic, European-inspired cooking pass from person to person. All the while, the house wine keeps flowing. This is a typical scene at Centro Basco—a historic restaurant and inn devoted to capturing the vivacious and independent spirit of the Basque region. A fiercely autonomous region of Spain along its mountainous border with France, Basque Country has its own distinct climate, its own language (one of the few in the world with no known relationship to any other language), and its own unique approach to food.
"Opened in 1940, along with a boarding house for shepherds, this sprawling restaurant is one of the last remnants of the local Basque population who once herded sheep in what is now fully suburbanized Chino," notes Gayot. The Berterretches—a family with strong genealogical ties to the Basque countryside—assumed ownership in the 1970s, and they continue to embrace the region's culture today. Their cozy, lodge-like eatery features large dining rooms devoted to spirited family-style feasts complete with special menus, as well as a separate area for guests looking to enjoy a more private meal.
Myriad cultural influences appear throughout the menu. Dishes such as the oven-roasted lamb with a kick of garlic and the grilled calamari steak with tomato-pepper sauce clearly embrace the restaurant's distinctively Basque roots. At the same time, French and Italian entrees—including chicken cordon bleu and veal parmesan—lend a pan-European vibe to the selection.