Appetite for consumption
Adventures in Chico eateries where you can really get your greasy grub on
In the carnival of life, you can’t always play it safe with fresh produce and whole grains. Every now and then it’s time to thrill your digestive tract with a grease-induced rollercoaster ride. Lucky for culinary thrill seekers, Chico is home to plenty of eateries serving cuisine that sends the palate through loops and bends without derailing the budget. Within walking distance of Chico State you’ll find places to pick up reasonably priced, artery-constricting food fare. Depending on the time of day, most greasy grub vendors also inadvertently offer sideshow entertainment, courtesy of oddball patrons.
Locating a good burger in Chico is no difficult feat. Nobby’s is an obvious local favorite. The restaurant serves up the famous 1/3-pound, sauce-infused Nobby’s Burger ($3.95 plus 80 cents for cheese) and tasty fries (side order: $1.45) in a cozy green hut on Park Avenue.
If you’re set on getting your burger’s fixings just the way you want ’em, Burger Hut is a good choice. The restaurant’s three locations boast a build-your-own-burger bar, so control freaks can add precisely the desired amount of lettuce, tomato, red onion, ketchup, mayo, barbecue sauce and other condiments to hamburgers ($3.99) grilled to perfection. Although the beef sizzling on Burger Hut’s grill is raised naturally, offerings also include a host of beef alternatives.
Madison Bear Garden (The Bear) is a local institution, with 12 unique burgers to choose from. The Jiffy Burger ($7.79), topped with mayo, melted jack cheese, toasty bacon and slathered with peanut butter, may sound repulsive but locals swear by its sticky-mouthed goodness. The house-of-oddities character of the place doesn’t hurt either; stagecoaches are strung from the ceiling and the walls are covered with random and strange trinkets.
For a tasty piece of New York-style pie, stop by Celestino’s. Located across the street from Chico State’s Taylor Hall, the restaurant is extremely popular with college students—especially those looking for a quick bite close to campus. You never know which of the eatery’s 13 varieties of pizza will be waiting for you, but on any given lunch hour you’re liable to find a slice of either the Godfather ($3) topped with ricotta cheese, sun-dried tomato, fresh tomato and pesto sauce, or the Tom Jones ($3) covered with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon and tomato sauce. If you’re really lucky you might happen upon one of the delicious original concoctions the staff occasionally serves up.
A couple of blocks over in downtown, Woodstock’s Pizza (on East Second Street) serves up a variety of combinations. Order a whole, or try a monster slice ($5.50), which is like three slices in one.
Franky’s walk-up window at the corner of Fifth and Ivy streets is always a good place to grab a slice of soft-crusted cheese or pepperoni pizza ($2.75). Open until 2 a.m. on prime college party nights (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays), the window is definitely worth the trip in the wee hours, when a sometimes-raucous crowd of college kids line up for sobering-up foodstuff.
Step into Old Town Rootbeer Co. and try out one of the 50 varieties of root beer or 200 kinds of sodas. The restaurant even bottles its own namesake rootbeer. Have a seat on one of the 㤺s diner-style bar stools next to the old soda-lined brick wall and sample selections ranging from conventional Henry Weinhard’s to more obscure Leninaid citrus sodas. Patrons can take their frosty bottle for the road, or if in the mood for a meal, munch on a hot dog and chips ($5 including a soda).
With a coffee shop on nearly every corner, a caffeine fix is easy to come by. Downtown hipster-hangout Naked Lounge and laid-back Mondo’s Café on Nord Avenue are a couple of good places to grab a latte. If in the mood for something different, stop by Empire Coffee, located in a restored 1940s train car outside Chico’s train station on Orange Street.
Downtown’s Jamba Juice is the obvious place to get a puréed fruit smoothie in summer, but recently renamed T. Bar and Fusion Café (formerly Teaz Me Tea Bar & Asian Café) also offers frosty smoothie-like tea drinks. The tea shop on Vallombrosa Avenue offers chilled teas on tap, sparkling and iced juice-like concoctions and “frosts” and “freezes” perfect for a chill in the sweltering summer months. The chocolate chai ($3.75) is a universal favorite; more like a milkshake than a cup of tea, the frozen drink is drizzled with chocolate syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon.
For locally made ice cream, head over to Shubert’s Ice Cream & Candy located on West Seventh Street between Main and Wall streets. The old-time ice cream parlor has been scooping out treats here since 1938, and has lent the town’s name to its best flavor (… all right, I’ll admit “best” is debatable, but it’s decidedly my favorite). A scoop of Chico Mint ($2.45) consists of chocolate ice cream laced with Shubert’s own supple homemade green mint chips.
When the craving for “fro-yo” strikes, head into Jon & Bon’s Yogurt Shoppe. With three locations in Chico (Broadway, West Sacramento Avenue and Mangrove Avenue), the family-run establishment allows customers to get creative and test out endless combinations of yogurt flavors and toppings. Try some Cookies ’n’ Cream topped with bits of Heath bar and hot fudge ($3.40 for a small plus 82 cents per extra topping). The best location by far is the Broadway store: prime for people-watching. Plop down in a roomy booth next to the giant windows and spoon a sweet treat while eyeing passersby.
Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in the heart of downtown on West Fourth between Broadway and Main is the closest local kids or kids-at-heart can dream of getting to Willy Wonka’s factory. The candy shop offers a plethora of candies and gelato; even the pickiest sweet tooth is guaranteed to find something. For those who aren’t especially sweet on candy, the store also sells hard-to-find classic board games, toys and witty greeting cards.
For those in a rush, Big Al’s Drive In is a good pick. The old-school drive in on The Esplanade offers a breadth of savory short-order options, from the basic burger ($1.95) and chili dogs ($2.95) to Mexican fare like burritos and nachos. The dine-in portion of the restaurant offers classic diner décor and a great place for people-watching.
Though often cramped during the lunch hour, Pommes Frites on Broadway is a great place to grab a burger ($6.50). The restaurant is known for its tasty breaded chicken strips ($6.50) and more recently, its veggie burgers ($6.50), concocted from scratch. If you’re feeling hungry, get a side order of garlic fries and sample the nine different dipping sauces; the curry is a must.
Downtown’s Aca Taco, or “Aco Taco” as it is often called by students, is a convenient place to pick up tacos, burritos and other Mexican eats. Its Nord Avenue location stays open until 3 a.m. weekends to satisfy the drunk-munchies. On the outskirts of Chico on Dayton Road, Tacos Cortez has been serving up hearty helpings of Mexican fare for the right price for years. A little-known gem, the restaurant recently opened a second location on Park Avenue. The bean and cheese burrito ($2.50), stuffed with beans, cheese, tomato, rice, lettuce, salsa and guacamole, is the size of a small child and feels like it weighs a good pound or two.