Best new playground
This almost-brand-new, well-thought-out playground is everything we’ve come to expect a modern facility to be: colorful, indestructible, intriguing and, most important, safe. There are no sharp edges on either of the two play structures, one for small tykes, the other for bigger kids, and the surface under them is wood chips. The larger play structure is like most one sees nowadays, a connected series of slides, climbing areas and platforms, but it’s just different enough from others in the area to be interesting to kids.
There are many comfortable places for parents to sit and watch their kids at play. Adjacent to the play structures is a large, shaded picnic area that, on the weekend we visited, was hosting a couple of birthday parties. There’s also a sand box and, most interesting, a large xylophone-like structure with hanging metal tubes that makes deep chiming sounds.
The first time we visited some children were banging on them with a couple of rubber mallets, but when we returned a few days later, the mallets were gone, perhaps stolen, said a city Park Department employee. You might want to bring you own. The playground borders the Wildwood Park playing fields and offers beautiful views of the foothills.
Best way to wipe out 3,000 years of history in two days
Cut down the downtown Park Plaza elms
In early summer a gust of wind blew over one of the 130-year-old elm trees that have stood like Buckingham Palace guards in the center of town since Chico founder John Bidwell was around. A park-goer was slightly injured by the falling tree, and city officials, with thoughts of liability running through their heads, suggested the City Council pass an ordinance to take out the remaining 22 trees before someone else got hit.
There was already a plan in place to remove the trees over a longer time frame. That time frame was tossed, and now all the trees are gone. The downtown skyline will never look the same—at least not for the next century or so. On the plus side, the park is getting a major makeover, including a new fountain sure to give the Dancing Trout a swim for their money.
Best place to revive your 1970s dryer
Halldorson Tri-County Appliance Parts, 1048 W. Ninth St.
Just when you thought your crappy GE had tumbled its last tumble, enter Mike Halldorson. At his fingertips—or at least at the other end of the phone headset he wears all the time—the jovial Halldorson finds the heating element, belt or other whatzit you need to keep your old fridge or washer humming for another year or two, thus saving starving college students and young families several hundred dollars and a bucketful of tears. He’ll even give installation tips, or sell you a restored appliance. The store is on West Ninth Street, near Nord, and closed on weekends.
Best place to get your saw sharpened
Fanno Saw Works, 224 W. Eighth Ave.
There are several good saw sharpening services in Chico, but we like Fanno best because it’s got so much history in the area, because its big building at 224 W. Eighth Ave. is a classic factory with a storefront, and because it has an international reputation for the quality of its saws.
It was founded more than 75 years ago by A. A. Fanno, a Northwest native whose skills as a boatbuilder and carpenter led him to California to work on river barges. He settled in the Chico area around the turn of the century, owning a housewares business. When he bought an almond orchard, he developed his first pole saw for pruning limbs high up in the tree. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mr. Fanno, his son and the company’s current owner, his grandson, have continued to make high-quality, intelligently designed handsaws for use by orchardists, home gardeners, arborists, Forest Service employees and many others. And, yes, they can sharpen your saw quite nicely, thank you.
Best homage to a mom
Café Flo, 365 E. Sixth St.
Honor thy mother on the marquee (and thy father with a king’s crown or multi-colored jester’s cap, as the case may be). Hidden around the corner from the Pageant Theatre, the Gardner sisters have opened a simple and elegantly funky little European-style café named after their mother Flo. To go along with the beautiful and inviting color scheme, the café has great coffee and amazing baked goods courtesy of local artist and gourmet baker Raegan Roach. Trust us, you’ll come for the muffins, and you’ll stay for the muffins.
Best place to find a line of bargain-hunters on Sunday morning
ARC Thrift Store, 2020 Park Ave.
If you’re a hard-core bargain hunter, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be among the cluster of shoppers haunting the front door of the ARC Thrift Store on Sundays, when they open at 10 a.m. to a weekly 50-percent-off sale. The staff at the nonprofit store put out a fresh serving of goodies and fling open the doors, and the salivating shoppers rush in and start throwing stuff into their carts. If you can squeeze past the throng, you just might find a treasure.
Best new fountain
Ok, it’s the only new fountain in town, but it is a nice one. Six bronze trout leap up in flopping unison, reminding us of our medal-winning Olympic synchronized swimming team. Just completed a few months ago, the fishy fountain, designed by local artists Patrick Collentine and Susan Larsen, features the trout spitting steams of water—3-inch spouts from the bookend fish, 8-inch spurts from the insiders. That water then flows over a granite slab and back into the fountain’s basin. On the day we checked it out, there were exactly two pennies lying on the tile bottom of the fountain. Just standing next to it cools you off on a hot Chico afternoon.
Best place to get coffee and a compliment
Dutch Bros., 490 E. Park Ave.
Sure, they suckered us in with those two days of free coffees, mochas, Dutch Freezes and smoothies when they first opened in June. But Oregon-based Dutch Bros. has kept us hooked with their cheery demeanor and unabashed compliments (deep down, you know you like being called “Sweetie"). When they have your usual drink ready for you before you’ve even made it to the window, that’s devotion—and you’re overcaffeinated.
Third and Main sit-in
The day after the Iraq war started, March 19, a peaceful protest in the Downtown Park Plaza splintered into a display of civil disobedience when a couple dozen counterculture-looking types walked into intersection of Main and Third streets and sat down in unison. And they stayed there for hours until Chico police officers and Butte County sheriff’s deputies stood them up and put them on a bus for Oroville. One woman collapsed with an allergy attack, and local attorney Kevin Sears, who had walked from his Wall Street office to see what the commotion was all about, was handcuffed and tossed onto the bus. Most of the protesters were cited for jaywalking. Sears was not charged.
As the war continued for the next month, the usual peace demonstrators gathered on the northeast corner of the same intersection, as has been the practice on Saturdays for the last five decades. Across the street, in front of the FOX 30 building, pro-war types stood and waved flags and shook their fists to show the peacenicks weren’t the only locals with opinions. By the time the war was over, the hawks were long gone—the peaceful demonstrators, though less in number, continue to keep the Saturday vigil.
Best downhome postal store
Postal Express, 166 Cohasset Road
The last time we visited this hole-in-the-wall shop on Cohasset just east of The Esplanade, two Nubian kid goats were playing in the middle of the room, clambering over several cardboard boxes put there for their amusement. They were beyond cute. At other times we’ve seen various puppies and kittens also making themselves at home here.
The family that owns the shop lives on a farm in Orland, and sometimes they’re forced to care for orphaned critters. “Shucks, bring ’em to the shop” seems to be the operating policy. Needless to say, the possibility of finding farm animals in the store where you drop off packages to be mailed adds a certain zing to what is ordinarily a routine event, and we appreciate it.
Besides, these folks do a good job, too, and on those pre-Christmas days when the line at the post office extends out the door, Postal Express will have you in and out in a flash. Unless you stay to play with the animals, that is.
Best place for a magic carpet ride
Nantucket Rug Gallery, 222 Main St.
We like to window-shop at Nantucket, but we know it’s a rare treat for many Chicoans to afford the lovely furnishings stocked at the upscale downtown shop. The new Nantucket Rug Gallery, however, is another story. If you’re in the market for a floor rug, you’re welcome to buy a crummy one from a chain store, or you can spend another $100 or so and get a beautiful Oriental import at the Nantucket owners’ newest venture. They’ll even “flip” the stacks so you can see everything.
Best reason to change your presets
Who needed easy listening anyway? Regent Broadcasting made a smart move in dropping its old format in favor of hip-hop and R & B music, and if Arbitron didn’t forbid their ratings from being published, we’d be able to tell you just how smart. The station has energy and DJs with real personalities (as suave at a hair salon opening as they are at a Boys & Girls Club fund-raiser) and gives them the freedom to break out of the numbness of corporate programming. That’s not to say the music can’t get repetitive, but then again, that’s why it’s in the Top 10; because we like it. Word.
Best place to get down to eating
The Underground Café, Enloe Medical Center
This cozy little cafeteria-style café located in the basement of Enloe Medical Center is a well-kept secret, but it shouldn’t be. The food is simple but good and, even better, you don’t need a doctor’s income to eat here. A two-egg breakfast omelet with two items (tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, etc.) on it, for example, is only $3.31, and 55 cents for additional items. The breakfast menu is fairly constant, but the lunch/dinner menu rotates daily, offering a wide range of soups, sandwiches and entrées, as well as beverages.
Enloe recently outsourced management of the café to a company named Compass/Morrison, but no drop-off in quality is evident. In fact, one person who works at Enloe and regularly eats in the café says the food has gotten better. So if you’re ever stuck in the hospital’s waiting room and feeling hungry, head on down to the Underground Café. You’ll be nicely surprised.
Best way to get the silent treatment from a politician
Endorse him for office
That’s exactly what we did for Assemblyman Rick Keene last year—endorsed him in the primary over his Republican opponent. But this year, Keene and his office stopped returning our calls or sending us press releases. We were the proverbial chopped liver as far as our assemblyman was concerned. But a quick jaunt to Sacramento and a nice cover story pointing out that Keene’s stance was unconstitutional got us back together. Though things may never be quite the same as they were when Keene was a city councilmember, we can live with it.
Best way to experience Belgium, Germany and Japan without leaving Chico
The Brew Guild, 1722 Mangrove Ave., Ste. 36
It’s no wonder The Brew Guild was voted Best Beer Store in California by All About Beer magazine. Brandon Tucker’s set-up is great. The friendly proprieter has coolers full of over a hundred varieties of cold beer from every country in the world that makes cold beer. You can mix and match as much as you’d like—build your own six-pack and get 10 percent off! Come up with different themes, such as “all-Belgian,” “the Asian connection” or just “coolest names": Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale, Theakston Old Peculier, Helleketelbier, Unibroue La Fin du Monde (end of the world), Orkney Skullsplitter and of course Moylan’s Kilt Lifter makes six.
Best place to make a fool of yourself
There are a lot of ways to make a fool of yourself in this town, but the best by far is to get up and belt out a hit or two on the karaoke stage at Asian Buffet.
There are other venues for the off-key singing of other people’s songs, but none can quite match the freaky ambience of Asian Buffet, where “professional” regulars mix it up with wasted birthday revelers. The DJ is a little bit sensitive about her system ("Could you please not scream in to the microphone?” she often pleads), but she’s also very charitable in her praise of even the most hopelessly awful performers. And if you bomb, the ‘70s-kitsch bar is easily within stumbling distance so you can work up your courage up for that heart-wrenching version of “I Will Survive” you’ve had bottled up inside you for so long.
Best local marketing decision
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in a 24-oz. bottle
Face it, if you’re at a b.y.o.b. party in this town, do you trust your fellow Chicoans with that six-pack you just tossed in the ice chest? Next time pick up one or two of Sierra Nevada’s latest and best-est invention. Go easy. Go big. Also, don’t get discouraged if you get put on hold when you call the brewery to ask about its new creation. The crazy/smokin’ Hammond-organ jazz they leave you hanging with is hot!
Best argument for law enforcement just letting the bands play at parties
The noise from the auto races at the fairgrounds
If we had a category for Best Noise, the races would come in first, due to the fact they’re so widely tolerated. (Otherwise, experimental noise-rock band Botchii would of course clean up.) How is it that one noise complaint will shut down even a mildly noisy party and the races, which can be heard far and wide more clearly and in more places than any party in Chico’s history ever has, conitinue unabated? You can hear Botchii from pretty far away as well, but at least no one gets crushed by moving vehicles at its performances. Wait, we take that back.
Best attempt to legislate morality
Ban on public nudity
Leave it to the conservatives—isn’t their battle cry “smaller government!"?—to try to pass a law banning outdoor nudity. They don’t like entitlement programs, but they want to make sure people keep their clothes on at all times. The word used is “public” nudity, but they mean “outdoor” nudity, even at the most remote swimming holes in Upper Bidwell Park. Here’s hoping the full Chico City Council drops this idea before someone suggests tossing young women into One Mile to make sure we have no witches living among us.
Best combination of flavors
Salami, Capicola, shredded pepperoncinis and Italian dressing on French bread at Bustolini’s Deli, 800 Broadway
The dressing and pepper juice fill up the pores in the bread and mmm … juicy.
Runner-up: fresh-watermelon sherbet (seasonal) at Shubert’s
With the seeds left in!
Best video arcade
AMF Orchard Lanes
With X-box, N-64 and all the other set-top games, kids don’t even leave their houses anymore. True, the games they play at home today are much more realistic and don’t cost a quarter every time, but isn’t there something to be said for the social aspect of the video arcade? Kids used to go on dates at arcades, where they could work out all that pubescent sexual energy over a hot game of air hockey and 50-cent bag of popcorn. Plots were hatched, debts were settled, deals were made—didn’t anyone see Over the Edge?
Chico doesn’t even have what you could technically call an arcade. Mind Games tried it downtown, and it didn’t even last a year. Almost no small cities have arcades any more, but there are still a few places where you can go to get your name up on the high score board.
After copious research, we determined that the best place to play video—and let’s never forget pinball—games is at AMF Orchard Lanes on the Esplanade. They’ve got newer games at 50 cents a play, plus pinball, air hockey and pool. And if you want to relive your delinquent past, there’s a fully-stocked bar a few steps away. Just remember to lock up your Haro outside.
Best late-night donut shop
The Donut Nook, 958 East Ave.
For the most part, donuts are donuts. Some may be a little fresher or a little fluffier than others, but how much does it matter at 3 a.m.? That’s right, 3 a.m., when the donut munchies and coffee shakes hit full force. Do you know where to go for treatment? You should.
The Donut Nook on East Avenue, which is closely related to the venerable Helen’s Donut Nook on Main Street, is the only place to go for donuts in the middle of the night, and we don’t mean that figuratively. Twenty-four-hour donuts are at a premium in this town, so give thanks for Helen and her newest nook.
The ambience at is also worth praising as a beautiful example of pre-Krispy Kreme donut shop décor—wood paneling, a Joust game, stools mounted securely to the floor and a large window to the kitchen so you can keep an eye on the teenager making your donuts.