Best-kept dinner secret
Oberon’s Bistro & Catering Co.
They’ve had their roof catch on fire, the building is for sale and sometimes they’re closed for no apparent reason. But we love Oberon’s, cursed though it may be. Lunch is fine, but we prefer the creative, filling dinners served indoors or on the airy patio just a few steps from the beaten path at Ninth and Salem streets.
Oberon’s is cozy, with the friendly chefs working behind a long counter close enough to lean over and ask if you really did want Dijon with that halibut. It’s affordable, too, with New York steak with blue cheese (the cheese melts like butter on the tasty, thin steak) coming in at less than $15.
Best place to find Garrison Keillor in Chico
Last November Heather and Aaron Lyon, owners of Chico’s only downtown new- and used-book store, got a visit from famed radio tale-spinner Garrison Keillor. They’d e-mailed him and invited him to a little afternoon get-together at their store. Keillor was gracious and funny and said he’d come to Lyon Books rather than Barnes & Noble simply because he’d been invited by the owners.
“I have nothing against Barnes & Noble,” he carefully pointed out.
Lyon, of course, is more than just a place to catch Keillor. Located on Fifth Street close to the downtown post office, it is also a good place to browse for books and help support a local entrepreneur. The place may not have a Starbucks inside, but it does offer free coffee year-round and cold bottled water in the summer.
Best place to kill your buzz
If that 10-year-old surge protector starts to buzz and smoke, where do you go? What’s the first place that comes to mind when you need a two-way adapter or a battery for your digital camera? Radio Shack, of course. Is there anyone who owns electronic equipment who hasn’t gone to Radio Shack at one time or another?
Regardless of what you may think about corporations, you’ve got to appreciate Radio Shack. It’s found a niche and filled it so perfectly that it totally rules. The very name Radio Shack is synonymous with electronics add-ons—cables, batteries, parts and other accessories.
And it’s in nearly every city of more than, say, 15,000 people. In Butte County, there are Radio Shack stores in Oroville, Paradise and Chico, where there are two, on Mangrove Avenue and in the Chico Mall.
Best place to learn to love tofu
Tofu gets a bad rap and is the brunt of jokes from meatheads, but it’s really tasty if prepared right, and it’s always nutritious.
First, tofu has subtle flavors and has to be fresh to taste good. When it’s handmade and fresh, it has a smooth, creamy texture and taste that are delightful. Chico tofu lovers are extremely fortunate to have access to the superb tofu made locally by Cal Parrott at California Kitchen and sold at S&S and Chico Natural Foods. Anybody who’s eaten Cal’s tofu tends to shun the packaged stuff.
Second, tofu has to be cooked right, with the right flavors added, to taste as good as possible.
To get an idea of how that can be done, you need only buy one of the grilled-tofu sandwiches offered at Grilla Bites, on Second Street in downtown Chico. Whether you order the regular “Tofu Grilla” sandwich or its curry, Cajun or BBQ cousin, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how flavorful and substantial this tofu is. Grilla Bites uses only California Kitchen tofu, which means it’s starting off with the very best. It’s like eating meat without the grease—or the guilt.
Tofu grillas are featured prominently at Grilla Bites, but they’re far from the only offerings. Owner Fred Marken has recently added a full breakfast menu to his extensive lunch offerings, and as always the focus is on healthful, organic products that are delicious. Check out the new array of fresh-squeezed, hand-made organic juices, too, along with the espresso coffee drinks made with organic, free-trade coffee. Grilla Bites is a restaurant with heart and conscience, and the food shows it.
Best place to get wine advice
Mangrove Bottle Shop
Never again will you stress about what to bring to a dinner at the in-laws', what kind of housewarming gift to show up with, or what present you’ll be bringing to the next birthday/anniversary/work party. Turn off your brain and let your procrastinating heart lead you where it will—just set aside 15 minutes on your way to the next function and go talk to Norm.
Mangrove Bottle Shop proprieter Norm Habroun has one of the best selections of fine wines in Chico, not to mention every domestic, imported and microbrew beer necessary, as well as a respectable selection of cigars. His wines come from all over the world—from California to France to Chile (and who could forget the “wine in the sack” years, with the de Eyzaguirre Cabernet for only $7—thanks Norm).
Just tell him where you’re going, what sort of wine you’re looking for and what your price range is, and he’ll send you off with a new discovery and a little connoisseur cred to boot.
Best local TV ad
The one for Sue’s Place in Los Molinos
We can’t put our finger on it, but there’s something engaging about the little boy and girl who run up to their coverall-dressed dad working on the car and remind him he promised to take them to “You know, Sue’s Place!” Dad looks up from his chore, smiles and repeats, “Sue’s place. Yeah, come on.” Or something like that. This, we tell ourselves, is a happy, functional family.
Then the commercial shifts to the inside of Sue’s Place and shows tables of people enjoying themselves. But the ad turns into a Shakespearean tragedy when we don’t see our little family and we’re forced to consider the possibility that Dad reneged on the deal. Or maybe Mom nixed the plan and said something like, “Not until your father finishes that valve job.” Perhaps our little family isn’t so happy after all.
Still, it’s those cherub-faced kids crying out in harmony the immortal words, “Sue’s Place!” that knocks our socks off.
Best public living room
You’re in the middle of a terrific novel and you want to keep reading, but you’re going stir crazy at home. Where to go?
Well, there’s always one of the myriad coffee houses in town, but most of them offer only straight-backed chairs meant for a short sit. If you want a coffee house with the comfort of home, you need to go to the Naked Lounge on Second Street in downtown Chico.
We don’t know about the “naked” part, but the “lounge” in the name is totally appropriate. With its overstuffed sofas and chairs, well-placed coffeetables and soft lamp lighting—none of that glaring fluorescent stuff—the Lounge is comfort with a capital “C.” “Make yourself at home,” it seems to say. Plus the coffee’s good and so’s the people-watching.
Best place to get a hot mouth
Bomber’s Baja Grill
Have you noticed how many different brands of hot sauce there are? You have if you’ve eaten at Bomber’s, the cool little burrito joint tucked in the far corner of the Fairview Shopping Center at East Avenue and Cohasset.
About a half-dozen banquettes line two walls of the eatery, and there’s a shelf rack on the wall just above them that extends the distance—maybe 20 feet altogether—holding dozens and dozens of little bottles of hot sauce from all over the world, in the neighborhood of 150 brands. Co-owner Greg Jurgenson collects them, and he tells us he spends $400 a month keeping the rack filled, his “chili-head” customers like them so much. He also has unopened bottles for sale in his lobby.
If you think “Tabasco” is synonymous with “hot sauce,” think again. Or visit Bomber’s. Tabasco is just one of hundreds of sauces, all with unique flavors and almost always far cleverer names. Which sounds more intriguing to you, Tabasco or “Snap My Ass and Call Me Sally"? Or “Dave’s Ultimate Insanity” or “Satan’s Blood"? Then there’s the ultimate challenge of “Holy Shit!” hot sauce.
The sauces come from all over the world—from Louisiana, obviously, but also from Mexico, the Caribbean, South America and even Africa. The labels are great too. Many have vivid and funny graphic art—devil figures abound—illustrating just how hot they are. And not all sauces are red—some are green, others brown, and there are all shades in between. It’s fun to buy one of Bomber’s big fat burritos and try a different sauce with each bite. It’s quite a flavor experience, like taking a gustatory trip to the world’s many “hot” spots.
Best place to get great, cheap furniture
Sandy Gulch Furniture Co.
We almost hesitate to mention Sandy Gulch because we don’t want everyone horning in on our cool furniture action. It’s where we find vintage 1920s and ‘30s oak pieces at prices lower than that new pressboard/plywood crapola you get at the discount store.
Named after the waterway also known as Lindo Channel, the furniture shop is located at 1916 Oleander Ave. and open only on weekends.
Apparently, our treasure is England’s trash: The Brits consider anything pre-antique as totally uncool and sell it off to Americans on the cheap. Even after paying to have the goods shipped over, stripping them and either leaving them unfinished or doing a little work on them, owner Steve Cox (a very nice guy) is able to bring most pieces in at just a few hundred dollars.
We’ve purchased a large armoire for $350, eyed great dressers for $150 and drooled over desks in the $250 range. Just remember to save some for us.
A gallery of godawful art
Local painters Bob Howard and Jonathon Troxler’s split show featured some of the funniest and most provocative paintings ever shown around these parts. But thanks to some offended Christians who threatened to boycott the venue (Has Beans Café), most Chicoans missed out on great paintings like “Last Cock Supper” and the Star Wars-themed “I Am Your Father.” The paintings were more goofy than spiteful—we’re not talking “Piss Christ” here—so it’s a shame they were censored. Hopefully a gallery with some cojones will run this show again, this time for more than 24 hours.
Best place to get nailed
True Value Hardware Park Village
Whatever happened to the small, neighborhood hardware store, where workers would come out from behind the counter and spend 20 minutes finding that 10-cent screw for your malfunctioning lawnmower? Trust us, it still exists, and you can get there quicker than you can get in and out of that big, orange warehouse in south Chico.
Collier downtown has gotten plenty of deserved props, but this time we want to give a shout out to the True Value on Park Avenue. Many a Saturday, its clerks have rescued us from home-repair hell. They dispense advice as readily as they do their ample selection of products.
We’ve also noted that they at least wait until we leave the store to make fun of us for asking for the “whozits” that fits inside the “whatzits.”
Best reason not to hate chains
They’re trendy, they’re tasty and they make it the way you want it. We’re not telling you to abandon your neighborhood taco truck, but when you’re in a hurry and want something tasty, relatively healthful and filling, head to the new-ish Chipotle restaurant at Mangrove and Vallombrosa.
We have to give them a hard time because they’re partly owned by McDonald’s, who bought into the Colorado-based company. Ironically, given the family connection, Chipotle uses free-range pork and other environmentally friendly ingredients.
For the low-carb nuts, they offer “Bols” as well as burritos, but we like to get the tortilla either way. The guacamole—heavy on the cilantro—is worth adding on, or go vegetarian and it’s included.
Call us starry-eyed, but we’re totally on board developer Tom DiGiovanni and crew’s latest project, Meriam Park. To be located on the former Enloe property near Bruce Road and East 20th Street, the “traditional neighborhood development” will eschew inefficient cul-de-sacs and sprawling lots for gridlike streets and well-designed houses, apartments and offices that all work together.
We like the idea, and we like the fact that Heritage Partners spent the time and money to bring in experts for a “charrette” during which community members could weigh in on the design.
As an added bonus, the neighborhood will be named after the late Chico city father Ted Meriam. We liked him, too.
Best money pit
While we admire the near-Herculean effort being put forth in restoring the Senator Theatre, inside and out, we fear the interior will never amount to the grand vision we’ve been sold. At least not without someone dropping a few million bucks into the joint.
Sure, the outside looks nice, and that tower should be going up any day, but a new coat of paint does not a performing arts center make. And as long as the public’s and city officials’ attention is distracted by the work in the Senator, discussions on building a new and valid arts center will remain on hold. That’s too bad.
Best place to find weird batteries for old
Energy Masters on The Esplanade either already has or can order that funky-ass battery for that old-ass cordless phone you still use. Not only that, it has rechargeables and high-voltage batteries for just about every remote, Walkman, vibrator and portable pocket tissue warmer you own.
Best reason to say ‘It’s about time!’
Butte County goes solar
With the flip of a switch this summer, the Butte County government complex in Oroville went off the grid, thanks to the installation of the fifth-largest solar array in the country. The $8.4 million project was subsidized by a $4.2 millon PG&E rebate and is expected to save the county about $316,000 a year, meanwhile cranking out almost a full megawatt at peak prduction.
Oroville already has solar power at several city facilities, and, while Chico is a little bit behind, the city is determined to catch up and is looking seriously at 28 sites for possible solar conversion. With face-melting summers like we get and global warming looking more real everyday, all we can say now is, “What took so long?”
Best place to dress your salad
After pouring what must have been hundreds of thousands of dollars into the building at the corner of Second and Main streets, Pluto’s had to come through with something good. In our opinion, it’s the salads.
The regional chain, based in San Francisco, has an amazing salad setup. Pick a salad (Farmers’ Greens or Caesar), bark out your topping requests to the server and get ready for a meal that might even leave you with leftovers for dinner.
You get seven toppings—pay extra for chicken—and they include everything from candied walnuts and mandarin oranges to bean sprouts and cucumbers. (Hint: If they’re out of croutons, it’s worth the wait.)
Do we Chicoans not appreciate anything? Did we not beg and beg for the Krispy Kreme chain to grace us with its doughy presence? Did we not shell out big bucks for kiddie fund-raisers, even though the doughnuts were cold after being hauled up to Chico in some soccer mom’s SUV?
Now the Krispy Kreme lot sits largely empty, with staffing cut back even as the hot light glows wantonly alongside the freeway. Fickle are we, doughnut-shunning, carb-counting Chico residents.
And you say you want a Trader Joe’s.
Best reason to move your car
OK, we admit it. We at the News & Review are probably among the most ticketed Chico workers. At least, we used to be. We’d park outside our office, watch the clock for when to feed the meter, and then, well, innocently forget about it or purposefully blow it off and take our chances. Once a week, we’d probably get popped with a ticket, but hey, it was only $7—less than we’d have paid if we’d actually been plugging in those quarters.
All that changed in July when the city raised the fines to $15. Somehow, that’s a lot more of a wallet-buster than 7 bucks. Now, we feed the hungry meter or move a few blocks to the outlying neighborhood, where frustrated residents occasionally leave notes on our cars—but no tickets.
Best silver lining in a dreary offseason
Kings strike television deal
Playoff futility eventually results in some sort of shakeup in the world of professional team sports, and our endearing and enduring Sacramento Kings are no exception. The honeymoon is over: The heart of the team, Vlade Divac, is gone (to the Lakers, no less), Chris Webber is a hobbling, finger-pointing mess, and sharpshooter Peja Stojakavic has asked to be traded.
But hey, at least we’ll get to throw our broken hearts onto the court for every one of the season’s 82 cardiac episodes!
Thanks to the creation of a new 24-hour regional sports network and a new deal cut with Kings management, Comcast cable subscribers from Fresno to Chico will be able to see the Kings most likely win their division, only to enter the playoffs as uncertain as ever.
Best place to buy a huge, tacky rug
That guy who sells them in the Carl’s Jr. parking lot
We’re not sure who’s buying these things, but whoever it is, they’re getting fantastic deals on gigantic area rugs featuring sexy ladies, black panthers and Chinese calligraphy characters. These things are like 40 square feet! The trick is finding the guy who sells them. He’s usually at the Carl’s Jr. parking lot on East and the Esplanade, but only on the weekends. Go get yourself one of those big Raiders tapestries for your spare room, and you’ll never have to buy another piece of décor again.
Best way to end a crime spree
Change the law
Some local wag discovered that the city’s municipal code forbids vehicles exceeding three tons from driving on all but the truck routes in our town. That same wag noted that nearly all of the full-sized SUVs now on the road eclipse that limit, some by a few thousand pounds.
Now, a violation of the city municipal code is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine. But rather than issue those fines and fatten the city’s coffer, the City Council appears ready simply to up the limit to seven tons. Remember this when you see those streets getting resurfaced due to wear and tear: Your tax dollars at work.
Best time for music in Chico
Hold your comments till the end, please. It’s always the best of times/the worst of times in Chico for the local music scene. We’ll get a one-, two- or three-year peak (everyone has a fave era that was “the best"), then an extended valley. But it always comes back around, and for our money right now there is more fun, creative, local energy swelling from the likes of the Bean Scene, Moxie’s, Stormy’s, Duffy’s, Fulcrum Records, Off Limits and wherever else than there has been in a long time.
So go check some of it out already: Of course, the Americas, Becky Sagers, PAWNS, Spark ‘n’ Cinder, The Asskickers, Gruk, Danny Cohen and Bear Hunter are all still chugging along, but have you seen Abominable Iron Sloth, Arrangement Ghost, Aubry Debauchery, Autumn Era, Birds of Fire, Black Fong, Botchii, Boy Tiger, Brain in a Cage, Buffalo Creek, Caveat, Chico Legends, Chimney Sweep, The Deer, Deerpen, Electric Betty’s, Goldmind, Gorgeous Armada, Josh Funk, M.C. Oroville, Number One Gun, The Party, Red With Envy, Sleepy Head, Slow Down Theo, Squirrel Vs. Bear, Thug E. Fresh, West By Swan…? We could continue—there are more.