Editors’ Picks

Here’s our take on the best things in Chico

Empire Coffee

Empire Coffee

photo by Josh Graham

Best possible political change

Elected mayor
We often hear complaints about a lack of leadership in Chico. It’s no wonder, since the city is run by a committee—the City Council. If you want a leader, you need to create a leadership position. Here’s a good one: Make the mayor’s job elective and full-time for four years and provide a salary and an assistant. The cost would be relatively small, the reward—in true leadership—huge.

Best place the CN&R can’t write about

Empire Coffee Co.
Plato, we have a problem. There’s a cool coffee house in a remodeled train car at Fifth and Orange streets. Under ordinary circumstances, we’d have given it some ink. The rub: It’s owned by Alec Binyon, one of our colleagues. Publicizing the place might put our ethics in question … but now he’s made it even cooler by hiring one of our favorite baristas, Mollie Russell. Drat! Forget we mentioned it.

Best rogue theater

Rogue Theatre
You probably know the story: In early 2007 Blue Room artistic director Joe Hilsee is let go. The rest of the company follows, and they go on to form Rogue Theatre. The theater has finally found a home at 1078 Gallery, but is still considered the black sheep of local companies—boasting a local crew of favorites in Betty Burns, Samantha Perry and Jerry Miller. The company is currently running Michael Hollinger’s An Empty Plate in the Café du Grande Boeuf at 1078, starring Miller, Amber Miller (no relation), Erik Pedersen and Daniel Penner.

Best bistro worth rediscovering

Caffé Malvina
Last year, we shined our spotlight on House of Bamboo, a wonderful restaurant that always seemed empty. This time around, we’re drawing attention to Caffé Malvina, recessed into the block of shops and eateries across from the Third Street parking structure. It’s been around since 1977, which is a testament to the cuisine and the business plan—but it’s easy to overlook, so we’re worried it might not make it through 2008. Please assuage our fears.

Best pot-stirrer

Richard Ek
Doc Ek is old school. That’s not a knock on his age—he’s an octogenarian who’s sharper than many pentagenarians. We mean it in the way he approaches journalism, like a bull charging through Orient & Flume. Ek has a sixth sense for news and won’t let anyone keep him from getting the story. (Psst, here’s a secret: His “Breaking the Bank” story on the city deficit is up for a big award …)

Best tunnel

The Annie’s Glen/Bidwell Park underpass
Will there be bumble-bee-sized super mosquitoes bred in its puddles? Perhaps. Will its floodlights be a beacon to late-night denizens looking for a port in the storm? It’s possible. Will this forthcoming convenient passageway from downtown to Bidwell Park be the grooviest bike hole this side of Old Man Rusty’s culvert down by the river? Absolutely!

Best reason to go to the farmers market

Rosarito’s tamales
Whether you like ’em hot or sweet, Rosarito’s is eager to please. The warm masa, filled with chicken, pork or pineapple, can be complemented with your choice of hot or mild salsas. The pineapple with raisins, which needs no complement, is our favorite, and considering they usually run out before Saturday’s market closes, we’re guessing others dig it, too. When the lunch mood strikes, however, nothing is better than grabbing a fresh pork tamale, piling on the hot sauce and pigging out in the parking lot with friends.

Best task force

Sustainability Task Force
Since its inception in late 2006, the task force has come a long way. The evidence? Completion of a sophisticated greenhouse-gas-emissions survey for the greater Chico area and a set of reduction goals presented to the City Council in August and approved Sept. 2. Chico is now committed to reducing its GHGs by 25 percent from 2005 levels by 2012, a goal that is certain to have major impacts across the board.

Best Monday Night Football performance by a Chicoan

Aaron Rodgers, Sept. 8, 2008
It’s hard to imagine there was ever a first-time starting pro quarterback who was under as much pressure as Aaron Rodgers was on Monday, Sept. 8. The former star quarterback for Cal, Butte College and Pleasant Valley High was starting for the Green Bay Packers in the season’s first installment of Monday Night Football. His team was playing its bitterest of rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. He was starting in his first home game, on the legendary Lambeau Field in front of the most devoted and crazed football fans on the planet. Oh, and he was taking over the reins from future Hall-of-Famer and 16-year Packers starter Brett Favre. In the face of all the expectations and detractors, Rodgers completed 18 of 22 pass attempts (with zero interceptions) for 178 yards, rushed for 35 yards, threw one touchdown and ran for one touchdown while leading the Packers to a season-opening win.

Jeff Worrel

photo courtesy of the makai

Best rock moves

Jeff Worrel from The Makai
Classic rock moves always get you giddy and begging for seconds—the Townshend windmill, the Diamond Dave jump-kick, the Jagger strut (by way of Tina Turner). You watch, waiting patiently, never knowing quite when they’ll unleash it. Makai bassist Jeff Worrel is a teddy bear, but he’s a monster on stage, swinging his instrument from side to side … and then he hoists it over his shoulder like a bazooka, takes aim, and blasts the audience with rock. We call it the M20 Metal Massacre. And we’ll have another.

Best place to catch some Zzzzs, and birdies

Bidwell Golf Course
It is a lovely spring day, and the manicured grass looks inviting. It doesn’t look like there was any heavy traffic, so a quick lie-down seems in order. Birds chirp, the breeze cools, eyes fall heavy. All is right in the world. Just remember that it will only be a matter of time before your nap on the green is interrupted by a screaming 1.620-ounce ball. This message is approved by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

Best dissenting vote

Dolan and Kirk on the New Era Mine
In Dry Creek Canyon, a family’s once-dormant gold mine roared back to life on a scale far beyond its original permit. At least that’s how neighbors see the New Era operation. So does Supervisor Jane Dolan, who voted on that permit, and her fellow Chico supervisor, Maureen Kirk. But they got outvoted 3-2, so the mine continues to operate unchecked … and various state agencies are lining up to challenge the county’s right to regulate.

Best new building

Student Services Center

photo by laura brown

Student Services Center
Chico State’s shiny new building at the corner of Second and Ivy streets is a welcome addition for a number of reasons. First, the university constructed it with the environment in mind (the building is LEED certified). Second, it replaces a major eyesore: a weed-ridden plot once occupied by portable trailers. Third, it places important offices such as Admissions and Financial Aid in one place. And last, but not least, it gives the institution new curb appeal by employing a modern design with a brick facade so characteristic of the campus.

Best-kept secrets for your vinyl addiction

Thrifty Bargain and ARC Thrift Store
Melody Records is the place for vinyl, but many a gem can be unearthed at any of our fine local thrift stores. We’ve found Thrifty Bargain (2432 Esplanade) and the ARC (2020 Park Ave.) to be two of the best. It takes patience and a keen eye … and a good back as you hunch over and sift through the piles of Lawrence Welk and Barry Manilow. Stick with it, and you will be rewarded with treasures beyond your wildest dreams … and we’re talking The Moody Blues.

Floors by Ray

Best local billboard

Floors by Ray
For most companies, a billboard is just an oversized advertisement—you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. Not for Floors by Ray. The carpet and vinyl/wood flooring company with offices in Chico, Orland and Oroville recently launched a sizzling billboard campaign that got variously raving and ranting reviews. Well, we loved it. Where else can you find a quality shag in this town? Brilliant!

Best Chico councilmember

Scott Gruendl
He was good as a mayor, though sometimes loquacious, and Scott Gruendl is even better as a councilmember. During meetings, he has an uncanny way of waiting until just the right moment in a discussion and then making the kind of insightful, well-thought-out comment that wraps up the discussion and ties on a bow. He’s extremely knowledgeable, he’s smart, and he knows how and when to make his case. Plus he sincerely loves Chico and the people who live here.

Best undercover hookah bar

Birds of Fire

Photo by Mark Lore

Broadway Deli
This relatively new downtown deli and convenience store is certainly more than meets the eye. That’s because behind the turkey and shawarma sandwiches, Diet Cokes and bags of Doritos, there’s a quaint little hookah bar tucked away on the back patio. So the next time you’re wandering around downtown and feel like taking a puff of white peach- or cherry-flavored shisha, you know where to go—it’s (you guessed it) on Broadway.

Best band that got back together, man

Birds of Fire
Instrumentalists and local favorites Birds of Fire flew the coop back in 2006, when songwriter/guitarist Matt Daugherty took a gig managing a recording studio near Santa Rosa. After a couple years off, BOF is back with a new formation and a stellar lineup. Candy Apple’s Jake Sprecher has taken over drumming duties, original bassist Zach Ahern continues to hold down the low end, and Daugherty is joined on guitar by La Fin du Monde’s Adam Scarborough. Sky’s the limit for this foursome.

Best place to inhale a bug, eat gourmet and observe nature

Henry Lomeli

photo by mark lore

Henry Lomeli’s boat
When headed up the Sacramento River during one of Henry Lomeli’s eco tours, chances are you’re going to catch a bug in your teeth. But that’s because you can’t stop smiling when you get up close with wildlife: beavers, otters, migratory sea birds, freshwater coral and other amazing creatures. Lomeli is a wildlife biologist and knows just about everything you can imagine about the river’s inhabitants. He’s also one heck of a chef who will whip you up a five-star meal set to candlelight along the waterway.

Best dive bar

The Towne Lounge
For those who like to walk into a place where everybody knows your name, the Towne Lounge is just that. One of the oldest bars in Chico, the small space is located on Main Street, in between what used to be the Underground and Main Street Pizza. We’re happy to announce the TL was recently snazzed up a bit and now offers not one, not two, but three pool tables; darts; live music on occasion, and, as always, some of the cheapest booze on the block.

Best conservative politician

City Plaza “Horns”

photo by Jason Cassidy

State Sen. Sam Aanestad
Yes, he’s one of the Republican obstructionists who held up the state budget—they’re in lock step on that one—and he’s a bedrock social conservative, but otherwise Sam Aanestad is a pragmatic, gentlemanly legislator who gets a lot done for his 4th District (which we’re in). From funding for rural schools and wastewater treatment plants to trails (including one in Bidwell Park) and energy efficiencies, he’s a problem solver. An oral surgeon, he’s especially good in the area of health care.

Best satanic shrine

The horns in City Plaza
At the midnight hour, it has been told that a ghostly children’s melody can be heard resonating through these horns … Ring around the rosies. OK, that’s not true. Actually, Owen Gabbert’s pair of horn-like sculptures go by the name of “Fred and Ginger,” and they were constructed as part of the Heritage Elm Sculpture Project using copper plus wood from the diseased elm trees that were removed from the old plaza. But, if a pasty-faced kid with black hair and a creepy British accent were to set up shop somewhere in Chico …

Best restaurant that went outta biz

House of Nature’s Own
Vegans were stoked when Nature’s Own opened up shop on Broadway, but it looks like there weren’t enough of them in Chico to sustain it. That’s too bad since the restaurant was the only eatery to fill a niche market for meatless, raw and organic food. For just more than a year, the White family—dad Craig and sister-brother duo Ashley and Cody—created delicious and nutritious eats without ever using an oven. We wish them luck in their next venture.

Best thing about Best of Chico ’08

Along with saluting people and places who’ve earned a special place in the community’s heart, the Chico News & Review is giving tangible support to an organization that’s done likewise. The Three Rivers Chapter of the American Red Cross stepped up during the Humboldt, Ophir and Butte Lightning Complex fires to help hundreds of displaced individuals and families. We could think of no non-profit more deserving of reciprocation, so we’re making donations on behalf of the first-place winners (noting this on their award plaques), and our annual Best of Chico banquet—Oct. 15 at Lakeside Pavilion—will double as a benefit for the Red Cross.