Goin’ hungry?

Not in this town. Chico has eats to fit every student’s budget

LIKE A BIG PIZZA PIE<br>(from left) Justin Ponzio, Bonnie Roy and Margaret Roy “ciao” down at Celestino’s Live From New York Pizza.

(from left) Justin Ponzio, Bonnie Roy and Margaret Roy “ciao” down at Celestino’s Live From New York Pizza.

Photo by Tom Angel

CHICO CHECKPOINT: One day it will hit you like a ton of bricks: The streets near Chico State are named, in order, Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry, Orange. Get it? C-H-I-C-O.

If there’s anything bad about being away from home, out of the dorms and finally living on your own, it’s the vicious cycle of household chores. Want dinner? Have to cook. Want to cook? Have to wash pans and pots and plates and all that pesky silverware. (Sooner or later you’ve got to get them out of the sink, especially if you don’t want any disgruntled roommates piling them on your bed as an oh-so-subtle hint.)

In my humble home, where my roomie Margaret and I enjoy all the amenities of indoor plumbing and … well, indoor plumbing, there seems to be at least one day a week when we can no longer stand our kitchen. (Did I mention the smoke alarm cries “Fire! Fire!” every time we dare to open the oven?) When these times come, we either have to go out to eat or dine in on soda crackers.

Now, I used to go to school in Marin County, and, believe me, soda crackers have their moments, but one of the things I love about Chico is the great selection of restaurants in all price ranges, including that old favorite demographic: the starving, penniless student. People in this town know how to eat well despite the old cash flow problem.

Here are some of the places I’ve enjoyed during my stay here. I’ve included a few upscale joints, too, the kinds of places where I take my folks when they come to town. This is a personal list, though, and far from complete or authoritative. You’ll find your own favorites, of course.

Just because payday’s still a week away, don’t jump in the fast-food line for the same old greasy cuisine; treat yourself to something local. One of my favorites is Speedy Burrito, at 1031 Nord Ave. It’s quick, everyone’s friendly, and you get a serious serving of delicious Mexican food without having to dig too deep into those pockets. Aca Taco is another good choice, especially if you’re looking to grab a bite downtown (there’s one at 133 Broadway and another at 1000-D West Sacramento Ave.).

If you’re not in the mood for Mexican, try Kona’s (138 Main St.) for sandwiches or Celestino’s (101 Salem St.) for what Chico News & Review readers surveyed contend is the best pizza in Northern California (i.e., the Northstate, which you’ll find is the favorite commune-flavored nickname for the region). For just a few bucks at any of these places, you can ease those hunger pangs.

For just slightly more money—over $5 but under $10—you can explore more great Chico options. Sultan’s Bistro (300 Broadway in the Phoenix Building) is the perfect escape from burgers, pizza and nachos, offering tasty gyros (one serving is easily two meals’ worth, so come when you’re hungry) and a Middle Eastern atmosphere that’s a fun change of pace. In the same downtown area, Tres Hombres (100 Broadway) offers great choices like their mahi-mahi tacos, not to mention margaritas (if you’re of age!) and the some of the most comfortable restaurant chairs around.

If you’re looking for something Asian, venture outside downtown and check out Hula’s Chinese Bar-B-Q (locations at 2450 The Esplanade and off East 20th Street by Target) for great Chinese barbecue. You get to fill a bowl with ingredients of your choice and have them cooked up for you on the spot. Justin Ponzio, Whitney Hall resident and none-too-faithful patron of the cafeteria scene, learned the art of using your friend’s bowl to smash down your own food for maximum space from other hungry and highly economic floormates. Soup and, of course, fortune cookies, add the finishing touch.

If you’re spending more for a special occasion, Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant (1075 East 20th St.) is a sure-fire winner—especially if you happen to be over 21. Some out-of-towners know Chico solely as the home of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Margaret’s friends in high places hooked her up with a special celebratory birthday dinner at the restaurant, and she still remembers—honestly, she does—sampling beer at a special booth that came all the way from Germany. And the food, of course, is delicious, with a variety of pizza, pasta, sandwich, and salad choices.

Justin also recommends 5th Street Steakhouse (345 West Fifth St.) as a high-end option, although to tell the truth none of us has ever had the money to venture inside, and they keep the place so dark that Margaret and I are sure it’s some kind of covert Mafia hangout. It’s owned by some of the same people who own Riley’s, Franky’s and LaSalles, so they know their markets.

Our favorite place, hands-down, is The Graduate (344 West Eighth St.). For one thing, it’s half a block from our house, so Margaret and I are lured there all too easily. Meals range from just a few dollars for a burger to a more expensive platter of ribs, with all kinds of great sandwiches, salads, and appetizers in between. It’s such a perfect mix of restaurant and sports bar (did I mention that we get all of two TV channels at home?) that we show up every time the Colorado Avalanche hit the ice, and then some. Margaret told the bouncer Andy, our favorite figure in the Chico bar scene, that if they brought in Barcaloungers we’d start paying rent there instead. While we haven’t gotten them yet, we’re sure they’re on their way … right, guys?

With all the food choices Chico has to offer, everyone’s sure to find a favorite. My advice: Don’t rush yourself! Take your time and make the most of the restaurants in town. It’s guaranteed to be one tasty tour.

Next: Five Chico truths