New food pyramid

Discover the 10 wonders of Chico’s culinary world

Photo By photo collage by ty gorton

Listen up, new students. If your time in Chico ends up being fueled only by burritos from Chipotle and Marshmallow Fruit Loops, then you never actually lived in Chico.

It’s understandable that you would zero in on the inexpensive comforts from back home, but trust us when we say that it’s very easy to find a taste of Chico that will be just as comforting and just as cheap.

In fact it’s right there—see the flavor peak rising up above the tree line? It’s the primordial mound—the pyramid of 10 food sources that contain the key ingredients to being a Chicoan:

1. Taco wagons

No Mexican food from a chain or served on a white-hot plate will ever be as good, or as inexpensive, as a meal from a taco wagon in Chico. For $3 you can have a burrito filled with perfectly cooked carne asada or grilled-crispy carnitas, plus rice, beans, salsa, onions and cilantro that will sustain you for at least two meals’ worth of your day. You can find taco wagons everywhere—at least three driving up and down Nord Avenue near Chico State; find four (one in a liquor store) going up Park Avenue and East Park Avenue south of downtown; go down Highway 32 (East Eighth and Ninth streets) toward Highway 99 for a couple more; up The Esplanade going north for another three; and find two (another in a convenience store) at where East First Avenue meets Longfellow.

2. Local organic produce

This is where you’ll experience some of the richest Chico flavor, whether it’s at one of the two natural-food stores—the Chico Natural Foods co-op (818 Main St.) or S& S Produce (1924 Mangrove Ave.)—or from one of the many regular outdoor markets. The most popular markets are the year-round farmers’ market (Saturdays, 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m.) at the parking lot at Second and Wall streets and the fair-weather Thursday Night Market in the middle of downtown (Thursdays, 6-9 p.m., April-September).

There are also a number of local community-supported-agriculture (CSA) programs cropping up—notably the Grub Collective (—where you can subscribe to weekly deliveries of the organic goods that are in season.

3. Local cafés

If you can possibly break free from the grip of your favorite chain, there is an eclectic collection of local shops waiting to offer you a warm, caffeinated embrace: Try the traincar at Empire Coffee (434 Orange St.); the funky neighborhood joints—Café Flo (365 E. Sixth St.), Café Mondo (951 Nord Ave.), Café Paulo (Fifth & Ivy), Bidwell Perk (664 E. First Ave.); downtown alternatives at The Naked Lounge, Has Beans and the Upper Crust; and the crazy selection of amazing teas at T Bar & Fusion Café (250 Vallombrosa Ave.).

4. Breakfast joints

If you eat only one meal a day, make sure it’s breakfast. Given it’s, um, social reputation, big piles of potatos, eggs, fried sweets and breakfast meats are big in Chico. Long lines start forming by mid-morning on the weekends at all of the following: Café Coda (265 Humboldt Ave.), Morning Thunder (352 Vallombrosa Ave.), The Roost (1144 Park Ave.); Beatnik’s (1387 E. Eighth St.) and Sin of Cortez (2290 Esplanade).

5. Meat

Carnivores can have a complete Chico experience in this category by itself. For cooked beef in patty form, you will get passionate arguments in favor of each of the following: Burger Hut (three locations: 933 Nord, 3211 Cohasset, 2451 Forest), The Graduate (344 W. Eighth St.), Nobby’s (1444 Park Ave.), Madison Bear Garden (at southeast corner of Chico State), Burgers & Brews (downtown); and Big Chico Burger (1550 East Ave.). For BBQ, try McCall’s rock-and-roll BBQ (131 Meyers St.); Haydock’s (2954 Hwy 32); The Butcher Shop (1924 Mangrove) and Smokin’ Mo’s downtown; and for uncooked varieties, get the best cuts of beef and more from The Butcher Shop, Chico Locker & Sausage (196 E. 14th St.) and Chico State’s Meat Lab.

6. Pizza

This is a no-brainer for college, and when it comes to choosing pizza pies, we say there are no bad choices, especially at 2:15 a.m. But if you’re going to put a gun to our heads and say pick the top three, we’d have to say: Celestino’s (at First & Salem streets and in the East Avenue Safeway shopping center); Woodstock’s (a Chico tradition downtown, 166 E. Second St.); and, if you’re splurging, the artisan pies at the new Farm Star Pizza (2359 The Esplanade).

7. Bakeries

For bread: Tin Roof Bakery & Café (627 Broadway); for cakes and pastries: Mim’s Bakery (890 Humboldt Ave.) and Upper Crust Bakery (130 Main St.); and for doughnuts you have to go right this minute to Donut Rising (in the Nord Avenue Safeway shopping center).

8. Asian / Mediterranean

Even though Chico is small, it does feature a few choice international options, especially when it comes to Thai food (Thai Basil and Chada Thai, both downtown, Sophia’s Authentic Thai (305 Nord Ave.), and Cocodine in the Raley’s shopping center on Notre Dame Boulevard); Indian (Priya, 2574 Esplanade and Star of India inside the Holiday Inn at 585 Manzanita Court); Mediterranean (Petra and Sultan’s Bistro, both downtown); Asian fusion (Annie’s Asian Grill, 243 W. Ninth St.; T Bar & Fusion Café, 250 Vallombrosa Ave.); noodle houses (Pho C & C, 321 Cohasset Road, and Noodle House at Mangrove and Vallombrosa avenues); and an admirable collection of quality sushi spots (Rawbar downtown; Gen Kai at Mangrove & Vallombrosa; Big Tuna at 1722 Mangrove Ave.; Ojiya, 2477 Forest Ave.; and Japanese Blossoms, 2995 Esplanade).

9. Shubert’s Ice Cream & Candy

Since 1938, Chicoans have been walking off their evening meals with a stroll down to the family-owned shop at 178 E. Seventh St. for a nightcap of homemade ice cream or candy. Tastiest way to get instant Chico cred.

10. Sierra Nevada Restaurant & Taproom

Chico is rightfully proud of the world-famous Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (1075 E. 20th St.) that was born here 31 years ago. In addition to having some of the best craft beers on the planet, the brewery also has a fun restaurant with delicious salads, fish and chips, brick-oven pizzas and more. Perfect spot to have take the parents when they visit.