Shooting from the kitchen

Dino’s proves a worthy competitor among downtown eateries

NO SLOP<br> Along with some fine grub, such as the Junior Dino Burger, you get a free hour of pool if you place your food order between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Along with some fine grub, such as the Junior Dino Burger, you get a free hour of pool if you place your food order between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Photo By Carey Wilson

Dino’s Billiards & Grill

319 Main St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 895-3466

For those of us who lunch downtown on a regular basis, finding someplace new and worthwhile can be like discovering a new favorite fishing hole or a hidden parking spot. Except in the case of a newly discovered dining experience we want to tell everyone we know about it instead of keeping it secret.

Dino’s Billiards & Grill, located downstairs from Lost on Main and Sacred Art Tattoo, in the space that formerly housed Team Players, is such a find. After extensive renovation and a prolonged struggle to gain its liquor license, the combination billiard hall, tavern and grill opened last October without a lot of fanfare and has been quietly building a solid reputation ever since.

Late afternoons and evenings often find Dino’s abuzz with pool shooters, big-screen sports watchers and pub grub enthusiasts, but the downtown lunch crowd seemingly has yet to discover the virtues of its excellent midday menu. In several lunch-hour visits to the establishment over the past couple of months I often found myself sharing the spacious bar with only the cook, the bartender and the occasional pool player or three.

My first visit was just after the 3 o’clock beginning of happy hour, when one can get a Junior Dino Burger with a side of fries or salad (potato, pasta or green) for an astoundingly low $2. Granted, the burger is a simple, 2-ounce patty, but it’s sizzled to perfection, and the accompanying fries are of the deep golden brown, crispy outside, melt on your tongue variety. The fluffy bun, fresh green lettuce, healthy slab of sliced tomato and optional (just ask for it) onion and cheese make this combo a comfortable portion for a late lunch. And if you decide to go with one of the side salads, I can vouch for the homemade freshness of the ingredients.

For the bargain hunter in need of a bite, Dino’s also offers a happy hour (3-7 p.m.) corndog for 50 cents. If you’re more in the mood for something substantial and tasty, the charbroiled chicken and bacon sandwich ($6.95), with the same side options as the burger, will do the trick. The grilled chicken breast is tender, moist and flavorful with a light brushing of barbecue sauce; the bacon is smoky and cooked thoroughly but not fried to a crisp, and the soft French roll is decked with the same fresh produce as the burger. An added bonus is the quarter of crispy dill pickle that garnishes the plate and adds a tart, savory counterpoint to the rich chicken and bacon.

Another hearty option is the barbecue pork or beef sandwich ($6.95). I tried the pork on one visit and found it succulent and juicy, served in bite-sized chunks, soaked in a tangy sauce and served on a French roll that had the structural integrity to hold the potentially messy ingredients without dissolving into a glutinous mass. That sandwich with the potato salad side came pretty close to being more than I could down in one sitting, but the tastiness made putting it all away worthwhile, even if I did climb the steps a little slower on my way back to street level.

The appetizer list offers chili cheese fries, corn dogs, fried mozzarella sticks, fried mushrooms, fried zucchini, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, buffalo wings or creamy artichoke and jalapeno dip, ranging from $1.95 to $10.95 (for 10 poppers).

Drink-wise the bar offers the usual tap sodas for a buck a pint, and if you prefer a pint of beer or a mixed drink to accompany your meal it’s readily available. I recommend the limited-release Chico Pale Ale, brewed at Sierra Nevada with hops grown on the lot next to the brewery.

All-in-all, Dino’s is a worthy and worthwhile addition to Chico’s ever-growing list of downtown eateries.