The first five bites
For less than $20, you can taste five signature local flavors that will set you off on your Chico culinary adventure
You have plenty of time to dive into such important debates as: “Which taco wagon makes the best burrito?” and “Who serves the best hamburger in Chico?” Those will be questions answered during your own journey through Chico’s deliciously overpopulated culinary landscape. We don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery for you; we want only to give you a taste, create some excited anticipation about what might be in store. What follows are five perfect bites of local flavors, all of which you can taste for yourself for less than $20.
Taco-truck taco ($1.00-$1.50)
Some would argue that taco trucks are Chico’s No. 1 feature. And it’s understandable. You can’t go more than a few blocks without running into another truck—or its kissing cousin, the liquor-store taco window—and nearly every single one of them makes that perfect handheld meal that is your best bargain in town: the soft taco.
For between $1 and $1.50 (if they are charging more than $1.50, skip to the next spot) you get meat—usually a choice between carne asada, pork (carnitas or al pastor), chicken, and sometimes even lengua (beef tongue)—cilantro, onions and salsa on two corn tortillas. Besides the price and convenience, the selling point is the fact that they really know how to cook the meat. The flavor of an economy cut of meat that has been cooked slowly and seasoned properly can be as tasty as a bite of prime steak. And combine that flavor with the bite of the salsa and onion, the fresh-tasting cilantro, slightly fried edges of tortilla, the acid from a quick squeeze of lime and you have the simplest, and most-loved food item in town.
Slice from Celestino’s ($2.95-$3.50)
We are not saying this is the best pizza in town. There are a variety of great styles being made by many great local pie makers—from the bountiful and classic local flavor of Woodstock’s Pizza to the new crispy-crust artisanal approach of Farm Star Pizza and Grana. But, if you’re looking for an authentic slice of New York thin crust, there are no competitors for Celestino’s. The chewy crust, quality toppings, and mouth-watering tang of the tomatoey sauce—forget about it!
Celestino’s New York Pizza—two locations: 101 Salem St. (896-1234) and 1354 East Ave., Ste. 5 (345-7700).
Crusty Roll from The Rawbar ($6-$7)
There are so many great places for sushi in Chico that it would take several pages to give a full rundown. This is a journey you must take on your own. We have our favorites, and we’ll get you started by sharing one of the best local bites you can put in your mouth: The Rawbar’s Crusty Roll. It’s filled with rice, shrimp, scallions and almonds, dipped in tempura batter and fried, and then drizzled with tangy tare sauce. Every flavor and texture is in play, and if you get there during happy hour (Monday-Friday, 3-5 p.m.), the normally $7 six-piece roll is only $6.
The Rawbar, 346 Broadway, 897-0626.
Tamale from Rico’s ($2)
First off, while Rico’s is undeniably one of the best street-food vendors in town, there are probably a dozen equally great carts, trucks and stands selling food outdoors in Chico that are worthy of being recommend as your first “must-visit” spot—including another tamales vendor, Maria’s Gone Tamales, just up the block from Rico’s during the Thursday Night Market downtown. This is just one amazing, inexpensive, can’t-miss option that will set you on your way to all the hot dogs, BBQ, grilled cheese and kettle corn on your horizon.
Rico’s owner, Tony Flores, has been making tamales in Chico for a decade, and you can get his pork, vegetarian or sweet pineapple-and-raisin corn-husk-wrapped loafs of love at both downtown farmers’ markets as well as for pick-up at his shop on the corner of Cherry and Ninth Streets.
Rico’s Tamales, downtown Chico at Thursday Night Market and Saturday farmers’ market, plus take-out at 900 Cherry St., 898-1212.
Scoop from Shubert’s ($2.45)
The second you walk into this icon, you become a local. The family-run ice-cream parlor/candy shop just celebrated its 75th anniversary of providing hand-made treats to Chico, and there is no more perfect ending to a hot day than a stroll to the downtown shop for a scoop of Chico Mint—milk chocolate ice cream with chunks of green Shubert’s Chico Mint candies.
Shubert’s Ice Cream and Candy, 178 E. Seventh St., 342-7163.