Best of Sacramento 2016: Food & Drink writers’ picks
Where is Sacramento’s most buttery, flaky pastry?
I’m sure that legally they are all created equal, and that to declare a favorite would set an unfair precedence with negative consequences and all sorts of ensuing gossip—but I must speak frankly on the subject. A good croissant is hard to find in Sacramento.
Now, I didn’t say that croissants are hard to find. Every coffee shop in the city offers them, but they’re often Disney-esque in size—as large as dinner plates with half the required amount of butter and baked so long they’re more like dinner rolls. The croissant I’m searching for is much sexier. I am searching for a croissant whose insides are stratified into innumerable chewy layers, whose outside is reduced to tissue-thin flakes at the mere suggestion of a bite.
Finding Sacramento’s best croissant becomes my mission. I eat my way through innumerable bakeries but remain dissatisfied until the day I walk through the door of Cafe Rolle. With the lunch rush over, chef William Rolle leans against the kitchen window and entertains my quest.
“Of course it is Estelle’s,” he says, with a finality denoting that there is no contest.
In a sense, the revelation is a letdown. Estelle’s Patisserie forever escaped my attention because it seemed so obvious. I had privately hoped that the best croissant would be in some cafe nobody had heard of with difficult hours and a password required to secure the best kept secret in the city. But sometimes the best things in life are available to all in the most clear location—no secret handshake required.
When I finally get my hands on an Estelle’s croissant, I revel at what feels like a pound of butter that is still soft and airy in my hands. It is as flaky as the one I had long been searching for and that, as chef Rolle promised, easily remains Sacramento’s best.
Estelle’s closed its K Street location in August in preparation for a new bakery at 2530 Arden Way, scheduled to open next month. In the meantime, find Estelle’s treats at various locations of Insight Coffee Roasters, Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters, Whole Foods and even the cafe at Nordstrom. —Juli Boggs
Best rice to obsess over
Chef-owner Lou Valente takes his rice very seriously, and it shows. He uses koshihikari, which he considers to be the best available in the country, and treats it with respect. Preparing rice at Lou’s is a whole process: rinsing, soaking, straining, steaming, mixing, cooling—and each step involves a very specific technique and specific measurements. Everything must be just so. And if you think it’s crazy to obsess this much about rice, just go to Lou’s, order some nigiri and consider what texture most surprises you with its extraordinariness. You expect the fish. It’s the rice that blows you away. 2801 P Street, (916) 451-4700, www.lousushi.com. J.B.
Best pistachio gelato that actually tastes like pistachios
Choosing a gelato flavor is usually an agonizing process of sampling and self-reflection. Eatuscany makes it slightly easier by serving pistachio gelato that’s so incredible you would be foolish not to order it. When you taste it, you are overwhelmed by how much it actually tastes like pistachio, and then you start to wonder just what’s in the other fake, green “pistachio” crap you’ve been eating up to this point. Eatuscany’s gelato guru was trained in Italy, and it shows in the dense, sublime, just-like-Tuscany texture. 1801 L Street, Suite 80, (916) 930-1950, www.eatuscanycaffe.com. J.B.
Best doughnut truck sweetening up the grid
Some of the most consistently fresh, innovative doughnuts in town reliably come from Sweet Dozen. The grid got lucky when Sweet Dozen launched its food truck last year. Now, it makes regular stops in the central city, including two times per month at the Midtown Farmers Market. In addition to seasonal flavors such as lychee rose raspberry and peach crumble, Sweet Dozen dishes out awesome and creatively filled malasadas, the Portuguese doughnuts popular in Hawaii. You can find those and more in the brick-and-mortar, but only the truck offers refreshing Thai iced tea and matcha tea lattes. 5207 Madison Avenue, Suite E; (916) 344-2000; www.sweetdozen.com. J.B.
Best place to eat fancy without the fancy
Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay and Hawks Public House in Midtown both offer exquisite dining experiences, among the best in the region. But they come with hefty price tags and certain expectations. However, you can roll into Hawks Provisions, the tiny cafe next to Hawks Public House, unshowered and with unruly hair, and receive a magnificent, top-grade meal. Grab a sandwich, like the amazing croque monsieur ($7), and the Public House Bar ($4), a candylike dessert with layers of chocolate, peanuts, feuilletine and caramel, and prepare to be dazzled. You just have to take them somewhere else. 1525 Alhambra Boulevard, (916) 588-4440, www.hawkspublichouse.com/provisions. J.B.
Best Hong Kong-style bakery
Pegasus Bakery & Cafe
Neat displays of all kinds of Chinese baked goods line this spacious, pink shop, which opened earlier this year. There are spam buns, red bean buns, coconut buns, pork buns and hot dog buns in the shapes of dogs. There are big cakes topped with fresh fruit, colorful sponge rolls, ice-cream-filled crepes and egg puffs—the chewy street snack. There are egg tarts, kept warm. Most items come to less than $2, which means you should definitely pick up breakfast, some snacks and dessert.
6825 Stockton Boulevard, www.facebook.com/
Best under-the-radar brewery
Device Brewing Co.
Word of mouth travels fast in the craft beer scene. So when Device Brewing Co. opened in 2013, the family-owned business simply let the beer speak for itself. Three years later, its warehouse on 14th Avenue bursts at the seams with beer drinkers on Friday or Saturday evenings. It joins the ranks of more than 50 quality craft breweries in the region. Despite its under-the-radar approach to advertisement, Device continues to brew, bottle and serve a variety of barrel-aged Russian imperial stouts, double and triple IPAs, summer lagers and more. Stop by to indulge in a knockout triple IPA. It’s crisp on first sip, followed by a full-bodied bite of hops and finished with a quick buzz—perfect for those summer evenings on a shaded porch or trips to the featured food truck located just outside the brewery. 8166 14th Avenue, Suite A; (916) 737-2739; www.devicebrewing.com. S.R.
Best whole fried fish
Pho Ru is an all-around killer Vietnamese restaurant in south Sacramento, but one dish clearly stands out: the YaYa Rainbow Trout. The chef coats a whole trout in cornmeal and deep-fries it so the skin is crunchy and the meat is tender. The sweet-funky flavor gets a major assist from fish sauce and fried garlic chips. Don’t go to Pho Ru without ordering one for the table; the price varies depending on the size of the fish, but it’s usually in the $12-$18 range. Bonus: Your server will fillet it tableside. 6115 Mack Road, (916) 476-3754, www.rurestaurant.com. J.B.
Best lattes for every season
Flavored lattes have a bad rep because of oversugared confections like the pumpkin spice latte. Not so with Nido’s seasonal drinks. These beverages blend their many flavors into a smooth and coherent whole. Flavor wizard Alison Joy Willard, lead barista at Yellowbill Cafe and Bakery, has concocted the summer espresso drinks at both her cafe and Nido. For the lavender latte, she soaks the organic herb in Tito’s Handmade Vodka for two months, drawing out its full essence, and sprinkles the iced drink with real flecks of lavender. The horchata latte features an in-house infusion of spices, rice and almond milk, as well as house-made coconut-vanilla whipped cream. Summer is ending, but fall promises to be tasty, too. 1409 R Street, Suite 102; (916) 668-7594; www.hellonido.com. R.H.
Best reason to make every day Taco Tuesday
At Taqueria Espinoza, every day is Taco Tuesday. Family owned and operated, the taqueria serves $1 chicken, al pastor, carne asada and carnitas tacos Monday through Sunday. What’s more, this taco hut also serves a nice selection of Mexican-style beers that pair quite well with $10 worth of street tacos. Order a few of each variety to sample the different flavors and spices of marinated meats topped with fresh-chopped cilantro, diced onions and a spicy house-made salsa. Lime wedges also accompany any size order for that extra bite of citrus, and the soft, mini corn tortillas act as the perfect vessel to guide all the flavors Taqueria Espinoza prepares daily to your mouthhole. 2805 12th Avenue, (916) 370-2511. S.R.
Best use of a squirrel in baked goods
Sassy Oh Baking Co.
Sassy Oh Baking Co. gets creative in combining flavors for its cookies and muffins—chocolate-chip lavender, lemon-rosemary spelt, apple-peanut pretzel and ginger-lime peanut butter—and it’s proudly 100 percent vegan, so it’s perfect for animal lovers. Even more so, because the logo for the company is a squirrel with a fluffy, long tail that curves into an “S.” It’s kind of like an adorable reminder that eating vegan isn’t about what you can’t have, but what you can have: animal-friendly deliciousness—you know, good stuff. Sassy Oh baked goods are sold at Broadway Coffee (3200 Broadway), and orders may be placed by phone. (916) 804-9376, www.sassyohbakingco.com. S.
Best Japanese street sandos
Mahoroba Japanese Bakery
Mahoroba Japanese Bakery is the only authentic Japanese bakery in town, according to its owner, Narusuke Monguchi, and his employees. That said, this little sweet factory also serves up some delicious street food inspired by delicacies found in the streets of Japan where Monguchi is from. First, there’s the fish dog. The land-and-sea-creature title may intimidate some; however, try it. It’s white fish that’s panko-battered and golden-fried, served with crunchy green cabbage, drizzled with sweet house sauce and served on a fresh-baked deli roll. More savory choices include deep-fried potatoes, cabbage, house sauce on a roll (for the vegetarians and vegans) and the yakisoba pan, which is sautéed yakisoba noodles served in a roll. 4900 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 454-1879. S.R.
Best unexpected example of East meets West
Umai Savory Hot Dogs
Kimchi, sriracha and bulgogi sauce on a hot dog. Is there really any better way to exemplify Eastern and Western cultures crashing into each other, at least in the context of food? This one particular dog is called the Seoul Storm. Umai has several other Asian fusion-style dogs to choose from, like the Tokyo Signature, Saigon Hustle, Thai Thunder and Shinjuku Shadow. This small, local hot dog chain does have non-Asian styles—pretty much anything you can imagine—but its Asian flavors are the ones that really shine. Be sure to try out the house fries, which are tossed with seaweed and a sauce that tastes strikingly similar to Hawaiian kalua sauce. Yum! 1132 Galleria Boulevard, Suite 120, in Roseville; (916) 774-0707; 3620 N. Freeway Boulevard, Suite 310; (916) 246-9049; 1310 Howe Avenue, Suite D; (916) 246-9443; http://umaihotdogs.com. A.C.
Best bar story
If you’ve sidled up to the bar to order a $2.50 Oly, you may have already noticed them, behind the gold-lamé cash register and beneath the United Airlines poster of a Chinese parade dragon float: It’s a pair of once-white cutoff shorts, yellowed like old newspaper, framed behind glass. Well, those short shorts tell a story. As the legend goes, they belonged to a late patron who frequented Pre-Flite’s former spot on L and 5th streets. To get her husband to stop wearing them (yes, it was a straight dude), the patron’s wife had them laminated and donated them to their favorite watering hole. Now, they sit in suspended animation waiting for you to ask about them. Go ahead, it’s a great story. Rest well, Tiny Shorts Man. Your legend lives on. 1011 10th Street, (916) 441-7963, www.facebook.com/PreFliteLounge. R.F.H.
Best mac ‘n’ cheese for Velveeta fans
Cask & Barrel
I love how even fine-dining chefs dig processed food sometimes. It’s the antithesis to Sacramento’s intense, everything-must-be-farm-to-fork culture. Take Cask & Barrel’s Gabriel Glasier. He loves Velveeta, and that’s awesome, because it means the restaurant’s mac ’n’ cheese ($10) carries the brilliant, can’t-possibly-be-real consistency of Velveeta “cheese product” while actually containing aged cheddar. How can it be so? Stabilizers and wheat beer. Who knew? Bacon and cornbread crumbles ramp up the skillet’s flavors, so rich that sharing is basically required. 1431 Del Paso Boulevard, (916) 922-6792, http://caskandbarrel916.com. J.B.
Best cheap Thursday-night chow
Ruchi is making it easier and more inexpensive to jump on the dosa train. Thursday nights at both its Natomas and Folsom locations, the South Indian savory crepe is only $5 for a 2-foot long cylindrical wonder in five variations: masala, Mysore masala, kara, spring and Andhra (pesarattu). And, of course, it comes with chutneys and a warm, spicy bowl of sambar. It’s more food for the money than most other restaurants, without the time restrictions of happy hour or the nastiness of fast food. All aboard the (cheap) flavor train! 2600 Gateway Oaks Drive, Suite 100; (916) 927-2600; 601 E. Bidwell Street in Folsom; (916) 983-2871; www.indianruchi.com. S.
Best place to get your Bavarian cheese fix
The German Deli
We all know that Sacramento is home to many different cultures, but sometimes you forget just how many cool and thriving examples of cultural diversity are actually here. Case in point: The German Deli, which as of this year, has been in business for 50 years. The deli provides the local German community with bratwurst, Bavarian cheeses, mettwurst, sausages, liverwurst and German sandwiches. Little has changed since its opening in 1966, despite how much has changed everywhere else. Its underwhelming exterior might disguise just what an awesome spot it is for some authentic German meats, cheese and groceries. Current owner Vivian Smith is presently petitioning to certify it as a California historic site. 5859 Auburn Boulevard, (916) 349-9493. A.C.