Cheers to 2016: The best of food and drink in 2016

Sacramentans ate and drank pretty well this year. While some beloved restaurants closed, new spots opened at a much faster rate—and don’t even get us started on the number of new breweries. Here, SN&R’s food critics look back on the dishes, drinks and trends that stood out as some of the year’s best.

Regional specialties, beauty and ice cream

New restaurants: 2016 didn’t see as many major, high-profile openings as 2015, but we got one major gem in Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining. I also love the increased diversity in regional Chinese options, including the excellent Journey to the Dumpling in Elk Grove and Chengdu Style in Davis.

More Mexican: Sacramento got a lot of upscale taquerias and Mexican concepts this year. The best of the lot is easily Roseville’s NixTaco, with the freshest tortillas around.

Art of design: The new Kru in East Sacramento is probably the most beautiful restaurant in the city. We also got Temple Coffee on K Street, which features that Instagram-ready penny floor.

I scream: We got two new spots for frozen treats in The Good Scoop in Davis and Devil May Care Ice Cream in West Sacramento. The latter, in particular, has already achieved greatness.

Tiki: The Jungle Bird’s arrival felt like something we didn’t even know we so desperately needed. The new bar boasts some of the best vibes and barware in town.

Bubbles: Way more boba tea spots opened this year, particularly in Davis, Natomas and south Sacramento. What used to be a lacking selection now features hip independents like Pearls Boba and well-known Taiwanese chains like ShareTea.

Brews: Too many breweries opened this year to possibly list, but it’s been rad seeing them experiment with styles far beyond the West Coast IPA. Also, Fieldwork Brewing Co., it’s wonderful having you here.

Shopping: 2016 saw lots of makers marts rich with food and beverage innovators as well as a Midtown Farmers Market expansion, the new Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and the city’s first legit spice shop, the Allspicery.

Fishy: With Skool on K, Station 16 and a few more casual concepts, Sacramento saw a considerable and welcomed uptick in seafood-focused restaurants. Asian-Cajun feast, anyone?

SN&R’s 50 best restaurants: It’s been great hearing from readers who continue to reference our special November 10 issue naming Sacramento’s top 50 eateries—and we loved putting it together. Check it out online and use it as a to-do list.


Deliciousness, from bird to bread

Empress fried chicken: This was the year of fried chicken, but Empress Tavern reigned supreme with its extra-crunchy skin tamed by a spicy, honey-based glaze. It’s buckets better than KFC.

Identity Coffees: The third wave of coffee may have crested, but Identity is a welcome addition. The experiment in job-sharing and responsible sourcing tastes good, too.

Meatballs: Masullo had some of the best, serving gigantic saucy versions as an appetizer. The meatball noodle soup at Siam Pa House and the kefta tagine at Kasbah ranked high, too.

Lao-Thai Cafe’s pad eggplant: I would eat this homey but nuanced eggplant and onion stir-fry with sweet chili sauce every week if I could. It’s even better with beef mixed in and flaky curry puffs to start.

Chef Matt Masera: He may have moved around a bit from Mother and Empress to Saddle Rock and now Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., but I’d eat anything he puts on a plate. The vegan vegetable stew at Saddle Rock was one of his best surprises.

Spinner’s cinnamon rolls: How did I not discover these sooner? Now in a new location, these buttery, sticky spirals of goodness require serious restraint.

Drunken Loaf breads: If we’re lagging in one culinary area, artisan bread is it. Thankfully, Davy Bui now graces us with the yeasty loaves of his sourdough obsession. Find them at the Oak Park Farmers Market and his weekly pop-ups.

Burly Beverages shrubs: Skip the sour grapes and savor some sour-but-refreshing shrub syrups from Gabriel Aiello. Mixed with sparkling water and spirits, shrubs save you from overly sweet cocktails and mundane tap water.

The R Street revolution: Within just a few blocks, you can eat top-tier poke at Fish Face, standout noodle soup at Shoki Ramen House, some of the best cocktails in town at Shady Lady and subtly outstanding salads and sandwiches at Nido. Plus art. And music. And Spanish lessons.

Midlevel Italian: Until recently, there wasn’t been much in between Biba and The Old Spaghetti Factory. Now you can savor housemade Bolognese at Adamo’s and an affordable glass of wine with focaccia at ’OBO.