Food & Drink

Writers’ picks

Can you conquer the incendiary War Sauce for a place on My BBQ Spot’s Wall of Flame? Co-owner Jon McCarty dares you to try.

Can you conquer the incendiary War Sauce for a place on My BBQ Spot’s Wall of Flame? Co-owner Jon McCarty dares you to try.

Photo By anne stokes

Best holy alliance of flavors

Magpie Caterers’ black rice salad
We’re not entirely sure what makes it so magical, but we’re in love with Magpie’s combination of black rice, pistachios, celery and a zing of orange—is that juice? Or that yummy Two Rivers blood-orange hard cider they sell? We don’t know and, frankly, we’re afraid to question such perfection. The salad is at once sweet and savory, crunchy and chewy. The taste is summery, but we can also imagine noshing on this in the dead of winter, dreaming of sunny skies and a place where nirvana is an affordable side dish.
1409 R Street, (916) 452-7594, R.L.

Best meal turned cocktail

Basil gimlet
at Grange Restaurant & Bar

Life would be simpler if we forgot about the whole eating thing. Think about it: Sipping meals through a straw could replace cooking time with life’s other adventures. Sure, it may not sound very appealing, but drinking a meal from a martini glass definitely enhances the experience. The basil gimlet at Grange restaurant is a prime replacement for any fan of Caprese salad. It doesn’t contain all the usual nutrients, but it does have Square One organic vodka—which is shaken, not stirred—torn fresh basil and agave nectar. Those are nutrients for the soul—and a great night on the town.
926 J Street, (916) 492-4450, J.K.

Best place to feel like a kid in a candy store

Kobasic’s Candies
This mom-and-pop joint makes most of its sweets on site, including taffy, toffee, truffles, caramels, chocolate bark, nut clusters and marshmallows. And chocolate-dipped potato chips! And sugar-free versions of most of its chocolates! The reasonably priced truffles (called “kruffles”) may prove to be the great equalizer between parent and child, arousing a salivating curiosity to taste every concoction: Key lime pie, amaretto, Irish crème, orange, rocky road, white almond cherry. It’s a kitschy place with a wall full of knickknacks, but the folks operating this family-run business are as sweet and jovial as can be. Take some advice: Don’t skip the salted vanilla caramel.
5324 Riverside Boulevard, (916) 448-3555, S.S.

Best blog for culinary inspiration

The Undercover Caterer
Sacramento’s premier food blog, The Undercover Caterer, makes you feel awesome, even if you can’t cook worth a lick. (Hey, there’s no shame if the only licking you ever perform is on spoons after someone else bakes cookies.) If any blog could motivate you to do something innovative in the kitchen, The Undercover Caterer is it. Consider a recent epic post on the making of a French terrine: U.C. takes you step by step through grinding pork fat and chicken liver to wrapping the uncooked terrine in bacon to slicing it up and serving it with zucchini pickles for a gathering of friends. Thirty-six original photos illustrate the process. Now that’s dedicated blogging. We get full just reading about it. N.M.

Best brunch Benedicts (and bonus libations)

Capitol Garage
Fusion cuisine is a tad ’90s L.A. passé, but so is that floral-print dress you just bought at Urban Outfitters. Trends recycle. What better edible example of this phenomenon than variations on eggs Benedict? In Sacramento, Capitol Garage’s Sunday brunch does it best: sausage and prawns, focaccia and pastrami, crab cakes and Gruyère. There are seven to choose from—including the old standby, no less tasty than its bastardizations. Servings are beyond plentiful, and the drinks are, too: bottomless mimosas until 2 p.m. (This one’s no secret to a lot of you—my improvised noon visits are beginning to curiously resemble 1 p.m. visits—but here’s one you may not be privy to: The Garage takes reservations.)
1500 K Street, (916) 444-3633, K.B.

Best unexpected fake-meat selection

Raley’s and Bel Air
You’ve been to Nugget Market, Whole Foods and all the co-ops. Ducking the glazed stares of fellow vegan neo-hippies, you barrel your way to the soy-based alternatives aisle only to find the same three flavors of overpriced Tofurkey slices and one freezer-burned nondairy ice cream. Next time you go to Bel Air for your low-fat Jif and calcium-fortified orange juice, nip over to the natural-foods section. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the low prices of your favorite faux-rizo sausages and chocolate Rice Dream. Plus, if you’re a suburbanite, it’s a question of a few blocks away as opposed to a 20-minute drive.
Various locations, K.J.

Best off-the-menu enchilada

Caballo Blanco’s guacamole enchiladas
You can keep your beef, chicken and even good, old-fashioned cheese—at Caballo Blanco, it’s the guacamole enchiladas that make our heart explode with love. They’re not on the menu, but ask your server sweetly and reap the rewards: crisply baked tortillas oozing with zippy guac and topped with your choice of tart green sauce or mildly spicy red. This longtime south Sac restaurant does Mexican food right. All enchiladas are available à la carte or as part of a dinner, which comes served with yummy rice, beans, salad and soup. While you’re there, enjoy the flour tortilla chips. (Yes, the diet starts tomorrow.)
5604 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 428-6706. R.L.

Best place to get stuffed ’til you pop, South Indian style

Udupi Cafe
This is the place to get fat. Although it’s a “healthy Indian vegetarian restaurant” and it’s generally imprudent to promote gluttonous consumption, one visit to the delectable “special” buffet spread Udupi Cafe lays out six days a week shall prove that it’s really about quality. They reliably offer delicious, perfectly spiced food in its buffet—which comes with a freshly made masala dosa, a thin rice crepe with a potato-and-onion filling. Pay attention to the dinner menu as well: amazing uthappams, excellent pakoras, pongal avial, unusual housemade desserts, poori and batura. Any sensible stomach would happily volunteer to pop for the Thirunelveli spinach dosa. Oh, and the tamarind chutney!
2226 Sunrise Boulevard, Rancho Cordova; (916) 851-5900; S.S.

Best bar to develop a whiskey palate

Shady Lady Saloon
Perhaps you remember your first sip of beer, helping Dad change the oil on the Chevy Astro. Or your first real cup of joe, after carefully weaning yourself from mocha-chip-two-pump-vanilla-with-whip lattes. Fond memories now, but at 9 years old, you likely preferred Capri Sun mylar pouches to that can of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Folgers in your cup. They are learned tastes, more respected due to their nuanced acquisition. The final rite of passage for your palate? Whiskey. At the Shady Lady Saloon, drinks are mixed to preserve and enhance the flavor of the liquor, not mask it like those liquid Jolly Rancher “artisan” cocktails. Start with the Horse’s Neck to whet your appetite—bourbon and housemade ginger syrup with a lemon twist. In no time, it’ll be Bulleit on the rocks.
1409 R Street, (916) 231-9121. K.B.

Best espresso drink with swanky attitude

The Kerouac
The Kerouac combines four shots of espresso with condensed milk and strains it into a martini glass to create a drink so classy you’d swear you were at a fancy party. The garnishing coffee beans floating atop the espresso make it almost too beautiful to sip, but once you start, it is impossible to stop. Like James Bond in his finest tuxedo, the sweet drink is undeniably smooth, which makes the caffeine jolt a lot easier to handle. When the four-shot shock really kicks in, you’ll be running in circles all day like a kindergartener at Chuck E. Cheese.
Available at Tupelo Coffeehouse and Roasting Co., 5700 Elvas Avenue; and The Naked Lounge, 1500 Q Street; (916) 442-0174; L.H.

Best meals like Mom used to make

Dad’s Kitchen
I love Dad’s Kitchen, and not just because it’s two blocks from my Curtis Park home. There’s simply no better place to go for a rib-sticking meal in Sacramento. There’s just one thing I don’t understand. I grew up on meatloaf, pot pies and sloppy Joes, and Mom did all the cooking because Dad was at work all frickin’ day. This isn’t my father’s cuisine, it’s my mother’s! Maybe “Mom’s” was already taken?
2968 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 443-3237. R.V.S.

Best torta built for two

The Cubana at El Abuelo Super Tortas Chilangas
“Tried the torta. Found god in a sandwich.” So reads just one of the Yelp reviews from many a satisfied customer of El Abuelo Super Tortas Chilangas. There’s a variety of the Mexican sandwiches to choose from, from simple to more complex, and all are more than sufficient for even the hungriest patron. At $7, the Cubana—milanesa, ham, cheese, chorizo, egg, tomatoes, avocado, onions, jalapeños and mayo piled onto thick bolillo bread—is likely the most bang for your buck. Split it with a friend and it gets even cheaper. Save that spare cash for a frothy, fruity licuado to wash it all down.
5045 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 452-0126. K.B.

Best refreshment on the way to Tahoe

The Cure from Caffé Santoro
It’s a long, winding road from Sacramento to Tahoe, and weekend traffic can make the trek unbearable. Fortunately, Caffé Santoro, Cameron Park’s independently owned coffee shop, has The Cure for your driving fatigue. The Cure is a hybrid creation of sweet-toothed caffeination: half icy coffee frappé and half milkshake made with the ice cream of your choice. (The staff resolutely recommends the Dreyer’s Java Mashup flavor.) The whole concoction is topped with 5 inches of whipped cream and served in a cup lined with rivers of chocolate syrup. A large Cure will get you through the gnarliest Hangtown traffic with a smile.
2531 Merrychase Drive, Cameron Park; (530) 387-4432; B.C.

The Naked Lounge’s Jenn Fox offers up four shots of espresso in a dangerously delicious Kerouac.

Photo by anne stokes

Best pizza crust

Masullo Pizza
When it comes to food, Sacramento has its treasures. Add Masullo’s pizza to the list, because there’s no crust in town that can top it. Maybe it’s that beautifully tiled wood-burning pizza oven? It must be a blazing portal to the gates of Neapolitan-style pizza heaven—or Dante’s Inferno, an awesome fiery hell of personal-sized pies. That first slice is the kicker: just the right crunch on the exterior, an unexpected sweetness and perfect soft-chewy warmth on the inside. The Despina, with tomato, mozarella, feta, capers, red onion, olive and spinach is my favorite, but, ultimately, I care not. If it’s served on Masullo crust—oh-so-perfectly charred underneath, oh-so-golden on top—then as they say: Me ne frego.
2711 Riverside Boulevard, (916) 443-8929, N.M.

Best vegetarian food cart

Happy Go Lucky Veggie Cuisine
OK, so it’s the only vegetarian food cart in downtown Sac. It’s still the best! Stephanie Allen and Stuart Campbell quite literally hit the jackpot—they had to win a lottery for downtown food-vending spots—and landed at Eighth and I streets, where Happy Go Lucky is set up over the weekday lunch “hour” (which actually runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The food is from Au Lac Veggie on Stockton Boulevard and includes traditional rice bowls (brown rice, mixed vegetables and marinated soy “chicken”) and weekly specials. They also stock cane-sugar-sweetened Hansen’s sodas and vegan cookies. Check out their blog or follow their Twitters for regular updates, and stop by for the fastest, best veggie cart food you’ve ever had.
Eighth and I streets, (916) 247-9789, K.M.

Best veggie burger on the grid

Mushroom Swiss Gardenburger at Rubicon Brewing Company
For many vegetarians, the search for a tasty veggie burger is endless. Exchanging a beefy patty for a vegetarian option is more widely accepted in the 21st century, but finding a beef substitute that tastes good is another factor. While Gardenburgers at chain restaurants have a distinct microwave flavor, Rubicon’s version is a flavor explosion. Add some spicy brown mustard on top of the thick-sliced Swiss cheese and grilled mushrooms, and be prepared to devour the whole thing.
2004 Capitol Avenue, (916) 448-7032, J.K.

Best lasagna to go

Sampino’s Towne Foods
Some nights cooking is out of the question and going out sounds like too much work. There’s only one solution. It’s time for lasagna! Keep lasagna from Sampino’s Towne Foods in the freezer or, if you can get there before 4 p.m., buy it fresh. Sampino’s is a family business (proprietor Michael Sampino also employs his father, and his father-in-law has been spotted helping out during visits from Italy) that supplies local restaurants with fresh meat and produce. Their lasagna is easy to heat up for a fantastic comfort-food dinner at home. Just add a tossed salad and some bread. Another smart option is Sampino’s meatloaf. We don’t know the secret, but Bill Sampino admits to mixing ground sausage with the ground beef.
1607 F Street, (916) 441-2372, K.M.

Best bar for a day rage

Sail Inn
A day rage is an entire day of drinking, from rise and shine to hugging porcelain. Start between 10 a.m. and noon—or earlier, if you’re the 7 a.m.-at-Club 2 Me type—with a mimosa, Bloody Mary or hair of the dog. You’ll usually end somewhere down by the river, pounding Olde English, complaining about socialism and pissing your jeans. OK, we’re totally bandwagoning the day-rage trend. Actual rages, even one with SN&R film critic Daniel Barnes, were documented prominently this summer on Heckasac—including a “lady rage” involving Coyote Ugly dancing at Whiskey Wild Saloon. But that’s for lightweights. If you really want to let loose, have your day rage in West Sac, ending at the Sail Inn on a Monday night. They’ve got stiff drinks, unexpected tacos, and beer as cold as your pissed-off lover’s stare when you eventually fall out of a cab and yack in the foyer.
1522 Jefferson Boulevard, (916) 371-0981. N.M.