Food & Drink
Best food that sounds awful and tastes great
Root-beer float cheesecake at Capitol Garage
Cheesecake lovers generally accept any variation on a theme: cheesecake with sauce, chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate-chip cheesecake, lemon cheesecake—you get the point. But surely the idea of root-beer float cheesecake is a cheesecake too far, even for a total cheesecake head. Nonetheless, the variety at Capitol Garage is attractive enough to give it a try. What it lacks in carbonation (yeah, uh, how would they make that work?) it makes up for in the smooth, root beer and ice cream texture. Really, it might make your nose tickle, even if it doesn’t have any bubbles.
1500 K Street, (916) 444-3633, www.capitolgarage.com.
Best unexpected street tacos
I’ve been a fan of Dad’s Kitchen’s uniquely delicious breakfast and sandwiches since they opened a couple of years ago, but the street tacos are a new obsession of mine. Sure, Sacramento already has scores of great Mexican joints serving up scrumptious tacos, but this Curtis Park restaurant could give Tres Hermanas or El Novillero a run for their dinero. The tacos—just $1.50 each on the appetizer menu and a buck during happy hour—consist of soft corn tortillas filled with juicy carnitas, lettuce and Parmesan cheese. Pay a little extra to add salsa and avocado, and you may never want to order a sandwich at Dad’s again.
2968 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 447-3237.
Best messy vegan Reuben sandwich
Sugar Plum Vegan
Even if you’re an avowed carnivore, we think Sugar Plum Vegan’s take on the classic sandwich will have you going back for more. Served on toasty bread with a marinated tempeh “bacon,” sauerkraut, avocado and pickles and topped with Thousand Island dressing, this sandwich is at least a four-napkin affair. And the mix of textures and flavors is worth the price of dry-cleaning your favorite shirt. While you’re there, pick out a few items from the bakery case—red velvet cupcakes, anyone? After all, if you’re going to be an animal cruelty-free glutton, you might as well do it up right.
2315 K Street, (916) 706-3302, www.sugarplumvegan.com.
Best pyramid-shaped deli-counter food
Corti Brothers’ samosa
There is something deeply satisfying about foods that are wrapped: burritos, won tons, spring rolls. They’re like little care packages with tasty surprises inside. So it serves as a pleasant surprise that among the salads and sandwiches offered at Corti Brothers’ deli counter is a wrapped pyramid of potatoes, peas, cilantro, cumin and ginger. That’s right, a samosa! Made on-site daily and accompanied with a side of tamarind chutney—for about $2.25 each—one is enough to happily sate.
5810 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 736-3800, www.cortibros.biz.
Best reason to live above a Mexican bakery
Panaderia La Jerezana
Do you know the best way to wake up? No, not that way, you sicko. It’s the smell of pan dulce—Mexican sweet bread—wafting up into your Del Paso Boulevard apartment. That’s what happens every morning when you live directly above Panaderia La Jerezana. The Mexican bakery serves north Sacramento with all its dessert needs: cakes, donuts, breads, cookies and everything in between. If you’re getting married, they’ll make your cake. If you need some tortillas because for some reason you have 34 cans of refried beans in your cupboard, they got your back. That’s because they’re also a miniature grocery store, stocking things like soda, fresh fruit, popsicles and hot sauce. But the best part of the place is the Olazaba family. The dad, Hector, gets up early to bake, while the son, Hector Jr., works the front counter along with the Olazaba sisters. It’s a family affair. Anyway, the Olazaba family makes fresh churros every Sunday. And I get to live right above it.
2211 Del Paso Boulevard, (916) 925-2622.
Best (and cheapest) wine education
The Market at Pavilions
Sommelier Michael Chandler’s intimate knowledge of wines and his intuitive sense of how to expand someone’s palate are married to his love of good conversation. His class at The Market at Pavilions (formerly David Berkley) is not the typical local tasting experience where you turn in a ticket, take a glass of wine and wander away to sip. On Friday nights from 5 to 7 p.m., Chandler gathers oenophiles together like family to taste selected flights as he discusses the wine and food of its region. At $15 per evening, it’s an affordable education. On Saturdays from 3 to 5:30 p.m., the playful sommelier invites you to bring him a bottle of your own for Stump the Chump, a free blind-tasting event. He guesses the vintage, varietals and the location for each bottle submitted.
515 Pavilions Lane, (916) 929-4422.
Best Ethiopian restaurant
Queen Sheba on Broadway certainly doesn’t add insult to injera—the spongy bread used in the place of silverware. One of the only Ethiopian restaurants between Sacramento and Berkeley, Queen Sheba offers a popular vegetarian lunch buffet and menu items. The $7.50 all-you-can-eat buffet can be semi-warm and the potatoes undercooked, so the best bet is to skip it and order off the menu. For meat eaters, and Ethiopian food rookies, the beef tibs are excellent, with savory spices.
1704 Broadway, (916) 446-1223, www.queenshebas.com.
Best new dream born on Broadway
Geoffrey Matsuyama wanted out of the import-export business and into his dream job as a restaurateur. But then the 28-year-old discovered he didn’t really enjoy cooking. “Baking is always fun. It’s like chemistry,” he told SN&R. Peter Kuo, the father of a friend and owner of Le Croissant Factory in Greenhaven offered to teach Matsuyama the business. Then, Kuo sweetened the deal by becoming Matsuyama’s business partner. They opened Café Lumiére (French for “light”) selling freshly baked croissants, cinnamon rolls and bread. Breakfast, soup, sandwiches and salads are available seven days a week. The popular spot is quickly becoming the brightest new star on Broadway.
5701 Broadway, (916) 456-2679.
Good hot-dog vending is all about buns, and Señor Dog has great buns. Of course, his hot dogs sizzle, too—perfectly grilled so they burst on the first bite. They’re also kosher and have yummy topping options. What makes these dogs tops is the surrounding big, soft, split-top bun baked with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Wash it down with ice-cold soda in a can or bottled water, and add chips or candy. Señor Dog keeps ’em hot and ready at weekday farmers’ markets in downtown Sacramento, including Wednesday at noon at Cesar Chavez Plaza, and downtown fun spots on Second Saturday.
Best place for after-party eats
Luigi’s Slice and Fun Garden
This Midtown pizza joint set itself up as the go-to post-partying munchie spot. Located at 20th and J streets, it’s in perfect range of a variety of bars and nightclubs. It is also at the epicenter of all Second Saturday shenanigans. Sure, its pizzas are considerably smaller than they used to be, but that’s probably a good thing for your midsection. It’s also true that any New York-style pizza lover won’t appreciate Luigi’s extra-crispy crust and that its cozy main dining area is populated with nothing but drunken fools in the late-night hours. But, then again, you’re probably one of those drunken fools. However, in any state of mind, there’s nothing better than a crispy, flavorful slice of Luigi’s.
1050 20th Street, Suite 150; (916) 552-0317, www.myspace.com/luigisslice.
Best vegan burrito
Taqueria and Pupuseria Isabel
Just because one may have a diet of plant-based foods only does not mean that one should necessarily give up on the dream of finding the best pure-vegetarian burrito this side of San Francisco’s Mission District. But vegans, rejoice, for it has been found. Be prepared to taste the dream at the only taqueria in town with a spiral staircase, Taqueria and Pupuseria Isabel. Where most taquerias flub—using mediocre ingredients and relying on meat for flavor—the Isabel ’rito offers whole or refried pinto and black beans without a trace of lard, a whey-free tortilla and rice cooked without animal stock, and it comes from the kitchen piping hot. Furthermore, the $4 price tag beats the cost of most veggie burritos in town, and the housemade tortilla chips and salsa only accentuate all of the other positives.
3071 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 273-7448.
Best french fries
Spud Shack in Old Sacramento cooks up “homemade fries from around the world.” Where else can you enjoy golden, crispy potatoes topped with marinara sauce and garlic or bacon and cheddar cheese? A simple menu lists fries by country: Mexico with nacho cheese and salsa, Japan with a side of soy sauce, and there’s even a Canadian diner staple, poutine. Traditionally, poutine is fresh cheese curds and brown gravy, but at Spud Shack, it’s all about the mozzarella. A regular size basket of fries piles high at the Shack and will easily satisfy two people, so bring a friend and tell them to steer clear of American-style, because ketchup is so boring.
906 Second Street, (916) 492-8776.
Best place to have your cake and eat it too
C’est Bon European Bakery and Deli
There’s little not to like when fresh baked goods are involved. C’est Bon European Bakery and Deli in Granite Bay makes it even harder to leave the store without a smile on your face and a few extra pounds on your hips. With a wide selection of sweet and savory items perfect for breakfast or dessert, there’s never really a bad time to stop by. The service at the family-owned-and-operated bakery is as infectiously sweet as the products they make, making C’est Bon not only a delicious indulgence, but a great experience.
8303 Sierra College Boulevard, Suite 100 in Granite Bay; (916) 791-3558; www.youreuropeanbakery.com.
Best place to get sake bombed
Tamaya Sushi Bar & Grill
Many sushi joints require patrons to order a bottle of sake and a glass of beer in order to concoct their own sake bombs—a shot of warm sake that is dropped into a glass of beer and consumed, preferably, in one gulp. But buying individual bottles of sake can get pricey. Luckily, Tamaya Sushi Bar & Grill in Midtown offers $1.99 sake bombs during happy hour. Even better, it often extends this special to other days and times during the week. As far as sake bombs go, they’re pretty tasty—but then again, you’re not really going to taste much if you drink it in one gulp. It’s also the perfect dinner spot for those sushi lovers who have sushi-hater friends. It offers a variety of cooked entrees—pot stickers, noodles, bento boxes. Ultimately, though, we know they’re going for the sake bombs.
2131 J Street, (916) 498-8388, www.tamayasushi.com.
Best place to get a nice piece of meat
No, I’m not talking about a man-meat market, I’m talking about a butcher. At Dees Meats, a family-run business since 1976, you can find some of the best tri-tip in the Sacramento area. Along with these marinated hunks of carnivorous heaven, Dees Meats has sausage, chicken, pork, lamb and jerky. And if you don’t trust this humble opinion, just reference their 200 or so awards. With a long list of meat marinades—which include garlic and wine, Bloody Mary and burgundy pepper—Dees Meats can easily tempt a lifelong vegetarian to go rogue.
10145 Twin Cities Road in Galt, (209) 745-1224, http://deesmeat.com.
Best restaurant to take the kids
Capitol Dawg offers old-school treats and quick eats that both kids and adults can relish. The dog house on 20th Street has a wide range of hot dogs, including traditional (beef frankfurters) and funky (the Hornets Dawg with Tabasco sauce, cheddar-cheese sauce, yellow mustard and sliced jalapeños). There are also veggie dawgs and several side dishes, such as garlic fries and onion rings. There’s outside eating, too, though it can get a bit misty from the kitchen steam. Even so, kids can trip out on the large hot-dog statue putting ketchup on its head and meet dogs of the four-legged variety that walk by. After dinner, there are also excellent desserts kids will love, particularly the root-beer float.
1226 20th Street, (916) 444-1226, www.capitoldawg.com.
Best place to lose track of time
Pangaea Two Brews Cafe
On a Monday night months ago, I met a friend at Pangea Two Brews Cafe, and I thought I’d be home by 9. Wrong. We started drinking Belgian beers, and soon Pangaea’s owner, Rob Archie, jumped into our brew-centered conversation, which then turned to basketball, music, politics local and global, and then some eventual bumbling about whatever. I got home after midnight. I spent the late hours trying to eradicate or at least lessen the forthcoming triple hangover as my raging-silent spouse looked on. But now, every time I see Rob, he hangs a big smile and shakes my hand. Dude is so hospitable, he almost got me divorced just because he refused to close his bar.
2743 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 454-2942, www.pangaeatwobrews.com.
Best thing since sliced bread—that also involves sliced bread
Roxie Deli & Grocery’s barbecue brisket sandwich
My mother doesn’t eat jalapeños, and she devoured this sandwich without so much as picking off a single pepper. Why? Because you don’t mess around with perfection. In fact, the Roxie Deli menu doesn’t even tell you what comes on their barbecued beef brisket sandwich, because, as they say, there’s “no explanation needed.” Let sleeping dogs lie. But I’ll satisfy your curiosity here anyway, so as to placate my editor with a few more words for this pick (spoiler alert!): dry-rub brisket with mayo, horseradish, red onion, tomatoes, jalapeños and cheese, slapped lovingly between two slices of ciabatta or Dutch crunch. There. I hope you’re happy. I know you’re hungry. For your sake, I hope you’re reading this on a Thursday or Friday, because that’s the only time you can experience this Sacramento bestie.
3340 C Street, (916) 443-5402, www.roxiedeli.com.
Best gourmet thinking inside the bun
Whiskey burger at Formoli’s Bistro
There are a lot of great burgers in this town—Willie’s, Squeeze Inn, Fannie Ann’s—the list goes on and on. But for their fancier and equally delectable cousin, look no further than Formoli’s Bistro. The restaurant’s whiskey burger is top-ranking, Sacramento or otherwise. A juicy, perfectly cooked peppery patty with a boozy demi glace, served on ciabatta with habanero aioli and greens—nothing wrong with this picture. Treat yourself to the homemade saffron ice cream afterward; you won’t regret it.
Best Woodland restaurant worth the drive
North of Sacramento on Interstate 5, past Sacramento Intergalactic Airport, as somebody once dubbed it, lies Woodland, an ag town with a Main Street, a county seat and Tazzina Bistro, an elegant gem of a restaurant well worth the drive. In August, Tazzina hosted none other than a Julia Child Festival with ris de veau braisés à l’italienne, daube de boeuf, côtes de veau aux herbes—you get the picture: The chef has those kind of chops and an exceptional day-in, day-out menu; a professional staff; hip brick décor; and a delicious weekend brunch. Tazzina’s a must.
614 Main Street in Woodland, (530) 661-1700, www.tazzinabistro.com.
For your last meal ever, what Sacramento restaurant would you visit and what would you order?
SN&R’s Facebook friends respond:
“Luigi’s special with extra cheese and a salad with their Thousand Island [dressing].” —Michael Pastrone
“33rd Street Bistro—crab and artichoke appetizer, large Oregon blue cheese salad, and chocolate pate with raspberry sauce. Holla!” —Anastacia Ciau
“The Earth Burger at Tower Cafe.” —Lisa Sanchas
“Aioli [Bodega Española] … almost everything on the menu is good. But would [definitely] order serrano ham with bread, patatas bravas and garlic shrimp tapas. And a glass of Navarra wine to go with it. Then order more!” —Heath Hernandez
“Golden Bear and overdose on tacos!” —Tiana Palmer