Food & Drink
Best new reason to stay out late
Bistro 33 Midtown
The boys who brought us Bistro 33 apparently took a trip to the City by the Bay and stole the vibe. Cool blue neon lures you into the intimate bar and restaurant featuring décor that’s all sexed up. Bistro 33 is like that girl in college who was gorgeous, smart, really sweet and completely clueless about how hot she was. Expect to be greeted warmly at the door and catered to by the staff inside. Sit at the bar and ask for one of Sid’s chocolate martinis. Follow it up with the Monte Cristo sandwich and one of Bistro 33’s signature salads. You’ll never go back to parking your body in a line outside a club, waiting for a bouncer with more attitude than brains to let you in. Bistro 33 reminds us how nightlife ought to be. 1020 16th Street, (916) 233-3633, www.bistro33.com/bistro33_midtown/home.html.
Best soul food
Some people see soul food as a cuisine born out of necessity, chitterlings (cooked pig intestines) being a prime example. However, regardless of its origins, soul food is still prevalent in American cuisine, and it’s still damned good. The Plantation doesn’t bother with pre-dinner soups and salads; it just heaps on the main courses. The country-fried steak with brown gravy over rice is incredible, as is the smothered chicken. Almost stealing the spotlight are the side dishes; collared greens, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread are but a few. And yes, The Plantation has “chitlins,” too. 1454 Del Paso Boulevard, (916) 921-6168, www.plantationonline.com.
Best antipasti plate
Spataro Restaurant and Bar
Early evening is tough. There’s lots of time before dinner, but the stomach is growling already. The British solve this dilemma with afternoon tea; the Italians, with antipasti. In the European spirit, Sacramentans can head to Spataro, where the fabulous antipasti platter is a sight to gladden a peckish epicure’s soul. Recently, it sported treats like a ripe tomato salad; fresh ricotta crostini; a wedge of perfect vegetable frittata; a roughly hewn chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano; and the pièce de résistance, chef Kurt Spataro’s house-cured meats—in this case, peppery, paper-thin slices of lonza. All this is pure heaven with a glass of Prosecco and good after-work conversation. The only catch is that it might spoil your dinner, especially if you (like us) can’t keep your hands off the delicious focaccia. But it’s worth it. 1415 L Street, (916) 440-8888, www.paragarys.com.
Best vegetarian dish at a seafood restaurant
Firecracker tofu at the Black Pearl
Some might argue that the Black Pearl Oyster Bar isn’t a seafood restaurant at all, but a hip hangout that happens to serve good food, much of which happens to come from the sea. We won’t split hairs over semantics. Call it what you will; the Black Pearl serves one of the tastiest meat-free meals in Sacramento. Mixed among the po'-boy sandwiches, steamed clams and strip steaks is firecracker tofu—a jumble of perfectly cooked tofu cubes, broccoli, asparagus and string beans in a semi-thick but mega-hot sauce. (Be warned: This dish isn’t for the spice-averse. Just a few bites may have you begging for another drink. Order the “bag o’ fries” to mitigate the nose-burning effects.) Served in a white paper wrapper reminiscent of a New England clam shack, these firecrackers will make you feel like you’re eating at a seafood restaurant, even if you won’t admit that you are. 2724 J Street, (916) 440-0215.
Best snack cake
Karen’s Bakery Café
Remember the fierce trade in plastic-wrapped treats that occurred on the elementary-school playground? We suspect that Karen Holmes, of Karen’s Bakery Café in Folsom, must have been one savvy sweets broker, because we’d trade every Twinkie on the planet for her house-made take on Ho Hos, which improve exponentially on the shelf-stable original. These little beauties retain the glossy cylindrical shape, but inside the coating of satiny ganache (garnished with a value-added flourish of gold leaf) lies perfect, velvety chocolate cake spiraled around fresh cream in which we detect just a hint of something all grown up, like rum. “It’s one of those childhood things,” Holmes says of her treats, which have been on the menu since the beginning. “We all loved [Ho Hos], but I knew they could be better.” Indeed, they could—and no, we won’t trade you. 705 Gold Lake Drive, No. 340, in Folsom; (916) 985-2665; www.karensbakery.com.
Best spring-roll compromise
Andy Nguyen’s treasure roll
Fresh salad rolls are healthier, but fried spring rolls are so much tastier. What to order? The treasure roll at Andy Nguyen’s vegetarian restaurant! Its fresh rice-paper wrapper contains plenty of crisp leafy greens, cold rice noodles and soy shrimp, but the “treasure” refers to a little strip of fried wrapper in the center. It’s just enough of an oily crunch to satisfy the fried-food urge. If you don’t see it on the menu, just ask. 2007 Broadway, (916) 736-1157.
Best place to stock your freezer
On a hot day, there’s nothing like a quiescently frozen confection—uh, we mean popsicle—to cool you off. But who wants to leave the cool comfort of home and chase after the popsicle cart? Trust us; you’ll want to stock up in advance on paletas from Rainbow, available at Los Jarritos. They’re less than $10 for a dozen, and they come in, yes, a rainbow of flavors, from the milky strawberry to piña colada with coconut and pineapple chunks. The chocolate rivals the fudgsicle of yesteryear; the horchata-like rice pudding is refreshingly cinnamony and not too sweet. Oh, and as for that quiescently frozen thing? That’s what distinguishes popsicles, which are frozen while sitting still, from ice creams and such, which are agitated to introduce air and make them creamy. Whatever; we just want to be able to reach into the freezer and pull out a cold one while remaining relatively quiescent ourselves. 2509 Broadway, (916) 455-7911.
Best back-alley baker and coffee roasterOld Soul Co.
Though primarily a wholesale coffee roaster and bakery, the Old Soul Co. is open to any walk-in customer curious enough to wander down the alley behind Crepeville to check out the shop. And what a shop it is. If the garage door is open (usually 6 a.m.-noon), walk into the open, warehouse-like space, complete with brick walls and exposed wooden roof trusses, and relax in its upholstered seating area with a cappuccino or a cup of coffee, all from beans hand-roasted just a few feet away. Or enjoy a scone or cookie baked in ovens just behind the barista stand. The place is so relaxed, there’s not even a cash register. Just make your own change from the cash jar. 1716 L Street, rear alley; (916) 475-6192.
<hr>Best digestif to sip while seated among pillows
Pacharán at Kasbah Lounge
2115 J Street, (916) 442-4388, www.kasbahlounge.com.
Blackthorn fruit steeped
in aniseed spirit, soul
of Navarre, singular
drink, the child of Basque
refuge from the furnace
and leveler of doubt. A respite,
reclining, I bring you
closer, ice floating in
amber, and your greeting
betrays only hints of
your origin. You’re your
own, not a sum.
Best pickled jalapeños
Cold, crisp and spicy enough to torch your taste buds, the peppers at Tortugas leave you wanting more. Try a side of them with a chili-colorado burrito, taking in a little green friend with every bite. Wash it down with something ice cold. Heaven! Open ’til 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday and perfect for late-night cravings. 1801 Capitol Avenue, (916) 441-0125.
Best place to buy a round
Fire Escape Bar and Grill
A year ago, this honor would have been reserved for Citrus Heights’ Corner Pocket, but after a string of fights that led to constant police presence, the title has been passed. The Fire Escape offers nightly drink specials for less than $3, served by friendly bartenders who cater to a young crowd always in the mood to buy a round—for old friends or new. Until the drunks and cops ruin this one, you can join them without taking out a bank loan—a rare notion in the era of $5 Bud Lights. 7431 Madison Avenue in Citrus Heights, (916) 967-5464.
La Flor De Michoacan
On a street lined with plenty of Spanish-named businesses, you might not feel drawn immediately to La Flor De Michoacan, a small restaurant tucked into the corner of a shopping center whose dominant fixture is a 99¢ Only Store. But the delicate golden-brown pupusas at La Flor De Michoacan are enough to warrant a special trip to Northgate. Corn meal is filled with your choice of cheese, beans and cheese, pork and cheese, or chicken and cheese (this one served with a side of pickled cabbage), and then fried until the exterior is speckled brown. Six inches in diameter, flat and round, these pupusas—which have the texture of a moist cake—are yummy on their own, but they’re even better with a little guacamole and créma. The store itself may seem a little behind the times, what with its cash-only policy and Christmas decorations in the middle of summer, but its Mexican and Salvadorian menu (and low prices) will win your heart. Ninety percent of the menu items cost about $5 (pupusas are about $2.50 each), and the fare includes fried plantains, huaraches, horchata, yucca and standards like fajitas and tamales. 2339 Northgate Boulevard, (916) 927-7265.
Best barbecued-pork sandwich
D’Miller’s Famous BBQ
Ribs, schmibs. Yeah, they’re great, but who needs meat stuck in their teeth and greasy fingers? When it comes to barbecue, we’ll take a pork sandwich stuffed full of tender meat and spicy sauce. (Don’t even talk to us about brisket.) Way out in Carmichael, D’Miller’s, a true hole-in-the-wall with just the right amount of attitude, piles smoky pork—part sliced and part shredded—mixed with mild, medium or hot sauce on a soft, oblong white roll. We like the medium, which has a manageable kick and plenty of flavor, and we also like the baked beans, redolent of brown sugar and spices. D’Miller’s slogan is “The Sauce is Boss,” and it is, but the pork is king, providing the perfect lunch with change from a five-spot—and no need to floss. 7305 Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael, (916) 974-1881.
Best Sacramento restaurant to expand into Davis
Aioli Bodega Española
If a restaurant succeeds wildly in Sacramento, it’s a fair bet that it’ll do the same in Davis. (Just ask the people at Café Bernardo or Bistro 33!) Well, yes, we have another winner. With the opening of Aioli, small plates have finally arrived west of the causeway. So has Aioli’s famous Spanish wine list. Thanks to chef Abby Iratene’s talents, the bill of fare at the Davis place is identical to that of the original Aioli in Midtown Sacramento. Hint: Don’t miss the portobello mushrooms sautéed with sherry and garlic—at either location! 808 Second Street in Davis, (530) 757-2766.
As with most things that become so quickly ubiquitous, the caipirinha is creeping steadily toward banality. This is no fault of the drink itself, a mixture of gently crushed limes, sugar and cachaca, a Brazilian sugarcane liquor. Bartenders all too often approach it as a mere summer thirst quencher, a fancy limeade. Fortunately not at Zócalo, where the bartenders understand that crushing the limes with too much force makes the drink unbearably bitter, a common mistake. The last drops of a well-mixed caipirinha, like one from Zócalo, leave you feeling saudade, longing for the next one. 1801 Capitol Avenue, (916) 441-0303, www.zocalosacramento.com.
Zen Sushi (formerly Taka’s)
900 15th Street, (916) 442-4933.
Taka’s, you’re back! Oh, thank Christ. Not that I’m obsessed, mind you—well, maybe a little—it’s just that I’ve been missing you so much. Between your Colleen and Zig Zag rolls and your amazing Zen Kara Age (a.k.a. Tori ala Taka) chicken, with its drizzle of creamy garlic sauce, I thought I’d finally found my one and only—sushi restaurant, that is. You’ll be glad to know I’ve remained loyal—I haven’t had Japanese food since you closed your doors on S and 18th streets this summer. Truth is I’ve been in mourning and knew no one could compare to you. But now you’re back, just like I always hoped you would be—with a new name and a light, airy space. Perhaps we can consider this a new beginning instead of dwelling on those sad, sad months apart.
Best breakfast value
Ikea’s 99-cent breakfast
If you already go to Ikea for Klippen, Poäng and Sifferbo, economical—if annoying to assemble—furniture with whimsical Swedish names, fuel your shopping experience with a cheap meal. Between 9:30 and 11 a.m. daily, you can get the Ikea cafeteria’s basic breakfast—fluffy scrambled eggs, potatoes with green and red bell peppers and onions, and two pieces of bacon—for only 99 cents. For an extra dollar, add a cup of coffee and a Swedish pancake topped with lingonberries (the Swedish-named foods are just as amusing as the furniture). Sides, like a 50-cent biscuit or a 99-cent order of extra bacon, mean you can tailor your meal to your tastes—and your bill’s still less than $4 (that great view of the freeway from your table is free). 700 IKEA Court in West Sacramento, (916) 371-4532, www.ikea.com.
Best Mexican food and margaritas in Carmichael
El Palmar Mexican Restaurant
Almost four years ago, Jorge and Eli Oceguera took over an old Dairy Queen on El Camino Avenue and started serving made-from-scratch Mexican food that quickly built a following in the neighborhood. Two years ago, the Ocegueras obtained a liquor license and added margaritas to the menu—made with quality tequila in a real blender and not a Slurpee machine. Virtually everything on the menu, including the chips and salsa, is homemade on-site. El Palmar has the traditional combo platters, but more-adventurous diners will appreciate the basil chicken and the selection of seafood specialties like camarones Veracruz: shrimp cooked with bell pepper, onion and tomatoes. 4717 El Camino Avenue in Carmichael, (916) 488-8320.
Best lunch line
La Bonne Soupe Cafe
If anyone complains one more time about the long wait at chef Daniel Pont’s awesome soup-and-sandwich shop, he’s going to get head-butted. Seriously. We’d gladly spend 55 minutes of an hour-long lunch waiting in line for a cup of butternut squash, a standout in Pont’s ever-changing cache of homemade soups. You should also try his answer to a cold bowl of gazpacho: vichyssoise, a chilled leek-and-onion soup with potatoes. Though not exactly French—Pont claims the soup was invented in the United States—it is, nevertheless, super bon! 920 Eighth Street, (916) 492-9506.
Best unexpected champagne brunch
Who would have expected Dragonfly, with its yummy spring rolls and bento boxes, to have mastered the art of scrambling up some early-morning eggs? Well, it has. Stroll over on weekends (the place opens Saturday and Sundays at 9 a.m.), take a seat on the patio and enjoy one of the most delicious breakfasts in town. We’re talking classic omelets, scrumptious scrambles, Belgian waffles, and—oh yeah—don’t forget the eggs Benedict. The cool, contemporary design of this space—with its brick-red walls, towering ceiling and patio view of the single most beautiful tree in all of Midtown—makes breakfasting here an almost lavish experience. Don’t forget the champagne (or Dragonfly mimosas!). 1809 Capitol Avenue, (916) 498-9200, http://dragonflysac.com.
Best place to flex your mussels
For a simple lunch or dinner, we love nothing more than classic moules frites—the perfect French combination of tender shellfish in flavorful broth and crisp fries. No place in town does it better, or more intriguingly, than Restaurant 55°, where you can pick from different treatments for the plump bivalves. Choices include Thai-style with green curry and coconut milk and house style with Belgian beer, bacon and goat cheese. Not only can you choose the mussels to suit your mood; you can also give your elbow a little exercise at the same time: Add a beer pairing to your entree for an extra three bucks. 555 Capitol Mall, (916) 553-4100, www.restaurant55.com.
Best reason to cheat on your regular coffee shop
Mocha at the N Street Café
Everybody’s got a coffee shop—that perfect place to open your laptop, fold your paper open to sudoku or strain your eyes staring at the PYT across the room. Many of us are as loyal to our coffee shops as we are to our lovers, which is a good thing. But whether you’re an urbane 1011 12th Street espresso sipper or a tough little Butch-N-Nellie’s chai chugger, there comes a time for a little variety. Something different; something unfamiliar; something as delectable as the mocha at the N Street Café, where bitter brew meets sweet chocolate in a perfect, sinful combination. This stuff is so smooth you’ll have a wicked smile on your face all day. Remember, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission—at least when it comes to coffee. 2022 N Street, (916) 491-4008.
Best no-gimmick Chinese
The dining room of Jumbo Seafood lacks overemphasized symbols of Chinese culture. No giant paper lanterns, bamboo backdrops or dramatic stone dragons. This family-owned restaurant with round tables and white plates does not need aesthetic compensations for overpriced or yuppified food. Patrons can feast family-style on tasty dishes like clams with black-bean sauce, steamed chicken and red-bean dessert soup—without being charged for hot tea. Diners are free to focus on great food and good company without the mod and posh facade. 5651 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 391-8221.
Celestin’s Restaurant and Voodou Lounge, 1815 K Street, (916) 444-2423.
Dear Celestin’s limeade,
We hope you won’t think us too forward for saying this, but, well, ahhhhhhhh. That’s just how you make us feel, with every little splash across the palate. You always seem to know what we’re needing: that quenching citrus blast, never too tart, never too sweet and always game for hooking up with whatever tasty Caribbean appetizer strikes our fancy. Don’t ever change, darling. Here’s to our many more summers together.
Best place to indulge your inner carnivore
Nationwide Freezer Meats
OK, between mad cow and the ubiquitous knowledge that fast-food fare, especially burgers, is loaded with growth hormones, calories and artery-clogging evils, what’s a die-hard carnivore to do? Hustle down to Nationwide Freezer Meats for the best guilty pleasure in town—one of its French steak burgers (made to order with as many fixings as you desire). The burgers are juicy and good-sized and have the distinct flavor that comes from real grillin'. No lunch at Nationwide is truly complete without a batch of Nationwide’s old-fashioned potato wedges (get them crispy for an extra treat). Kick up the guilty-pleasure factor another notch with a side of ranch and a few squirts of hot sauce. 1930 H Street, (916) 444-3286.