Food & Drink

Writers’ picks

Mmm, double your pleasure at The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar, Readers’ choice for Best New Restaurant.

Mmm, double your pleasure at The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar, Readers’ choice for Best New Restaurant.

photo by wes davis

Best coffeehouse where Japan meets Italy

Insight Coffee Roasters

Insight Coffee Roasters has created a drink called a matcha latte. Matcha is a Japanese green-tea powder that is served in the Japanese tea ceremony, and a latte—well, if you’ve crawled out from under your rock, you know what a latte is. The taste is a little sweet, a lot creamy, with the palate-stimulating taste of green tea. It’s basically like the warm version of green-tea ice cream, except that green-tea ice cream is made of low-quality matcha, and co-owner Benza Lance asserts that the quality from Insight’s supplier is “definitely in the upper middle” and the “most consistent” that they’ve found. The final flourish is the barista’s leaf design on top: The lovely juxtaposition of verdant green and milky white is worthy of a Zen koan. 1901 Eighth Street, (916) 642-9555, B.G.

Best upscale burger

Restaurant Thir13en

When it comes to Sacramento’s best burger, one must defer to Hive restaurant critic Blair Anthony Robertson: chef Adam Pechal’s Capitol Burger at Restaurant Thir13en. I personally have a few rules when it comes to Thir13en’s beef: 1. bring a friend, 2. relax on the patio, 3. split a 22-ounce brew from Green Flash Brewing Co., 4. order the burger medium-rare (it’s good beef, it should be bloody), 5. get the house-made shoestring fries (or you’re just wasting space), 6. pay extra for Pechal’s house-cured bacon confit. The burger’s secrets are its mashed heirloom tomato, which takes on a jammy consistency, and the sauce (which Pechal says is his take on Thousand Island dressing: “house-made mayo, ketchup, house-made pickle, garlic, Sriracha [sauce]. And a couple secrets.”) You won’t regret the $17 price tag (including bacon and cheese). 1300 H Street, (916) 594-7669, N.M.

Best secret bread

OctoberFeast Bakery’s pretzel baguette

Why secret? Two reasons: 1. It’s only sold locally at the farmers market on Sundays, and 2. the taciturn young man staffing the tables doles out information grudgingly. Local food writers have already caught on to the pretzel croissants, but pretzel baguettes and loaves of bread are also sold. Both types are blanketed in nutty sesame seeds, but for the biggest surface-area-to-interior ratio, go for the skinny baguette. The nuttiness on the exterior cries out for a simple spread of oily nut butter (whatever type you prefer), and maybe a tiny squiggle of honey. Heck, why not add a strip of bacon while you’re at it and call it the “German Elvis”? Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon at the Central Farmers Market, under the freeway at Eighth and W streets. B.G.

Best place to get lost in the aisles

Total Wine & More

OK, maybe it’s not some hipster beer shop specializing in that one überelite, limited-run craft brew imported on the back of Jesus himself. That said, Total Wine & More is a mecca when it comes to big-box liquor stores. Thoughtfully laid out with guides posted throughout, the Arden Way location exudes a luxe feel with its soothingly low-key lighting and a staff willing to guide you through the aisles upon aisles of various spirits, wines and beers. It’s not as chaotic as another well-known booze chain, and the prices are competitive. Best part: the huge selection of mini liquor bottles. Be careful though: Starting at $1.99 a pop, it’s easy to max out a credit card on all those baby-sized samples of Maker’s Mark and Grey Goose. 2121 Arden Way, (916) 921-5328, R.L.

Best place for hardcore pozole love

Alonzo’s Coffee Shop

The portions at Alonzo’s are, uh, healthy, and include a big basket of chips and salsa to start out the meal—even at breakfast. Alonzo’s machaca-and-egg and huevos rancheros breakfast is excellent, but the real reason to visit Alonzo’s is the pozole. The rich broth has big hunks of pork and hominy kernels, and you can punch up the flavor with copious amounts of dried oregano, cabbage and onion. The love for Alonzo’s pozole is so strong that you may even see a customer bring in a pot for the waitress to fill with a to-go order of soup. That’s hardcore. 5649 Stockton Boulevard, (916) 453-9225. B.G.

Best place to eat Monica Lewinsky

Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl

Ciudad Neza., which is primarily a torta joint, makes quesadillas in “Distrito Federal,” or Mexico City style. That means a big, freshly fried half-moon-shaped quesadilla with a thick corn exterior. It’s a far cry from the sad at-home version, made with commercial tortillas and shredded cheddar. C.N.’s encasement is not as crispy as some; it’s really more like an extra thick tortilla. It has a variety of quesadillas, many named for Mexican celebrities, and one that stands out: the Monica Lewinsky. It’s filled with a mixture of chorizo, potatoes and cheese—lots of hot, stringy cheese. It’s comforting though a tad bland—a dash of the hot tomatillo salsa makes it perfect. A post-quesadilla cigar really hits the spot. 6035 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 393-7353. B.G.

Best upscale street tacos

The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar

You might balk at paying six bucks for two small “street” tacos—one short ribs and one tongue—but once you get a taste of the scrumptious tongue taco, you might be willing to shell out for another order. Chef and co-owner John Bays explains that the tongue taco is quite labor-intensive, and involves a carnitaslike preparation which includes 48 hours of brining and two hours of braising in a mixture of Dr Pepper, orange juice, onion and veal stock. The short ribs taco takes a little less prep, but still gets dunked into a fancy marinade of red wine, fennel seed, and chicken and veal stock. If your local taco truck took that much care, they would probably be charging three bucks a pop, too. 2718 J Street, (916) 706-2275, B.G.

Best free beer buzz

Burgers and Brew

Listen, Burgers and Brew is a pretty simple place. It’s got burgers. It’s got brews. It does both things fairly well—even vegetarians get some love: The Gardenburger with avocado and Jack cheese is damn tasty. The pages-long beer list is certainly impressive—almost intimidating, actually. At a loss for a decision? Ask the server for some suggestions—and a tasting. The former yields helpful food-pairing advice or an inquiry into your general likes and dislikes, while the latter arrives in a tiny glass. Each sample is just enough to get a hint of the beer’s flavor profile, but if you were to, say, sample several (decisions, decisions), you might score a nice buzz, too. Remember to tip your bartender. 1409 R Street, (916) 442-0900, R.L.

Best fatty, salty reason to cross the causeway

Fat Face’s wilted-greens breakfast sandwich

Don’t you just get sick of bacon sometimes, America? No? Never? Well, if you do, try this sandwich. Instead of that fatty, salty stuff, it has other fatty, salty stuff: fried egg and goat cheese. It’s a surprising combo, but it works. The nutritious, tender greens are blanched kale and chard, farmed locally. Their deep green juices moisten the ciabatta roll, made at Village Bakery in Davis. OK, if you just can’t live without your daily pig, chef Jaymes Luu has a breakfast sandwich with bacon on it, too. Davis Farmers Market, Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; Fourth and C streets in Davis. B.G.

Best place for healthy snacks on the cheap

Sunflower Farmers Market

Although it feels a little like we’re cheating on our first love, Trader Joe’s, it’s hard to deny our crush of the recently opened Sunflower Farmers Market. Stocked with a colorful abundance of organic fresh fruit and produce, the Arizona-based chain store tries to buy local whenever possible. It also boasts an extensive bulk-food section, with bins upon bins of granola, trail mix and nuts, licorice, cinnamon gummy bears and dried fruits. There’s also an impressive selection of relatively healthy chips and crackers, cookies and ice cream. There are plenty of vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free options as well—all at a won’t-empty-the-wallet price point. 4408 Del Rio Road, (916) 455-4200, R.L.

Best healthy veg-friendly Mexican eats

Cafe Capricho

In a city where all food seemingly must be either piled with bacon or drowned in butter, Cafe Capricho serves up uncomplicated, exciting and healthful modern Mexican fare. It more than just offers vegetarian or vegan eats; Capricho innovates with potato, Swiss chard and black-bean burritos, and vegan enchiladas with butternut squash. Yet you’ll also find delicious chorizo and carne asada offerings—and for three squares all day long—plus small flourishes, such as its piquant green salsa. Or the fact that it sells coconut water; it’s shocking that most local restaurants don’t. An order-at-the-counter spot, Capricho also does burritos for less than $5 to go—including chips. Which, of course, aren’t salty. 3269 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 457-3916. N.M.

Best edible inspiration for bands

Yummy Juice Cafe

When it’s 1 a.m. and the show is over, climb into the stinky tour van and head to the best place for late-night sober-up food: Yummy Juice Cafe. Late on a weekend night, the Freeport Boulevard Hong Kong-style cafe is usually packed with rambunctious teens. Hong Kong-style food has a certain madcap element: Many dishes are served with spaghetti, and one can order a sizzling mixed-grill platter that includes a pork chop, a chicken wing and a hot dog—all drowned in gravy. A local deejay and show booker says that “the strawberry spare ribs became legendary on certain Midwest streets after bands had eaten that.” Maybe someday someone will write a song about it. 3005 B Freeport Boulevard, (916) 448-3988. B.G.

Best heaven on Earth

The Davis Beer Shoppe

People say they’ll move to Canada if Mitt Romney is elected. How about this: If Sacramento doesn’t overturn it’s embarrassing single-beer ordinance by 2014, I’m moving to friggin’ Davis. Then, like a real damn adult in a real damn city, I can go by The Davis Beer Shoppe after work, buy a bottle of Norwegian HaandBryggeriet’s awesome brew, then actually take it home and sip it on the porch with my dog while thinking big about how we don’t need to spend a quarter-billion clams on some Kings dome to ferment culture or economic growth. Of course, one can’t buy singles of craft beer on the grid, so many trips across the causeway were notched in 2012 by yours truly. Not that I’m complaining: Taylor Ramos’ Shoppe boasts shockingly competitive prices and the best suds selection within 100 miles, plus nightly flight offerings and a bring-your-own-eats policy. Indeed, there is no heaven: There is only The Davis Beer Shoppe. 211 G Street in Davis, (530) 756-5212. N.M.

Best place for serious brew knowledge

Pangaea Two Brews Cafe

As a card-carrying beer snob, nothing pisses me off more than walking into a joint with a decent beer selection—but nobody there who knows a damn thing about it. I won’t name names—everyone knows who you are—but beer ignorance at purported beer establishments is an unwelcome trend here in Sacto. Which is why I’m so eternally grateful for owner Rob Archie and his crew—Matteo, James, Sage, etc.—at Pangaea Two Brews Cafe. They’re practically clairvoyant when it comes to what a customer’s gonna order, everyone on staff is Britannica-esque about brew and there’s even a couple cicerones in training. The increasingly popular Curtis Park haunt now boasts a new menu, too; guess I’ll actually have to eat something there sometime, too. 2743 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 454-4942, N.M.