From the ashes, excellence

Cielito Lindo Mexican Gastronomy

Cielito Lindo Mexican Gastronomy Restaurant

3672 J Street Sacramento
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 736-2506

Chef-owner Ramiro Alarcon opened Cielito Lindo Mexican Gastronomy just over two years ago in East Sacramento. Barely seven months later, the kitchen and offices were damaged by fire, forcing the restaurant to close. It took more than a year for Alarcon to renovate and reopen, this past June.

Fortunately, he had catering work to keep himself and his staff busy. He also had the time to develop new recipes to expand the menu and procure a liquor license for beer and wine, helping to reinforce the more upscale nature of the operation.

Housed in a former fast-food restaurant, the earlier incarnation of Cielito Lindo struck some reviewers as too casual in its decor. Now there are etched-glass windows, expanded dining rooms and fresh bright paint on the walls. A large sign with weekly specials and attractive food photos catches one’s eye from the outside.

Alarcon worked previously at Tequila Museo Mayahuel and opened Cielito Lindo to showcase more modern versions of Mexican classics. He also aims to “introduce Californians to a dining experience that reflects true Mexican culture and traditional values,” according to a bit on the restaurant’s website.

Despite the building’s original purpose, this is no fast-food taqueria. Instead, Alarcon and his staff provide exceptional service and vibrant flavors where customers might normally expect less.

Many dishes from the original menu remain, including the outstanding Mole Poblano ($15 lunch; $18 dinner). Manager Ulises Ponce told us that the mole contains 32 ingredients, all melding into a silky sauce with incredible depth but no bitterness or cloying sweetness. It blankets moist, slow-cooked chicken and comes with a side of flavorful rice.

The mole is also available on enchiladas as Enmoladas de Pollo ($12 lunch; $15 dinner). We used leftover tortillas from another entree to sop up every last scrumptious bit of sauce.

The Sopa Verde del Campo ($5 for a cup at lunch; $6 at dinner) is an unusual holdover item from the original menu. It’s a green soup of squash blossoms, cactus, spinach and purslane. Epazote lends a creaminess to this vegan dish, while corn kernels and garbanzos add color and texture.

One new dish is the Sopa Azteca ($8 for a bowl at lunch; $9 for dinner), a take on tortilla soup. A very large cup came to the table half-filled with fresh tortilla strips, ripe avocado, ancho pepper and panela cheese. When we ordered it, the server poured the fragrant soup base on top to keep the flavors clean and fresh.

The Triangulos Crujientes make for an outstanding new appetizer ($8 lunch; $9 dinner). These are crisp tostada triangles topped with shrimp ceviche and pico de gallo. I’ve rarely tasted better shrimp.

We also loved the traditional and popular Enfrijoladas de Pollo ($12 lunch; $14 dinner), with a creamy bean-and-chipotle sauce.

Don’t miss the celery-pineapple-parsley agua fresca ($3), a super-refreshing combination. The restaurant also thoughtfully offers three children’s entrees and serves them quickly with a side of fresh fruit.

Don’t let the casual interior confuse you. It belies the fine-dining quality of the service and food.