Localis makes Eater’s ‘Essential 38’ list

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Locals know that Sacramento is a rapidly expanding supernova of culinary talent, but the rest of the state—let alone the rest of the country—has yet to grasp the caliber of the capital’s regional dining culture. Overshadowed by food meccas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sacramento has long struggled with its cow town reputation when compared to its cosmopolitan siblings.

Still, the tide is turning. In July, chef-owner Chris Barnum-Dann received a call that Localis was chosen as one of Eater.com‘s “38 Essential Restaurants of California.” When the guide went live on July 11, Barnun-Dann says he was floored to see that Localis was listed alongside Michelin-star restaurants like Manresa (Los Gatos) and award-winning chefs like Alice Waters at The Café at Chez Panisse (Berkeley). But more importantly, Localis was also the only Sacramento restaurant to make the cut.

“We got the call the day before and I was excited, but I didn’t know what it was going to be,” says Barnum-Dann. “When it came out, I was scrolling through the list and the first thing that popped up was Atelier Crenn (SF), and then it was Benu (SF), then it was Meadowood (Napa Valley), and I was shocked because I realized that we were on a list with all these people I have such respect for.”

What is it about Localis that put it on the map with California’s top fine-dining restaurants? Many would argue it’s Barnum-Dann’s infectious passion, coupled with his creativity and willingness to play in the kitchen. In a region where the Farm-to-Fork movement is quickly becoming cliché, the team at Localis is pushing beyond the standard ethos of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and looking for inspiration in new techniques and flavor combinations.

“My process is a lot like a small child,” he says. “It’s exciting anytime I get a new ingredient, something I haven’t worked with before. Then I’m tinkering, tasting it, picking it apart, thinking about how I can use that product in different ways. How do we make this thing sing on the plate?”

Since the listing appeared, Barnum-Dann says he has noticed an increase in reservations; a drive past the restaurant on a random Thursday night revealed a busy waiting area full of diners waiting for a seat. Social media also lit up, with an endless number of Localis fans sharing their support for the restaurant’s achievements over the last three years.

As intimate as the Sacramento fine-dining community is, local chefs are also voicing their support for Localis. Billy Ngo, chef-owner of East Sac’s beloved sushi restaurant Kru, believes the recognition is well-deserved.

“He’s making a great contribution with his philosophy,” Ngo says. “He’s using locally sourced ingredients, but with a different approach from everybody else. He’s got fresh ideas and style.”

Barnum-Dann also shared that the recognition is not his alone.

“We had a staff party for our anniversary and for being on the list. My wife and I wanted to celebrate everyone who’s been working so hard to make it happen every night,” he says. “We toasted everyone else because it’s not about us. I really appreciate being part of this team."Ω