Sacramento’s got soul
Tori’s Place1525 Grand Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95838
About a year ago, I feasted on juicy fried chicken, gooey mac ’n’ cheese and hot water cornbread at Tori’s Place, a periwinkle blue shack across from Grant Union High School in Del Paso Heights.
Next to me were two elderly black gentlemen who seemed surprised to see me, a petite Chinese-American in floral print, eating what I was eating—and where I was eating it.
One asked me if I liked the food, to which I smiled and overenthusiastically expressed my love for Tori’s Place—it was and remains my favorite soul food spot in town.
He asked if I had the meatloaf. I said no. He asked if I had the riblets. I said no. He asked if I had the pork chops, banana pudding, lemonade. I said no. He scoffed.
“You don’t know Tori’s—you don’t love Tori’s at all,” he said, shaking his head in disgust and never speaking to me again.
To be honest, I had been to Tori’s maybe a half-dozen times at that point, and I couldn’t stop ordering the fried chicken and gumbo ($10-$20). The gumbo, in particular, is a revelation—a complex stew bursting with shrimp, sausage, chicken and spices that genuinely causes eyeballs to roll back.
In the past several months, I returned to try nearly every item on the menu—even the cheeseburger ($4.25), which the high school kids all seem to order. It’s delicious. It’s all delicious.
Let’s go back to that giant, pancake-like cornbread ($1.50). Right off the skillet, it’s textural perfection: soft and sweet with crispy edges. Not only that, but you get it for free with most meals, along with a side of your choice.
A quick rundown of those sides ($2.99 each): the Southern-style mac ’n’ cheese is surprisingly herbaceous, though not always consistent; the vinegary green beans and collards are great, and probably the wisest items to put in your body; the black-eyed peas offer bite and brightness, with lots of tomato and celery; the potato salad is tangy and slightly sweet; and the mashed yams are basically dessert.
Tori’s moist, flavorful meatloaf ($8.50) converted me into a believer. The tender, pan-fried pork chops ($8.50) are a winner as well. Remember: The answer to “Would you like that smothered?” is always yes.
Coated in seasoned cornmeal, the fried catfish ($11.92) and red snapper ($10.31) are both crispy and flaky while avoiding seeming oily. But, especially with the recent explosion of fancy fried chicken in local restaurants, it’s the bird ($8.50) that’s the best deal. Choose any combination of three pieces—breasts, thighs or drumsticks—and with the usual cornbread and side dish, it might be enough to feed two.
One struggle? Tori’s makes everything to order in a tiny kitchen with a tiny staff, and if there’s a line, it can take quite some time for your food to come out. It seems to be a greater issue with big orders full of fried items, but calling ahead helps expedite the process.
Most folks take their orders to-go, often because the restaurant’s open-air nature can get sticky in the summer months. But that doesn’t mean Tori’s lacks atmosphere. On the contrary, an oversupply of paintings and mismatched furnishings make it feel like someone’s cozy home.
The hospitality from always-smiling Veronica Richmond contributes to that classic Southern, homey feeling. She opened the place with her twin sister and chef, Victoria Haggins a.k.a. Tori, in 2013. They’re from Oakland, but you can taste a Louisiana influence in their family recipes—especially that gumbo, which I will never stop wanting.