Skip the Corn Nuts

Two gas stations, two restaurants, many options to fill up your tank

Gold Town Chinese
1601 Research Park Drive in Davis,
(530) 758-0058
3 out of 5 stars
Sinai #2
4491 Franklin Boulevard,
(916) 739-8788
2.5 out of 5 stars

The human entrepreneurial spirit is amazing. For instance, New York magazine just published an article about rings of thieves stealing vast amounts of Tide laundry detergent in order to resell it for $5 a pop on the street. Anywhere there is a tiny gap, someone will envision a business or product to fill the need—so why not a restaurant inside a gas station? Why not two such establishments?

Gold Town Chinese in Davis, which adjoins an Exxon station, is not the first Chinese restaurant to occupy this space—or even the second. The first, Hometown Chinese, specializing in Taiwanese cuisine, was successful enough to move to a storefront in downtown Davis; judging from how popular it is with UC Davis students, Gold Town may also be well on its way.

When you enter, either through the gas station or a separate door, you’ll find steam tables filled with trays of the usual Chinese-American fare such as chow mein and broccoli beef. There’s also a dumpling menu on the wall and handwritten signs featuring dishes written in both English and Chinese.

The dumplings here are rough-hewn and rustic—clearly handmade—and arrive furiously steaming and smelling of fresh dough. The mushrooms in the chive-pork dumplings lend a rich earthiness, and the wide Chinese chives give them a cruciferous taste.

The pork cabbage shoots a stream of broth across the table when I bite into it and is so juicy that it’s almost like the elusive xiaolongbao—or soup dumpling. Spicy pork wontons have glossy wrappers and are laced with chili oil. Gold Town sells frozen dumplings to go, and if you buy two orders, you get one free.

The cold spicy-beef tendon appetizer could serve as a gateway tendon to anyone who isn’t sure about eating cartilaginous bits. The thin-sliced tendon is springy and mild—not tough or funky. It’s dressed with a subtle peanut chili sauce and interspersed with cucumber.

The Mexican cafe Sinai #2 in south Sacramento also adjoins a gas station—this time it’s the Franklin Gas & Mart—but has a separate entrance. Really, “cafe” is stretching it: This is just a counter and a grill, with a few tables parked outside in the cold. The woman cooking and assembling food here is constantly in motion. Her primary tool is a large, wide spatula; she sometimes wields one in each hand.

When I ask her about the name of the eatery, she dashes my food-dork dreams that it’s a combo Israeli-Mexican restaurant: Rather, it’s a Bible reference. Luckily, the guy who orders after me asks too, so I feel vindicated.

On this day, the restaurant features two specials: a $3.99 torta and Mexican hotdogs priced at $1.99 each. I spy two bacon-wrapped hotdogs on the grills nesting sweetly on a bed of papers and onions, but I go for the cheap torta instead. It’s hamburger-shaped and sized, and similarly topped, too, with shredded lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and avocado. The bolillo arrives perfectly crisped, but it’s all the stuff that surrounds the adobada that shines.

The tacos are a steal at only $1.25. Asada—well-salted and chewy but not gristly, the beef birria is composed of tender shreds.

It’s a treat to see mulitas on the menu, although it’s basically just a meat quesadilla. It has a delicious crispy cheese skirt, but the pale carnitas are too lean by half. I recommend dousing every dish in the thin, spicy red and green salsa.

The less said about the tamale the better; just drive across the street and get one at La Esperanza Mexican Food Products (5028 Franklin Boulevard).

Fill up your gas tank and your stomach at these two new spots. It’s a heckuva lot better than buying Corn Nuts.