Slice it thin

Buckhorn Grill

1801 L St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 446-3757

The Buckhorn Steak & Roadhouse in Winters has long been an area standby, but it’s kind of a long drive for tri-tip and, anyway the place is always busy. So it’s nice that the Buckhorn Grill, emanating from the same owners’ restaurant group, has come to Sacramento. There are several Buckhorn Grills around the Bay Area and environs; Sacramento’s is, I believe, the seventh of them. So, yeah, it’s a little chain. Small regional chains seem to be proliferating wildly in Sacramento these days; I guess nearby regions have realized we exist or something. But, anyway, it’s got fairly local roots and the reputation for some good beef, so I wanted to give it a try.

It turns out Buckhorn Grill is no less busy than its parent. During the lunch rush on my visits, the line stretched nearly out the door. You order at the counter and find your own seating (there’s plenty, indoors and out), drinks are self-serve at a fountain, and you pick up your food at the behest of a buzzer thing you receive when you place the order. At least, that’s the theory. I don’t know if ours was malfunctioning or what, but it never went off and eventually our food was delivered—rather cold—by a server.

I went with a small group and we tried a variety of items with mixed results. The menu is dominated by beef—my friend called the place a “carnivore’s paradise”—but there are other options, as well. I had a chicken and mushroom sandwich; another of our party tried the “Cabo Chop” from a decently sized list of salads; but our third diner, having entered the carnivore heaven, got the tri-tip plate, along with crispy onions.

The “Chickenshroom” sandwich, featuring grilled chicken with lots of sautéed mushrooms and not quite enough “red ranch” sauce (it tasted like a sweetish barbecue sauce to me) was pleasant enough; the chicken itself was a little bland, though moist. I think more of the sauce would have punched up the sandwich considerably, but the mushrooms contributed depth of flavor. I also had a side salad with some excellent crunchy croutons; a bit too much of the sweetish, tangy honey-lime dressing; and your basic lettuce and fresh-veggie combo in the salad. Any of the several sandwiches—choices vary from tri-tip with bacon and cheddar or chipotle and pepper jack to a portobello mushroom or salmon sandwich—can be sized up to a combo, including a fountain drink and fries, mashed potatoes, salad or crispy onions.

The Cabo Chop also was overdressed slightly, but it offered plenty of interest, with a just-ripe half of avocado, tender black beans, blue cheese, and unfortunately soft corn kernels adorning the chopped romaine, plus a nicely grilled, flavorful piece of salmon. (All of the salads can be ordered with a chunk of protein on top of them—chicken, tri-tip or salmon.) It sat in an odd, oily fried-tortilla shell that looked dramatic but, because it didn’t really fit in the plate, made eating occasionally a challenge, as the light and brittle shell shattered under the fork.

My friend’s tri-tip plate was, unfortunately, less successful than the rest of the meal, as the meat—supposedly the restaurant’s signature—was dry, a situation not helped by the fact that it was delivered cold. I suspect the thick slices also contributed some degree to this sad state of affairs. The fried onions, though, with their crunchy, light battering, were great.

We also tried for dessert a little blackberry pie that was in truth more like a cobbler. The fruit was heavily sweetened and very juicy; the thick crust, consequently, was gummy. It, too, was very sweet and too short (in the sense of fatty). It tasted OK, but had a greasy, overly buttery quality.

I went again to give the tri-tip another chance and was much happier on a second visit. The meat in my Little Buck tri-tip sandwich was much more moist, with long, ribbon-like thin slices of meat, nicely marbled and a deeply savory, meaty, perfectly beefy flavor. (The Little Buck offers 4 ounces of meat; the Big Buck nets you 6 ounces.) The rich juices soaked into but not through the fluffy white-bread roll; the jus dipping sauce that came alongside was your usual tasty beefy juice. I like the subtle spice mixture on the tri-tip, which added tang and depth to the whole.

On this visit, we also tried another salad, the “Krispy Chicken and Avocado.” Aside from irritating me by spelling “crispy” with a K, it also confirmed my suspicion that overdressing salads is endemic to this kitchen. The sliced strips of fried chicken, though, had nice spice to them and were moist, and again the avocado was generously applied and perfectly ripe.

A glass of the nice strong iced tea they serve rounded out a meal that was, overall, pretty tasty. I wouldn’t expect great things from the Buckhorn Grill, necessarily, but if you’re looking for a good, beefy tri-tip sandwich, they do a really nice one. Stick to the basics and you can get a nice quick lunch here.