Roseville, CA 95661
There’s really no reason why fast food has to be mass-produced and mass-marketed, even though most of it is. A case in point is River K, a new quick-service restaurant in Roseville where you can get fresh, tasty and made-from-scratch food quicker than one might think. River K is the brainchild of River Klass, a restaurateur whose previous two ventures, Firewood and Grounds, both are in Murphys.
This new fast-food spot, which offers three distinct menus—Mexican, Italian and American in emphasis—is meant as a model for expansion throughout the Sacramento area. This trio of cuisines makes the restaurant a bit high-concept, but once people figure out the basic idea, it seems likely to catch on. After all, River K offers a simple solution to the pizza-vs.-burritos takeout debate: Why choose?
The restaurant’s design is sleek but appealing, with walls in appetizing shades of tomato-soup red, pumpkin and sage. Ordering happens at a counter, from which one can see into the pizza oven. A glimpse of those thin-crust pies, blistering briefly in the heat, further whetted my appetite, so I gravitated toward the section of the menu marked “Napoli, Italy.” It sports some 10 thin-crust pizza choices with tasty toppings like spicy sausage with caramelized onions; shrimp and feta with eggplant and roasted garlic; and my choice, a prosciutto and arugula pizza with fresh mozzarella. All of the pizzas are a generous individual size, and most of them are just $9.50.
Mine was a dollar more but worth the premium price for its topping of savory prosciutto and a salad’s worth of super-fresh arugula, applied after the pizza came out of the oven. The crust was properly blistered, with a few little blackened edges. The light application of tomato sauce really did put me in mind of pizzas I’ve had in Italy. (Alas, I’ve not sampled the pizza in Naples, but Rome is pretty close.) The pizza’s one flaw was excessive oiliness, which gave the center of the crust a hint of sogginess and made eating it a definite two-napkin job. Nonetheless, its flavor was very good.
My husband looked immediately to the “USA, 1950s” portion of the menu, which has classic burgers as well as a turkey burger, a gorgonzola burger and a Gardenburger. For kids, there’s a basket of chicken strips and fries. He chose the turkey burger, which can be a risky move: All too often, turkey burgers are literally and figuratively pale imitations of the real thing, with hockey-puck-like texture and not much flavor. Not so at River K; the burger was juicy, with a lively, fresh flavor enhanced by plenty of pepper.
It came in a basket with a side of tasty, golden fries and plenty of fixings, but not mustard and ketchup; those are on a station at the center of the restaurant. My husband had missed them on our way in and asked our server about these condiments. Even though they are at a self-serve station, the server practically jumped at the chance to fetch them. The staff was far more helpful and enthusiastic than you generally see at a place where you order at a counter. A teenager cleaning tables asked if he could get us anything, and when I asked for a box for my leftover pizza, a woman who clearly had gone off shift already got it for me and then rushed over to our table to offer a bag, as well.
The only thing we sampled off the section of the menu labeled “Baja, Mexico” was a basket of chips, and that was just because I saw them on a neighboring table, and they looked so good. They are thick, golden wedges cut from real tortillas and freshly fried in house, and they are excellent. There’s a salsa bar on the same station that houses the ketchup, with fresh, chunky, tart tomatillo salsa; a mild but flavorful pico de gallo; and a thick chipotle salsa. The latter wasn’t as zesty as I’d have liked, but they were all still tasty.
I wished we’d had room to sample the tacos or burritos on the menu. The specialty is Baja fish tacos, but carnitas, chicken, beef and roasted vegetable are available also. Diners at a neighboring table were having the tacos, and they were piled high with fresh toppings, with rice and beans nestled alongside in the basket. Next time I go to the movies in Roseville, I’ll definitely come early and try out the Mexican portion of the menu.
A final enticement at River K is the drinks menu. Sure, there’s a basic roundup of serve-yourself fountain drinks, but there are some awfully good beers on tap also (you won’t find Guinness at your average quick-service joint) as well as an array of wines by the glass—and a glass costs just $3.95. River K stands out in this kind of value and quality. It’s not every day you find such a variety of fresh, made-from-scratch favorites for prices like these. With its tasty tripartite menu, River K definitely has scored a hat trick.