When it’s good, it’s good

Smokey Oaks Tavern

Pulled pork sliders paired with a Blue Moon at Smokey Oaks Tavern.

Pulled pork sliders paired with a Blue Moon at Smokey Oaks Tavern.

photo by Scott Duncan

Good for: An afterwork cocktail with friends
Notable dishes: Burgers, pulled pork sliders, fish and chips

Smokey Oaks Tavern

9634 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628

(916) 536-9330

The Smokey Oaks Tavern is a warm, comfortable pub designed with an eye towards socializing. The tavern combines clean, neutral colors with unfinished wood accents that make it feel more like a bistro. The décor brings it back down to earth, with beer signs and dartboards scattered throughout, as well as funny tentacle-like plants on each table.

A large C-shaped bar and outdoor patio maximize its drinking-and-chatting space, making Smokey Oaks a great place to meet friends for a cocktail or beer. Their rotating suds selection includes 12 mainstream beers on tap, though given the tag line of “No crap on tap” and the owners’ Cicerone-certified beer server status, I was surprised to find a limited selection of local microbrews.

As a dining spot I’d give the food a 3 out of 5 on a good day, if the kitchen and wait staff are on the same page and the chef hasn’t misplaced the salt. The burger is solidly good and cooked well—in fact, it was the first time in ages I’ve successfully ordered “medium-rare” burger. The fries are satisfyingly thick and crispy, while the pulled pork sliders made my day as a plateful of three little sandwiches appeared in front of me, each filled with a generous scoop of hot, gently spicy pulled pork topped with a swirl of crispy fried onions. The fish and chips were delightful; the thick, meaty chunks of fish was an admirable lightness and crisp texture. My only complaint is that they were woefully under-salted, much like several other dishes I tried.

Unfortunately, a previous visit wasn’t up to par. I got there well before dinner rush but still waited 30 minutes for appetizers. The deep-fried mac-and-cheese balls were underwhelming, and again, needed salt. The SOT Dirty Tots tasted good but looked like they’d stepped out of a middle-school cafeteria line, covered with what the menu claimed was melted cheddar but more closely resembled watered-down canned sauce.

My entrée that woeful night, the slow-smoked brisket, showed up resembling two pieces of dry toast. The mashed potatoes were bland and thin. My “molten chocolate cake” was filled with thin chocolate syrup and topped with a melted puddle of canned whipped cream.

The food is enjoyable if you’re there on a good night, and if you’re looking for a beer, a snack and a friendly face, Smokey Oaks is one of the better places in Fair Oaks to spend an evening after work.