September 24, 2021

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Cooking is a hobby

The Sacramento Bee’s best restaurants: Where to eat in 2021

Abyssinia

1 – Ethiopian

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BY RENÉE C. BYER Sacramento Bee

Fulton Avenue might be Sacramento’s most diverse dining boulevard, and Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant is one of its standouts. Soft rolls of tangy, spongy injera bread (a traditional flatbread) serve as both base and utensil for the richly spiced main dishes. Dishes such as tibs (a spicy or mild stir-fry available in meat or tofu versions) and wots (stews) offer plenty of choice for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Don’t miss the collard greens or the spicy red lentil stew. When dine-in service is available, everything comes arranged on vibrant, colorful round platters like spokes in a wheel, atop a round of injera — a particularly good choice for big parties and affordable but lavish celebration dinners. Takeout presentation during pandemic times can’t quite rival the visual impact of dine-in, but the flavors and the warm service are intact. Read more


Adam’s International Market

1 – Middle Eastern

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BY LEZLIE STERLING Sacramento Bee

The region’s best Middle Eastern food might just be tucked away inside this halal market/butcher shop in an Elk Grove strip mall. To the left of imported spices, sweets and frozen goods, a deli counter churns out thoroughly seasoned shawarma and crispy falafel that maintain a moist center, in addition to classic American sandwiches and burgers. Adam’s most compelling creations are its dips, like a lemony Egyptian fava bean spread, called ful, and super-silky hummus bilahmah. In a store with no shortage of desserts — boxes of dates and baklava took up eight tables near the checkout upon our last visit — one could be easily satisfied just sampling the wide range of per-pound Turkish delights with flavors like pomegranate, fig and chocolate pistachio.


Allora

4 – Italian

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BY JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS Sacramento Bee file

East Sacramento’s reputation as the city’s best dining neighborhood got another shot in the arm with the 2018 arrival of Allora, the brainchild of ex-Firehouse chef Deneb Williams and his wife Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou, an Ella alumna and one of Wine Spectator’s top five new sommeliers nationwide two years ago. The high-end Italian seafood restaurant did away with a la carte orders in the pandemic, instead allowing guests to assemble their own three-, four- or five-course prix-fixe dinners. Some items, like the pork tenderloin and whole branzino, are also available in XL quantities as take-home family meal kits alongside pancetta gnocchi, a mixed greens salad and migliaccio, a Neapolitan ricotta/semolina cheesecake. Read more


Binchoyaki

3 – Japanese

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BY ANDREW SENG Sacramento Bee file

Married couple Craig Takehara and Tokiko Sawada’s izakaya in Sacramento’s old Japantown is a favorite among local chefs, and with good reason. Binchoyaki scorches meats on imported charcoal grills that surge north of 1,000 degrees, turning off-cuts such as organic chicken tail or snappy arabiki sausage into blackened skewers swept simply with salt or a house tare sauce. Plan to lounge at a table or bar for a couple hours when visiting post-pandemic, don’t expect dishes to be delivered instantly and mask your surprise when piles of small plates add up to a large bill. Read more


Buckhorn Steakhouse

3 – Steakhouse

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BY FLORENCE LOW Sacramento Bee file

Buckhorn owners John Pickerel and Melanie Bajakian-Pickerel deserve much of the credit for building Winters into the dining destination it is today. The family’s flagship steakhouse — across Main Street from their equally charming Putah Creek Cafe — remains home to the best beef around, 40 years after they acquired the former De Vilbiss Hotel in what was then a no-stoplight town. Veteran in-house butcher Joe Bristow’s expertise and flexibility have helped, particularly in the pandemic, when tri-tip totchos and Cajun-inspired steak bites have seemed better suited to Buckhorn’s paper dishware than the baseball sirloin. Crispy onion strings are the highlight on the crunchy, bright roadhouse salad, also available at more casual Buckhorn Grill locations from the Bay Area and Modesto up through Roseville and Folsom. Read more


Camden Spit + Larder

3 – British

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR. Sacramento Bee

If the old stereotype about British food’s blandness is still around, Oliver and Tia Ridgeway’s downtown brasserie makes a compelling argument for its retirement. The menu is relatively meaty, but a creamy vegan mushroom pâté topped with pickled mustard seeds and a red wine aspic is a great start to lunch or dinner. The fish sandwich with jalapeno slaw and housemade vinegar-tinted chips is a worthy counterpoint to the fried chicken craze and provides a more affordable seafood experience than the Tsar Nicoulai caviar and crumpets. Camden manages to show off former Grange chef Oliver’s U.K. roots while deftly incorporating changing appetites, and the 2-year-old restaurant makes for a pleasant addition to Capitol Mall’s relatively stagnant food scene. Read more


Canon

4 – New American

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BY JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS Sacramento Bee file

This joint venture from restaurateur Clay Nutting and chef Brad Cecchi set an ambitious course with share plates and global flavors from its inception, earning four stars from our restaurant critic. The praise came both for the cooking — in dishes like the thoughtful, striking pickled vegetable platter, crispy lamb pave, and signature tots with a complex mole — and the meticulous style of the sleek establishment. In the past year, however, the spacious patio got more play than the beautifully curated dining room, and the restaurant pivoted to an online-order system, PickUpFixe, with dinner meal boxes and other spins on the in-house menu available for takeout. Despite the challenges of 2020, Canon’s distinctive hand with spices and vegetables remains, well, canonical. Read more


Celestin’s

2 – Creole

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BY HECTOR AMEZCUA Sacramento Bee file

Reopened in a tiny, tropically colorful East Sacramento location after a long hiatus, this beloved Caribbean-Creole restaurant, formerly a midtown institution, offered packed-in diners before the pandemic a signature gumbo in many iterations, including vegetarian. Now, there’s a seamless takeout operation. Choices include shrimp and chicken creole, and grio (marinated, fried pork), tostones (plantains) with spicy ti-malice sauce, a sleeper hit of corn cakes and black beans with a habanero zing. There are also some excellent sandwiches, such as the Cubano and a fried chicken sandwich on a pretzel bun. Don’t miss the velvety key lime pie for dessert. Read more


Com Tam Thien Huong

1 – Vietnamese

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

Com tam — broken rice plates — are not as well known to most American diners as other Vietnamese dishes like pho or banh mi, but they deserve to be. Thien Huong is the undisputed king of this kind of plate in Sacramento, offering a mound of rice surrounded by a mix of accoutrements: rich, char-edged grilled pork, shrimp paste wrapped around juicy sugarcane, crisp-fried tofu skin enclosing more shrimp paste, and the unassuming but excellent egg pancake, threaded with clear noodles. Get the combo plate and prepare to be stuffed, and probably have leftovers, too. Oh, and if you can’t imagine a Vietnamese meal without pho, Com Tam Thien Huong has you covered there, too, with fragrant broth and generous portions of meat.


El Bramido

1 – Mexican

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

El Bramido is half no-frills taqueria, half glistening tequila bar, fully worth a stop on a strip of South Natomas rich in Mexican food. The buche inside four-star tacos crunches like little chicharrones, and flautas and super tacos both get piled high with toppings. Gerardo Delatorre’s best dish might be the camarones a la diabla, a lip-numbing mess of tomatoes, onions and mushrooms swimming around succulent prawns that burst under the slightest dental pressure. El Bramido can also lay claim to the region’s best tortilla chips, perfectly salted and ready to dip in housemade salsas. Read more


Ella

4 – New American

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BY RANDALL BENTON Sacramento Bee file

For the duration of the pandemic, the Selland Group’s downtown crown jewel, Ella, is temporarily shuttered — more metaphorically than usual, that is, since the design of the airy, stylish dining room features dozens of repurposed vintage wooden shutters. There’s also a striking central bar, where inventive cocktails and mocktails and strong raw-bar offerings (seafood platter, anyone?) make Ella a popular celebration spot. The seasonal menu offers signature dishes such as the sizzling bone marrow or pan-roasted king salmon, as well as surprises with regionally themed menus. Before the shutdown, for instance, a Latin American menu yielded banana-leaf-wrapped halibut. Whatever the choice, both the kitchen and the service are unfailingly precise. Read more


Fixins Soul Kitchen

2 – Soul Food

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BY XAVIER MASCAREÑAS Sacramento Bee

Fixins, the Oak Park soul food restaurant opened by ex-mayor Kevin Johnson and partners in late 2019, is known for its zingy fried chicken – and we’re here to report that yes, its crunch holds up to a takeout or delivery trip across town during this restaurant-unfriendly year. But we’re even bigger fans of the kitchen’s rich, deep stews and braises, such as the ultra-savory oxtail with brown gravy or the plump shrimp with creamy grits, smothered in piquant sauce. We’ll be glad to get back to the friendly brick-walled dining room with its vibrant art, but in the meantime, we’re happy we can get the chicken and waffles, tender collards, and peppery mac and cheese at home. Read more


Grange

4 – New American

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR. Sacramento Bee

The best hotel restaurant in Sacramento, hands down, Grange has sadly been on hiatus since the pandemic hit. But when it’s open, the sleek bar and inviting, high-ceilinged dining room with an open kitchen draw hotel guests, power lunchers and date nighters alike. There’s an underappreciated daily breakfast service with lighter choices like yogurt with housemade granola as well as robust dishes such as smoked chicken hash. Dinner offers changing seasonal dishes focused on local produce, but look for signature dishes such as executive chef Dane Blom’s delicate sake-glazed black cod and the housemade charcuterie plate. Read more


Green Elephant

2 – Burmese

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BY HECTOR AMEZCUA Sacramento Bee file

An hour and change away, the East Bay has a plethora of Burmese restaurants. The Sacramento region has two, one in a 7,000-person Placer County town and another in Davis that just opened in January. Luckily, Green Elephant is a terrific representation of Myanmar’s melded cuisine. Complex flavors abound in the tender, dark brown mango pork curry, while the cee-chat wonton noodles’ dominant characteristic is instantly clear to anyone who’s eaten a clove of garlic. The thinly-sliced ginger salad is wonderfully balanced and punctuated with the crunch of fried yellow split peas, crispy roasted cashews and fried garlic. And while mohinga is typically a breakfast soup, Green Elephant’s take on the catfish chowder with peanuts, rice noodles and egg slices is great any time of day. Read more


Hawks

3 – New American

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BY JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS Sacramento Bee file

Hawks can be almost intimidatingly formal (how many places kept doing a $120 tasting menu into last October?) but there’s no denying chefs, owners and partners Molly Hawks and Mike Fagnoni’s training and selection of their staff. Granite Bay’s ritziest restaurant does traditional French/Italian fine dining exceptionally well down to the nubs; we scraped up every bit of the mashed potatoes soaked in red wine jus under the short ribs entree. Duck seems to persist through seasonal menu changes, appearing on housemade charcuterie boards and as a perfectly crispy confit. Hawks is a great spot for an anniversary dinner. Read more


Hawks Provisions and Public House

3 – New American

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BY RANDY PENCH Sacramento Bee file

Married restaurateurs Molly Hawk and Michael Fagnoni have a hit with their Alhambra Boulevard little sister to Granite Bay’s ultra-grown-up Hawks. Wedged into an odd, unlikely corner space, the reliably excellent restaurant sports stylish heliotrope velvet banquettes and a gorgeous bar, but takeout works in these times. Cocktails are perennial winners (especially the Eastern Thai Crested Gimlet, with lemongrass and Thai chile). Fried chicken Mondays are fantastic, and the changing menu always features a killer charcuterie platter, several choices grilled over fragrant almond wood, and tempting pastas. Only dinner service is offered during the pandemic, but we’ll look forward to the return of lunch service for the just-right Public House lunch, with a little sandwich, soup or salad, and a small version of their signature dessert bar. Next door, the allied Provisions offers to-go coffee, baked goods and a fried chicken sandwich. Read more


House of Shah Afghan Urban Eats

1 – Afghan

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

Stylish and sleek, this order-at-the-counter spot on Woodland’s main drag offers sparkling, distinctive traditional flavors from Afghanistan, sometimes with a modern twist: spicy, crisp-edged chapli (beef patties that come as kebabs, a plate, or a burger), buttery-rich sabzi (spinach), mandu (dumplings) topped with yogurt and toothsome split peas. Don’t miss the Shah Fries, which come loaded with green chutney, hot chiles, cilantro and yogurt, or the ultra-comforting stewed chicken kabuli. House of Shah is quick-service and everything including the fluffy rice and naan is made with integrity, making this small, family-run spot a Yolo County gem. Read more


Journey to the Dumpling

2 – Chinese

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BY RANDALL BENTON Sacramento Bee file

A trip to Journey isn’t complete without an order of xiao long bao, the piping-hot handmade soup dumplings begging for a dash of black vinegar. Yet chef/co-owner Justin Yang’s ingenuity and skill goes well beyond the flagship dish, particularly on an impressive vegetarian menu featuring dumplings covered in a spinach wrap or filled with Impossible “meat.” Outside of dumplings, the steamed chicken cooked in lotus leaves is a hit, with its ginger-tinged rivers of poultry, pork and Chinese sausage running through golden sticky rice. The journey’s not in danger of ending anytime soon, either, with a midtown Sacramento location expected to open midway through 2021. Read more


Kru

3 – Japanese

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BY ANDREW SENG Sacramento Bee file

It’s been 15 years since Billy Ngo opened Kru as a 24-year-old wunderkind and at least five since it claimed the crown as Sacramento’s preeminent high-end sushi restaurant. Nigiri and sashimi mixes have replaced $120 omakase dinners during the pandemic, but Kru is still the place to go for high-end cuts of tako or maguro. The rest of Kru’s pandemic menu seems inspired by the restaurant’s surprisingly affordable happy hour and the simplicity of sister restaurants Fish Face Poke Bar and Kodaiko Ramen & Bar. Ngo’s skilled cooks have a knack for distilling ingredients and processes seldom found in Sacramento into flavorful, approachable dishes like tea-smoked duck kushiyaki or quail fried rice. Grab-and-go bento boxes with cooked, raw and vegetarian options are the newest addition. Read more


Lalo’s

1 – Mexican

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BY RANDY PENCH Sacramento Bee file

Lalo’s was best enjoyed on Sunday afternoons, when families fresh from church would pile in for towering platters of barbacoa, panza or cueritos. The pandemic has changed that scene to lines out the front and side doors, but the everyday offerings keep the south Sacramento taqueria among the region’s best. Cecilia Tinoco and Weneeslao Espindola Tinoco’s restaurant is one of the only places around to find quesadillas stuffed with huitlacoche — a black, musky corn fungus — or the strong-flavored herb epazote. The molcajete entree’s visual appeal disappears with its move from a stone bowl to a Styrofoam box, but the mix of chorizo, cactus, steak, chicken and cheese bathing in a vivacious green salsa is still worth sopping up with housemade blue and white corn tortillas. Read more


Localis

4 – New American

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BY ANDREW SENG Sacramento Bee file

Chef Chris Barnum-Dunn, who co-owns Localis with wife Jessica, found a loyal audience at his fine-dining Midtown bijou with meticulously plated prix-fixe menus, complete with drink pairings and other flourishes. Although that model might not seem to translate well to takeout, the Barnum-Dunns successfully pivoted to multicourse menus presented beautifully on sophisticated takeout plates. Menus change seasonally; December, for instance, featured a deconstructed spin on a Waldorf salad with verjus gel, blue ricotta, apples and pears, plus rosy prime rib with a precise oblong of root vegetable gratin, wild mushrooms and horseradish crème fraiche. The takeout service replicates Localis’s signature upscale experience with surprising fidelity, complete with an amuse-bouche, intermezzo, pâte de fruits and optional caviar and foie gras add-ons, plus cocktails or wine pairings. Read more


Magpie

3 – New American

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR. Sacramento Bee

Longtime Magpie loyalists may feel wistful for its old R Street location, but there’s no question that Ed Roehr and Janel Inouye’s beloved restaurant feathered its midtown nest at 16th and P well. The full bar with inventive cocktails, changing menu based on local, seasonal products, and that roast chicken to share have all made Magpie a local favorite. These days, it’s limited hours and takeout-only, with Fremont Park across the street a good picnic spot in decent weather. We’re particularly fond of the fantastic, possibly best-in-town BLT (which sports plump oven-dried tomatoes in winter) and plant-forward items like the seasonal veggie and hummus bowl with a six-minute egg. But don’t miss duck confit gnocchi or treats like the signature carrot cake sandwich cookie. Read more


Masullo

2 – Italian

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

Bobby Masullo is an unabashed pizza purist and perfectionist, to the benefit of Sacramento residents’ taste buds. Flat-crust fans can basically pick at random from Masullo’s menu — maybe the rich Eileen’s cream and bacon strikes your fancy, or the dry heat of the Triana’s chorizo and chili oil — and walk away happy without feeling overly stuffed thanks to the restaurant’s meticulously crafted dough from a years-old mother. Demand has been high since Phoenix pizza maestro Chris Bianco anointed Masullo one of the best pizzaiolos nationwide in 2012, and Bobby spent much of winter 2019 expanding to fit more seats and a semi-private event space. Life is short, as Masullo’s large windows across from Sacramento Historic City Cemetery remind customers: Don’t waste time and calories on bad pizza. Read more


Mulvaney’s B&L

4 – New American

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BY CARL COSTAS Special to The Bee

Patrick Mulvaney’s namesake restaurant has been a midtown mainstay for a decade and a half, and Mulvaney himself has risen to local eminence as one of Sacramento’s unofficial culinary ambassadors. The restaurant has grown over the years, with the next-door event space — look for the “pigasus” sign at the corner of 19th and L — a popular hub pre-COVID-19. Mulvaney’s, however, still has everything that made it a hit: the changing, seasonal menu reliant on local produce; that smoked salmon and brown bread appetizer; a lavish way with a thick pork chop; rich yet delicate housemade pastas; and plenty of idiosyncratic, charming touches like the presentation of the bill in vintage books — not to mention the warrenlike location in an historic former firehouse and a lovely brick patio. Read more


Nixtaco

2 – Mexican

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BY LEZLIE STERLING Sacramento Bee

Chef-owner Patricio Wise’s Nixtaco, focused on the cooking of northeast Mexico, was a runaway hit in its small, seemingly unlikely Roseville location, thanks to housemade tortillas, fantastic signature tacos both inventive (fried chicken, vegan mushroom) and traditional (al pastor, shrimp Mazatlan style) and a strong beer program. Nixtaco’s long lines pre-pandemic paradoxically discouraged Wise from reopening for patio dining, as he feared disappointing guests when opening at limited capacity. Instead, Nixtaco nimbly pivoted to curbside plus an in-house delivery program and expanded its offerings to include fried chicken and burgers, meal kits, special-occasion meals and even groceries. Wise says some additions, such as the popular smoked meats, are here to stay when restaurants reopen — and look out for a long-planned expansion with a house distillery in the future. Read more


OneSpeed Pizza

3 – New American and pizza

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BY XAVIER MASCAREÑAS Sacramento Bee

Ever-reliable, Rick Mahan’s casual, bike-themed East Sac neighborhood joint enters its second decade bustling with crowds there for the pizzas — which take a middle path between Neapolitan-thin and American-pillowy crust styles. Options include Rick’s Pie (potato, caramelized onions, Canadian bacon, and salsa verde) and the zippy Margherita. But it’s hardly just a pizza place: don’t miss what might be the best fries in town, served with aioli, or the mains, specials and salads. Well-conceived pastas change seasonally, but the beet and potato salad with smoked trout and the bright, crunchy, chopped salad with bacon and blue cheese are mainstays. The menu has been limited at times in 2020 (initially, OneSpeed’s pandemic pivot included take-and-bake pizza kits), as has service, but the takeout game, with carryout or pickup at a front counter, is strong. Read more


Paragary’s

3 – New American

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BY LEZLIE STERLING Sacramento Bee

Midtown has changed a lot since Paragary Restaurant Group’s flagship opened in 1983. The French/Italian-inspired bistro has adapted admirably as well, particularly after a million-dollar 2015 facelift that left it with arguably Sacramento’s most beautiful patio. Longtime executive chef Kurt Spataro’s menu nicely balances classics like the mushroom-Jarlsberg salad with seasonal brunch items and pizzas that capitalize on the region’s bounty. Some of the best items come when Paragary’s cooks depart from the general Eurocentricity, such as a harissa-spiced roast chicken with carrots, almonds and dates over saffron couscous. Read more


Pho Xe Lua

1 – Vietnamese

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

Broth — light, aromatic, and with a clear flavor of beef shining through — is the star at Pho Xe Lua, which stands out among the wealth of Little Saigon restaurants for its consistently excellent pho. Other dishes, including noodle salads (bun) with chargrilled pork, spicy lemongrass chicken, and many other soups are solid choices, but for us there’s nothing like a big bowl of pho. The pandemic has put a temporary halt to the ritual of bending over a huge bowl brought steaming to the table, but for the time being home-assembled noodle soup will do as a substitute. (Pho Xe Lua has been takeout-only throughout the pandemic.) If you can handle the caffeine hit, don’t skip a sweet, strong iced coffee for dessert. Read more


Preserve

3 – New American

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BY AUTUMN PAYNE Sacramento Bee file

True to its name, this refined-rustic Winters dining destination features local preserved goods on its menu — and in indoor-dining times, such items as fat jars of salt-preserved lemons were easy to spot around the dining room. The regular menu name-checks local goods such as Mariani almonds and Terra Firma produce in well-conceived, seasonally changing spins on classics: poutine with vegetable gravy, dandelion salad with salt-roasted beets and tangy homemade labneh, seared sturgeon with tarragon béarnaise and house-dried chorizo, plus a great craft cocktail list (example: La Tienda, a twist on a margarita made with house jalapeno jelly). Offerings became a bit more limited during COVID-19, but a contactless ordering system (including scanning a QR code) made patio dining run smoothly. Read more


Quan Nem Ninh Hoa

1 – Vietnamese

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

Amid Stockton Boulevard’s sea of pho and banh mi shops, the original Quán Nem Ninh Hòa stands out for both offering dishes less often seen in Little Saigon and their exceptional depth of flavor. There’s the bún chả cá, a yellowtail-meatball-tomato-pineapple soup that seems to deliver a new wave of flavor with each slurp, and a simple, delicious clam stir-fry called cơm hến. Quán Nem translates to “spring roll shop” (Ninh Hòa is a coastal Vietnamese town) and Stacey Nguyen’s restaurant is best known for its do-it-yourself platters with two types of pork, vermicelli, assorted vegetables and rice paper wraps. The Elk Grove location opened in 2014 with a similar menu — plus pho. Read more


Real Pie Company

2 – American

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BY RENÉE C. BYER Sacramento Bee

Real Pie Company’s highly seasonal menu relies on produce from Sacramento County and Yolo County farms stuffed in light, flaky crusts. Chef/co-owner Kira O’Donnell, a Chez Panisse alumna and founding member of Slow Food Sacramento, even solicits amateur gardeners’ crops through its Backyard Food Project (in-demand fruits this fall included figs, blood oranges and quinces) and earned a Saturday booth at the Davis Farmers Market. On our March visit, the creamy chicken pot pie, vegetable quiche and meatball hand pie — essentially a grown-up Hot Pocket — all stood out. No visit is complete without dessert, of course, and lemon meringue and raspberry rhubarb pies ended the meal on tart, nuanced notes. Read more


Sam’s Hof Brau

2 – German

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BY RANDY PENCH Sacramento Bee file

Is everything at this beloved order-in-line, old-school hof brau perfect? No, we can’t say that. Are the hand-carved, juicy prime rib and roast beef good enough to vault this onto our list anyway? Absolutely. The sandwiches are simple — fresh, soft rolls, thick-sliced meat, and no condiments, the better for you to dress it up to your own taste with horseradish or the strong mustard, or dipped in jus for the French dip. Sliced pickles are crisp and vinegary, among the best in town, and there’s a good selection of beers on tap. We miss the glass cases and cafeteria-style line, but an online ordering system for drive-through, takeout and curbside pickup works for dining restrictions. When dine-in returns, the ornately Teutonic, nostalgic décor, spruced up but retained in a recent remodel, is a bonus at this old-time delight. Read more


Sibling by Pushkin’s

2 – New American

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BY MANNY CRISOSTOMO Sacramento Bee file

Open for brunch and lunch, this restaurant offshoot of gluten-free bakery Pushkin’s stands out for its strong vegan menu, brunch bowls and tempting yet allergy-friendly baked goods — and, in dine-in times, a sunny and spacious dining room and patio. Omnivores, never fear: the food is plenty legit for without dietary restrictions. Crispy vegan spicy tacos, for instance, balance sweet potato with zingy black beans and salsa, and modern breakfast classics like avocado toast and shakshuka sit side by side on the menu with diner standards like a two-egg breakfast and a Reuben. Don’t miss the housemade granola, which is reminiscent of a great oatmeal cookie and might be the best in town. Read more


South

2 – Southern

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR. Sacramento Bee

The URL (weheartfriedchicken.com) doesn’t quite say it all. While Petey’s Fried Chicken (inspired by owner N’Gina Guyton’s mother’s recipe) is the unquestioned star of the show and South has the best fried chicken sandwich in town — yeah, we said it — a deep roster of classics with a California twist separates it from a competitive bird-brining field. Succulent, spicy jumbo shrimp with grits honor Guyton’s New Orleans roots, and a wafer-stuffed banana pudding makes for a summery, if filling, coda to a barbecue tray. With Guyton stepping back last year to start a mental health nonprofit and North Sacramento farm, look for fresh produce to take on a greater role at the restaurant in years to come. Read more


Thai Farm House

1 – Thai

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR. Sacramento Bee

Pocket-sized and adorable, Thai Farm House takes a fresh, clean-flavored approach to Thai cuisine. Owners Brad and Ice Promeska (he’s a local boy, she’s originally from northern Thailand) serve such dishes as rich, gently spiced kao soi (noodles in curry), avocado curry and lots of vegetable-rich stir-fries with a choice of meats, and grilled meats such as “crying tiger” (tender beef). Diners will also find all the familiar classics, most prepared with a lighter hand with oil and sugar than many American Thai restaurants offer: hot and sour soups like tom yum, an extra-moist rendition of chicken satay, pad thai, drunken noodles, larb, pad see u and much more. There’s a solid takeout system in place during these no-dine-in pandemic days. Read more


The Kitchen

4 – New American

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BY AUTUMN PAYNE Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento’s toughest reservation and highest prix-fixe bill (one person costs $165, plus tax and 22 percent gratuity) is, as it’s often said, an experience. The lone dinner service each night spans roughly 3 1/2 hours as chef/emcee Kelly McCown pivots between organizing his staff and cracking jokes, often at select customers’ expense. Pan-roasted scallops with yellow foot chanterelles, wild rice congee, charred leeks and Japanese artichokes on a recent menu were worth exercising The Kitchen’s famous rule that seconds of any course can be had upon request. An “intermission,” where customers roamed the back nibbling on oysters, empanadas, fried olives and much more, has sadly been tabled during the pandemic, though the menu was stretched to 10 courses when last open. Read more


The Waterboy

4 – New American

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR. Sacramento Bee

Rick Mahan’s midtown standby turns 25 this year, and there’s a good reason it’s stood the test of time: the light-filled, atrium-like dining room, the reliably professional service, the excellent bar, and above all the refined but never pretentious food. Sweetbreads, a changing seafood stew, and a classic, excellent burger are evergreen draws on the rotating, locally sourced menu. In winter, don’t miss the lavish cassoulet with duck confit and much more, but balance it with the beautifully sharp salads. During the pandemic, the kitchen added well-thought-out multicourse family-style meals for two, a nice way to make takeout night special. Read more


Wally’s Cafe

2 – Lebanese

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BY RENÉE C. BYER Sacramento Bee

Lots of restaurants claim to be homey; Wally’s feels like you’re a kid crashing a close friend’s Wednesday night dinner. It’s no wonder Walid “Wally” Matar’s original Emeryville location has long been a favorite of Pixar employees, who gifted the owner a “WALL-E” poster after the movie’s release. Matar’s gift for hospitality extends to the Lebanese restaurant’s 2- and 3-year-old Rocklin locations, where every meal starts with a complimentary bowl of lentil soup and ends with a piece of baklava, even during the age of takeout. Two starters aren’t excessive when the second is Wally’s labne yogurt dip, served with a bright array of pickled vegetables and thin pita. One could stick with the tart-sweet-savory pomegranate molasses chicken as a main course and emerge basking in its complexities each time, though the chicken gyro is a worthy backup. Read more


Yang’s Noodle

1 – Chinese

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BY JASON PIERCE Sacramento Bee

Cantonese restaurants are plentiful throughout the region; the best Taiwanese, northern Chinese and Sichuan flavors hide behind the bars on Yang’s windows. Knowledge of Jack Siu’s restaurant—once one of south Sacramento’s best-kept secrets—seems to have become something of a measuring stick for aspiring foodies. The famous beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese specialty, is a must-order for any first-timer, but the cumin lamb roll wrapped in scallion pancake (often listed as a special) might have dethroned it as Yang’s best. Heavy hitters like the peppercorn-packed mapo tofu and handmade dan dan noodles pack a punch — a haymaker, really — while an unreasonably umami-rich plate of Napa cabbage with dried shrimp highlight the kitchen’s softer touch. Read more


YD Tofu House

2 – Korean

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BY DANIEL KIM Sacramento Bee

The selection of banchan (tiny, gratis bowls of appetizer nibbles, including several types of kim chee) is unrivalled at this Korean dining destination, which has two locations: one on south Freeport Boulevard and one in the heart of the Korean-restaurant-heavy stretch of Folsom Boulevard. At both, the wide-ranging menu offers many delights: diners will find comforting platters of galbi (short ribs) and bulgogi (marinated thin-sliced beef), bubbling, spicy soon dubu (tofu soup) and other soups and stews, sizzling bibimbap, and clear, slippery japchae (rice noodles). Don’t miss the lacy-edged seafood pancake, either.


Yue Huang

2 – Chinese

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BY PAUL KITAGAKI Sacramento Bee

Of all the things we’ve missed during the pandemic, dim sum — which relies on a busy dining room — has to be close to the top of the list, and Natomas’s Yue Huang is one of the best in town at dumplings, bao and other delights rolled out on carts. For now, Yue Huang is doing a good takeout service with online ordering of not just dim sum (which, truth be told, doesn’t always travel well), but also refined stir-fries and clay pots, noodle dishes with the properly smoky wok hei note, and appetizers such as chicken in lettuce cups. Higher-end items like abalone are also a focus here. Just one piece of pandemic dining advice: you might want to eat more delicate items, like translucent-wrapped shrimp and chive dumplings, in your car before you drive home. We know it’s not ideal, but car dim sum is better than no dim sum. Read more


Yui Marlu

2 – Japanese

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BY LEZLIE STERLING Sacramento Bee

Yui Marlu delivers some of the region’s preeminent sushi in a snug, unpretentious suburban shopping center unit — ideal for a pre-COVID-19 date night, but limited to takeout during the pandemic. Fresh, flavorful seafood abounds in Chef Masa’s artful chirashi cuts and simple maki. But Yui Marlu’s menu runs long, and customers would do well to explore cooked options like takoyaki (gooey octopus dumplings), fall-apart hamachi kama and a sort of hot eggplant custard still wrapped in its skin. Location and style left this 11-year-old dinner house particularly vulnerable to the shelter-in-place order’s economic destruction, so Masa and his wife, hostess Kazumi Akamine, added lunch service.