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MOMO'S MEAT MARKET
If you're driving down Broadway in Tahoe Park and see smoke billowing from a black barbecue in a strip mall parking lot, you're probably passing MoMo's Meat Market. Owner Glenn Miller cooks his succulent tri tip, pork ribs and chicken right in front of the shop, and customers come in and buy it as fast as he makes it. I've arrived on several occasions when Miller and his wife, Sharon, have sold out of most of their product by mid-afternoon. (My advice: Call first to make sure they still have what you want.) They sell the meats individually or in combo plates, with Sharon's tangy-sweet sauce and a selection of sides. (Try the silky braised greens.) They also offer seafood chowder and a handful of sandwiches. If you're curious about a dish, ask for a sample: The Millers are happy to let you try before you buy. This no-frills establishment is also a regular meat market, and the Millers can order specialty meats (like goat, venison and rabbit) for you by request. Note: There's no seating at MoMo's—it's takeout only.
Gotta have it: The spicy, smoky hot links
5776 BROADWAY, SACRAMENTO; (916) 452-0202
Located in a snug, beautifully renovated 1908 bungalow, Boulevard Bistro offers up the finest food in Elk Grove. Chef/owner Bret Bohlmann is a passionate supporter of local farmers and purveyors, and his innovative cuisine sings with freshness and seasonality. This is a real family affair: While Bohlmann cooks in the back, his wife Debora runs the front of the house, greeting and seating diners and pouring wine. The soups and small plates are great, especially the sturdy crab cakes served with sesame seed-sweet chili vinaigrette. And sweetbreads—in an aromatic red wine thyme sauce punctuated with chunks of shiitake mushroom—are the best I've had in the region. I also like the wine list, a proud showcase of local wines from Amador and El Dorado counties, Clarksburg and Elk Grove.
Gotta have it: Iceberg wedge salad with buttermilk dressing, blue cheese crumbles and pepper-cured bacon
8941 ELK GROVE BLVD., ELK GROVE; (916) 685-2220; FRONTIERNET.NET/~BOULEVARDBISTRO
It's easy to assume that all of our best restaurants are in urban areas, but that's not the case: Make the trip to marvelous little Restaurant Taste in Plymouth and you'll be lavishly rewarded. It's the perfect place to cap off a day of wine tasting in Amador County. This nationally recognized restaurant has been praised in The New York Times and Wine Spectator magazine, which has given it an award of excellence for its wine list for the past three years. The delectable fare is beautifully presented, and the atmosphere is so congenial that you feel as though you're dining at a friend's home. A sumptuous rib-eye Delmonico steak comes with chunky artichoke and kalamata olive tapenade, and the phyllo-wrapped mushroom "cigars" make a whimsical starter. Taste's staff is experienced and attentive, and the wine and beer selections are first rate.
Gotta have it: Grilled tombo tuna with fried purple sticky rice and avocado cream
9402 MAIN ST., PLYMOUTH; (209) 245-3463; RESTAURANT TASTE.COM
Located in Arden Town Center, Plan B brings a touch of French chic to the Arden Park neighborhood. It's sleek and beautifully appointed, with dark wood paneling, rough brick walls and elegant white drapes. Here, it's easy to feel as though you're sitting in a glamorous cave. If you're a nibbler, you'll find great satisfaction in the restaurant's "stix" (mini-skewers of prawn, rib-eye steak and salmon) and delicate tartlets. (The roasted tomato and chèvre tartlet is scrumptious.) Mussels are offered six ways, and salads are a fresh, flavorful pleasure. The succulent Plan B burger, topped with wild mushrooms, ham and béarnaise sauce, is sophisticated enough to pair with a sturdy Cabernet Sauvignon.
Gotta have it: Mussels
555 LA SIERRA DRIVE, SACRAMENTO; (916) 483-3000; PLANBRESTAURANT.COM
Tiny Tucos serves the feistiest, most creative fare in Davis. The globally inspired menu never fails to surprise me. Where else in this busy university town can you find chilled spring cherry gazpacho, roasted Monterey sardine salad and lamb meatballs with Cuban mojo sauce, all from the same kitchen? The restaurant also offers a fabulous cheese selection (one entire page of the menu is devoted to an international lineup) and eclectic wine flights. Located on a quiet street near the train station, Tucos has limited indoor seating, but there's a nice dining space outside; arrive early for a good table. Jaunty music jazzes up the atmosphere, and well-trained servers will share in your excitement over the vibrant cuisine.
Gotta have it: Niçoise salad with blackolive dressing
130 G ST., DAVIS; (530) 757-6600
Carpe Vino may just be my favorite restaurant in the region. Its appealing historic location, intimate, artsy ambiance and stellar food make it a real dining treasure. It started out as a wine shop, but over the years it has blossomed into a restaurant. This is Placer County cuisine at its most inspiring and imaginative. Young chef Eric Alexander has built a solid reputation for himself with fiercely seasonal, locally focused fare. Try one of the excellent pasta dishes or the celestial foie gras and chicken liver mousse at a table in the narrow, brick-walled dining room. Or grab a seat at the shiny wood bar for a glass of fine wine and a bowl of fresh popcorn, drizzled with melted black truffle butter. There's also a romantic, candlelit private room behind the restaurant called the wine cave.
Gotta have it: Red-wine-braised Wagyu beef cheek with silky potato purée and shaved horseradish
1568 LINCOLN WAY, AUBURN; (530) 823-0320; CARPE VINOAUBURN.COM
BAMIYAN AFGHAN RESTAURANT
Serving radiantly delicious Afghani cuisine, Bamiyan Afghan Restaurant is a luxurious vacation destination for the senses. Decorated with beautiful woven rugs and enlivened with exotic background music, the restaurant offers a handful of low tables that require diners to sit on the floor instead of a chair. Start the meal with scorchingly hot green tea, which is slightly sweet and delicately flavored with cardamom. Be sure to try an appetizer or two. I adore the mantoo: steamed dumplings festooned with yellow split peas and yogurt-garlic-mint sauce. The shish kebabs are tantalizing. Other enticing dishes include mahie biryan (crispy fried trout) and fragrant morg chalow (tender chicken cooked with garlic and tomatoes and served with fragrant spinach rice).
Gotta have it: Leg of lamb shish kebab and halwaiy kadu, an addictive, sweet-savory pumpkin purée
7622 GREENBACK LANE, CITRUS HEIGHTS; (916) 725- 6009; AFGHANCUISINE.COM
ELLA DINING ROOM & BAR
The 2007 opening of Ella Dining Room & Bar introduced some serious swank to the downtown dining landscape. Created by a European design firm, the space juxtaposes weathered old Hungarian window shutters with contemporary lighting and diaphanous draperies. Distinctive and elegant, it's a magnet for the city's politicos and well-heeled foodies, who come in droves for chef Kelly McCown's enlightened, seasonally focused dishes and the bar's artisan-style cocktails. I love the casual lounge, where you can sit at a high table and watch the action. Ella has an appealing menu of small plates and selections from the cold seafood bar (perfect cocktail fare). The beautifully composed entrées are guaranteed to impress. Ella also offers an impressive cheese menu and wine list.
Gotta have it: Basil pesto ravioli with pine nuts, farm egg yolk and tiny greens
1131 K ST., SACRAMENTO; (916) 443-3772; ELLADINING ROOMANDBAR.COM
Friendly little Ficelle dishes up the most irresistible small plates in the region. The cramped dining room has a limited number of tables, and you have to order at the counter and gather your own silverware and plates. But there's an exciting array of tapas, many of which change daily. On a recent visit, I gobbled up gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic and pepper flakes) and tender chicken Provençal, braised in wine with tomatoes, garlic and niçoise olives. The food is honest, lusty and satisfying. On warm evenings, sit outside on the magical patio, dominated by a big oak tree illuminated with fairy lights. Note: The restaurant fills up fast and doesn't take reservations, so get there early.
Gotta have it: Plato Combinado (antipasto plate) with roasted sweet peppers, salami, marinated vegetables, several cheeses and grilled crostini
5C E. MAIN ST., WINTERS; (530) 795-9593; FICELLE-RESTAURANT.COM