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For years, I’ve passed by what I’ll call “takeout row” in Old Sacramento—those little cafes lined up side by side at Front Street’s Public Market. But when a recent transplant asked me to recommend an Old Sac restaurant offering good food on a budget, I finally broke down and sampled the wares. All I can say is this: Go. Most items are under $10, and you may be blown away by how delicious some of it is. Here are my winners.
1st Place (tie): Gourmet smoked fish—salmon, sturgeon, ahi tuna, prawns and such—is the specialty at OLD TOWN SMOKEHOUSE (formerly Laszlo’s). The menu of prepared foods is limited to a few sandwiches and some salmon dip. I opted for the smoked salmon sandwich, which the owner promised would be “the best sandwich you’ve ever tasted.” It came close. The salmon was incredible— a large, thick slice with a smoky-sweet barbecue flavor—and it was served on a very fresh French roll with cream cheese, capers, red onion, tomato and peperoncini. The Boyfriend said he’d make a special trip to Old Sac just for this sandwich.
1st Place (tie): At INDO CAFE—a tidy, friendly place that calls itself Sacramento’s only Indonesian restaurant— I found a new favorite dish: Indonesian fried rice. Nasi goreng, where have you been all my life? Delicately seasoned with a tantalizing mix of mild spices and a subtle sweetness, the rice was studded with bits of celery, onion, carrot and tender chunks of chicken. The biggest surprise: the fried egg prettily splattered across the top.
2nd Place: RAILROAD FISH & CHIPS offers a surprising array of fried fish— everything from clam strips to oysters and catfish—plus seafood tacos, clam chowder, and (oddly, or perhaps not so oddly) burgers and hot dogs. I tried the basic fish and chips. The fish was tender and flaky; the fries were, unfortunately, a bit limp. But the quantity of food—three large pieces of fish—made it a pretty good deal.
3rd Place: At HAPPY PITA CAFE, which offers such traditional Mediterranean/ Greek fare as gyros, shish kebab, spanakopita and Greek salad, I tried a simple hummus sandwich. The pita was fat and fluffy, and fresh parsley added some needed flavor, as did the romaine and tomato, but the hummus itself was rather bland. Still, the price was right, so I’ll call it a bargain.