2008 Diners’ Choice Awards


Our readers have spoken. They’ve told us their favorite places to linger over an elegant dinner and where to drop in for a quick, casual bite. They’ve let us know were they find the most delectable ethnic cuisines and which restaurants are tops in different parts of our region. Here are this year’s dining award winners as voted by Sacramento magazine subscribers and sacmag.com viewers—along with some wonderfully satisfying and even whimsical dishes from area restaurants as selected by our editors. 

best of the best (money no object)
1. Biba
2. The Firehouse
3. The Kitchen
Runners-up: Chops, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris

best of the best (moderate prices)
1. Paesano’s
2. The Waterboy
3. Ella and Paul Martin’s, American Bistro (tie)
Runners-up: Cafe Vinoteca, Cattlemens, Crush 29

best of the best (inexpensive)
1. Jack’s Urban Eats
2. Old Spaghetti Factory
3. Cafe Bernardo
Runners-up: Dos Coyotes, Paesano’s


best meal on a paper plate
barbecued ribs, old soul at the weatherstone

On Friday nights (weather permitting), chef Jason Azevedo fires up the smoker on Weatherstone’s patio to make these Memphis-style pork ribs. Before cooking, he rubs the meat (sourced from local farmer John Bledsoe) with a secret spice mixture that includes smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, then mops them at the end with tamarind-espresso sauce. (Old Soul is a coffee company, after all.) 812 21st St., Sacramento; (916) 443-6340; oldsoulco.com

1. Tapa the World
2. T.G.I. Friday’s
3. Fats Asia Bistro and P.F. Chang’s (tie)
Runners-up: BJ’s, Elephant Bar

1. Freeport Bakery
2. Ettore’s
3. Panera Bread
Runners-up: Cake Castle Bakery, Karen’s Bakery, La Bou

1. Texas West Bar-B-Que
2. Back Forty Texas BBQ
3. Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
Runners-up: Jamie’s, JR’s Texas Bar-B-Que, Sandra Dee’s

bar dining
1. The Firehouse
2. Chops
3. Crush 29
Runners-up: Bandera, Scott’s Seafood

biggest portions
1. Claim Jumper
2. The Cheesecake Factory
3. Buca di Beppo and Cattlemens (tie)
Runners-up: BJ’s, Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

bread at a restaurant
1. Il Fornaio
2. Romano’s Macaroni Grill
3. Il Forno Classico
Runner-up: Old Spaghetti Factory

1. Tower Cafe
2. Cornerstone
3. Cafe Bernardo
Runners-up: Crepeville, Fox & Goose, IHOP, Mimi’s Cafe

brew pub
1. Sacramento Brewing Company
2. BJ’s
3. Brew It Up!
Runners-up: Hoppy Brewing Company, Pyramid Alehouse, River City Brewing Company

1. In-N-Out Burger
2. Squeeze Inn
3. The Habit Burger Grill
Runner-up: Red Robin

burger, non-fast-food
1. Red Robin
2. Squeeze Inn
3. Cattlemens
Runners-up: The Habit Burger Grill, Islands

1. Chipotle
2. Dos Coyotes
3. Adalberto’s
Runners-up: Ernesto’s, Jimboy’s Tacos, Vallejo’s


best stogie
mushroom cigars, taste
Sometimes, a cigar is not a cigar. Take chef Mark Berkner’s crispy phyllo tubes, filled with sautéed porcini, crimini and shiitake mushrooms. Served with porcini cream sauce and a drizzle of white truffle oil, they’re smokin’. 9402 Main St., Plymouth; (209) 245-3463; restauranttaste.com

caesar salad
1. Jack’s Urban Eats
2. The Firehouse
3. La Bou
Runners-up: California Cafe, Chops, Paragary’s Bar and Oven, Red Lobster

1. Classique Catering
2. Back Forty Texas BBQ
3. Selland’s Market-Cafe
Runners-up: Chops, David Berkley, Ettore’s

chain restaurant
1. P.F. Chang’s
2. Chili’s
3. Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Runners-up: Applebee’s, BJ’s, Cattlemans, The Cheesecake Factory

1. Biba Caggiano (Biba) and Kurt Spataro (Spataro) (tie)
2. Rick Mahan (The Waterboy)
3. Deneb Williams (The Firehouse)
Runner-up: Randall Selland (Ella/The Kitchen)

chips and salsa
1. Chevys
2. Ernesto’s
3. Caballo Blanco
Runners-up: Centro Cocina Mexicana, Garcia’s, Zócalo

1. Starbucks
2. Peet’s Coffee & Tea
3. It’s a Grind
Runners-up: Bella Bru, Chicory Coffee & Tea, Temple Fine Coffee & Tea

coffeehouse, locally owned
1. Bella Bru
2. The Naked Lounge
3. Chicory Coffee & Tea
Runners-up: It’s a Grind, Java City, La Bou

cooking school
1. American River College (Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management)
2. Institute of Technology (Culinary Arts)
3. Whole Foods Market
Runner-up: Kitchen Academy


best double-fisted burger
bacon jalapeño cheeseburger, burgers & brew
It takes two hands to handle this whopper. It’s a full half-pound of Niman Ranch ground beef, topped with spicy pepper Jack cheese and jalapeño mayonnaise and served on a freshly baked roll from Davis’ own Village Bakery. 403 Third St., Davis; (530) 750-3600

1. Cupcake Craving
2. Freeport Bakery
3. Babycakes Bakery
Runners-up: Ettore’s, Raley’s/Bel Air, Safeway

1. David Berkley
2. Corti Brothers
3. Dominick’s Italian Market & Deli
Runners-up: The Beach Hut Deli, Raley’s/Bel Air

1. Rick’s Dessert Diner
2. Ettore’s
3. The Firehouse
Runners-up: The Cheesecake Factory, Freeport Bakery, Tower Cafe

dining and dancing spot
1. The Park Ultra Lounge at Mason’s
2. Harlow’s


best magic trick
panzanella, tulí bistro
Chef Adam Pechal turns day-old sourdough into a phenomenal Tuscan bread salad. He combines hand-torn chunks of bread with chopped heirloom tomatoes so the bread soaks up the tomato juices, then adds roasted corn, red peppers and a sprightly sherry vinaigrette. It’s summer in a salad. 2031 S St., Sacramento; (916) 451-8854; tulibistro.com

dining entertainment
1. Garbeau’s
2. The Kitchen
3. Delta King
Runners-up: Joe’s Crab Shack, Marrakech

dining secret
1. Moxie
2. Hangar 17
3. Boulevard Bistro
Runners-up: Chops, 4th Street Grille

1. Squeeze Inn
2. Jamie’s
3. The Limelight
Runners-up: Cornerstone, Pine Cove Tavern, Zebra Club, Zelda’s

1. Frank Fat’s
2. P.F. Chang’s
3. The Mandarin
Runners-up: Fat’s Asia Bistro, Fortune House

chinese, hole in the wall
1. Wonderful
2. Far East Cafe
3. Happy Garden
Runners-up: Chang Brothers, Mayflower

1. La Bohème and La Provence (tie)
2. Cafe Rolle
3. Ella
Runners-up: Bidwell Street Bistro, Danielle’s Creperie & Gallery, Le Bilig

1. St. Pauli Inn
2. Plaza Hof Brau
3. Heart of Europe


best use of a martini glass
ceviche, azul mexican food & tequila bar
You’ll be shaken if not stirred by this seafood cocktail. Chunks of red snapper and shrimp are “cooked” overnight in lime juice, then tossed with chopped tomato, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro. It’s served straight up in a martini glass with sliced avocado and housemade tostadas. MARRS Building, 1050 20th St., Suite 140, Sacramento; (916) 447-4040

1. Opa! Opa!
2. Greek Village Inn
3. Daphne’s Greek Cafe
Runners-up: Kabob House, Symposium

1. Gaylord India Cuisine
2. Bombay Bistro
3. Kathmandu Kitchen
Runners-up: Kaveri Madras Cuisine, Mehran, Sher-E-Punjab

1. Biba
2. Il Fornaio
3. Cafe Vinoteca
Runners-up: Michaelangelo’s, Olive Garden, Romano’s Macaroni Grill

italian, family-style
1. Buca di Beppo
2. Español
3. Old Spaghetti Factory
Runners-up: Olive Garden, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Visconti’s

1. Mikuni
2. Kru
3. Hana Tsubaki
Runners-up: Benihana, Kamon, Taiko Sushi


best chocolate delivery system
european sipping chocolate, ginger elizabeth chocolates
Hard-core chocoholics can get their fix from this hot drink, made with whole milk and bittersweet chocolate (72 percent cacao!) and topped with housemade vanilla marshmallows. The chocolate is so intense, it’s practically like mainlining it.
1801 L St., Suite 60, Sacramento; (916) 706-1738; gingerelizabeth.com

1. Ernesto’s
2. Chevys
3. Zócalo
Runners-up: Carmelita’s, El Novillero, Tres Hermanas, Vallejo’s

mexican, hole in the wall
1. Tres Hermanas
2. Vallejo’s
3. Jimboy’s Tacos
Runners-up: Adalberto’s, 524, La Fiesta Tacqueria, La Rosa Blanca, Sol Azteca

1. Mikuni
2. Kru and Sushi Cafe (tie)
3. Taro’s by Mikuni
Runners-up: Nishiki Sushi, Taiko Sushi

1. Thai Basil
2. Lemon Grass
3. Gaesorn Thai
Runner-up: Taste of Thai

1. Lemon Grass
2. Bobo Cafe
3. Andy Nguyen
Runner-up: Hoa Viet


best reason to feel virtuous
meek’s california fruit salad, putah creek cafe
It doesn’t get more healthful than this: a plate of fresh, seasonal fruit topped with toasted walnuts and raisins, drizzled with raspberry yogurt dressing and served with whole-grain raisin toast. 1 Main St., Winters; (530) 795-2682; buckhornsteakhouse.com

family restaurant
1. Old Spaghetti Factory
2. Brookfields
3. Buca di Beppo
Runners-up: Cattlemens, Mimi’s Cafe, Red Robin

fish market
1. Fins
2. Taylor’s Market
3. Scott’s Seafood
Runners-up: Corti Brothers, Nugget Markets, Raley’s/Bel Air, Whole Foods Market

french toast
1. Tower Cafe
3. Mimi’s Cafe
Runners-up: Brookfields, Cafe Bernardo, Crepeville

fried chicken
1. KFC
2. Popeyes
3. Sandra Dee’s


best caesar with a twist
amelia’s salad with anchovy crouton, poached egg, l wine lounge & urban kitchen
Chef Ame Harrington gives her Caesar salad a south-of-the-border kick, tossing baby red romaine with chopped avocado, shallots, cilantro and a limey dressing. She adds two crostini rubbed with anchovy-garlic butter and tops it all off with a perfectly poached egg. 1801 L St., Suite 50, Sacramento; (916) 443-6970; lwinelounge.com

garlic fix
1. Granito’s
2. Jack’s Urban Eats
3. Raley Field
Runners-up: Elk Grove Brewery, Olive Garden

gourmet cookies
1. Cookie Connection
2. Mrs. Fields
3. Ettore’s
Runners-up: Freeport Bakery, Kelli’s Gourmet Cookies, Raley’s/Bel Air

gourmet takeout
1. Selland’s Market-Cafe
2. David Berkley
3. Taylor’s Market
Runners-up: Nugget Markets, P.F. Chang’s

happy hour
1. Chops
2. The Firehouse
3. Garcia’s
Runners-up: Bandera, Spataro, T.G.I. Friday’s


best garnish
roadhouse onions, buckhorn grill
At Buckhorn, beef is the star, but these thin, crispy, caramelized frizzles of onion adorning the tri-tip sandwich steal the show. 1801 L St., Suite 10, Sacramento; (916) 446-3757; buckhornsteakhouse.com

health-conscious menu
1. Fresh Choice
2. UFood Grill
3. Sunflower Natural Foods Drive-In
Runners-up: Jack’s Urban Eats, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Whole Foods Market

hot dogs
1. Costco
2. Wiener Works
3. Parker’s, Wienerschnitzel and The Wienery (tie)
Runner-up: Raley Field

hotel restaurant
1. Dawson’s (Hyatt Regency)
2. Chanterelle (The Sterling Hotel)
3. Scott’s Seafood (Le Rivage Hotel)
Runners-up: Basil’s by the Lake (Radisson), Tower Bridge Bistro (Embassy Suites), Zinfandel Grille (Rocklin Park Hotel)

ice cream parlor
1. Leatherby’s
2. Vic’s
3. Cold Stone Creamery
Runners-up: Baskin-Robbins, Burr’s Fountain, Gunther’s


best golden oldie
soft serve dipped cone, suzie burger
This sweet treat—soft-serve vanilla ice cream dipped in melted chocolate and served on a cone—is sure to bring back childhood memories. Just don’t eat it too fast: You might get brain freeze. 2820 P St., Sacramento; (916) 455-3500; suzieburger.com

late-night dining
1. Ink
2. Tapa the World
3. Bistro 33 Midtown
Runners-up: Denny’s, Taco Bell

lunch, budget
1. Jack’s Urban Eats and La Bou (tie)
2. Paesano’s
3. Taco Bell

lunch, business
1. The Firehouse
2. Esquire Grill
3. Chops
Runner-up: Lucca


best grown-up take on a childhood classic
lobster corn dogs, g.v. hurley’s
Chef David Hill puts a sophisticated spin on the classic corn dog, dipping chunks of luscious Maine lobster tail in cornmeal batter, deep-frying them and serving them with kicky chipotle ketchup. 2718 J St., Sacramento; (916) 706-2410; gvhurleys.com

lunch, ladies’
1. The Firehouse
2. Danielle’s Creperie & Gallery
3. Chops
Runners-up: Crush 29, La Provence

neighborhood restaurant
1. Riverside Clubhouse
2. Applebee’s and Cafe Vinoteca (tie)
3. 33rd Street Bistro
Runner-up: Tower Cafe

new restaurant
1. Paul Martin’s American Bistro
2. Ella
3. Tulí Bistro
Runners-up: Crush 29, Roxy, Scott’s Seafood (on the river)

new downtown/midtown restaurant
1. Ella
2. Tulí Bistro
3. G.V. Hurley’s
Runners-up: Buckhorn Grill, Chicago Fire, McCormick & Schmick’s


best reason to get out of bed before noon
olallieberry french toast, south pine cafe
Goldilocks would love this breakfast dish of French toast topped with olallieberries sautéed in honey: Not too sweet and not too tart, it’s just right. 660 Auburn Folsom Road, Auburn; (530) 745-0262; southpinecafe.com

old favorite
1. The Firehouse
2. Slocum House
3. 4th Street Grille
Runners-up: Biba, Old Spaghetti Factory, Paragary’s Bar and Oven

onion rings
1. Red Robin
2. Outback
3. Willie’s
Runners-up: Cattlemens, Chili’s

outdoor dining
1. The Firehouse
2. Slocum House
3. Rio City Cafe
Runners-up: Chevys, Paragary’s Bar and Oven

pasta selection
1. Romano’s Macaroni Grill
2. Old Spaghetti Factory
3. Il Fornaio
Runners-up: Biba, Buca di Beppo, Olive Garden

1. Round Table
2. Chicago Fire
3. Steve’s
Runners-up: California Pizza Kitchen, Giovanni’s, Mountain Mike’s, Roma’s, Zelda’s

pizza, non-pizzeria
1. BJ’s
2. Paragary’s Bar and Oven
3. Chicago Fire
Runners-up: Paesano’s, Papa Murphy’s, Zinfandel Grille

restaurant in a mall
1. California Cafe
2. California Pizza Kitchen
3. Il Fornaio
Runners-up: Pluto’s, River City Brewing Company


best food on the fly
chicken salad rolls, lemon grass asian grill noodle bar at the airport
Next time you’re jetting out of town, stop off at Mai Pham’s newest outpost and pick up these nifty Vietnamese salad rolls. Grilled chicken, bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, shredded carrots and cucumber are neatly rolled up in a rice-paper wrapper and served in a bento box with hoisin peanut dipping sauce and a side order of Asian noodle salad—perfect for eating on the plane. Beats a bag of peanuts, doesn’t it? Terminal A, Sacramento International Airport

restaurant to take mom
1. The Firehouse
2. Slocum House
3. Mimi’s Cafe
Runners-up: Biba, Ella, Scott’s Seafood

restaurant to take out-of-towners
1. The Firehouse
2. Rio City Cafe
3. Biba
Runners-up: Ella, Slocum House

river dining
1. Rio City Cafe
2. Scott’s Seafood
3. Chevys
Runners-up: Delta King (Pilothouse), Joe’s Crab Shack, The Virgin Sturgeon

1. Slocum House
2. The Firehouse
3. Chops
Runners-up: Ella, The Melting Pot, Ruth’s Chris


best way to feel your oats
joe bickies nutritious nuggets, luigi’s slice
These hearty cookies only taste decadent—they’re actually quite nourishing. Baker Amy Alfaro makes them with healthy amounts of flaxseed, wheat germ and rolled oats—not to mention chocolate chips and Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. MARSS Building, 1050 20th St., Suite 150, Sacramento;  (916) 447-1255; joebickies.com

sandwich shop
1. Mr. Pickles
2. Togo’s
3. Subway
Runners-up: The Beach Hut Deli, Dad’s, La Bou, Quiznos

1. Scott’s Seafood
2. McCormick & Schmick’s
3. Fins
Runners-up: Chops, The Firehouse, Red Lobster

1. The Firehouse
2. Biba
3. Morton’s
Runners-up: The Kitchen, The Waterboy

special occasion restaurant
1. The Firehouse
2. Biba
3. Slocum House
Runners-up: Chops, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris

sports bar
1. Mandango’s
2. Hangar 17
3. BJ’s
Runners-up: Center Court With C-Webb, Mark & Monica’s, Players


best thing since sliced bread
baguette sandwich, le petit paris
No plans to fly to Paris this summer? Pop into this midtown boutique/coffee bar and grab a traditional French sandwich. Owner Tassina Placencia slices a baguette in half, anoints the bread with mustard vinaigrette, layers it with simple, fresh ingredients (tomato, basil and mozzarella or prosciutto and brie) and wraps it up, Parisian-style, in white butcher paper. Très chic. 1221 19th St., Sacramento; (916) 446-3639; lepetitparis.us            

1. Ruth’s Chris
2. Morton’s
3. Chops
Runners-up: Carvers, Cattlemens, Outback

sunday brunch
1. Tower Cafe
2. Hyatt Regency (Vines Cafe)
3. Slocum House
Runners-up: Boulevard Bistro, Delta King (Pilothouse)

1. Andy Nguyen (Broadway)
2. Fresh Choice
3. Sunflower Natural Foods Drive-In
Runner-up: UFood Grill

1. Rio City Cafe
2. Scott’s Seafood (on the river)
3. Delta King (Pilothouse)

wine bar
1. 58 Degrees & Holding Co.
2. L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen
3. Crush 29
Runners-up: Capitol Cellars, Enotria, 55 Degrees, Wine Konnection

wine list
1. The Firehouse
2. Crush 29
3. Enotria
Runner-up: Ella 


best upscale comfort food
macaroni & cheese with brioche bread crumbs, hawks
If you’re used to getting mac ’n’ cheese from a blue-and-yellow box, this dish will come as a revelation. Chef Molly Hawks bakes elbow macaroni in a sauce made with four cheeses (Morbier, Piave Vecchio, fontina and white cheddar), white wine and a hint of truffle oil, then tops it all off with buttery brioche bread crumbs. 5530 Douglas Blvd., Granite Bay; (916) 791-6200; hawksrestaurant.com    

1. Awful Annie’s
2. Latitudes
3. Carpe Vino
Runner-up: Ikedas

1. Bistro 33 and Seasons (tie)
2. Sudwerk
3. Mustard Seed
Runners-up: Little Prague Bohemian Restaurant, Sofia’s Thai Kitchen

el dorado hills
1. Masque
2. Bistro 33
3. Cafe Campanile
Runner-up: Wine Konnection

elk grove
1. Boulevard Bistro
2. Paesano’s
3. Silva’s Sheldon Inn
Runners-up: Elk Grove Brewery, Mikuni, Palermo, Romano’s Macaroni Grill

1. Bidwell Street Bistro
2. Fat’s Asia Bistro
3. Scott’s Seafood
Runners-up: Chicago Fire, Zinfandel Grille

1. Wine & Roses

1. BJ’s
2. Bella Bru
3. Center Court With C-Webb
Runner-up: Malabar

1. Sequoia
2. Z Pie
3. Zachary Jacques

roseville/granite bay
1. Crush 29
2. La Provence
3. Hawks
Runners-up: Carvers, Cattlemens, Paul Martin’s American Bistro, P.F. Chang’s

west sacramento
1. Club Pheasant
2. Vince’s
3. Emma’s Taco House
Runners-up: Ikea, La Bou

1. Morrison’s Upstairs
2. Ludy’s Main Street BBQ
3. Tazzina Bistro
Runner-up: Ruby Tuesday