Best of Sacramento 2009


It’s an annual tradition: the Best of Sacramento, celebrating the best in the region, our editors hand-chose 40 local “Bests” they think you should know about. 


Food & Drink

Best Wurst: Morants Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen
We first gave this award to Morants in 1994. But 15 years haven’t changed one thing: Morants sausages are still wonderful. This South Sac butcher shop is the place for authentic German sausages such as bratwurst, weisswurst and bündnerfleisch, as well as other German favorites. 5001 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 731-4377

Best Reason To Visit a Strip Mall in Rancho Cordova: Udupi Cafe
The Indian cuisine at this unassuming restaurant located between a used bookstore and an animal hospital in Rancho Cordova’s Sunriver Shopping Center is 100 percent vegetarian with numerous vegan options. Want to sample a little of (most) everything? Stop in for the lunch buffet, offered every day except Tuesday (when the restaurant is closed). 2226 Sunrise Blvd., Rancho Cordova; (916) 851-5900;

Best Southern Hemisphere-Style Coffeehouse: Chocolate Fish Coffee
The self-described coffee geeks at this New Zealand-inspired cafe turn java into an intellectual pursuit and an art form. Not only are the drinks finely crafted; the cafe itself looks smart with its cool, refined, dark interior. Don’t leave without a chocolate fish; made of 82-percent dark chocolate (from Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates), the candies are 82 cents apiece or three for $2. Corner of Third and Q streets, Sacramento; (916) 400-4204;

Best Reason To Move Over, Mrs. Fields: Chocolate Chip Cookie From Nopalitos Southwestern Cafe
Try one of these big, golden goodies–baked fresh by Nopalitos’ owner Rose Hanke and you might find yourself driving to this East Sacramento establishment, not for the smothered burrito or huevos rancheros, but for the dang cookie! Hanke makes the cookies most days, but the cafe closes at 2:30 p.m. on weekdays and is not open on weekends. Bottom line: Call ahead. 5530 H St., Sacramento; (916) 452-8226;

Best Energy Drink on a Stick: DavePops
The brainchild of Sacramentan Dave Feldpausch, these nondairy frozen novelties come in such flavors as mint chocolate chip, strawberry, root beer and Red Bull. Yup, as in the energy drink. Did we mention they are virtually dripless and most pops contain about 100 calories? The only thing you might have to worry about when eating one of these is brain freeze.

Best Tequila Bar: Tres Agaves
You can get a margarita just about anywhere. But this is the only place in the region where you can order a $500 shot of Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario tequila. This new Roseville restaurant stocks about 120 premium tequilas- 100 percent blue agaves only–including its exclusive Tres Agaves Tequila Casa Noble Single Barrel Reposado. In addition, the well-trained staff can educate you on the differences between, say, a blanco, a reposado and an añejo. 1182 Roseville Parkway, Suite 110, Roseville; (916) 782-4455;

Best Dim Sum: Capital Tea Garden
No trips to Hong Kong planned for the near future? Fortunately, Capital Tea Garden, a downtown hole-in-the-wall restaurant, cooks up some of the most authentic-and delicious- dim sum imaginable. Its low-key atmosphere, rock-bottom prices and juicy shrimp bonnets induce multiple visits. 1110 T St., Sacramento; (916) 448-1218



Looking Good

Best Hair RX: The Hair Doctor
Hairstylist Shawn L. Brown, better known as The Hair Doctor, recently moved, but don’t worry: She splits her time
though not your ends-between Sacramento and Southern California. In January, Brown starts a 10-city tour throughout the United States doing free hair makeovers-broadcast on local television morning shows-primarily on people who, she says, “don’t have the opportunity to take care of themselves.” “We choose the type of people that take care of others or have experienced some challenges and could use a boost,” she says. Past makeover winners have included homeless women and teachers, but Brown once surprised her Facebook fans with makeovers. (916) 929-9007;

Best Model Mechanic: Katie O’Brien
She’s a far cry from the stereotypical burly, beefy, gruff mechanic, but this 5-foot-11 brunette graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix in 2006. Her dream job is to work with Yamaha Motor Corporation as a race team mechanic
or any position, for that matter. O’Brien’s a bona fide motorcycle aficionada; she loves the sound of the engine, even the smell of the exhaust. But there’s more to her life than bikes: O’Brien’s also a model, donning the latest fashions in print ads and on the runway.



Just For Fun

Best Face Not Only a Mother Could Love: Pabst 
There’s ugly, and then there’s Pabst, a boxer mix from Citrus Heights so unattractive, he’s cute. Winner of this year’s World’s Ugliest Dog Contest at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, the dog with the humongous underbite and a rather unimpressed expression is apparently very sweet on top of funny-looking. Pabst’s award-winning mug- he also was awarded “Best Smile” at the Sacramento 2009 SSPCA Doggy Dash- has garnered him spots on “Live With Regis and Kelly,” a tryout for “Deal or No Deal” and a modeling contract with House of Dog out of Southern California.

Best Henna Tattoo Artist: Renu Lal
Renu Lal can trace her practice of the ancient art of mehndi- henna tattoos- to her childhood in New Delhi. That’s where she learned how to paint henna designs on the hands and feet of brides and pregnant women. Today, she even uses her skills to embellish pregnant bellies and bald heads. The curvilinear red or brown designs (depending on how long the paste is left on) last from one to three weeks. Lal refers to the adornments as “prayers to wear.” (916) 717-0211;

Best Pool Party: Faces
The midtown club has been an institution since 1985, but it underwent a major renovation in 2007, making the gay, straight-friendly mecca even larger and more stylish. At that time, owner Terry Sidie had a swimming pool installed on the back patio so guests could splash in the water and tan poolside during scorching Sacramento summers. 2000 K St., Sacramento; (916) 448-7798;

Best Way To Say “Cheese” With Class: C’est le Cheese
These two-hour cheese-appreciation classes, held at the Penthouses at Capitol Park in downtown Sacramento, are taught by leading Nor Cal cheese experts, including a Sonoma cheesemaker and a former consultant to Cowgirl Creamery. Each student gets a plateful of artisan cheeses, paired with appropriate wines or ales. (916) 761-7674;

Best Ode to a Local Stretch of Road: “I-5” by The Regulars, CA
Sung by The Regulars, CA, a Sacramento bar band, this song is about a trip the band took from Sacramento to the Pacific Northwest via everyone’s favorite interstate highway. Written by the band’s lead singer, Brian Guido, it appears on The Regular’s latest CD, Songs About Love and Depression. (An earlier CD included another local-transit-related tune, “Driving Down J Street.”)



Shopping & Services

Best Trip to the Old West: Sheldon Feed
In the midst of the ever-growing city of Elk Grove, you can still find signs of the old Elk Grove in Sheldon Feed, in business for more than 40 years. The humble farming supply store is an instant trip to cowboy territory, peddling everything from saddles, reins and Western apparel to, yes, even bales of hay. 8928 Grant Line Road, Elk Grove; (916) 686-6400

Best Businessmen on Boards: The Owners of Ground Zero Clothing & Board Shop
With the economy in bad shape, it’s understandable to have a bleak outlook on business, but the owners of Ground Zero Clothing & Boards-Del Campo High School grads Seth Sternin and Brendan Mohr-aren’t letting it get them down. Their chain of stores for all things boards (skateboards, snowboards, wakeboards, etc.) expanded to five locations in the Sacramento area this past July with the opening of their store at the Roseville Galleria. And they are community-oriented, holding skate contests, an annual snowboard video premiere and other youth-oriented events throughout the year. Oh, and they give away free stuff at these events. groundzero

Best Housewares Department in a Hardware Store: Davis Ace Hardware
This old-fashioned hardware store sells an eye-popping selection of things for the home, from china and giftware to kitchen appliances and cookware. It carries pricey brands such as Viking, Cuisinart, All-Clad, Emile Henry and Le Creuset, but the wall of inexpensive kitchen gadgets and gizmos is pretty cool, too. 240 G St., Davis; (530) 758-8000;

Best Place To Celebrate Christmas Year-Round: William Glen Christmas & More
Whether it is right before Christmas or in the heat of July, William Glen Christmas & More is a veritable winter wonderland. The shop, originally open only seasonally, laid down permanent roots when the William Glen staff realized that the Christmas magic needn’t fade away once January arrives. 2651 El Paseo Lane, Sacramento; (916) 481-2397;

Best Proof That Second Time’s a Charm: Second Season
Saks Fifth Avenue white lined pants for $5. A Burberry blazer for $6. Twenty-five-cent books. Those are just a few of the deals we spotted during a visit to this upscale secondhand shop located close to Country Club Plaza in Sacramento. But the best reason for shopping (besides screamin’ deals): The money raised at this all-volunteer-run store benefits the Assistance League of Sacramento, which serves needy children and adults in our community. 2528 Yorktown Ave., Suite C, Sacramento; (916) 488-0828;

Best Place for a Cheapskate: Bargain Barn
Need office supplies but hate to part with your cash? This is the place for you. Run by UC Davis, the Bargain Barn sells used computers, printers, office furniture, office products and other stuff for a fraction of the original price. They even get the occasional random item among their inventory; think piano, kayak, wrestling mat. Part of the university’s commitment to sustainability, the Bargain Barn diverts 8,000 university items from landfills every year. Located on the UC Davis campus on La Rue Road. (530) 752-2145; bargain barn.uc

Best Way To Clear Your Brush: Goat Central
Ditch those gasoline-powered lawn mowers now. El Dorado-based Goat Central rents out goats to happily chomp away weeds and unwanted vegetation on your property. The number of goats depends upon the project (the goats are suitable for properties 1 acre or larger), but it can range from 20 to 200, says Julie Austin, who co-owns the biz with husband Roy. You may have seen the hungry critters this past summer munching in the Empire Ranch subdivision in Folsom or the Lake Forest subdivision in El Dorado Hills. (530) 621-2920; goatcen



Sports & Fitness

Best Diamond Anniversary: Sacramento River Cats
We’re so glad the Triple A affiliate came to town. In the decade since Raley Field was built and the River Cats relocated from Vancouver, B.C., the team has proven to be a winner in more ways than one: It has captured the title of Pacific Coast League Champions four times, led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance every season and graduated more than 60 players to the majors.

Best Footwork: Nike Fleet Feet Racing Sacramento
Under the direction of coach Chad Worthen, members of Nike Fleet Feet Racing Sacramento consistently place tops in area races from 5Ks to marathons. Dressed in orange and navy, the runners are hard to miss
even flying by you, some at a sub-5 1/2-minute-mile pace.

Best Sports Boosters With Tails: Slamson, Dinger, Monty, Herky and Gunrock
OK, so Herky the Hornet has a stinger instead of a tail. The point is all these larger-than-life mascots can boast a solid history as wholesome ambassadors for their teams at games and other public events.




Best Jazz Diva: Vivian Lee
As a musician, Vivian Lee brings silky-smooth vocals and warmhearted energy to every performance. She plays all around town and celebrated her ninth straight year at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. Behind the scenes, Lee’s just as energetic in her efforts to keep jazz alive in Sacramento. She organizes Sunday jazz concerts at JB’s Lounge at the Red Lion Hotel Sacramento. Featuring some of the best local and national talent, the concerts have become go-to events for area jazz fans.

Best Jam Band: Izabella
With infectious music, the rock- and-soul jam band Izabella knows how to bring people to their feet. The band boasts members from Berkeley and Sacramento, including SAMMIE Hall of Famers Brian Rogers and Sam Phelps. Their whirlwind touring schedule takes them all over the country, so check them out the next time they swing through Sacramento.

Best Excuse To Go to Winters: The Palms Playhouse
The Palms Playhouse brings some of the best alternative, folk, blues and country musicians in the United States to play tiny downtown Winters. Having once been a small-town opera house, the intimate, beautifully decorated venue has gorgeous acoustics and has hosted acts ranging from jazz legend Mose Allison to folk icon Utah Phillips. 13 Main St., Winters; (530) 795-1825; palms play

Best Blower of the Blues Harp: Rick Estrin
There’s a lot to like about Rick Estrin, frontman of The Nightcats (formerly Little Charlie and The Nightcats). It could be his sharp lyrics, his swanky, ’40s- inspired get-ups or his soulful vocals. Maybe it’s that he’s considered one of the best blues harmonica players in the world. Or that you can catch him all the time right here in Sacramento.

Best Folk Song Lyricist: Justin Farren
Justin Farren excels at writing quirky, delicate songs with lyrics that evoke Paul Simon, while his masterful guitar playing reminds of us of Dave Matthews. A musical star in our midst, Farren does exhibit one hallmark of the true folk singer: humility.

Best Happy Feet With a Heart: Instituto Mazatlan Bellas Artes de Sacramento
Whether performing in China, Mexico or Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium, the dancers of the Instituto Mazatlan Bellas Artes de Sacramento leave audiences mesmerized with a stageful of complex footwork, swirling skirts, flowing ribbons and respect for cultural heritage. But the institute-which offers dance classes for all ages and levels- is just as concerned with giving back to young people through outreach and education for low-income children.

Best Remodel That Keeps the Bar Low: JB’s Lounge at the Red Lion Hotel Sacramento
The folks at the Red Lion took an underwhelming hotel bar and created a showplace, transforming the space into a world-class performance venue, with a newly renovated sunken bar, a top-notch sound system and a modern vibe. Blues, jazz, Latin or funk, JB’s has got it all in style. 1401 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 922-8041



Doing Good

Best Friend to Animals: Anneke Vos
The cats and dogs of Sacramento have a constant friend in Anneke Vos, a tireless 85-year-old who has spent the past 29 years taking care of pets that belong to local homeless people. Vos- a 2006 nominee for Animal Planet’s Hero of the Year award-provides on-site kennels at Sacramento Loaves & Fishes. She pays for the animals’ medical treatments, finds homes for those whose owners have died and educates the homeless about pet care. Financed mostly out of her own pocketbook and donations from the public, her work is an act of love.

Best Kitchen Without an Oven: Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen
Bravo to this volunteer-run, do-it-yourself bicycle maintenance program. The group provides a midtown site, tools and staff to promote low-cost transportation, self-sufficiency and cycling safety through education, valuable concepts in this uneasy economic era. 1915 I St., Sacramento; (916) 442-3177;

Best Way To Horse Around: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy at Sierra Child and Family Services
Healing from trauma and learning to communicate more effectively are two of the outcomes Sierra Child and Family Services’ clients have experienced through working with horses via the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program. Several of the licensed mental health professionals and equine specialists at the Diamond Springs-based SCFS
among the first facilities in the nation to employ the EAP method-are qualified to train other therapists and equine specialists around the country.

Best Volunteer Moves: Morningstar Dancers
This volunteer group of ballroom and country dancers makes monthly visits to area assisted-living homes to entertain-even dance with-the residents. Performing traditional ballroom (waltz, fox trot, tango, rumba, cha-cha, swing) and modern country (partner and line) dance, Morningstar Dancers gets everyone into the groove.

Best Way for Kids (and Young Adults) To Make the Rounds: Washington Neighborhood Center’s Boxing Program
Alumni of the Washington Neighborhood Center’s nationally recognized boxing program have gone on to the Olympics, some even pro, and include 1990 World Boxing Association light welterweight champion Loreto Garza. The center, which has been serving the Alkali Flat and Washington neighborhoods for more than 50 years, also offers programs in dance, music and art. 400 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 444-6833;