So many great places, so little time. If you suffer from FOMO (you know: fear of missing out), here’s your essential guide to all the new restaurants you simply must try.
Fried chicken. Modernist barbecue. California cuisine with a French twist. You’ll find all this and more at the city’s top new restaurants. With the opening of literally dozens of eateries, the past couple of years have been very good indeed for local food lovers. Your biggest problem may be finding the time (and dough) to hit them all up.
SOUTH (Opened December 2014)
2005 11th St.; (916) 382-9722 weheartfriedchicken.com
ORDER THIS: Petey’s fried chicken; three-cheese grits; bar-b-qued platter
Not since Colonel Sanders has an empire built on fried chicken been as wildly successful as South. Housed in a long-vacant Chinese grocery store in Sacramento’s Southside Park neighborhood, this casual eatery sold 8.2 tons of chicken in its first year of business. Owners Ian and N’Gina Kavookjian built the restaurant around a fried chicken recipe from N’Gina’s mom, who hails from Tylertown, Miss. Soaked in milk for 24 hours, then dipped in seasoned flour and egg, the bird gets a “hard fry” that leaves the meat moist and succulent, the skin deliciously crunchy. Served with Southern-style braised kale with a big ol’ buttermilk biscuit and honey butter, it’s a heckuva deal at $13. (There’s also a nine-piece bucket o’ chicken for $24.) The menu is divvied into Old School dishes based on N’Gina’s family recipes (seafood gumbo, fried catfish) and New School dishes created by the talented kitchen crew (fettuccine jambalaya, Southern fritto misto). New school or old, you can taste the love in every bite. Reggae and hip-hop play on the sound system, and the decor is chic on a shoestring: homemade benches, a communal table snagged for $35 on Craigslist, strings of market lights in the trees out front. The Kavookjians hit the ball out of the park with their homey, 50-seat, walk-up-to-the-counter-and-order restaurant, which serves 300 to 400 people on a busy day.
OAK PARK BREWING COMPANY (Opened November 2014)
3514 Broadway; (916) 660-2723; opbrewco.com
ORDER THIS: Irish fries; nicoise salad; Cajun buttermilk shrimp po’ boy
Unlike the gazillion other new craft breweries in town, this brewpub doesn’t rely on food trucks to feed its customers. There’s an actual kitchen, helmed by chef Steve Yarbrough, turning out delicious, gastropubby fare. Sure, there’s a burger on the menu, along with OP’s version of poutine called Irish fries, made with rabbit gravy and provolone cheese. But this is not just dude food: The menu has both a Southern accent (fried chicken, Cajun shrimp and grits) and an upscale bent (gnocchi, pan-seared salmon). There are vegetarian and vegan options, too, including a vegan burger made with barley and brewer’s grain. Yarbrough uses beer and beer byproducts in many of the dishes: Pork for the pulled pork sliders is braised in Oak Park’s Belgian Bliss Monk’s Brown Ale, and spent grain is used to make crackers for the meat-and-cheese board and the English muffins topped with salmon cakes and served at weekend brunch. The restaurant’s ambience is industrial chic: Owners Tom Karvonen and Dave Estis gutted the 1925 building, exposed a brick wall and restored the original leaded-glass windows, and diners can see right into the production brewery. Out front, a wedge-shaped patio juts into busy Broadway. When the weather’s nice, it’s a big drawing card for millennials, beer geeks and families with kids and dogs in tow.
Shrimp po’ boy
PARAGARY’S MIDTOWN BISTRO (Reopened June 2015)
1401 28th St.; (916) 457-5737; paragarys.com
ORDER THIS: Mary’s chicken liver mousse; wood-oven roasted mussels; smoked trout
Closed for a yearlong, $1 million renovation, Paragary’s is back and better than ever. The new restaurant is visually stunning, with crisp-white walls, modern brass light pendants and a striking black, gray and white cement tile floor. New bifold doors open out to the patio, which also got a face-lift. The original Cal-Ital menu of pizzas and pastas was revamped, too. When the restaurant first reopened, the kitchen was turning out fussy French dishes like chicken ballotine. But it quickly recalibrated, and now the food is firmly in the California camp with just a tinge of French. (Let’s just call it Cal-Franc, shall we?) Instead of chicken ballotine, there’s pan-seared Mary’s chicken au jus; instead of halibut and clams in broth, there’s grilled halibut. But in a nod to the restaurant’s 32-year history, Randy Paragary kept two old menu stalwarts: sliced mushroom salad with Jarlsberg and hand-cut rosemary pappardelle with chicken and leeks. (Why? Because they’re good, that’s why.) Paragary’s beverage director Brad Peters oversaw a new and improved cocktail program that features both classic American cocktails and French-inspired drinks made with spirits and sparkling wine. The old Paragary’s may have been running out of gas, but the new one is busy and relevant.
The famed patio
Grilled asparagus with sauce gribiche
HAWKS PUBLIC HOUSE (Opened December 2015)
1525 Alhambra Blvd. (916) 588-4440 hawkspublichouse.com
ORDER THIS: Kale Caesar; steak tartare; Wagyu beef burger
Fans of upscale Hawks in Granite Bay were in for a shock when owners Molly Hawks and Michael Fagnoni opened this midtown Sacramento outpost. It’s a casual counterpoint to the original Hawks, serving house-made pastas, charcuterie boards and shareable snacks like potato chips with French onion dip. But the rustic, Mediterranean-style food here is as thoughtfully made and packed with flavor as at the mother ship. The kale Caesar salad, for example, comes with a six-minute egg that’s breaded and fried. Pastas are made daily on a brass-die extruder, giving them a rough surface that grabs onto the sauce. Even the burger is something special: Wagyu beef is ground in the walk-in fridge so the meat stays cold, and it comes on a house-made brioche bun with Gruyere and caramelized onions. The 12-seat bar serves local beer from Mraz, Jackrabbit, New Glory, Bike Dog and Auburn Alehouse, along with a nice selection of mostly imported wines. Next door to the restaurant is Hawks Provisions, a little takeout shop serving coffee, pastries and lunch stuff.
CIELITO LINDO MEXICAN GASTRONOMY (Reopened June 2015)
3672 J St. (916) 736-2506 cielitolindo.us
ORDER THIS: Salmon a la Veracruzana; papadzules; pipian verde de pollo
This Mexican restaurant had been open less than a year when a fire forced it to close in April 2014. During the 14 months it took to bring the place back to life, chef/owner Ramiro Alarcon reconfigured the space, got a wine-and-beer license (something sorely missing at the original Cielito Lindo) and added new dishes to the menu. The spiffed-up interior is still relatively modest. But make no mistake, this is no taqueria. The kitchen turns out exquisite, elevated regional Mexican fare. Raised in Mexico and a graduate of culinary school in Mexico City, Alarcon aims to show Sacramento what “real” Mexican cooking is all about. Some are classical preparations, such as pipian verde (Oaxacan green mole) and papadzules (enchiladas made with diced boiled egg, a Yucatan dish). Others are spins on Mexican fare, like filet mignon served with a ricotta-like cheese called requeson and the funky corn fungus known as huitlacoche. The menu has a section for vegetarians, with Mexican lasagna and stuffed chayote squash. The food is light and healthful, defying the stereotype of heavy, cheese-laden Mexican fare.
MAGPIE CAFE (Reopened July 2015)
1601 16th St. (916) 452-7594 magpiecafe.com
ORDER THIS: Duck skin on toast; vegetable plate; chicken for two
When Magpie opened in 2009 as a charming little deli serving farm-to-table salads and sandwiches, they were killing it. As Magpie’s reputation grew, the small restaurant, and even smaller kitchen, needed elbow room. So last year, owners Janel Inouye and Ed Roehr moved into brand-new quarters in the 16 Powerhouse complex. While they lost the hip, brick-walled, Brooklyn vibe of the old space, the move allowed them to expand the menu, open a bigger patio and serve cocktails. But the food is still Inouye and Roehr’s signature Central Valley take on California cuisine, with an emphasis on ingredients from small local farms. There are holdovers like Chicken for Two (a whole chicken cooked two ways and served with chervil sauce) and Vegetable Plate, a tour de force with as many as 13 different vegetables cooked in a variety of ways. What’s new? There’s Happy Time (Magpie’s version of happy hour), starting at 2:30 p.m., when you can order fries with local Lienert’s honey and blue cheese, crispy pork belly or a small version of the vegetable plate. Cocktails have a local focus: Sierra Gold, for instance, is made with Amador Distillery Engine 49 bourbon, honey water and ginger beer.
LOCALIS (Opened July 2015)
2031 S St.; (916) 737-7699 localissacramento.com
ORDER THIS: Farm plate; fire-roasted octopus; tasting menu
Unlike New York and D.C., Sacramento isn’t big on tasting-menu restaurants. Don’t tell Chris Barnum, the ambitious young chef behind Localis. At his tiny midtown restaurant, he serves exciting, big-city cuisine. You can order from the highly curated menu (three starters, three midcourses, five entrees) or opt for a three- or five-course tasting ($47 for three courses, $77 for five, $40 extra for wine pairings). It’s fine dining without the crazy Per Se prices. Barnum sources unusual produce like celtuce and oxalis tuberosa from small local farms. “They bring us stuff, and we make our menu based on that,” he says. Highlights of the menu include fire-roasted octopus tentacle and a dish called Bacon and Eggs: locally milled polenta simmered in cheese whey, cut into squares, fried and served with a sous vide egg yolk, pea shoot pesto and a paper-thin crisp of house-made pancetta. In a playful jab at Sacramento’s reputation as a meat-and-potatoes town, Barnum created a dish called Steak and Potatoes: grass-fed steak cooked on a cast-iron grill plate in the wood-fired oven (a holdover from the space’s Tuli Bistro days), served with a potato gratin laced with Shaft’s blue cheese.
From Localis, a modern twist on carrot cake
THE MILL (Opened August 2014)
1827 I St.; (916) 469-9683 themillsacramento.com
ORDER THIS: Shrub soda; almond macadamia cappuccino; jam waffle
Technically, The Mill isn’t a restaurant; it’s a coffeehouse. But it landed on this list because of the interesting culinary approach owners Nick Minton and Ilah Rose Cookston take to coffee. Meticulous and focused, they oversee a business that bridges the gap between restaurant and cafe. The place, which they built out themselves, has a minimalist, South-of-Market feel. The coffee comes from nearby Temple, where Minton once worked as a barista. He and Cookston (an artist) use their own recipes and techniques to make coffee drinks. They are experimenters: After months of testing, they devised an almond macadamia milk that, when frothed for cappuccinos and lattes, produces small, silky bubbles—not the big, soapy bubbles of commercially made almond milk. They’re also farm-to-forkers, turning seasonal fruit, vinegar, sugar and house-made sparkling water into inventive shrub sodas. And they’re incubators, hosting a chef friend’s occasional pizza pop-up on
the premises. The food program here is small and tightly edited: At first, Minton and Cookston sold only a handful of pastries, sourced from Estelle’s Patisserie. But last summer, they began offering affogato (espresso-drenched artisanal ice cream), and earlier this year they added Liège-style yeasted waffles to the menu. Golden 1 Center executive chef Michael Tuohy, who lives nearby, is a fan. So is Michael Thiemann of Empress Tavern, who recently raved about The Mill’s owners on Instagram, writing, “If nick and ilah were restaurateurs they would have my bet for the first Michelin star in Sacramento.”
C A S K & B A R R E L: (Opened February 2015)
1431 Del Paso Blvd. (916) 922-6792 caskandbarrel916.com
ORDER THIS: Foie gras corn dogs; smoked pork shoulder; chocolate fried pie
If you go to this Del Paso Boulevard restaurant expecting old-fashioned American barbecue, your head might explode. This is new American modernist barbecue with all the bells and whistles: gels, powders, cutting-edge techniques and beautiful presentations. Chef Gabriel Glasier and pastry chef Kristel Flores set out to put their own, upscale spin on American cuisine. Their food tends toward the cerebral: The salmon pastrami toast appetizer, for instance, is like a deconstructed reuben, featuring Swiss cheese powder, Guatemalan blue squash sauerkraut and roasted-turnip Russian dressing. Foie gras makes a cheeky appearance in two dishes: foie gras corn dogs at dinner, foie gras pop tarts at brunch. But meats are the stars of the show. They’re first smoked, then cooked sous vide in an immersion circulator. The results are more subtle than traditional barbecue, with a light smoke profile and minimal bark. The food is artfully plated on wood boards, in small cast-iron skillets and, in the case of house-cured sardines, in clever little sardine cans. Everything is offered a la carte and designed to be shared. The menu changes frequently, based on Glasier’s whim and whatever’s in season at the small boutique farms that supply the restaurant. One thing that doesn’t change: the show-stopping chocolate fried pie topped with vanilla bean ice cream and maple duck fat caramel. On the menu since opening day, it has a crust made with both chopped bacon for crunch and bacon fat for creaminess.
EMPRESS TAVERN: (Opened September 2015)
1013 K St.; (916) 662-7694; empresstavern.com
ORDER THIS: Prime rib; honey hot fried chicken; French dip
After an almost three-year wait, this carvery-style restaurant opened to rave reviews in the basement of K Street’s Crest Theatre. From the talented team behind vegetarian Mother restaurant next door, it’s a swanky, bricked catacomb-like place where you can sip gin-based cocktails at the bar or order from the huge, gleaming rotisserie in the open kitchen. The menu lands somewhere between hofbrau and upscale steakhouse, offering meaty dishes like prime rib with bone marrow bordelaise, whole roasted chicken and rack of lamb, along with French dip and short rib stroganoff. A server comes by your table to dispense fluffy Parker House rolls out of a basket. There are “family dinner” options such as honey hot fried chicken for four, served with pickles, two sides and a bowl of salad for $80.