30 Best Dishes


Buta Bara Don
Yoshi Japanese Tapas Restaurant
In this bowlful of comfort, a large mound of rice is topped with slices of delicious, fork-tender pork belly, sweet-tart pickled cucumber slices and a cooked egg, and enlivened with delicate black strands of seaweed, fragrant sautéed yellow onions and thinly sliced green onion. Ask for a mugful of green tea to accompany this nurturing dish and you’ll skip out with revived spirits. 9174 Franklin Blvd., Elk Grove; (916) 391-6822; yoshijapaneserestaurant.net


Charcuterie Plate
The Cellar Wine Bar
If you’re a wine aficionado, you know how pleasant it is to have small, tasty nibbles to accompany your favorite beverage. The Cellar does a terrific job of providing enophiles with a raft of wine-friendly foods, including beautiful charcuterie plates. Choose from a great selection of cheeses and meats, ranging from Australian feta and Beehive honey-aged cheddar to local smoked Magret duck breast and Spanish chorizo. The charcuterie plates include baguette slices, tangy little cornichons, fresh apple slices, a generous daub of membrillo (quince paste), Marcona almonds and a miniature bowl of mixed olives. 3907 Park Drive, El Dorado Hills; (916) 933-3103; thecellarwinebar.com


Salumi Pizza
Tulí Bistro
Lusty and electrifyingly delicious, this thin-crust pizza will rev your taste buds into high gear. Slathered with zesty fire-roasted tomato sauce and loaded with artisanal “peperone,” salami and hot coppa, this dynamic pizza is one of the best I’ve tried in the region. Wash it down with a big, spicy local Zinfandel or some really cold beer. 2031 S St., Sacramento; (916) 451-8854; tulibistro.com


Daily Quiche
Fox & Goose Public House
Tasty quiche is hard to find, especially one that is filled with lots of wholesome goodies. When I’m in the mood for a rib-sticking, distinctive quiche, I head to Fox & Goose, which bakes up a different version every day. Veggies you may find in your quiche range from broccoli, butternut squash (really!) and red bell peppers to spinach and mushrooms, and it may be a vegetarian selection or contain turkey, bacon, ham or sausage. But expect the crust to be sturdy and flavorful and the slice to be thick and generous. 1001 R St., Sacramento; (916) 443-8825; foxandgoose.com


Bourbon Burger
de Vere’s Irish Pub
This meaty treasure sounds boozy, but it’s not. Messy and spectacularly flavorful, the burger is composed of a first-rate, house-ground chuck patty laid on a chewy-fluffy bun. Smothered in melted smoked cheddar cheese, the dish is lavished with a spicy bourbon-bacon barbecue sauce and finished off with lettuce, a couple of juicy tomato slices and—the pièce de résistance—sweet, crusty fried onions. Be prepared to do a lot of finger licking as you work your way through this fabulous burger, and enjoy it with one of de Vere’s fresh draught beers. 1531 L St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9947; deverespub.com


Handcut Rosemary Noodles
Paragary’s Bar and Oven
Wide and silky, the herb-flecked noodles are tossed with bits of pancetta, baby artichokes, big chunks of seared chicken and sweet leeks. Garlicky and rustic, this longtime customer favorite is even more enjoyable when savored outside on the restaurant’s bucolic patio. 1401 28th St., Sacramento; (916) 457-5737; paragarys.com


Duck Confit Tots
Shady Lady Saloon
Irresistibly crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, Shady Lady’s duck confit tots bear little resemblance to the school cafeteria version of your youth. Richly flavored and punctuated with melt-in-your-mouth duck cracklings, these delectable nuggets come with an earthy smoked paprika-lemon aïoli. Partner the tots with one of the saloon’s excellent handcrafted cocktails. 1409 R St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9121; shadyladybar.com


Pikilia Platter
Greek Village Inn
I’m always in the mood for Greek Village Inn’s vivacious, bold cuisine. The pikilia platter offers a wonderful combination of flavors and textures, from the moist, delectable curls of gyros meat and crackly spanakopita and tiropita (a luscious cheese-stuffed filo pastry) to nubbly, grape leaf-wrapped dolmathes and crumbly chunks of feta. This is a fun dish for grazers, and the warm pita bread that’s provided with the platter invites you to build your very own Greek sandwich. 65 University Ave., Sacramento; (916) 922-6334


Meat Lover’s Lasagna
Il Forno Classico
This scrumptious slab of goodness—large enough to provide you with two (or maybe even three) meals—is prepared with Italian sausage, prosciutto and ground beef. Ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses add a creamy component, and the richness is balanced by the judicious addition of spinach and sautéed mushrooms. Drenched in a robust marinara sauce, this lasagna is well worth the trip to Gold River. 2121 Golden Centre Lane, Gold River; (916) 858-0651; ilfornoclassico.com



Salpicón de Pulpo
Aïoli Bodega Española
A longstanding customer favorite, salpicón de pulpo is one of the kitchen’s most delectable tapas. Chunks of octopus are tossed with soft bits of potato, onions and smoky roasted bell peppers, and the ensemble gets a hint of zippy heat from the addition of red chili flakes. I like to pair this small plate with Aïoli’s judías blancas con atún, a delicious tumble of white beans with seared tuna, mint and kalamata olives, along with a feisty glass of Spanish red wine. 1800 L St., Sacramento; (916) 447-9440; aiolibodega.com


Grand Marnier Soufflé
The Firehouse Restaurant
Want to impress someone? Order a freshly baked, towering Grand Marnier soufflé. This poufy delight is brought to the table with a proud flourish. Then the server makes a hole in the center of the soufflé and pours in vanilla-scented crème anglaise and a drizzle of ruby-red raspberry sauce. Dig in and watch the airy creation slowly deflate as you gobble up its custardy, pillowy interior. If you want to be extra decadent, sip a glass of sparkling wine with this luxurious dessert. (Hint: It takes 20 minutes for the kitchen to prepare the soufflé, so plan accordingly.) 1112 Second St., Old Sacramento; (916) 442-4772; firehouseoldsac.com


“Brick” Chicken
Paul Martin’s American Bistro
Few dishes are as satisfying as Paul Martin’s straightforward, expertly cooked brick chicken. It’s not actually baked under a brick; the half chicken is placed in an iron skillet and topped with another iron skillet, then baked until it’s nicely browned yet moist. Served with lumpy mashed potatoes and garlic confit, this is an especially good dish to seek out on a cold, wet day or when you simply need some cheering up. 1455 Eureka Road, Roseville; (916) 783-3600; paulmartinsamericanbistro.com


Lamb Shawarma
Sam’s Restaurant
Funky, colorful Sam’s, located just off the UC Davis campus, is a big hit with college students, who cram into the little space to order the restaurant’s fantastic shawarmas. These Mediterranean wraps—composed on the freshest, most delicious pita bread I have ever tasted—are stuffed with meat that’s been cut off a vertical rotisserie and piled with crisp cucumber slices, fresh tomato and lettuce, then drizzled with your choice of tahini or yogurt sauce. (My advice: Ask for both; the combination is delicious.) I think the lamb shawarma is the best of the bunch, but other customers swear by the chicken and beef versions. Guess you’ll just have to decide for yourself. Note: Sam’s is a cash-only establishment. 247 Third St., Davis; (530) 758-2855


Two Color Fish
Taste of Thai
I’m crazy about this dish, frequently offered as a daily special at this friendly Broadway restaurant. Succulent chunks of salmon and halibut are battered and fried, tempura style, then quickly sautéed with chilies, garlic sauce, red bell peppers and onion. The pretty dish, garnished with delicate fried basil leaves, is large enough to provide ample leftovers—or better yet, to share with a friend. 1628 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 444-5598; tasteofthaisac.net


Rancher’s Breakfast
Putah Creek Cafe
Really, really hungry? Make the drive to the charming town of Winters for a sumptuous breakfast at Putah Creek Cafe. This homey restaurant serves some of the best morning food in the region, and it also offers a mouthwatering lineup of house-baked pastries that you can take home to enjoy later. The marvelous Rancher’s Breakfast—two eggs, two huge pancakes, your choice of bacon, sausage or ham, a huge pile of Yukon gold home fries and toast—will satisfy even the most ravenous diner. 1 Main St., Winters; (530) 795-2682; putahcreekcafe.com


Prawn Croquettes
58 Degrees & Holding Co.
If you like crab cakes, you’ll be captivated by 58 Degrees’ cute little prawn croquettes. Brown and crunchy on the outside, the dishy discs of seafoody goodness are embellished with diced onion, bell pepper, garlic and bits of bacon and are served three to an order. I like to nibble the croquettes along with the kitchen’s addictive spiced nuts and a crisp California Sauvignon Blanc from 58 Degrees’ extensive wine selection. 1217 18th St., Sacramento; (916) 442-5858; 58degrees.com


Grilled Calamari With White Beans
The Press Bistro & Bar
Respected for its excellent selection of small plates, The Press has an especially deft hand with seafood. I’ve always relished this elegantly simple grilled calamari appetizer, served with tender white beans, sweet roasted red bell peppers and a peppery tuft of arugula. The smoky calamari is surprisingly tender, and the frisky snap of the arugula is a great foil for the gentle flavors of the beans and bell peppers. 1809 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; (916) 444-2566; thepressbistro.com


Handmade Ravioli
Mulvaney’s Building & Loan
Handmade raviolis appear frequently on Mulvaney’s ever-changing menu, and their fillings and sauces are always a beautiful showcase of seasonal products. The winter greens-stuffed raviolis are some of my favorites, but I was recently blown away by the incredible grilled vegetable ravioli, napped in a vibrant, refreshing pea-and-mint pesto. Unique and always delicious, the raviolis are one dish you won’t want to miss when visiting this lauded midtown restaurant. 1215 19th St., Sacramento; (916) 441-6022; mulvaneysbl.com



Carne Asada
Grange Restaurant & Bar
Best known for its farm-to-table cuisine, this boutique-hotel restaurant also happens to serve a magnificent Mexican-inspired carne asada. Available only on Wednesdays at lunch, the dish features sliced marinated skirt steak snuggled onto a plate with two full-flavored salsas (tomatillo and tomato), black beans dotted with chorizo and a side salad lightly tossed in the tomatillo salsa. The lively dish is so popular that it tends to sell out quickly; arrive early to ensure there’s one for you. 926 J St., Sacramento; (916) 492-4450; grangesacramento.com


Fish and Chips
Auburn Alehouse
It’s hard to find good fish and chips. All too often, they are tepid and sodden with grease. But Auburn Alehouse knows how to cook ’em right. Large pieces of Alaskan cod, coated in a crunchy batter made with the brewery’s Fool’s Gold Ale, are served piping hot with a crusty, nongreasy exterior and a moist, flaky interior. Accompanied by a big pile of herbed fries and a side of palate-reviving coleslaw, this fishy dish is one of the alehouse’s yummiest menu items. 289 Washington St., Auburn; (530) 885-2537; auburn alehouse.com


Super Nutburger
Sunflower Drive In
Craving wholesome fare? Tuck into Sunflower’s enormous super nutburger, a textural nutmeat patty crammed into pita bread with pickles, romaine lettuce, tomato slices and alfalfa sprouts (remember those?) and jazzed up with a proprietary sauce composed of mayonnaise (regular or vegan), ketchup and stone-ground mustard. This hearty, juicy item is a bit awkward to consume, so make sure you have lots of napkins at the ready. 10344 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 967-4331; sunflowernaturalrestaurant.com


Panko-Crusted Eggplant Sandwich
Juno’s Kitchen & Delicatessen
This creative sandwich is an absolute delight. Served warm on grilled bread, it features a slab of crispy, panko-crusted eggplant with a silky, tender center. Topped with a generous pile of smoky roasted red peppers, melted Manchego cheese and fresh tomato, the sandwich gets extra zip from the addition of basil aïoli and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. After polishing it off, ask for one of the deli’s dense, ultra-chocolatey brownies, located in a glass jar on the counter—they’ll knock your socks off. 3675 J St., Sacramento; (916) 456-4522; junoskitchen.com


Goat Curry
East West Junction
Goat curry? You betcha. This is just one of many appealing dishes at this unassuming Pakistani restaurant in South Sac. (It’s attached to a bustling store specializing in Indian and Pakistani groceries.) I love the fragrance of this stewlike dish, whose exotic, perfumey spices enhance the fork-tender meat. (Caution: Watch out for bones.) Pile the curry on nan for a satisfying, out-of-the-ordinary meal. 4411 47th Ave., Sacramento; (916) 421-4442


Frisée Salad
The Waterboy
I’ve never had a salad I didn’t adore at The Waterboy, but my favorite is this feathery, tangled frisée salad. Generously sprinkled with thick pieces of smoky bacon and crunchy housemade croutons, the ensemble is topped with a peppered, warm poached egg, which you break apart and mix in with the rest of the ingredients. Soothing and fun to eat, offering an entertaining array of textures and temperatures, this is a salad I never get tired of ordering. 2000 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; (916) 498-9891; waterboy restaurant.com


Tofu Tibbs
Queen Sheba
Vegetarian food never tasted as good as this dish of custardy cubes of tofu gently sautéed in garlic, turmeric and ginger, then mixed with an array of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and bell peppers. Pile a big spoonful in the restaurant’s tangy, crêpelike injera (a traditional Ethiopian sourdough flatbread) and savor the big, sunny flavors of this intriguing dish. Hint: If the restaurant is offering sweet potato pie when you visit, save room for a slice. 1704 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 446-1223; queenshebas.com


Pulled Pork
MacQue’s Bar-B-Que
You can smell the smoky, meaty aromas wafting out of MacQue’s a block away from this unpretentious eatery. And while the ribs are outstanding, I think the pulled pork is the best dish on the menu. Moist and tender, the pile of pork is slathered in MacQue’s luscious barbecue sauce (choose from mild, medium or hot) and tastes even better when devoured with sweet baked beans and spicy, crinkly greens. 8101 Elder Creek Road, Sacramento; (916) 381-4119; macquesbbq.com