Not that they ever went away exactly. But by the time the new century dawned a decade ago, they were in eclipse—slightly corny relics of a simpler time. For many of us, food had become a more precious affair, all about sustainable this and artisan that. And then . . . the Great Recession hit. And suddenly, it seemed like all we craved was a juicy, old-fashioned burger or a homey pizza fresh out of the wood-burning oven. Restaurateurs who’d gotten burned by the economy were happy to comply—after all, it’s a lot cheaper to open a pizzeria than it is to staff and run a five-star white-tablecloth restaurant. So when culinary historians look back on this time, they may well dub it the Burger-Pizza Era. And we’ll all look back on it fondly, no doubt. In the meantime, here’s a look at 10 of the best burgers, and an equal number of the best pizzas, to be found in the Sacramento region.
10 GREAT BURGERS
Whiskey Burger—Formoli’s Bistro
Aiming an assertive punch to the palate, this burger, stuffed in a ciabatta bun, features a pepper-encrusted patty, melted Tillamook cheddar, a shellacking of whiskey demi-glace, habañero aioli and a pouf of mixed greens. It’s one of the most enticing items on this friendly little bistro’s menu.
$10; 3260 J St., Sacramento; (916) 448-5699
Belly up to iconic Jim-Denny’s scuffed counter and try—just try—to plow through the Megaburger, a one-pound beefy monster embellished with the requisite lettuce, tomato and pickle—and onions by request. (Do request them, and ask that they be grilled.) Don’t forget to order one of Jim-Denny’s thick, delicious strawberry shakes while you’re there.
$9.75; 816 12th St., Sacramento; (916) 443-9655; jim-dennys.com
Whitey’s Special—Whitey’s Jolly Kone
The best-selling burger at Whitey’s, this meaty (and pleasingly inexpensive) gem offers up not one but two patties, lots of crisp bacon, melted cheese (American or cheddar), lettuce and tomato slices. Almost too tall to get your mouth around, this burger is one toothsome treat.
$2.95; 1300 Jefferson Blvd., West Sacramento; (916) 371-3605
Lucky Dog Ranch Beef Hamburger—Lucca Restaurant & Bar
Hankering for an uncomplicated, really good burger? Check out Lucca’s Lucky Dog Ranch Beef hamburger, served up on a nice soft bun with tomato slices, lettuce, onion and pickle—on the side, of course. It’s sure to satisfy that carnivorous craving.
$9.95; 1615 J St., Sacramento; (916) 669-5300; luccarestaurant.com
Squeeze With Cheese—Squeeze Inn
This gloriously greasy, outrageously caloric 1/3-pound burger is so loaded with melted cheese that, when plated, a glistening, molten mass or “skirt” of cheese fans out voluminously from the warm, grilled bun.
$5.80; 7916 Fruitridge Ave., Sacramento; (916) 386-8599; 545 Industrial Drive, Galt; (209) 745-4313; thesqueezeinn.com
Pyramid Burger—Pyramid Brewery & Alehouse
About as lively and messy as they come, the Pyramid Burger offers a bold smack of spi-ciness—the patty is topped with smoked mozzarella, peppered bacon slices and habañero barbecue sauce. Wash it down with big gulps of the brewery’s Thunderhead India Pale Ale.
$10.95; 1029 K St., Sacramento; (916) 498-9800; pyramidbrew.com
Hearty Burger—Ten 22
This is a juice-down-to-your-elbows gourmet burger, composed of an 8-ounce Niman Ranch patty smothered with pepper jack cheese, smoked bacon and caramelized onions. Roll up your sleeves and pile napkins in your lap—you’ll need ’em.
$11.95; 1022 Second St., Old Sacramento; (916) 441-2211; ten22oldsac.com
Chili Cheeseburger—Burgers and Brew
Supremely messy and guaranteed to bring out your inner glutton, this burger (loaded with chili con carne, cheddar and onions) will power you up—and drive your loved ones away. Don’t expect a kiss for at least 24 hours.
$9.25; 1409 R St., Suite 105, Sacramento; (916) 442-0900; 403 Third St., Davis; (530) 750-3600
Kobe Burgers—Riverside Clubhouse
These cute little burgers (two to an order) cram a lot of flavor into a small package. Seared Kobe patties, covered with pepper jack cheese and roasted green chilies, are presented on avocado mayonnaise-smeared, super-soft toasted potato buns. A kid-size, very adult snack.
$12.95; 2633 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 448-9988; riversideclubhouse.com
Mushroom Burger—Paul Martin’s American Bistro
Nope, it ain’t meat, but the mushroom burger at Paul Martin’s is mightily flavorful. The soft three-mushroom (shiitake, cremini, portobello) patty is enlivened with a handful of zingy arugula, and the bun is spread with a lovely fresh pesto aioli. This is a vegetarian’s dream burger.
$12.95; 1455 Eureka Road, Roseville; (916) 783-3600; paulmartinsamericanbistro.com
10 GREAT PIZZAS
Visit Luigi’s after a soccer game or rowdy night on the town and power down one of the kitchen’s huge, fantastic slabs of pepperoni pizza. With its honest, clean-tasting crust and punch of peppery flavor, this pizza is sure to perk up your senses and fill your tummy.
large: $21.50, slice: $3.95; 1050 20th St., Suite 150, Sacramento; (916) 447-1255; myspace.com/luigisslice
An elegant study in simplicity, the Eileen is artfully sprinkled with velvety oyster mushrooms, chunks of Niman Ranch bacon, mozzarella and woody-flavored fresh sage. Drink wine, not beer, with this sophisticated pizza—preferably a nice Chardonnay.
$14; 2711 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 443-8929; masullopizza.com
The Murino—Hot Italian
Half dinner, half dessert, the Murino is an innovative treat. The delightfully chewy crust is topped with creamy Gorgonzola and thinly sliced pears, then drizzled with honey. You’ll love the juxtaposition between the salty cheese, and the sweet fruit and honey.
$12; 1627 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 444-3000; hotitalian.net
The Californian—Matteo’s Pizza & Bistro
Leave the calorie counter at home—this pizza is slathered with a rich garlic cream, then topped with hunks of organic chicken, baby artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. Wolfgang Puck would be proud.
$11.95; 5132 Arden Way, Carmichael; (916) 779-0727; pizzamatteo.com
Sweet Red Pepper, Kalamata Olive and Roasted Fennel—Pizza Antica
Fiery orange, complex in flavor and perfect with a cold mug of beer, this pizza offers a party of flavors: sweet peppers, salty olives, bitter roasted fennel and a kiss of warm tomato, all piled on a unique, smoky crust.
$16.25*; 5540 Douglas Blvd., Suite 150, Granite Bay; (916) 786-0400; pizzaantica.com
Baked up in OneSpeed’s gorgeous colored-tile pizza oven, the Rick’s is scattered with teeny yellow potato slices, caramelized onions, bits of salty pancetta and creamy goat cheese, with an exhilaratingly bitter pop from arugula leaves (mounded on the pizza after it comes out of the oven).
$14.50; 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 706-1748; onespeedpizza.com
Canadian Bacon and Pineapple (thin crust)—Chicago Fire
Daintier than your average Hawaiian behemoth, this pizza has generous sprinkles of tiny-diced Canadian bacon and pineapple. Flecked with black pepper and exceedingly cheesy, this oval-shape pizza is cut into goofy, irregular square pieces.
$19.45*; 2416 J St., Sacramento; (916) 443-0440; 614 Sutter St., Folsom; (916) 353-0140; chicagofirerestaurant.com
Smoked Salmon—Village Pizza & Grill
This distinctive, super-thin-crusted pizza is topped with a crème fraîche-basil sauce, garlic, diced red onions and fines herbes, baked, then adorned with luscious slices of smoked salmon and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Spare and refined, this pizza would pair nicely with a dry sparkling wine.
$21.95*; 403 G St., Davis; (530) 750-0100
It’s impossible to feel virtuous while eating pizza, but Zelda’s Spinoccoli may give you that illusion. Cradled inside this quirky restaurant’s very deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza pie shell are bits of broccoli and oodles of garlicky, yummy spinach, embedded within shocking amounts of cheese and topped with pretty tomato rounds. (This pizza weighs a ton.)
$21.50*; 1415 21st St., Sacramento; (916) 447-1400; zeldasgourmetpizza.com
The Sicilian—California Pizza Kitchen
Naughty and utterly delicious (don’t tell your cardiologist about this one), the very thin-crusted Sicilian is plastered with sweet Italian sausage, spicy Capicola ham, julienned salami, a spicy marinara sauce, and melted fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan. Topped with fresh oregano and basil, it’s a lusty meal for one.
$13.79; 1132 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 930-0706; Market Square at Arden Fair, Sacramento; (916) 568-0932; Fountains at Roseville, Roseville; (916) 781-4950; cpk.com
* Price listed is for a large-size pizza.