The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: Year in Review: Five Best Finds of 2014

It’s become a December Dollar-Wise tradition to look back at the past year’s finds and pick my top five. How can I choose just five? That, my friends, is always the question. Here’s how I do it: Instead of rereading previous columns, I set loose the Ouija board in my brain and ask it to point me in the right direction. In other words, I let my subconscious do the talking. Here’s what it came up with.

1. Mac ’n’ cheese, if you please. 

There’s a lot of good macaroni and cheese in Sacramento. But 58 Degrees & Holding Co.’s version has a velvety sensuousness and depth of flavor that sends it into culinary orbit. With an artful commingling of four cheeses—Asiago, Gruyere, jack and fontina—and a hint of truffle oil, it’s rich, nuanced and nicely textured, too, with a crunch of seasoned bread crumbs on top. It’s available at three pocket-pleasing price points: $8 as a main, $5 for a half order and $4 at happy hour. I’ll take one of each, please. 1217 18th St.; (916) 442-5858;

2. Happy Hour at Source Global.

You wouldn’t think that an upscale, trendy spot like Source Global Tapas in Granite Bay would offer one of the best-deal happy hours in town. But it does. With a $2 mini-tapas menu offering about a dozen delicacies such as fig, prosciutto and brie sticks, paella balls (made with chorizo and seafood, spiked with saffron and lightly fried) and roasted red pepper hummus—plus sangria and tap beers for only $3—it’s a surprising find in a scenic spot, with a soothing view of the pond. (It’s at Quarry Ponds Town Center.) But keep an eye on the clock: Happy hour is available during a two-hour window: 4–6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
5540 Douglas Blvd., Granite Bay; (916) 772-3900;

3. Borscht that’s hard to beat. 

For soul-soothing soup at lowbrow prices, it’s hard to beat the borscht at the Russian counter in the food court at KP International Market (aka Koreana Plaza) in Rancho Cordova. Deep ruby red in color and dotted with potatoes, carrots, beets, onion and chicken, this sour-cream-splashed Russian classic caused The Boyfriend and me to swoon—and we don’t swoon easily. The price also made us giddy: $2.99 for an unusually substantial “small.”
10971 Olson Drive, Rancho Cordova; (916) 853-8000;

4. Breakfast burritos and beyond. 

The ginormous $3.99 breakfast burrito at Eliana’s Cafe, bursting with bacon, eggs, hash browns and a touch of cheese, was what originally inspired my visit to this then-unknown (to me) eatery. Beyond burritos, Eliana’s offers a long list of breakfast specials for $2.99 and $3.99, plus friendly service and simple, homespun charm. Who knew?
1331 O St.; (916) 930-0215

5. Meatball sliders or pizza? It’s all good. 

Though I didn’t write about it in Dollar-Wise, Piatti’s happy hour is one I recommend frequently to friends. The luscious roster of $5 small plates includes fantastic thin-crust pizza, plump meatball sliders with robust red sauce, calamari with aioli, and Caesar salad. A well-rounded list of wine and beer selections, also for $5, rounds out the Piatti experience nicely, as does the tasteful yet comfortable ambiance. A winner.
571 Pavilions Lane; (916) 649-8885;