California's state capital blends arts culture and agriculture, so one might expect high-quality dining — and wow, does it deliver. Now Sacramento is drawing new attention as the backdrop of Lady Bird; call it the Oscar effect. Curious travelers can check out plenty of trends (contemporary Japanese, seasonal Californian bistros) as well as a unique streak of quirky dishes (sweetbread tacos, chicken-fried mushroom po' boys) and fun concepts (tiki time, anyone?). Enjoy these 14 reasons to drive or take a train to Sactown.
For ambitious tasting menus: Localis
Adventurous diners are always in for a treat at this Midtown restaurant known for its inventive combinations of fresh, seasonal food. À la carte dishes range from globally influenced fare like green curry ceviche to rustic housemade pastas and kiwi bread pudding with brown sugar frozen custard. Meanwhile, the $79 five-course tasting menu is a deal and leans toward more adventurous cooking like a Thai take on duck confit or foie gras and strawberry bruschetta. Don't sleep on Localis' mighty three-course, $27 Sunday brunch, either.
2031 S St., Sacramento; 916-737-7699
Also consider: The Kitchen
For sophisticated yet casual fine dining: Canon East Sacramento
The wait is finally over. What may have been the city’s most anticipated opening ever arrived in late 2017 and doesn't disappoint. Canon’s chef, Brad Cecchi, grew up in the area, and after a rapid rise to the top position at Calistoga’s Solbar, he's back home. Here Cecchi teams up with Clay Nutting (the former owner of Lowbrau and Block Butcher Bar, below) and the two might be Sacramento’s most dynamic duo since Chris Webber and Peja Stojaković played for the Kings. The global menu is split between smaller plates and heartier dishes, full of winners like tots with a 60-ingredient mole madre; a rollicking fried avocado salad (with grilled radish, sweet potato and green curry emulsion); and finer compositions like cider-lacquered salmon with celery mousse. Don't miss the cocktails, either.
1719 34th St., Sacramento; 916-469-2433
For dumplings: Journey to the Dumpling
Appropriately, there is a journey required for these dumplings; it's 15 miles from downtown Sacramento south to the suburb of Elk Grove. Sacramento has many excellent dim sum options but it’s fair to say this newcomer, started by a trio of self-described “foodie” friends, is possibly the best when you’re in the mood for homemade snow crab–and-pork xiao long bao or pork and cabbage potstickers. It’s not all dumplings on this trip, though. Don’t miss the roujiamo, stewed pork "burgers" in lightly fried buns, or "journey noodle soup" with pork belly in a spicy and sour broth.
7419 Laguna Blvd., Elk Grove; 916-509-9556
For a tiki night out: Jungle Bird
Landlocked Sacramento loves its year-old island getaway that took over the original midtown Kru location (another of our must-try restaurants, see below). Jungle Bird boasts the expected tiki look — drinks in pineapple-shaped ceramics, thatch-roofed bar, plenty of bamboo — plus the genre’s cocktail classics like zombies and mai tais. Luckily, the bar finds that tricky sweet spot of over-the-top presentations with fresh and high-quality ingredients. Opt for one of its own inventions like Koleamoku’s Touch, blending tequila, coconut rum and aloe liqueur with more expected tiki components like orange juice and passion fruit syrup. Be sure to pair it with an order of pork sisig tacos.
2516 J St., Sacramento; 916-476-3280
Also consider: Cantina Alley (not tiki but quirky in its own way)
For unique spins on Japanese cuisine: Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine
In late 2016, this modern-edged Japanese restaurant from Billy Ngo moved from its intimate Downtown home to an East Sacramento venue that's three-times bigger, complete with a full bar. Luckily, the vast izakaya-leaning à la carte menu remains as strong as ever, with everything from housemade pork gyoza and cold ramen to pork belly and uni with a sansho peppercorn gastrique. For an extravagant experience, opt for the $125 omakase that rivals SF’s best midpriced tasting menus.
3135 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; 916-551-1559
Also consider: Binchoyaki
For cocktails and bar bites: Block Butcher Bar
If politicians need to broker deals after hours, we’d steer them to this dimly lit, wood-paneled Midtown charmer. House-cured salumi is served alongside high caliber, unpretentious cocktails, rounded out by a whiskey list that would satisfy even the more ardent single-malt fanatic. Don’t discount the more substantial bites like housemade sausages, a superb version of Nashville hot fried chicken and a messy, satisfying burger with “spicy sauce” on a pretzel bun. The menu comes via the neighboring sister establishment, contemporary beer hall LowBrau.
1050 20th St., Sacramento; 916-476-6306
For vegetarians: Mother
If mom told us to eat these veggies, we wouldn’t hesitate. The elevated American comfort food (by talented Ella alum and former Wayfare Tavern executive chef Michael Thiemann) happens to be meat-free but could hold its own with the best carnivorous destinations in town. During the counter-service lunch, look for a chicken-fried mushroom-filled po’ boy and pitch-perfect hearty chili verde. Dinner is full-service with à la carte fare, plus the highlight of Mother: a reservation-only, 10-course chef’s dinner menu in which Thiemann dazzles while hewing to monthly changing themes.
1023 K St., Sacramento; 916-594-9812
Also consider: Selland’s Market Cafe
For contemporary Mexican: Nixtaco
You’ll have to drive 20 miles northeast to Roseville, but locals have no issue making the trek to sample these thrilling tacos. They're served on housemade yellow corn tortillas at a pop-up turned brick-and-mortar from a self-taught husband-and-wife team. Start with some burrata and salsa verde dip, then go crazy with tacos stuffed with veal sweatbreads and mushrooms, or octopus sautéed in serrano-infused butter, or the more traditional short-rib barbacoa or pork al pastor. The only downside? No margaritas or cocktails, but there is a strong beer list and some beer cocktails.
1805 Cirby Way #12, Roseville; 916-771-4165
For an upscale but relaxed celebration: Ella Dining Room & Bar
The name of this New American–French favorite (from the prolific Selland family) is synonymous with “special-occasion” in the capital — and it’s certainly formal but hardly stuffy, with an even more relaxed sidewalk patio. Ella is also one of the area’s champions of small-scale local farmers. Pro tip: Come for happy hour, when small bites and drinks are nearly half price. A Dutch baby pancake with Hog Island oysters combined with Randall’s Harvest margarita will only set you back $16.
1131 K St., Sacramento; 916-443-3772
For beer: Track 7 Brewing
Where do we even begin in choosing the best IPA in Sacramento? The craft beer trend here easily rivals the hoppy scene in the Bay Area, and devotees should spend an afternoon jumping from taproom to taproom. But we're particularly excited about the bold IPAs and well-balanced porters and stouts from the 2011-established Track 7, with kid and dog-friendly taprooms in Curtis Park (the original) and Natomas (the production facility). Pro tip: Check the calendar for fun monthly trivia nights.
For seasonal Californian: Magpie Cafe
This eclectic cafe was an important part of Sactown's dining renaissance when it opened in 2009 and has since graduated to much more spacious digs adjacent to Fremont Park. Dinner jumps from braised pork with prunes, quince and lemongrass to a Chez Panisse–evoking grilled and roasted vegetable plate with heirloom beans to the fantastic Thursday-only fried chicken for two. Lunch has a strong selection of salads and sandwiches, while brunch warrants its long, Mission-esque lines. For drinks, there are classic cocktails with creative twists, plus (of course, this is Sacramento) a well-curated draft beer list.
1601 16th St., Sacramento; 916-452-7594
Also consider: Mulvaney’s B&L
For perfect espresso: Temple Coffee Roasters
At its core, Temple is about carefully sourced coffee beans from all over the world. That’s why it’s a name that many Bay Area coffee nerds might recognize. Once you look past the national awards, you'll learn what many Sacramento coffee lovers know: Temple is a friendly quartet of cafes for relaxing with elaborate drip coffees and perfect espresso drinks. Part of the Temple fun is how each cafe is very different and quirky — K Street has a floor made of 500,000 pennies and a dessert and coffee pairings program; Downtown is more hectic and full of communal tables and government workers; and S Street has the roastery and a gorgeous patio.
2829 S St., Sacramento; 916-454-1272
For old-school ice cream: Gunther's
It sure gets hot in Sacramento during much of the year. Luckily, there’s plenty of cool, sweet relief at the Gunther family’s seven-decade-old scoop shop. Gunther’s timeless neon marquee had a memorable one-second cameo in Lady Bird, putting it instantly on the radar of visiting diners. However, the retro Americana space and homemade classic flavors like a decadent fudge brownie and more unusual ones including taro and Thai tea, have always been an A-list local celebrity hit. Beyond a cup or a cone, regulars are always tempted by mud pie or Oreo pie on a stick and a tried-and-true banana split.
2801 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento; 916-457-6646
For chocolate lovers: Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates
The myriad options at this chic sweet shop in Midtown are as daunting as the lines; think SF's Tartine on a weekend morning. Choose between chocolate truffles, ice cream sundaes, macarons, jam jars, chocolate bars and a rich hot chocolate (or frozen hot chocolate in the summer). Pastry prodigy Ginger Elizabeth Hahn started selling bonbons at age 24 before starting this retail shop with her husband Todd, a fine-dining alum of Manresa and The French Laundry. A decade later, it feels like a real-life Willy Wonka boutique. A San Francisco branch is in the works, so Bay Area chocolate lovers might have a shorter drive for those exquisite macaron ice cream sandwiches.
1801 L St., Sacramento; 916-706-1738
Also consider: Kobasic’s