Sacramento, California: best places to eat and drink
The best places to eat and drink in Sacramento, the Californian capital – and why it’s giving hip Healdsburg a run for its money as the state’s foodiest hangout
Preservation & Co
At this converted garage in midtown Sacramento owner Jason Poole has just taken a delivery of pressed tomatoes from a local company. Ready to add to the next batch of Bloody Mary mix he will sell to 30-odd bars in Sacramento and 700 more across the country, it’s a great example of the farm-to-fork ethos that’s so ingrained in the local psyche. And just one example of the pickles, sauces, cocktail mixes, oils, vinegars and nut butters the company is known for.
This contemporary Japanese restaurant, with a designated sushi bar and an enviable Japanese whisky selection, turns out exquisitely pretty takes on the classics, from a simple line-up of gyoza to a delicate green tea panna cotta. The head barman’s knowledge of Japanese drinks is astounding and the sushi rice is produced right there, in Sacramento.
One of the hippest restaurants in town, with impeccable service and knowledgeable staff, choose from attention-grabbing small plates (Reyes Toma Cheese, a semi-hard buttery cheese that rubs along nicely with the lavender black pepper honey it's served with, and the locally grown Coraline chicory) while swigging delicious Californian wines.
Most mornings call for coffee and few places make it better than Temple, which has various branches around the city. The best one is at 22nd and K Street, serving Kyoto-style slow-drip coffee in a cavernous old building. For something different try a Nitro Cascara tea, which contains less caffeine but has a refreshingly peachy flavour. Or an afogato - nitro coffee over gelato. In keeping with Sacramento's hyper-local food creds, Temple roasts its coffee just five blocks away, and supplies it to restaurants across the county.
Arguably the best place in town to buy chocolate, get stuck into one of Ginger Elizabeth’s incredible hot chocolates, lightly scented with rose, and follow up with a lavender caramel bon bon. The chocolate here is Valhrona but also follows the farm-to-fork philosophy; chocolate is flavoured with Del Rio botanicals from West Sacramento, lemons from Ginger's backyard and strawberries from Terra Firma, a community farm in the Bay area. The flavours and textures are superbly smooth, perhaps the result of Ginger’s previous stint as an executive pastry chef (husband Tom used to work at The French Laundry and now helps develop flavours).
The perfect spot for lunch this popular former firehouse is famous for its double-cut brined pork chop. Owner Patrick and his wife Bobbin are long-term residents of Sacramento, and one of the driving forces behind the farm-to-fork culture; regular customers pop in to offer them peaches straight from their backyards and the couple are heavily involved in sustainable, non-profit , food education work. Typical dishes include a super-light minestrone soup and meatballs with garlicky homemade fettuccine.
Despite Sacramento's city status, it's suburban in feel. Cute prairie-style houses, reminiscent of gold rush times, sit alongside quirky bars and restaurants and there's rarely a corner without something fun to see or try - none more so than this speakeasy-style bar. Owner, Jan-Erik Paino, is passionate about his beer and clearly loves his city. Sacramento was, once, a centre for brewing and hop growing and Ruhstaller is a kind of homage to that era. There are at least eight beers on at any time but definitely start with a Triple Crown (it features berries grown alongside the hops) if you get chance.
A busy pizza restaurant housed in a shipping container, the Federalist is a triumph and a lot of fun (everyone sits on communal benches). The bases are Neapolitan style sourdough (it takes three days to produce the dough) with American-style toppings. Eat one, then play bowles at the makeshift 'green' alongside the restaurant.
The Old Town
No trip to Sacramento is complete without at least a day in the old town, an original historical district dating back to the 1840s, complete with steam trains, Western-style wooden buildings, a host of museums and a theatre. While you’re there, stop for classic burgers at Ten 22 and artisan wines from local wineries, including Rendezvous and Twisted Twig, at The Underground Tasting Room.
Soil Born Farm
This non-profit organisation, a short drive out of town, is home to 55 acres of organic farmland - and two young organic farmers with a strong conviction to give back to the community (in particular by donating to local food banks and through local events and education projects). Their vision for a farm and education centre is now in full swing; stop by in the summer to buy vegetables from their Saturday stand, or check the events calendar for herb walks, yoga classes and cooking workshops.
The kitchen at this no-frills restaurant (expect strip lighting, office-style chairs and wipe-clean table tops) is run by not one but four Vietnamese women. No one goes for the atmosphere but the food is outstanding, which is why it’s often packed. Try the beef or shrimp pho, full of vibrant flavours, or a stellar banh mi.
HOW TO DO IT
More info: visitsacramento.com
Words | Leanne Bracey
Images | Octavio Valencia (including main, top bridge image) & Leanne Bracey