The past few months saw the opening of a pair of hotly anticipated new eateries by two Sacramento industry veterans. One offers a modern spin on American diner classics, the other a brilliant take on vegetarian fare. These are just two of a baker’s dozen Sacramento restaurants where customers can dine exceedingly well on everything from deliciously greasy tacos to Michelin-starred tasting menus at a variety of price points. Here’s a guide to Sacramento’s must-visit dining destinations.Read More
13 Essential Sacramento Restaurants
From Auburn to Davis, here are the must-try Sacramento-area restaurants and bars
Owners Courtney McDonald and Eric Alexander met as students at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and later made a name for themselves at Auburn’s Carpe Vino wine bar, where Alexander headed up the kitchen while McDonald handled the pastry program. Now married and the parents of a daughter named Josephine, the pair have a restaurant of their own where they serve French bistro fare along with a smattering of Eastern European dishes — a loving nod to Alexander’s Lithuanian grandmother. Order a Wagyu burger or caviar with blini, though steak frites, French onion soup, and Russian-Ukrainian dumplings called vareniki are among the highlights. While Auburn isn’t particularly close to downtown Sacramento, this charming bistro is worth the 40-minute drive. (It’s also a convenient place to stop for dinner on your way up to or returning from Tahoe.)
Bibis enchiladas & grill
Bibi’s started out as a food truck, selling addictively crispy tacos from a local parking lot. The tacos regularly sold out before everyone in line could be satisfied, so the owners took over a space in suburban Gold River. Their “original” taco — the best-seller — is a corn tortilla, oiled up and crisped on the grill, then filled with meat, melted cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno, red and green salsas, sour cream, and a hefty lashing of cotija cheese. It’s ooey-gooey and greasy in the very best way possible. Bibi’s also serves burritos, enchiladas, street tacos, and quesa-tacos.
Jim Denny's American Diner
N’Gina Guyton, former co-owner of the late, great South restaurant, recently embarked on a mission to revive Jim-Denny’s, an iconic, decades-old hamburger shack on gritty 12th Street. She left the tiny, old-timey interior — with its pine paneling, Formica-topped bar, and a row of stationary stools — largely untouched but built a roomy new patio in the parking lot. The menu offers a spiffed-up version of the old Jim Denny’s lineup, including iterations of hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. The new menu is pricier, too; the days of the 10-cent “fancy cheeseburger” trumpeted on an original sign behind the bar are long gone. For fans of South’s legendary fried chicken, Guyton recently instituted Fried Chicken Fridays, offering a bucket of crispy fowl plus house-made biscuits from 4 to 8 p.m. or until supplies run out (dine-in only).
Camden Spit & Larder
This London-inspired restaurant, located a handful of blocks from the gleaming State Capitol building downtown, is a big-city brasserie — the kind of place you’d go to for an after-work martini or a special-occasion dinner with the in-laws. The interior is calming and elegant, with lots of leather and fabric upholstery that will remind you of Savile Row suiting. The menu is filled with upscale versions of British fare including English meat pie (the filling varies) and lovely sausage rolls served with curried ketchup, along with roasted meats and fish. Chef and owner Oliver Ridgeway is British, and this restaurant is his love letter to his native land. Happy hour — known here as “Winston’s Hour” — takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and features $12 cocktails (try the G&T or the Pimm’s Cup) and a slew of British bites, including a Scotch egg, salt cod fritters, caviar and crumpets, and “Dirty Winston” fries with tikka masala sauce.
Sacramento became Mother-less when Michael Thiemann closed his popular vegetarian restaurant on downtown’s K Street Mall just before the pandemic. But in late summer he revived Mother, which now occupies a roomier, more comfortable space in midtown. (Much easier to park, too.) Old favorites such as the chicken-fried mushroom po’ boy and chili verde are back, along with delicate house-made pastas like mushroom Bolognese and Wedding Lasagna — the dish Thiemann cooked for his own wedding to his wife and business partner Lisa. Mother is as inventive and flavor-forward as ever, serving dishes such as grilled ratatouille and an umami-packed plate of coconut-lime collard greens. Thiemann also brought back his popular “Chef’s 10,” a 10-course tasting menu for $80 (Thursday nights by reservation only).
Also featured in:
Sibling by Pushkin's
Danny and Olga Turner were gluten-free pioneers when they opened Pushkin’s Bakery 10 years ago, serving baked goods made from Olga’s proprietary blend of nonwheat flours. In 2016, they expanded the gluten-free concept with Sibling, a chic midtown eatery. The daytime menu includes eggs Benedict; pancakes and waffles; shakshuka; peanut ramen steak salad; and a sandwich dubbed the New Yorker that’s stacked with salami, soppressata, provolone, and oregano vinaigrette. The dinner menu features much of the same fare as brunch along with entrees such as steak frites and house-made gnocchi. There are separate vegan menus at both meals, offering scrambled tofu shakshuka, portobello Benedict, tofu ramen salad, and pho.
Betty Wine Bar & Bottle Shop
This sweet little shop in Sacramento’s Southside Park neighborhood offers a cozy spot to enjoy a bottle of wine along with some simple eats. Owner Colleen Fleming hails from Napa, where she and a partner opened Cadet, the valley’s hippest wine bar. But while Cadet lured the late-night cool kids, Betty is more family-friendly. There’s a nicely shaded patio out back with picnic tables, plus a few tables and chairs indoors. The menu features mini meatballs and roasted sprouts, plus charcuterie boards, hearty salads, and deli sandwiches such as the Betty made with salami, hot capicola, mortadella, and provolone. The shelves are stocked with a broad range of wines from around the world, focusing on small, lesser-known producers who specialize in organic and low-intervention wines. Pricing is retail — no exorbitant restaurant markup here. Buy a bottle to consume on the premises and pay just a $10 corkage fee. While you’re there, check out the selection of pantry items, gifts, and cookbooks for sale.
Casa East Sac
Don’t let the name fool you: This is not a taqueria. “Casa” means “house,” which signals that the food at this charming East Sac restaurant tastes homemade, only better. The owners, brothers Steve and Ted Gibanov, learned to cook from their Russian grandmothers, and they serve good, simple food. Lunch means pizzas, sandwiches, a burger on a house-made brioche roll, and a stunningly beautiful prawn Louie studded with plump crustaceans and a jammy 6-minute egg. The dinner menu is brief but hits all the basics, including pasta that changes daily (often spaghetti with three massive meatballs), a steak special, a catch of the day, and a roasted half chicken on panzanella that bears more than a glancing resemblance to the iconic dish at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe.
One of only two Sacramento restaurants to receive a Michelin star, this midtown establishment has undergone several permutations since opening in 2015 in a former pizzeria. In the past couple of years, chef and owner Chris Barnum-Dann has found his footing with an imaginative 12-course tasting menu that changes monthly. Inspired by his travels and his love of music and art, he creates Instagrammable dishes with names like Painter’s Palette, a tiny artist’s board made of matzo and topped with dabs of “paint” made of duck liver mousse and turnip. A bit of a showman, Barnum-Dann appeared on two TV food competition shows, but these days, he wows guests with his $197 prix-fixe dinners, which sell out almost immediately after the reservation books open. He recently started opening the restaurant on Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. for something he calls Bottle Shop, offering wines from his award-winning cellar along with occasional make-at-home meal kits. “It’s a lower-risk access point to what we do,” he says.
Also featured in:
The Kitchen Restaurant
Awarded Sacramento’s first Michelin star back in 2019, this reservations-only, one-seating-per-night restaurant recently relocated to chic new digs on Broadway. Executive chef Kelly McCown runs the show, joking with diners as he shouts over the noise of the crowd to announce each course from behind a U-shaped counter. The nearly four-hour experience includes six courses plus a few extras along the way, including an “intermission” of raw oysters and a farewell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, warm from the oven. Service is attentive and highly choreographed, with a nearly 1-to-1 ratio of employees to diners. Feel free to get up during dinner and wander into the kitchen; one of the cooks will happily sneak you extra of anything if you ask. Dinner costs $185 per person, with wine, cocktail, and mocktail pairings available.
Canon | East Sacramento
Chef and co-owner Brad Cecchi made his mark at Michelin-starred Solbar in Calistoga before he moved to Sacramento and opened this hip restaurant on the outskirts of East Sacramento. When the Michelin Guide expanded to include Sacramento, Cecchi was rewarded with a Bib Gourmand, given to restaurants that deliver good food at great value. The creative fare includes shareable small plates with global flavors, such as house-made tater tots with mole, and chicken drumsticks in Urfa chile sauce with yogurt. Larger “platters,” also meant for sharing, might include a bison rib-eye or roasted steelhead trout in lobster broth. The bar produces interesting cocktails made with seasonal ingredients, and the wine list represents a healthy selection of bottles from Spain, France, Germany, and Italy.
Also featured in:
There’s no shortage of good Thai restaurants in the Sacramento region, but this one — in the small college town of Davis — is surely one of the best. Instead of using premade curry pastes, a standard industry practice, chef Douangchay Luanglath makes all the restaurant’s pastes by hand twice weekly using an enormous clay mortar and pestle to grind galangal root, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallots, dried Thai chiles, shrimp paste, and salt into a thick puree. Later, she’ll stir-fry a bit of the puree and add coconut milk to make one of the house’s red, green, yellow, and panang curry dishes to order. The food, in addition to being freshly made, is inventive and reflects Luanglath’s recent research travels to Thailand and Vietnam. You’ll find the popular Thai street-food dish known as chicken and rice, along with crispy house-cured pork belly, egg custard over sticky rice, and curry puffs, a laminated pastry appetizer filled with curry chicken or sweet taro paste.
Bacon & Butter
B.B.B. (that’s Before Bacon & Butter), Sacramento had its fair share of greasy-spoon breakfast spots. But owner Billy Zoellin seriously elevated the town’s morning food game when he opened this Tahoe Park restaurant. Pretty much everything here is made from scratch using seasonal and local ingredients from the chia seed pudding with fresh fruit to the fig-and-chili syrup on the buttermilk Belgian waffle topped with fried chicken. You can eat healthfully here if you really want to, but why would you when you can order a griddled biscuit sandwich with bacon, egg, caramelized onion, chive mascarpone, and a cheese skirt? You have all day to digest.