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15 Classic Places to Eat in Sacramento

Historic ice creameries and Chinese comfort food spots that every local must try

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Like so many other urban hubs around the US, Sacramento is in the midst of a rapid growth spurt, with the attendant ills of rent increases and gentrification. We’ve lost a host of beloved older spots; particularly agonizing is the apparent closing of June’s Café, a homestyle Japanese lunch counter that recently shuttered due to a death in the family. An answering machine message says the closure is temporary.

Thankfully, Sacramento still has quite a few historic eateries left. When you are thinking about going out for a meal and you tick the mental list of what hot new place at which to get a trendy chicken sandwich whilst you gaze at neon and graffiti art, don’t forget about these old friends. They won’t be around forever.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Whitey's Jolly Kone

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1300 Jefferson Blvd
West Sacramento, CA 95691
(916) 371-3605
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The beginning of peach shake season at Whitey’s, a drive-in that opened in 1963, is a buzzed-about occasion in the Sacramento area, and like summer itself, all too fleeting. Luckily the Whitey’s Special — two thin patties, American cheese, bacon — springs eternal. Also of note is the Hot Chihuahua, a snappy, steamed-then-grilled hot dog wrapped in a tortilla surrounded by melted cheese, hot sauce, and onions.

Becky Grunewald

2. Jamie's Bar & Grill

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427 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818
(916) 442-4044
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The lack of windows at Jamie’s and the perpetually low lighting makes it feel like a perfect day-drinking spot, and the hearty, meaty fare serves as a great base for an Anchor Steam or martini, day or night. Restaurant critics for the Sacramento Bee have designated Jamie’s as having the best club sandwich in town and the best clam chowder, and they’ll get no argument here due to the presence of real, carved turkey in the former and a hint of sherry in the broth of the latter. They also serve a juicy, garlicky steak sandwich, house-smoked meats, and a net-full of seafood specials daily. Jamie Bunnell, who opened the place in 1986, passed on in 2017, but Jamie’s hasn’t changed a bit.

Becky Grunewald

3. Frank Fat's

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806 L St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 442-7092
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Frank Fat’s is heading strong into its ninth decade. Within the last few years it has been awarded as a James Beard House American Classic, and recently was one of three Sac restaurants to receive a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod. The pink-and-gold, dark and clubby interior will make you feel like you’re in an ’80s action movie set in Miami, and the big, beautiful mai tais will mess you up. Best bets come from the appetizer selection, including the beef-and-pork-stuffed yu kwok dumplings. You absolutely must double down on your mai tai sugar rush by finishing the meal with Frank Fat’s deservedly famous banana cream pie.

4. Bud's Buffet

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1016 10th St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 443-6905
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Bud’s is a well-worn cafeteria-style spot near the state Capitol, packed with state workers grabbing a quick lunch. Big hunks of meat, including pastrami and roast beef, marinate in steam trays and are carved to order. The French dip is rightly popular, and the spicy Bud’s Diablo, piled high with tender, pink roast beef and loaded with jalapeños, is the pick for those who like it spicy. You can also just live your best grandpa life by picking a meat and getting it as an open-faced sandwich, covered with gravy and mashed potatoes.

A sandwich at Bud’s Becky Grunewald

5. Zelda's Original Gourmet Pizza

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1415 21st St
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 447-1400
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Just say the word “spinnocoli” to any Sacramentan and you will get a blast of either hate or love. That’s because spinnocoli — a sauceless pie topped with spinach and broccoli — is the most controversial pizza flavor at Sacramento’s most divisive pizza restaurant. Those who love Zelda’s Chicago-style deep dish really love it, while those who don’t will spread malicious rumors, like, “The dough is made with Bisquick.” Disregard this slander, and settle in for a wait under the black sparkle ceiling as they make you Sacramento’s best deep dish pie.

6. Café Marika

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2011 J St
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 442-0405
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This tiny 30-year-old Czech cafe brings a whiff of Cold War ambiance to sunny Sac. A star of the menu is the shatteringly crispy, golden pork schnitzel, served simply as two thin patties that fill up an entire plate, topped with lemon wedges and accompanied by a boat of housemade spaetzle in a thin gravy. The cabbage rolls are even homelier, and also delicious, tart, and smoky from paprika.

7. Gunther's Ice Cream

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2801 Franklin Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95818
(916) 457-6646
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There’s pretty much a perma-line at Gunther’s, whether it’s during Sac’s mild winters or notoriously hot summers (it’s a dry heat!). Luckily, in 79 years they’ve  figured out how to move the queue fast. Gunther’s has over 50 flavors, all with the superior taste and consistency that comes from a slow churn and high butterfat content. Pre-game for that banana split by ordering a simple sandwich on a squishy roll, and other highlights include the egg salad and olive and the wiener sandwich.

Gunther’s

8. Jimboy's Tacos

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1420 29th St
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 452-6451
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Sacramentans who have moved away will hit up Jimboy’s as soon as they get back to town: It’s the kind of fast food craving that can get indelibly stamped on your soul. In 1954, Jimboy’s was started by a Swede in the Lake Tahoe area, and spread to Sacramento in the ’60s. The majority of its franchises currently operate in the area. The orange grease of the iconic, ersatz parm-dusted ground beef taco is nicely cut by a bottle of Modelo (the best locations serve beer), and the taco burger must be tried to be believed. Pickles in a taco shell? Now I’ve seen everything.

9. Biba

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2801 Capitol Ave
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 455-2422
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Thirty-three years ago, when Bologna-born Biba Caggiano’s eponymous restaurant Biba opened, it was certainly the only restaurant in Sacramento at which one could experience a reasonable facsimile of a meal in Italy. This is arguably still true today. Biba sadly passed away recently at the age of 82, and the city is still in mourning. She had been too infirm to cook there for years, and the legacy of the restaurant will be carried on by chefs that she trained. On a recent night, the grand piano was still tinkling under the Thiebaud-esque portrait of Biba, the famous lasagna was still silky and comforting, and the sophisticated menu (rabbit, nettle tagliatelle) is still wonderfully Italian. Viva Biba!

Becky Grunewald

10. Stagecoach Restaurant

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4365 Florin Rd
Sacramento, CA 95823
(916) 422-9296
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Stagecoach, open since 1978,  has kitschy, western-themed décor and a Southern-leaning, massive breakfast menu. Most breakfasts are served with the choice of home fries or grits — buttered or fried — and homemade biscuits can sub for toast. Catfish nuggets, shrimp, and liver and onions can be had with your eggs and biscuits, as well as the standard bacon and sausage options. For fans of this maligned dish, they offer the only scrapple to be had on a menu in Sacramento. Saddle up.

Becky Grunewald

11. Hana Tsubaki Restaurant

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5006 J St
Sacramento, CA 95819
(916) 456-2849
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Hana Tsubaki has been owned since 1978 by the Takashiba family, and the rice paper and slatted wood décor shows no hint of an update (thankfully). The menu offers a full complement of sushi, including daily specials with seafood both local and from abroad, including reliably firm uni. One of the best meal boxes is the shioyaki, an expertly grilled salt-crusted salmon steak that will satisfy those with a strong salt tooth.

12. Corti Brothers

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5810 Folsom Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95819
(916) 736-3800
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When Corti Brothers grocery was almost priced out by a rival tenant in 2008, it created a tidal wave of angst and merited a write-up in the LA Times that quoted Ruth Reichl and Alice Waters. Thankfully, Corti Bros prevailed and is still going strong in its seventy-second year, especially the deli, especially at lunch time. Passions can run high when the throng of customers is three deep at the deli case, but the counter workers operate with factory-floor precision and the wait between order and sandwich gives you time to peruse exotic liqueurs that share the aisle. Many regulars are devotees of the Corti special, a kind of suicide sandwich with a tower of meats (prosciutto, ham, mortadella, salame) that changes from maker to maker. Grab a meatloaf sandwich or breaded, fried eggplant on a soft roll with fresh mozz and heck, a bottle of rompope or cardoon amaro for good measure.

Becky Grunewald

13. Nopalitos Southwestern Café

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5530 H St
Sacramento, CA 95819
(916) 452-8226
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Fans of the Little Cactus Special will fight for its title as the best breakfast in Sacramento, That’s Nopalitos’ take on chilaquiles: a fluffy egg disk laced with the restaurant’s eponymous nopales, corn chips, corn kernels, and cheese, and topped with red or green salsa (get both) and sour cream. The Southwestern-adjacent menu that owners Rose and Dave Hanke created in 1992 is entirely unique to the area. Other must-try Nopalitos items are the tamale bowl (more like a creamy polenta bowl), the chicken tinga anything, and a hunk of moist coffee cake.

Becky Grunewald

14. Sam's Hof Brau

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2500 Watt Ave
Sacramento, CA 95821
(916) 482-2175
Visit Website

Sacramento’s old timey food fans held their collective breath when it was announced that 60-year-old Sam’s had been sold, and then again when it was going to close for a month for “remodeling.” Would it be the same old Sam’s? The good news is that it was re-bought by descendants of the original Sam, and the closure included a deep clean and an addition of more vegetarian items but no change to the décor and feel. You can still belly up to the long wooden bar and get a frosty mug of draft German beer. You can still enjoy the hand-carved prime rib or a Reuben with house-made pastrami.

15. Sunflower Drive-In

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10344 Fair Oaks Blvd
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
(916) 967-4331

Sunflower has been turning out scrumptious, plant-based “nutburgers” since 1978, well before Impossible Burgers were a gleam in a venture capitalist’s eye. Many Sacramento chefs have tried to duplicate the texture and taste of the famous Sunflower nutburger, to mixed results. Some have almost mimicked the rich taste that the nuts lend, but no one yet has nailed the crispy-not-crumbly texture. The small cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating and exotic chickens roaming about, is perched atop a vertiginous parking lot and often slammed with locals and click-clacking spandex wearers who culminate a long cycle with a nutburger, nutburger patty melt, or nutty taco.

Becky Grunewald

1. Whitey's Jolly Kone

1300 Jefferson Blvd, West Sacramento, CA 95691
Becky Grunewald

The beginning of peach shake season at Whitey’s, a drive-in that opened in 1963, is a buzzed-about occasion in the Sacramento area, and like summer itself, all too fleeting. Luckily the Whitey’s Special — two thin patties, American cheese, bacon — springs eternal. Also of note is the Hot Chihuahua, a snappy, steamed-then-grilled hot dog wrapped in a tortilla surrounded by melted cheese, hot sauce, and onions.

1300 Jefferson Blvd
West Sacramento, CA 95691

2. Jamie's Bar & Grill

427 Broadway, Sacramento, CA 95818
Becky Grunewald

The lack of windows at Jamie’s and the perpetually low lighting makes it feel like a perfect day-drinking spot, and the hearty, meaty fare serves as a great base for an Anchor Steam or martini, day or night. Restaurant critics for the Sacramento Bee have designated Jamie’s as having the best club sandwich in town and the best clam chowder, and they’ll get no argument here due to the presence of real, carved turkey in the former and a hint of sherry in the broth of the latter. They also serve a juicy, garlicky steak sandwich, house-smoked meats, and a net-full of seafood specials daily. Jamie Bunnell, who opened the place in 1986, passed on in 2017, but Jamie’s hasn’t changed a bit.

427 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818

3. Frank Fat's

806 L St, Sacramento, CA 95814

Frank Fat’s is heading strong into its ninth decade. Within the last few years it has been awarded as a James Beard House American Classic, and recently was one of three Sac restaurants to receive a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod. The pink-and-gold, dark and clubby interior will make you feel like you’re in an ’80s action movie set in Miami, and the big, beautiful mai tais will mess you up. Best bets come from the appetizer selection, including the beef-and-pork-stuffed yu kwok dumplings. You absolutely must double down on your mai tai sugar rush by finishing the meal with Frank Fat’s deservedly famous banana cream pie.

806 L St
Sacramento, CA 95814

4. Bud's Buffet

1016 10th St, Sacramento, CA 95814
A sandwich at Bud’s Becky Grunewald

Bud’s is a well-worn cafeteria-style spot near the state Capitol, packed with state workers grabbing a quick lunch. Big hunks of meat, including pastrami and roast beef, marinate in steam trays and are carved to order. The French dip is rightly popular, and the spicy Bud’s Diablo, piled high with tender, pink roast beef and loaded with jalapeños, is the pick for those who like it spicy. You can also just live your best grandpa life by picking a meat and getting it as an open-faced sandwich, covered with gravy and mashed potatoes.

1016 10th St
Sacramento, CA 95814

5. Zelda's Original Gourmet Pizza

1415 21st St, Sacramento, CA 95811

Just say the word “spinnocoli” to any Sacramentan and you will get a blast of either hate or love. That’s because spinnocoli — a sauceless pie topped with spinach and broccoli — is the most controversial pizza flavor at Sacramento’s most divisive pizza restaurant. Those who love Zelda’s Chicago-style deep dish really love it, while those who don’t will spread malicious rumors, like, “The dough is made with Bisquick.” Disregard this slander, and settle in for a wait under the black sparkle ceiling as they make you Sacramento’s best deep dish pie.

1415 21st St
Sacramento, CA 95811

6. Café Marika

2011 J St, Sacramento, CA 95811

This tiny 30-year-old Czech cafe brings a whiff of Cold War ambiance to sunny Sac. A star of the menu is the shatteringly crispy, golden pork schnitzel, served simply as two thin patties that fill up an entire plate, topped with lemon wedges and accompanied by a boat of housemade spaetzle in a thin gravy. The cabbage rolls are even homelier, and also delicious, tart, and smoky from paprika.

2011 J St
Sacramento, CA 95811

7. Gunther's Ice Cream

2801 Franklin Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95818
Gunther’s

There’s pretty much a perma-line at Gunther’s, whether it’s during Sac’s mild winters or notoriously hot summers (it’s a dry heat!). Luckily, in 79 years they’ve  figured out how to move the queue fast. Gunther’s has over 50 flavors, all with the superior taste and consistency that comes from a slow churn and high butterfat content. Pre-game for that banana split by ordering a simple sandwich on a squishy roll, and other highlights include the egg salad and olive and the wiener sandwich.

2801 Franklin Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95818

8. Jimboy's Tacos

1420 29th St, Sacramento, CA 95816

Sacramentans who have moved away will hit up Jimboy’s as soon as they get back to town: It’s the kind of fast food craving that can get indelibly stamped on your soul. In 1954, Jimboy’s was started by a Swede in the Lake Tahoe area, and spread to Sacramento in the ’60s. The majority of its franchises currently operate in the area. The orange grease of the iconic, ersatz parm-dusted ground beef taco is nicely cut by a bottle of Modelo (the best locations serve beer), and the taco burger must be tried to be believed. Pickles in a taco shell? Now I’ve seen everything.

1420 29th St
Sacramento, CA 95816

9. Biba

2801 Capitol Ave, Sacramento, CA 95816
Becky Grunewald

Thirty-three years ago, when Bologna-born Biba Caggiano’s eponymous restaurant Biba opened, it was certainly the only restaurant in Sacramento at which one could experience a reasonable facsimile of a meal in Italy. This is arguably still true today. Biba sadly passed away recently at the age of 82, and the city is still in mourning. She had been too infirm to cook there for years, and the legacy of the restaurant will be carried on by chefs that she trained. On a recent night, the grand piano was still tinkling under the Thiebaud-esque portrait of Biba, the famous lasagna was still silky and comforting, and the sophisticated menu (rabbit, nettle tagliatelle) is still wonderfully Italian. Viva Biba!

2801 Capitol Ave
Sacramento, CA 95816

10. Stagecoach Restaurant

4365 Florin Rd, Sacramento, CA 95823
Becky Grunewald

Stagecoach, open since 1978,  has kitschy, western-themed décor and a Southern-leaning, massive breakfast menu. Most breakfasts are served with the choice of home fries or grits — buttered or fried — and homemade biscuits can sub for toast. Catfish nuggets, shrimp, and liver and onions can be had with your eggs and biscuits, as well as the standard bacon and sausage options. For fans of this maligned dish, they offer the only scrapple to be had on a menu in Sacramento. Saddle up.

4365 Florin Rd
Sacramento, CA 95823

11. Hana Tsubaki Restaurant

5006 J St, Sacramento, CA 95819

Hana Tsubaki has been owned since 1978 by the Takashiba family, and the rice paper and slatted wood décor shows no hint of an update (thankfully). The menu offers a full complement of sushi, including daily specials with seafood both local and from abroad, including reliably firm uni. One of the best meal boxes is the shioyaki, an expertly grilled salt-crusted salmon steak that will satisfy those with a strong salt tooth.

5006 J St
Sacramento, CA 95819

12. Corti Brothers

5810 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95819
Becky Grunewald

When Corti Brothers grocery was almost priced out by a rival tenant in 2008, it created a tidal wave of angst and merited a write-up in the LA Times that quoted Ruth Reichl and Alice Waters. Thankfully, Corti Bros prevailed and is still going strong in its seventy-second year, especially the deli, especially at lunch time. Passions can run high when the throng of customers is three deep at the deli case, but the counter workers operate with factory-floor precision and the wait between order and sandwich gives you time to peruse exotic liqueurs that share the aisle. Many regulars are devotees of the Corti special, a kind of suicide sandwich with a tower of meats (prosciutto, ham, mortadella, salame) that changes from maker to maker. Grab a meatloaf sandwich or breaded, fried eggplant on a soft roll with fresh mozz and heck, a bottle of rompope or cardoon amaro for good measure.

5810 Folsom Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95819

13. Nopalitos Southwestern Café

5530 H St, Sacramento, CA 95819
Becky Grunewald

Fans of the Little Cactus Special will fight for its title as the best breakfast in Sacramento, That’s Nopalitos’ take on chilaquiles: a fluffy egg disk laced with the restaurant’s eponymous nopales, corn chips, corn kernels, and cheese, and topped with red or green salsa (get both) and sour cream. The Southwestern-adjacent menu that owners Rose and Dave Hanke created in 1992 is entirely unique to the area. Other must-try Nopalitos items are the tamale bowl (more like a creamy polenta bowl), the chicken tinga anything, and a hunk of moist coffee cake.

5530 H St
Sacramento, CA 95819

14. Sam's Hof Brau

2500 Watt Ave, Sacramento, CA 95821

Sacramento’s old timey food fans held their collective breath when it was announced that 60-year-old Sam’s had been sold, and then again when it was going to close for a month for “remodeling.” Would it be the same old Sam’s? The good news is that it was re-bought by descendants of the original Sam, and the closure included a deep clean and an addition of more vegetarian items but no change to the décor and feel. You can still belly up to the long wooden bar and get a frosty mug of draft German beer. You can still enjoy the hand-carved prime rib or a Reuben with house-made pastrami.

2500 Watt Ave
Sacramento, CA 95821

15. Sunflower Drive-In

10344 Fair Oaks Blvd, Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Becky Grunewald

Sunflower has been turning out scrumptious, plant-based “nutburgers” since 1978, well before Impossible Burgers were a gleam in a venture capitalist’s eye. Many Sacramento chefs have tried to duplicate the texture and taste of the famous Sunflower nutburger, to mixed results. Some have almost mimicked the rich taste that the nuts lend, but no one yet has nailed the crispy-not-crumbly texture. The small cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating and exotic chickens roaming about, is perched atop a vertiginous parking lot and often slammed with locals and click-clacking spandex wearers who culminate a long cycle with a nutburger, nutburger patty melt, or nutty taco.

10344 Fair Oaks Blvd
Fair Oaks, CA 95628

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