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Everywhere Worth Eating Between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe

The best tacos and cafecitos off I-80 from Crockett to Truckee

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The I-80 stretch of road through Gold Country, which zooms past Vallejo, through Sacramento, and into the Sierra Nevada mountains, is like stepping from the Patagonia fleece tech world of San Francisco into whatever portal takes Alice to Wonderland. The journey is multisensory, featuring dozens of colors and shades that blur as you drive, and lands the traveler in a world much unlike the one they began in.

One might counter that a road trip anywhere through the countryside is not unlike that — journeying from urban to rural — but post-pandemic it can be all the more dizzying to set off without any direction. With the variants making cross-country and international travel feel uncertain this summer, driving could be more on the docket than it was even a year ago. For all those who favor driving rather than flying, here are the 10 places worth adding to the I-80 roadtrip itinerary.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Public Market Emeryville

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On any good road trip comes the moment comes when no one’s able to decide what they want to eat. Thank god for food halls! Koja Kitchen, Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, Peet’s Coffee, and Paradita Eatery are just a few of the restaurants that have outposts in this marketplace. 

Calaca Coffee

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Christian Soto and José Rodriguez are doing Latinx coffee loud and proud. The duo are displaying their heritage in a small lot every weekend, pouring cafe de olla cold brews and serving churro mochi muffins, and have plans to expand their operations when the time is right. They received a grant from the Small Business Development Center in Contra Costa, so the odds are good that items like the Mexican mocha are here to stay.

Six different coffee drinks from Calaca Coffee are lined up on a table in front of a colorful mural and background. Calaca Coffee

Tacos Dos Hermanos

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If Steve Sando says the food is good, the food is good. If more evidence is needed, look no further than Tacos Dos Hermanos’ carnitas tacos. They’re a meager $2.50 each, cash only, and come adorned with crunchy raw onion and creamy pinto beans. The arbol chile salsa gets honorable mention, too, as Sando says he slathers it on everything.

The Tacos Dos Hermanos food truck.

Fentons Creamery

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Before the modern highway system, there was Fenton’s. At both the original Oakland location, established in 1894, and their Vacaville outpost, opened in 2007, the ice cream business scoops butter brickle, banana nut black walnut, pistachio raspberry swirl, and far more flavors that stretch back into perpetuity. Cakes and pies are on the menu, too (no guarantee they will hold up well in the car, though.)

Cora Coffee

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Stop by this new downtown Sacramento coffee shop any given weekend and the odds of finding a fun pop-up are high. Cora Coffee opened in February and by April their coffee manager, MiMo, placed third in the United States Coffee In Good Spirits Championship. It’s worth, at the minimum, a pit stop as you head east.

Nixtaco

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The slogan for this restaurant is “farm to taco,” and it shows. Amongst the Mexican dishes to try, the vegan avocado explosion taco is a highlight, the $20 burrito with peanut chipotle aioli is a luxe option, and the churros are a stalwart dessert. The food is good enough to award this humble shop a spot on the Michelin guide and, at $5 and $6.50 apiece, the tacos are still cheaper than many you’d find in San Francisco.

Fats Asia Bistro, Roseville

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In 1939, Frank Fat started wok frying deliciousness in downtown Sacramento, and the hits haven’t stopped coming: Fat went on to open a few restaurants and dim sum bars in his time, in Folsom and Roseville, too. The red chili tiger prawns are tough to beat, and dumplings are a surefire way to have a good time — very road trip friendly, too. 

Ikeda's

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Worthy of a trip in its own right, this peach haven started out as a farm stand for an agricultural Northern California family. Now run by the second and third generation, the Ikeda family continues to be the only owners of the business and offer California staples like cherry pie, fresh fruit, and a full selection of pantry items that passersby have needed for generations.

Ikeda’s

TJ's Roadhouse

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Look no further for mountainous portions of diner food at relatively cheap prices. This historic roadhouse stop is open seven days a week, so don’t worry about coming at the wrong time — there is no wrong time to get a grilled linguica plate at this Colfax restaurant. The volcano, a $10 pile of chili cheese fries topped with onion and jalapeno, is for the brave and the bold, and the burgers (like the $26 Fat Bastard Burger, adorned with guacamole, chicken breast, and chiles) may put even the courageous into a food coma.

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Golden Rotisserie

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A former Tahoe burrito maker went west until he decided Truckee would be the best place for his new temple to one of San Francisco’s favorite portable dishes. A favorite of snowboarders and skiers headed to the mountain, the dishes here are enormous and the prices — like a tri-tip sandwich for under $10 — are unbeatable. 

Three tacos from Golden Rotisserie.
Three tacos from Golden Rotisserie.
Golden Rotisserie

Public Market Emeryville

On any good road trip comes the moment comes when no one’s able to decide what they want to eat. Thank god for food halls! Koja Kitchen, Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, Peet’s Coffee, and Paradita Eatery are just a few of the restaurants that have outposts in this marketplace. 

Calaca Coffee

Six different coffee drinks from Calaca Coffee are lined up on a table in front of a colorful mural and background. Calaca Coffee

Christian Soto and José Rodriguez are doing Latinx coffee loud and proud. The duo are displaying their heritage in a small lot every weekend, pouring cafe de olla cold brews and serving churro mochi muffins, and have plans to expand their operations when the time is right. They received a grant from the Small Business Development Center in Contra Costa, so the odds are good that items like the Mexican mocha are here to stay.

Six different coffee drinks from Calaca Coffee are lined up on a table in front of a colorful mural and background. Calaca Coffee

Tacos Dos Hermanos

The Tacos Dos Hermanos food truck.

If Steve Sando says the food is good, the food is good. If more evidence is needed, look no further than Tacos Dos Hermanos’ carnitas tacos. They’re a meager $2.50 each, cash only, and come adorned with crunchy raw onion and creamy pinto beans. The arbol chile salsa gets honorable mention, too, as Sando says he slathers it on everything.

The Tacos Dos Hermanos food truck.

Fentons Creamery

Before the modern highway system, there was Fenton’s. At both the original Oakland location, established in 1894, and their Vacaville outpost, opened in 2007, the ice cream business scoops butter brickle, banana nut black walnut, pistachio raspberry swirl, and far more flavors that stretch back into perpetuity. Cakes and pies are on the menu, too (no guarantee they will hold up well in the car, though.)

Cora Coffee

Stop by this new downtown Sacramento coffee shop any given weekend and the odds of finding a fun pop-up are high. Cora Coffee opened in February and by April their coffee manager, MiMo, placed third in the United States Coffee In Good Spirits Championship. It’s worth, at the minimum, a pit stop as you head east.

Nixtaco

The slogan for this restaurant is “farm to taco,” and it shows. Amongst the Mexican dishes to try, the vegan avocado explosion taco is a highlight, the $20 burrito with peanut chipotle aioli is a luxe option, and the churros are a stalwart dessert. The food is good enough to award this humble shop a spot on the Michelin guide and, at $5 and $6.50 apiece, the tacos are still cheaper than many you’d find in San Francisco.

Fats Asia Bistro, Roseville

In 1939, Frank Fat started wok frying deliciousness in downtown Sacramento, and the hits haven’t stopped coming: Fat went on to open a few restaurants and dim sum bars in his time, in Folsom and Roseville, too. The red chili tiger prawns are tough to beat, and dumplings are a surefire way to have a good time — very road trip friendly, too. 

Ikeda's

Ikeda’s

Worthy of a trip in its own right, this peach haven started out as a farm stand for an agricultural Northern California family. Now run by the second and third generation, the Ikeda family continues to be the only owners of the business and offer California staples like cherry pie, fresh fruit, and a full selection of pantry items that passersby have needed for generations.

Ikeda’s

TJ's Roadhouse

Tripadvisor

Look no further for mountainous portions of diner food at relatively cheap prices. This historic roadhouse stop is open seven days a week, so don’t worry about coming at the wrong time — there is no wrong time to get a grilled linguica plate at this Colfax restaurant. The volcano, a $10 pile of chili cheese fries topped with onion and jalapeno, is for the brave and the bold, and the burgers (like the $26 Fat Bastard Burger, adorned with guacamole, chicken breast, and chiles) may put even the courageous into a food coma.

Tripadvisor

Golden Rotisserie

Three tacos from Golden Rotisserie.
Three tacos from Golden Rotisserie.
Golden Rotisserie

A former Tahoe burrito maker went west until he decided Truckee would be the best place for his new temple to one of San Francisco’s favorite portable dishes. A favorite of snowboarders and skiers headed to the mountain, the dishes here are enormous and the prices — like a tri-tip sandwich for under $10 — are unbeatable. 

Three tacos from Golden Rotisserie.
Three tacos from Golden Rotisserie.
Golden Rotisserie

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