Eat Like a Local: Sacramento, California

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor

For Yahoo Food’s travel summer series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.

Temple Coffee roasts its own single-varietal beans. Photo credit: Courtesy Temple Coffee Roasters

Sacramento, California has designated itself the Farm-to-Fork Capital of the United States. “We are in the middle of an amazing farming area,” says Kate Washington, a food writer for Sactown Magazine. “We have all the produce one could want.” Not surprising, given that California is generally the land of envy-inducing farmers’ markets. 

But there’s also a strong growth in the neighborhood restaurant, “that moderately priced, walk-in-for-dinner-on-a-Wednesday-night kind of place,” as well as some other bright new spots in the local scene. Washington, who has been writing about the Sacramento dining for 10 years, clued us in on her favorites.

Best White Tablecloth: Ella

Located downtown, this is where “you take an out-of-towner you want to impress,” says Washington. It’s in a big, beautiful space, it’s equipped with a killer wine list, and the menu, which changes often, always features the best of the area’s produce. Right now, for example, California King salmon is getting a dose of local Chanterelle mushrooms and Zephyr squash, a hybrid green-and-yellow summer squash. (1131 K St., Sacramento, CA; 916-443-3772)

Best Dive Bar: Old Ironsides

Owners Bill and Lou Bordisso behind the bar at Old Ironsides in the 1930s. Photo credit: Courtesy Old Ironsides/Facebook

The first place to obtain a liquor license in Sacramento after Prohibition, Old Ironsides is “not scary-dicey,” but rather a “welcoming, dim, cozy,” family-owned bar with a lot of history. Located in the Southside Park neighborhood, it celebrated its 80th year in business this year with a big show—it’s become a destination for local bands since it started featuring them in the early ’90s—and plenty of cocktails. (1901 10th St., Sacramento, CA; 916-443-9751)

Best Coffee Shop: Chocolate Fish

Chocolate Fish’s owners are from New Zealand. That means they serve the classic flat white, but they’re also the only people in town who offer nitrogen-infused coffee. “It’s great when it’s hot out, like right now,” says Washington. When kegged and infused with nitrogen, the coffee comes out cold and fizzy, and since Chocolate Fish specializes in medium roasts, that same brew comes out reddish in color. Served in a tulip glass, “it looks like Belgian sour ale, but you can have it for breakfast!” Washington also recommends Temple Coffee, which has a few locations. (Chocolate Fish, 4749 Folsom Blvd. Sacramento, CA; 916-451-5181)

Best Date Spot: Shady Lady

The Shady Lady’s “Courage Cooler.” Photo credit: Courtesy Shady Lady

Dimly lit booths, flocked red velvet wallpaper, and pictures of actual Shady Ladies from the ’20s make this our writer’s dark and sexy date spot of choice. “My husband and I often go intending to get a drink and move on to dinner, but end up staying there,” she says. Southern fare is what’s on the menu—cheddar biscuits, shrimp po’ boys, and fried chicken—so why not just stay and “have an extra Pisco Sour,” Washington’s go-to? (1409 R St. #101, Sacramento, CA; 916-231-9121)

Best Hungover Brunch: Alonzo’s

An old, divey coffee shop located in a strip mall in south Sacramento, Alonzo’s looks “perfectly preserved from the ’50s,” says Washington. The menu is a mix of American diner food and Mexican, “so if you go there and get the posole for brunch, that will pretty much cure what ails you.” (5649 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA; 916-453-9225)

Best Ethnic Eats: Quan Nem Ninh Hoa

Vietnamese food is Washington’s favorite part of the Sacramento food scene. Drive south on Stockton Boulevard, and you’ll see pho joint after pho joint—the community’s presence is so strong that the area now has an official designation, Little Saigon. At Quan Nem Ninh Hoa, Washington recommends the roll-your-own rice paper spring rolls. “You get grilled Vietnamese sausages, pencil-thin crispy fried mini spring rolls to put inside the fresh paper rolls, packets of spicy pickled pork with garlic—it’s an amazing deal and such a fun place to go eat.” (6450 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA; 916-428-3748)

Best Lunch: Mother 

A peek inside Mother’s kitchen. Photo credit: Courtesy Mother

Chef Mike Thiemann and his wife Lisa opened Mother in January, hopefully starting the revitalization of a part of Sactown that’s been in need of it. The K Street area is “close to the capital, but it hasn’t been in great shape for a while,” says Washington, who calls Thiemann’s restaurant “a step in the right direction.” He’s serving vegetarian cuisine there, including a meatless poutine and a carrot burger “that will knock your socks off. And I’m not a vegetarian.” Do note: “The minute they opened, they had lines out the door,” says Washington. “Get there early!” (1023 K St., Sacramento, CA; 916-594-9812)

Best Beer Garden: Low Brau

The craft beer boom has hit this city, too: “People are capitalizing on Sacramento’s history as a hops growing region,” she says, so new craft brews and places to drink them are popping up all the time. Low Brau serves Germanic food alongside its beer, so expect sauerkraut, pretzels, and all kinds of sausage—yes, even the vegan kind. This is California, and don’t you forget it. (1050 20th St., Sacramento, CA; 916-706-2636)