Dear newly relocated political staffers of the Newsom administration and others:
Welcome to our flat, hot city, which we never, ever call “Sactown.” Doing so will establish you as a noob. We do, however, enthusiastically and lovingly call it “Sacto” or “Sac,” and we especially cherish opportunities to say “Old Sac.” Practice it at home, “Ooooolddd Saaaac.” Feels good, right? The city can try to rebrand it as “The Waterfront,” but it will always be Old Sac to us.
Also, we only say “DoCo”—a marketing term for Downtown Commons—sarcastically.
On to food and drink. There are some things we have a lot of, such as third-wave coffee, craft beer and gluten. We are somewhat lacking in categories that you may be used to encountering, such as natural wine, gluten-free items and lines. We don’t wait in lines much around here. If you are a former Bay Area or Los Angeles denizen, you may find yourself craving that time spent waiting in endless lines for everything, like ice cream and ramen; we recommend a trip to the DMV on Broadway if you are really jonesing.
You are in luck—some of Sac’s finest old bars are within blocks of the Capitol. Sit at the bar in Henry’s Lounge in the dark interior, whence you can hit a buzzer and order food from excellent adjacent greasy spoon Capitol Park Café.
The Chambers Room is even more divey, and the drink of choice is Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys. Please remember to respect the dive bar atmosphere by not being too boisterous about posting on social media or loudly remarking on the fashion choices of the regulars.
Pre Flite Lounge will do in a pinch, but it hasn’t been the same since it was moved and the old spot demoed to build the arena. If you repeat that exact phrase, you can fake having lived here for a decade.
- Henry’s Lounge: 117 9th St.
- Chambers Room: 701 J St.
- Pre Flite Lounge: 1011 10th
Sac has a rich carved-meat history, thanks to our reverence for Sam’s Hof Brau, a ’60s-era local chain that is now down to one outpost out in the burbs. But, luckily, chef Mike Thiemann of Empress Tavern was inspired to create an haute version under K Street. Go for the unctuous prime rib or rich, saucy beef cheeks stroganoff. Empress is sexy and indulgent, and some menu items can maybe fit into a paleo diet plan in a pinch.
The fast-moving queue at Bud’s Buffet will barely give you time to contemplate which chunk of flesh swimming in a steam tray you would like to have sliced to order. Bud’s is the kind of place where you’ll see politicos slinging their ties over their backs to avoid dipping them in the au jus that comes with the stellar French dip sandwiches. Capitol Weekly’s Tim Foster has been known to rhapsodize about the spicy roast beef Bud’s Diablo, and the pastrami on rye is the best around, at least until the Solomon’s Delicatessen opens—don’t hold your breath.
- Empress Tavern: 1013 K St.
- Bud’s Buffet: 1016 10th St.
- Solomon’s Delicatessen (coming? Soon?): 730 K St.
Zia’s Delicatessen is a family-owned Italian deli that cranks out a roster of balanced, simple sandwiches. Standouts include the Viagreggio (turkey and smoked mozz.), Zia’s (egg and veg frittata wedge), and if you wanna go all out, the best meatball sandwich around. All the sandwiches are best on a soft, glossy roll.
Mother is a small vegetarian spot, also operated by Empress proprietors Mike Thiemann and wife Lisa, and its chicken-fried oyster-mushroom po’boy and salted cookies are nouveau Sacramento classics. Mother takes lunch orders online, making it a convenient, meat-free option.
– Zia’s Delicatessen: 1401 O St.
– Mother: 1023 K St.
Forget In-N-Out Burger. We have those too, yawn. It’s all about Jimboy’s Tacos, a Mexican-style fast-food place started in the 1950s. There’s one with a drive-thru on 29th St. Plans to open another Jimboy’s near the Capitol in the Downtown Commons are in the works. It’s considered a baller move in Sac to roll up to a late-night party with a big platter of the original ground-beef or bean-and-cheese taco.
– Jimboy’s Tacos (with drive-thru): 1420 29th St.
– Jimboy’s Tacos (at DoCo, coming soon): 405 K St., Ste. 220
Fine dining, old school
Until fairly recently, there were basically only a small handful of fine-dining spots downtown. Fancy we are not.
Ella Dining Room & Bar, where the menu is first rate, is the spot for happy hour for political types. The house-made gin and tonic is bracingly bitter and rightly legendary, and there’s a fine bourbon selection right at the entrance.
The Waterboy opened in 1996, and it shows in the funky art and black-and-white rattan chairs, but the ’90s are cool again, right? A meal at The Waterboy will always be delicious and have flawless service. Chef Rick Mahan introduced Sacramento to sweetbreads, and his crispy prep of these tasty glands smothered in demi-glace still sets the bar. Be sure to save room for the daily crostata for dessert.
- Ella Dining Room & Bar: 1131 K St.
- The Waterboy: 2000 Capitol Ave.
Fine dining, new school
Both of these places were opened by former business partners who opened LowBrau together (also known as “BroBrau”—avoid). As with many breakups, sometimes people have to go their separate ways to truly shine.
Canon has the better food and drink. The often savory and complex cocktails are the most sophisticated you’ll find here, and they offer a few well-chosen European wines. Chef Brad Cecchi is one of the only Sacramento chefs creating audacious and interesting dishes like his tamarind consommé with coconut dumplings, served from a teapot.
Beast + Bounty is like the person in the breakup who gets a dramatic haircut and starts wearing crop tops. It’s got on-trend millennial pink and tropical plant accents and a seriously good burger. Also notable are the salads, which often have a spicy chili or cilantro accent. The wine list is terrible, and the dishes seem a bit confused at times.
– Canon: 1719 34th St.
– Beast + Bounty: 1701 R St.
If you have to swing by the governor’s manse, you are going to want to go out of your way to pick up a nutburger at Sunflower Drive In Natural Food Restaurant. Trust me. This is the best veggie burger on the planet, although some crazies are partial to the nutty taco. On a sunny weekend day, the wait among the exotic, free-roaming chickens and cyclists in spandex will be interminable, so try to call ahead and place your order. Be warned: If they are busy, they won’t answer the phone.
– Sunflower Drive In Natural Food Restaurant: 10344 Fair Oaks Blvd.