There always has been a gulf between the restaurant where one takes a date at 7 p.m. and the joint where one eats with friends after a night of carousing, at 1 or 2 a.m.
This gulf sometimes seems especially wide in Sacramento, at least for people with discriminating palates. The desire to eat somewhere nice after seeing a play, or a 7:45 movie, or just working late, is stifled by so many respectable restaurants closing their kitchens at 9 or 10 p.m.
Working to bridge that gap are places such as Chando’s Cantina, which opened in January and on Friday and Saturday nights serves tasty, creative regional Mexican specialty dishes until 3 a.m. The cantina is the first spot in owner Lisandro “Chando” Madrigal’s mini-empire of taco places to offer a full bar.
Madrigal said the cantina’s late-night hours stemmed from his own wish for a solid place to end up after a night on the town.
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“I like to enjoy myself and go out to different places,” Madrigal said about 10:30 p.m. on a recent Friday at the cantina. “One of the things we always struggled with was finding good food to finish the night off.”
His 116-seat restaurant was about three-quarters full at 10:30. But at midnight, when the seven-piece Mariachi Oro de Mexico began playing, it was standing room only. And there is crossover from dinner to late-night crowd.
“We will stay until 2 or 3, easy,” said Chando’s patron Luis Manzo, 26. Manzo, who works in a body shop, and his wife, Maritza, 26, a dental assistant, were just finishing up dinner about 10 p.m., and Manzo was drinking a Paloma cocktail made with Mexican Squirt. “As long as they will let us.”
It’s a given he and his wife will go out until the wee hours on weekend nights, Manzo said. But they do not need to hop, with cocktails and high-quality food in the same spot.
“It comes down to, ‘Where do you feel comfortable?’ ” he said. “The places you feel comfortable are at home, or at a place that appreciates you as a customer. I will spend money here because, even if it is a little bit more expensive than fast-food Mexican restaurants, they have (the food and drink) I want, and I like the people serving it.”
Also blurring the line between dinner and late-night spot is the new West Sacramento Burgers and Brew, housed in a renovated and highly welcoming former fire station on Third Street. A fire feature spanning the length of the front patio, and a vintage fire truck positioned behind glass, greet newcomers outside the restaurant. Upstairs is a performance venue called Station 1.
This outlet serves the same half-pound Niman Ranch burgers on Village Bakery buns as older Burgers and Brews in Davis and Sacramento, and offers the same up-to-the-minute beer list (West Sacramento served the highly coveted Pliny the Younger during its annual release in February, and often has Pliny the Elder on tap).
The West Sacramento outlet serves food until midnight, which in Burgers and Brew world means calling it an early night. Sacramento and Davis stay open until 3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. Whereas the Sacramento location, on the R Street corridor, and the downtown Davis spot are surrounded by bars that supply early-morning diners, West Sacramento lacks such a feeder program. But if the music venue takes off, the chain’s owners will consider extending West Sacramento’s hours.
The R Street and Davis locations do a booming business between 2 and 3 a.m., Burgers and Brews co-owner Derar Zawaydeh said. In the decade the Davis spot has been open, and eight years of R Street, there have been plenty of people scarfing burgers to try to soak up alcohol consumed elsewhere. But few were disorderly.
“They are talking a lot, but we have it under control,” Zawaydeh said. “We actually help people out. Getting people water and food is a calming factor.”
Here’s a guide to late-night dining at Chando’s Cantina, the West Sacramento Burgers and Brew and four other local restaurants. All have opened within the past four years and serve food until at least midnight on designated nights.
It always feels like midnight in this Oak Park speakeasy-style spot, which opened in late 2013 in a spiffed-up space that once held Primo’s Swiss Club. Here, amid the velveteen wallpaper and portraits of long-haired women who might have been equally at home at the Playboy Mansion or on a Grand Ole Opry stage in 1972, one can cook one’s own steak, on a communal gas grill, while enjoying a bourbon- or gin-based cocktail.
The only thing missing, for those who have visited actual bars unintentionally stuck in the 1960s or ’70s, is that lingering smell of stale cigarette smoke. But there is an empty vintage cigarette machine in the corner, near the door.
Arthur Henry’s cash-only policy enhances its old-school vibe.
Serves food until: Just before closing, at 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday and midnight other nights.
Order: The 14-ounce rib-eye. Unlike the other steak offerings, it is marinated beforehand, with house garlic teriyaki sauce, and is packed with flavor. Although its $23 price tag might sound high for a steak you grill yourself, it comes with a side salad and grill-ready garlic bread and includes sales tax.
Cash only. 3406 Broadway, Sacramento. 916-737-5110. www.arthurhenrys.net
Specializing in izakaya, or Japanese pub-style plates, and skewered meats and vegetables cooked over a 1,000-plus-degree Binchotan charcoal grill, this small restaurant in the Southside Park neighborhood was the most welcome addition to Sacramento’s dining scene in 2016.
Co-owner and chef Craig Takehara constantly challenges himself by coming up with new ways to showcase seasonal ingredients and his knowledge of French and Spanish as well as Japanese cuisines.
Serves food until: Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday.
Order: Anything from the grill, with most items enhanced by choosing the tare sauce option instead of plain salt as accompaniment. Takehara’s $15 black cod, with a sake beurre blanc sauce, also is a standout. And though we are partial to the $15 duck ramen, we recently have been more taken with the $17 miso udon with pork belly. (Menu is subject to change).
2226 10th St., Sacramento. 916-469-9448. www.binchoyaki.com
Burgers and Brew (West Sacramento)
The renovated interior, with its plentiful wood and copper, along with framed old photos and newspaper clippings lining the walls, harks back to 1940, when the fire station was built, and then further.
A fire-engine-red wall prominently displays an 1880 editorial from the Daily Bee arguing that despite its tendency to flood, Washington, by which this part of West Sacramento was known, should be considered “a suburb of Sacramento” – a term at which West Sacramento’s many vocal current city boosters might blanch.
Serves food until: Midnight. The Burgers and Brews in Sacramento and Davis stay open until 3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Order: The $7.95 Baja fries. Melted pepper jack, fresh-tasting, spicy guacamole, sour cream and homemade salsa cover a big batch of well-crisped fries. The $9 Sexy Fireman cocktail, with vodka, pineapple, ginger beer and other ingredients, was complex in taste yet refreshing.
317 Third St., West Sacramento. 916-572-0909. www.burgersbrew.com
This cantina grows more infectiously convivial the later it gets, thanks to a highly welcoming staff, a creative, tequila-led craft cocktail list and a menu of unusual-to-Sacramento specialties representing various regions of Mexico. It’s also one of those rare places that benefits from high noise levels (even when the mariachi band is not playing). The louder it gets, the more festive it seems.
Serves food until: 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
Order: The $12 quesadilla chilanga, which features three grill-crisped handmade flour tortillas stuffed with cotija cheese, crema, lettuce, salsa and choice of meat. We picked the chicken tinga, the chipotle-onion spice of which enlivened its milder companions inside the tortilla. Drinkwise, the $8 Tamarindo 123 mixes El Jimador tequila with sweet and sour tamarind fruit in a glass rimmed by a chili-lime-salt mix far more lively than Tajín.
805 15th St., Sacramento. 916-400-3929. www.chandoscantina.com
After dark, this acclaimed Roseville taqueria – opened last year by married Monterrey, Mexico, natives Patricio Wise and Cinthia Martinez – takes on a different feel. The pleasant but not especially distinctive strip-mall space turns cozy and intimate, and the bar, where Wise can emphasize his status as discerning beer aficionado as well as talented chef, becomes a focal point.
Nixtaco’s ever-changing taps often include hyper-local offerings from Placer County breweries such as Loomis Basin Brewing and Auburn Alehouse, or beers from the slightly farther afield Berryessa Brewing, in Yolo County. Nixtaco stays open until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. At 9 p.m, tacos drop to $3 apiece and beers to $5. After 10 p.m., the food menu contracts to Nixtaco’s six house tacos, with tortillas made from house-ground heirloom corn.
Serves food until: 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 3 p.m. Sunday.
Order: The excellent chicharrón taco, with pork belly marinated in salsa verde and given extra citrus pop by the lime-pickled onions atop it, or the perfect vegetarian comfort food of the rajas con queso taco with poblano pepper, Oaxaca cheese, crema and corn.
1805 Cirby Way, suite 12, Roseville. 916-771-4165. www.nixta.co
Tank House BBQ & Bar
Though it seems the reverse would be true, this nearly 4-year-old midtown barbecue spot serves food later (until midnight) on Fridays and Saturdays than its new, tiki-lounge sister restaurant Jungle Bird (11 p.m.) several blocks east on J Street.
Our trip to Tank House, the only midtown stop on our recent Friday-night tour of late-night spots, offered insights into how late-night diners and bargoers behave in the wild of Sacramento’s streets.
They stumble in crosswalks, cling too tightly to companions, continue to wear the same business attire they have had on since leaving work for happy hour, and make too-significant eye contact any time a car slows down, thinking it’s their Uber or Lyft driver.
But inside the dimly lit Tank House, patrons were as subdued as the floral wallpaper. It was already 11:45, and everyone seemed focused on ordering and then chowing down on food from a late-night menu that holds sandwiches, mac ’n’ cheese, tater tots and other sides.
Serves food until: Midnight Thursday-Saturday, 11 p.m. other days.
Order: The $12 chopped-brisket sandwich. It holds smoky, tender meat covered by tangy cheese and comes with a side of tater tots.
1925 J St., Sacramento. 916-431-7199. www.tankhousebbq.com