Food & Drink

The premium-priced taco and other Sacramento food trends for 2016

Tostada, vampiro and carnitas tacos at La Venadita taqueria in Oak Park on Tuesday, August 2, 2016.
Tostada, vampiro and carnitas tacos at La Venadita taqueria in Oak Park on Tuesday, August 2, 2016.

If Sacramento’s food scene in 2016 can be summed up with a single item, it’s this: the premium-priced taco.

Three restaurants that opened this year – Roseville’s Nixtaco, Oak Park’s La Venadita and downtown’s El Rey – looked to normalize taco prices at a neck-craning $3.50 and above, loading their tortillas with various combinations of seasonally fresh ingredients, high-quality proteins and house-made accoutrements.

What to take from this trend? Does it suggest our collective palate is growing more refined? Is it illustrative of our city’s love of giving humble food the highbrow treatment? Perhaps. But the geography of these pricey tacos makes its own statement. While midtown long has served as the epicenter of Sacramento dining, much of this year’s moving and shaking went down in neighborhoods outside the usual grid, occurring in a revitalized downtown, as well as in our boroughs and ’burbs.

Meanwhile, Sacramento in 2016 continued to make its case to the outside world that farm-to-fork was more than just a marketing slogan. In July, more than 350 bloggers descended on Sacramento for the International Food Bloggers Conference. In September, the city hosted the Farm Tank Summit, which probed some of the deeper issues associated with food production (immigration, farm labor, accessibility) and attracted at least a few animal rights protesters.

And our culinary ego was stroked in August, when the San Francisco Chronicle made a trip up I-80 to probe and praise our local food scene.

Sacramento also found time for its own mini dramas and inside-baseball moments within its food industry. After months of delay and an executive chef change, midtown’s Saddle Rock opened in August – only to have its beverage director (Karina Martinez) and second executive chef (Matt Masera) leave within just a few months. The recent closure of Megami Bento-Ya, a downtown institution for bento boxes, meanwhile felt like the end of an era for hungry locals.

This year offered plenty to chew on. Let’s hoist a $4 taco de chorizo and look back at 2016:

Around the arena

The $558 million Golden 1 Center debuted Oct. 4 with a sold-out concert by Paul McCartney, a grand kickoff not only for the new home of the Sacramento Kings but for a slew of new food and drink options slated near the arena.

While the Golden 1 Center trumpeted its own robust food program that spotlights local brands – Mulvaney’s B&L, Star Ginger, Selland’s and more – other nearby business are poised to capitalize on the crowds. More than 30 food and beverage options are expected to be coming to this downtown area once developments are complete.

El Rey at Seventh and K streets opened Aug. 31, and was the first new restaurant to establish itself near Golden 1 Center. But the high-end Mexican restaurant has experienced a bit of a bumpy road in establishing its culinary program. Its sister restaurant, Malt & Mash, opened in an adjacent space in September.

But that’s just the beginning. By the time the Sacramento Kings enter the 2017-18 season, about eight more dining and drink destinations are expected to debut on the south side of the 700 block, including a new eatery run by Billy Ngo of Kru, and Insight Coffee.

Perhaps the most anticipated new restaurant coming to the block is Solomon’s Delicatessen, a Jewish deli that is named after Tower Records founder Russ Solomon. It will be housed in the former Tower Records at 730 K St. Its motto, which was announced Nov. 30 following Solomon’s induction to the California Hall of Fame, is: “No Bagels, No Life.”

Sacramento Kings offer media a glimpse and taste of menu items that are locally and carefully sourced but still taste, in essence, like arena food.

Off the grid

While the Golden 1 Center basked in its grand opening, in terms of new restaurants some of the most significant action could be found on the east side of town.

OBO’ Italian Table & Bar, an Italian-flavored restaurant by the Selland family, opened in June to bustling crowds and remained a go-to spot for East Sacramento dining. With the new location of the much acclaimed Kru opening next door, this building which formerly housed Andiamo and Rosemount Grill quickly emerged as a one-two punch of a dining destination.

Farther east on Fair Oaks Boulevard, all the way to Carmichael, the 46,000-square-foot Milagro Centre continued to take shape. In May, River City Brewing Co. became the first tenant to open shop in this culinary center that’s geared as something like the 916 equivalent of Napa’s Oxbow Public Market. Other spots that opened at Milagro Centre in 2016 include Ghiotti Gelato and Mesa Mercado, a Mexican restaurant by Ernesto Delgado of Tequila Museo Mayahuel. More Milagro Centre openings are expected in the coming weeks, including the Patriot, from Broderick Roadhouse’s Chris Jarosz, Insight Coffee and the second location for Ngo’s Fish Face poke bar.

West Sacramento’s visibility in the food scene also increased in 2016. The Barn, a curvilinear shade structure which looks like a mini version of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, opened in July with weekly food truck roundups that lasted for much of the year. Drake’s Brewing Co. of San Leandro is running The Barn’s food and drink program, which is expected to launch in the spring. Burgers and Brew, meanwhile, opened a two-story location in West Sacramento with a full bar and live music program.

Starts and stops

Notable 2016 openings in the local restaurant industry: The Restaurant at Park Winters, Skool Restaurant, Wildwood Kitchen & Bar, EastSMF, Boiling Crab, and Coconut’s Fish Cafe.

Notable closings: Cask and Barrel, Sloughhouse Inn, RailBridge Cellars & Co. and Pour House.

But one of the most memorable debuts of 2016 has to be Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining. It’s a neighborhood spot on the edge of downtown, and it brings a Japanese essence back to an area that was once the city’s thriving Japan Town. Binchoyaki is to Japanese food what nearby South is to fried chicken and comfort foods: mom-and-pop charm and no corners cut with the high-level cooking. Plus, chef-owner Craig Takehara is a hometown Sacramento guy.

A binchotan charcoal grill that reaches 1,000 degrees to 1,500 degrees is the linchpin of Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining, a new restaurant in the area that was Sacramento's Japantown after World War II focused on meat and vegetable skewers and izakaya

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

Related stories from Sacramento Bee