Though there are those who call San Francisco “The City,” we’ve got a legitimate city right here in Sacramento. With a growing population of over 500,000, and a metropolitan area pushing 3 million people, it is no wonder that most residents, at some time or another, crave repose from the general hubbub of the capital.
Enter West Sacramento. Since 1935, the western side of the Sacramento River has been just a Tower Bridge car ride, bike or walk away from Sacramento’s city center. Though West Sac was incorporated as a city 32 years ago, it retains much of its small-town charm through its eateries.
Case in point: There’s a Pakistani-owned restaurant called Kabab Corner on Jefferson Boulevard, next to the highway off ramp, and less than a mile south of Yolo County’s spacious Arthur F. Turner Community Library.
Let’s say you ordered the popular chicken curry ($8.99) off the menu in the rectangular restaurant with minimalist decor. An attentive server, who is the daughter of the owners, took your order. As you waited for your food, there’s a three-generation family of 15 seated down the middle of the restaurant. There was a birthday celebration, and depending on the day, the group could be Pakistani, Afghani, or Indian. And there was cake. Before you knew it, a 10-year-old girl confidently walked to your table, where you are alone on the western wall, offering a beige triangle worth of cake.
Welcome to Kabab Corner. When something similarly inviting occurs on your next visit, it is equally appreciated and less of a surprise.
Cliff Hazelton is a regular who was happy to serve as the restaurant’s impromptu spokesperson on a recent visit, with the full support of the owners. He said the food is Lahore-style (Lahore is Punjab province’s capital in Pakistan), and that the popular kebabs are made on the spot with your choice of chicken, beef or lamb, to the preferred spiciness level, which spans from mild to medium to spicy.
He explained the difference between seekh and shish kebabs, with the seekh varieties being cylindrical pieces of spiced ground meat, and shish kebabs being chunks of meat on skewers that might additionally have vegetables on them. Kabab corner serves the former. He added, “You can experience Pakistan here. It’s my home restaurant.”
The all-you-can-eat buffet ($9.99 at lunch and $11.99 at dinner) gives a diner the opportunity to try a wide variety of foods, like the skinless tandoori chicken that marinates for a day before being cooked in the 800-degree tandoor oven the day of service. There is also a rotating stew-like vegetable dish that varies daily according to what is available in the kitchen. One visit it might be broccoli, potatoes, carrots and more, with a dizzying array of spices.
More mild, and traditionally American flavors, are available at Carol’s Restaurant which is nearly adjacent to the Turner library. It has been a family-run comfort food haven since 1988. The somewhat plain decor is similar to Kabab Corner’s, and in the same way the clientele is the focus. The low ceiling makes the spot cozy, and the noise level from conversation is comforting rather than overbearing.
Ray Jerrett is the chef. “When my mom decided to retire, I took over. She started it over 30 years ago, and it’s very heavily family-involved. You’re dealing directly with the family,” Jerrett said.
The menu is largely straightforward fair: waffles, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and a variety of burgers and sandwiches. Carol’s serves breakfast and lunch exclusively.
The Belgian waffles, just $8.49 as part of the waffle combo, smell like Nilla wafers and come with a little tub of creamy butter that could be eaten like ice cream. The syrup is light and runny and it enhances the flavor.
But wait, each table has a bottle of Tapatio hot sauce.
“The chile verde enchiladas are probably the most popular dish. We only run them on the weekends though,” Jerrett said. “My grandfather was Mexican, and that’s where a lot of the recipes come from.”
A closer look at the menu reveals breakfast burritos, a chorizo and eggs plate, and a Santa Fe chicken melt.
And speaking of Mexico, a little farther from Sacramento, bringing life to an industrial area that includes the Port of Sacramento and the sweet-smelling Nor Cal Beverage facility, Bike Dog Brewing serves a Mexican lager called Bici Perro, the company’s name in Spanish. Owning partner Sage Smith said, “It’s a sessionable Mexican lager with a slight corn backbone, very little malt, and a little touch of lime.”
The taste matches the description.
Smith left his post at the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, with three colleagues, to found Bike Dog.
“This is the original, the O.G. of our spaces. (They have a taproom linked to the Selland’s on Broadway in Sacramento.) It has an industrial feel to it. You see the beer being made if you just turn around. We get people from the West Sac community, people riding their bikes across the river. A lot of people going to IKEA.”
On one wall is a play on the California flag, replacing the grizzly bear with the Bike Dog logo: a simple bicycle with a dog as a frame. Leaning against another wall are cornhole A-frames, one depicting Smith with a hole for a mouth. On a recent visit, a dog sat under a customer’s barstool.
“Some days there are a lot, some days a few. Most of the time there’s a dog in here,” Smith said.
There’s an outside patio behind the building and a parking lot in the front. Due to open soon on the other side of that lot is Baker Family Wines, as in Dusty Baker, where Bike Dog is slated to share a tasting room, leaving the current space exclusively to brewing their beer lineup.
Smith said visitors from the Bay Area regularly stop by on the way to other places, like Lake Tahoe, and the port across the street is a reminder of the Bay’s proximity. And given the recent Interstate 80 closure due to a fire, taking a watercraft in from the big city by the Bay to experience the slower pace of West Sacramento wouldn’t be a bad idea.