First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two framed photos shot in South Beach, Fla. (and one of late “queen of the salsa” Celia Cruz) decorate the wall inside the South Beach Grill, a bright spot along a busy stretch (is there any other kind?) of Sunrise Boulevard.
The real South Beach is at the southern end of the barrier island of Miami Beach, a causeway’s length from Miami. SoBe, as it’s known, is saturated with Streamline Moderne and Nautical Art Deco architecture from the 1930s. From the late 1970s and into the 1990s, what had become a rundown neighborhood of residence hotels was transformed into a showcase of boutique hotels, sidewalk cafes, exclusive shops and hot nightclubs. Madonna used to hang out there.
So how did a namesake of such a tourist-centric destination end up in Rancho Cordova?
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“We were going toward the energy and fun of a good-times getaway,” said Carolina Ocampo, co-owner with husband Carlos. “South Beach is a place we’d love to visit, so we thought we’d bring our own South Beach here.”
South Beach Grill opened in April, largely because “Carlos worked in (the Rancho Cordova) area for years and he thought there was the need for good-quality food,” Carolina Ocampo said. “You become part of a community after you spend so much time in it.” The restaurant is in the space formerly occupied by the well-known Ike’s Deli, which moved to a nearby location, got a new owner and was renamed Pocket Deli.
Menu: Reflecting the restaurant’s tagline “Best of both worlds,” the menu is divided between Angus chuck burgers and sliders (beef, pulled pork and chicken) and Mexican fare from family recipes – “street tacos” (carnitas, carne asada, chicken, beer-battered cod) and entrees of carnitas, carne asada and a burrito, and three salads. Sides are french fries, onion rings, guacamole, Peruvian beans, rice and house-made tortilla chips. Empanadas (turnovers) and enchiladas show up as occasional daily specials.
Price point: Nothing will break the bank. Prices range from $2 for a huge order of skin-on fries, to $12 for two-thirds-pound patties on a bun with grilled onions, cheese and condiments, and fries and a soda. Tacos are $1.50 to $1.75 each, or $7 to $8 for two tacos with beans, rice and a drink.
Several themed days (Merry Monday, Taco Tuesday, Fiesta Friday) offer dollars-off specials. Plans are afoot to add formal themes to Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. As it stands, on Saturdays the slider combo meal is half price for children under 12.
Ambiance: South Beach is well-appointed in retro-diner chic. The black-and-white-checked tile floor is the ideal stage for the red tables and chairs set off by faux chrome wainscoting trimmed in red tile. Oldies play on the sound system, and a photo of Marilyn Monroe peeks from a corner.
Drinks: Fountain and bottled sodas (including Jarritos), milkshakes and beer. Happy hour is 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, with half-priced beers from four taps and eight bottles.
Service: Conscientious and very personable.
First impressions: The beef sliders were tasty, but we liked the pulled pork edition best. The soft, fresh buns were a plus. Three of the five full-size burgers are named after the Ocampos’ children. In a twist, the applewood-smoked bacon was blended into the patty of the third-pound bacon burger.
Soft-tortilla tacos showed an ideal balance of meat (tender carnitas, excellent skirt-steak carne asada, fish and chicken) and condiments – cilantro, finely minced onion and, for the fish, pico de gallo. We added squeezes of lime and spoonfuls of vibrant red and green salsas to everything.
Four big shakers of house-blended seasonings were brought to the table, and we used our french fries as the test subject, with intriguing (in a good way) results.
Too often, the beans and rice in Mexican restaurants are afterthoughts. This rice had real flavor, but it was the tender, creamy Peruvian beans (a.k.a. Peruano or canary beans) that added a “wow!” factor. We poured in pico de gallo and later lamented we didn’t get a quart of beans to go. Or a gallon.
Try it if: You yearn for really good home-cooked Mexican food, cute sliders or hearty burgers.
Forget it if: You’ve memorized the menus at Taco Bell or Wendy’s.
South Beach Grill
Where: 3000 Sunrise Blvd., Rancho Cordova
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays
Information: 916-476-4884, www.eatsouthbeachgrill.com