You know what’s good? So do we, as offered in this menu of places we’ve visited recently, here in River City and in coastal towns that don’t have heat stroke indexes.
Fair Oaks Brew Pub
7988 California Ave, Fair Oaks; 916-241-3108, www.fairoaksbrewpub
Gary Juels and wife Wei Zhang opened Fair Oaks Brew Pub in March 2015, and now serve six to eight seasonal house brews (Queen Tangerine is a citrusy refresher), plus about 10 other rotating craft beers from some unusual sources. For instance, available now is a “bourbon barrel stout” called Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewing in Michigan.
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Pair the beers with menu items such as Zhang’s four-star from-scratch potstickers (more like Japanese gyozas) with homemade sauce, and excellent wonton soup. The tender-crispy pulled pork shoulder on the thin-crust pizza ($13) and in the sliders ($11) is smoked out back on a Big Green Egg for 14 hours. We’ll go back for the beer-braised bratwurst, and a weekend breakfast.
Ella Dining Room & Bar
1131 K St., Sacramento; 916-443-3772, www.elladiningroomandbar.com
We were a bit late to the table, but still in time for lobster month at Ella Dining Room & Bar, through Aug. 31. On plates during happy hour, lunch and dinner are such yummies as lobster-and-shrimp toast, lobster beignets, lobster-and-shrimp roll, cast iron-baked lobster with cremini mushrooms, surf ’n’ turf and Thai-spiced lobster ($9.50 to $65).
We settled down with a well-seasoned lobster-shrimp roll on a grilled hoagie, the seafood bright with lemon aioli, and a massive lobster Cobb salad. We dipped everything in the lemony dressing and avocado mousse that shared the plate with the mound of lobster salad, including sweet tomatoes from Watanabe Farms in West Sacramento.
Sam’s Hof Brau
2500 El Camino Ave., Sacramento; 916-482-2175, www.thehofbrau.com
One of the pleasures of visiting the old-school hofbrau (built in 1959) is standing in the cafeteria-style line watching the countermen (and women) in towering toques expertly carve meat from briskets and whole turkeys, their knives flashing in blurred motion.
You won’t do much better than a “heavyweight” sandwich of half corned beef and half pastrami on rye, with a bowl of jus for dipping ($8.59). The horseradish and hot mustard are at the table. As for heritage, restaurateur Sam Gordon founded the original six-store chain of Sam’s more than a half century ago.
Jake’s on the Lake
Boatworks Mall, 780 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City; 530-583-0188, www.jakestahoe.com
Lake Tahoe has been seeing record crowds this summer. We waded through part of them to get onto the two-tier deck at Jake’s on the Lake in Tahoe City, for a close-up view of the marina.
On this day, the fish sandwich was a slab of grilled barramundi (Asian seabass). Depending on what’s fresh, the fish can be halibut, California white sea bass or mahi-mahi. Regardless, it’s served on a toasted artisanal jalapeno-cheddar roll from Truckee Sourdough, with smoked jalapeño tartar sauce for heat, coleslaw for crunch, and well-seasoned french fries for the heck of it ($18).
504 Bay Ave., Capitola; 831-462-1200, www.gaylesbakery.com
It’s easy to see why Gayle’s Bakery on the outskirts of Capitola is consistently voted “best bakery” by seaside locals. The line moves quickly as the crowd orders sandwiches, salads, hot entrees, pastries, cookies, cupcakes and rustic breads.
Be smart and add a few garlic-cheese twists to your order. One bite of the pungent, chewy-flaky pastry leads to more, and soon the to-go bag contains only crumbs and you’re too far down the road to turn around and go back for more ($3.25).
Pizza My Heart
209 The Esplanade, Capitola; 831-475-5714, www.pizzamyheart.com
In downtown Capitola Village, more lines form at Pizza My Heart, part of the 24-store family-owned chain that took first place in the 2012 International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas. The combination of fresh tomato sauce and thin oven-blistered crust is the secret ($3.50 to $4.50 a slice).
Sixth and Mission, Carmel; 831-624-6562, www.grasings.com
Farther south is Grasing’s in Carmel, a 1-square-mile village brimming with about 60 restaurants. Some new ones have opened and some old ones have changed hands in a rare flurry of activity over recent months.
One stalwart is upscale dining house Grasing’s, where the black Angus “bistro burger” is a menu star and one of the least expensive dishes (relatively speaking, at $18). The half-pound patty (80-20 ground chuck, the ratio of meat to fat) shows up with cheddar cheese, crisp bacon, avocado and “house-made sauce” (think Thousand Island with a dab of horseradish) on a perfectly proportioned, griddled ciabatta bun. Add from-scratch beer-battered onion rings for $8.75. The shaded patio is the place to be.