Restaurant News & Reviews

Counter Culture: Year’s best casual-dining restaurants around Sacramento

Plan B Cafe: Mussels in coconut milk-based broth, with a cone of french fries.
Plan B Cafe: Mussels in coconut milk-based broth, with a cone of french fries.

Before we turn our attention toward adventures in casual dining in 2015, let’s stick a fork into this list of the 10 places my lunch pals and I enjoyed the most in 2014.

But first: This column’s agenda is to find diverse, mostly family-run restaurants that offer recommendable dishes at fair prices, and bring them to your attention. It dwells on lunchtime fare, sometimes covering breakfast and brunch. Most of our destinations are local, but because Sacramentans love day-tripping, we also hit the road.

About the star-rating system: My stars aren’t the same stars as the ones my colleague, Blair Anthony Robertson, assigns to the (mostly) fine-dining houses he covers. For instance, consider the hand-formed burger at Bones Roadhouse in Placerville. We think it’s exceptional, so it rated four stars. We’re not comparing it to Blair’s four-star review of Carpe Vino in Auburn and its much more rarefied braised beef cheeks. Context is everything.

Oh, and don’t forget: The most useful utensil at the lunch table is your fingers.

Now, for one last swing through 2014 dining spots, in order of preference:

1. Cafe Plan B

The French twists are many: croque monsieur and croque madam (both are grilled ham ’n’ cheese sandwiches, but the madam is topped with a fried egg); succulent Prince Edward Island mussels prepared six ways (we like the version with coconut milk, chile, garlic and cilantro; get ’em with fries dusted with herbs de Provence); delicate raviolis stuffed with five cheeses, with a drizzle of crème fraîche; and Brie and caramelized apple with arugula on baguette. Oh, and the mushroom-cheeseburger with “jambon” (ham) and Bearnaise sauce is show-stopping.

1226 20th St., Sacramento; (916) 447-3300,

2. Chef’s Table

The menu is ever-changing at this hip ’n’ homey bistro. On one visit, we dove into a pile of hand-cut beer-battered french fries, rich with basil pesto and shredded Swiss cheese. We loved the carnitas tacos with crunchy citrus coleslaw, chipotle sour cream and house-made salsa. A big cheeseburger was there, too, a thick patty from Sun Fed Ranch. On another visit, a Reuben sandwich was stacked with shaved pastrami and caraway seed-studded sauerkraut with Thousand Island dressing. We added a panini filled with roasted lamb, Havarti cheese and arugula.

6843 Lonetree Blvd., Rocklin; (916) 771-5656,

3. Tres Hermanas

Mexican restaurants are everywhere, but Tres Hermanas is in a different class. That’s evident beginning with the excellent salsa that makes the OK tortilla chips pay attention. Move to homemade chicken-veggie soup, crispy-tender carnitas (roasted and shredded pork shoulder), chili relleno (cheese-stuffed pepper), chicken enchilada with dark mole sauce, and a shredded beef-stuffed crispy taco. The rice is cooked in chicken stock and has actual flavor, and the refried beans are seasoned with garlic and onion.

2416 K St., Sacramento; (916) 443-6919,

4. Fahrenheit 250

Counterintuitively, 250 is a stylishly casual cloth-napkin restaurant that twists the barbecue concept with table service and artisanal cocktails. However, out back is a massive steel smoker that’s packed with St. Louis-style pork ribs, tri-tip, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and more.

The well-seasoned ribs and brisket are the stars, but appetizers and side dishes are well thought out. Start with smoked red trout and artichoke dip and a plate of pickled white prawns, then taste the Cuban sandwich with pulled pork and maybe the brisket bowl, full of creamy South Carolina grits and chunks of brisket and portobello mushroom.

7042 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 476-4508,

5. Farm Table

Zach Taylor grew up on a farm, processing and eating wild game and local meats. His wife, Kara Taylor, learned the art of charcuterie working in Italian and French restaurants. Together they opened a charcuterie shop with tasty choices – meat-and-cheese platters, roasted vegetables, cassoulet (with duck confit), chicken and dumplings, braised beef over polenta and, of course, an array of salami, bacon, sausages, ham and duck pastrami sold by the pound.

311 Main St., Placerville; (530) 295-8140,

6. Crepe Town European Cafe & Grill

Wife-husband Alma and Edi Zildzo specialize in home cooking, serving from-scratch soups, Hungarian goulash, leg of lamb, sweet and savory crepes, pork schnitzel (marinated in cream and seasonings, then coated with seasoned breadcrumbs and sauteed), big omelets and “cevapcici,” house-made skinless beef sausages spiced with a proprietary mix and served on house-made bread with condiments.

4064 Mother Load Drive, Shingle Springs (take Ponderosa Road/Exit 37 off eastbound Highway 50); (530) 677-5993,

7. Anatolian Table

The website explains: “Turkish cuisine is ... a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines.” The proof is on the table: fresh squid fried in crispy batter with a side of yogurt-garlic sauce; a medley of cooked-to-tender vegetables in smoked-eggplant sauce seasoned with Turkish spices; and a mixed grill of kebabs heaped with chunks of chicken and lamb. Finish with cups of strong Turkish coffee.

2319 K St., Sacramento; (916) 737-5767,

8. Mirabelle European Bakery & Cafe

The culinary oasis has two kitchens: One overseen by executive chef Jamison Bumgarner, the other run by executive pastry chef Jose Sanchez. Bumgarner turns out a menu of delicious crepes, omelets and Benedicts (grilled shrimp), pancakes (lemon ricotta) and croissant french toast (bourbon, orange butter and maple syrup), sandwiches, quiche, luscious soups and more. Sanchez’s baked goods are gorgeous works of art, starring amazing cakes and what could be the world’s flakiest Napoleon.

7318 Winding Way, Fair Oaks; (916) 535-0100,

9. Bamiyan

Afghan cuisine is fragrant with coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, black and red pepper, garlic, mint and other seasonings. Find them in marinated beef shish kebab, lamb chops, meatballs, eggplant purée, beef noodle soup, veggie-spiked basmati rice, and dumplings stuffed with scallion, spinach and ground beef. Dip flatbread in a sauce of pomegranate, sherry, honey, olive oil, garlic, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper and more. Closed through Jan. 12.

7622 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights; : (916) 725-6009,

10. Amore Cafe & Bakery

From-scratch Mediterranean, Italian, French and Persian cuisines join hands for a party. Beef, pork and chicken kebabs are good choices, as is the blueberry Belgian waffle, but the wild-salmon sandwich is something special. Among the delectable pastries are Bavarian whipped cream-topped cappuccino cake and the Florentine “cookie,” a paste of almond, honey and orange marmalade formed into a round, dipped in Swiss dark chocolate and chilled.

220 Gold Springs Court, Gold River; (916) 463-0011,

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.