Best of the City 2018


A totally awesome ’80s cafe, a Delta cider that’s pear-rific, a Princely garden plant, an ice cream parlor with a deliciously dark secret, the first human-powered gym, the last typewriter repairman, groovy cherry blossom groves, teddy bear slumber parties, edible beer, imbibable cakes, and more. To borrow from Greta Gerwig’s description of her placemaking movie “Lady Bird”—which also made the list—here is our annual love letter to Sacramento and to the people, places and things that make it home.


Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

Hollywood Halo Effect

We already knew our city was a sleeper hit, as full of charm and verve as Sacramento native Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, Lady Bird, but now, thanks to the film’s “Certified Fresh 99%” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, best picture win at the Golden Globes and five Oscar nominations, the world does too. The movie launched a thousand new selfie spots and even a walking tour of its key locations (we feel for the residents of the suddenly famous “blue house”). The coming-of-age, mother-daughter story—which the auteur memorably called “a love letter to Sacramento”—has also inspired high-profile publications like Travel & Leisure (which lauds our “quiet charisma”), Food & Wine (which calls us “a place worth detouring for”) and The Washington Post (declaring us “worthy of the red-carpet treatment”) to wax poetic about our town. All this buzz—which, being Sacramentans, we’re decidedly not letting go to our heads—may happily attract new visitors, but above all, it has confirmed what we already knew: The River City is worth writing home about.

Map Genius

As a professional cartographer, Molly Roy puts places, spaces, stories and legends into unique perspective through the careful, colorful application of spatial data. In other words, Roy makes maps—exquisitely designed and expertly researched works of art that have found her collaborators from UC Davis (with whom Roy is creating an interactive history map of agriculture in California) to Harvard (for whom she is mapping a history of the Atlantic slave trade), and earned her admirers, such as acclaimed author and journalist Rebecca Solnit, who handpicked Roy as head cartographer for the 2016 book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, which Solnit co-edited and Roy accompanies with imaginative cartograms described in a New York Times review as “things of beauty” (think lost Brooklyn villages, Staten Island as portrayed through the hip-hop visions of its native icons the Wu-Tang Clan, and a New York City subway map with stations renamed after female historical figures from each neighborhood). Now the 29-year-old Hollywood Park resident is in the early stages of her long-planned Sacramento Atlas, a rich showcase for centuries of local heritage—a map of the West End’s lost 1940s-era Japantown, for instance, or the vanished borders of Nisenan, Miwok and other Native American tribal communities that preceded white settlement in the 19th century. We can’t wait to see how we look on paper in the eyes of this talented placemaker.


Taco Tasting Menu

Sacramentans are starting to embrace the omakase craze (the Japanese phrase means “I will leave it up to you”), or chef’s choice multicourse dining, mostly thanks to Kru, which popularized the concept after its 2016 move to swankier digs in East Sacramento. But even those not so much in the know could probably tell you that omakase does not involve tacos—or at least it didn’t until Patricio Wise, the innovative chef-owner of Nixtaco, began offering a 10-course “taco omakase” menu on Friday and Saturday nights at his Roseville restaurant earlier this year. The lineup changes every day, but based on a recent visit, Wise is on to something. Your meal might start with a palate-cleansing burrata on a blue corn tortilla, before going double chicharron as Wise tops a pork-fat crisp with his signature salsa verde pork. Meanwhile, the octopus taco holds a trove of tender seafood with a nice chile kick. The feast costs just $40-$50 and, if you’re lucky, will conclude with a thoroughly luscious rosemary-infused goat milk gelato—because Wise’s cuisine-hopping creativity extends well beyond south of the border. 1805 Cirby Way. Roseville. 916-771-4165.​


Photo by Matt Klopfenstein

Place to Hear the Colors of the Wind

Is it a low-flying cloud? A grove of trees? An amorphous outer space disco ball? Federico Díaz’ sculpture Subtile, located on West Sacramento’s River Walk, roughly halfway between the Barn and the Tower Bridge, is what Winston Churchill would call “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The artwork, consisting of several thousand dangling mirror-like steel discs, mimics the waveforms of the gusting Delta breeze. As local joggers (who are routinely stopped in their tracks by its beauty) know, the sculpture never looks or sounds the same twice as it shivers and tinkles in the wind. Even if you’re no runner, don’t be surprised if you find yourself racing to the riverfront when the sky promises a dramatic sunset, just to catch the impromptu light show. Never has it been clearer how much public art can enhance the art of living in our fair region.

Photo by Christine Stein

Flowery Fro

One day in April 2016, artist Christine Stein was listening to Prince’s song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” while contemplating an ugly bush that borders her Citrus Heights home and wondering how she might spruce it up. Just then she happened to learn that the High Priest of Pop had passed away, and all signs pointed to an homage to the late musician. A few days later, she crafted a nearly 7-foot-tall acrylic-on-plywood portrait and affixed it to the base of the offending red-tipped Photinia plant, which Stein’s husband David groomed to create the rounded shape of a glorious Afro atop Prince’s head (Stein had previously created a similarly styled topiary honoring cult TV painting instructor Bob Ross). The psychedelic shrub, titled Prince at 432 Hz—a reference to a 2014 Facebook Q&A, during which His Royal Badness famously answered just one question over the course of three hours, regarding the benefits of tuning music to 432 Hz—now frames Prince’s likeness with a vibrant fro of flora and fauna. Long may it reign.


Guidebook for the Young and the Restless

There are scores of things to do with kids in this family-friendly town, but when a toddling tyrant is jumping up and down on the foot of your bed on a Sunday morning shouting “I’m boooored!” it can be hard to remember just what they are. That’s why the sleep-deprived among us love 1,001 Things to Do in Sacramento with Kids (and the Young at Heart). Written by Sabrina Nishijima, an East Sacramento mom of two, the self-published guidebook, which was released on Feb. 14 and has sold over 2,000 copies, suggests a slew of local activities suitable for your brood, including classic go-tos like a River Cats game at Raley Field, a visit to the California Railroad Museum or a trip to the Capitol (where she recommends walking a slinky down its outdoor steps), as well as lesser-known adventures like renting an electric guitar or thumb piano from the Library of MusicLandria, kicking it with the Sacramento Republic FC players at a summer clinic, or playing lawn games at kiddo-friendly adult destinations like Clarksburg’s Julietta Winery. Featuring a whimsical cover illustration by local artist Sarah Golden, this compendium of mini missions—which can be found at area shops like Avid Reader, Beers Books and Display: California—will have everyone feeling the bloom of youth.


Photos by Melissa Babasin

Way to Bundle Your Joy

When graphic designer Jennifer Kesler set out to decorate her baby daughter’s nursery in 2012, she wasn’t thrilled by the pastiche of pastels at the baby stores. So the Roseville resident decided to take matters into her own hands, combining her eye for sharp, bold design with her head for sewing (a skill passed down from her mother and her grandmother), to create Pitter Patterned, a line of organic cotton baby blankets and quilts in witty and aww-dorable motifs and colors that pop like the proverbial weasel. Is your tiny tot your moon and stars? Cover him in a constellation blanket that depicts the night sky. Want to inspire a global go-getter? Envelop her in a cozy world map cocoon. You can also pass down your foodie fanaticism with a blanket dotted with doughnuts, sushi or pretzels—or swaddle your wild thing in a shroud adorned with lions or tigers or narwhals (oh my!). And for that bespoke touch, Kesler can incorporate your wee one’s name onto any of her patterns—we love the Heirloom Arrival Blanket that brandishes all the important newborn details (lest fatigued new parents forget). Whatever the design, these darling duvets are simply too charming to keep under wraps.


Cajun Comeback

With its dusky, golden-brown roux and jalapeño-based heat-delivery system, Celestin’s gumbo was for years the best thing to chase the blues away on a rainy day in Sacramento. After owners Patrick and Phoebe Celestin closed their midtown eatery in 2011, you could still find the bayou stew in town, but none hit that same spot. Now the restaurant is back—in a more compact iteration in East Sacramento that opened in March—and so are the many splendors of its variations on the theme, including the loaded, $20 “Celestin’s gumbo.” The bowl’s sustainable shrimp and scallops and organic chicken impress, but it’s the sausage—small grind, smoky, unusually creamy in texture—that rolls your eyes back in your head and transports you to that other Delta in Mississippi. The secret? This sausage is neither sustainable nor organic, but it is something your mom or maybe grandma used to serve up on Sundays: Hillshire Farms’ Polska Kielbasa. Given that Spam is now considered cool in culinary circles, we’re all for Celestin’s leading the way for a Polska Kielbasa comeback. 3610 McKinley Blvd. 916-258-4060.


Nose for Business

Tyler Monk began his olfactory adventures as a teenager growing up in Camino, bottling dried flowers with lavender or rose oils to sell at nearby Apple Hill. The floral scents gave way to charred meat and wood smoke when Monk, now 37, began a long stint working in area restaurants, culminating in a general manager gig at Sacramento barbecue spot Fahrenheit 250. Then, four years ago, Monk revived his interest in perfuming, experimenting with Indian peppermint and Madagascan ylang-ylang and introducing his LuVandus line of clean, earthy and gender-neutral scents last year. The fragrances go for $85 per 50-ml bottle, and $25 for items such as body wash and lotion, and are available to sniff and savor at local boutiques like midtown’s Boar Haus, where Monk recently set up shop and will mix custom fragrances for patrons (you can also order LuVandus products through its website). He even snagged a coveted pop-up appearance at Nordstrom Arden Fair in April. Our favorite off-the-shelf scent has to be Oren, which starts out strong with peppermint before evening out with juniper, Siberian pine and finally, smoke—a bit like a barbecue restaurant and a bit like Apple Hill in the fall.


Photo by David Kempker

Satirical Political Portraitist

During Jerry Brown’s first term as governor, Laura Harling got the job cleaning his bachelor pad after a colleague threw her back out trying to make his bed, which was then just a bare mattress on the floor. In 1989, amused by her former client’s Spartan, hippie-inflected lifestyle, Harling sculpted him in the lotus position, clad only in a Gandhi-inspired loincloth. The send-up made it into Harper’s Magazine, and Harling—who studied art at Sacramento State and spent 19 years as a state janitor before going to work as a prison teacher and retiring in 2001—became the capital city’s unofficial sculptor emeritus, her three-dimensional political cartoons widely published around the country. Here’s Schwarzenegger at his desk, a taxidermied head of Gray Davis mounted on the wall above him; there’s shirtless Putin onstage, backed up by the members of Pussy Riot. In other works, George W. Bush channels Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove in a piece titled Li’l Smart Bomb, Bill Clinton twinkles as a satyr with a sax, and Gov. Brown does the tango with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. And the El Dorado Hills artist hopes to debut her newest Jerry-Gavin piece at this year’s State Fair. Politics may make strange bedfellows, but politicians make strangely intriguing models.


Photo by Anna Wick

Typewriter Doctor

As a student attending American River College in the early 1970s, Ole Kehlet was just minding his own business when one day a friend tipped him off to a job delivering Smith Corona typewriter parts around Sacramento. Nearly five decades later, Kehlet is the city’s last typewriter repairman standing. Indeed, at least three days a week you can find him perched behind the weathered counter of his 200-square-foot storefront on 16th Street just outside midtown fielding phone calls (“the cross street is T, like typewriter,” he’s fond of saying), scheduling service appointments and chatting at length with visitors about the marvelous machines inhabiting his shop. Ask Kehlet, 65, about his folding 1918 Corona, a lightweight favorite of traveling salesmen and journalists; or his French-made 1954 Roxy, encased in a military-green metal shell that’s less than two inches thick; or his puzzling, but beloved 1903 Yost typewriter that has full complements of capital and lowercase letters instead of a shift key. Or ask him to find and restore you a vintage beauty of your own, an aesthetic and creative delight that can be yours for a few hundred bucks. However you proceed, rest assured that this guy is just your type. 1926 16th St. 916-447-7171

Way to Have Your Cake and Drink It Too

Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Batman and Robin. Some things have just gone together for as long as we can remember. But that doesn’t mean some duos shouldn’t get a reboot, which is what the new Folsom dessert shop Whips is giving to the tried-and-true pairing of cake and ice cream. Nick Morris and his parents, Terry and Joanne, who opened their store in January, drop slices of cake in a stand mixer with ice cream and milk to make, well, cake shakes, and it turns out that they’re pretty amazing (and so are their pie shakes). The shop has a rotating lineup of baked desserts—like cookies and cream or red velvet cake, banana cream pie and peach crisp, from folks like Granite Bay’s Little Bliss Cakery and Folsom’s Sweet Cakes—and ice cream (vanilla, strawberry or chocolate), and churns the ingredients into either a “whip,” which is thick like semi-melted ice cream and eaten with a spoon, or—the way we like it best—a shake, which comes with a wide-mouthed straw for easy slurping of the crumbly, cakey bits. With all the available combos, choosing where to grab dessert this summer should be a veritable cakewalk. 711 E. Bidwell St. Folsom. 916-542-7907.


Photo by Jeremy Sykes

New Brewery in a Barn

Barns in California are supposed to be used for two things: housing livestock and hosting rustic weddings, right? Well, at Hillenbrand Farmhaus Brewery, you can add brewing uniquely aromatic and flavorful beers to that list. Owner Patric Hillenbrand began serving up pints at his barn brewery in Newcastle last fall, and we have taken a real shine to both the suds and the serene vistas on the 13-acre ranch, which features a peaceful pond and 100-year-old fig trees (the fruit of which will be used in a new summertime concoction). A perpetual hit is the Juicy Fruit IPA, with complex, layered notes of citrus, hops and pineapple, but our favorite is the refreshing Farmhaus Saison, a smooth quaff finished with lemon zest and toasted coriander. That said, with seasonal offerings on tap like Watermelon Wheat (with estate-grown watermelon) and a local peach-infused Berliner Weiss, our drink of choice may change with each visit. Hillenbrand has also collaborated with top local chefs to host beer-pairing dinners (a recent event brought Mikuni’s Taro Arai to the brewery), where guests can feast in a setting right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Whenever you visit, you won’t need to imbibe on an empty stomach. Try a Pretzel Platter with a giant hot German pretzel from Freeport Bakery, served with salami, olives, cheese, almonds, cashews and grapes. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can twirl a chocolate cake pop, created especially for the brewery by Ettore’s Bakery with a reduction of the You’re Killing Me S’mores brown ale (made with toasted marshmallows) in the batter. Whether you decide to drink your beer or eat it, a trip to Hillenbrand is sure to be a real barn burner. 5100 Virginiatown Rd. Newcastle.


Hidden Vegan Haven

Doesn’t the term “vegan soul food” sound like an oxymoron? Especially when it comes to comfort cuisine, where the gustatory delights tend to be meaty and unctuous—every herbivore has a memory of making do with two sides and a biscuit while his/her carnivorous tablemate’s chin glistens with poultry juice. But in 2012, when the team behind veggie-friendly Capitol Garage opened its Southern restaurant The Porch, head chef Jon Clemons wanted to continue the tradition of offering diners an array of meatless menu options. Okra, collards, tomatoes and beets (grown exclusively for the restaurant by Oakmont Earth Arts in Rosemont) get the full-on, decadent, slow-food treatment, not a calorie spared. Clemons’ griddle and bubbling deep fryer have been known to turn out inventive twists like a French toast dipped in banana-coconut batter with vegan whipped cream, and succulent, delicately crusted Cajun beets with tangy, twangy comeback sauce (a blend of house-made veganaise and ketchup) that are so explosively flavorful that traditionalists have been known to let their chicken and waffles languish while poaching plants from their partners’ plates. When you consider the midtown restaurant’s equally stellar cocktail selection (try the Snickerdoodle), it’s no surprise that The Porch has become one of our favorite places to veg out. 1815 K St. 916-444-2423.


Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Place to Party Like It’s 1989

You don’t need a hot tub time machine to rewind to the decade that brought us Flashdance, big hair and parachute pants—just dust off your raspberry beret and head to Back to the ’80s Cafe & More. Whether you were a teenager during the Brat Pack years, or just love to dress like one, this Rancho Cordova restaurant, which opened in December, will give you the full throwback experience, with movie posters from classics like The Goonies and Pretty in Pink lining neon blue walls, a Ms. Pac-Man machine beeping in a side nook and MTV music videos Rickrolling all day long on flat-screen TVs. The menu, which touts punnily named items like French Toast Busters and Culture Club Sandwich, almost seems like a bonus at this restaurant, where we could gawk at owner Chris Knecht’s impressive collection of Michael Jackson trading cards, Freddy Krueger dolls and Back to the Future Part II solar shades for hours and easily forget to order the food. But do take a seat on a Rubik’s Cube stool and chow down on the popular Risky Business Burger (totally tubular tip: ask the friendly cashier Keith—who channels George McFly with his gelled hair, khaki trousers and a gray bomber jacket—for a side of Tetris-shaped tater tots). It washes down perfectly with a “Time Warp” milkshake, like the E.T. version with Reese’s Pieces. And ’80s aficionados will be thrilled (Thrillered?) to know that Knecht hopes to open a second, larger location in midtown later this year, with space for live music and dancing every Friday and Saturday. We’ll start practicing our moonwalk now. 3084 Sunrise Blvd. Rancho Cordova. 916-368-7616.


Brass Menagerie

You’re roaming through downtown’s concrete jungle and suddenly, in the distance, the buoyant blast of a single trombone rises above the white noise of the bustling streets. A trumpet follows and soon the cacophonous symphony edges closer. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness the spontaneous sidewalk serenade of Sacramento’s City of Trees Brass Band, then you’ve witnessed the ultimate urban pop-up parade. The ensemble originated when bandleader Ben Hillier gathered a few of his college friends to perform some of his new arrangements in 2013. It has since blossomed into a group of over 30 rotating musicians who have embraced the tradition of busking. The boisterous melodies of the band’s New Orleans-inspired jazz breathe life into otherwise empty street corners. If, however, like us, you’re too impatient to wait for them to stroll down your street, then follow them on Facebook to see if you can catch them at one of the band’s haunts like the Torch Club or Der Biergarten. Wherever you find them, show ’em some love with your applause or pocketbook. Our annual jazz festival may be gone, but its spirit lives on in these troubadours who make our city as proud as their namesake trees.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Doggone Delicious Global Vacation

In Japanese, “umai” means “yummy,” and you’ll be thinking that often at Umai Savory Hot Dogs, a local chain with a menu of over 20 flavorful and creative varieties. Inspired by his immigrant parents’ San Jose hot dog cart, 43-year-old owner Louie Tran opened his first Umai location in Roseville in 2015 (there’s now also an outpost in Arden-Arcade). And like the elder Trans’ outfit, which offered toppings beyond ketchup and mustard, such as seaweed and sriracha mayo, Louie’s venture is a travelogue for the tongue. If, like us, your ambition is to someday eat ’em all, you’ll be taking a trip around the world. First stop, Japan, for the semi-sweet Tokyo Signature, which comes with a beef frankfurter, caramelized onions, roasted seaweed, teri mayonnaise, house-made teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds. Afterward, head south to Vietnam for our favorite, the bánh mì-inspired Saigon Hustle, with a juicy bratwurst, pickled daikon and carrots, sweet chili and teriyaki hoisin sauces, crunchy fresh jalapeño and salty roasted peanuts. And make sure to stop by Hawaii for the bacon-topped Honolulu Bang Bang, Florida for the spicy Bacon Cubano, Germany for the tangy Blitzkrieg, and Thailand for the peppery Thai Thunder. With these and many other “umai” ways to add stamps to your culinary passport, just make sure you arrive hungry for adventure. Roseville: 1132 Galleria Blvd. 916-774-0707. Arden-Arcade: 1310 Howe Ave. 916-246-9443.


Photo courtesy of the Center for Sacramento History

Sudsy Story

It’s déjà brew all over again. Prior to Prohibition, you see, the capital city was also the beer-making capital of the West (not to mention the largest hop-growing region in the nation). And over the last decade, the local scene has bubbled back to life, growing from six to more than 60 breweries, according to the new book Sacramento Beer: A Craft History by Justin Chechourka, a former producer at KCRA. In it, the West Sacramentan chronicles the movement’s past with stories like the one about a Donner Party survivor who made the city’s first lager. He also parses its present through interviews with brewmasters from dozens of local breweries—including heavy hitters like Ruhstaller and Rubicon as well as new kids on the block like Elk Grove’s Flatland and Auburn’s Moonraker—and contemplates our foamy future via UC Davis professor Dr. Charles Bamforth, aka the “Pope of Foam,” and his school’s brewing science program. But our favorite thing about this beer bible—which is available locally at the Sacramento History Museum and stores like Time Tested Books and Avid Reader (visit the title’s website for info on upcoming book signings at regional breweries)—might be that each section comes with a beer-pairing recommendation. Ruhstaller’s Hop Sac ale with chapter 12, about our region’s hoppy comeback? Don’t mind if we do.


Guilt-free Ice Cream

The dairy cows at Long Dream Farm, which is nestled in the foothills just north of Lincoln, must be jumping over the moon for joy—at least figuratively—since their home is one of only a few slaughter-free “ethical dairies” in the country. But the ranch’s commitment to bovine bliss, made by husband-and-wife owners Andrew and Krista Abrahams, doesn’t stop there: Cows are milked only once a day and promptly reunited with their calves, who stay with their mammas until they wean naturally. Very close attention is paid to keeping family and social groups together, so several multigenerational cattle clans inhabit the farm’s picture-perfect fields and live in harmony with the over 1,000 pasture-raised chickens who supply the eggs. And apparently, happy cows and chickens make heavenly custard-style ice cream. Long Dream’s frozen flavors are classic—vanilla, chocolate and coffee—and sublime in their simplicity. The vanilla is sweet and milky, the chocolate is decadently full-bodied, and the coffee—created using beans from a NorCal roaster, like a recent batch boasting brew from Highwire Coffee in Oakland—is well balanced and creamy. One bite, and you too will be extolling the virtues of the Abrahams’ feel-good, taste-great treats until the cows come home. 916-543-0758.


Photo by Curtis Yee

Coffee Shop with Superpowers

Having vanquished all comers in Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s 2016 “Calling All Dreamers” contest for aspiring entrepreneurs, self-proclaimed comic book geeks Laura Benson and Neil Estaris opened the superhero-themed Oblivion Comics & Coffee last year, bringing a power-packed punch of graphic novels and assorted pop culture tchotchkes to K Street. And here, even the edible options have superpowers. Supercharge your browsing with a white chocolate and caramel Latte of Truth made with espresso from Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters and topped with a cinnamon-dusted Wonder Woman insignia. Hungry? Oblivion’s creative selections of dessert toasts are formidable (and delicious), including country French bread blanketed with cinnamon sugar from nearby Allspicery or covered in cream cheese and Oreo crumbles. But our newest favorite is the savory Edible Hulk, a thick-cut sourdough slice from locally based Grateful Bread, slathered with a muscular helping of avocado and sprinkled with sea salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper. It is, one might even say, Marvel-ous. 1020 11th St. 916-329-8839.


Cheesecake Boss

When starting her eponymous online business, Creamy’s by Cayla Jordan, in 2016, the cheesecake maker had to overcome a certain stereotype: the image conjured by those gargantuan slices at Cheesecake Factory. An avid baker since childhood, the 26-year-old decided to go big by going small, shrinking down her recipe to mini-muffin size. And at two bites each from start to finish, Jordan’s petite, paper-wrapped cheesecakes, with their buttery cookie crust and creamy rich filling, make for highly satisfying, perfectly sized post-meal treats. The desserts—which she makes in her Elk Grove home and come in flavors like original, caramel and chocolate chip cookie—can be found at Temple Coffee at 22nd and K streets and Philz Coffee in the Ice Blocks (an exclusive Mint Mojito flavor pairs with the Bay Area chain’s popular iced beverage of the same name), as well as at her new shop, located in a bite-sized structure she built on R Street. Between all that, plus self-publishing her #CheesecakeQueen cookbook, uploading baking tutorial vids on YouTube, and posting eye-grabbing food pics on her Instagram page (including of her cookie-cheesecake sandwiches), this gourmet go-getter is proving herself to be anything but half-baked.​

Photo by Cayla Jordan

Coco Duo

Adrian Molina started dreaming of moviemaking in the backyard of his family’s home in rural Grass Valley (he graduated from Bear River High School in 2003). “It felt far from civilization, so it forced me as a kid to be very creative—drawing, writing stories. I’d make home videos with my brothers,” says the filmmaker, who co-wrote and co-directed Pixar’s Coco, a moving ode to heritage and family centered on the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. What he couldn’t have imagined at the time was penning an Oscar-winning animated feature, let alone with a fellow hometown scribe. Yup, Coco’s other screenwriter is Matthew Aldrich, who grew up in Sacramento and graduated from Rio Americano in 1993 before heading to UCLA to study theater. Funnily enough, Molina says he and Aldrich didn’t know about their shared roots until well after they finished working on the movie, around the time their names were called from the podium at the 2018 Annie Awards, where their film picked up 11 wins, including for best writing. With critics and audiences alike going cuckoo for Coco, we hope that this is just the beginning of a beautiful working relationship.


Photo by Ryan Donahue

Gulp of Mexico

When building the cocktail menu at Midtown’s Cantina Alley, bar manager Oscar Escobar wanted to create a signature beverage that enhanced the oasis-like feel of the festive indoor-outdoor eatery, which was modeled after a Mexican seaside saloon. Inspired by visits to Acapulco as a kid, during which he saw beach bums ordering drinks served in fruit husks, and how south-of-the-border street cart vendors sprinkle lime, chile and salt on a juicy slice of watermelon for a sweet-tart-spicy treat, the Mexico City native concocted La Sandia, aka The Watermelon. Since the palapa-shaded cantina’s opening in March of last year, the juicy—and scarily drinkable—tipple for two has become the hangout’s most popular cocktail, a purée of blush-red melon blended with three shots of tequila, lime juice and agave nectar, served in a hollowed-out mini watermelon shell and finished with Tajín seasoning, which also is dusted on a fan of slices of the titular fruit that come on the side, a nod to the traditional street vendors’ offering. The result is a slice of Acapulco beach life to be savored all summer long. 2320 Jazz Alley. 916-970-5588.


Nickel-and-dime Do-gooder

As if saving the planet weren’t reason enough to bag your free-range rotisserie chicken and organic guavas in reusable totes, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, which moved a few blocks west to its much larger midtown digs last year, provides an extra incentive with its Make Every Day Earth Day program. For each reusable carrier shoppers use, they receive a wooden token, which amounts to a five-cent donation that can be deposited into one of six 6-by-7-inch boxes lined up near the doors. One box holds tokens for the co-op’s community fund, which awards small grants to local projects, while the other five represent environmental groups nominated by its shoppers and announced each year on Earth Day. Since the campaign went into effect in 2002, the store has handed out close to $150,000 to area nonprofits (this year’s recipients include ReSoil Sacramento and Save the American River Association). As eco-conscious endeavors go, this one’s in the bag. 2820 R St. 916-455-2667.


Philz Coffee photo by Justin K-L Smith. All others by Curtis Yee

Cool New Kid on the Bloack

The Ice Blocks complex, which extends the R Street Corridor beyond 16th Street, isn’t just buzzing, it’s harmonically vibrating at a frequency that can only be heard by futurists, hipsters and certain gifted bartenders, barbers, juicers and baristas. The adaptive reuse project, which rose out of the ashes of the historic Crystal Ice warehouse that burned down in 2015, incorporates old and new architectural motifs—worn industrial façades provide a patina of historical context, while sleek iron, concrete and steel elements lend a modern aesthetic. Shops range from specialty to mainstream—think West Elm, Philz Coffee, Portland-based hair spot Bishops. The new urbanism is all about blending cosmopolitan sophistication with neighborhood charm, and the Ice Blocks nails it. Look for the rollout of local ventures like Device Brewing, hip-hop doughnut shop Milk Money and its sister restaurant Beast & Bounty. Also in the mix are clothiers Bonobos and Button Up, plus popular eyewear brand Warby Parker. If you get caught up in retail fever, you can purge your buyer’s remorse with a core workout at Pure Barre and a cleanse at Pressed Juicery. However you roll, the Ice Blocks may be your best bet in 2018 for a hot time in the city.


Country Man in Black

You won’t find rising Nashville star Devin Dawson sporting a cowboy hat anytime soon. That’s because the Orangevale-born singer-songwriter grew up near Folsom State Prison and counts Johnny Cash as one of his biggest influences (hence the 29-year-old’s signature look that includes a slicked-back pompadour with a fade and head-to-toe black attire). You may remember Dawson from back in 2014, when a YouTube video he made with his college dorm mate, a mash-up of Taylor Swift songs, went viral after Tay Tay herself showed it some social media love. This past January, he released his first full-length album, Dark Horse, and he’s about to join superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on their Soul2Soul summer tour, which stops at Golden 1 Center July 22. Along with Tyler Rich of Yuba City (“The Difference,” “California Grown”), Dawson made CMT’s list of breakout artists for 2018, proving that Northern California boys can be as country strong as Nashville natives.


Photo by Justine Payuran

Accessible Place to Go Wild

The latest science holds that regular exposure to the wonders of nature can have a measurably uplifting effect on health and happiness. And while many Sacramentans love to head for the (foot)hills with bikes or backpacks when it’s time for a wilderness fix, why should the differently abled among us be left out of this bountiful source of well-being? The half-mile round-trip boardwalk trail at the oft-overlooked Cosumnes River Preserve in Galt is fully ADA accessible (which means easy meandering for summer’s lazy days, whether or not your party requires wheelchairs), taking visitors through cool, peaceful wetlands to a wooden viewing platform. Nearby, equally flat paths let you saunter past majestic oaks and along quiet waterways. Pack a picnic, browse the fantastically informative visitor center, and relax in the fresh air—or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, you’ll find excellent kayak-launching spots and longer walking and running trails to explore. Don’t just go in summer, though: Other seasons also bring migratory bird-watching (naturalists have observed more than 250 species in the preserve)—enormous, arresting sandhill cranes flock there every winter, for example. Now that’s a wellness prescription we can’t wait to fill. 13501 Franklin Blvd. Galt. 916-684-2816.


Photo by Lyda Studios

Pear-fect Cider

After Sarah Hemly married sixth-generation pear farmer Matt Hemly—whose family has tended 800 acres of orchards (that also grow other fruits like apples and cherries) in Courtland since his ancestor Josiah Greene settled on this swath of Delta land back in 1850—she became a bit obsessed with her in-laws’ signature crop, and set out to put her own stamp on the family dynasty. Nearly 10 years later, in late 2015, Sarah released Hemly Pear Cider. The sweet, refreshing drink comprises a blend of farm-grown fruit—60 percent Bartlett and Bosc pears and 40 percent Gala apples—and is aged four weeks in oak barrels. It’s now called the Original, as it has since been joined by other flavors: the piquant, earthy Sloughhouse Jalapeño and the crisp Dry Cider, which were both released in March, and Cherry Peary, which will hit shelves this summer. Cider heads can pick up Hemly at area marts like Corti Brothers and Davis Beer Shoppe, or sip the Original at local hangouts like LowBrau and Bacon & Butter. And soon you’ll be able to sample all four varieties, as well as small-batch brews mixed with strawberries, marionberries or star anise, at the new tasting room at the Hemlys’ farm, which is set to open by October in a converted airplane hangar. Needless to say, we think this cider house rules.


Place to Dip an Oar in the Water

Port or starboard, matey? If you’ve always been intrigued by the elegant, needle-thin shells gliding silently over glassy waters, powered by a crew of perfectly synched oarsmen (and oarswomen), but you don’t know which side of a boat is which, the Learn to Row program at West Sacramento’s River City Rowing Club will sort you out. You’ll discover that in a traditional eight-person crew, rowers take sides, holding an oar to either the left (port) or right (starboard) of the boat. But that’s just the start of what this busy nonprofit club teaches in its summer courses for novice adults that span three weeks ($200 per person; graduates can join the club to row year-round). Sessions take place at the Port of West Sacramento, where rowers can spot great blue herons and sea lions, getting both exercise and a wading bird’s-eye view of the riparian scene. 2901 Industrial Blvd. West Sacramento.


Rendering by Jacobs

Reason We’re the City of (More) Trees

If you’ve been to Tokyo or Washington, D.C., on just the right weekend in springtime, you might have been lucky enough to experience something as breathtaking as it is fleeting—the sight of blushing cherry blossoms wafting serenely down against blue skies to form a carpet as fluffy as cotton candy. So we’re tickled pink that the local organization Sakuramento (“sakura” means “cherry blossom” in Japanese) plans to bring some arboreal eye candy to our urban core. Its first project, called the Sakura Grove, has already popped up on the eastern end of Southside Park—the site of Sacramento’s historic Japantown—where in October 2017 the group planted a stand of saplings that should mature in a few years’ time. Next up, the Hanami Line, a stunning canopy of about 200 cherry trees (including a variety that can spread outward in a radius of up to 25 feet) along the Sacramento River at the Robert T. Matsui Waterfront Park. That project, now in the fundraising stage, is on track to be in full bloom with the opening of the adjacent Powerhouse Science Center in early 2020. With the additional promise of an annual cherry blossom festival, we can’t wait to spring forward.

Photo by Octavio Valencia

Way to Think Inside the Box

If you’re the artisanal, maker type, perhaps you like assembling special, thoughtful gifts for friends and family. But if you’re like most of us, you either don’t have the chops or the time to craft the perfect gift. And while Meghan Russell doesn’t have a whole lot of free time either—she’s a full-time attorney and mother of two—she does have a passion for gift giving. That’s why the 34-year-old Davis resident launched her business Poppy and Oak last October. Russell channels her creativity into her expertly curated care packages that contain goods from nearly 20 NorCal makers—most of which are based in the Sacramento area—and are arranged artfully in wooden crates made by her husband Mike. Best sellers include the Market Box, with seasonal, edible goodies like olive oil from Davis-based Yolo Press, and the Darling Box for new parents, with matching teether and bib from Grass Valley’s The Paisley Pandas. And Russell, who hand-delivers the bundles within 15 miles of Davis (she mails out other orders), adds a new assortment each season. For spring, she released a mini compilation (which you can still purchase) pairing allergy tea from Sacramento’s Allspicery and honey from Winters’ Pure Honey, and this summer, she’ll feature a Father’s Day crate with soap and shower scrubs. Regardless of the occasion, we think this gifted local giver has got the whole package.


Photo by @jennaraeradio via Instagram

Spot for Coneheads

How could you improve on kütőskalács, aka chimney cake, a conical Eastern European street food made from yeasted dough and baked over hot coals? That’s not a rhetorical question. The answer: Turn the cylindrical indulgence into an ice cream cone and fill it up with frozen treats, of course. When he first made a test batch of the roasted pastry last August, Jeremy Khamphay—who owns the North Highlands doughnut shop Sweet Dozen with his wife April Le and his sister Nuny Cabanting—knew he had a winning concept for the family’s next dessert destination. So when Khamphay and Le opened their ice cream shop Sweet Dozen Cones in Folsom in September, they started turning out the thick, sweet, hollow breads daily, using a rotisserie oven, wood and metal cone molds imported from Slovenia, and a slightly tweaked recipe that includes whole milk, fresh yeast, sugar, flour and eggs. The cones’ crisp, churro-like crusts are coated with ingredients like crushed walnuts or Oreos, and give way to flaky, doughy interiors. Best of all, the shells are then filled with vanilla or chocolate soft-serve gelato and topped off with sweets like toasted marshmallow fluff and graham cracker crumbs for the s’mores combo, or apple pie filling, caramel drizzle and granola for the apple pie à la mode combo. Now all we need is a name for it. A cone that tastes like a doughnut? All hail, the cone-nut. 807 Sutter St. Folsom. 916-358-9832.


Way to Donate Your Sweat Equity

With the rise of companies like SoulCycle and Flywheel, the cycling fitness trend shows no signs of pumping the brakes. Still, sometimes a spin class can leave you feeling like the bike took you for a ride. But would you feel a surge of energy if you knew your stationary steed was also magically turning on your sports club’s lights and stereo? This isn’t some sci-fi fantasy, but part of the pro-enviro ethos of midtown’s Sacramento Eco Fitness, the first human-powered gym in the country. Opened in December 2016 by Sacramento State alums Jose Avina and Mac Contreras, the facility features a dozen bikes and a treadmill, all of which convert energy into electricity via a micro-converter that feeds into a battery, to be stored for later use. The 2,300-square-foot renovated warehouse also has eight solar panels on the roof, skylights welcoming natural light, and three giant bay doors that allow for maximum airflow during boot camp and TRX classes. The electricity output of each spin session is currently about 700 watts—enough to power a desktop computer for six hours—so you can walk out feeling doubly good that you’ve done something healthy for yourself while setting some planet-pleasing wheels in motion. 1914 L St. 916-841-5416.

Photos by Ate 6 Media, courtesy of the restaurant

Early Bird Dinner

Ever since Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining opened two years ago in the former Doughbot space on 10th Street in Southside Park, snagging one of the restaurant’s 45 seats has often required a long wait (alas, they don’t take reservations), made all the more agonizing by the hunger pangs elicited by the tempting aroma of co-owner Craig Takehara’s meats and vegetables blistering over imported, 1,000-degree binchotan charcoal. But we’re here to tip you to the method for getting a seat quickly: Make like a blue hair and show up at 4 p.m. The Sacramento-savvy Takehara, a Kennedy High School graduate who owns Binchoyaki with his wife, pastry chef Tokiko Sawada, opens for dinner then to accommodate, yes, older diners, and also state employees who work early shifts. (Aside from the cushy pension, this might be a state worker’s greatest perk.) But even if you’re a 9-to-5-er, you might do well to shave an hour off your day to get closer, sooner, to Takehara’s consistently succulent, mouth-watering grilled chicken with green onion, or crisp asparagus wrapped in unctuous, salty pork belly. You’ll also want to stick around for Sawada’s hyper-seasonal, rarely repeated desserts (like the recent house-made strawberry sorbet “affogato” doused in organic sake) that often sell out. Can’t make it out to dinner only three hours after lunch? Your second best bet: Show up after 9 p.m. on a weeknight (Binchoyaki is closed Sundays and Mondays) and you should be able to walk right in. Either way, you’ll be taking the road less traveled, and that will make all the difference. 2226 10th St. 916-469-9448.


Photo by Morgan Daily

Farm Porn

Got a hopeless brown thumb? Get your greenery fix by feasting your eyes on the never-ending parade of luscious and lust-worthy foliage brought to you by 33-year-old urban farmer-slash-firefighter Kyle Hagerty, whose popular Instagram page @UrbanFarmstead has attracted more than 50,000 loyal #GardenPorn addicts. Scrolling down Hagerty’s agro ’grams will make you feel like you’re right there in his 500-square-foot backyard vegetable garden—a favorite of local chefs like Kru’s Billy Ngo, who used Hagerty’s fava flowers and shoots for a dish at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival in April, and The Waterboy’s Rick Mahan, who frequently drops by to grab fresh produce for his celebrated restaurant. Here’s Hagerty walking under his handmade arched metal trellis. Here he is also feeding his chickens, harvesting acorn and butternut squashes during the cold months and picking plump red tomatoes in the summertime. And there he is with his fiancée Morgan Daily—whose own Instagram account @DailyFlourish is none too shabby and with whom he owns East Sac Farms—preparing for their twice-monthly, donations-only farm stand on 56th Street between J and M. Who knows? After a few hours marveling at Hagerty’s idyllic pics, maybe you’ll find yourself ready to put down some roots of your own.


Sweet Spot to Practice Black Magic

Black is the new black at Parlor Ice Cream Puffs in Arden-Arcade and Roseville, which debuted their limited-edition ebony toasted almond ice cream in January (if you missed your chance to turn to the dark side, don’t worry—the flavor will be rereleased in June and July). The frozen devilry, which gets its color from activated charcoal and squid ink, may seem intimidating at first glance. But any apprehension will melt away the minute you take your first bite, as the sweet, milky almond flavor tingles your taste buds, followed by soft hints of vanilla. But make sure you pause to break off a chunk of the even darker waffle cone before you finish—its gentle cinnamon crunch is a match made in heaven with the nutty creaminess of the ice cream. Pro tip: Don’t plan on taking any selfies right after you try this inky concoction, since your teeth and tongue will temporarily resemble the dessert’s evil twin. It’s just as well, since you’ll want some alone time to savor this black beauty. Roseville: 1490 Eureka Rd. 916-781-7833. Arden-Arcade: 2620 Fair Oaks Blvd. 916-977-3997.


Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Public Library

Real-life Toy Story

We have Pixar to thank for showing us what toys do when left to their own devices at home. But we have a handful of local public libraries to thank for showing us what toys do when turned loose for a slumber party among the literary stacks. At Stuffed Animal Sleepovers this summer throughout the region, little ones can drop off their plush playmates with librarians who snap photos of the toys gathering for a bedtime story, grabbing pizza, browsing bookshelves or indulging in a little after-hours mischief. When children pick up their stuffed animals at the library, they will also get photographic evidence of the overnight visit. Those who participate in the July 14 event at the Sacramento Public Library’s Carmichael branch can stay to make a photo album for their sleepover pics, while participants in the July 21 event at the Fair Oaks branch can join their toys for a story time session before leaving them for the night. (The McKinley and McClatchy branches host their own versions each January.) Meanwhile, families in Roseville can take part in library sleepovers at the downtown branch (June 11), Riley branch (June 26) and Maidu branch (July 17). When the kid’s away, the mice—and teddy bears and bunny rabbits—will play.


Photo by Mari Salais

Movie House Makeover

This June marks the one-year anniversary of the reopening of the State Theatre in Woodland, an Art Deco jewel of a movie house that sat dormant on Main Street for seven years before a $10 million renovation ushered in a new cinematic era in 2017. Gone are the musty interiors, faded décor and cramped lobby, replaced by cushy recliners and rockers from which moviegoers can watch blockbusters exhibited via state-of-the-art digital projection and sound systems. In addition to the snack bar offering popcorn, candy and other nibbles, an on-site cafe also serves heartier fare like a hot pastrami sandwich on ciabatta, sausage pizza and chicken Caesar wraps, plus California wines and craft beer from breweries like Knee Deep and Deschutes. But while the 21st-century amenities are slick, the State’s most dazzling feature is also its oldest: The 81-year-old main auditorium has been lovingly updated from floor (fresh carpet and expansive rows for stretching out) to ceiling, including a restoration of the theater’s original chandeliers to their cobalt- and ivory-colored glory. From the palatial heart of the movie house to the rebuilt neon sign gleaming over the Streamline Moderne exterior, everything about the State’s comeback signals a happy Hollywood ending for cinephiles around the region. 322 Main St. Woodland. 530-723-5322.


Celebrity Endorsement

We love it when celebrities wear their Sacramento pride on their sleeves—or in Lady Gaga’s case, a sleeveless Hot Italian top, cropped to bare her midriff. In November, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, who was an Italian Catholic schoolgirl long before she went Gaga, showed off the doctored tee in an Instagram story, which quickly caught the attention of the local pizza chain. Turns out it was the result of some savvy marketing on the part of Hot Italian co-founder Andrea Lepore, who had the T-shirt delivered to Gaga during the singer’s show at Golden 1 Center three months prior. Still, Lepore just about fell over when someone forwarded her a screenshot of the moment of Insta fame. Elsewhere, NBA superstar LeBron James was spotted in a post-Cavaliers game interview that same month rocking a black cap emblazoned with the words “All Good Never Better” in bold block letters—the slogan of downtown-based apparel brand All Good, which sold out of its entire hat inventory online within three hours after King James’ head-turning display of approval. And let’s not forget actor Rob Lowe (shown below with his son John Owen), who donned a UC Davis cap as he cheered on the 16th-seeded Aggies men’s basketball team during its battle with the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of March Madness last year. In the battle of “who wore us best,” to us, it’s a three-way tie.