Best of the City 2021

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s that the human spirit perseveres through the darkest times. The dozens of Sacramentans featured here—struggling like all of us over this past year and a half—have found ways to shine some much-needed light into our lives, whether with charmingly anachronistic TikTok videos or a winning French pastry made with Top Ramen or an eco boutique that’s trying to help save the planet one bottle-free shampoo bar at a time. They bring smiles to our faces, good food to our bellies and taps to our toes. And if you haven’t already met, we’re thrilled to introduce you.
Botc 2021 Title Page
Illustration by Alexis Persani


Best Bagels with 50 Shades of Everything but Gray

They beckon you from Instagram, doughy kaleidoscopic pinwheels—green and white for St. Paddy’s Day or red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, or full-on swirling rainbows just for fun. The polychromatic posts come through our feed courtesy of Bagel and Bean, the popular new Lincoln breakfast spot owned by baker Cory Smart and his wife Heather that has been rolling out New York-style water bagels with a colorful twist, literally, since it opened in January. But while the eye-catching and curiosity-piquing flavors (the recently revamped Oreo and Hot Cheetos boast the titular snacks both on the outside and in the dough) get hungry social media followers in the door, it’s the chewy and craveable texture of B&B’s signature offerings, along with the equally creative, handcrafted cream cheeses (think funfetti, maple bacon or cookies and cream), that keep Lincolnites and a growing number of pilgrims from across the region coming back. Let’s just say that if we could start every morning with a warm French toast bagel (cinnamon dough with a coating of crushed Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal) and a heaping schmear of cinnamon-sugar cream cheese, we would be living the sweet life indeed. 845 Twelve Bridges Dr. Lincoln. 916-209-3995. bagelandbean.comJennifer Resnicke


a cup of Milka Coffee's blue Thai-dyed iced tea

Photo by Eli Derjabin

Best Carnival in a Cup

If Monty Python’s Flying Circus had a concession stand, Milka Coffee Roasters’ secret-menu Thai Dyed Iced Tea is all it would serve. This surreally swirly, blue-and-purple beverage is likely to make you whip out your phone for a snap, but we love it because it’s as sublimely delectable and fun on the tongue as it is on the ’gram. The Mansion Flats coffeehouse, which opened in 2019, creates this witty concoction by steeping Blue Magic herbal tea, a combination of deep-blue butterfly pea blossom and lemongrass from Folsom’s K&K Chai, then stirring in creamy condensed milk (or oat milk for vegans or the lactose-averse) for a silky mouthfeel, and finally adding a couple of drops of lime juice along the sides of the cup—the acid reacts with the pigment in the pea blossoms, creating dramatic streaks of purple. When you stop grinning long enough to taste the subtle dance between the earthiness of pea flower, the aromatic elegance of lemongrass and the lilt of citrus, you’ll be feeling anything but blue. 1501 G St. milkacoffee.comAndrew Warner


Best Covid-Conscious Collab

We’re all in this together. That was the mindset that UC Davis and the city of Davis had when they joined forces to establish Healthy Davis Together last September. While many municipalities and institutions around the country have stumbled and fumbled their way through the pandemic, Davis’ coordinated response has made the city on a floodplain look more like a shining city on a hill. The goal: Create a virtual bubble of relative safety around the entire town—all 70,000 or so residents. Free testing with results within 48 hours (including seven days a week at the Mondavi Center)? Check. Mobile clinics that bring the vaccine to you? Check. Outreach to at-risk populations? Check. Quarantine housing, including food and income replacement, available to all residents as well as those who work within the city limits? Check. How successful has the program been? Statistics don’t lie: By early August, 76% of Davis residents had at least one shot. In Sacramento County? Just 55%. And on June 29, the school was recognized nationally for its efforts when it won the inaugural “Research Response to a Community in Crisis Award” from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The operation is now expanding countywide, boosting the pride of Aggies everywhere. healthydavistogether.orgCurtis Yee


a plate with Faria Beer Cookies and a cup of milk

Photo by Christopher Beattie

Best Here Beer Cookies

Faria Bakery’s signature take on the traditional chocolate chip walnut cookie goes beyond the tally of trendy attributes (think puddle of melted Valrhona chocolate, pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes and palm-size in diameter) and is distinctive instead for a unique textural intersection owed to a secret ingredient: spent malt grain. Origins of that pleasingly paradoxical sink-your-teeth chew and surface sandiness can be traced back to neighboring Oak Park Brewing Co., where Faria’s head of pastry Natalie Quach sources the grist, usually a damp mixture of barley and wheat that would normally be discarded at most breweries. But for these addictive treats, the OPB grain is dried out in a low-heat oven for two hours, then pulverized and combined with a fresh batch of stone-milled all-purpose flour from Early Bird Farm & Mill in Calaveras County to give the dessert even more body. As an edible model of repurposed food waste and a hyperlocal wonder, the chocolate walnut beer cookie’s sustainability street cred is just as legit as its extra malty flavor, imparted by those amber waves of grain. 3417 Broadway. 916-204-8726. fariabakery.comLeilani Marie Labong


Four images of Pressed Record Cafe including a DJ, a sandwich, a man cutting a sandwich and people looking through record boxes.

Photos by Max Whittaker

Best Spot to Get Down and Chow Down

If you’re walking through midtown’s Handle District and suddenly detect a feel-good rumbling of a deep bass line or hear a muffled saxophone solo, you’re probably in the vicinity of the Pressed Record Cafe. At this new vinyl shop slash panini counter, which opened in May, funk (or R&B or jazz or soul) music is constantly spinning, either by the hands of owners and avid album collectors Dean Bardouka and John Blunck, or by a rotating cast of Saturday disc jockeys like locally based DJ Epik or the Hella Groove duo from Woodland. While a seductive beat may be your gateway to this unique hospitality hybrid, inspired by Bardouka’s discovery of a similar concept in Las Vegas a few years ago, any loitering (guilty as charged!) will likely be due to the great record store tradition of flipping through sleeves (it will take time to scan the 10,000-plus covers, after all). Mull over potential acquisitions—pro tip: rare pressings like Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain from 1971 or Bobby Thurston’s 1978 Sweetest Piece of the Pie are stashed in a secret bin—over a panini (“presser” in cafe parlance) by chef and co-owner James Williams (formerly of Urban Roots and South). The Lamb & Flag sandwich features tender meat that’s been charcoal-roasted in-house and slathered with house-made toum, a vegan Lebanese garlic sauce. For lighter fare, the anchovy-forward Caesar salad is topped with a golden and jammy seven-minute egg and sprinkled with a crunchy, everything-bagel-seasoned breadcrumb. The cafe also hosts The Get Down Sit Down, a monthly ticketed supper club with guest chefs and DJs on the back patio, where loitering turns to lingering, as only a convivial dinner under twinkling lights can inspire. 1725 L St. 916-234-6292. staypressed.comLeilani Marie Labong


Hasan Minhaj on the set of The Morning Show

Photo courtesy of Apple

Best Dramatic Shift

Born, raised and college-educated in Davis, Hasan Minhaj made a name for himself in the world of comedy as a correspondent on The Daily Show before hosting his own political satire series, Patriot Act, and starring in Homecoming King, a Netflix stand-up special that he filmed in—you guessed it—Davis (at the Mondavi Center, to be specific). This fall, though, the funnyman will reveal a flair for the dramatic with a role in season two of The Morning Show playing Eric Nomani, who serves as co-anchor with Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson on the titular a.m. program, replacing the departed Alex Levy portrayed by Jennifer Aniston. The sophomore installment of the hit Apple TV+ drama debuts on Sept. 17, the same day Minhaj kicks off his new touring one-man show, The King’s Jester, which comes to Sacramento on Jan. 14. As busy as he is, the performer—who now lives in New York City, but returns home regularly to visit his parents in Rancho Cordova—still finds time to shout out to his roots, throwing his son a Kings-themed first birthday party, Instagramming a team photo from his Davis High School basketball days, and shooting a surprisingly intimate promotional video in collaboration with footwear brand Cole Haan, in which he showed viewers his childhood home, Golden 1 Center, the Crest Theatre, and the Punch Line comedy club, where he got his start. Like with his new acting turn, Minhaj is serious about his hometown pride. “I want to do everything I can to rep Sacramento,” he once told us. “I’m not playing.” —Jessica Rine


Eco-friendly Products from Nudge Eco Store (toilet paper, bandaids, shampoo, and soap)

Photos by Curtis Yee

Best Earth-Friendly Emporium

While many of us know what the mountains of plastic we use every year are doing to the planet (googling “garbage island” will give you a good idea), making the leap to a sustainable, trash-free life can feel monumental when you consider convenience, cost, and, oh yeah, where to even look for compostable toilet paper and biodegradable bandages. Enter Nudge Eco Store, the genius brainchild of husband-wife team Nick and Alisha Lee, whose encounter with a litter-strewn beach on their Caribbean honeymoon in 2007 laid the foundation for their own less-plastic lifestyle. Evangelists who walk the talk, the couple opened their zero-waste midtown shop in May, lining its rustic wood shelves with eco-conscious everyday items like refillable bamboo floss, laundry strips (business-card-sized sheets of detergent that dissolve in the washer), “non-paper” towels made of cotton flannel, bottle-free shampoo bars, and shop exclusives like razors with handles made of reclaimed wood by regional artisan Phil Trifiro. In our collective effort to live more sustainably, this new eco boutique just may provide the, ahem, nudge we all need. 1126 18th St. 916-719-1465. nudgeecostore.comJessica Rine


Best Virtual Way to Shop Local

When Atrium 916 made its debut as an eco-conscious artist collective in 2018, no one knew, of course, that there was a global pandemic looming on the horizon. But when it struck, founder Shira Lane—along with Sheilagh McCafferty of Sacramento Costumers—immediately developed an online marketplace where shoppers could nab masks made by area artisans, who fired up their sewing machines and got to work stitching face coverings with designs ranging from American flags to comic book pages and mini Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. The virtual storefront,, has since blossomed into an exemplary, thriving, pro-planet enterprise that showcases locally made wares shipped in zero-waste packaging. Offerings include delightfully inventive and unexpected items from 50 regional makers like Rhiannon Lykken’s reusable yarn water balloons, Grace Yip’s kitschy, campy creations like a latch-hook Super Mario tote bag, or Susan Twinings’ elegantly Zen greeting cards decorated with pressed bodhi leaves. We like to think of it as our own private Amazon, except this shop does more to protect, you know, the actual Amazon. sacramento.shopAndrew Warner


a toy dinosaur sitting on a a pile of moss

Photo by Lisa Parsons

Best Place to Stalk a Stegosaurus in the Wild

Gen X, Y or Z, most of us go through a distinct phase, starting around age 5 or 6, when we solidly identify as Generation D—for dinosaurs, that is. And no wonder: The marvelous, extinct creatures are as fantastical as Santa Claus—but also real! So whichever side of 6 you’re on, you’re bound to get a kick out of the Dave Moore Nature Area in Lotus, where you can embark on a secret, crowd-sourced safari adventure in search of cerulean brontosauruses, neon stegosauruses, and sunset-hued pterodactyls. These plastic prehistoric animals, left in situ by previous visitors, peek out from under bridges and hang from branches among the groves of manzanita, pine, oak and madrone that line this mile-long trail. At the halfway point, you’ll spot a riverside beach where dogs romp through the sand, babies splash in the clear waters, and kids fish for minnows. If you’re just looking for some sun and surf, we recommend breaking out your picnic lunch there and then heading back the way you came—especially if you have wee ones (and strollers) in tow—as the second half-mile will turn your leisurely walk into a moderate hike featuring steep, rocky inclines. Either way, bring your own toys to leave behind or find new hiding places for the ones there (etiquette says to not remove them from the park). And if plastic paleontology isn’t quite your jam, fret not: Other iconic figures like Buzz Lightyear and My Little Pony are welcome to roam this part of the Earth too. blm.govJessica Rine


Best Vegan Spin on a 10,000-Year-Old Recipe

Back in 1986, Emma’s Tamales founder Staci Gallardo, who was a vegan at the time, took it as a challenge when her abuela declared it impossible to make a passable tamale without animal products. With an original recipe older than the Aztec pyramids, the tamale is one of those classics that wise cooks just don’t mess with. It’s a tricky dish that, when successful, eats like a little cloud, and when not, like an adobe brick. And while meatless fillings like green chilies may be regionally authentic, most traditional cooks draw the line at leaving out the all-important lard—it’s that pig fat that makes this staple fly. But after some experimentation, Gallardo presented her grandmother with a delicate specimen made with vegetable shortening and stuffed with seasoned seitan and pinto beans, a morsel so divine she was instantly accused of lying. In addition to Emma’s Tamales’ flagship eatery in South Sacramento and its recently opened location in Old Sacramento, these almost-too-good-to-be-true treats are now available at grocery stores around town, like the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and select Nugget Markets. Over the years, Gallardo has also diversified her plant-based offerings to include a black bean and potato tamale, as well as one with locally sourced tofu tossed in a sweet-spicy chipotle sauce. And while we’re fans of the newer iterations too, we think it may take another millenium or two to top her O.G. abuela-approved recipe. Andrew Warner


A swaddled, sleeping baby

Photo by Jessica G. Photography

Best Baby Wrap Artist

Fans of Folsom’s Jess Guzman, owner of Jessica G. Photography, may gush when describing the images that develop from her carefully choreographed shoots, but they wouldn’t ooh and aah too loudly. Almost every photograph posted to the Puerto Rico native’s Instagram account features a sweetly sleeping baby, resulting in a gallery filled with chubby cheeks and tiny fingers. Her self-taught boho style—all woven baskets, piles of wool, and wee woodland creatures knit small enough to fit newborn hands—suits these littlest of humans dressed and draped in neutral-tone fabrics or swaddled into bundles like delicate dumplings. Safety is Guzman’s top priority, which is why the Covid-vaccinated photographer also sanitizes her studio, kept at a drowsiness-inducing 80 degrees for newborn shoots and filled with soothing sounds from a white noise machine. Despite having only moved to this region from the Bay Area in May, Guzman was booked into September within a month of her arrival, with prior clients of her 8-year-old business trekking to her new home for sessions. She opened her El Dorado Hills studio in August, so now local parents with winter due dates can plan accordingly. But they won’t have to sweat the timing too much—Guzman allows for rescheduling if the model arrives earlier or later than expected. jessicagnewbornphotography.comRyan Miller


A rendering fo the campus at Floyd Farms

Rendering by HMC Architects

Best School Where Eating Is Fundamental

If you’re a boomer who can make chicken noodle soup from scratch, you may have learned how in “Home Ec”—a largely bygone subject intended to teach the basics of household management. Turns out, we may have nixed the food portion of that old-school curriculum too soon: Studies show that healthy eating improves not just biomarkers, but academic performance and attendance, and it’s hard to eat healthy if your culinary skillset stops at adding water to a can of Campbell’s. “We now have two generations who don’t cook anymore,” says Amber Stott, executive director of the Food Literacy Center. “We have kids in our program who have never seen broccoli or a pear.” Happily, Sacramento children can soon learn the ABCs of nourishment at Floyd Farms, an educational project with farm plots and a cooking school that launched in early November on the campus of Leataata Floyd Elementary in Upper Land Park. It’s a joint venture between the Sacramento City Unified School District, the city of Sacramento and the Food Literacy Center, the latter of which will make the facility its new headquarters as it aims to feed the minds and bodies of students (and parents) districtwide through cross-disciplinary programs on the cultivation and preparation of healthy food. Here, while A will still be for apple, Z will be for zucchini. foodliteracycenter.orgHillary Louise Johnson


A drag queen dancing on the sidewalk before diners at Capitol Garage

Photo by Max Whittaker

Best Drag Show That’s Anything but a Drag

Stomping the runway at downtown’s Capitol Garage on Saturday nights are the region’s preeminent drag queens, who star in the restaurant’s Dinner & Drag event. Relocated due to the pandemic from inside the restaurant to its K Street sidewalk, the four-year-old extravaganza takes its glamour cues and cabaret-style from such legendary productions as the LaFemme Drag Show dinner revue in Minneapolis and San Francisco’s AsiaSF dinner series. For Cap Garage’s two-person meal ticket—$72; drinks not included ($22 for show only)—audience members arrive as early as 7 p.m. to fuel up for the debauchery with a three-course meal from a special menu that features an addictive appetizer of tempura dragon mushrooms and a half-pound Bistro Burger, which gets its smokiness from bacon mixed into the beef-and-lamb patty. Once the show begins at 8 p.m., the table should be clear, save for the necessities: two cocktails to meet the minimum (we double-fisted the Afternoon Delight with rosé and orange bitters) and a stack of dollar bills to stuff into garters and sweetheart necklines. (If you forget to stop by the bank, the bar may be able to break large bills.) You might find the show’s willowy and wonderful emcee, Mercury Rising, sashaying her way through a cold open to rapper Saucy Santana’s “Walk” wearing 6-inch stilettos and a one-piece leotard that leaves little to the imagination, setting the bar high for the rest of the pro-lip-syncers: The woolly Diana Hole may wig out to “This Is My Hair” by Alaska Thunderfuck, chanteuse Roselia Valentine might evoke Hollywood glamour in a curve-hugging gown while performing Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” and Karma Zabetch, in a black Ziggy Stardust-style wig, could crush the finale wearing an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny black faux-leather bikini that shows off her balletic body. During the rousing and raunchy 90-minute show, the rotating cast—giving lap dances and doing death drops (the ultimate in drag daring)—sweats it out just as much as their hot and bothered fans. 1500 K St. 916-444-3633. capitolgarage.comLeilani Marie Labong


Howard Hatch of the Sac History Museum holding up a newspaper-style paper

Photo courtesy of the Sacramento History Museum

Best Cross-Century Media Mash-Up

Long before trendy apps allowed individuals to share their thoughts (or dances) with the public, linotype machines were the radical upstarts of the mass communication industry. And somehow the Sacramento History Museum’s 84-year-old volunteer docent Howard Hatch has managed to harness the power of both media—archaic print and modern social—by showcasing a 1902 Chandler & Price “jobbing press” and a rarer 1852 Washington hand press in short videos that have become unlikely viral sensations. The museum’s digital content coordinator, Jared Jones, suggested joining TikTok after executive director and CEO Delta Pick Mello asked the team to brainstorm ways to “not be forgotten” during pandemic closures. What started as typical videos showing Hatch deploy his trademark mix of charm and facts for virtual events, became something more in January when Jones watched one post—showing the retired mechanic methodically printing the museum logo onto gift shop bags—rack up 50,000 views in a single evening. The pair began producing content that played off Hatch’s confusion over what drives his rapidly growing international fan base and tapped into the niche trend of ASMR (which features hypnotic repetitive tasks and satisfying sounds, like rollers gliding on metal plates). While the museum’s TikTok follower count rocketed from 86,000 at the start of 2021 to more than 1.7 million over the summer, the most popular videos on the channel—such as a bespectacled Hatch bemusedly admitting “I just don’t get it” as he twists knobs, smears ink, and handily manipulates the machinery to create flyers commemorating various milestones—have been viewed more than 25 million times. It turns out that those who love history are happy to repeat it. Miller


A woman wearing a bandana over her mouth

Photo by Anna Heggli

Best Handy Kerchiefs

Growing up in the El Dorado County town of Cool, hydrologist Anne Heggli considers the surging artery of the American River as vital to her existence as any beating ticker. It’s no wonder the iconic torrent anchors most of the Sierra foothills hiking-route illustrations for Cool Trail Maps, a company she took over in November 2018 shortly after founder Kathy Trauman passed away. Ingeniously emblazoned onto 22-square-inch cotton bandanas, these dozen cloth wayfinders—most of which Heggli designed—are painstakingly detailed not just with footpaths and roads, but also camping sites, boat launches, equine watering holes, mile markers, bridges and more based on intel from reference maps and insider knowledge from habitual hikers. As wrong-turn and sunburn deterrents, the textiles are indispensable. But their countless capacities never cease to unfold: For instance, you can origami the sky-blue diagram of the popular Olmstead Loop map into a Delta-variant-thwarting mask. And as a river-soaked cooling rag, our wildflower-pink Auburn State Recreation Area (Above Confluence) bandana has boosted our late-trail energy in more ways than one. “As my dad says, ‘Water is soluble in the blood,’ ” says Heggli. “That means once you are connected to the river, it is a part of you.” Leilani Marie Labong


Alexandra Huynh posed in a grassy field

Photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr./Zuma Press

Best Crusader for Poetic Justice

“It does not matter any longer where you live,” writes the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate, 18-year-old Alexandra Huynh, perfectly capturing the paradoxical connectedness amid isolation that shapes the experience of her generation. Belying her age, the Vietnamese American’s style is startlingly sophisticated in its use of white space and punctuation—as spare and aware as E.E. Cummings, and as dryly elegiac as late-period Langston Hughes, with ripped-from-the-headline themes like climate change, immigrant identity and social justice. In addition to a year of upcoming appearances as laureate, Huynh has just enrolled in Stanford University’s engineering school with dreams of becoming an urban planner—the better to tackle space and time in yet another dimension. The Mira Loma High School grad is stepping into this literary role following the success of one of her predecessors, Amanda Gorman, who became an international sensation after reading at President Biden’s inauguration (and whose grandmother, incidentally, lives here). But we’re confident that this native daughter will be able to carry the baton while making strides of her own. —Hillary Louise Johnson


Ngina Guyton carrying a box of radishes

Photo courtesy of Ngina Guyton

Best Fork to Farmer

In January 2020, N’Gina Guyton took “New Year, New You” to a whole other level. In the throes of a bitter divorce, the restaurateur ceded day-to-day operations of her wildly popular eatery South to a trusted manager and headed out to the 2.16-acre parcel out by the airport that she had bought the year prior—a slice of pastoral Eden ringed by blackberries and shaded by citrus and pecan trees. Then she rolled up her sleeves and plunged her hands into the dirt. With a little help from her agrarian friends and YouTube videos, Guyton taught herself how to farm the land, harvesting produce like collards, radishes and corn for the salads, sauces and sides that accompany South’s locally legendary fried chicken. That spring, she also founded The Verity Project to provide mental health services for the restaurant community during a time when the pandemic had upended the food industry. Then last October, a new setback prompted Guyton to move forward yet again: While temporarily sidelined with a broken ankle and inspired by an idea from an acquaintance, she decided to transform the property yet again and is in the process of adding amenities like glamping tents to launch overnight farm stays. She says she plans to crowdfund for the forthcoming venture this fall, and hopes to welcome 40 guests at a time at the ranch, which will host Southern cooking classes, music concerts, yoga sessions, wine tastings and more. For Guyton at least, it seems that the grass is indeed greener on the other side of the farm-to-fork fence. —Hillary Louise Johnson


Two hand pies laid out back to back on a plate

Photo courtesy of Delta Hand Pies

Best Hand-Delivered Hand Pies

Forget fast food on those Friday nights you don’t feel like cooking. Instead, you can fill your home with the buttery scent of fresh-baked goods as you warm half a dozen flaky golden pockets from Delta Hand Pies—a pandemic-born business launched in April 2020 by software engineer/product designer Duane Wilson and caterer Jeremy White of Acoustic Events. Wilson, like so many others, turned to baking during the Covid lockdowns of 2020, but instead of simply posting his attempts at his mother’s Southern recipes on Instagram, he called on his friend White to start a “direct-to-you” bakery. As weddings and corporate events dried up, White agreed. They settled on hand pies, ordered online at $7 or $8 apiece, filled with local seasonal produce at their kitchen in Land Park, and customizable to accommodate a range of dietary preferences, from vegan to gluten-free. Deliveries are free, no contact, and happen Thursdays and Fridays to what they call “Sacramento plus,” a 50-or-so-mile radius around the city itself. They make 300 or 400 pies a week—one loyal patron even drove from Berkeley to Davis (in other words, within delivery range) to collect her prized pockets. A couple of minutes in the microwave heats the fillings, whether Japanese curry with winter vegetables, Fantozzi Farms apricots, or vegan chili and chorizo. Five minutes at 350 degrees in the oven crisps the crusts. Summer’s elote (Mexican street corn) and bacon pie came stuffed with sweet little golden kernels of sunshine. The Eureka lemon was just tart enough to quirk your mouth into a smile instead of a pucker. Fall promises a bounty ideal for ratatouille and Moroccan pumpkin spice curry. One more thing: Each purchase includes a donation to local nonprofits like the River City and Yolo food banks, as well as the Stripe Climate fund, allowing your heart to feel as full as your belly. deltahandpies.comRyan Miller


Broth is poured from a stainless-steel kettle into a bowl of pho

Photo by Anna Wick

Best Soup with Impeccable Table Manners

Vietnam’s quintessential street food is leveled up at Saigon Alley with a unique tableside presentation: A server pours a fragrant, piping-hot house-made beef broth from a stainless steel kettle into a deep bowl arranged with heaping rice noodles, thin slices of rib eye and hunks of brisket. As it turns out, the elegant execution, made more dramatic by steam that seems to billow on cue, is much ado about everything. Not only does the spectacle honor the high craft of pho (for example, every batch of beef bone broth brewed for the dish simmers for 72 hours), it also makes the “medicine” go down in the most delightful way—nourishing, collagen-rich marrow steadily drawn from the bones encourages springy joints and glowy skin, while whole spices like cinnamon (an antioxidant) and cardamom (an anti-inflammatory) impart a subtly medicinal back note. And the intentional omission of a traditional pho ingredient—fish sauce—makes an already richly flavored dish blissfully gluten-free. But if we’re really spilling the tea, the kettle’s true goals are showmanship second and safety first, allowing servers to move among the midtown restaurant’s various dining spaces—from the mezzanine-level room to the ground-floor lounge to the L Street parklet—without the burning threat of slosh and splash. All you have to do is slurp. 1801 L St. 916-758-6934. saigonalley.comLeilani Marie Labong


A box of goods from Sactown bites

Photo by Heather Fortes

Best Farm Tour Delivered To Your Door

Here in the food capital of California, Smucker’s just won’t cut it—we need mandarin ginger marmalade and blueberry creamed honey. Tahoe Park-based food tour company SacTown Bites to our gastronomical rescue: When Covid caused owner Heather Fortes to hit pause on the in-person outings, she began crafting food care packages instead, nourishing the palates of adventurous gourmands while helping area farmers and artisans continue to connect to new customers. Each thoughtfully curated Farm to Fork in a Box—which can be delivered or, for locals, picked up—comes with regionally made goodies, a handwritten note from Fortes, and a sheet describing the origins of the various treats. For example, the seasonal summer pack included addictive lavender spice walnuts from Capay Valley Lavender, chardonnay mustard from Sutter Buttes Natural and Artisan Foods in Yuba City, and strawberry balsamic jam from The Good Stuff in Sacramento (which, incidentally, is the perfect topper for baked brie and basil crostini). SacTown Bites also offers year-round boxes that make for perfect presents, like the Honey Box for your honey pie, or the Mini Grill Box for your backyard barbecue guru, or the Welcome to Sacramento box for the new kids on the block. And while the company’s open-air tours have started up again—just close your eyes and picture yourself learning about beekeeping while sipping a mimosa in a field of sunflowers—these care packages from the heart have permanently stolen ours. $45-$135 per box. 916-905-0031. Jennifer Resnicke


Illustration of Cecil Rhodes

Illustration courtesy of Cecil Rhodes

Best “Hot” Mic Podcast

Tuning in weekly to Nash & Proper chef-owner Cecil Rhodes’ pandemic-born podcast Comin’ in Hot, Sacramento’s vibrant culture is revealed through straight-talk sessions with loca personalities to suit every mood. Need a laugh? Press play on the restaurateur’s conversation with comedian Lance Woods, who goes full throttle on a vantastic tale about an unexpected encounter on the road with his idol Dave Chappelle. Considering culinary school? Find out why Craig Takehara and Tokiko Sawara, LeCordon Bleu alums and the married owners of Binchoyaki, surprisingly suggest that getting experience in real-world kitchens might be better than learning in the classroom—insight that Rhodes, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, wishes he could impart to his younger self. The North Sacramento native was inspired to grab the mic after faithfully following podcasts like Solomonster Sounds Off (a pro wrestling show) and People’s Party (a hip-hop-themed broadcast from Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli). At times the honest discourse that transpires on Comin’ in Hot, recorded at Darling New Media podcast studio in midtown, proves cathartic, not just for the truth-baring guests who hold down hot-button topics like racial discrimination in area schools (check out episode 2), but also for the host, who speaks candidly about his own struggles with drugs and alcohol (cue episode 13). And while the conversation unfolds organically, the run of show always includes a top 5 list, whether it’s ranking national breweries or barbecue joints, and wraps with a titular segment for guests to soapbox on any issue, from the value of voting to the social media wars that try to pit Sacramento fried chicken eateries against each other—like Rhodes, we wonder, “What the cluck is up with that?” Leilani Marie Labong


A woman getting produce at the mobile famers market

Photo by Dominic Carillo

Best Way to Raise the Salad Bar

Urban foodies in Sacramento are so used to foraging farmers’ markets for locally grown bounty that it’s easy to forget there are still parts of the concrete jungle with nary an heirloom tomato nor Armenian cucumber in sight. The Center for Land-Based Learning is seeking to remedy the issue by bringing the produce party to food deserts—or healthy food priority areas—around the region, rolling out a refrigerated truck stocked with kale, carrots and cukes grown by the small farms that make up the California Farm Academy, the center’s incubator for farm start-ups. The Woodland-based organization’s new mobile farmers’ market, which launched July 6 and ran through Oct. 28 this year, features stops that are open to the public as well as ones at affordable housing developments that are for residents only. Recent crowd-pleasers from the rig have included vibrant okra and aromatic herbs like thyme, parsley and basil—over the summer, we picked up a musky cantaloupe that made a refreshing snack topped with cottage cheese and honey, as well as freshly dug carrots that made a sweet and zesty side dish when roasted with olive oil and cumin. And the fall harvest brought rare treats like lambkin melons, Kashmiri chilis and Indian eggplant. So next year, when you see a truck with a giant tomato logo rolling down the road, honk for healthy living. landbasedlearning.orgJessica Rine


David Chans Top Ramen Yuzu Pear Mille Feuille

Photo by David Chan

Best Noodler-in-Chief

Greenhaven engineer-turned-noodle-wizard David Chan, host of periodic ramen pop-ups, was just noodling around last fall when he decided to enter the #HowDoYouTopRamen challenge hosted by Nissin Foods—the global conglomerate that launched the instant noodle movement. Top Ramen enthusiasts were invited to dream up unique dishes, with the winner claiming not just bragging rights, but also a $10,000 cash prize, a 50-year supply of ramen, and the honorary title of Chief Noodle Officer (CNO). In December, Chan, who works at the California State Water Resources Control Board by day, discovered that he beat out nearly 200 international entrants (including local top chef Billy Ngo of Kru and Kodaiko Ramen & Bar) with an intricate yuzu-pear mille-feuille—a Napoleon-like pastry layered with custardy French toast-style Top Ramen noodles, sweet-tart yuzu-pear jam, a savory miso-butter glaze and brûléed marshmallows (recipe at While our at-home attempt to replicate the dish proved that the dessert was as ambitious as advertised (let’s just say our version included an only partially puffed pastry), it was a winner in our book nonetheless. To see more of Chan’s culinary concoctions—including his Nightmare Before Christmas bowl featuring Jack Skellington’s head made from an egg—check out his Instagram page, @nichijou.ramen, where he proudly identifies as a resident of, yep, Sac“ramen”to. —Curtis Yee