I ate probably north of 150 Sacramento-area restaurant meals in 2022, from reservation-only dinners to grab-and-go sandwiches.
Many of those meals were reviews, which mean plucking several items off the menu to get as full as scope as possible. In all, I likely ate more than 400 dishes from local spots throughout the year.
When I look back on all that greeted my taste buds over the last year, these 10 dishes stand out in the best way.
Be sure to peruse my list of the Sacramento region’s Top 50 Restaurants if you haven’t already. You’ll recognize a few dishes repeated here and that compilation; the best restaurants have the best food, after all.
Lemongrass chicken and shrimp with banana ($17.50) from Thai Chili: Lemongrass and a sweet chili-garlic sauce supply most of the flavor, and chicken, shrimp and mixed veggies are all well-cooked. But slices of just-ripe-enough banana really kick this dish into the upper echelon, adding surprise bursts of flavor throughout. 8696 Elk Grove Blvd., Suite 5, Elk Grove.
Pickled beet, potato and smoked trout salad ($15) from OneSpeed: OneSpeed’s primary focus is pizza, but this chilled salad is a delight itself with a burgeoning reputation in East Sacramento. Pickled beets, onions and capers flood the palate with acidity, only to be tempered by smoky trout and a jammy egg. It’s contrast without compromise. 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento.
Impossible al pastor taco ($7, or $15 for two in a combo plate) from Mezcal Grill: Yes, that’s Impossible as in the faux meat, ground instead of shaved off a traditional al pastor trompo. Nestled in a corn tortilla and topped with pickled red onions, house spices and the imitation meat’s realistic texture and made it . 1620 W. El Camino Ave., Suite 172, Sacramento and 5701 Broadway, Suite B, Sacramento.
Mixed sashimi ($24 for nine pieces at the time, soon to be part of prix-fixe omakase service) from Hikari Sushi & Omakase: After 15 years of slinging sushi from the Davis Food Co-op, Sithu Tun and Zin Khine opened their own restaurant in a converted ice cream sandwich shop in May. There’s no kitchen, but exquisitely-sourced and -sliced sashimi (tuna, salmon belly, hamachi and scallops on my visit) have made Hikari so popular that it’s switching to 100% omakase service in 2023. 110 F St. Suite A, Davis.
Mushroom paitan ($17.50) from Kodaiko Ramen & Bar: For all the Sacramento region’s vegetarians and excellent sushi options, there’s a true dearth of top-notch ramen, particularly for those who won’t slurp pork or chicken broths. Takumi Abe’s rich, earthy mushroom paitan with cashew cream is a wonderful exception, a heartwarming refuge from the outside world in Kodaiko’s underground downtown ramen. 718 K St, Sacramento.
Barbecued cauliflower ($18) from Canon: I have no idea how an entire cauliflower head, gently slathered with plum barbecue sauce and served with salty pickle chips, landed on this high-end East Sacramento restaurant’s spring menu. But it was divine, a pull-apart master class in balance and bringing divergent flavors together. 1719 34th St., Sacramento.
Tandoori fish ($16) from Kebab Hut: Zulfiqar “Guddu” Haider’s flagship dish is an attention-getter when it comes out, steaming fish that swirls its way around peppers and onions on a skillet. It’s not just eye candy, either: there are multiple strong flavors throughout, from the charred exterior to the peppery, piscine core. 6661 Stanford Ranch Road, Suite J, Rocklin.
Thai duck (part of a seven-course, $155 tasting menu) from Localis: This was the year Localis and proprietor Chris Barnum-Dann became true stars of Sacramento’s dining scene, as the restaurant earned its first Michelin star and the chef/owner was a James Beard Award semifinalist. Duck two ways (cured breast meat and confit pavé) stood out on my May visit, especially paired with a shot of Thai chili/duck stock/mango consommé. 2031 S St., Sacramento.
Buttered hot water cornbread ($2.50) at Tori’s Place: You can’t leave Victoria Haggins’ soul food shack in Del Paso Heights without trying a puck of the crispy-edged, flapjack-like cornbread. Terrific on its own, Haggins’ cornbread also makes a soothing accompaniment to vivacious gumbo, piquant hot links or just about anything else on the menu. 1525 Grand Ave., Sacramento.
Sugar cookies (two for $5) from Bambi Vegan Tacos: Liz Gibb and Chad Novick’s all-vegan midtown restaurant features a different pair of housemade sugar cookies each week. On my visit, jamaica frosting and crystallized hibiscus made for a terrific, sweet-not-sacchirine riff on those classic pink-topped supermarket cookies. 1725 I St., Sacramento.