It’s often said, heck, we’ve said it ourselves, that when it comes to fine dining, Sacramento’s best restaurants are in San Francisco. The City by the Bay does offer some great, okay, a lot of great restaurants, and we aren’t here to compare the fine dining offerings in one of the world’s truly great cities to those in our little town.
But an evening of good food, prepared and served with care and style, is far from an impossible experience in and around Sacramento. Need proof? Here’s a list of 20 local restaurants that we recommend, in some cases highly, and in a few very highly, as indicated by the number of stars assigned. (In our arbitrary classifications, a five-star rating is reserved for the very best dining experiences; four-stars means there’s very little to complain about; three indicates perfectly adequate food and service; two may appeal to some; and one, well, there aren’t any ones on this list).
Biba’s – ***** – 2801 Capitol Ave., Sacramento. Still the best, although we did have an overly salted short rib special this week (but we were then served a delectable dessert on the house to atone for the sin).
Ambience – ***** – 6440 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael. The atmosphere in this Carmichael gem is ideal for a quiet, romantic evening, and the food is nothing less than lovingly prepared and presented.
The Kitchen – ***** – 2225 Hurley Way, Sacramento. As complete a dining experience as Sacramento has to offer, with the preparation made into a veritable stage show.
Slocum House – ***** – 7992 California Ave., Fair Oaks. Worth the drive to Fair Oaks, especially on a warm spring night, when the outdoor seating is pure bliss.
Ella’s Dining Room – ***** – 1131 K St., Sacramento. Another gem from the founder of the Kitchen, this one without the staging of the preparation and thus more intimate.
Mulvaney’s – **** – 1215 19th St., Sacramento. The downtown location features a pleasant outdoor area for summer dining. The food is almost always excellent.
The Waterboy – **** – 2000 Capital Ave., Sacramento. Great food for a less than wallet-busting price.
Grange – **** – 926 J St., Sacramento. A bit noisy for our tastes, but it’s the place to meet and eat in downtown Sac these days.
Piatti’s – **** – 571 Pavilions Lane, Sacramento. Usually excellent food and service in the Pavilion’s shopping center.
Il Fornaio – **** – 400 Capitol Mall, Sacramento. Fine cuisine and good service, but can be too busy to make it enjoyable at peak times.
Scott’s Seafood – **** – 545 Munroe St., Sacramento. Perhaps the best for seafood in town.
Firehouse – **** – 1112 2nd St., Sacramento. Still a great place for a satisfying meal with a variety of table locations (inside and outside) available.
Zinfandel Grille – *** – 2384 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento. Uniformly good food at a Randy Paragary suburban hangout.
Esquire Grill – *** – 1213 K St., Sacramento. An excellent stop after a night at the theater or an IMAX movie, perhaps more noted for its bar than its cuisine.
La Boheme – *** – 9634 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks. Good food, served with style, but getting there from downtown is something of a chore.
Lemon Grass – *** – 601 Munroe St., Sacramento. Some offerings deserve a higher rating, but the overall quality lacks consistency.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House – *** – 501 Pavilions Lane, Sacramento. Good for what it offers: steaks, of course.
4th Street Grille – ** – 400 L St., Sacramento. Standard fare for the most part, but convenient location and TGI Friday happy hours make it worth a visit.
The Broiler Steakhouse – ** – 1201 K St., Sacramento. No longer the place to see the Legislature’s movers and shakers, but still a good spot for a slab of beef.
Morton’s Steakhouse – ** – 621 Capitol Mall, Sacramento. Overpriced and overvalued, unless you’re a steak and potatoes kind of guy/gal.
So, stop complaining and get out and enjoy a good meal in a good restaurant. And when you do get to San Francisco, don’t tell them you went there to find a decent place to eat.