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Downtown Sacramento was hit hard during the pandemic, yes, but it’s still home to some of Sacramento’s best restaurants, from high-end concepts near the Capitol to more affordable Japanese spots near residencies.
These five downtown places were named among The Sacramento Bee’s 2022 Top 50 Restaurants, the full list of which was released on Nov. 18. All restaurants in the guide are listed in alphabetical order and unranked; read more about that decision here.
Is your favorite downtown Sacramento restaurant missing from this list? Write it in here. The top five vote-getters from around the region will be added to the Top 50 guide in early December.
$$$ — JAPANESE
There’s a world of Japanese food outside of sushi, and Craig Takehara and Toki Sawada are determined to help customers explore it through their Southside Park izakaya. Chef Takehara is best known for yakitori — bits of skewered chicken, beef or veggies grilled over 900-degree binchotan charcoal. Binchoyaki has three menus with dozens of options, so here are a few highlights to point you in the right direction: bacon-wrapped mochi skewers, ebi shinjyo-aje (shrimp-scallop fritters that look like they are transported here from outer space), a bluefin-topped house specialty called krispy rice, a pickle platter with sake prunes and cherry tomatoes, mushroomy dry ramen called tori mazeman and housemade matcha ice cream made with soy milk. If you don’t know, ask. The wait staff isn’t shy about giving recommendations or even taking it upon themselves to add dishes they know you’ll love.
2226 10th St., Sacramento. (916) 469-9448
$$$ — BRITISH
Oliver Ridgeway combined the attention to detail of Grange, where he had been head chef, with the flavors of his native England when he and his wife Tia opened Camden Spit & Larder in late 2018. This isn’t some bloke’s chippy: Soft greys and gingham create a sense of properness, and natural light streaming off metallic fixtures makes the brasserie feel awake. Named after the Ridgeways’ son and the hip London district, Camden’s business lunch traffic gives way throughout the day to happy hour crowds and Golden 1 Center concertgoers. Fully-packed sausage rolls with curry ketchup are a must-try at any point in the day, and the English dip sandwich is a cheeky, horseradish-y take on the French-inspired classic. An eight-layer banoffee bar made with Berkeley-based TCHO chocolate is the highlight of the dessert menu.
555 Capitol Mall, Suite 100, Sacramento. (916) 619-8897.
$$$$ — CALIFORNIAN
Fifteen years in, Ella is still downtown Sacramento’s ultimate restaurant for date nights, swanky lunches and post-conference indulgence. Everything is high-end at this Selland Family Restaurants property, from the service to decorative dishes to the central glass wine room reminiscent of Netflix’s “You.” Yet in true Sacramento fashion, you’ll still see people in San Francisco 49ers jerseys and Supreme sweatshirts slurping oysters and nibbling Elverta-based Sterling Caviar, knowing their money is good here no matter their dress. Certain Ella specialties have become Sacramento dining scene canon at this point - wood-fired bone marrow, steak tartare and one of the best gin-and-tonics around - and others may be on their way. The Mendocino black cod is fall-apart tender, while the long, hand-cut pappardelle’s accompaniments teases the palate all over - earthy wild mushroom ragout in one bite, rich whipped ricotta in the next. Shut down for most of the pandemic, Ella has understandably stayed busy since reopening, no mean feat in downtown Sacramento these days.
1131 K St., Sacramento. (916) 443-3772.
$$$$ — CALIFORNIAN
It’s hard enough to do one meal of the day well. Grange does all three, plus happy hour and room service for guests of the 196-room Citizen Hotel. It seems a tad more relaxed than in the pre-pandemic days, yet it’s still a go-to spot for grilled branzino dinners and white-collar working lunches. The Grange Power Lunch special illustrates that latter point and offers a few different tastes with the soup du jour, side salad, half-sandwich (try the Italian Beef for a rare Sacramento take on a Chicago classic) and mini chocolate cake. The best thing about the house burger, available during lunch and happy hour, isn’t the extra-crunchy bacon or the bourbon barbecue sauce or the bleu cheese or the Corning-based Masami Ranch beef. It’s the restraint chef Dane Blom shows in balancing each flavorful ingredient so that they feed off each other rather than flood the palate. The side of oregano-dusted shoestring fries is a close second, though.
926 J St., Sacramento. (916) 447-2700.
$$ — JAPANESE
Sacramento’s best ramen is hidden in plain sight, a brick-walled basement den a stone’s throw from Golden 1 Center. Kru mastermind Billy Ngo and ramen extraordinare Takumi Abe crush it on the classics like a murky tonkotsu that carries all the deep flavor one would hope from a three-day paitan. Yet Kodaiko stands apart for its more eccentric bases such as lemon shio or a can’t-miss mushroom paitan made rich via cashew cream. The honey-hot fried chicken salad with Twin Peaks Orchards peaches makes for a great non-ramen option, and a chilled tofu appetizer called hiyayakko with sweet pepper jam and a sea of crispy will convert even the soybean-averse.
718 K St., Sacramento. (916) 426-8863.