As The Sacramento Bee’s food and drink reporter, my meals tend to run the gamut – from Yolo County to Placer, high-priced hotspots to hole-in-the-wall heavens.
In August I visited a cozy new sushi restaurant that just might be the best restaurant in Davis. A beloved Pakistani/North Indian restaurant in Rocklin has nailed its tandoori fish and Lahore-inspired street food. Rancho Cordova’s new barbecue also impressed with solid rubs and an interesting potato salad.
All of these reviews were first published in my free weekly newsletter, which hits inboxes around noon every Wednesday.
Hikari Sushi & Omakase, Davis
What Zin Khine and Sithu Tun did to Hikari Sushi & Omakase is nothing short of amazing. The couple, who previously ran Mermaid Sushi for 15 years at Davis Food Co-op, have transformed a former pint-sized ice cream sandwich shop in downtown Davis into what might be the best restaurant in town, even if it doesn’t have a kitchen.
Weekends are the real show, when omakase (chef’s choice) service is mandatory and costs $125 per person. But weekday a la carte dining also stands out at 110 F St., Suite A, if you can grab one of the eight counter seats or find room at two tables.
Hikari (Japanese for “light”) prides itself on exquisite supply, melt in your mouth Plain Hokkaido ($16 for a sea urchin nori wrap) at the real Wasabi Half Moon Bay. This approach leads to a more limited menu than many sushi restaurants, especially when supply chain issues operate, but also elevates simple dishes like the fish bowl ($10)a bright little cup of bright orange ikura (salmon roe) over sushi rice.
Edomae style nigiri ($15 for five pieces) generous wrappers packed with seared calamari, salmon belly, and hamachi over tightly packed rice, and Hikari makes one of the best rainbow rolls ($16) you will find here too. Filled with lobster meat and avocado, it’s then topped with ikura, scallops, shrimp, anago (saltwater eel), tuna, and greens. You can add a drizzle of spicy mayonnaise, but it’s not necessary.
Pupusería La Chicana, Woodland
Past the historic buildings of downtown Woodland, Pupuseria La Chicana offers Salvadoran and Mexican specialties in an old Taco Bell in a dimly lit mall at 25 Purity Plaza. The stand-alone restaurant at 25 Purity Plaza is the definition of informal — think counter service, plastic platters, and a free appetizer of refried beans over tortilla chips on a plastic plate.
You have to taste some pup ($3.90), obviously. Pupusería La Chicana listed more than 20 varieties of the Salvadoran staple on a handwritten menu, their masa shells filled with treats such as tripe, shrimp, or squash blossoms (all frequently accompanied by melted cheese). Fill yours with chipilín, an herb from the Mexican state of Chiapas rarely seen in other pupuserías in the region, to slice through cheese and batter with a slight bitterness similar to cooked tea leaves.
A pupusa comes with the special dish Salvadoreño ($11). This plate also has the Salvadoran coleslaw curtido, a pastelito (a hand pie stuffed with carrots, beef, and potatoes), and crispy-outside, chewy-inside yucca fries that were the best I’ve had in a long time. A sweet plantain empanda was the highlight of the plate, however, made with condensed milk and rolled in cinnamon to taste like a Salvadoran riff on apple pie.
The Cuban pie ($9) was a fun spin on a well-established sandwich, with the traditional ham and cheese, but also adobada, carne asada, mayonnaise, pickled jalapeños, and a fried egg.
Nestled between a sliced bolillo roll, it had the two main elements of a Cubano but much more divergent flavors. I especially liked the pickled jalapeños instead of sliced pickles. The fried egg added a new layer of richness.
Kabab Hut, Rocklin
Zulfiqar “Guddu” Haider is an orchestra with Kabab hut, his halal Pakistani/North Indian restaurant at 6661 Stanford Ranch Road, Suite J in Rocklin. Haider takes orders at the counter, rushes out back to fire up several burners and delivers food to loyal fans, some of whom have followed him from his since-closed San Francisco restaurants.
The menu is substantial for such a small staff, but all regulars know the essential dish: tandoori fish ($16). The peppery tilapia writhed like tentacles around a skillet laden with onions and cabbage, the flavorful fish charred around the edges but soft and white inside.
Haider’s complex karahi chicken ($12) also stood out. The breast meat in a creamy, tangy sauce had just the right level of heat, and the coriander seeds and slivers of raw ginger provided surprising bursts of flavor throughout. Alas, the only kebab I had at Kabab Hut – boti lamb ($14) – was well seasoned but too hard.
Lahori chikar chole ($11.50) is common on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, but rarely seen on restaurant tables in the Sacramento area. At Kabab Hut, it’s a vegetarian delight: a thick brown curry full of cooked chickpeas so tender they crumble with the sweetest bite.
Papa O’s Smokehouse, Rancho Cordova
To Papa O’s Smokehouse In Rancho Cordova, owner/pitmaster OZ Kamara’s barbecue roots go back 70 years to the North Texas town of Greenville, where his grandfather pioneered family recipes and griddles over low heat.
Accompaniments such as macaroni and cheese came from Kamara’s mother, while the pit chef’s personal travels inspired dishes like jerk chicken on the more extensive dining menu. Meat plates, both sides, and rolls are usually $15 for lunch and $20 for dinner at 3581 Mather Field Road, Suite B, though those meals are discounted to $10 during happy hour from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Daddy O’s could use more employees, as is the case with most restaurants around Sacramento. Kamara and her young son were working diligently when I visited, but there were still a few items we ordered missing.
If Daddy O’s had more staff, I’d like to see the crispy corners of the brisket cut and served as burnt ends. The soft, blackened outer layer of the brisket was the icing on the beef slices that nailed the lean/fat balance, but admittedly it was a bit overdone.
Papa O’s ribs had a nice smoke ring like the brisket, fell off the bone easily, and was coated in a bright red rub that eliminated any need for Daddy O’s Peppery Homemade BBQ Sauce. Pickle lovers should choose the infused flavor potato salad as a side; those with a sweet tooth might prefer Kamara’s Brown Sugar candied yams.
This story was originally published September 2, 2022 5:25 a.m.