Best restaurant in the Sacramento, CA area in Spring
I traveled to Peru last month, where I shoveled ceviche and lomo saltados into my grill during a long-awaited vacation. But you don’t have to travel so far from Sacramento to find exceptional food.
Sometimes that requires a trip to El Dorado Hills, where dishes incorporate saffron from the owners’ family farm in Afghanistan. An Eastern European restaurant in Carmichael has changed with the times while moving beyond well-known dishes. Also noteworthy are the fish tacos at a restaurant just north of the Elk Grove border in a South Sacramento strip mall.
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Afghan Restaurant Bamiyan
Coming back from Lake Tahoe on Hwy 50? Consider stopping at Afghan Restaurant BamiyanMousa, Najla, and Kareem Amiri’s sit-down spot near downtown El Dorado Hills at 1121 White Rock Rd. — but note that it’s only open 5-9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.
The extended Amiris family runs an organic saffron farm in Afghanistan. Red seasoning is a notable ingredient in several Bamiyan dishes. It is also sold to take away at the restaurant. You can see and taste it in yellow lentil soup, chicken shish kebabs, homemade baklava, even a glass of pinot grigio infused with the world’s most expensive spice.
I tasted it in the saffron pea soup ($6.50) and saffron shrimp dinner ($23). The yellow lentil soup was nice and punctuated with chunks of ginger throughout, while the prawns were a bit lean but saved by a delicious side dish of mashed pumpkin.
the yellow kalebi ($21) was the star, a cardamom spiced rice dish tossed with slivered almonds, raisins, carrot strips and a choice of meat and side. I chose two superb grilled chicken breasts and eggplant stuffed with tomato, like a pudding inside a crispy skin.
Zecky’s Fish Tacos
After surfing Pacifica the other week, a friend and I set off in search of the best post-ocean California meal: fish tacos. As we gulped, my friend asked if any taquerias in Sacramento specialized in the kinds of seafood we had enjoyed together in Baja California last summer.
A little research turned up Zecky’s Fish Tacos at 8065 Elk Grove Florin Rd., Suite 120. Zecky’s also offers mulitas, huaraches, quesadillas and other items that can be topped or stuffed with meat. I had seafood on the if so, and ordered just that at the South Sacramento mall restaurant with a beach vibe.
Zecky uses swai to fish tacos ($1.65 Tuesday and Saturday, $3.25 otherwise), which were well breaded and buttered with a nice kick of a dark red salsa. You could say the same for Shrimp Tacosor get one of each with refried beans, veggie rice, and a drink (try the pulpy cantaloupe aguafresca) for $9.25.
It’s been years since I’ve had a Mexican style shrimp cocktail ($11 for medium, $14 for large), and Zecky was a nice reintroduction. Large, plump shrimp floated under a layer of avocado in a ketchup mixture, hollowed out of their plastic cups by a tostada or cracker.
A small Ukrainian flag and donation boxes now greet customers as they enter Firebird Restaurant at 4715 Manzanita Avenue in Carmichael. Formerly known as Firebird Russian Restaurant, its name (and identity, of sorts) changed last month after Moldovan-American owner Alexandru Sirbu wanted to steer his business away from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Firebird is one of the few restaurants around Sacramento with food from former Soviet countries, and probably the highest, with spacious event space for hosting banquets. As borders have shifted over the years, many dishes have taken root in several Eastern European countries.
To take borscht ($9.50 or $11 with beef), for example, fermented beetroot soup of Ukrainian origin but commonly eaten in Russia, Poland and Belarus. Firebird’s version is slightly sour and served warm, a pleasant starter whose friendliness pairs well with the brown bread served at each table.
Fire Bird zrazy ($20) feels like a comforting throwback, closer to grandma’s meatloaf than anything trendy. Huge twin logs of ground chicken roulades are stuffed with mushrooms, then egg washed and fried before being served with fennel and coleslaw salad and buttered white rice.
Some Russian dishes remain on the menu, such as shuba ($13), nicknamed “herring under a fur coat”. It’s a neat, colorful pile of shredded potatoes, carrots, cheese and beets, chopped herring, olives and eggs, but fused together with mayonnaise. It was listed under “salads” on the menu, reminiscent of loose interpretations of the word in the Midwest. In this case, however, the flavors came together beautifully, creating a creamy, sour and earthy dish in one bite.
This story was originally published May 2, 2022 5:25 a.m.