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Best food restaurants around Sacramento, CA in October

Giovanni's Old World New York Pizzeria is one of the few places around Sacramento that makes Sicilian-style pizzas, such as this eggplant Parmigiana pie.

Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria is one of the few places around Sacramento that makes Sicilian-style pizzas, such as this eggplant Parmigiana pie.

Fall weather had me in my feelings, apparently, because I navigated toward comfort foods all throughout October.

One week it was thick, black bowls of Korean Chinese noodles. The next called for tandoori chicken tacos and a pint of locally-sourced beer. Then it was pizza, with a ricotta/mozzarella-stuffed crust and housemade meatballs.

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Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria

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Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria is one of the few places around Sacramento that makes Sicilian-style pizzas, such as this eggplant Parmigiana pie. Benjy Egel

Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria’s arcade games, no-frills decor and presence in East Sacramento and South Land Park give it a family-friendly reputation associated with kids’ birthdays and Little League parties. But Mountain Mike’s or Round Table this is not: there’s a real Italian American bend to John Ruffaine’s humbly delicious food.

A Brooklyn native proud of his Sicilian ancestry, Ruffaine opened the first Giovanni’s at 5924 S. Land Park Drive in 2001 with his wife Jenny and Carlo and Allison Griffone. It was an instant hit, a New York-style star long before Masullo, Hot Italian, Uncle Vito’s and others arrived on Sacramento’s pizza scene. The second location opened less than two years later at 6200 Folsom Blvd.

Dough, sauces and salad dressings are still made from scratch, but Sacramento’s pizza scene has grown so much that Giovanni’s doesn’t quite carry the same prestige it once did (this is a good thing, by the way). Yet it’s still the only place to find house inventions such as stuffata ($14).

Stuffata is essentially a dough boat housing cheese and toppings in the center, with a ricotta-mozzarella mixture stuffed in the crust — similar to Georgian khachapuri minus a fried egg. I could happily nibble on just that crust, but ordered it with the Little Italy toppings ($1 more) to try Giovanni’s housemade meatballs.

Giovanni’s is also one of the few Sacramento places to serve fluffy, focaccia-like Sicilian pies, though you’ll need to order a half pan (12 rectangular slices) if none of the individual slices sitting by the counter grab you. I did so because I wanted to try the eggplant Parmigiana pizza ($20 for a 12-inch regular pie, or $42 for a dozen Sicilian-style slices) special, and enjoyed the visual of each eggplant circle on its own slice almost as much as I liked biting into the airy crust.

Exciting variants aside, it’s fair to judge a pizzeria like Giovanni’s on New York-style pizzas like the Coney Island ($15 for a 10-inch pie, $21 for 12 inches or $30 for 16 inches). Topped with baby clams, roasted garlic and a slew of herbs, it had a nicely thin and chewy crust with just a hint of char around the edges.

Address: 6200 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento and 5924 S. Land Park Drive, Sacramento. Hours: 11am-9pm every day. Drinks: touch-screen Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, beer and wine. Animal-free options: a handful of vegetarian items, and pizzas can be made with dairy-free cheese. Accessibility: differs based on location. Noise level: medium, but sound could bounce off the concrete floor when busy.

Smile Market 2, La Riviera

Smile Market 2 serves jajangmyeon, a Korean Chinese noodle dish with a fermented black bean sauce. Benjy Egel

Half-starved after a long bike ride along the American River Parkway, I walked into Smile Market 2 in La Riviera on a recent Sunday. Opened in February 2020 by Do Sool and Chae Kyung Kim, who founded the original Smile Market almost 25 years ago, it’s perhaps the Sacramento region’s only restaurant dedicated to Korean-Chinese food called junghwa yori.

Smile Market 2’s flagship dish is jajangmyeon ($13), a bowl of chewy noodles, diced pork and vegetables such as squash dyed inky black by a fermented black bean sauce called chunjang. It was pleasantly pungent and musky with a strong depth of flavor, an umami delight that’ll leave your teeth momentarily stained and your belly satiated.

Palbochae with rice ($22) had clear Chinese roots as well. Also known as babaocai or eight-treasure vegetables, it was an enormous plate of shrimp, squid, mussels, bok choy, bamboo shoots, baby corn, bell peppers, straw mushrooms, water chestnuts and more over glutinous rice, a hearty mishmash with enough leftovers for two additional meals.

You’ll find bibim-naengmyeon ($19, listed as “cold noodle with spicy chili sauce”) at many Korean restaurants around Rosemont and La Rivieria, and Smile Market 2’s is better balanced than many of its competitors. Served chilled in a metal bowl, the buckwheat noodles, sliced ​​cucumber, half-moons of beef and gochujang-based sauce were a welcome relief after temperatures rose into the mid-80s on the bike trail.

Address: 9545 Folsom Blvd, Suite 8, Sacramento. Hours: 10am-8:30pm Wednesday-Monday. Drinks: bottled teas and soft drinks. Meat-free options: few, though the jajangmyeon is available in vegan form as well. Accessibility: wheelchair-accessible restroom, two handicapped parking spots. Noise level: minimal, with ambient background music.

Hop Junction, Greenhaven

Hop Junction’s tandoori chicken tacos are emblematic of the North Indian restaurant/craft beer bar. Benjy Egel

Hop Junction opened as another wings-and-beer taproom in 2017, but owner Jas Purewal soon implemented a change that set his Greenhaven restaurant apart from the rest. Purewal ditched burgers for butter chicken and nachos for naan, kept pouring from 20 taps behind the rounded corner bar and created the region’s only North Indian restaurant/craft beer bar.

There’s still something of a sports bar feel at 7600 Greenhaven Drive, Suite 20 between the neon-lit interior and Monday Night Football on TV. Tandoori chicken tacos (three for $11) helped bridge the gap between concepts, with their sweet brown chutney rubbing up against a mild pico de gallo in corn tortillas.

Most of the expansive menu doesn’t have the same fusion bend, and classics such as malai kofta ($15) are nicely-executed as well. Paneer, nuts and potatoes smushed together into three deep-fried vegetarian meatballs that swam in a creamy orange gravy.

The idea of ​​pickled prawns might throw off some unfamiliar eaters, but Hop Junction’s juicy achari shrimp ($18) doesn’t have too much of the acidic flavor one might expect. Its reddish-brown sauce is smoky and peppery, interrupted by the occasional anise seed.

While cocktails and wine are available, washing our meal down with beer felt more appropriate. Our server recommended something light such as a lager or IPA to pair with the dishes coming out; I enjoyed Urban Roots’ refreshing Floofster hefeweizen ($7 for a pint).

Address: 7600 Greenhaven Drive, Suite 20, Sacramento. Hours: 3:30-9:30 pm Monday-Friday, noon to 9 pm Saturday. Drinks: Full bar, with an emphasis on beer. Meat-free options: more than a dozen vegetarian options, some vegan. Accessibility: ramp leading up to front door, two handicapped parking spots. Noise level: moderate.

El Papagayo, Carmichael

El Papagayo’s crispy cod tacos are fully loaded with slaw, crema and a house “diabla sauce.” Benjy Egel

Walk into El Papagayo and you’re greeted with two menus. One has meaty dishes and one is all-vegan, though as the bartender said, “they’re printed on paper, so both are plant-based.”

The Mexican restaurant at 5804 Marconi Ave. in Carmichael was serving plant-based dishes long before veganism became trendy, and is still a go-to spot for northeastern Sacramento County residents. Colorful tiles, a dry central fountain and paintings of Frida Kahlo fill the spacious dining room, along with parrot decor to highlight the restaurant’s namesake.

Mushroom fajitas ($18) seemed exciting, but came out on a plastic plate without the sizzle and smoke that Tex-Mex renditions have seared in my mind. Visual letdown aside, the wild enoki and cremini mushrooms intermixed well with chayote, pepper, onions and a smoky, musky spice mix.

Soyrizo taquitos (two for $16) stood out more for their tofu bricks and spiced potatoes than the mild imitation meat tucked inside the rolled tacos. They were served on a bed of deliciously creamy pinto beans and topped with pico de gallo, lettuce and shredded vegan cheeze.

Those who dabble in pescetarianism need to try El Papagayo’s lightly breaded crispy cod tacos (two for $12). Loaded to the brim with slaw, crema and a piquant red diabla sauce, they were as good as any Baja-style delight I’ve had around the region.

Address: 5804 Marconi Ave., Carmichael. Hours: 3-8 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 3-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Drinks: full bar. Meat-free options: one of two menus is all-vegan. Accessibility: ramp leading up to front door. Noise level: loud when busy, as sound bounces off tiles.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.