For those who live there or merely frequent it, Sacramento’s Midtown district has a nickname – the Grid. A quick trip to Mapquest reveals why, as the district bounded by W Street on the south, C Street on the north, 16th Street on the west and 29th Street on the east appears on your screen as a series of perfect squares. The effect is that of an immense urban checkerboard.
But a visit to these blocks offers another possible explanation – energy. Midtown is easily among the most vibrant neighborhoods in Northern California, home to Lavender Heights (Sacramento’s gay and lesbian district) as well as all manner of bars, restaurants, coffeehouses and art galleries.
Somewhat ironically, the heart of this cutting-edge, youth-celebrating district can be found in the blocks surrounding one of California’s seminal historical sites, Sutter’s Fort. Visit Midtown any weekend or merely for a dose of nightlife, however, and you’ll discover a different kind of gold.
Every great urban neighborhood needs a top-notch local sushi establishment and Kru, 2516 J St., is Midtown’s. Actually, the menu ranges far behind raw fish but all the rice is organically grown and owner Buu “Billy” Ngo prepares it with loving care in his dual role as executive chef. If your tastes run south of the border, Centro Cocina Mexicana, 2730 J St., has emerged as a staple of the Sacramento restaurant scene by offering regional Mexican cuisine in a festive and colorful atmosphere.
Having spent my teens in the Chicago area, I am always intrigued to see California eateries’ take on the Windy City’s thick crust pizza. The people behind Chicago Fire, 2416 J St., share my passion for that style of pie; indeed, they boast their establishment represents “the tribute to Chicago pizza.” Chicago Fire’s Midtown location serves up some fine slices in a welcoming environment.
Sacramento has seen a sharp growth in craft brewing in recent years, which is one reason to prize Rubicon Brewing, 2004 Capitol Ave., all the more. Founded in 1987, Rubicon serves satisfying beer and food at its train tracks-adjacent Midtown location while also enjoying a growing reputation for its community outreach and philanthropic efforts. As with many Midtown favorites, Rubicon’s patio is dog-friendly.
The Golden Bear, 2326 K St., prides itself on being Midtown’s friendliest bar while serving up great cocktails, draft beers and a popular weekend brunch. Streets of London, 1804 J St., seeks to bring a touch of British pub culture to Midtown, complete with dartboards and a menu featuring both fish and chips and bangers and mash.
If your tastes run more toward the German, check out one of the newest additions to Midtown – Der Biergarten, 2332 K St. This open-air beer destination features 32 taps and food ranging from sausages to salads to “Belgies” – ham sandwiches on waffles brimming with esoteric extras like mustard, cream cheese or chipotle raspberry sauce. Just order at the tap house and kitchen converted from industrial-size shipping containers and grab a seat the communal tables or among the street-side standers. No matter where you eat, the best place to conclude your meal is Rick’s Dessert Diner, 2322 K St., a sweet Midtown retreat for nearly 30 years.
Harlow’s, 2708 J St., ranks as one of Northern California’s leading live-music locations. The lineup alternates between national acts (Ottmar Liebert, Jello Biafra in August) and regional favorites (Mother Hips, Tainted Love). Momo’s, located in the alley behind Harlow’s, is Midtown’s premier clubbing destination. Blue Cue, 1004 28th St., features plenty of blue-felt pool tables but it’s sometimes hard to hear the clicking balls above the buzzing conversation and thumping music.