R Street food tour from Local Roots

R Street sign

When it comes to food we’re pretty spoiled in California, with fresh produce from local farms, seafood, and of course plenty of wine to go along with it. So I was a little miffed when all the restaurants were booked well in advance when I arrived in Sacramento on Friday, and were so massively understaffed on Saturday that I couldn’t even get seated at any restaurant bars.

It eventually dawned on me that this wasn’t normal: I’d simply arrived on Valentine’s Day and every restaurant worth dining at in town was squeezed for staff.

Fortunately I’d booked a food tour on Sunday, the R Street food tour from Local Roots. This more than made up for the previous two day’s dining disappointments.

The tour started at the WAL Public Market, a small shopping center in a warehouse building now used for live/work artist studios. The guide met us outside with horchata coffee for the group. I’d never had horchata with coffee in it before — it’s a little sweet but the flavors work well together.

We all went inside for a while to browse while our first meal was prepared. I’d skipped breakfast and was eager for some good food.

R Street Food Tour

Our first dishes were from a Japanese place including miso soup, sweet sushi-style rice, and both vegetable and seafood poke. All of this was amazing — the miso soup really hit the spot on a somewhat chilly afternoon, and one woman in the group who claimed she hated seafood had to admit the salmon poke was delicious.

From there we walked around the R Street area for a while to look at some of the street art, which I’ll get to in a later post. R Street itself was once a key part of the Transcontinental Railroad shipping empire, but due to a decline following World War 2 it became an unofficial arts district.

The next stop was a Mexican joint called Mas Taco Bar. We all shared a big bowl of guacamole and some fried tortillas to break up into chips along with whatever individual tacos we wanted. I had a salmon taco which came with a fresh tortilla, spicy aioli, and small slices of jalapeno. The service was a little slow, though the taco proved worth the wait.

R Street Food Tour

From there we backtracked a little to visit the Shady Lady, an upscale “speakeasy” in an old brick building. We ordered individual cocktails; I had a fancy margarita which doesn’t really fit the speakeasy theme but made sense in my mind after eating Mexican food.

We also split some appetizers, the only one of which I tried was fried green tomatoes. This version was a little crunchy on the outside with a sweet, gooey tomato center.

Our guide said this spot used to be a Wonder Bread factory, which I think I accidentally turned into a debate about modern food production. I mentioned learning at the Sacramento History Museum that sliced bread meant kids could safely make their own sandwiches for the first time.

One woman about my age with two kids said she liked the idea of telling them to make their own lunches, which somehow led to an argument about using using modern technology (GMOs, fertilizers, etc.) to feed the world vs. the long term impacts on sustaining healthy farmland. It was a very lively group on this tour.

R Street Food Tour

Finally we stopped for desert in the “Ice Blocks” area of R Street, which was once a produce packing district where trains were packed with fresh produce and ice for refrigeration. Today the area is all new construction.

The last stop was Creamy’s, a bakery in the Ice Blocks that serves tiny cheesecakes in small cupcake wrappers. These were too rich for my tastes, though the diminutive portions made it more palatable.

My recommendation: If you’re curious about the food scene in Sacramento but aren’t sure what to try, this tour is a great place to start. Local Roots has a few other food tours listed on their website if you’re looking for something different.