January’s California Restaurant Month is the perfect time for a foodie tour of the Golden State, with special prix fixe deals and events that highlight each city or region’s best restaurants, chefs, and flavors.
If you want to focus your culinary travels on California’s famed farm-to-table cuisine, you can’t go wrong by spending time in the center of it all. The Golden State’s heartland is lined with farms and ranches, producing specialty crops that range from almonds and olives to honey and Satsuma Mandarins, which you can taste in local restaurants.
The state capital of Sacramento, for starters, is known as a Farm-to Fork Capitol, thanks to its more than 8,000 acres of farmland and a deep inventory of world-class chefs. Dine Downtown Sacramento (Jan. 10–20) offers three-course dinners for just $40 at more than 30 restaurants (as a bonus, one dollar from each meal goes to local social services and food literacy programs).
Just south of Sacramento, the suburb of Elk Grove uses local crops for its bevy of international restaurants—Korean, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, and more—during Elk Grove Restaurant Week (Jan. 20–26). Between meals, try some of the exceptional local brews at Tilted Mash Brewery or Dreaming Dog Brewery, which offers K9-named beers.
Or, head to Rancho Cordova, just east of Sacramento, where you can bike on the American River Parkway Trail then refuel on serious comfort food during Rancho Cordova Restaurant Week (Jan. 24–31). A few can’t-miss spots include Famous Burger (named one of National Geographic’s 10 Best Burgers) and the Italian fare at Formaggio Restaurant & Taverna.
The foothills of Gold Country’s Placer County are a hotbed for Satsuma Mountain mandarin trees. During Placer Citrus Restaurant Week (Jan. 3–12) you can sample the juicy oranges (as well as local Meyer lemons, blood oranges, and grapefruit) in everything from salads and sauces to desserts. Find them at work in the dishes at Roseville’s Nixtaco, a participant that’s been named by Food & Wine as one of the best taquerias in the nation.
Also east from the capital, the Gold Rush hub of El Dorado County celebrates the monthlong Fork in the Road event. Go on one of the Culinary & Culture Tours in El Dorado Hills and Historic Main Street in Placerville to see how the area become home to an Apple Blossom Festival, Lavender Blue Festival, and lots of special farm-to-table dinners. Or stop in spots such as Poor Red’s, a former Wells Fargo Stage Coach stop now famous for BBQ and its Golden Cadillac cocktail.
For more Gold Rush history mixed with good eating, head south to Tuolumne County near Yosemite National Park to sample farm-fresh dishes during its Tuolumne County Restaurant Week (Jan. 19–25). This area is rich with everything from locally raised beef and poultry to wine, organic hard apple cider, olive oil, and honey. Enjoy the three-course prix fixe menus like the one at Groveland’s Rush Creek Lodge, which features a goat cheese mousse, figs, wild rice risotto with wild mushrooms, and an apple gallette.
About 125 miles south, off I-5, the city of Stockton is home to the acclaimed Haggin Museum and the locally-sourced Stockton Restaurant Week (Jan. 17-26). Try the smoked escarole pizza at Market Tavern or the California-style tri-tip at Fat City Brew & BBQ. (Check out Stockton’s fun tips, too, on how to boost your food-photography skills for your Instagram posts.)
And near the southwestern side of Yosemite National Park, Madera County is another culinary don’t-miss in California’s heartland; they devote a full month to the local produce, wine and cheese, including the amazing Hilmar Cheese Company. Take this as a good excuse to dine at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant, where the $48 prix fixe dinner starts with a glass of Sureau, the sparkling wine infused with local Elderberry nectar.