For the first time, Sacramento is included in Zagat Survey's guide to "America's Top Restaurants" (Zagat, 348 pages, $15.95). The 2009 edition, just rolling out to book shops, covers 1,516 restaurants in 45 cities. The guide's evaluations are based on the experiences of more than 145,000 volunteer surveyors who eat out more than an average three times a week.
This past spring, Zagat officials invited Sacramentans to send in their comments concerning the food, decor, service and cost of area restaurants. From that database, Zagat's editors chose 20 restaurants as the Sacramento area's best.
They include many of the usual suspects - Biba, Ella, Firehouse, Lemon Grass, Mulvaney's, Paragary's and The Waterboy - but also a few surprises: Boulevard Bistro in Elk Grove, Frank Fat's in downtown Sacramento, Kru in midtown Sacramento, La Bonne Soupe Cafe in downtown Sacramento, Osteria Fasulo in Davis and Tower Cafe along Broadway in Sacramento.
The top five restaurants ranked for their food only are La Bonne Soupe, The Kitchen, The Waterboy, Mulvaney's and Biba.
The five most popular restaurants, which takes into consideration surveyor comments concerning service, decor and cost as well as food, are Mikuni, Biba, The Waterboy, Ella and Mulvaney's.
The survey also found that Sacramentans tip an average 18.6 percent compared to the national average of 19 percent; that two-thirds of Sacramentans are willing to pay more for food that is sustainably raised compared with 59 percent for the U.S. average; and that Sacramentans rank second only to San Franciscans in considering locally grown or locally raised foods "very important" or "somewhat important;" in both cities, 40 percent to 44 percent of the people who responded said such foods are either "very important" or "somewhat important," while on the national average just 26 percent of diners thought such foods were "very important," while 43 percent thought them "somewhat important."
Nationally, 65 percent of those surveyed feel trans fats should be banned in restaurants, compared with 62 percent of Sacramentans who feel the same way.
Both nationally and in Sacramento, diners' favorite cuisine is Italian, followed by "American." Sacramentans are keener on Japanese and Mexican food than the rest of the country, and are in line with national preferences for Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisines, but aren't nearly as enthusiastic for French dishes as the rest of the nation.
The narrative for each restaurant is compiled from comments submitted by surveyors. For example:
Frank Fat's: "The oldest continuously running restaurant in Sacramento, this 'beautiful' 70-year-old is a downtown Chinese 'institution' where 'ghosts of legendary legislators linger' and 'you're likely to bump into state politicians' 'doing their deals' while being 'served whip-crack fast.'"
La Bonne Soupe Cafe: "'Sweet' French chef-owner Daniel Pont serves 'love between two pieces of bread' and what's possibly 'the best onion soup in the universe,' all 'artistically mde' to order."
Mason's: "The 'diverse, hip crowd' is as 'nice to look at' as the 'friendly, prompt' servers, but the real eye candy is in the 'schocking' bathrooms, which you 'must see' to believe ('don't do anything funny' - 'you're being watched!')."
Zocalo: "When the bar crowd arrives, 'you'll need a megaphone to talk to your date.'"
Nicholas Sampogna, a spokesman for Zagat, says the Sacramento section of "America's Top Restaurants" is a prelude to a stand-alone pocket guide for the area to be published after the first of the year. That guide is to include around 120 restaurants.
Sampogna didn't know how many Sacramentans participated in the survey. "America's Top Restaurants" is just starting to arrive at bookstores, but also can be ordered online at www.zagat.com.