Pupuseria La Chicana has tortas, such as this take on a Cubano with a fried egg.

Pupuseria La Chicana has tortas, such as this take on a Cubano with a fried egg.

As The Sacramento Bee’s reporter for all things food and drink, my meals tend to run the gamut — from Yolo County to Placer, from high-dollar hotspots to hole-in-the-wall havens.

In August, I checked out a snug new sushi spot that just might be Davis’ best restaurant. A beloved Pakistani/North Indian restaurant in Rocklin nailed its tandoori fish and Lahore-inspired street food. Rancho Cordova’s new barbecue joint impressed, too, with solid rubs and an interesting potato salad.

All of these reviews were first published in my free weekly newsletter, which hits inboxes around noon each Wednesday.

Hikari Sushi & Omakase, Davis

Hikari Sushi & Omakase’s fishbowl ($10) piles ikura, or salmon eggs, on top on sushi rice. Benjy Egel

What Zin Khine and Sithu Tun have done at Hikari Sushi & Omakase is nothing less than amazing. The couple, who previously ran Mermaid Sushi for 15 years out of the Davis Food Co-op, have transformed a pint-sized former ice cream sandwich shop in downtown Davis into what might be the city’s best restaurant, even though it doesn’t have a kitchen.

Weekends are the real show, when omakase (chef’s choice) service is mandatory and runs $125 per person. But à la carte weeknight dinners stand out as well at 110 F St., Suite A, if you can grab one of the eight counter seats or find space at two tables.

Hikari (Japanese for “light”) prides itself on exquisite sourcing, from melt-in-your mouth Hokkaido uni ($16 for one nori wrap of the sea urchin) to real-deal Half Moon Bay Wasabi. That approach leads to a more limited menu than many sushi spots, particularly when supply chain issues act up, but also elevates simple dishes like the fishbowl ($10), a glowing little goblet of bright orange ikura (salmon roe) atop sushi rice.

Edomae-style nigiri ($15 for five pieces) packed generous capes of torched squid, salmon belly and hamachi over tightly-packed rice, and Hikari makes one of the best rainbow rolls ($16) you’ll find around here as well. Filled with lobster meat and avocado, it’s then topped with ikura, scallops, shrimp, anago (saltwater eel), tuna and greens. You can add a drizzle of spicy mayonnaise, but there’s little need.

Pupusería La Chicana, Woodland

Pupuseria La Chicana has tortas, such as this take on a Cubano with a fried egg. Benjy Egel

Past Woodland’s downtown historic buildings, Pupusería La Chicana slings Salvadoran and Mexican specialties out of a former Taco Bell in a dimly-lit shopping center at 25 Purity Plaza. The standalone restaurant at 25 Purity Plaza is the definition of informal — think counter service, plastic trays and a complimentary appetizer of refried beans over tortilla chips on a plastic plate.

One has to sample a few pupusas ($3.90), obviously. Pupusería La Chicana listed more than 20 varieties of the Salvadoran staple on a handwritten menu, their masa shells filled with goodies such as tripe, shrimp or squash blossom (all frequently accompanied by melted cheese). Fill yours with chipilín, an herb from the Mexican state of Chiapas rarely seen at other area pupuserías, to cut through the cheese and masa with some light bitterness similar to stewed tea leaves.

A pupusa comes with the especial plato Salvadoreño ($11). That plate also has the Salvadoran slaw curtido, a pastelito (a hand pie stuffed with carrots, beef and potatoes) and crispy-outside, fluffy-inside yucca fries that were the best I’ve had in a long time. A sweet plantain empanda was the plate’s highlight, though, made with condensed milk and rolled in cinnamon to taste like a Salvadoran riff on apple pie.

The torta Cubana ($9) was a fun variation on a well-established sandwich, featuring the traditional ham and cheese but also adobada, carne asada, mayonnaise, pickled jalapeños and a fried egg.

Nestled between a sliced bolillo roll, it had the two main elements of a Cubano but much more divergent flavors. I particularly liked the pickled jalapeños in lieu of sliced pickles. The fried egg added a new layer of richness.

Kabab Hut, Rocklin

Kabab Hut customers can use aloo paratha, seen in the foreground, to scoop up dishes such as Lahori chikar chole and chicken karahi. Benjy Egel

Zulfiqar “Guddu” Haider is a one-man band at Kabab Hut, his halal Pakistani/North Indian restaurant at 6661 Stanford Ranch Road, Suite J in Rocklin. Haider takes orders at the counter, scurries to the back to operate multiple burners and delivers dishes to loyal fans, some of whom have followed him from his since-closed San Francisco restaurants.

The menu is sizable for such a limited staff, but all regulars know the must-try dish: tandoori fish ($16). Peppery tilapia contorted like tentacles around a skillet loaded with onions and cabbage, the flavor-packed fish charred on the edges yet fluffy and white inside.

Haider’s complex chicken karahi ($12) stood out as well. Breast meat in a creamy, piquant sauce had just the right heat level, and coriander seeds and shards of raw ginger gave surprise bursts of flavor throughout. Alas, the only kebab I got at Kabab Hut — lamb boti ($14) — was well-seasoned but overly tough.

Lahori chikar chole ($11.50) is common on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, but rarely seen on Sacramento-area restaurant tables. At Kabab Hut, it’s a vegetarian delight: thick brown curry full of chickpeas cooked so tender they fall apart with the softest bite.

Daddy O’s Smokehouse, Rancho Cordova

Ribs at Daddy O’s Smokehouse in Rancho Cordova. Benjy Egel

At Daddy O’s Smokehouse in Rancho Cordova, owner/pitmaster O.Z. Kamara’s barbecue roots trace back 70 years to the North Texas town of Greenville, where his grandfather pioneered family recipes and rubs over low flames.

Sides such as macaroni and cheese came from Kamara’s mother, while the pitmaster’s personal travels inspired items like jerk chicken on the more comprehensive catering menu. Plates of meat, two sides and rolls generally go for $15 during lunch and $20 for dinner at 3581 Mather Field Road, Suite B, though those meals are bumped down to $10 during happy hour from 2-3 p.m

Daddy O’s could use more employees, as is the case for most restaurants around Sacramento. Kamara and his young son were working diligently when I visited, but still missed a couple items we ordered.

If Daddy O’s had more staff, I’d love to see the crispy corners of the brisket cut off and served as burnt ends. The sweet, blackened outer layer of the brisket was the cherry on top of beef slabs that nailed the lean/fat balance, but admittedly came out a bit overdone.

Daddy O’s ribs had a nice smoke ring like the brisket, fell off the bone easily and came coated in a vibrant red rub that negated any need for Daddy O’s peppery house barbecue sauce. Pickle lovers should pick the relish-infused potato salad as a side; those with a sweet tooth might prefer the brown sugar in Kamara’s candied yams.

This story was originally published September 2, 2022 5:25 AM.

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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.