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Eating the Alphabet: Epic A-Z Food Adventure

“Eat your vegetables” is a phrase often tied to childhood dinnertime misery: glumly staring down congealing plates of lima beans, boiled potatoes, or worse (for me personally): boiled broccoli. As grownups, the prospect of eating fruits and vegetables is more exciting (mainly because we’re better at cooking vegetables than we were 40 years ago, let’s face it). Consider the bounty of produce we have at our disposal: everything from asparagus and apples to artichokes and apricots. And that’s just the As. Thanks to the farm-to-fork movement, we have access to an abundance of variety and flavors, paving the way for an incredible amount of culinary creativity. Eat my vegetables and my fruit? Yes, please! In that spirit, join us on an intrepid adventure into the A to Z of fruits and vegetables: the regional restaurants with inventive and tasty dishes—from apple cider donuts and beet salad to yuzu calamari and fried zucchini. So many vitamins, so many minerals! And not a boiled potato in sight.

A is for Apple.
Yes, the simple apple is a perfect delivery system for nutrients on its own (we know, Mom, jeez) but the Apple Cider Donuts at Boa Vista Orchards are proof that you can improve on perfection. These are true God-tier donuts, folks. And the farm is open 365 days a year, because they care about us and our need for incredible donuts. (It’s called self-care. Look it up.) 2952 Carson Road, Placerville, 530-622-5522,

Apple Cider Donuts at Boa Vista Orchards


B is for Beet.
Beets are jewels of the root vegetable kingdom, brightly colored, rich in nutrients (and the red ones are perfect for staging a fake murder scene in your sink when you prep them for eating, holy schnikes). The seasonal Beet Salad at Hawks changes based on what can be picked but has previously combined chilled baby beets from White Dog Farms, pickled peaches, and mint with a light, creamy goat cheese sformato. 5530 Douglas Boulevard, Suite 110, Granite Bay, 916-791-6200,

Beet Salad at Hawks


C is for Cauliflower.
If cauliflower done right is a game-changer, then the Cauliflower Tacos at Nixtaco are 3D chess. Between the textures of the roasted and fried cauliflower, tang of the pickled onions, and kick from the smoky salsa negra, your Taco Tuesday is about to get way more interesting. 1805 Cirby Way, Suite 12, Roseville, 916-771-4165,

Cauliflower Tacos at Nixtaco


D is for Dill Pickle.
The Pickle Chips at Auburn Alehouse are kind of a big “dill.” (It’s a solid joke and I stand by it.) What could be more delicious than beer-battered, deep-fried dill pickles with house-made ranch? Answer: Nothing. Except a pint of their craft beer. And another plate of pickle chips. 289 Washington Street, Auburn, 530-885-2537,

Pickle Chips at Auburn Alehouse


E is for Eggplant.
Indulge in a delicious regional delicacy at Folsom’s Halal Grill Express, with a plate of Afghani Eggplant—stewed with savory spices and served with rice or pita, salad, hummus, and a drizzle of their killer garlic sauce. 49 Natoma Street, Suites I & J, Folsom, 279-901-0184

Afghani Eggplant at Halal Grill Express


F is for Fig.
Figs make great partners in sweet/salty flavor combinations. The Chef’s Table understands this on a spiritual level with the TCT Bacon Fig Jam Burger. Nothing makes their rib-brisket-chuck ground beef burger sing better than the house-made bacon fig jam. Add triple crème brie, whole-grain mustard aioli, and arugula, and you’ve got yourself a choir. 6843 Lonetree Boulevard, Suite 103, Rocklin, 916-771-5656,

TCT Bacon Fig Jam Burger at The Chef’s Table


G is for Garlic.
Surely by now you’re aware of the signature Garlic Rolls at Tomatina. If not, garlic deliciousness awaits. These babies are baked fresh daily with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, parmesan, and chopped garlic, and are best enjoyed two at a time without sharing—oops, sorry—uh, I mean, when individually dipped in homemade marinara or ranch. 10505 Fairway Drive, Roseville, 279-399-2205,

Garlic Rolls at Tomatina


H is for Hazelnut.
Oh, you love Nutella? Guess what, that’s hazelnut doing the heavy lifting. Ferrero Rocher? Hazelnut. The Hazelnut Shake at Taylors is also absolutely the bomb, and you will thank us for reminding you to show the hazelnut some love. And with over 300 shake flavors to choose from, there’s plenty of other Hs to try too, like hibiscus and huckleberry. Is hot fudge a vegetable? Asking for a friend. 3636 Taylor Road, Loomis, 916-652-8255,

Hazelnut Shake at Taylors


I is for Iceberg Lettuce.
Let’s get nostalgic and give the iceberg lettuce some love. There was a time when a Wedge Salad was the height of classiness, synonymous with every ’50s-era steakhouse, and it’s beginning to have a moment once more as old becomes new again. The rendition at Tap & Vine (“at the White House”) features a wedge of iceberg with tomatoes, shaved red onions, Nueske’s bacon lardons, and blue cheese (both crumbles and a delicious dressing). 130 Maple Street, Auburn, 530-889-8463,

Wedge Salad at Tap & Vine


J is for Jalapeño.
Kick it up with the Latin Luau Pizza at Wally’s Pizza Bar. As Rob Thomas likes to say, man it’s a hot one! This spicy-sweet-savory pizza starts with house-made jalapeño garlic cream sauce before being topped with Wally’s signature four-cheese blend, pepperoni, sausage, MORE jalapeños, red onions, pineapple, and fresh cilantro. 4079 Cameron Park Drive, Cameron Park, 530-677-5205,

Latin Luau Pizza at Wally’s Pizza Bar


K is for Key Lime.
Round of applause for whoever decided that the best use for key limes was pie, because we’re all better for it. Folsom’s Bacchus House Wine Bar & Bistro serves a killer Key Lime Pie featuring a curd of fresh-squeezed lime and lime zest on a crunchy-sweet graham cracker crust with freshly whipped cream. Pair that with a delicious cocktail and some live music, and you’ve got yourself the perfect dessert—and the perfect way to end your day. 1004 East Bidwell Street, Suite 100, Folsom, 916-984-7500,

Bacchus House Wine Bar & Bistro serves a killer Key Lime Pie


L is for Lemon.
Lemon curd makes everything better. Especially crêpes. Julian’s Pâtisserie and Café and Julian’s Pastry Nouveau knows this wholeheartedly and brings you their killer Lemon Blueberry Crêpe. A delicate crêpe folded around lemon curd with a perfect balance of sweet and tart, topped with fresh blueberries, a dusting of powdered sugar, and whipped cream. This is a breakfast guaranteed to make your day better. 6610 Folsom-Auburn Road, Suite 7, Folsom, 916-936-4735; 1490 Eureka Road, Suite 170, Roseville, 916-474-5475,

Lemon Blueberry Crêpe at Julian’s Pâtisserie and Café


M is for Mushroom.
If mushrooms and pasta go together like Laverne and Shirley (and they do), then the Boscaiola Pasta at The Place will make all your dreams come true. We’re talkin’ tender pasta tossed in a velvety thyme cream sauce with earthy cremini, button, and portobello mushrooms for a plate of rich mushroomy goodness. Chef’s tip: Make sure you add some Italian sausage to really put this dish over the top. “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” 221 Vernon Street, Roseville, 916-742-5447; 1772 Pleasant Valley Road, Placerville, 530-621-1680,

Boscaiola Pasta at The Place


N is for Nopal.
With a unique flavor—similar to asparagus or green beans (kind of, but also not really, but who’s to say)—nopales (cactus paddies) are a Mexican delicacy that shine when grilled. El Rey Mexican Cuisine pairs them with a splendid symphony of colors, flavors, and textures in their Mi Palabra Molcajete: a menacing cauldron of stone and fire filled with house-made chorizo, steak, chicken, nopales, shrimp, veggies, queso fresco, and “Mama’s secret salsa.” If you’ve never tried molcajete, take a ride on the wild side. You can order it mild or hot, and it’s enough to share with the accompanying tortillas, rice, and beans. Is there such a thing as a mouth fiesta? There is now. Sorry, I can’t hear you over these mouth-mariachis. 5550 Douglas Boulevard, Suite 200, Granite Bay, 916-772-5858,

Mi Palabra Molcajete at El Rey Mexican Cuisine


O is for Orange.
Known as the goth’s orange (not really), blood oranges are described as being more floral and tarter than a navel orange. The Blood Orange Sorbet at Shorty’s Gelato & Bakery isn’t only refreshing but memorable, too—one of those unique flavors that won’t disappoint. And since you’re stopping by, grab half a dozen butter & salt donuts (trust us), and absolutely do not pass up one of their toffee cinnamon rolls. Honestly? Eat whatever they’ve got going. 1216 Broadway, Unit A Placerville, 530-316-1166,

Blood Orange Sorbet at Shorty’s Gelato & Bakery


P is for Pumpkin.
It’s not just for Halloween. Did you know pumpkin is a great addition to Thai curries? Check out the Pumpkin Curry at My Thai Kitchen: tender chunks of sweet pumpkin, carrots, bell peppers, and fragrant Thai basil simmered in red curry and coconut milk, served with your choice of pork, beef, chicken, tofu, or veggies. This all comes with jasmine, special blue, brown, white, or black sticky rice—or steamed noodles. Delicious! 1465 Eureka Road, Suite 140, Roseville, 916-781-7811,

Pumpkin Curry at My Thai Kitchen


Q is for Quince.
Quince: the refined, slightly obscure but always delicious fruit. When it’s cooked and sweetened just-so, you get membrillo (aka, quince paste)—a tangy-sweet delight that pairs beautifully with cured meats and cheeses. You’ll find it on the Charcuterie Board at Shangri-la—alongside local and imported cheeses, garlic salami, nuts, tapenade, whole-grain mustard, and crostini. And me, you’ll find me, too…hogging all the quince membrillo and cheese. 7960 Winding Way, Fair Oaks, 916-241-9473,

Charcuterie Board at Shangri-la


R is for Rhubarb.
Rhubarb is one of those horticultural tricksters that grows as a vegetable but is commonly used as a fruit. Whatever the heck it is, it tastes great. If you haven’t tried it, then the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie at Ikeda’s is definitely the best way to introduce yourself to this unique fruity-vegetable. Much like the way all Ikeda’s pies make you swoon in some kind of way, you’ll swoon for the way the rhubarb’s delicious tartness complements the sweet strawberry. We’ll have what you’re having. 13500 Lincoln Way, Auburn, 530-885-4243,

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie at Ikeda’s


S is for Shishito Pepper.
These magic little peppers from Japan are one of the recent “it” vegetables, and for good reason. They’re mild and so very tasty when flash-cooked. Plus, they’re not hot, except for the rare “mutant” that might add a burst of excitement. House of Mules Cocktails & Kitchen makes a delicious appetizer of Blistered Shishito Peppers drizzled with aji vinegar and soy sauce. But watch out, they’re super addictive: Darned if that plate doesn’t magically empty itself. 13385 Folsom Boulevard, Suite 900, Folsom, 916-293-9606, @houseofmules

Blistered Shishito Peppers at House of Mules Cocktails & Kitchen


T is for Turmeric.
Turmeric is having a moment, and the much-touted health benefits are nothing to sneeze at. Whether you’re eating it to feel good or are simply turmeric-curious, the good thing is it makes anything from curries, lattes, and veggies taste really good. Check out the Golden Monkey Warrior Smoothie at Zest Vegan Kitchen for a great boost to your day: It’s a healthy mix of pecan milk, turmeric, cardamom, and banana. Delish! 2620 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1, Rocklin, 916-824-1688,

Golden Monkey Warrior Smoothie at Zest Vegan Kitchen


U is for Unusual.
The humble, delicious nectarine is not an unusual fruit, but the Nettarina Pizza at The Smith Flat House is, shall we say, an unusual and unique application of it. The tasty brick-oven pie is topped with nectarines, prosciutto, caramelized onions, and garlic-infused olive oil, a lemon arugula salad, and Sierra Nevada feta cheese. Yes, it’s a real pizza; no, I didn’t make it up! 2021 Smith Flat Road, Placerville, 530-621-1003,

Nettarina Pizza at The Smith Flat House


V is for Vanilla Bean.
Fun fact: the vanilla bean is the only edible fruit of the orchid family. But the reason we love this little flavor powerhouse is because it makes literally everything taste better. Especially the Crème Brûlée at South Fork Grille: luxurious, creamy vanilla bean custard with wild Italian Amarena cherries? Instinct will tell you, correctly, to savor every forkful, but don’t feel bad if the dessert is already gone by the time that thought occurs to you. 4364 Town Center Boulevard, Suite 124, El Dorado Hills, 916-458-0206,

Crème Brûlée at South Fork Grille


W is for White Beans.
White beans, also known as cannellini beans, are a staple of Tuscany, thanks to their bean-friendly climate and love for simple flavors. Vaiano Trattoria keeps the flavors and traditions of Tuscany alive with their delicious Zuppa Di Fagioli: a rustic white bean soup with pancetta that’s delicate, creamy, bursting with flavor; and like all the great dishes developed by history’s hardworking peasants, provides maximum nutritional sustenance after a day of toiling the land—or a Vanderpump Rules marathon on the couch (no judgement). 7160 Douglas Boulevard, Granite Bay, 916-780-0888,

Zuppa Di Fagioli at Vaiano Trattoria


X is for X Factor.
Look, there’s no X vegetables okay. Calm down. We’re using this category to highlight a unique combination of vegetables and flavors. Our pick? The Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Light: a vibrant blend of colors, textures, and flavors. This one-of-a-kind salad features earthy Burmese tea leaves combined with fried garlic, yellow beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, jalapeños, lemon, and a bed of romaine or cabbage. Can a salad be magical? We say yes. 703 East Bidwell Street, Suite 3, Folsom, 916-510-3176,

Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Light


Y is for Yuzu.
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus that looks like a bumpy yellow clementine and tastes like a super-powered combination of bitter grapefruit, sweet orange, and tart lemon. Yuzu juice is commonly used in sauces and cocktails and packs a punch when concentrated and combined with hot spices. The Yuzu Calamari at Mikuni hits that perfect citrus note with lightly fried squid, tossed with yuzu salt (um, YUM), fresh jalapeños, and served with their signature spicy Mikuni sauce. Warning: This salty, citrusy combo may cause uncontrollable drooling…assuming you even wait that long before devouring them completely. 1565 Eureka Road, Suite 1A, Roseville, 916-797-2112; 1194 Roseville Parkway, Roseville, 916-780-2119; 185 Placerville Road, Suite 100, Folsom, 916-934-5250,

Yuzu Calamari at Mikuni


Z is for Zucchini.
Zucchini, like many summer squash, is often a supporting cast member, brought in for color or texture; it doesn’t always get to be the star of its own show. But like Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, the humble zucchini was born ready and when you give it the spotlight it won’t disappoint. Also, it tastes incredible when fried. (What doesn’t?) J Wild’s in Historic Folsom has their zucchini on lock with delicious Fried Zucchini Wedges: big, tasty chunks of zucchini coated in panko crumbs, fried until golden brown and served with spicy aioli. Like old Jack Burton always says: “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.” 614 Sutter Street, Folsom, 916-353-0140,

Fried Zucchini Wedges at J Wild’s


by Sharon Penny
Taylor's photo by Taylor Allred ©stylemediagroup. Tomatina photo by Frankie Frankeny Photography. Tap & Vine photo by Matt Zlaket. Wally's Pizza Bar photo courtesy of Wally's Pizza Bar. Bacchus House Wine Bar & Bistro photo by Taylor Allred ©stylemediagroup. Julian’s Pâtisserie and Café and Julian’s Pastry Nouveau photo courtesy of Julian’s Pâtisserie and Café and Julian’s Pastry Nouveau. Ikeda's photo courtesy of @ikedasbakery. Photos courtesy of their respective companies or organizations.