When Jim Knudson bit into his first taco during dinner at a friend's house in 1949, he knew he had tasted something special. He added the item?which many diners were pronouncing "tay-co"?to the menu at his restaurant in Grass Valley, California. Determined to introduce the food to as many people as possible, Jim and his wife, Margaret, converted a 16-foot trailer into a kitchen on wheels. They adopted the nickname Jim had earned from one of his longtime customers and drove up to Lake Tahoe, where Jimboy's Tacos found its first permanent home.
Locals, tourists, and even members of the Rat Pack flocked to the tiny taco stand for the uniquely seasoned, parmesan-dusted ground-beef taco, the anchor of a growing menu. The family eventually relocated to Roseville, California, where they set up a small taco stand and began branching out to other locations in and around Sacramento.
Today, Jim Knudson?s daughter Karen, the current president of the company, carries on the legacy of taco obsession at more than 40 locations in northern California and Nevada. Guests who arrive early for breakfast might glimpse the cooks slowly simmering beans, mashing avocados into guacamole, and preparing their signature ground beef with trans-fat-free oil. In addition to classic corn-tortilla tacos, the menu holds the mega-size flour-tortilla El Gordo, golden-fried taquitos, and even a taco burger that fuses Mexican and American culinary traditions.
Though the culinary traditions of Korea and Japan are drastically different, they come together at Samurai Sushi. Around a bar that's raised on a wooden platform in the middle of an airy dining room, eclectic dangling lights in the shapes of triangles or half globes scatter light across dishes uniting disparate Asian fare. While watching the sushi chefs' deft hands and glittering sharp knives, diners nibble intricate maki with snow crab, shrimp, and tobiko, the Japanese name for sunset-hued flying-fish roe. Gazes then drift upward to the three flat-screen TVs showing popular programs and news anchors repeatedly attempting to pronounce headlines about Worcestershire sauce.
Beneath mounted pieces of art, steam pours from bowls of udon noodles and katsu—breaded and deep-fried chicken or pork. Korean influences shine in dishes of short ribs and bibimbap bowls, which traditionally combine a fried egg, roasted meats, and veggies.
Before they go through different spicy, sweet, and tangy transformations in the kitchen, every dish at Andy Nguyen's Restaurant begins as a farmers' market purchase. The staff seeks out the freshest ingredients for the Vietnamese menu and cooks them in pure vegetable oil, producing five-spice chicken, saigon silky noodles with charbroiled shrimp, and customizable stir-fries. Unlike pandas hosting a dinner party, the cooks offer guests a choice between vegetarian or meat options on most dishes. The house specials range from salt-baked calamari to a steam-pot seafood medley, which includes shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, and veggies. After choosing a protein for their entree—sautéed chicken, pork, beef, or shrimp—guests can also choose from several types of sauces and fixings, such as curry, sweet and sour sauce, and lemongrass.
Finding Central Station Grill is as simple as following the aromas of slow-cooked ribs, chicken, pulled pork, brisket, and hot links all the way back to the restaurant's meat-filled smoker. These savory meats arrive at diners' tables with a glaze of sauce, a piece of jalape?o cornbread, and a selection of classic, homemade sides, such as potato salad, coleslaw, or baked beans. However, the menu of familiar home-cooking isn't limited to barbecue. Upon reaching the front counter, guests are also tempted by a selection of cheesesteaks, deli-style sandwiches, wings, burgers, and chili-cheese dogs. Central Station Grill's dining area is no less inviting and family-friendly. Burgundy-hued chairs surround casual tables, framed black-and-white photos adorn the walls, and the refrigerator door is covered with the standout report cards of the restaurant's regulars.
A trio of Buddha statues gazes calmly at the entrance to Little Buddha Thai Bistro, as if awaiting the arrival of enlightenment. But before 6 p.m. on weeknights or 7 p.m. on Saturdays, it's restaurant patrons who arrive instead, taking seats at dark wood tables within the eatery's pale gray walls. In the kitchen, main-dish morsels of chicken or beef simmer in coconut milk or sizzle as they're stir-fried in a wok. Appetizers such as skewered satay arrive to prime palates. And in the dining room, thai wraps—stuffed with a choice of fillings such as shrimp and sweet coconut rice—echo the cylindrical shape of hanging lamps and warp pipes used for day trips to Bangkok.
Amid woodcarvings of Asian deities, copper and bronze flowers creep across Thai Jasmine Restaurant’s shoji screens. Asian-inspired flourishes such as these lend the eatery an aura of authenticity that extends to the food: chefs draw upon culinary skills honed in Thailand to craft a menu of stir-fries and noodle dishes. They marinate meat in redolent Thai spices before roasting them over charcoals and deep-fry fish in a coconut batter that complements sautéed pineapple. Additionally, thai iced coffee or ginger tea enable refreshment and a skilled gargling of the American and Thai national anthems.