Every day, the cooks at Rancho Fresco Mexican Grill craft fresh batches of salsa and handmade tortillas to accessorize their menu of south-of-the-border favorites. Burritos, tortas, and tacos overflow with tender morsels of barbacoa, carnitas, or shredded chicken, and another authentic meat, tripe, makes a cameo appearance in menudo on the weekends. The eatery cultivates a casual, laid-back atmosphere, like a retail outlet that only sells sweatpants and hospital gurneys.
Rico's Italian Pizza tosses its dough disks by hand before slathering them with sauce, sprinkling them with tasty toppings, baking them to a bubbly golden brown, and sending them off to inhabit the menu. Proto-pizzas begin their journey by taking circular form as a thin, medium, or thick crust, then sprouting any combination of the 19 available toppings, including salami ($12.45+). Specialty pies, such as the generously topped carnivore, squash the possibility of intense topping debates with prearranged layers of pepperoni, salami, italian sausage, linguica, and canadian bacon ($14.95).
Michael Calder began his pizza-making career in 1973, when he learned how to shape authentic crusts while working at an Italian family’s pizzeria. He put his pizza-crafting expertise to work at his own place when he opened Michael’s Pizza Bar and Grill, where the kitchen prepares specialty pies such as the meat-stacked Michael’s Masterpiece. The vegetarian Green Machine comes adorned with pesto sauce, artichoke hearts, and fresh garlic, while Heart Attack Dogs arrive at tables wrapped in bacon, crowned with cream cheese and honey, and accompanied by ominous organ music. Bartenders can mix dessertinis infused with espresso to follow hearty meals.
Family owned and operated, Doc's Q'in Pit Stop features house-made sauces and barbecue staples including ribs (pieces start at $2.50), brisket ($10.50), and pulled pork (starting at $6.95), as well as fried fish (starting at $7.99), sandwiches (starting at $5.95), and desserts. These and other savory selections from the extensive menu proffer prescriptions for such barbecurable ailments as unsaucy chins and acute molasses deficiency.
The cooks at Sips Bistro and Wine Shop use locally acquired and organic ingredients where possible in their classic menu of small plates, varietals, and espresso drinks. The intimate bistro setting—rendered warm by colorful murals of pastoral settings and elegant wood wine racks—hosts guests as they try refined eats such as a chicken, brie, and caramelized onion quesadilla, or a brined and herb-crusted bone-in pork chop. During wine flights, vino sippers may choose their own drinks from a temperature-controlled wine bar or the frigid palms of a grape-eating sprite. The company also occasionally hosts events such as champagne Sundays and special tastings.
It has been more than 40 years since the Medina family immigrated to Modesto, although the recipes that they use at Bel Piatto Cucina Italiana remain just as strongly rooted in Italian tradition. The lunch and dinner menus are filled with elegant pasta, seafood, veal, and steak dishes, as well as more casual calzones, which get stuffed with ingredients such as meatballs and spinach before being baked in the oven until their SPF wears off.
Wines ranging from real Italian reds to homegrown California chardonnays pair nicely with the entire spectrum of entrees, from the hearty bistecca di manzo—with wild mushrooms and a cabernet reduction accentuating a 12-ounce rib-eye steak—to the grilled salmon fresca highlighted by white wine, lemon, capers, and cream. Appetizers such as stuffed portobello mushrooms help to launch feasts.
Bel Piatto Cucina Italiana’s atmosphere is just as Italian as its food, surrounding diners with crisp white tablecloths, darkened wood, clerestory windows, and a wall-mounted wine rack.