The Guide: San Joaquin Valley, California

By Gerald Haslam

Published on August 31, 2011

Where to Stay

Citizen Hotel
926 J Street, Sacramento (916/447-2700). $199 double.
Opened in 2008 in the ornate 1926 Cal Western Life building, this boutique hotel boasts 198 rooms, each with its own Apple Mac Mini for streaming movies and music. Its eatery, the Grange, offers local farm-to-table dining.

The Padre Hotel
1702 18th Street, Bakersfield (661/427-4900). $119 double.
New owners have spent $18 million on this 83-year-old hotel whose 112 rooms and suites are appointed with knickknacks that evoke the Bakersfield's oil-baron era.

Wonder Valley Ranch Resort & Conference Center
6450 Elwood Road, Sanger (800/821-2801). $149 double.
This 1600-acre ranch near Fresno has cottages, spacious rooms, and dormitory-style digs. Activities include trail riding, canoeing, tennis, and paint-ball.

Where to Eat

Inexpensive Under $20 Moderate $20-80 Expensive $80

Grandmarie's Chicken Pie Shop
861 East Olive Avenue, Fresno (559/237-5042). Moderate.
Opened 82 years ago by Marie Richardson, known for her version of the namesake, this diner serves chicken-pie omelettes and a chicken pot pie plate, with mashed potatoes in chicken gravy, biscuits, and coleslaw.

Hanford Chinese Kitchen
145 North 11th Avenue, Hanford (559/583-0147). Moderate.
Located in historic China Alley, this well-liked restaurant serves Chinese-American fare such as prawns and glazed walnuts.

Hanford Portuguese Bakery
1738 North 10th Avenue, Hanford (559/582-3866). Inexpensive.
Portuguese sweet bread, cupcakes in flavors ranging from coconut to pinto bean, and on Saturdays, filhos (lemon-flavored doughnuts) are specialties of this bakery and grocery, which also offers olive oil, linguiça, frozen sardines and octopus, and other foods imported from Portugal.

Houa Khong Restaurant
85 East 13th Street, Merced (209/722-5541). Moderate.
A bare-bones Laotian restaurant serving superior versions of tom yom par fish soup and pork-and-eggplant Penang curry.

Junior's Taco Truck
740 G Street, Los Banos. Inexpensive.
Well-spiced, tender carnitas (pork), cabeza (beef cheek), and lengua (beef tongue) tacos on warm corn tortillas. Get them "with everything"—cilantro, onion, and green salsa.

Luigi's Delicatessen
725 E 19th Street, Bakersfield (661/322-0926). Moderate.
This Italian grocery, delicatessen, and restaurant celebrated its centennial last year. Tuesday to Saturday, lunchtime crowds come for the house marinated beans and specials, including Thursday's Italian dip sandwiches of shaved tri-tip.

Mulvaney's B & L
1215 19th Street, Sacramento (916/441-6022). Expensive.
Housed in an 1893 firehouse, this rustic yet elegant restaurant specializes in upscale American cuisine. Chef—owner Patrick Mulvaney takes inspiration from the Valley's bounty, serving dishes such as roasted chestnut and cauliflower soup, and short rib ravioli.

Nina's Bakery
2022 West Shaw Avenue, Fresno (559/449-9999). Inexpensive.
An Armenian bakery and deli selling fresh breads like choreg (a brioche-like Easter bread) and lahmajoun (flatbread topped with ground beef), and groceries including grape leaves, cured soujouk, and basturma—all perfect for a picnic.

Noreiga Hotel
525 Sumner Street, Bakersfield (661/322-8419). Moderate.
This 1893 hotel-turned-restaurant, recipient of a 2011 James Beard American Classic award, is the place for raucous family-style meals of Basque shepherd's dishes—cabbage soup with beans, sliced pickled tongue, crispy spare ribs, a lauded oxtail stew—washed down with chilled red wine. Reservations are a must. Closed Mondays.

Steve Medlen's House of Beef
201 North Third Avenue, Oakdale (209/847-5991). Moderate.
Over 30 years ago, Steve Medlen, a third-generation meat processor, opened a butchering plant. He soon added a mobile grill, which grew into a full-service restaurant offering well-prepared ribs, steaks, and tri-tip sandwiches. Closed Sundays.

Superior Dairy Products Company
325 North Douty Street, Hanford (559/582-0481). Inexpensive.
This 82-year-old shop serves giant scoops of housemade ice cream in flavors like peach, made with local fruit. Indulge in the S.O.S. (super-size sundae): seven scoops of ice cream, sherbert, hot fudge, strawberry and marshmallow toppings, bananas, whipped cream, and nuts.

438 Clovis Avenue, Clovis (559/297-0783). Expensive.
Chef Michael Shackelford's New American menu changes based on what's good at Fresno's farmers' markets. Sample local wines along with dishes such as fried Vine Ripe Farms green tomatoes and orchard apple and Central Valley dried-fruit Waldorf salad.

Woodlon Diner
24335 California 99, Acampo (209/334-2233). Inexpensive.
A truck stop serving biscuits and sausage gravy, made from scratch; chicken-fried steak; and a patty melt on thick-sliced rye with Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese, along with thick milkshakes.

What to Do

Oakdale Feed and Seed
141 North Yosemite Avenue, Oakdale (209/847-0307).
An outfitter for you and your horse, offering everything from jeans, Western shirts, Stetsons, and boots to saddles and animal feed. A true slice of Valley cowboy life.

Sacramento Central Farmers' Market
8th Street at W Street, Sacramento (916/888-0101)
In a city that's home to more than a dozen farmers' markets, this one under the El Dorado (WX) Freeway is a favorite. Sundays 8 a.m. to noon, the overpass becomes a canopy for local dairy, meat, and produce, including many obscure Asian vegetables.

Vineyard Farmers' Market
Blackstone and Shaw Streets, Fresno.
Located under a stunning arbor built for the market 31 years ago, this biweekly bazaar sells local foods, including free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, flowers, honey, and organic produce. Wednesdays, 3 to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 a.m. to noon.

Wind Wolves Preserve
16019 Maricopa Highway, Bakersfield (661/858-1115).
On the Valley's southern end, this 95,000-acre preserve offers a glimpse of the area before agriculture. Home to tule elk, kit foxes, and blunt-nosed leopard lizards, it's lovely for hiking, picnicking, or weekend camping.

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