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Nov 2, 2004 01:08 PM

Finally went to Zocalo (Sacramento)

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We finally went to Zocalo last night -- the last time we attempted it, it had been a Saturday night and we were informed that there was a 3-hour wait for a table. On a Monday night, it was much more sane. The quick summary was that the place is attractive and lively, but the food didn't live up to the venue.

The building itself is very beautiful. It's a renovated old auto dealership, with a brick exterior and soaring celings. There were interesting frosted glass lighting fixtures that gave off an amber glow. There are many comfortable booths, as well as nice two-tops next to the large windows. Completely destroying the ambience, however, are the several big-screen TVs tuned to Monday Night football.

I didn't see anything particularly "regional" or innovative about the menu. I'd heard on Chowhound that the ceviche is cooked, so we didn't order it. You're started off with some tortilla chips and three pretty unremarkable specimens of salsa. We split an appetizer of sopes (three different kinds come in one order). The sopes looked oversized and very pretty with their toppings of shredded red cabbage, but the flavors weren't particularly exciting. The masa crusts were a little too chewy. The fillings were a little bland -- one of them just contained black beans and a little sprinkling of cheese. Another contained rather dry shredded chicken, with a spicy but unexciting sauce on top. I can't even remember the 3rd one. We also had the "baked" tacos, which you fill with a mixture of either chicken or beef, sauteed with chorizo and a spicy chipotle sauce, and then baked with cheese. There was nothing wrong with it -- it was spicy, but there was a blandness about it. We also had the shrimp with chipotle sauce -- which was very nice and light, but nothing special. All you'd need to make that sauce would be a blender, a can of chipotle en adobo and some chicken broth. None of the items were particularly memorable, and there was a kind of muddy sameness about all the flavors.

Service was not impressive. The host kept assuming that we wanted to sit closer to the TVs and the server forgot our appetizer.

In the end, I felt like the place really emphasized the aesthetics over flavor. The place is attractive, and dishes were "plated" to the hilt. But the food just didn't hit the spot for me. Still, I'd consider going back, especially if we were with friends and wanted a fun, celebratory kind of night out. And if any chowhounds could recommend good dishes there that I missed this time, that would be another reason to give it another chance.

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  1. This is on my tentative list for the next time I come down. Anyone have a link to an online menu? Have you tried Centro Cocina?

    1. I went to Zocalo last night for the first time. It was decent; pretty much what I expected. It was a Monday night so not too crowded, but the staff seemed overwhelmed, but definitely very friendly. I had some enchiladas that came out luke-warm, while my wife had a piece of steak. The food was good, but it seems they're really focusing on the decor of the building and the bar to attract the hip crowd.

      All in all, I'd probably go back, but not for the food.

      1. Nice atmosphere. The drinks listed on the drink menu are cheesey. Go for something off the menu. My mojito was tasty but didn't have impressive amounts of mint leaves. Our waiter was good but I noticed that one secondary waiter actually brought the food to all of the tables, regardless of the primary waiters. Made it rather assembly line feeling. The portions were large. I had mole poblano chicken. The sauce was good. The chicken itself was bad. Tough and white, as if it had been boiled (carelessly at that)! The sauce was just poured on it at the last minute.

        1. Zocalo was the highlight of a recent trip to the Davis / Sacramento area. I didn't choose it but, I was impressed with the space itself, the service and the food especially, at that price point.