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Review: Zócalo


Posted on November 13

eat & drink

Beer battered fish tacos
Beer battered fish tacos PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEPHANIE SALO

I’ve always been a fan of Sacramento’s Zócalo, whose rambunctiously cheerful vibe, lively Mexican cuisine and striking, bold design make it one of midtown’s hottest restaurants.

Now Placer County has its own Zócalo in the upscale Fountains at Roseville shopping complex. Operators Ernesto Jimenez, Jimmy Johnson and Scott Kim took over the space last occupied by TRES Tequila Lounge & Mexican Kitchen to launch their new venture.

Zócalo opened in late August, joining a handful of other restaurants at Fountains, including Yard House, Mikuni Kaizen, McCormick & Schmick’s and California Pizza Kitchen. The new restaurant, though it has its fair share of quirky décor, feels more subdued than its midtown counterpart. A large bar with several hanging flat-screen TVs takes center stage, brightened by curious light fixtures that look a little like overgrown, glowing chili peppers. Walls are adorned with eye-catching abstract art, while frondy palms erupt out of stately columns next to the hostess stand. An enormous lamp dangling from the ceiling looks like an alarmed white sea anemone, and there’s a cozy wooden communal table near the open kitchen where you can watch flour tortillas being made by hand. There’s also a pretty covered patio that’s especially nice on warm evenings, as well as an enclosed outdoor lounge with a wraparound couch where you can wait comfortably for a table or sip a margarita.

On my two visits, the restaurant was briskly busy, and service was equally brisk. Waiters appeared promptly and were knowledgeable about the menu, and food arrived quickly. The front and back of the house work together smoothly.

Both of my meals at Zócalo were impressive. There were a number of standout dishes, including enchiladas en mole: chicken- and cheese-stuffed enchiladas in an intriguingly complex mole sauce (made with 26 ingredients) that left a lingering, earthy, chocolaty taste on the palate. Cochinita pibil—crispy chunks of smoked pork shoulder with a zingy achiote chili glaze—was another winner, as was the flaky, mango-glazed grilled salmon, served with a chunky mango pico de gallo and a lively, lime-kissed spinach salad.

For the fish tacos, housemade flour tortillas were piled with beer-battered fish, topped with pico de gallo and spinach, then drizzled with a spicy chipotle aïoli. Other not-to-miss fish dishes include the brightly flavored ceviche de Guaymas, made with generous amounts of chopped cilantro, tomato, avocado, cucumber and an intensely citrusy jus. For the ceviche, you get to choose between shrimp or fish. My recommendation: Ask for a combination of the two.

The kitchen’s chile relleno was decidedly unique. Stuffed with cheese and tender hunks of red chili pork, the poblano chili was battered and fried until very crisp, plunked on concentric pools of black bean purée and delicate tomato sauce, then festooned with a tangy green salad. Robust and delicious, this was a dish I’d happily come back for.

No visit to Zócalo would be complete without a cocktail or two. While I’m partial to the invigorating mojito, full of fresh mint and lime juice, margaritas are Zócalo’s signature quaff. There are many from which to choose, showcasing a great selection of regional tequilas. The specialty margaritas are prepared with hand-squeezed fresh lime juice and agave nectar. If you’re interested in learning more about tequila, the bar also offers a Tequila Experience the first Monday of every month, featuring products from one tequila distillery (changing monthly) with complimentary appetizers. You also can order a tequila flight of three 1-ounce pours.

The restaurant serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday, offering a number of Mexican-inspired breakfast items such as chilaquiles (fried tortilla strips sautéed with chipotle sauce and served with eggs), huevos rancheros, and chorizo and eggs. A sweeter option: amaretto-infused French toast sprinkled with almonds and powdered sugar.

ZÓCALO: Fountains at Roseville, 1182 Roseville Parkway, Roseville
BEST DISHES: Enchiladas en mole, cochinita pibil, tacos del mar, chile relleno
DRINKS: Full bar, extensive selection of tequilas and specialty margaritas
ATMOSPHERE: Lively and friendly
NOISE LEVEL: Elevated but manageable
KID-FRIENDLINESS: High; there’s a children’s menu
PRICES: $$
HOURS: Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.–midnight, Saturday 10 a.m.–midnight, Sunday 9 a.m.–10 p.m.
CONTACT: (916) 788-0303; zocalosacramento.com