More Than Java

Local coffee shops serve up surprisingly good food

By Greg Sabin
January 2021

With more shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, and fewer options to interact with local food-service small businesses, it’s harder and harder to enjoy a simple trip to get a sandwich or grab a cup of coffee. Dining rooms are off limits and the weather is just a bit too cold most days to dine outside.

Therefore, it’s more important than ever to find those quick grab-and-go outposts that offer safe and convenient locations with delicious food and customer care.

Tucked away on the corner of one of the city’s oldest shopping centers in South Land Park, Barrio Cafe Sacramento is a hidden treasure. What looks on the outside to be a simple coffee shop is actually a coffee/wine/beer emporium with a full kitchen and bakery putting out scrumptious bites well beyond the morning hours.

First the coffee. It’s splendid. With beans procured from Vallejo-based coffee roaster Moschetti, the brews are dark and earthy. The coffee concoctions are pulled with finesse by the skilled baristas working the counter, adding just the right amount of foam for a cappuccino, the proper milk for a latte and everything but the kitchen sink further down the creative java menu.

A solid selection of international and local wines is available alongside a healthy offering of local beers (with special emphasis on Broadway brewer New Helvetia Brewing Company). Truly, Barrio has the beverage end of things covered.
The kitchen is where things really get exciting. Owner Sergio Barrio learned his baking skills at his father’s knee, and the family business shines through in every house-made bagel, croissant, brioche and pastry.

The breakfast sandwiches, on brioche or croissant, are spectacular. Layered with a wide variety of meats, spinach, tomato and cheese, and lathered generously with a spicy garlic mayonnaise, they stick to your ribs without a doubt.

Bagel sandwiches with smoked salmon and other delights also make the grade for morning fare.

In the afternoon and evening, Barrio offers his signature dish: empanadas. Stuffed with whatever the kitchen fancies, like stewed chicken, mushrooms and gruyere cheese, chile verde or even Indian samosa filling, these luscious doughy pockets of love are what can turn a cold day warm. You can find the empanadas occasionally on Sundays at New Helvetia’s Broadway taproom as well.

Barrio’s other location, at N and 13th streets, is closed temporarily during the pandemic. If you used to work in or around the Capitol and have been missing the coffee and empanadas, or if you live in the South Land Park neighborhood, or if you’re like my friend Paul and just love a great empanada, get yourself over to Barrio and grab a bite and a sip.
Barrio is at 1188 35th Ave. (at South Land Park Drive); (916) 469-9433;

On the other end of town, tucked away in a Carmichael shopping strip, another coffee shop is bringing out some lovely food to go with its impressive coffee. Fast Cat Coffee celebrates fast cars, strong drinks and gooey grilled cheese. This seems to be a pretty desirable trifecta.

The theme of the joint is motor sports, both vintage and modern, with a flair for the classier side of the sport (think Monte Carlo rather than Nascar). When we could sit inside, it was lovely to enjoy the wood, leather and steel ambience while sipping a strong single espresso. It made you feel like you were somewhere.

These days, you’ll have to grab and go, but the upmarket grilled cheese offerings are worth the trip. Try the “Wake Up Guanajuato,” a breakfast sandwich made with carnitas, eggs, avocado, salsa, garlic jack and smokey cheddar on sliced French bread. Or the decidedly sweet offering of “Sweet Baby Cheesus,” made with havarti, fontina and Loleta Traffic Jam (a mixture of wild local berries) on sliced French.

My favorite has to be the “Smokin’ Pig,” made with havarti, smokey cheddar, sliced apples and pulled pork on sliced sourdough wheat bread. It’s a delight. Speed on over and try one now.

Fast Cat Coffee is at 7901 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Carmichael (one block east of Manzanita); (916) 999-0323;

One last coffee joint to mention is the newest of the batch. Just opened in 2020, Donuts & Coffey brings a trove of sweet treats to all those looking for a morning sugar rush. Owners Thana Ny and Aaron Coffey offer a slew of creatively constructed doughnuts and old classics.

Their version of the simple blueberry cake doughnut hits the spot. Their creative addition of sugars, glazes and cereals make for entertaining eats. And their “kronuts,” doughnuts made from croissant dough, are great by themselves but still pretty good when topped with chocolate and marshmallow.

My wife’s favorite sweet delight is the tiramisu doughnut, a chocolate-glazed doughnut filled with a coffee and chocolate cream. Your dentist will hate you, but your stomach will love it.

Donuts & Coffey is at 5611 Folsom Blvd. in East Sacramento; (916) 999-0232;

Greg Sabin can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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