Best of Chico 2021: Editors’ picks

In which we share our local pandemic-era faves

The Blonde, by Camina Bakery

Best bites worth the wait

Brady’s B’s: B Street, Banshee and Bill’s Towne Lounge
Chico restaurateur Will Brady is the mastermind behind the successful (and crazy?) idea of running three downtown eateries/bars within the same block. The Banshee, Bill’s Towne Lounge and B Street Public House are all smashing successes that were much missed when they shut down during the pandemic. Rather than rush to reopen, Brady decided to hold off—publicly acknowledging the threat of COVID, his concern for the safety of his employees and patrons, as well as the need for the restaurant industry to adapt with the times. He was also among the first local business owners in any industry to offer “vax bonuses” to employees.

B Street reopened a few months ago. The Banshee is just beginning to serve for limited hours in their new, expansive
parklet. Bill’s remains closed for a bit longer. We applaud Brady and his staff’s caution and consideration—as well as all other local businesses who’ve taken such care—to ensure reopening is done right. We’re more than ready to raise a pint over some pub fare.

Best loaf

Camina Bakery’s The Blonde
Is it too pretentious-sounding to say we can taste the bread-making process in Camina’s loaves? All of the bakery’s breads start with a sourdough culture (no commercial yeasts), and the fun times to be had therein by the living fungi and bacteria result in bread that is alive with lovely, tangy and even creamy flavors.

The Blonde is a country sourdough-style loaf—made with both whole-wheat and unbleached bread flour—that is crusty, chewy and as flavorful on day five as it is off the shelf, where it doesn’t last long.

Best comeback

Theatre on the Ridge
3735 Neal Road, Paradise,
Paradise’s community theater not only survived the devastating 2018 Camp Fire, but the intimate venue has continued to persevere with utmost caution coming out of a lengthy shutdown due to the pandemic. Vaccinations are required for cast and crew members, and theater-goers are required to mask up, regardless of vaccination status. The CN&R applauds TOTR for this approach.

We are proud that the playhouse has remained a part of the local arts scene and continued to host moving works of art while also instituting changes to try to keep as many of its patrons and troupe as safe as possible during these unprecedented times. Bravo!

Mural at Fair and East 20th streets by Christian Garcia.

Best way to paint the town red …and blue, and green, and …

Murals, new and old
The CN&R is a huge proponent of public art. As such, we are happy to see what appears to be a boon in the amount of murals appearing on walls all over town in the last two years. These include naturescapes painted by Christine Mac Shane between Lone Pine and Crouch avenues; “Love, Safety, Support, Respect” at East Third Street by Jed Speer; and Christian Garcia’s untitled piece of a raven carrying a poppy flower at East 20th and Fair streets.

One of the busier muralists as of late has been Ali Meders-Knight, whose pieces have included “Meadows,” a collaboration with Garcia on North Avenue; the trees and waterways lining the entrance to The DownLo; and “Forgotten Flowers,” a collaboration with Garcia and Shane Grammar along the railroad tracks at West Second Street honoring missing, murdered and abused Native American women.

To find more murals, old and new, check out the excellent interactive map at

Best shot

With so much stress from the pandemic, who could blame anyone for needing a stiff belt? More than Jose Cuervo or Jagermeister, the shot we favor is Pfizer. We’re not knocking Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, if that’s what’s on hand; with the FDA recently granting full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 16 and older, that’s currently the top choice.

Vaccination reduces chances of getting COVID and, for those who do get a breakthrough infection, reduces the severity of the illness and aftereffects. We know we won’t sway anti-vaxxers; but anyone else who’s still unvaccinated, your best shot is a shot—or two.

Zeke Lunder, The Lookout

Best fire-watcher

Zeke Lunder, The Lookout
When it comes to understanding wildfire, the North State is fortunate to have Zeke Lunder. The Chico resident and Westwood native has spent more than 25 years in the fire and forestry industry, including two decades working on incident management teams for various large-scale fires.

A decade ago, Lunder founded a wildfire-mapping consulting firm. He has since sold the company but continues to perform prescribed fire and wildfire education work under its banner.

As exemplified in a recent CN&R guest comment by Lunder (“Our wildfire breaking point,” Sept. 1, 2021), he is a staunch advocate for examining our fire-prone regions in totality and conducting long-needed prescribed burning, along with other mitigation efforts. During the Dixie Fire, he’s taken those views, along with his expertise in mapping, and created, where his goal, as he put it, is to “help people get a better grip on how fires work, how they move across the landscape, how we fight them, and how to tell when they are doing good work for us.”

In a region plagued perennially by wildfires, The Lookout is a great resource for experts and everyday people alike.

Best accessory

Face masks
The fashion statement of 2020 has carried over to 2021, though not as robustly as we’d like. Face masks were everywhere when mandated as the spread of COVID-19 put Butte County in lockdown. The economy may have reopened with rules relaxed, but case numbers and hospitalizations are higher than ever. The contagious delta variant makes preventative measures even more important.

Even if state or county public health agencies don’t require face coverings, their recommendation is enough for us. So, don your most stylish mask—outfit appropriate and color coordinated if you like—and hit the grocery aisle like a runway model, or just a conscientious community member.

Equilateral Coffee

Best place to feel safe and welcome

Equilateral Coffee
Chicoans Eileen and Rylan Morabito, who’ve operated the impossible-to-miss teal-colored Equilateral Coffee truck since 2018, are the kind of business owners who know their patrons by name and put great care into the products they offer. Recently, they opened a stationary location within the 1078 Gallery (check their social media pages for updates). Not only is their coffee delicious, but we’ve noticed how conscientious the pair has been throughout the pandemic—maintaining a mask mandate, for example. They’ve done an excellent job of creating a safe space for folks to feel less alone while also getting a delicious jolt of caffeinated energy.

Best memories of the way lunch used to be

Alpaca Bob’s Sandwich Adventures
The Midnight Express. The Roman Holiday. The Kansas City Kicker. The mere mention of these names is likely to trigger a tear in the eye and rumble in the stomach of many a local deli aficionado.

Though they may sound like the names of wrestlers from the olde-timey days, those were a few of the pillars on the menu at the now-gone Alpaca Bob’s Sandwich Adventures. Liz and Mark Guillaume are Camp Fire survivors who heroically managed to keep the business running in its wake. The pandemic, however, proved to be one disaster too many, and the shop fell victim to COVID’s economic impact in April.

We understand that many other local businesses have likewise gone under in these terrible times—and hoist our (sadly empty, sandwich-free) fists into the air in honor.

Christian Hammond, creator of

Best pandemic data-cruncher

Christian Hammond
Bay Area software developer Christian Hammond has stayed connected not only with friends and family back home in Chico but also with the greater community through a website where he aggregates helpful local COVID-19 data.
Hammond developed—dubbed the Unofficial Butte County COVID-19 Dashboard—shortly into the pandemic, taking information released by Butte County Public Health, the state and other reputable sources and putting it into contexts that reveal trends, including how the virus has spread. It started primarily with case counts and has since expanded to include myriad helpful categories, such as vaccine rates.

We appreciate all the effort to give back to his hometown, and we’re glad to see he began accepting donations to defray his costs through a “Buy Me A Coffee” page. We’ll drink to that!

Best water warrior

Jim Brobeck
Chico-based AquAlliance has been fighting to protect the public’s water interests for 11 years, led by Executive Director Barbara Vlamis. Battling alongside her is Jim Brobeck, the advocacy group’s water policy analyst—at the forefront himself lately on two local issues.

As the environmental representative on the advisory committee for the Vina Groundwater Sustainability Agency, Brobeck watchdogs the groundwater management plan for north Butte County, which is under development for state approval in January. He also leads opposition to the controversial Tuscan Water District, which if approved as proposed would concentrate its power in the hands of a few large landowners.

Severance Package – Twofer ’21

Best protest song

“Protest Song” by Severance Package
And we love all those defeated by the crushing weight of today
Underpaid and uninspired, you’re not alone we feel your pain
Gotta take the top level off the pyramid and shake it up inside
Everybody gets their share tonight

Severance Package has obviously had enough. In July, the Chico garage-punk trio put out the two-song Twofer ’21 EP on its Bandcamp page, featuring “Protest Song,” which takes aim at inequality while celebrating those in America fighting to lop the top off the pyramid and shake things up in the country.

The other half of the release paints the picture of a fight that hits much closer to home. In “Chico Song,” despite powerful post-wildfire moments of unity and community, as of late our little corner of Nor Cal feels hopelessly divided:

What is there to do now? It’s all fallen apart
We could put it back together if we just knew where to start
The lies that came between us, the ones who stabbed our backs
If we could get together we could take this city ba

Best use of food delivery services

Banana split de La Flor de Michoacán (multiple locations)
A visit to one of La Flor de Michoacán’s four locations—with their colorful décor and friendly employees—is usually a welcome outing. But sometimes, we’ve come to learn, such visits aren’t advisable—such as in the middle of a global pandemic, or perhaps after a visit from the dispensary delivery man.

So here’s an idea: For a truly decadent and satisfying treat, lock yourself down some evening and order up a banana split—or other ice cream treat—from La Flor. They deliver fast, fresh and mostly melt-free (we’ve tested this, just in case, multiple times). For even better results, add a bubble mate and two spoons to redefine Netflix and chillin’.

Banana split de La Flor de Michoacán

More Best of Chico 2021:

Best of Chico 2021: The Comeback
Best of Chico 2021: Readers’ Choice winners: Goods & Services
Best of Chico 2021: Readers’ Choice winners: Food & Drinks
Best of Chico 2021: Readers’ Choice winners: Nightlife & The Arts
Best of Chico 2021: Readers’ Choice winners: Health & Wellness
Best of Chico 2021: Readers’ Choice winners: Community

1 Comment

  1. I feel honored. But I do not identify with the word “warrior”! “protector” “defender” “policy analyst” YES. I stand in public meetings and compose comments on projects to communicate rational, science-based water policy advice. I place a high value on being able to communicate peacefully with those who disagree with my positions on water balance and regional carrying capacity.

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