By Scott Thomas Anderson
On the corner of F and 15th, there’s an old-school enclave where calming style meets stellar cuisine, not to mention friendly faces and a genuine sense of community.
It’s a welcome addition to Mansion Flats.
In a Downtown that’s been increasingly transformed into a vestibule for wealthy elites, it can be hard to believe there are still businesses trying to serve up something special for everyone in the neighborhood. But Taste Buds Barbeque and Cocktails recently opened with the aim of proving such places still exist. It offers a smart atmosphere and dishes made with so much TLC that the combination might restore one’s faith in the urban core.
The restaurant was founded last year by Jaqueline and Dimitrious Foster.
“We both are the cooks,” says Jaqueline. “He cooks all of the meat, and I cook all of the sides … My husband has been doing barbecue since he was a young boy. He grew up in a barbecue restaurant, learning every element of that. And I grew up cooking, too.”
With a chuckle, she adds, “So, when we met, we both had something good to bring to the relationship.”
Jaqueline, who originally hails from Arkansas, and Dimitrious, a Louisianan by birth, started dating in Sacramento almost 33 years ago. Throughout the decades, friends kept encouraging them to sell the food they loved whipping up. The couple took a serious step in showcasing their dishes by starting a pop-up called Jazzy Jack’s Barbecue several years ago, bringing the eats to Friday Nights at the Park and several Juneteenth celebrations. In 2022, the pair decided to go all-in on their dream, undertaking a massive renovation of a 103-year-old building not far from Washington Park. Dimitrious is a 35-year veteran carpenter, while Jaqueline has always been creative with interior design. After the two were done leaning into their shared mission, the spot was unveiled as a pleasant den of ivory-and-coal-colored brickwork that’s accentuated by cyan touches that blend with the sleek marbling on the bar.
“We ran across on this place and it was all boarded-up,” Jaqueline remembers, “and I just took the initiative to contact the owner through records … We wanted a more contemporary, new vibe. And I wanted to put some color in, because when we came, it was so dark. I just took my vision and my husband’s skills, and I think we turned it into a little jewel.”
Taste Buds began selling to-go food in November of 2022. It opened its dining room to the public during springtime. It didn’t take long for word to spread about its offerings. Dimitrious barbecues ribs and chicken to the point of having a tender perfection to their juiciness, as well as a savory smoke-tang clinging to their sauces and rubs. He brings a similar flame-licked magic to Tri-tip, links and brisket.
“That’s an actual art, what he does,” one smiling customer offered after she spotted me taking notes. “A lot of people overcook the meat, or even slightly burn it, but when you get what he’s doing with those ribs – where you truly can taste the smoke through the tenderness of the meat – that is hard to do. That’s an art.”
Dimitrious told me he’s been working in front of pits and grills since he was 8-years-old.
“I used to stand up at a barbecue pit on a chair and stab the ribs, and when they got to a certain wellness, I’d throw them to the back and let them tender out,” he recalls. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I try my best to be the best.”
Dimitrious’ approach has been bringing people in, but the rest of the menu is getting attention, too. Items like the catfish nuggets are a standout, with their crispy breading that wraps soft-as-silk meat on the inside. Jaqueline oversees the menu’s great little touches, most notably the mac and cheese, the potato salad, the cornbread and the sweet potato pie. What she wants people to know about this relatively new restaurant is that she, Dimitrious and their team put their “whole heart and soul” into what they serve.
On Sept. 20, the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative held its first-ever public event at Taste Buds, and the consensus from that bustling crowd was that Jaqueline and Dimitrious’ full-spread dinner was beyond scrumptious. The bar and dining room’s feel was also conducive to easygoing, engaged conversation. Of course, if one strolls into Taste Buds on a weekday afternoon, when it’s not filled with journalists, policymakers and news junkies, they’ll get an even nicer social contact high: The afternoon lunch rush finds locals talking and smiling and digging into dishes that make them happy.
“Food was always our main passion,” Jaqueline notes. “We want people to have good energy, good vibes and good food, all at the same time. This is done with love and compassion for everybody.”