Dining in Dunsmuir, restaurant reviews for visiting anglers

[flickr album=72157612018208689 num=5 size=Thumbnail]First Published as a Foraging Angler Column in:

California Fly Fisher Magazine, August 2009

I concluded my previous Foraging Angler offering “Dining in the Shadow of Shasta”with a promise to reveal some secrets regarding dining in Dunsmuir.  I’ll begin this column by sharing with you the biggest secret of all.  The overall quality and value provided by Dunsmuir’s dining establishments are cut above those in my more upscale and tourist friendly hometown of Mount Shasta.  They are perhaps as good as any you might find in a comparable rural setting.

Dunsmuir is a historic railroad town that has declined economically since it’s long gone heyday, when folks rode the train from the big city to summer at one of the many resorts featuring the clear pure springwater flowing in the Upper Sacramento River.  The town continued to flourish as the timber industry thrived but as local mills closed one after another Dunsmuir struggled to reinvent itself as a tourist destination.

Part of the problem has been geography. Dunsmuir lies at the narrow upper end of the Sacramento River canyon.  A local witticism describes the city as four miles long and four blocks wide. In Dunsmuir it can be challenging to find a cozy bed featuring the sound of the stream rather than the roar of traffic because both Interstate 5 and the principle rail line of the West Coast run through it’s center. That may be why ten minutes up the hill, Mount Shasta has emerged as the tourist destination with more amenities for travelers.

Mount Shasta provides an excellent base for visiting anglers offering a sampling of the area’s fabled rivers within a short drive.  Walk and wade adventures on the Upper Sac begin in town, the Upper McCloud is a twenty minute drive and the Lower McCloud is thirty five minutes.  A drive of an hour (give or take a few minutes) out highway 89 provides walk and wade opportunities on the Pit River, Burney and Hat Creeks as well as the Fall River whose spring flows are accessed from prams.  For driftboat adventures drive south on I5 one hour for trophy trout on the Lower Sac, head north about the same distance and you’ll find steelhead on the Klamath.  Stillwater opportunities are too numerous to detail and include drive up boat launch stockers, hikes and backpacks into high country jewels and  Lake Siskiyou which is located on the outskirts of  town, an underutilized Smallmouth and Trout gem.

While Mount Shasta may have more restaurants and many more beds, it is well worth the ten minute drive to Dunsmuir to sample the dining.  Considering that these restaurants are likely a shorter drive from lodging in Mount Shasta than your favorite restaurant is from your home it surprises me when friends or clients choose a restaurant that is easy and close rather than a dining experience likely to be considerably more satisfying and memorable.  I’ll start with the dinner houses and conclude with the cafes and breakfast options.  There is some overlap for lunches which is noted in each of the descriptions.

Dinner Houses


Sengthong’s features big-city-quality Southeast Asian fare and my wife and I feel fortunate to have it in such a rural, small town venue.  The Vietnamese chef, for which the restaurant is named, owned and operated a restaurant in Thailand for many years before successfully introducing her combination of Vietnamese, Laotian and traditional Northern Thailand cuisine to Siskiyou County.  Every dish we’ve sampled has been superb and we sample something new most every visit. Our favorites remain the Laotian Hot spiced Beef and entrees featuring her juicy Black Bean Sauce.  All entrees are served with salad though we make certain to order enough food (including extra sticky rice) to take some home.   There is ample seating for large groups with entrees served family style in courses as they come hot out of the kitchen.  Not the place to plan a quick bite.

A La Carte $5-$9, Entrees $17-$27.  Wine, Beer, Sake and a Full Bar.  5855 Dunsmuir Avenue, 530-235-4770 http://www.sengthongs.com Hours: 5-8:30 (9 pm in summer) Reservations recommended.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Blue Sky Room

A venue that features superb local musicians along with touring acts on their way to their next ‘big” show, so you might want to plan your fishing trip to coincide with their extensive entertainment schedule. The Blue Sky room also features a beautiful long bar, sports TV’s and an excellent dance floor for those so inclined.  The next-door neighbor is Sengthong’s and  the Blue Sky Room shares the same kitchen and chef, but offerings are limited to appetizers and a dozen Thai entrees.  Do not miss the Pad Thai, my wife and I most often order it with the Crouching Tiger Dinner Sampler or one of the other excellent entrees and share. Your meat-and-potatoes partner can also order a Burger, Fish & Chips or Pasta.

Appetizers $5-$13, Entrees $12-$16.  Wine, Beer, Sake and a Full Bar. 5841 Dunsmuir Avenue, 530-235-1046. http://www.sengthongs.com Hours: 3:30-9pm, Open for lunch in summer & fall 12:00-10:00 pm.  Reservations recommended.  Closed Sundays.

Café Maddalena

Café Maddalena boasts a chef, Brett LaMott, who established the Trinity Café in Mount Shasta as the definitive fine dining experience in South Siskiyou County before moving to “Maddie’s” in Dunsmuir.  Though not quite as intimate and elegant as the Trinity, this cozy bistro is packed on weekends for good reason.  The food and service are easily the finest in the area and the relaxed atmosphere, open kitchen and friendly staff make this our first choice when celebrating special occasions.  The Mediterranean cuisine features fresh ingredients, is updated weekly, and is complimented by a wine list offering European artisan labels that are thoughtfully paired to surprise and please.  We like to start with an appetizer and one of the incredible soups or salads, and then order entrees to share.  The portions and sides are tastefully sized so most often we’ll also split a decadent chocolate dessert or the superb crème brulee and end the meal with coffee or espresso.  Do not miss the grilled Chilean Sea Bass in season and the comfortable outdoor seating under the grape arbor on a warm summer evening.

Appetizers $3-$9, Soups & Salads $6-9, Entrees $10-22.  Excellent Wine list & Beer.  5801 Sacramento Ave, just downhill from the California Theater, 530-235-2725. http://www.cafemaddalena.com Hours: Thursday through Sunday 5pm to 10 pm.  Reservations recommend. Closed in January.

Dunsmuir Grill & Creamery

This recently opened classic American Diner is your best bet for a quick bite particularly during the off-season when most of Dunsmuir’s dining options are closed on Monday and Tuesday.  Hearty portions and fresh ingredients include all the classics for breakfast- bacon, sausage, eggs, and omelets as well as biscuits and gravy.  Their homemade soups for lunch complement the typical array of burgers, sandwiches and salad options that are tasty and filling.  A separate menu for kids of all ages makes The Grill a great option for groups with varying appetites and tastes.  Dinner is served on Friday and Saturday evenings featuring steaks, pasta, chicken and slow cooked meats.  There is ample seating for even the largest groups and in the rear room where local musicians are featured, there are a couple pool tables.  An  old-fashioned Ice Cream Parlor makes for a great stop for dessert or a midday break on a hot summer day.

Breakfasts $4-15, Lunches $6-12, Dinners $15-$22.  Wine & Beer.  5740 Dunsmuir Avenue 530-235-4585.  Hours 7am – 3 pm, Dinner 5-9pm Friday & Saturdays.  Closed Thursdays.

Breakfast and Lunch Cafes

Cornerstone Café & Bakery

This aptly named restaurant on the downtown corner below the iconic California Theater has been serving good food long enough to witness a number of neighbor’s ventures come and go.  Hardwood floors, high ceilings, big windows and ample seating with both booths and tables and chairs make this a very lively and popular place on weekends.  It’s our favorite if we have the luxury of a leisurely morning and time to savor an espresso or hot chai drink.  A number of local guides meet their clients early to avoid the waiting list, discuss the current conditions and make plans for their day.  The Ted Fay Flyshop is just across the street,  if what you overhear at breakfast leads you to conclude that you need to pick up a few of the hottest patterns.

Their breakfast menu includes egg basics with your choice from their outstanding meat selection- applewood Bacon, Cajun andouillie sausage, and our favorite the chicken apple sausage.  Side choices include hash browns, red potatoes, steamed spinach, fruit and my wife’s favorite polenta.  Their wheat pecan toast and harvest muffins are superb.  Griddle portions are tasty and will satisfy even the heartiest of appetites.  Popular scrambles and omelets include the Truck Stop Omelet as well as items for more adventurous tastes including a triple cream brie omelet and a couple of my favorites, smoked salmon and the Mediterranean with Kalamata olives, spinach, feta and a roasted tomato sauce.  Sunday brunch includes Belgian Waffles and Egg Benedict specialties.  Lunches include burgers and sandwiches as well as a number of vegetarian options, soups, salads, pasta and polenta.  Kids items available for both breakfast and lunch.

Breakfasts & Lunches $5-$10 plus beverage.  Espresso, Beer and Wine.  5759 Dunsmuir Ave.  530-235-4677.  Hours 8-2 Thursday through Monday, 7-3 in summer.

Wild Thyme Cafe

As it’s name implies this café has some wild and savory offerings along with more standard provisions. It has just recently opened and has quickly developed an enthusiastic following.  Right next door to the Ted Fay Flyshop, it is certainly convenient to grab one of their tasty bakery items and a cup of espresso or joe for the drive to your secret fishin’ hole.  A more leisurely morning will allow you to sample one of their scrambles, a breakfast quesadilla, carnitas con huevos with fire breathing potatoes, or the Cuban hash.   Their buttermilk pancakes and coconut French toast will satisfy partners with the sweetest of tooths.  The lunch menu features more spicy items than not, including Jamaican jerk and chimichurri chicken sandwiches, mango chicken over coconut rice and tostones carnitas, plantains topped with carnitas, avocado and a lime sauce.  For those with a tamer palate the soup of the day and a chicken club or B.L.T wrap or sandwich is also an option.

Breakfast & Lunches $6-$10 plus beverage. Espresso, no alcohol. 5736 Dunsmuir Avenue 530-235-9884.  Hours Thursday –Saturday 8am -3pm Sunday 8-2.

Brown Trout Gallery & Café

The River  really runs through it.  This café shares space with the Brown Trout Gallery and Gift Shop and the building has a creek running directly under it.  When you first step through the doorway you are greeted by the sound of running water as you stand on a decorative grate suspending you above a small tributary of the Upper Sac.  Lucky, I haven’t yet spotted a trout, because  the cast through the grate looks tricky at best.  Located across Sacramento Avenue from the railroad yard in a beautifully restored historic building, the Brown Trout can be a relaxing place to sip a latte, enjoy a fresh baked pastry and read your newspaper.  The breakfast menu features scrambles, waffles, a breakfast burrito and bagel sandwich.  Lunches include hot and cold sandwiches, gourmet salads and appetizers.  On Saturday evenings they often feature local musicians and offer dinner as well.

Breakfast and Lunch $4-$10 plus beverage. Espresso, Beer and Wine. 5841 Sacramento Avenue 530-235-4281. http://browntroutgallery.net Hours Monday -Saturday 7-5, Sunday 8-5.  Winters until 3.  Saturday Dinners accompanied by live music.

If you’ve read along this far you’ve likely concluded that establishments in Dunsmuir close the shutters pretty early.  This actually can be a blessing to the visiting angler,  particularly in the warmer months, because the final secret I’ll share is that some of the biggest trout can be found on the prowl long before the sun creeps over the steep canyon walls.  A leisurely brunch often tastes that much better after a morning session that includes a memorable catch.  I hope I am lucky enough to be sitting within earshot when you share the story.


  1. Joe Eberle
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Great article Craig!

  2. Posted September 27, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks Joe. Hope to see you soon for a little fish and food! Until then wishing you tight lines and a singing reel!

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