Formoli’s Bistro in East Sacramento was an institution. The chef is back with a food truck

Formoli’s Bistro closed six years ago in East Sacramento. Past customers still tell Aimal Formoli that they miss it “constantly,” he said.

Formoli, who operated his namesake restaurant with his wife Suzanne Ricci from 2005-2018, has returned to East Sacramento’s dining scene. The couple now co-owns Chów, a food truck rooted at SacYard Community Tap House that opened April 1, as well as Sequoia Event Space in The Cannery development around the corner.

Ricci and Formoli opened Formoli’s Bistro at 3839 J St. when they were just 23 and 25 years old, respectively. While the namesake chef garnered a devoted following for his iconic whiskey cheeseburger, Ricci kept the restaurant running behind the scenes, Formoli said.

Formoli’s Bistro could be hard to pin down beyond the catch-all of “California cuisine,” It wasn’t unusual to see “Peruvian poutine” with flat iron steak, peperonata and fromage blanc share table space with stuffed medjool dates, roasted jerk chicken and cioppino. The bold burger with a whiskey demi-glace and habanero aioli, though, stood out as a dish of Sacramento’s early 2010s.

Chef Aimal Formoli, center, talks with a customer in 2016 at Formoli’s Bistro in East Sacramento. The restaurant closed in 2018.
Chef Aimal Formoli, center, talks with a customer in 2016 at Formoli’s Bistro in East Sacramento. The restaurant closed in 2018.

You’ll find the same freewheeling spirits at Chów — albeit with some limitations, Formoli said. There are no walk-in coolers in the 18-foot truck with a 12-foot interior, no space for grand culinary experimentation. Specials such as poke bowls or bay scallop ceviche are created within those cozy confines.

Chów’s 11-item seasonal menu includes smashburgers with housemade spicy pickles, chili cheese bratwursts and chicken salads tossed in bacon vinaigrette. The heart-healthy Fleet Feet protein bowl with couscous, guacamole, radishes, tomatoes, red salsa and choice of protein ($16 with chicken or $17 with rib-eye steak) caters to members of the fitness store’s running club, which meets at SacYard each Tuesday.

On a given night, Chów serves anywhere from 180 to 300 people, with the same SacYard customers coming back three or four times per week. Some are newcomers, but others are loyalists from the Formoli’s Bistro days.

“As far as the legacy of the chef goes or whatever, I could care less about Michelin or James Beard or any of that stuff,” Formoli said. “I still get people that remember me ... it’s so cool to have that happen to you this far along, that you’re still relevant. That’s my crowning achievement.”

After closing his restaurant, Formoli worked as Stanford Hospital’s executive chef in Palo Alto for a year. Ricci, meanwhile, met Sequoia Surgical president Kevin Barnett.

She convinced Formoli to partner with Barnett and oversee the food operation at Sequoia’s attached event space in The Cannery development; the trio then went in on Chów with SacYard owners Dan and Melody Thebeau.

What I’m Eating

Downtown Sacramento’s hottest pizzeria is Pizza Supreme Being, Ben Roberts’ creative outpost just south of the Capitol. PSB, as it’s known to fans, is cutting-edge infused with a hefty dose of Americana nostalgia, a place where a bespoke natural wine called “Pizza Grease” was served alongside a recent Jimboy’s Tacos-inspired pizza special.

For a dollar inserted into an arcade claw machine, customers can try to grab coupons for a soft serve ice cream cone, a slice of pizza or even a sweatshirt bearing the words “Sacramento is just Sacramento,” Roberts’ memorable quote to conclude a New York Times article praising the city’s restaurant scene.

PSB’s Hawaiian ($5 per slice/$34 per pie) makes a strong argument that pineapples do, in fact, belong on pizza. The key is that Roberts slices fresh pineapple, not the syrupy canned version, into thin sheets and cooks them in the oven alongside jalapeño slivers and cubed Spam. Esquire recently named it one of the best Hawaiian pizzas in the United States; at the very least, it’s the best in Sacramento.

Pepper slivers aside, the Hawaiian pales in contrast to PSB’s heatwave ($5/$37), a mouth-burner that hikes up the Scoville scale on the back of fiery coppa and Zab’s hot honey. The crispy-bottomed sourdough crust is chewy throughout, ripe for dipping in a cup of housemade ranch.

Salads and sandwich specials went beyond typical pizza parlor fare as well, such as lamb chopped cheese ($16) on a house-baked sesame hoagie roll that riffed on New York City’s bodega creations. Fresher elements such as citrus-garlic aioli, cucumber slices, iceberg lettuce and red onion effectively counterbalanced the shaved merguez sausage with provolone.

Pizza Supreme Being

Address: 1425 14th St., Suite C, Sacramento.

Hours: 12-8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.

Phone: (916) 917-5559


Drinks: Natural wine is a focus, along with craft beer.

Vegetarian options: Many.

Noise level: Relatively loud.

Outdoor seating: Many tables stretched over two patios.

Openings & Closings

Green Grill’s first Sacramento location opened May 15 at 1020 16th St., Suite 17 in midtown. Rajbir Randhawa’s mostly-vegan, mostly gluten-free health food restaurant, initially named “Baagan,” has served veggie meatball tacos and pistachio-citrus-beet salads to customers in Rancho Cordova and Granite Bay for years.

Gondo Fusion’s first sit-down location began its soft opening on May 13 at 2790 Stockton Blvd. in North Oak Park. Silvia Rodriguez’s Cuban-Mexican concept also turns out burritos stuffed with mojo pork and plantains from a food truck and The Line ghost kitchen.

Holaloha Fusion Restaurant & Bar has closed in Folsom Village shopping center after three months, with Alyssa Caballero planning to transition her Mexican-Hawaiian restaurant into a mobile concept called Da Tiki Hut. Holaloha had replaced The Canyon Grill & Alehouse at 9580 Oak Avenue Parkway, Suite 8; it appears Joe Garnica, a co-owner in both restaurants, will resuscitate that previous restaurant in the expansive space.