Finding Ambiance in El Dorado Hills, California

With little over a decade of history, this new town works to cultivate a sense of culture. While its historically-inspired buildings and manicured scenery provide the atmosphere of a village, it is the local shops that provide its character. Here in El Dorado Hills, California, I continuously seek out places to enrich my soul and enliven my spirit.

Town Center, developed by The Mansour Company, emulates a charming village. In addition to the scenic outdoor lake and seasonal entertainment found here, visitors and residents discover places to relax, dine and shop. While it is important to support local businesses, my aim is to celebrate those who contribute to my ideals of quality and character.

Architecture overlooking the lake in Town Center

One morning with our kids at school, my husband and I head to our local café, Zia’s. Walking in from the main street of Town Center on a crisp winter’s day, we are greeted by the owner. Immediately, we are enveloped by the surrounding aroma of cinnamon and apples. Puffing out of muffin tins, we discover a batch of her freshly baked apple pastries.

Settling into a sunny corner to relax, where local art adorns the walls, we allow our senses to be immersed in warm cappuccinos. Soon the gelato starts to fill the case with today’s flavors made fresh from local ingredients. This is a social setting—friends gather; families stop in; business people meet.


Heading across the street, Face in a Book provides the neighborhood with a quaint bookstore to enhance your intellect and character. As an endangered species of industry, I feel this charming treasure is especially important to honor and support.

I appreciate sitting with a cup of tea, thumbing through photo books on design, cooking, and travel. It is a pleasure revisiting classic literature, discovering new tales, and sharing award-winners with my boys. When in search of a gift for any age, I am always sure to find something special.

Clean, orderly interior of Face in a Book

I stroll up the street to refill my bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. With plenty of wonderful flavors to sample, staples in my pantry are the espresso balsamic paired with a rich, peppery Californian olive oil. Drizzle it over a fresh arugula salad topped with shredded free-range rotisserie chicken, dried cranberries, pecans, and a creamy chèvre (goat) cheese. This makes a quick, healthy meal. They also compliment my favorite artisan bread, such as ciabatta or rosemary focaccia. Mmmm… Delicious!

My design focus and background in catering and restaurant service have refined my palette. I have high standards. For a true dining experience, I find a locale with an inspiring ambiance; friendly, refined service; and a cuisine that is creatively presented, using select ingredients.

Along the boulevard in Town Center, Selland’s Market Café exemplifies the meaning of freshness and quality. (Randall Selland has long provided a standard of excellence for me. My experiences at his other Sacramento restaurants, The Kitchen and Ella, have been enhanced by their superior quality and service.) This deli-style Café is located in a building reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Its cheerful and airy atmosphere encourages a sense of community.

I often find myself sharing a table with other guests. The dishes are simple, yet rich in flavor. Herbed chicken breast, complemented with a mushroom sherry cream sauce, paired with hand mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables offers a delicious, comforting meal. Finishing it off with a maple-topped panna cotta leads me to Nirvana.

French bistro outdoor seating at Selland’s Market Café

With its lake view, I also enjoy the atmosphere and food at Chantara Thai Cuisine. The other night, my family indulged in their pumpkin curry, eggplant with tofu, and pineapple fried rice. The contrasting elements of Thai food set off like fireworks in my mouth. 

Adjacent to the amphitheater, Bistro 33 once provided a lively, contemporary setting in their dining room and bar, or a meal “al fresco” on their outdoor patio overlooking the lake. I miss their mouth-watering Kobe beef mini burgers topped with micro-greens and goat cheese.

the View toward Bistro 33 from the garden terrace

Across from the restaurant, Milestone, the roses in the garden are trimmed for the winter. Soon they will send new shoots ready to display their vibrant blooms. 

Still, under the bell tower surrounded by age-old olive trees, the contrast of winter foliage makes an ideal setting to relax with a book. I find an inviting bench to take a moment, and become distracted by my surroundings. Birds call with their morning songs; friendly neighbors are out to walk the paths with their dogs; honking geese fly noisily by, signaling to one another.

Century-old olive trees and Old World architecture surrounding this terrace evokes a quaint Mediterranean luxury
Century-old olive trees and Old World architecture surrounding this terrace evokes a quaint Mediterranean luxury

Reflection is a time for gratitude. Today, I feel grateful… for the people who hard work to maintain its beauty, for all these places I get to enjoy, for the peaceful blue sky above this place, I have been fortunate to call El Dorado Hills home.

Update May 2021: Chantara was taken over by Thai Paradise, which is also good. Unfortunately, Zia’s is no longer open. An apartment complex has been built next to the pond. When its plans were announced, I wrote to El Dorado County. I advised that, although a residential component infuses welcome life into the town, rather than plopping an apartment building into the middle of it all, mixed-use development would be more appropriate and beneficial for Town Center. I never received any response.

When an oversized four-clover intersection was installed nearby, the county made plans to build a Costco right next to existing homes and schools. Generic strip malls, office buildings, gas stations, and big-box stores just don’t belong here—solutions pushed by greedy developers paired with an endemic of complacency and lack of inspiration. I argue that village centers provide more appeal and benefit to their community neighborhoods. Imagine shops, cafes, and restaurants surrounding a central plaza—places for people of all ages to safely hang out—the wonderful norm in European towns, built over eons.

I was all for development that enhanced the legacy of El Dorado Hills. When we bought here, growth was intentionally slow and well-planned. Unfortunately, the ways in the area continues to grow were no longer in line with our expectations or with consideration for the quality of the community (or environment), so we decided to sell our home.

Thoughtful expansion of Town Center could still gently connect with adjacent neighborhoods by providing walkable places to gather and shop. Preservation of the existing landscape—waterways, old-growth oak trees, wildlife, trails—is necessary to protect the natural environment. Connected walking and bike paths could better integrate the entire community. Hopefully, more thoughtful development is restored.

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