Isleton: Exploring the Towns and Waterways of the Delta

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Along the Sacramento River, just south of California's State Capitol, and in the heart of the California Delta, lies the sleepy town of Isleton. Levee building, boating, fishing and agriculture brought many to the area during the town's heyday in the late 1800s, when Isleton was coined "The Little Paris of the Delta." Although the population has shrunk since then, the size of its heart has not. The recession hit the area hard and many businesses haven't returned, but the restaurants, bars, casinos, architecture, and art galleries that remain are worth checking out. Find your way through the boat-filled waterways for the town's lively festivals, such the annual Crawdad Festival on Father's Day and the Spam Contest that happens every February.

Peter’s Steakhouse (203 2nd St.)
Come for the famous Prime Rib, stay for the friendly locals. Peter was the cook at the neighboring Hotel del Rio where his Prime Rib became famous. The restaurant features a full bar with ample seating, and a large banquet room upstairs. A family run business, Peter and his wife Yee own the Steakhouse as well as the Pineapple Restaurant, which serves up excellent Chinese food not far down the street.

Spam Contest (location varies by year)
The annual Spam Contest, started after the 1996 flood in Isleton, was this year held at Peter’s Steakhouse. As the story goes, residents who were displaced by the floods were offered shelter by Ralph and Charli Hand who owned the Hotel Del Rio. After the residents went back to their homes the only labels they found intact were those on the Spam cans. Charli then decided to make some fun of the otherwise sad situation by creating the Spam Contest. Every year a “Captain Spam” is appointed and contestants cook, eat and throw Spam in hopes of getting their name on the Spamley Cup. This year’s winning Spam delicacy was the Spam Heart Sundae but the Spam burgers, muffins, mac n’ cheese and maple syrup fried Spam dipped in dark chocolate were all devoured.

Bob’s Bait Shop (302 2nd St.)
Hooks, lines and sinkers, Bob’s got all your fishing needs. His shop is also angling to be the “Home of the live Crawfish.” Whether you call them crawdads, crayfish, or crawfish, they all mean the same thing: a freshwater crustacean resembling a small lobster. Isleton is famous for them and Bob’s has them year round (call to confirm quantities). Information and cooking instructions can be found on Bob’s site. Isleton hosts a Crawdad Festival every Father’s Day weekend which boasts the largest consumption of crawdads outside of Louisiana.

Turtle Island Art Treasures (37 Main St.)
This store’s name accurately describes what it contains, beautiful art and long lost treasures. It specializes in American Indian and contemporary art and has a growing collection of vinyl records, literature, jewelry and antiques. Perfect for gifts or your own collection. Open weekends and evening hours, call ahead to confirm.

Rogelio’s Dine and Sleep Inn (34 Main St.)
A one stop spot for dining, drinking, sleeping and gambling. The menu offers both Chinese and Mexican food as well as some Italian and American dishes. You may run into the owners Rogelio, also known as Roy, or his wife Diane who continue to operate the establishment. Blackjack, Texas Hold’em and Poker tournaments take place in the Casino while hotel guests can enjoy the pool and hot tub.

Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

Published on March 7, 2014

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