Phil Oates is chairman of the board of the Buzz Oates Group. (Photo by Terence Duffy)

Our Top Stories of 2023

Back Web Only Dec 29, 2023 By Jennifer Fergesen

As the end of 2023 comes into view, we’re rounding a significant corner here at Comstock’s — 2024 will be our 35th year as the Capital Region’s premier business magazine. While the region’s journalism landscape is narrowing, we proudly continue to produce high-quality print magazines every month. But we’re also local pioneers in online journalism, with a web catalog that goes back more than a decade.

In addition to our print content, we commission 10-12 web-only stories per month, ranging from timely missives from the rained-in Burning Man festival to odes to the city’s best food trucks. These all go online alongside our print content, together painting a broad, three-dimensional picture of the economics and lifestyle of our complex region. 

This year, our online readers revealed an eclectic taste, showing enthusiasm for deep dives into city planning and water rights as well as immersive stories on food, travel and wine. Here are our 10 most popular stories of 2023, based on Google Analytics data.* Have an idea for what we should cover next? Send us a line at

1. Hometown High School Sweethearts Bring Cajun Cooking to Benicia by Steve Martarano (May, print)

The Workshop on Claverie Way includes a walk-up window and outdoor dining, and is located about a mile from downtown Benicia. (Photo by Steve Martarano)

Steve Martarano’s “Off the Beaten Track” series careens around the outer reaches of the Capital Region to highlight the hidden gems of our 10 counties. In this installment, he visits a former fish-and-chips joint in the straitside town of Benicia that now serves Southern specialties like hush puppies, gumbo and jambalaya. 

2. The Rise and Fall of the Mall by Ed Fletcher (April, print)

Many kiosks in Sunrise Mall’s food court are unoccupied. The mall has lacked a stand-alone restaurant since 2019. (Photo by Debbie Cunningham)

Comstock’s contributor Ed Fletcher was inspired to write this story when he noticed that his local mall, Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, was on the decline, with shuttered stores and sparse crowds even during the Christmas rush. His resulting feature is a deep dive into America’s faltering love affair with shopping malls, including their relationship with car dependency and white flight, and a hopeful glimpse into a future life for their cast-off husks. 

3. Phil Oates Is a Strong Believer in God, Philanthropy, the Sacramento Kings and Candor by Ed Goldman (June, print)

Phil Oates is chairman of the board of the Buzz Oates Group. (Photo by Terence Duffy)

Each installment of Ed Goldman’s Icon column starts with a leisurely lunch with a Sacramento stalwart — often, someone who has had a major influence on the way the city has taken shape for decades. Phil Oates, who Goldman describes as a “71-year-old, multimillionaire business tycoon,” is the quintessential Icon: He’s a big reason the city kept the Kings, not to mention one of its biggest players in real estate. 

4. The Venue Makes Its Debut by Steve Martarano (February, web)

The Eagles perform before a sold-out crowd at Thunder Valley Casino Resort’s new 4,500-seat music venue on opening night, Feb. 17. (Photos by Steve Martarano)

In February, Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln opened its new 4,500-seat, 150,000-square-foot performing arts center, aptly named The Venue, with a sold-out, three-day President’s Day weekend run of the Eagles, Bruno Mars and Santana. Steve Martarano got passes to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the Eagles concert, with good enough seats to capture longtime Eagles member and Sacramento native Timothy B. Schmit strumming away on his classic Fender jazz bass. 

5. Perspective: California’s Long and Complicated History With Water by Dan Walters (February, print)

From 19th century battles between farmers and hydraulic gold miners over debris polluting rivers to 21st-century political duels over spawning salmon, Californians have squabbled incessantly over how water should be captured, allocated, conveyed and priced. (Shutterstock image)

In his first contribution to Comstock’s magazine, veteran California journalist Dan Walters tackles an eternal California problem: water. “From 19th-century battles between farmers and hydraulic gold miners over debris polluting rivers to 21st-century political duels over spawning salmon, Californians have squabbled incessantly over how water should be captured, allocated, conveyed and priced,” he writes. His conclusion? Water rights may need a reckoning. 

6. Neighborhood Favorite: For the Love of Malta by Jennifer Fergesen (February, web)

A guest at For the Love of Malta’s private Curtis Park event pairs a glass of wine with her pastizzi. (Photo by Joe Perfecto)

I spend a lot of my time wandering around looking for interesting new eateries, especially ones serving cuisines that are underrepresented in the region. But For the Love of Malta wandered over to me. The food truck trundled through my neighborhood one afternoon, and when I saw it was serving Maltese food — surely the first business in Sacramento to do so — I jogged after it until I could give the owner my business card. It took a few weeks before I could try the flaky, pillowy pastizzi, but the wait was worth it. 

7. Women Who Wine by Scott Thomas Anderson (May, print) 

Mollie Haycock grew up in Rocklin and went through the wine and viticulture program at Cal Poly. She’s now the winemaker at Scott Harvey Wines in Plymouth’s Shenandoah Valley. (Photo by Fred Greaves)

“The viticulture program at UC Davis, as well as its sister programs at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and Fresno State University, are quickly growing a new crop of women winemakers who could steer the industry in new directions,” writes Scott Thomas Anderson, our most seasoned wine writer, in this colorful feature. He sampled the wares of women winemakers across the region, pulling out tasting notes that include “an essence of prunes and dates blended with dark cocoa,” “a gentle vanilla bloom” and a “warm raspberry allure mingled in maple notes and touches of roasted red pepper.”

8. Mud, Music and the Man by Ed Fletcher (September, web)

Ed Fletcher, left, takes a selfie with Burning Man attendees from Japan. (Photo by Ed Fletcher)

Every August, people from around the world descend upon a stretch of the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man, a week-long event that devotees describe as an “experiment in community-building.” But the 2023 event had an unforeseen variable: torrential rains that turned the playa into mud so thick and dense that no cars could escape. Contributor Ed Fletcher, a self-described “Burner,” reported from the mudfields.

9. The Wage of Innocence? by Winnie Comstock-Carlson (October, print)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the fast food bill AB1228 in Los Angeles, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. California’s fast food workers will have a minimum wage of $20 per hour next year under a new law. (Shutterstock photo by Ringo Chiu)

On Sept. 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the so-called “fast food bill,” AB1228, which will give California’s fast food workers a minimum wage of $20 per hour next year. Many media outlets framed this new law as another sign of California going to the dogs, without noting the context: The raise would be a concession on the part of the businesses in return for the withdrawal of a ballot measure that would “hold fast food corporations legally responsible for labor violations in their franchise locations,” according to CalMatters. In her most-shared publisher’s letter of the year, Winnie Comstock-Carlson explored the role of fast food in the economy and the impact of the new law. 

10. Valley Rail on Track by Ben Sanchez (October, print)

The Altamont Corridor Express, which currently provides service between Stockton and San Jose, is set to expand to 16 new stations. (Photo courtesy of ACE)

Something is afoot on the freight tracks that crisscross the Capital Region, usually carrying lumber, fuel and goods but not passengers. The Valley Rail Project, an expansion of the existing Altamont Corridor Express service, proposes to connect Stockton, Sacramento and the Bay Area, with 16 new stations across the region. But when contributor Ben Sanchez looked into the project, he saw years of delays and stagnation — obstacles reflective of the challenges involved in building intercity passenger rail anywhere in the United States. 

*We excluded Suzanne Lucas’s popular Evil HR Lady column from this roundup, not because we don’t love it, but because it’s the most-read story nearly every month of the year.

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