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Napa + Sonoma Restaurants

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 2487

When Thomas Keller sent a memo to his staff on April 1, 2006, suggesting they take over a recently closed restaurant without any remodeling whatsoever, everyone thought it was an April Fool's joke. The idea was simple: a four-course set menu of American comfort cooking served family-style. The success was instant, and the only change made since day one has been to start accepting reservations. This is soul-soothing food, the place you eat on your second or third night in Napa, after you've had your fill of foie gras and puff pastry. The menu rotates based on the season and whatever's ripe in the restaurant's garden, and you don't know till you arrive what you'll be eating. The only constant is fried chicken every other Monday, when sides include biscuits and sausage gravy, and perhaps ratatouille made from squash picked that morning. Not everyone appreciates the raw simplicity of the place (wine comes in café glasses, not proper stemware), but remember that you are here for sustenance, not splash. And with such little adornment, your attention remains squarely where Keller wants it: on the plate. —John A. Vlahides

Open Thursdays through Mondays 5 to 10 pm, Sundays 10 am to 1 pm.

Auberge du Soleil Restaurant
Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford , California
Tel: 800 348 5406 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 963 1211

Auberge du Soleil was a gastronomic pioneer when it opened in 1981, and it still serves the wine-country cuisine that it helped to invent. Chef Robert Curry draws on the cornucopia of fine produce cultivated in Napa Valley to turn out dishes such as pan-seared duck with wild mushrooms, pea tendrils, and cannelloni. The dining room is clubby and compact, lined with windows overlooking the terrace. But the best seats are outside on the terrace. On a clear night, you can see the glittering lights of San Francisco in the distance; daytime diners enjoy panoramic views of the olive groves and vineyards. For the ultimate in ambience, eat at sunset.

Open daily 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

231 Center Street
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 431 0100

Thanks to the travertine floors and wooden walls of this converted red barn, the dining room can get a little noisy, but it's a happening spot for dinner, and its garden is one of the prettiest spaces in town. The frequently changing menu is organized by "taste profile." "Light" may include tuna poke with a pickled ginger–wasabi mousse; "Spicy" lists dishes like crispy grilled pork belly atop seared scallops; and "Comfort" (read: filling) is for dishes like pan-seared wild halibut with creamy cashew rice and tamarind sauce. The combinations are inventive, and the flavors big. The bar is a destination unto itself and hops nearly every night. Aside from an outstanding selection of Sonoma County vintages and a few European standouts, you'll also find unusual organic spirits, many of which are mixed with house-made syrups for some of wine country's best cocktails.

Open Wednesdays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm, Sundays 11 am to 3 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm.

6534 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 8037

An offshoot of the celebrated French Laundry, Bouchon is a classic French brasserie, right down to the mosaic tile floor, zinc bar imported from France, and red velvet banquettes. Likewise the cooking, from giant plateaux de fruits de mer (seafood platters) to succulent roast chicken to a perfect steak-frites. But more than anything, it's great fun to dine here—the room buzzes with activity, and you never know who might walk through the door, from famous vintners to Hollywood celebrities. Bouchon serves continuously all day, making it ideal for a late lunch. Though there's patio seating, the real excitement is in the dining room. If you're only in the mood for a snack, pop into the neighboring Bouchon Bakery for goodies or to gather picnic supplies, including sandwiches, pain au chocolat, and of course, crusty loaves of bread.

Open daily 11:30 am to 12:30 am.

106 Matheson Street
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 431 2962

This order-at-the-counter rustic trattoria on the Healdsburg town plaza is the perfect wine country lunch spot. Big antipasti platters of earthy salumi come served with sides such as a tangy beet salad, fresh figs, roasted garlic, pungent cheeses, and crusty bread—just right for the medium-bodied zinfandel you bought just up the road at Dry Creek Valley. Thin-crusted pizzas with toppings like you'd find in Italy (think prosciutto, arugula, and fontina), hearty sandwiches (the pork cheeks with roasted peppers and salsa verde is a standout), and salads (go for the tuna conserva) round out the menu. There are a handful of tables inside, but for maximum romance, sit outside in the sun-dappled shade of olive trees. Save room for the richly flavorful house-churned gelato. Bovolo is more of a lunch than dinner spot, due to its conservative closing hours, even on weekends.

Open Mondays and Tuesdays 9 am to 9 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 9 am to 6 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays 9 am to 9 pm.

Le Mars Hôtel
29 North Street
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 433 3311

Helmed by chef Douglas Keane and owner/maître d' Nick Peyton (the team behind St. Helena's popular Market) the dining room at Cyrus has soaring vaulted ceilings and tables laid with the finest linens, silver, and crystal. The staff moves through the room as if in a ballet: A plate of canapés arrives first, followed by a glittering cart bearing Champagne and caviar, where roe is weighed on a scale counterbalanced by a single gold coin; then it's a round of amuse-gueules. At first it feels a bit over the top, but the service is performed with such tongue-in-cheek levity that it's absolutely charming. Guests design their own prix-fixe meal, choosing three to five courses off the French-Californian-Asian menu, which uses locally grown organic produce. Standouts include Thai marinated lobster with avocado and mango and tempura-battered mussels in a saffron-flavored broth. Let the sommelier suggest wines from a smart list of lesser-known local and international vintages. If you can't secure a table, stop by for some of California's best cocktails, made with local herbs, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and top-shelf spirits, including vodka from Napa's Charbay Winery & Distillery.

Open daily 5 to 9:30 pm.

Dry Creek Kitchen
317 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 431 0330

If you're loath to surrender high heels and urban style just because you're in ag country, you'll appreciate celeb chef Charlie Palmer's Sonoma County outpost, Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg. The architectural elements—vaulted ceilings, towering columns, and a wall of windows overlooking the town plaza—look out of place in this small town of white picket fences, but they set a dramatic backdrop for a night out. Palmer is usually at New York's Aureole, so instead the stoves are manned by Chef de Cuisine Michael Ellis, whose rich, hearty comfort cooking often relies on heavy ingredients such as pork bellies, fatty cheeses, and foie gras. Otherwise, if it's in season right now, it's on the menu. Most ingredients are sourced from within Sonoma County, arguably America's finest growing region for heirloom meats and produce and artisanal cheeses. Even the wine list includes only Sonoma vintages, and there's no corkage fee for Sonoma County wines (two bottle maximum). Menu standouts include California lamb two ways: a mustard-crusted double chop and a lumpia (think giant egg roll) of ground lamb. One complaint: The staff is young and inexperienced—when Michelin awarded Dry Creek one star, it did so on culinary merit alone. If polished service is as important as great food, choose Cyrus instead.

El Dorado Kitchen
405 First Street West
Sonoma , California
Tel: 707 996 3030

At the El Dorado Hotel's surprisingly sceney restaurant (located in low-key Sonoma), large parties gather at a communal table fashioned out of wood from a 200-year-old Vermont bridge, while couples huddle at candlelit tables around the periphery. The kitchen of chef Ryan Fancher, previously at Thomas Keller's French Laundry and the Auberge du Soleil, turns out Mediterranean-meets-California dishes (lamb loin roulade with saffron potatoes, artichokes, olives, and rosemary; a risotto topped with white truffle foam) that are available à la carte or in a six-course tasting menu.

Farmhouse Inn
7871 River Road
Forestville , California
Tel: 707 887 3300

Sonoma County's Farmhouse Inn looks and feels like a classic New England country inn with a sunny clapboard exterior, big whitewashed porch, and a dining room simply adorned with wrought-iron chandeliers, ladder-back chairs, and filigree-patterned carpet. The menu mirrors the decor: Expect accessible New American dishes impeccably prepared without unnecessary pretense. The chef is a whiz with game meats. His signature dish is rabbit three ways: confit of leg, bacon-wrapped loin, and a perfectly chined rack. Other dishes reflect the seasons; in late summer, you might find soft-shell crab with an updated version of creamed corn, or feather-light fried squash blossoms stuffed with brandade. Service is spot-on: Here, you'll never have to endure the disappointment of learning that an appealing dish has sold out; once something is gone, the maî'tre d' reprints the menus for arriving diners. The wine list includes a terrific selection of half bottles, as well as some compelling New World and European labels, but be careful—the winding drive home will require your full attention.

Open Mondays and Thursdays through Sundays 5:30 to 8:30 pm (last seating).

French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 2380

At this culinary mecca, perfectionist chef Thomas Keller coaxes otherworldly flavors and textures from familiar ingredients. His famous salmon tartare "ice cream cone" is the first clue that there's alchemy in the kitchen, and the subsequent parade of nine courses confirms it. Service is flawless, and the pace is languorous—allow at least three hours. The French Laundry has won almost every award a restaurant can get, which accounts for the strict reservations policy: You have to call at least two months prior to the day you want to dine. The wine list is possibly the best in the region, but don't finish all those little pours or you won't remember what you ate. If you can't score a reservation but still want to try Keller's cooking, either book a table at his brasserie, Bouchon, or at Ad Hoc, an informal eatery serving his favorite comfort-food dishes at far more affordable prices.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5:30 to 9 pm, Fridays through Sundays 11 am to 1 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm.

Gott's Roadside
933 Main Street
St. Helena , California
Tel: 707 963 3486

The quintessential 1950s hamburger stand, Gott's is a great family pit stop in Napa Valley with picnic tables on a big, grassy lawn. The menu is full of kid-pleasing standbys (cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes, and hot dogs), but there are also gourmet variations like raw ahi burgers with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise, and white pistachio milkshakes. Wash the meal down with Roto—a locally made, unsweetened red soda that's slightly bitter and vaguely citrusy. Gott's is no secret; expect huge waits on summer weekends. If you don't have the patience, but still want to try the burgers, there's a second location at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Open daily 10:30 am to 10 pm in summer; 10:30 am to 9 pm in winter.

La Toque
1314 McKinstry St.
Napa , California
Tel: 707 257 5157

If you couldn't score a reservation at the French Laundry, take heart: Chef Ken Frank's Gallic cooking at La Toque, a Michelin-star restaurant, stands toe to toe with the fare at America's top tables. Not only is Frank a master saucier, he also has a knack for eking out great depth from common foods, in part because he uses only the very best artisanal ingredients. Rooted squarely in the French culinary tradition, the chef plays off the classics but gives them a smart, fresh spin. Expect dishes like twice-cooked pork confit, and ribeye steak two ways (braised and stuffed into ravioli, and roasted and served with sautéed porcini mushrooms and Rutherford cabernet reduction). Though you can dine à la carte, savvy gourmands order the five-course prix-fixe menu. At $98 a head, it's a bargain in pricey Napa. The decor is austere and elegant, with well-spaced tables, one enormous flower arrangement, and a roaring fireplace anchoring the room. (It's tempting to request the table by the fire, but it often gets too warm.) Wine director Scott Tracy is a magician, selecting spot-on pairings from a list that pays appropriate respect to local wineries while also trotting out a huge selection of French grands crus, including no fewer than five vintages from the venerable Château Latour.

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

Madrona Manor
1001 Westside Road
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 800 258 4003 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 433 4231

High on a hill shaded by century-old trees, inside an 1881 mansion dripping with gingerbread detail, Madrona Manor is the sort of place where you drop a ring in a Champagne glass. The look of the 22-room hotel is period Victorian, with cut-crystal chandeliers, patterned wallpaper, and carved mahogany furniture original to the house, yet the food is entirely contemporary. Chef Jesse Mallgren employs occasional theatrical flourishes, which go well with the ornate surroundings, such as using nitrogen to flash-freeze elements of a dish for a zingy interplay of hot and cold. To wit, a Nitro Caprese salad combines drops of icy tomato juice with warm mozzarella foam and just-picked tomatoes from the estate's garden. Each course is paired with a different home-baked bread, along with house-churned butter. The tasting menu best showcases the chef's artistry, ending with ice cream churned tableside. On warm nights, request a table on the veranda, overlooking the formal flowering gardens.—John A. Vlahides

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 6 to 9 pm.

1347 Main Street
St. Helena , California

When you've had it with elaborate meals, go for the comfort food at Market in Napa Valley. The diverse New American menu changes according to the availability of seasonal produce, but a dish like buttermilk fried chicken and fried green tomatoes with spicy romesco sauce is a good example of what you'll have to look forward to. Portions are huge, yet light eaters can still do well with seasonal soups like corn chowder or chilled cucumber, and a big selection of composed salads, including a seasonal watermelon and heirloom tomato salad with arugula, fennel, and spicy almonds. The building dates back to the 19th century, with rough rock walls complemented by leather banquettes, white tablecloths, and a gorgeous vintage back bar from the ballroom of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The bartender muddles cocktails to order, and the wine list includes many remarkably well-priced bottles—the markup never exceeds $14. Best of all, you won't break the bank on your meal, either: Every entree costs less than $20.

Open daily 10:30 am to 11 pm.

Meadowood Napa Valley Restaurant
Meadowood Napa Valley
900 Meadowood Lane
St. Helena
Tel: 707 967 1712

Revamped in 2006, the Restaurant at Meadowood is the new benchmark for culinary excellence. The menu plays off the seasons. In summer, you might find an English-pea gazpacho with fennel ice, squab-and-lobster salad served warm with melted Savoy spinach, or grass-fed beef with avocado mousseline and smoked-grape gastrique; many dishes include vegetables and olives grown right on the property. The high-ceilinged room is simply adorned with whitewashed beadboard walls, oversize tables with lots of elbow room, two-toned textured linens, and big windows with views of the surrounding hills. The culinary craftsmanship is spot-on: Order quail, and it comes completely deboned—no small feat with these tiny birds. The sommelier is one of the best in the business; his California-heavy list includes many mid-price vintages and a whopping 30 pages of cabernets. If you're a serious foodie, put this restaurant at the top of your list.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 5:30 to 10 pm.

Oakville Grocery
7856 St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29)
Oakville , California
Tel: 707 944 8802

Call ahead to this artisanal food shop for a gourmet box lunch, complete with focaccia sandwich (choose from ten varieties); pasta salad; olive-and-cornichon garnish; and a homemade cookie. Or better yet, stop in to browse for picnic fixings, including local cheeses, mustards, hearth breads, charcuterie meats, and smoked fish. The space has the feel of a rustic country store, with creaky wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and large baskets to hold your purchases. The location, right on Highway 29 in Oakville, makes this an ideal stopover when you're heading north through Napa Valley toward St. Helena from downtown Napa or Yountville; but if you're headed south in heavy weekend traffic, it's next to impossible to turn left into the driveway. There's a second location in Healdsburg (124 Matheson St.; 707-433-3200). If crowds (and high prices) turn you off, skip Oakville Grocery in favor of the rough-around-the-edges but oh-so-authentic Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Co. in St. Helena.

Open daily 9 am to 6 pm.

Pizza Azzurro
1400 Second Street
Napa , California
Tel: 707 255 5552

When your stomach (or wallet) says "no more" to all the rich Napa food, join the locals at Pizza Azzurro. The straightforward menu lists the usual margherita (tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil), but if you're craving vegetables, order the spinach manciata, a tender pizza crust piled high with raw spinach and red peppers and drizzled with lemon vinaigrette. If you're not in the mood for pizza, the restaurant has a terrific selection of pastas and meal-size salads (order the justly popular, garlicky Caesar). Beer, from an extensive selection, makes a good accompaniment to the pies. Best of all, the dishes are light and healthful, and the dining room clean and simple—the perfect antidote to a surfeit of foie gras and grandiose design.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 9 pm, Saturdays 5 to 9 pm.

6480 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 2222

When you want to don high heels and rock your new Marc Jacobs dress, book a table at Redd. On most nights, a who's who of the local wine industry gathers to feast on Euro-Cal-Asian concoctions such as pan-seared John Dory fish with jasmine rice and saffron curry nage, and spring lamb braised and roasted with mascarpone polenta. The wine list is interesting for its "featured discoveries"—lesser-known picks from around the world—and its extensive selection of half bottles. But you won't find any bargains: Prices skew high. The minimalist-chic dining room is sexy and austere, with wide-open sight lines. But despite a recent upgrade in the ceiling tiles, the room is l-o-u-d. If shouting across the table bothers you, sit outside on the terrace.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm.

Tacos Garcia
Adjacent to Pancha's of Yountville
6764 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 980 4896

Tacos Garcia is a humble food truck that parks outside the bar Pancha's of Yountville and serves simple, earthy eats with zero fuss, in stark counterpoint to Yountville's splashy restaurants. And it's a lot less expensive as well: Burritos will set you back about $5, tacos just $1.50. Top standouts include the lengua (tongue) burritos and suadero (beef shoulder) tacos, but you can also find grilled chicken to satisfy the less adventurous. Take your tacos to one of two nearby parks: There's one opposite the Vintage Inn, and another at the top of Washington Street, next to the Napa Valley Lodge.—John A. Vlahides

Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.

Zazu Restaurant & Farm
3535 Guerneville Road
Santa Rosa , California
Tel: 707 523 4814

Husband-and-wife team John Stewart and Duskie Estes have created a little Shangri-la in western County Sonoma with their country-style Italian roadhouse. In the tradition of cucina rustica, simply made dishes let the top-notch ingredients speak for themselves. And what ingredients they are. Taking the farm-to-table, seasonal-regional trend to new heights, Stewart breeds heirloom pigs for his succulent house-made salumi and bacon; Estes raises chickens on scraps of leftover Zazu cornbread and uses the eggs in homemade pasta. Produce (organic, of course) comes from the outdoor garden, where guests can even pick their own salads, if they like. If you can't score one of the copper-topped tables in the plank-floored dining room, snag a seat at the counter and rub shoulders with local winemakers. On Sundays, there's an excellent farm brunch that incorporates fresh eggs and house-made bacon—a true California locavore experience.—John A. Vlahides

Open Wednesdays through Mondays from 5:30 pm, Sundays 9 am to 2:30 pm.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.