From itty bitty bakeries to much-loved hole-in-the-walls, there are plenty of culinary treasures in Sonoma County.
Chardonnay with Biscuits & Gravy: The Fremont Diner
Oozing Southern decrepitude, a heavy dose of John Deere chic and the irresistible lure of a butter-and pork-soaked menu that would bring a tear to grandpappy’s eye, the Fremont Diner in rural Sonoma is easy to miss, yet shouldn’t be. It’s everything good about, well, roadside diners; this one happens to be surrounded by vineyards. Here, “Praise the Lard” isn’t just a quirky tagline, it’s a mission. Open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. And don’t miss the fried pies.
2660 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, 707-938-7370, thefremontdiner.com
Pasta Passion: Canneti Roadhouse
Blink and you might miss Canneti Roadhouse, a tiny eatery in tiny Forestville. If you did, it would be a loss. At the heart of this Italian eatery is a pasta-making machine, which Italian-born chef Francesco Torre masters for handmade ravioli stuffed with hand-pulled mozzarella in clam sauce, and fresh-made pennette pasta with slow-braised rabbit ragout and porcini mushrooms. There’s even gluten-free pasta made from chickpeas or eggplant. Don’t believe there’s much difference between lovingly made noodles and store-bought? One bite of this al dente bliss will set you straight.
6675 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-2232, cannetirestaurant.com
Fish AND Cut Bait: Hana Japanese Restaurant
One of the best restaurants in Sonoma is tucked into an unlikely spot in the DoubleTree Plaza shopping mall in Rohnert Park. For the past 25 years, Hana Japanese Restaurant owner Ken Tominaga has sourced the best and freshest raw fish in the world to create mouthwatering nigiri, sushi and makimono rolls. The menu also includes a wide range of traditional Japanese dishes. Wash it all down with sake chosen by one of the few sake sommeliers around.
101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270, hanajapanese.com
A Pie for the Ambivalent: Jackson’s Bar & Oven
There’s a certain feeling of trust when you walk into Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa and order the “Undecided” from the wood-fire pizza menu. It’s always made with undisclosed ingredients that could include heirloom tomatoes, wild mushrooms, chorizo and clams. Sometimes there’s red sauce, sometimes it’s white, and sometimes it’s olive-oil-based. The pizza is not quite as popular as the margherita and house-made sausage versions, but the “Undecided” has gained a following among folks who just want to have fun. Trust the chef.
135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-6900, jacksonsbarandoven.com
Meatville Outside of Eggtown: Angelo’s Meats
Drivers typically zip a thousand times past Angelo’s Meats, a workmanlike compound on pastoral Adobe Road east of Petaluma, before finally obeying the impulse to pull up to Angelo Ibleto’s shop. So many opportunities lost! Angelo’s is an unadorned gastronomical paradise of sausage, bacon and other smoked meats. Accept a taste of one of Ibleto’s jerkies, made with flank steak, and see how long you can go before stopping by again.
2700 Adobe Road, Petaluma, 707-763-9586, angelossmokehouse.com
Succulent Ceviche: Sazon Peruvian Cuisine
You’ll have to keep a sharp eye out for Sazon Peruvian Cuisine, a cocina secreted away on Sebastopol Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa. The beef-heart skewers, lomo saltado (Peruvian steak frites) and aji de gallina (pulled-chicken stew) are fantastic, but it’s the ceviche we crave. Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) is the tart, briny, magical citrus marinade that “cooks” the raw seafood in ceviche. Packed with eye-popping flavor, it’s considered by Peruvians to be both aphrodisiac and hangover cure.
1129 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707-523-4346, sazonsr.com
Hansel & Gretel Bakery: Raymond’s Bakery
Hidden away amid the old-growth redwoods in the Russian River area, Raymond’s Bakery is a magical addition to the tiny Elim Grove bed-and-breakfast cottages. Baker and owner Mark Weiss crafts tantalizing rustic baguettes, Pugliese loaves, seeded sourdough, garlic-rosemary and Kalamata olive-rosemary breads, plus muffins, cinnamon rolls, buttermilk blueberry scones, croissants … anything, really, our hungry heart could desire. Friday night is party night, with wood-fire pizza, drinks and live music in the forest next to the creek.
5400 Cazadero Highway, Cazadero, 707-632-5335, raymondsbakery.com
Grilled Cheese, Please: Bergamot Alley
Hipsters adore the Bergamot Alley hideaway for its international wines and funky, live-music vibe contained by brick walls and bottle vaults. But you might never guess what else beckons: a delightful lineup of “gourmettish” grilled cheese sandwiches, with playful names such as Pigs in Space and the Miso Hungry. Try the vegan and dessert grilled cheeses, too, and be sure to ask about the perfect wine pairings for all that gooey goodness.
328 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-8720, bergamotalley.com
Wiener Wonderland: Roy’s Chicago Doggery & Italian Beef
It’s a tiny, sit-at-the-counter joint remotely located on the grounds of the Petaluma Livestock Auction Yard, but Roy’s Chicago Doggery & Italian Beef offers more than 1,000 variations of Vienna Beef franks for aficionados of the meat form. Consider the traditional all-beef wiener, a half-pound “Home Wrecker,” a spicy fire dog or a Polish dog. Then load up with the 50 topping options, such as homemade pineapple mustard, Hell Fire sauce, shaved pastrami, chili, onion rings and blue cheese. Also worth howling about: homemade pies and deep-fried Oreos.
84 Corona Road, Petaluma, 707-774-1574, royschicagodogs.com
A Taste of History: Pick’s Drive In
Open since 1923, Pick’s Drive In is a Cloverdale culinary institution. Just this year, Pick’s was purchased by David Alioto of Healdsburger, who promises that the charms and secret red relish of the historic restaurant will remain, despite updates to the menu. Michael Morrissey, manager of the Cloverdale Municipal Airport, says, “My best Cloverdale memory is of a group of four or five young kids on skateboards riding up to the window at Pick’s Drive In and pooling their change together to buy one milkshake to share. This was maybe ten years ago, but it’s still that way now. If you go to Pick’s right now, I bet that’s what you’ll see.” Read more about things to do in Cloverdale here.
117 S Cloverdale Blvd, Cloverdale, CA 95425, visit on Facebook
Itty Bitty Bakery: Wild Flour Bread
Man can live on bread, water and cheese, if that bread is the organic, sourdough-based loaves Jed Wallach fires in tiny Wild Flour Bread’s wood-burning brick oven. The water is pumped from the fresh spring wells surrounding the charming bakery’s gardens, and the cheese comes from Freestone Artisan Cheese next door. Cheesemonger Omar Mueller specializes in hyper-local, small-batch cheeses made from milk from local creameries. They’re divine with Wallach’s baguettes, goat-cheese flatbread and the Bohemian loaf studded with apricot, orange and pecan.
140 Bohemian Highway, Freestone, 707-874-2938, wildflourbread.com
A Farmer Takes a Stand: Paul’s Produce Farmstand
Paul Wirtz has been quietly growing an array of crops in the Sonoma Valley for nearly a quarter of a century, from tasty padron and shishito peppers to tomatoes and melons. Following organic practices, he farms 10 acres of leased land on the former Romberg Dairy property, nurturing lettuces such as the Little Gem and Red Butter varieties highly prized by local restaurant chefs. His Paul’s Produce Farmstand is open on Saturday mornings, June through Thanksgiving.
19655 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, paulsproduce.me
Big-City Seafood at Small-Town Price: Seaside Metal
You had us at $1 oyster happy hour. Seaside Metal, an intimate little seafood salon and raw bar, is a treasure brought to Guerneville by the owners of San Francisco’s Bar Crudo, with the same top-notch cuisine. Think oysters from all across the Northwest; silky butterfish laced with Serrano ham, melon and salmorejo puree; lobster burrata salad, and creamy, bacon-stocked seafood chowder. Since it’s in this quiet river town, there are no big-city prices. Eat up.
16222 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7250, seasidemetal.com
Fine Feast with Fido: Howard’s Station Cafe
Ask four-legged Fifi where she wants to go for breakfast and she’ll likely bark out, “Howard’s Station Café.” Sure, many Sonoma restaurants are dog-friendly, but how many offer a by-request, canine-only menu? Pups will drool over the doggie delights served on the restaurant’s porch, wagging as they scarf the bow-wow burger ($2.95), kibbles and sausage gravy ($2.25), a frozen Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter ($5.95) or an organic brown rice bowl with carrots and zucchini ($2.50) for vegetarian dogs. Hit the ATM first: Howard’s is cash only.
3611 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-2838, howardstationcafe.com
Sweet and Savory Buns: East Wind Bakery
Pastry worlds collide at East Wind Bakery, an off-the-beaten-path patisserie in west Santa Rosa, resulting in kimchee- and Chinese sausage-stuffed croissants, garam-masala-spiced sweet buns, Thai chicken pot pies and Japanese milk bread studded with Earl Grey tea. This beautiful little bakery owned by Doug Quick and Tony Tam is an East-meets-West labor of love. Go with a sense of adventure and a hungry belly, and don’t miss the “Sea Foam” coffee, made with a sweet, salty whipped cream and Asian spices.
3851 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707-568-6081, eastwindbakery.com
Mangia, Mangia: Mamma Tanino’s Ristorante
Good old spaghetti and meatballs from Gaetano and Kim Patrinostro await in an unlikely location, Mamma Tanino’s Ristorante in the Valley Mart Shopping Center in Sonoma. Chef Gaetano brings his Sicilian flavors to the strip mall, presented in a simple, cozy trattoria with a straightforward menu of classics such as chicken Marsala and linguine in clam sauce. The cheerful spot oozes charm and honest good flavors, and the $15 dinner offered from 5 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, is an early-bird’s dream bargain. Choices might include prawns, chicken and stuffed pasta, served with salad and homemade bread.
500 W. Napa St., Suite 512, Sonoma, 707-933-8826, mammataninos.com
Taco trucks have served up authentic street food in Sonoma since long before the first wave of hip, urban food trucks reached our byways and back roads. Here are a few perennial favorites, serving authentic tacos and tortas with a side of rice and beans.
Tacos La Bamba
Parked on an auto repair shop lot on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs, Tacos La Bamba usually draws a long line of loyal customers for its lengua (beef tongue) tacos, carne asada burritos and gorditas de chicharron. It’s cheap and addictive, though you may have to wait a little during the late-night rush.
18155 Sonoma Highway 12, Sonoma
After a morning of wine tasting, hit the Taqueria Guanajuato truck parked at the gateway to Alexander Valley, at the junction of Healdsburg Avenue and Alexander Valley Road. Here is taco truck heaven: excellent food, good prices and friendly service of favorites such as tacos al pastor and chilaquiles with chorizo.
Alexander Valley Road and Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 707-478-8931
El Roy’s Mexican Grill
The popular El Roy’s Mexican Grill trucks can be found in Petaluma, parked at the intersection of East Washington Street and Lakeville Highway, and in Santa Rosa, on Sebastopol Road. There are tables and benches to sit and chow down, and customers rave about everything from the fish and shrimp tacos to the horchata drinks.
760 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707-843-2166; E. Washington Street and Lakeville Highway, Petaluma, 707-241-6534.
Summer brings a bounty of berries to Sonoma’s cultivated fields and back roads, there for the picking or purchase. Pluck and pop them in your mouth, or bake them into your favorite summertime desserts, from crisps and cobblers to pies and shortcakes.
In Sonoma, Watmaugh Strawberries sells sweet, just-picked berries that are ripe all the way through and still warm from the sun. Its stand just south of town has become everyone’s favorite stop.
Arnold Drive at West Watmaugh Road, Sonoma, 916-207-2870, visit on Facebook
Sonoma Swamp Blues
Sonoma Swamp Blues is a certified organic blueberry farm tucked into the Laguna de Santa Rosa at Occidental and High School roads in Sebastopol. There’s always a line at the roadside stand in the summer. The plump, juicy blueberries hit their peak of ripeness in mid-July, and the farm has also planted organic strawberries this year, doubling the berry joy.
7000 Occidental Road, Sebastopol, 707-293-4802, sonomaswampblues.com
The wild blackberry bushes so ubiquitous in Sonoma are courtesy of famed horticulturalist Luther Burbank, who introduced the hardy Himalaya blackberry here in 1885. These bushes grow like weeds and thrive in any soil, with prime pick-your-own locations including “blackberry island” in Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Regional Park, and Coleman Valley Road above the fog line outside of Occidental. Use tongs or gloves to harvest, and watch out for the thorns.
OFF THE MENU
In-N-Out Burger’s secret menu isn’t anymore, now that the fast-food chain has added the previously unlisted, word-of-mouth items to its website. At many Sonoma eateries, secrets are still being kept, though now we’re telling.
Ricardo’s Bar & Grill: Ricardo’s Special
Inspired by the long shuttered Ingram’s Chili Bowl on Old Redwood Highway in Santa Rosa, Ricardo’s Bar & Grill serves Ricardo’s Special to in-the-know customers, an open-faced burger topped with chili and cheese and surrounded by hash browns.
2700 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-545-7696, ricardosbarandgrill.com
Healdsburg’s Scopa Trattoria: Lady & The Tramp
Why you’d want spaghetti and meatballs when there are so many other amazing dishes at Healdsburg’s Scopa Trattoria, we don’t know. But locals say “Lady and the Tramp” is a favorite off-menu dish. Best shared by two.
109-A Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-433-5282, scopahealdsburg.com
Sprenger’s Tap Room: The Man Slaw
The Man Slaw at Sprenger’s Tap Room in Santa Rosa is coleslaw with hot sauce and chopped pieces of bacon. Women can order it, too, though it’s not on the menu. When the restaurant has salted caramel ice cream, it will also make a salted caramel beer float.
Brickyard Center Shopping Center, 446 B St., Santa Rosa, 707-544-8277, sprengerstaproom.net
The Pullman Kitchen: Paella
A giant pan of paella goes on the stove Tuesday afternoons at Santa Rosa’s The Pullman Kitchen, and it keeps sizzling through the evening. It’s all you can eat, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.
205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-4300, thepullmankitchensr.com
Healdsburg Bar & Grill: Fluid BLT
Drink your dinner by ordering a BLT at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill: Bulleit bourbon, lemon juice and tonic, an off-menu cocktail that’s a summertime quencher.
245 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-3333, healdsburgbarandgrill.com
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