Recently a New York Times travel writer spent “36 Hours in Sonoma“, hitting some of the county’s crown jewel restaurants along the way. 

Spanish Tapas at an award-winning small plates restaurant from Mark and Terri Stark in Healdsburg. Heather Irwin/PD

Spanish Tapas at an award-winning small plates restaurant from Mark and Terri Stark in Healdsburg. Heather Irwin/PD

Among them, Dry Creek General Store, SHED, Bravas Bar de Tapas, Barndiva, Farmhouse Inn, Canneti Roadhouse Italiana and Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery. It was a love letter to our county in every way. And let me say that each of them is deserving of recognition and congratulations and BiteClub is a superfan of them all. 

Yellowtail with citrus at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg, California. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Yellowtail with citrus at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg, California. Photo: Heather Irwin.

But here’s the thing: Picking the prettiest cheerleader for homecoming queen is easy and 36 hours in Sonoma is hardly time enough to suss out the wallflowers, rebels and new kids in the local food world deserving of some love too.

So, we’re here to help the next travel writer or visitor suss out the wallflowers, rebels and new kids that deserve love too. Let’s call them the not-so-obvious suspects.

From North to South, here are my picks for Totally Sonoma, Totally Wonderful, Totally Off-the-Beaten Path restaurants to check out–whether you’re spending 36 hours in Sonoma, or a lifetime. 

 

Waffle from Savvy on First in Cloverdale. Facebook

Waffle from Savvy on First in Cloverdale. Facebook

Savvy on First (116 E 1st St., Cloverdale):  Warm cookies, spiced brisket, ricotta buttermilk pancakes for weekend brunch, fresh bread and plenty of local ingredients. Cloverdale is still a bit overlooked by national media, but the food scene is exploding in this northern outpost.

Dumplings at Geyserville Gun Club in Geyserville. Facebook

Dumplings at Geyserville Gun Club in Geyserville. Facebook

Geyserville Gun Club (21025 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville): I sort of hate to “out” this locals spot, but come on–a bar with homemade pickles and campachi crudo? Diavola Chef Dino Bugica is behind the project so the focus on simple street food and fresh ingredients make for destination-worthy bar bites. Plus delightful seasonal cocktails and a distinct lack of attitude. 

Mango and lemon slush at Amy's Wicked Slush in Healdsburg. Heather Irwin/PD.

Mango and lemon slush at Amy’s Wicked Slush in Healdsburg. Heather Irwin/PD.

Amy’s Wicked Slush (13840 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg): Fancy farm-to-table spots get plenty of love in Hburg, but what about that spot where local congregate? Distinctly un-hipster, this Boston-inspired walk-up is known for serious Italian subs, bagels and cream cheese and their Italian ices. Forget the white tablecloth and just give us a handful of paper napkins.

A mushroom dish from Lowell's in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD

Mushroom dish from Lowell’s in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD

Lowell’s (7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol): Even I sometimes forget about this sweet eatery that brims with heart, soul and intention (which just rebranded from its former name of Peter Lowell’s). The essence of Sonoma County, 60 percent of the produce is grown at the restaurant’s own farm, just a couple miles away. Owner Lowell Sheldon pays workers a living wage, including healthcare as part of his philosophy, and with his partner Natalie Goble, also operates nearby Handline.

Breakfast muffin from Criminal Baking Co. in Santa Rosa, Courtesy YELP

Breakfast muffin from Criminal Baking Co. in Santa Rosa, Courtesy YELP

Criminal Baking Co. (463 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa):  SOFA residents pile into this tiny cafe on the weekend, besotted with scones, indulgent breakfast sandwiches, muffins and sweets all made onsite. Butter, sugar and love are key ingredients in everything made by the Criminal staff.

Tamale with plantains and beans at Don Julios RInconcito in Rohnert Park. Heather Irwin/PD

Tamale with plantains and beans at Don Julios RInconcito in Rohnert Park. Heather Irwin/PD

Don Julio’s Latin Grill and Pupusas (217 Southwest Blvd., Rohnert Park): A tiny family-run pupuseria with several variations of the stuffed corn flatbread, as well as sweet corn tamales with mango salsa, homemade molé and flavorful orange-marinated chicken. There are no frills in this strip mall location, but it’s a great place to hang out on the patio and hide from the world.

Roasted potatoes with dill sauce at The Bodega food truck at The Block in Petaluma. Heather Irwin/PD

Bodega at The BLOCK (20 Grey St., Petaluma): It’s hard to believe the cuisine coming out of Chef Matt Elias’ cramped food truck. The Bodega sandwich with fried chicken, slaw and smoky aioli on an English muffin is already a classic. Don’t miss whatever veggies Elias’ is cooking up, along with salads and sliders.

What are some of your under-the-radar favorites?