Where To Eat Now

When Sonomans decide to love a restaurant, it’s not because a distant reviewer gave it stars.

The restaurants we appreciate most — whether high-end or down-home — share authentic, honest dishes set in a place where the atmosphere reflects the chef’s personality and honors the ingredients.

In this foodie epicenter, where we might know not only where our food comes from but also the farmers and ranchers who grew or raised it, the best menus reflect the season, and the wines, the terrain that produced them.

We love to eat and talk about what we’ve eaten. To get the scoop on where savvy insiders get their fill of Sonoma’s bounty, we asked eight of them this: Which local restaurants do you enjoy most, and why?

Each named three top restaurants for a splurge dinner and also, when the spirit moved, a beloved casual eatery, a place with a welcoming patio, romantic ambiance, international flavors, vegetarian options or drop-dead desserts. There were beloved favorites and left-field surprises, white-tablecloth dining rooms and eat-at-the-bar joints.

Our panelists are food-and-wine lovers with high standards and experienced palates. Many of them grew up in San Francisco, where they developed a fierceness about food, cutting their culinary teeth on North Beach Italian cooking and the fresh Dungeness crab of Fisherman’s Wharf. From a pioneering North Bay cheesemaker to one of the nation’s foremost meat experts, most have been talking and teaching about food and wine – and the intimate tango between the two — since well before it was a hot trend.

All of their favorites reflect the lay of the land here, where Levi’s and neckties co-exist — and rub elbows at the table — like nowhere else.

 

Our Experts’ First Choices

 

BRUCE AIDELLS: Food writer and culinary adventurer.
BRUCE AIDELLS: Food writer and culinary adventurer.

TOP 3: Bruce Aidells

Bruce Aidells, the founder of Aidells Sausage Co., is regarded as one of the nation’s leading authorities on meat. He is the author of 12 cookbooks, including “The Great Meat Cookbook,” and writes for food magazines such as Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking and Food & Wine. After selling Aidells Sausage in 2002, he and his wife, chef and restaurateur Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco, built a Craftsman-style home in the hills above Healdsburg. Aidells enjoys hanging out at local restaurant patios with his Shih Tzu dog, Peanut.

Here are his Top 3 choices:

Dashi-Poached Asparagus with Lemon Mousseline and Osetra Caviar and Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit at Farmhouse Inn.
Dashi-Poached Asparagus with Lemon Mousseline and Osetra Caviar and
Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit at Farmhouse Inn.

#1: Farmhouse Inn, Forestville
Steve Litke is one of the best cooks in Sonoma, if not the best, and certainly one of the most creative. The space is very comfortable, especially on cool nights when the fire is lit. The wine list is stellar and has many of the area’s small producers rarely seen at other restaurants. The menu has a decided influence of Asia and Italy, and Litke is adept at handling fish and seafood. But he does love his pork, lamb and beef as well. If you are a fan of rabbit, the one dish that is a constant is Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. The Pan Roasted Squab is Nancy’s favorite. Steve knows I love sardines, and we usually start with that or a preparation of raw fish such as the Tartare of Local Hamachi. The soufflé is always a great way to finish the meal.
Farmhouse Inn, 7871 River Road, Forestville, 707- 887-3300, farmhouseinn.com

#2: Hana Japanese Restaurant, Rohnert Park
In appearance, Hana is not very fancy, but the quality of the fish (much of it from Japan), the excellent preparation and extensive sake list make it a very special place. There is a very knowledgeable sake sommelier, Stuart Morris, to guide you through the many choices. We have full confidence in Ken Tominaga, the owner and chef, and often let him just send out things that he chooses. He knows that Nancy likes uni and sent out a few dishes featuring it, including a mushroom dish garnished with uni. I like Wagyu beef, so Ken also sent out a sampler of that. For anyone who loves Japanese food at its very best, with efficient and friendly service, this is where to go.
Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270, hanajapanese.com

#3: Barndiva, Healdsburg
Barndiva has a very casual feel, but the food is elegant and well-prepared. The chef, Ryan Fancher, has a creative bent, yet the menu is not too radical for a conservative, out-of-town relative to enjoy. The Crispy Pork Belly with Asparagus Frito Misto is a delicious starter, and the pork has the great flavor of an heirloom breed. The Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi showed a mastery of Asian flavors. Sonoma Duck with a crispy confited leg and huckleberries was a great blend of sweet and savory; the stew of scallops, mussels and chorizo had Spanish and Mexican flavors but did not overpower the delicate seafood.
Barndiva, 231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100, barndiva.com

NOTEWORTHY:

INTERNATIONAL: El Molino Central, Sonoma
El Molino Central is worth the drive to eat unusual and well-prepared dishes, with great hand-patted tortillas.
El Molino Central, 11 Central Ave., Boyes Hot Springs, 707-939-1010, elmolinocentral.com

OUTDOOR PATIO: Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, Geyserville
I love the outdoor area in back. The restaurant has the best pizza and antipasto, especially the salumi.
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0111, diavolapizzeria.com

 

LIAM CALLAHAN: Cheesemaker and owner of Bellwether Farms
LIAM CALLAHAN: Cheesemaker and owner of Bellwether Farms

Top 3: Liam Callahan

Liam Callahan is the award-winning cheesemaker and owner of Bellwether Farms in Petaluma. A native San Franciscan, he moved to Sonoma County in 1986 to help with his parents’ sheep ranch. After studying cheesemaking in Italy, the Callahan family launched a sheep dairy and started making cheese in 1992. The sheep’s and cow’s milk cheeses made by Bellwether Farms have won numerous international awards and are a local treasure. Growing up, one of Callahan’s favorite restaurants was San Francisco’s Hayes Street Grill, where he fell in love with the warm goat cheese salad. “I just love that,” he said. “It still makes my mouth water.” Callahan lives in Santa Rosa with his wife and their two sons.

Here are his Top 3 choices:

Moroccan-Style Lamb Chops on Couscous with Slivered Almonds and Tunisian Roasted Carrots with Pine Nuts, Olives and Mint at Willi’s Wine Bar.
Moroccan-Style Lamb Chops on Couscous with Slivered Almonds and Tunisian Roasted Carrots with Pine Nuts, Olives and Mint at Willi’s Wine Bar.

#1: Willi’s Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
We enjoy the small plates and the variety of flavors there. We sometimes eat at the bar, but you don’t feel like you’re eating at a bar. The ambiance is so intimate. I always get oysters, and then whatever seems exciting on the menu at the time. We’ve had the crab and white beans and love the crab tacos. We’ll pick a bottle of wine and go there before a show at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa.
Willi’s Wine Bar, 4404 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa, 707-526-3096, starkrestaurants.com

#2: Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
It’s fresh stuff, and it’s a nice place to go to get a good pizza. Sometimes you just want to go to a place where they’re doing the things you grew up eating, only better. I like the mushroom dishes and seafood linguini. And you don’t have to worry about dressing up. It’s a fun place, especially with the kids.
Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar, 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-544-3221, rossopizzeria.com

#3: John Ash & Co., Santa Rosa
We go there to meet up with friends. You can have cocktails at the bar, with the dark wood and the look of an old city bar. But then the dinner and the food are just fabulous. The last time we went, I had a pork chop that melted in my mouth. For an appetizer, I had polenta with duck egg and mushrooms. It was unbelievable. I think chef Thomas Schmidt is doing a great job.
John Ash & Co., 4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687, vintnersinn.com

NOTEWORTHY

OUTDOOR DINING: Barndiva, Healdsburg
The outdoor patio feels a little bit Parisian, with the crushed granite and the sycamore trees with the lights. The staff does a really nice job with the food as well. They go out of their way to source the good stuff.
Barndiva, 231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100, barndiva.com

INTERNATIONAL: Bear Korean Restaurant, Cotati
It’s in a strip mall, and there’s nothing glamorous about it, but I like the kimchee platter and the Korean short ribs.
Bear Korean Restaurant, 8577 Gravenstein Highway, Cotati, 707-794-9828

DESSERT: Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream, Sebastopol
If we’re headed west with the kids, we’ll go to Screamin’ Mimi’s. My oldest will get a lemon sorbet; my youngest likes mint chocolate chip and vanilla. I like anything with nuts and caramel. Screamin’ Mimi’s
Ice Cream, 6902 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 707-823-5902, screaminmimisicecream.com

 

EVELYN CHEATHAM: Executive director of Worth Our Weight
EVELYN CHEATHAM: Executive director of Worth Our Weight

Top 3: Evelyn Cheatham

San Francisco native Evelyn Cheatham began her career in restaurant management but always longed to work in the kitchen. She cooked at the pioneering Rose et LeFavour in St. Helena, then as a pastry chef at the Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg. In New York, she worked as a private chef for celebrities including supermodel Naomi Campbell, actress Meg Ryan and actor William Hurt. After moving back to Sonoma County in search of deeper meaning, she developed a culinary program for incarcerated youth and taught in the culinary department at Santa Rosa Junior College. Eight years ago, Cheatham created Worth Our Weight, a culinary apprentice program in Santa Rosa, where she now lives.

Here are her Top 3 choices:

Meatball Sandwich with Organic French Fries at Catelli’s and True Italian-Style Lasagna with Tomato Sauce.
Meatball Sandwich with Organic French Fries at Catelli’s and True Italian-Style Lasagna with Tomato Sauce.

#1: Catelli’s, Geyserville
In my early days in Sonoma County, I would enjoy a weekend meal at what was then Catelli’s The Rex. For me, it was somewhat kitschy but reminded me fondly of the Italian restaurants of my childhood in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. This incarnation of Catelli’s brings it all back home. The brother and sister team of Domenica and Nicholas Catelli have blown it up, as the young generation says. The rooms are warm and beautiful. The staff is inviting. The food is beyond delicious, especially Domenica’s heavenly lasagna, made with the thinnest possible layers of pasta. The menu is varied and has something for everyone: burgers and meatball sandwiches, spaghetti and clams, much as you’ll find on most Italian restaurant menus. But this food is authentic and fresh in spirit and execution.
Catelli’s, 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-857-3471, mycatellis.com

#2: Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
What I like is the service. The staff is welcoming, and it’s a really comfortable room to be in. I love the vibrancy and the loud music. I also love the consistency and commitment to their Italian roots and sourcing locally. I’m in love with the Crab Louie. It’s seasonally appropriate and extremely delicious. And the gluten-free calamari tastes even better than the wheat calamari.
Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar, 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-544-3221, rossopizzeria.com

#3: Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Santa Rosa
I love Mamadou Diouf, one of the managers there. He is charming while down to earth, super efficient, inclusive, funny and kind. I love to order small plates in the lounge with its red leather chairs. I recently took people there from New York, and we had the best time. I’m a vegetarian, and I love the creamed spinach, Brussels sprouts, truffled macaroni and cheese, truffle fries and crab deviled egg. One can put together a nice meal without being a meat eater.
Stark’s Steak & Seafood, 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100, starkrestaurants.com

NOTEWORTHY

INTERNATIONAL: Sea Thai Bistro, Santa Rosa
I like that the food is not so sweet and really well-balanced. I love the comforting Red Pumpkin Curry and the Granny Smith Apple Salad.
Sea Thai Bistro, 2323 Sonoma Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-528-8333, seathaibistro.com

DESSERT: zazu kitchen + farm, Sebastopol
Zazu employs a pastry chef and it has such imaginative desserts. I love the peanut butter ice cream sandwich and the lemon meringue pie in a jar.
zazu kitchen + farm, 6770 McKinley St., No. 150, Sebastopol, 707-523-4814, zazukitchen.com

OUTDOOR DINING: Barndiva, Healdsburg
The expansiveness of the outdoor patio is great. Just looking at that barn-shaped building makes me happy. It’s Sonoma County, but new. It sets you in a kind of timelessness. When I look at it, I wish I lived there — that’s how good it makes me feel.
Barndiva, 231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100, barndiva.com

 

CHRIS HANNA: President of Hanna Winery & Vineyards
CHRIS HANNA: President of Hanna Winery & Vineyards

Top 3: Chris Hanna

Chris Hanna grew up in San Francisco but spent time on Hanna Winery’s home ranch between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, making small batches of wine with her father, renowned heart surgeon Elias S. Hanna. She started working full-time at the winery in 1991 and took over management in 1993, growing the brand to 50,000 cases per year. In 2010, she published a cookbook, “The Winemaker Cooks.” Hanna and her husband, Jake Whiteley, live on Fitch Mountain in Healdsburg with their two children.

Here are her Top 3 choices:

A selection of oysters at the raw bar and Caramelized Miso-Glazed Butterfish with Root Vegetable Mash and Ginger Vinaigrette at Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar.
A selection of oysters at the raw bar and
Caramelized Miso-Glazed Butterfish with Root Vegetable Mash and Ginger Vinaigrette at Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar.

#1: Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, Healdsburg
With ambiance more festive than formal, Willi’s Seafood is my go-to. It achieves the trifecta of terrific food, excellent service and a great atmosphere. Willi’s serves up the most luxurious raw bar in Sonoma County, with oyster, crab and lobster options daily. A section of the menu is devoted to inventive crudos, ceviches and tartares. My favorite dish is the Miso Glazed Butterfish, decadently rich with a big dose of umami from the miso and shiitake mushrooms.
Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, 403 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-9191, starkrestaurants.com

#2: Farmhouse Inn, Forestville
The experience begins with the gorgeous drive past Russian River Valley vineyards to this charming country inn, restaurant and spa tucked away on River Road. The dining room is elegant and stylish, the service impeccable, the menu sublime. The Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit dish is rabbit done three ways; a bacon-wrapped, meltingly tender loin, a roasted rack, and a savory confit of leg — perfect with Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Farmhouse Inn, 7871 River Road, Forestville, 707- 887-3300, farmhouseinn.com

#3: Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg
The dining room is lovely, with its picture windows and arched ceilings, but my favorite place is the more intimate Wine Library off the hotel lobby. It seats up to 14, and it’s a wonderful venue in which to celebrate. The food is local, seasonal and refined. Local cod is paired with an ethereal celeriac mousseline, and Liberty Duck gets spiced with star anise and paired with crispy sunchokes. The service is formal and doting, and the wine list is exclusively local.
Dry Creek Kitchen, 317 Healdsburg Ave., 707-431-0330, charliepalmer.com/dry-creek-kitchen

NOTEWORTHY

INTERNATIONAL: SEA Modern Thai Cuisine, Petaluma
I grew up in San Francisco, with endless options for excellent Asian food of all kinds, so I’m rather particular. My local favorite is SEA Modern Thai, which marries traditional Thai flavors with local, seasonal ingredients.
SEA Modern Thai Cuisine, 500 Petalula Blvd. S., 707-766-6633, seathaibistro.com

OUTDOOR DINING: Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, Geyserville
The back patio is lovely in the evening, with candlelit tables and twinkly lights under an arched pergola. My favorite standard is the Grilled Local Octopus with Fennel, Heirloom Beans and Bottarga. Chef Dino Bugica’s creative flair and commitment to nose-to-tail cuisine is reflected in the nightly specials.
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0111, diavolapizzeria.com

ROMANTIC: Scopa, Healdsburg
The dining room is intimate and warm, and the perfect place for a date. Start with Prosecco and an order of the velvety Burrata with Arugula and Calabrian Jelly, and you’re off to a great start. The house-made pastas are exquisite. The staff is welcoming but unobtrusive, and you never feel rushed through dinner.
Scopa, 109-A Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-433-5282, scopahealdsburg.com

NEWCOMER: Chalkboard, Healdsburg
I was very sad to see Cyrus restaurant go and didn’t have high hopes for its replacement. To my surprise, Chalkboard offers a wonderfully seasonal menu, replete with home-grown vegetables in creative preparations. The Dungeness crab tots are so good they should be illegal.
Chalkboard, 29 North St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030, chalkboardhealdsburg.com

DESSERT: Patisserie Angelica, Sebastopol
This is dessert heaven: refined cakes, truffles, petits fours, cookies and brittle. Owner Condra Easley is a pastry genius. I adore the Gateau Parisien, with layers of almond macaroon cake and praline buttercream.
Patisserie Angelica, 6821 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol, 707-827-7998, patisserieangelica.com

 

KATE MacMURRAY: MacMurray Ranch winery spokesperson
KATE MacMURRAY: MacMurray Ranch winery spokesperson

Top 3: Kate MacMurray

Kate MacMurray grew up at Twin Valley Ranch (now MacMurray Ranch) along the Russian River with her parents, Hollywood acting legends Fred MacMurray and June Haver. The family raised crops and cattle at the ranch west of Healdsburg, where Kate rode horses through the rolling hills. In 1996, the family sold the property to E&J Gallo, which began planting Pinot Noir and other grapes. As the MacMurray Ranch brand spokesperson, she travels the world to tell the story of the picturesque property, its wines, and her parents’ love of Sonoma. She lives next to MacMurray Ranch, where she continues to ride horses.

Here are her Top 3 choices:

Owner and chef Jeff Mall hands out a plate with a smile, and Skillet-Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Collard Greens, Biscuits and B&B Pickles at Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar.
Owner and chef Jeff Mall hands out a plate with a smile, and Skillet-Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Collard Greens, Biscuits and B&B Pickles at Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar.

#1: Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar, Healdsburg
I love Zin for the Sunday supper: Skillet-Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Collard Greens, Biscuits, Honey Butter and B&B pickles. It reminds me of home because we always had Sunday suppers. They were often fried chicken in the summer, and we’d eat outside on the patio. At Zin, I like the big, beautiful open space, but there’s a coziness to it as well. The décor and the colors are very warm, with those striking murals. It feels as if you’re looking out the window at a beautiful farm scene.
Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar, 344 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-0946, zinrestaurant.com

#2: Catelli’s, Geyserville
I’ve been going there since I was a little girl, when it used to be Catelli’s the Rex, and Daddy loved the pumpernickel bread. They have a spectacular menu, but it’s always a fight for me between the lasagna and the pasta. The banquettes are a soft, buttery yellow, and the hanging lamps are gorgeous. The brick bar is great, and it opens up into a big room. You’re in on everything, and Domenica Catelli often comes out and serves. I know a lot of the wait staff by name, and they remember your name.
Catelli’s, 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-857-3471, mycatellis.com

#3: Ravenous, Healdsburg
It’s very cozy now that it’s moved back to its original location, and everything looks so beautiful on the plate. It just feels like your mom just put your plate down in front of you. The burgers are unbelievable, and I love the BLTs with avocado, when they’re on the menu. They have an incredible Caesar salad with one of the best dressings I’ve had in my life. It’s very lemony and refreshing. Chef and co-owner Joyanne Pezzolo also does a pork quesadilla, and sometimes turkey chili. I’ll call ahead for that.
Ravenous, 117 North St., Healdsburg, 707-431-1302

NOTEWORTHY

DESSERTS: zazu kitchen + farm, Sebastopol
I love the appetizers and pork dishes, but zazu really has incredible desserts. The housemade gelato is so creamy and lovely. It makes peanut butter cookies that are spectacular, and the chocolate fondue is unbelievable. You could put it on leather and it would still be the best thing you ever ate.
zazu kitchen + farm, 6770 McKinley St., No. 150, Sebastopol, 707-523-4814, zazukitchen.com

OUTDOOR PATIO: John Ash & Co., Santa Rosa
You see the vineyards and on beautiful warm days, it’s so evocative of Sonoma County and why we’re all here. It gives you a sense of landscape.
John Ash & Co., 4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687, vintnersinn.com

ROMANTIC: River’s End, Jenner
It’s located where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. How much more romantic can it be? If I had a beau, we’d go there.
River’s End, 11048 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2484, ilovesunsets.com

 

BILL PRICE: Owner, Classic Wines and Price Family Vineyards
BILL PRICE: Owner, Classic Wines and Price Family Vineyards

Top 3: Bill Price

A native of Los Angeles, Bill Price was introduced to wine at an early age by his father, who was born in France. Price attended high school in Hawaii, studied at Stanford University and earned a degree from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. In 1992, he co-founded Texas Pacific Group, a private equity firm that began acquiring wineries in 1995, including Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena and Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood. On his own, Price purchased Durell Vineyard in Sonoma in 1998 and launched Three Sticks Wines four years later. He is currently proprietor of Classic Wines and Price Family Vineyards, and chairman of Sebastopol’s Kosta Browne and Healdsburg’s Gary Farrell wineries.

Here are his Top 3 choices:

A juicy, medium-rare steak Chef and co-owner Mark Stark turns a steak on the grill and diners are served in The Stork Club at Stark’s Steak & Seafood.
A juicy, medium-rare steak Chef and co-owner Mark Stark turns a steak on the grill (right) and diners are served in The Stork Club (left inset) at Stark’s Steak & Seafood.

#1: Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Santa Rosa
It has a great wine list and bar, excellent service, and the food is made to perfection in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. The plush leather booths are really comfortable, and I love sinking into them with a great meal after a long work week. If I’m dining solo, I take a seat at the bar. I love to start with some oysters, followed by a steak. The steaks are terrific. They’re dry-aged in-house for 28 days, and the result is sublime: tender and full of flavor. The garlic bread is dangerous!
Stark’s Steak & Seafood, 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100, starkrestaurants.com

#2: Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen
It’s a staple for my family. The staff makes us feel at home, giving us blankets on the patio when the weather is cool, and they have a fabulous wood-burning oven that puts out awesome flatbread, pork, veggies and more. The Spring Pea Soup is not to be missed. Everything served here is local and fresh, and it shows.
Glen Ellen Star, 13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-343-1384, glenellenstar.com

#3: the girl and the fig, Sonoma
It’s an icon in Sonoma and I love being there. It always feels like a celebration at this restaurant, and that no doubt comes from restaurateur Sondra Bernstein’s great personality. I cannot resist the wonderful mussels with frites, and they have the best burger in town. The patio is the place to be on a beautiful summer afternoon.
the girl and the fig, 110 W. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-938-3634, thegirlandthefig.com

NOTEWORTHY

INTERNATIONAL: Juanita Juanita, Sonoma
It’s run by a mother and daughter team, and they seem to know everyone who comes into the restaurant. My favorite dishes are the tortilla soup and the barbecued pork. The green tomatillo salsa is fantastic.
Juanita Juanita, 19114 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-935-3981, juanitajuanita.com

ROMANTIC DATE: Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg
You can’t beat the food and service at Dry Creek Kitchen. The wine program is diverse and deep, with vintages from the 1980s and 1990s and a big collection of dessert wines from Sonoma County. It has a three-course Sonoma Neighbor Menu during the week, which you can get with or without wine pairings. Going up to Healdsburg is a destination for us, so we really enjoy making a night of it.
Dry Creek Kitchen, 317 Healdsburg Ave., 707-431-0330, charliepalmer.com/dry-creek-kitchen

DESSERT: Santé, Sonoma
Santé at the Fairmont Mission Inn is an exquisite dining experience, and the desserts are tops in the county.
Santé, 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, 707-939-2415, fairmont.com/sonoma/dining

 

KENNETH ROCHFORD: CIRQ Estate Marketing and Communications
KENNETH ROCHFORD: CIRQ Estate Marketing and Communications

Top 3: Kenneth Rochford

A native of Scotland, Kenneth Rochford works in marketing and communications for CIRQ Estate in Graton, a new high-end producer of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. In previous lives, he has worked in general management roles with Seghesio Family Vineyards, Medlock Ames winery and The Shed in Healdsburg. He spends his spare time creating preserves and trying to convince people to eat more marmalade. Rochford, whose recipes have appeared in Food & Wine magazine, lives in Sebastopol with his uncomplaining wife and their son.

Here are his Top 3 choices:

Black Pig Bacon Popcorn (left) and Lemon Meringue Pie in a Jar with Blueberries (right) at zazu kitchen + farm.
Black Pig Bacon Popcorn (left) and Lemon Meringue Pie in a Jar with Blueberries (right) at zazu kitchen + farm.

#1: zazu kitchen + farm, Sebastopol
If one could distill the Sonoma County food community into one meal, it would be at zazu. Co-owners and chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart make time to speak with guests, and their team goes to great lengths to make sure people are happy, using their infectious enthusiasm for food. For a larger group of carnivores, I can think of nowhere better to dine than here. The Fallon Ranch beef shank is a memorable shared meal of epic proportions. The ambiance is fun, energetic and comfortable.
zazu kitchen + farm, 6770 McKinley St., No. 150, Sebastopol, 707-523-4814, zazukitchen.com

#2: Farmhouse Inn, Forestville
Farmhouse Inn offers the kind of graceful, formal, upscale dining that always feels special. I’ve found that the menu has a blend of classic dishes crafted using key local producers, yet with some unexpected twists, such as a type of mushroom you’ve never heard of. Geoff Kruth, a master sommelier, curates an incredible wine list and produces memorable pairings. He’s super nice, too.
Farmhouse Inn, 7871 River Road, Forestville, 707- 887-3300, farmhouseinn.com

#3: Terrapin Creek, Bodega Bay
We live just 15 minutes from the ocean, so Terrapin Creek is the perfect spot for us to stop on any trip to the coast. The food is so well-executed, with quiet precision and care. A hidden gem, it’s always surprising in terms of seasonal dishes and always delicious. There’s a mindful quality to everything that Andrew Truong and Liya Lin do. My wife and I were married at Bodega Head, and we frequently visit. It reminds me of the west coast of Scotland.
Terrapin Creek, 1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2700, terrapincreekcafe.com

NOTEWORTHY

INTERNATIONAL: Hana Japanese Restaurant, Rohnert Park
Hana offers incredible sushi with first-rate technical execution and superior service. Watching chef and owner Ken Tominaga oversee his dining room is always inspirational, as he carefully organizes his team and blesses each creation as it is served, while also juggling customers and making all feel special. The Rohnert Park location is always a little puzzling for visitors, which adds to the surprise of the dining experience.
Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270, hanajapanese.com

VEGETARIAN: Woodfour Brewing Co., Sebastopol
Chef Jamil Peden might not have created a 100-percent vegetarian menu at Woodfour Brewing Co., but a good portion of it is plant-based and respectful of the season and source. I enjoy bringing non-vegetarians here and watching them order a meatless meal without realizing it. The food is inventive, tasty stuff, and you can taste how much fun Peden has creating it.
Woodfour Brewing Co., 6780 Depot St., Sebastopol, 707- 823-3144, woodfourbrewing.com

ROMANTIC: Scopa, Healdsburg
Although reservations are a must at Scopa, you can typically grab a seat at the bar for two if you’re willing to squeeze in. It feels intimate, and the atmosphere and Italian food are always special.
Scopa, 109-A Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-433-5282, scopahealdsburg.com

 

MARCY SMOTHERS: Broadcaster and Author
MARCY SMOTHERS: Broadcaster and Author

Top 3: Marcy Smothers

Marcy Smothers’ curiosity and enthusiasm for food exploration drew her into a career in broadcasting and writing. Her radio career began in 2004 at Sonoma County’s KSRO, and by 2007, she had joined forces with the Food Network’s Guy Fieri to create a national radio program, “Food Guy and Marcy.” Her latest KSRO radio show, “At the Table,” is expected to launch this summer. In 2013, she published her first book, “Snacks: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle” (HarperOne). Smothers serves on several Sonoma County nonprofit boards and lives in Sonoma Valley with her family.

Here are her Top 3 choices:

Pan-Seared California Halibut with Spring Risotto, Dashi Jasmine Broth and Pea Shoots at Cafe La Haye.
Pan-Seared California Halibut with Spring Risotto, Dashi Jasmine Broth and Pea Shoots at Cafe La Haye.

#1: Café La Haye, Sonoma
Café La Haye is a longtime favorite. I’ve had countless celebrations there, and it’s an excellent example of Sonoma Wine Country cuisine. Owner Saul Gropman welcomes you into the dining room as if it’s his home. The setting is intimate, with simple, fresh flavors and impeccable service. First come bubbles. Always. Then the fish special plus at least two vegetable and salad sides. They’re sourced within minutes of the restaurant and prepared with flair and finesse.
Café La Haye, 140 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-935-5994, cafelahaye.com

#2: Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
At Rosso, the razzle-dazzle is in the food, not the atmosphere. Just the way I like it. Chef John Franchetti honors his farmers, and you can taste it in every sumptuous bite. It’s always on my restaurant recommendation list, no matter what the occasion. It isn’t summer without the Oven-Roasted Romano Beans with Kelley Parsons’ Tomato Vinaigrette. The servers know never to clear my plate until I have mopped up every last drip of the juices with any of their Neapolitan-style pizzas.
Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar, 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-544-3221, rossopizzeria.com

#3: Madrona Manor, Healdsburg
If I want to put my fancy pants on, I choose Madrona Manor. The grounds are lush and the dining room is elegant. Chef Jesse Mallgren and his team earned a Michelin star for their multicourse and seasonal haute cuisine. It’s impossible not to feel special here. It’s all about the 10-course Grande Dame tasting menu. I find myself saying magnifique with each course, especially the fish carpaccio or anything from the adjacent garden. I’m generally not a dessert person, but I make the exception here.
Madrona Manor, 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 800-258-4003, madronamanor.com

NOTEWORTHY

INTERNATIONAL: Hana Japanese Restaurant, Rohnert Park
Don’t let the strip-mall location throw you. Hana Japanese has some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. Star chef Michael Mina thinks so, too: He and Hana chef Ken Tominaga are opening their second restaurant in San Francisco.
Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270, hanajapanese.com

OUTDOOR PATIO: Kenwood Restaurant, Kenwood
When the restaurant changed hands in 2013, the new owners made it their own. Not just the menu, but the outdoor space, too: patio dining with a killer vineyard view, waterfall, pond and bocce court.
Kenwood Restaurant, 9900 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-6326, kenwoodrestaurant.com

VEGETARIAN: Partake by K-J, Healdsburg
I love vegetables and my favorite place to indulge in them is Partake. Everything is harvested from the Kendall-Jackson garden, and chef Justin Wangler offers an exquisite vegetarian tasting menu.
Partake by K-J, 241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-6000, partakebykj.com

DESSERT: The Spinster Sisters, Santa Rosa
This is one of my favorite restaurants for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But the bench is deeper than that. Pastry chef Jenny Malicki knocks it out of the ballpark with her sensational, house-made desserts. Don’t miss her signature pie.
The Spinster Sisters, 401 S. A Street, Santa Rosa, 707-528-7100, thespinstersisters.com

ROMANTIC: Olive & Vine, Glen Ellen
The romance at Olive & Vine starts with the lovebird owners, chef Catherine Venturini and John Burdick. The barn-like space is tricked out with mix-and-match chandeliers and other magical touches. Catherine’s fabulous food and John’s charming sommelier skills marry to make a memorable meal.
Olive & Vine, 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-996-9152, oliveandvinerestaurant.com

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