The Hottest Restaurants in Sonoma County Right Now

Dining editor Heather Irwin celebrates late spring with an ode to mindful eating for the masses — plus tips on where to satisfy your cravings for edible foliage and virtuous fast food.

Pleasure for Purists, Sans Dogma at Petaluma’s Drawing Board
It’s not every day that you find vegan smoked carrot lox and cashew cream cheese on a menu next to roasted bone marrow. But at a culinary moment when diners want a combination of the familiar and exotic; decadent and healthy; conventional and sustainable, Petaluma’s The Drawing Board feels like a road map to the future of dining.
Ironically, the future looks a whole lot like the past here, with a focus on ancient grains, fermented and foraged foods, Middle Eastern spices and cuts of meat that utilize the whole animal including lamb belly, duck, chicken livers and the aforementioned marrow bones.

“This is food that fuels rather than just fills you,” says Rosie Wiggins, co-owner of the downtown eatery. The 26-year-old, who heads the front-of-house operations and designed the space, struggled with chronic illness for years. She claims a more wholesome diet improved her condition.

Sitting in a sunny window on the corner of Kentucky and Washington streets in downtown, the industrial-chic space could hold its own in San Francisco. On a busy weeknight, the restaurant is a cross-section of Sonoma County: older couples, families, millennials cocktailing at communal tables and friends out for a shared bite at the bar. Already, word is out about Drawing Board, as a place where everyone can find something to suit their dietary wants and needs.

Billed as “seasonal new American,” the restaurant relies predominantly
on the diets of the world’s longest-living cultures along with ancient food preparation techniques. “Minimally processed ingredients, rich in phytonutrients, often showcasing heirloom varietals, sourced locally — without sacrificing flavor,” Wiggins says. Even the cocktails follow the theme — woodland fantasies with spruce, spirulina and even porcini mushrooms as ingredients from mixologist Jennifer Grossbard.

Chef and co-owner Ariel Nadelberg, an alum of several high-profile San Francisco and Brooklyn restaurants, showcases the oldis- new cooking with carefully orchestrated dishes, each a small work of art incorporating different colors, textures, flavors and design elements. As pretty to look at as to eat, they’re ephemeral edibles Instagrammers capture to torture their followers.

Granted, nothing is labeled “vegan” or “vegetarian” or “gluten-free,” leaving staff to guide diners when needed, or just let a meatand dairy-free dish like carrot lox — one of our very favorite dishes of the night — turn into a happy discovery for omnivores.
“We want to satisfy all types of diets without being dogmatic,” says Nadelberg, who sees the project as nourishing both body and community.

“It’s important to us that everything has a story, and align with brands whose moral compass aligns with ours,” Wiggins adds. “We’re sourcing primarily from small local farms, reaching out to the little guys who do it right. We want to put them on a pedestal.”
Which is all great, but maybe a little precious? After all, pushing the boundaries of how we’re eating out isn’t a new idea, especially in Sonoma County.
Here’s the difference: The Drawing Board, with its under-40 owners, is looking toward the future of restaurants, where everyone can come to the table together, regardless of diet, with food as nourishing as it is beautiful and delicious. Let’s call it mindful eating for the masses.

The menu is divided into small plates, entrees, snacks and sweets, with nothing over $30 and most dishes hovering between $11 to $18. Snacks are all under $8 and desserts are all $9. Favorites from our winter visit included smoked carrot lox ($12), charred sweet potato ($12), grilled chicken kofta ($13), shepherd’s pie ($18), duck cassoulet ($18), the BBQ veggie burger ($16) and sheep yogurt panna cotta ($9). Specialty cocktails are also not to be missed.

The menu is highly seasonal, so don’t be disappointed if these items aren’t available. We’re pretty confident you’ll be impressed with the bounty of whatever season they’re celebrating.

190 Kentucky St., Petaluma, 707-774-6689, tdbpetaluma.com

Flower + Bone
Chef-owner Dalia Martinez forages through her neighborhood for of-the-moment produce, from Santa Rosa plums to tender baby pinecones.

With a focus on ancient food traditions, the menu is a modern interpretation of classic Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Indian dishes — each made with artistic precision.

A wall of preserves is the focal point of the space, but more than window dressing, it serves as a seasonal larder. Go for the six-course tasting menu, orchestrated to showcase the restaurant’s tandoor oven, fermented fruits and vegetables, edible foliage and pasture-raised meats.

640 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-708-8529, flowerandbonerestaurant.com

The County Bench
There’s a whole new vibe at this downtown Santa Rosa restaurant after a chef shuffle.

Fussy small plates have given way to entirely approachable small plates (beet salad, buttermilk potato rolls, potato Parmesan fritter), bar snacks like their homemade quinoa cracker with house-cured steelhead and hearty dinner entrees that include steak with potato puree, pan-roasted petrale sole, crispy chicken breast with ham hock dashi, and farro risotto with with grilled green garlic, kale and Parmesan that was a meatless standout.

It’s food that Dad will recognize, but impressive enough for a swanky date night. Leave room for dessert, because their pastry chef always impresses with dishes like chocolate and cajeta bar with sour cream mousse or caramel apple tart with Cognac brown sugar ice cream.

535 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-535-0700, thecountybench.com

Retrograde Coffee Roasters
We first met coffee-roasting enthusiasts Danielle Connor and Casey Lanski at a farm market, where they were hawking both fair trade pour-overs and homemade chicory syrups. Now they’ve grown their microroastery business into a full-fledged brick and mortar in downtown Sebastopol.

Though coffee is certainly the star here, we love their turmeric latte, a comforting mix of turmeric and cinnamon paste served with steamed milk, and their unique chai latte with turmeric and fresh ginger. Simple panini get the star treatment, filled with cheese and mushrooms, and homemade soups are just the ticket for a light lunch. Breakfasty? Grab a pastry from Red Bird Bakery — one of our favorite bakeries in the North Bay.

Doing their part for other entrepreneurs, Retrograde sells locally made tea from Tea and Trumpets and bouquets from B-Side Farms, and it hosts pop-up dinners by Matteo Silverman of Chalk Hill Cookery.

130 S. Main St., Unit 103, Sebastopol, 707-827-8065, retrograderoasters.com

Negri’s Original Occidental
This historic Italian restaurant has been serving family-style Italian dinners since the early 1940s, with classic family recipes handed down for generations. Ravioli are made the old-fashioned way, with 10-foot sheets of fresh pasta rolled onto a wooden table, and 50-pound ravioli presses.

Family matriarch Evelyn Negri, now in her 80s, still makes the minestrone each morning, working with her daughter and granddaughters to keep the family traditions alive. The attached Joe’s Bar, a longtime west county watering hole, has been taken over by granddaughter Amanda, who renovated the space and now serves up craft cocktails and casual bar food like meatball sliders, fried chicken, pizza and arancini, along with Nonna’s Ravioli and spaghetti Bolognese.

Take a few minutes to look at all the family photos lining the walls and to say hello to Evelyn, who’ll likely be swirling around the dining room or in the back stirring her industrial-size pot of minestrone.

3700 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-0301, negrisrestaurant.com

Amy’s Drive Thru
Fast food without meat? Vegetarian food purveyors Amy’s Kitchen have created a drive-thru restaurant that serves up burgers, fries and milkshakes with a better-for-you bent.

We’re huge fans of the Amy’s Burger and coconut milkshakes, but now they’ve got a breakfast menu to start your day on the right foot. After months of serious R&D at the Amy’s Kitchen lab, the lineup includes veggie sausage, tofu and cheese breakfast sandwiches; delish yogurt parfaits; and the crave-worthy burrito bowl with baked tofu, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, cheese, tomato, sour cream and salsa.

58 Golf Course Drive West, Rohnert Park, 707-755-3629

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