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Alfredo’s Italian Restaurant, Petaluma: The father-son Nolazco team doesn’t waste money on fancy space or decor. Instead the Nolazcos put their hearts into excellent classic Italian comfort cuisine. Pastas are particular knockouts, like the homemade saffron pappardelle pasta tossed with prawns, sun-dried tomatoes, and broccoli in delicate roasted shrimp bisque sauce. $$$, 1426 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 707-782-0500, alfredositalianpetaluma.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Barrio Fresca Cocina Mexicana, Sebastopol: Owner Carlos Rosas trained at upscale restaurants and takes the same fine dining approach with his spectacular Mexico City street food. Served on paper plates at bargain prices, it’s art in the form of tacos, quesadillas, and signatures like choriloco of red corn tortilla topped in potatoes, handmade chorizo, scrambled eggs, crunchy pumpkin seed, melted cheese curds, arugula, and salsa de chile morita. $, The Barlow, 6760 McKinley St., Suite 140, Sebastopol, 707-3296538, barriobayarea.com.
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Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits, Sonoma: This roadside shack used to be the cult-famous Fremont Diner, now with the same owners but a slimmed-down menu focusing on their best-selling fried chicken. Fried pies are divine, too. $$, 2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, 707938-7370, boxcar-friedchicken.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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The Brass Rabbit, Healdsburg: From the same owners and executive chef of Healdsburg’s Chalkboard, this cozy bistro welcomes with a more relaxed mood but similar Cal-French dishes. Rabbit is the main feature here, though, as rillettes, confit, prosciutto-wrapped loin, and an occasionally featured treasure of rabbit pot-pie in rabbit gravy. $$$$, 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8580, thebrassrabbithealdsburg.com.
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Brewsters Beer Garden, Petaluma: San Francisco nightclub maven Mike Goebel has another success to shout about with this popular, sophisticated country-bluegrass spot featuring barbecue, creative pub food, craft adult beverages, great live music, and a chic hideaway location. $$-$$$, 229 N. Water St., Petaluma, 707-981-8330, brewstersbeergarden.com. (Photo by Heather Irwin)
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Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, Sonoma: It’s attached to a luxury Marriott hotel, but this is fine dining worth its own destination. California cooking showcases produce from the on-site garden, with plenty of variety and interesting dishes like tender wood-grilled octopus with fiery-sweet chipotle crema and honey soy gastrique, atop warm saffron potato salad and peppery arugula. $$$$, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-931-2042, carnerosbistro.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Lichen, lower right, with wood roasted Niman ranch pork belly, black pepper spaetzli, broccolini and a hoisin glaze with a side of Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts with apples and honey soy vinaigrette from the Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar in Sonoma. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Cascabel Mexican Bar and Grill, Santa Rosa: The sophisticated fare is rich with regional mole sauces and cheeses, Mexico City-style barbacoa, Yucatan-style cochinita pibil, and coastal Sinaloa-style aguachile. Expect loud music and conversation, but it’s still classy. $$$, 909 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 707-5219444, cascabelbayarea.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Della Fattoria, Petaluma: Elevating sandwiches, salads, and even toast to gourmet heights, this bustling breakfast/lunch/brunch cafe focuses on hearth-baked breads and premium ingredients. In 2018, it expanded to dinner service, for joyful dishes like burrata dressed with tomatoes, pesto, pine nuts, watercress, and rosemary-Meyer lemon drizzle, or short rib-ricotta raviolo. $$$, 143 N. Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma, 707-763-0161, dellafattoria.com. (Photo by Alvin Jornada)
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Paris Brest at Della Fattoria in Petaluma. (Photo by Alvin Jornada)
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Gerard’s Paella y Tapas, Santa Rosa: Taste the marvelous paella that beat celeb chef Bobby Flay in a throwdown, along with tapas like excellent papas bravas, or mouthwatering huevos al plato, a bubbling-golden casserole-stew of egg, slow-roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions, and optional Serrano ham, all scooped with warm baguette. $$, 701 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-708-8686, gerardspaella.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant, Healdsburg: The 1920s cottage digs need sprucing up, but look past the tired decor for wonderful East Coast-style pizza. Old-school Italian dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken Parmesan are hit-and-miss, but the retro mood and friendly staff are delicious. $$, 25 Grant Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1106. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Gravenstein Grill, Sebastopol: The chef shops Sonoma County for excellent ingredients, then crafts them into mouthwatering Cal cuisine like crispy local duck leg partnered with braised red cabbage mixed with organic local heirloom apples, smoked bacon, herbed spaetzle and organic local plum gastrique. Killer local wine list, too. $$$-$$$$, 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, 707-634-6142, gravensteingrill.com.
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Harvest Moon Café, Sonoma: There’s good reason this has been such a Sonoma Plaza star since 2006. Clean, fresh cooking delivers nightly changing dishes like rib-eye au poivre with sautéed rapini, twice-baked potatoes, and Zinfandel sauce. Go beyond the classics, too, for more inventive plates like seared sesame-crusted ahi and nori tempura drizzled in Saikyo miso butter sauce. 487 First St. W., Sonoma, 707-933-8160, harvestmooncafesonoma.com.
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Saffron risotto with local corn, mushrooms and shishito peppers from the Harvest Moon Cafe on the square in Sonoma. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Izakaya Kitaru, Petaluma: A taste of authentic Japan beckons at this boisterous spot, boasting Asian pub cuisine like ramen, udon, and skewered meats of all kinds. Sushi is good, but be daring and explore more exotic dishes such as velvety monkfish liver glistening in ponzu sauce. $$, 212 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-789-9068. (Photo by John Burgess)
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John Ash & Co., Santa Rosa: This longtime special occasion spot has kept the white tablecloths but now offers a more relaxed experience. Cal-American cuisine is still first rate, emphasizing local produce, sparkling oysters, foie gras, and an impressive array of boutique Sonoma County wines. $$$$, 4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687, vintnersinn.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Litchfield’s, Bodega: Built in 1976, the hidden-gem resort has been reborn as a stylish property with the pleasing new Litchfield’s Mediterranean restaurant, too. Delicious signatures include a very good cioppino stocked with pulled crab meat, mussels, clams, rock cod, and shrimp, or duck breast in tangy blackberry salsa. $$$$, 16702 Shoreline Highway, Bodega, 707-876-9812, litchfields.co.
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Mac’s Deli, Santa Rosa: Classic Reubens, matzo ball soup, lox Benedicts, and other hearty breakfasts served all day make this busy New York-style deli a delight. $, 630 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-3785, macsdeliandcafe.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Hot Corned Beef Sandwich combo with potato salad and a tap beer from Mac's Deli in downtown Santa Rosa. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Madrona Manor, Healdsburg: Under chef Jesse Mallgren, the restaurant has captured a Michelin star for 10 years now, thanks to a sophisticated setting and elegant, inventive modern American cuisine. The seven-course tasting menu is a bargain at $98, with superb plates like Hokkaido scallop crudo splashed with persimmon vinaigrette, and Japanese Wagyu in aged soy. $$, 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-4231, madronamanor.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Vanilla Passion Roulade with raspberry gel, almond streusel, calamansi sorbet and chocolate feather from Madrona Manor in Healdsburg. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Miso Good Ramen, Santa Rosa: No surprise, ramen is the star at this quiet, chic spot, served in six varieties that can be further customized with 22 add-ins. It’s ramen done right, with plenty of noodles and toppings like excellent chasu pork belly. Sushi is another winner, including fancy carpaccio plates. $$, 507 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-7545, misogoodramen.com.
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Pho Sonoma, Petaluma: Vietnamese food is a rare find in Petaluma, and this spiffy spot delivers terrific flavors across its 86-item menu. Top bites include 20 kinds of pho (no MSG!) and authentic signatures such as ga sa te, chicken, and vegetables in a sumptuous, spicy oyster sauce-coconut milk curry. $$, 140 Second St., Suite 120, at Petaluma Theatre Square, Petaluma, 707-762-6888. (Photo by Alvin Jornada)
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The Reel Fish Shop & Grill, Sonoma: The 111-year-old building looks like a dive from the outside, but scoot inside, past the bar and live music stage, and you’ll discover first-rate seafood. Chef Aiki Terashima hooks us with simple joys like lobster rolls and shrimp tacos, then ups the experience with fancier lobster ravioli and scallop risotto. $$$-$$$$, 401 Grove St., Sonoma, 707-343-0044, thereelfishshop.com.
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Rosen’s 256 North, Petaluma: Cheesecake legend Jan Rosen used to own several restaurants in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, and now she’s back with a hip, fun American bistro-sports bar. Sea-play food dishes are particularly stellar, like salmon in saffron sauce or butter- wine steamed clams — and that cheesecake is as mouthwatering as ever. $$$$, 256 N. Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma, 707-766-0799, 256north.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Salt & Stone, Kenwood: The legendary roadhouse has found new luster with new owners and a fresh concept, focusing on solid steaks, seafood, burgers, cocktails, and a very popular happy hour. This is where the locals eat. $$$, 9900 Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-833-6326, saltstonekenwood.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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The Shuckery, Petaluma: The Oyster Girls caterers, Aluxa and Jazmine Lalicker, also run this full restaurant specializing in, what else, seafood. Oysters are good, but the fresh fish is divine, in simple presentations that let the catch shine through. $$$-$$$$, 100 Washington St., Petaluma, 707-981-7891, theshuckeryca.com. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Stockhome, Petaluma: The Swedish street food dishes are unusual for Wine Country, but well worth exploring for delicious bites like shrimp skagan, a chilled salad tossed with avocado and a bit of chile with horseradish-tzatziki sauce mounded over toasted brioche. Stock up on Swedish bulk candies, too. $$, 220 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-981-8511, stockhomerestaurant.com.
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"Saturday candy" at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)
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Tips Roadside, Kenwood: Stylish decor and lots of local art make this modern Southern roadhouse a welcome destination. You’ve never had grits this good, as creamy corn infused with white cheddar and ample butter plus smoked mushrooms, crisp spring peas, leeks, and radish. $$$, 8445 Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-509-0078, tipsroadside.com.
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Beignets with spiced sugar and Meyer lemon sauce from Tips Roadside in Kenwood. (Photo by John Burgess)