Best Thing I Ate in Sonoma County, 2018

After every nibble and bite this year, here are my favorite overall restaurants and dishes for 2018.

Picking the best dishes of the year isn’t as difficult a task as you might think. Certain meals just stand out in my mind, usually surrounded by a golden halo of sense memory that makes my eyes sparkle and my mouth water just a little.

Of course, this is all terribly subjective. I hate olives, so you won’t find any olive dishes — my apologies to olives. I tend to really love ethnic food, which I realize isn’t to everyone’s taste. I’m sure I’ve left out a few winners, but when making a “best of” list, not everyone gets a trophy. 

Scroll through the slideshow above to see the dishes that impressed me this year, and where to get them.

It’s important to me that when I say something is outstanding that I can back it up. However, sometimes chefs leave or have an off day; sometimes the quality isn’t up to par or an item has been tweaked since I’ve last eaten it. I hope you’ll tell me if some of my favorites have slumped at all since I’ve had them.

Overall, though, I think you’ll be impressed with the list. It encompasses so much of the county and so many price points. It isn’t the best food *ever*, but a list of what I’ve eaten in 2018.

But wait, there’s more…

Unlike in past years, I’ve chosen five restaurants that impressed me on every level — from start to finish. That’s a tall order and happens pretty rarely, so I wanted to call them out.

Tuna tartare at Bollywood Restaurant and Clay Oven in Santa Rosa. (Photo by Heather Irwin)

Bollywood (Opened 2018): I’ve doted on this Indian charmer for months, and there’s good reason. Chef Nevin Patel brought his critically-acclaimed farm-to-table concept to Santa Rosa with flavors and authentic dishes rare outside of major cities. It’s not your usual curry house, and every dish is just plain delicious. The addition of inspired cocktails and delish desserts make it a total win. 

Smoked trout and house ricotta jar with semolina flatbread at Pearl in Petaluma. Heather Irwin/PD
Smoked trout and house ricotta jar with semolina flatbread at Pearl in Petaluma. Heather Irwin/PD

Pearl:(Opened 2018) This little sleeper in Petaluma totally surprised me. It’s small and intimate, and I wasn’t sure if the Turkish/Middle Eastern/French/Spanish mashup was going to be my thing. But every dish was loaded with flavor, perfectly plated and the service was stunning. I also love the care put into a unique beverage program, and their simple desserts to really complete the package. 

Kanpachi sashimi at Kosho Restaurant in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD
Kanpachi sashimi at Kosho Restaurant in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD

Kosho: (Opened 2018) I knew this would be a Sebastopol stunner after meeting chef/owner Jake Rand, formerly of Sushi Ran in Sausalito. He’s a devotee of Japanese cuisine and gets the flavors, textures and ingredients in each dish so right. His sourcing is impeccable, and the prices are a bargain considering the quality and care he puts into the menu.

Stockhome: (Opened 2018) In the months before opening, I couldn’t quite figure out exactly what this Petaluma cafe was going to be. Featuring Swedish comfort classics and Turkish street food, it was a head-scratcher. The concept, however, worked perfectly with both large and small dishes inspired by Scandinavia and the Middle East. Every dish was outstanding, and since opening, have only improved. Not everyone loved the walk-up service, but the casual, family-friendly vibe works for the neighborhood.

Baked cheese with Revolution Bread at Lowell's in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD
Baked cheese with Revolution bread at Lowell’s in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD

Lowell’s: Another big surprise. I’ve always been a fan of this Sebastopol restaurant, along with its offshoot, Handline, but I hadn’t really sat down for a meal here in years. My return was more than impressive, it was wonderous. I went for breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and each of the meals was better than the last. Seasonal and sustainable sourcing makes a difference, and the fact that employees are paid a living wage is admirable. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

The guest is greeted with an array of dishes presented on a bed of wood, moss and ferns at Single Thread Farms Restaurant in Healdsburg. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Single Thread: From reservation to departure, every detail is meticulously thought out. There is beauty in every tweezer-perfect bite and a reason that Michelin has awarded this restaurant 3 stars in 2018.

Strawberry salad at Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

Down to Earth Cafe: Haven’t heard of it? You should. My first impression of this hole-in-the-wall Cotati cafe was a perfectly-packed to-go order. When I visited in person, I ended up tasting as much of the menu as possible because it was just so tasty. This isn’t a fancy spot, but I love everything about it, from start to finish. 

Other favorites to check out (with a number of dishes in my “favorites” for 2018)

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