To say restaurants have had a tough year is an understatement. Ongoing restrictions since March on indoor dining because of the coronavirus pandemic have forced them to reconstruct their business models and increasingly depend on outdoor dining. Then the fires and smoke of recent months made even that a challenge.
Sadly, some restaurants couldn’t survive, but many did. And despite the odds, more than 25 local restaurants debuted this year.
With happiness and sorrow in our hearts, we’ve heard the incredible stories of both hope and loss. We anxiously hold our breath to see if those still open now will make it to spring or summer when life, hopefully, starts returning to normal.
Here are the openings and closings of 2020.
Top Five Openings
Wit & Wisdom: Stem to stern, every dish at this Michael Mina restaurant at The Lodge at Sonoma hits the mark, then exceeds it. Experience, a strong staff and an approachable, yet refined, menu made this the restaurant to beat when it came to 2020 openings. Duck wings and roasted carrots still haunt our food dreams. 1325 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-931-3405, witandwisdomsonoma.com
Blue Ridge Kitchen: Here’s another top contender for best opening of the year. Dishes are Southern-ish, but what we love best is the mix of elevated technique and passion from the kitchen. New dishes frequently grace the menu, like the recent cioppino, but favorites like the required croque madame make it a great spot to return to. 6770 McKinley St., Suite 150, Sebastopol, brkitchen.com
Grossman’s: This Jewish-style deli officially opened in March the week the shelter-in-place order began, putting a bit of a damper on what was slated to be one of the highest-profile openings in 2020. The Starks have pivoted endlessly to maintain enthusiasm for their incredible cocktails, matzoh ball soup, dumplings, smoked meats and bagels. Perfect for an upcoming Hanukkah nosh. 308½ Wilson St., Santa Rosa, 707-595-7707, grossmanssr.com
Street Social: With just six closely spaced tables, this Petaluma restaurant took it hard when indoor dining was shut down. Owners Jevon Martin and Marjorie Pier reinvented themselves with takeout fried chicken and a handful of outdoor tables. They offer luxe takeout like bone-in short rib with red flint polenta and pomegranate jus. 29 F Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-774-6185, streetsocial.social
PizzaLeah: This small Windsor pizzeria opened during the early weeks of the pandemic, but what put them high on our radar was the incredible effort owner Leah Scurto made to feed neighbors and first responders during the fall fires. Her pizza is dang delicious, too. 9240 Old Redwood Highway, Suite 116, Windsor, 707-620-0551, pizzaleah.com
More Great Openings
Grata Windsor: Gnuddi shrimp diavola is a top pick at this family-friendly spot owned by a former Stark’s chef. 186 Windsor River Road, Windsor, 707-620-0508, gratawindsor.com
Cozy Plum: What we’re most taken with at Cozy Plum is their lighthearted approach to comfort food with a vegan twist and their passion for making beautiful dishes. 1899 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-526-3333, cozyplum.com
Seafood & Eat: Kin to Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati, this place makes seafood the star. Fish and chips and fish tacos are faves.
Los Molcajetes: Yes, this is a sibling to the popular Molcajetes restaurant in Santa Rosa which rose to fame after Guy Fieri featured it on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” As the names suggest, molcajete — a hearty stew of meats, seafood, vegetables, cheese and salsa in a stone bowl — is the signature dish. 6599 Montecito Blvd., No. 130, Santa Rosa, 707-791-7571.
Kivelstadt Cellars: A favorite “secret” spot just outside Sonoma is this cozy little world of delicious brunch and lunch dishes with a killer wine list. 22900 Broadway, Sonoma, kivelstadtcellars.com
4th Street Social Club: Finding restaurants with strong appeal for meat eaters and plant eaters alike is as rare as civil discourse on politics at Christmas. It’s a dream but rarely a reality. Enter 4th Street Social with faux “lox,” jackfruit “chick’n” nuggets and solid cocktails. 643 4th St., Santa Rosa, 4thstreetsocialclub.com
Chicken Nature: This addition to the Marlow shopping center in Santa Rosa serves Asian food and simple but hearty chicken dishes like chicken curry puffs, tangy tamarind chicken rice bowls, curry rice bowls and poached chicken and rice. 1791 Marlow Road, Santa Rosa, chickennature.com
Flavor Bistro: The popular downtown Santa Rosa eatery shuttered in November 2016 as construction on Courthouse Square lagged. This year, it reopened in a small bistro that formerly housed a Caribbean restaurant in Sebastopol near the former Peter Lowell’s. Expect a slightly reduced menu but most of the old favorites. 7365 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, flavorbistro.com
Corner Project Ales and Eats: This family-run brewpub has one brother brewing and the other manning the kitchen. More than just fried pub grub, Chef Tom Adamian’s menu includes comforting dishes like meatball sandwiches, gem salad and tomato salad. Locally sourced, the menu changes weekly. 21079 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, cornerprojectales.com
Valley Bar + Bottle: Valley Bar + Bottle opened in July as a wine bar, restaurant and bottle shop. Housed in the Leese-Fitch Adobe built in 1836, which was most recently Harvest Moon Cafe, it feels like a French neighborhood cafe. The concept for the fare is California home cooking that’s ingredient-driven, rustic and simple. 487 First St. W., Sonoma, valleybarandbottle.com
April Pantry: Established at the former Ulia’s Deli in a Petaluma office park, April Pantry has some serious talent making crave-worthy sandwiches and salads. Menu favorites include the Billionaire’s BLT, the grilled cheese sandwich, the barbecue pork banh mi and the Aloha Plate with fresh macaroni salad and fried chicken. 1000 Clegg St., Petaluma, 707-658-1326, aprilpantry.com
Cielito Lindo: This Mexican cuisine spot opened in February in the former Pamposh Indian restaurant location on Mission Boulevard and Highway 12. 52 Mission Blvd. No. 110, Santa Rosa, 707-978-2070.
Simmer Claw Bar: Owner Nhat Le, whose family also owns Simmer Vietnamese restaurants in Rohnert Park and Petaluma, features Southern-meets-Saigon seafood boils at this restaurant. 595 Rohnert Park Expressway, Rohnert Park, 707-806-2080.
Acre Pizza: Detroit and classic pizza styles are available. 6760 McKinley St., Suite 150, Sebastopol, acrepizza.com
Vinoma: A Rohnert Park gas station is home to this place for authentic Argentine empanadas, a classic grab-and-go meal of meat, cheese and veggies filling pastry pockets. 5085 Redwood Drive, Rohnert Park, vinoma.net
Creperie Chez Solange: Authentic French crepes come in buckwheat flour savory or white flour sweet varieties. 462 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa, 707-791-7633
Village Bakery: This popular bakery reopened in Santa Rosa. 2404 Magowan Drive, Santa Rosa.
Scowley’s Burgers: This spot for beefy burgers in Petaluma opened in the fall. 229 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707-981-7746, scowleys.com
The Mill at Glen Ellen: A lovely outdoor space and comfort classics grace the historic mill property. 14301 Arnold Drive, Suite 32, Glen Ellen, 707-721-1818.
Flavor Burger: This Windsor spot has great burgers and fries. 6560 Hembree Lane, No. 178, Windsor, 707-836-4096, orderflavorburgercafe.com
Let’s not Forget the Food Trucks
Charro Negro: The best ocean-to-table tacos and tostadas in Sonoma County, hands down. Rodrigo Mendoza is a former Willi’s Seafood chef who made the leap to a mobile kitchen. He runs El Charro Negro with business partner Ricardo Ibarra in a brilliantly colored, hash-tagged and social media-ready truck that’s impossible to miss at its usual Roseland spot, the Mitote Food Park. 665 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa.
Tamales Oaxacenos: California cuisine-inspired ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, finishing salt, edible flowers and microgreens add panache to this tamale seller at Roseland’s Mitote Food Park. Read more. 665 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa.
We Say Goodbye
It’s been a tough year for restaurants, and a tough winter is yet to come. Here are some of the restaurants we lost.
Osteria Stellina: This longtime Point Reyes pasta shack garnered national praise for its regional Italian cuisine before closing last summer.
Bistro 29: This French-inspired restaurant was an early loss last spring.
Tisza Bistro: This Windsor spot serving Eastern European-Californian cuisine had a three-year run that began during the Tubbs fire, when Chef Krisztian Karkus fed evacuees panini sandwiches. Tisza closed in August.
Whole Pie: Trish Davis’ buttery, crumbly crusts and toppings live on in our dreams.
Bollywood: Owner Sonu Chandi of Chandi Hospitality Group cited prohibitions on indoor dining and an early and prolonged fire season as reasons for the closure of this downtown Santa Rosa spot with modern Indian cuisine.
Meadowood: Napa’s Michelin-starred icon burned in this year’s wildfires.
Khum Koon Thai Cafe: The casual Thai eatery in downtown Windsor served satisfying, affordable Thai classics from an extensive menu.
Bruno’s on Fourth: The cozy McDonald neighborhood bistro in Santa Rosa that charmed Sunday brunchers and weeknight regulars for more than a decade closed, and owners Linn and Rick Bruno focused on their second restaurant, Ricky’s Eastbound in Skyhawk Village.
Three Twins Ice Cream: Petaluma ice cream entrepreneur Neal Gottlieb announced in April the company would cease operations after 15 years in business. Gottlieb said Three Twins’ business model had become financially unsustainable even before the pandemic, but the stresses of this year erased any chance of recovery.
Whisper Sisters: This bar and creative eatery opened in February 2019 in downtown Petaluma before it was lost to the pandemic.
Brass Rabbit: This ode to classic French cuisine on Healdsburg Plaza was another casualty of the pandemic. The restaurant’s small size and lack of any real patio seating may have been its death knell.
Jaded Toad Windsor: This barbecue spot closed its Windsor location, but its Cotati location remains.