6 Sonoma County Restaurants You Need to Visit Right Now

Fall is the best time to eat out in Wine Country. Here are a few spots to savor the season.

Fall is the best time to eat out in Wine Country. Local farms and gardens overflow with of-the-moment produce that makes its way onto restaurant tables throughout the county. It’s also a great season to explore the cuisines of other lands — German, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Mexican — that bring unexpected flavors and dishes to the table. Here are a few spots to savor this seasonal embarrassment of riches.

Click through the gallery for the yummy pictures. 

Bavarian pretzel with butter, mustard at Brot in Guerneville. Heather Irwin/PD
Bavarian pretzel with butter, mustard at Brot in Guerneville. (Heather Irwin)

Brot — German comfort food and drink come to Guerneville

Harkening back to her midwestern roots, Guerneville restaurateur Crista Luedtke’s homey German-style bratskellar just put the cherry on top of the town’s burgeoning food scene.

A mix of on-trend design, quirky charm, and classic Bavarian dishes, Luedtke and Chef de Cuisine Joey Blank have distilled the classic beer hall menu into a “best of” playlist that includes potato pancakes, spätzle, sauerbraten, schnitzel, creamed herring, and sausages. Mit kraut und bier. Lots of Deutsches bier.

The interior has been overhauled with added seating and thoughtful touches like a wall of cuckoo clocks and creative paneling to evoke the outline of the Alps. Old German movies play silently in the background, while an array of mason jars near the beer taps hold white asparagus pickle. It’s cute without feeling overly precious.

Brot — which joins Luedtke’s other ventures, boon eat + drink, El Barrio, and boon hotel + spa — translates as “bread” in German. For the stalwart entrepreneur, “brot” means more than a loaf of rye. It also means livelihood, and Luedtke has made it her mission to bring vitality to residents of the destination river town. That means a 20% service charge that allows her to pay the staff a living wage. In these days that offer a limited pool of local staff, surging food costs, and skyhigh rents for commercial space, many restaurateurs find themselves providing more of a public service than enjoying the largesse of a lucrative for-profit venture.

Though the menu itself can be daunting, with a heaping helping of umlauts and hard-to-pronounce words, the food itself is familiar and comforting with crunchy potato pancakes, an Alsatian pizza, spätzle (think tiny dumplings), and broasted chicken. With the addition of vegan sausages, the ever-popular schnitzel, and seasonal salads, there’s something for most everyone to enjoy.

Like any German restaurant worth its Märzenbier, Brot has an Oktoberfest-tastic lineup of Bavarian beers on tap. Luedtke has also gone to great lengths to have not only the proper glassware, but traditional wheat beers, lagers, and pilsners, many of which come from Bavarian brewmasters Schneider Weisse. They also serve incredible Rhône wines and desserts worth saving some room for. Brot is already a popular addition to the local melting pot of cuisines, and a testament to the fortitude that Luedtke continues to show in her adopted hometown. Plus, her mom — who helps in the kitchen — makes some truly legit potato pancakes.

Open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday at 5 p.m. 6218 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-6102 brotguerneville.com.

West Handmade Burgers on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs has finally opened. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune
West Handmade Burgers on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs has finally opened. (Robbi Pengelly)

West — Handmade Burgers, Sonoma

Making cheap hamburgers comes at a high cost, according to Garrett Sathre, the owner of West — Handmade Burgers in Sonoma (technically Boyes Hot Springs).

A born and bred Sonoman, he’s a passionate advocate for grass-fed, sustainably sourced organic beef. He also understands that $20 for a burger, fries, and a milkshake is out of touch for everyday eaters.

That’s why he spent two years working with nearby Stemple Creek Ranch to source a great burger and try to keep surging costs at bay. It wasn’t an easy process, but he’s done it.

Instead of just buying ground beef, Sathre and his wife, Nicole Benjamin, purchase a whole cow each week from Stemple Creek. They flip patties for lunch and dinner daily and sell high-quality cuts of beef from a small refrigerator at the front of the restaurant. It’s your one-stop beef shop.

The restaurant offers five plays on their grass-fed burger, from simple to black-tie. There’s plain (homemade sauce, onions, tomatoes, butter lettuce, and homemade pickles and ketchup), cheeseburger, a Point Reyes Blue cheese burger, a smoked Cheddar and fried onions West Burger, and the luxurious truffle burger with truffle cheese. Fries and onion rings are far better than your usual burger bar along with homemade milkshakes.

18375 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, 707-343-1479, facebook.com/WestHandmadeBurgers

Cocina Mana, Windsor

Never far from their roots as tamale cart operators, the Morales family’s Windsor restaurant is all simple homestyle Mexican cooking. Unsurprisingly, their famous tamales are a key feature on the menu, served up a la carte or in bowls with red or green salsa. Hefty tacos guisados plates with shredded chicken, beans, and rice are under $10, and their chilaquiles are a perfect hangover remedy.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can get champurrado, a warm Mexican chocolate drink made with cinnamon and masa harina.

7238 Old Redwood Highway, Suite 128, Windsor, 707-657-7701, cocinamana.com.

Tambayan, Santa Rosa

Where to find adobo chicken, lumpia, halo-halo, or banana sauce? Larkfield’s Tambayan.

You’ll find both familiar and “what exactly is this?” Filipino dishes that blend traditional island flavors (taro, coconut milk, banana leaves, banana sauce, fish) with influences from China (egg rolls, rice, soy sauce, steamed buns), Spain (adobo), and America (Spam — you’re welcome).

The family-run restaurant isn’t fancy, but offers up cozy homestyle cuisine like rib-sticking breakfast (silog) noodle bowls, beef satay, and off-beat specialties like pan-grilled milkfish, pork sisig (minced pork with rice, onions, and mayonnaise), and laing with dried taro leaves, coconut milk, and pork.

Go in with an open mind and hungry belly, because some of the best dishes require a bit of trust if you’re not used to having your meal on a banana leaf. Condiments are definitely part of the experience, and contrary to its name, banana sauce is a lot like sweet ketchup.

Save room for halo-halo. This traditional dessert combines crushed ice, evaporated milk, coconut strips, sweet beans, gelatin, and a scoop of purple yam ice cream.

600 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa, 707-843-3824.

Lemongrass chicken noodle bowl at Corner Cafe in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD
Lemongrass chicken noodle bowl at Corner Cafe in Santa Rosa. (Heather Irwin)

Corner Cafe, Santa Rosa

Tasty Vietnamese food at a donut shop? It’s a thing. Though it seems like an odd pairing, there’s a long history of immigrants from Southeast Asia opening donut shops that happen to also serve the foods of their homeland. You can thank Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee who is widely credited for not only building his own donut empire in the 1980s, but providing seed money for hundreds of other immigrants to purchase the high-profit-margin sweet shops throughout the state.

This spot had a slightly different trajectory, owned by longtime donut-maker Frank Whigham and his Cambodian wife, Champa, for more than a decade. The couple typically worked 18-hour days, sticking to fresh donuts of every stripe. At 89, Frank was ready to retire, recently transferring ownership to Kanha Kien, another Cambodian who owns Santa Rosa’s Yo Panda. That Corporate Center Drive cafe offers — you guessed it — donuts and Vietnamese food.

Go for the pho, barbecue pork banh mi, fresh rolls, and noodle bowls, but save some room for mango shaved ice, a specialty. Mango ice cream is shaved into impossibly thin stacked ribbons of flavor, topped with a pile of fresh mango and sugar syrup. They’ve also got a taro root version with strawberries that’s a more exotic take. Of course, you can’t leave without a couple donuts too.

4275 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-539-2416.

Fancy Fast Food story Miracle Plum
Fresh produce at Miracle Plum in Santa Rosa. (Chris Hardy)

Miracle Plum, Santa Rosa

Neighborhood market meets specialty food shop meets bottle shop. And then there are the popup dinners and cooking classes.

Defying simple categorization, Miracle Plum embraces the idea of delicious things made well. The selection changes frequently, so one day you may find local honey and handmade pottery at a dumpling pop-up and the next time gelato and microbrews.

Owned by Santa Rosa natives Sallie Miller and Gwen Gunheim, the open space is constantly changing with the seasons and recent inspirations.

208 Davis St., Santa Rosa, 707-708-7986, miracleplum.com.

Clam chowder at Tony’s Seafood in Marshall. Heather Irwin/PD
Clam chowder at Tony’s Seafood in Marshall. (Heather Irwin)

Worth the Drive…Tony’s Seafood, Marshall

This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it restaurant in the tiny hamlet of Marshall was a charming seafood destination until it wasn’t. A popular fish house for nearly 70 years, families came from miles around for the bay-to-plate menu. By the time the restaurant changed hands in 2017, however, it was a fading relic from another era.

After a two-year remodel by the owners of Hog Island Oyster Co., Tony’s has been reborn as a vibrant, modern seafood house with some of the best food and best views of Tomales Bay.

Old oyster shells litter the ground on the strip of land south of the cozy restaurant, giving a satisfying crunch underfoot. The smell of brine is a companion for the mildly harrowing journey along Highway 1, but the reward is a cozy, modern room filled with sunlight and bowls of shells on every table.

Seafood is the main attraction, naturally, with mostly local clams, mussels, crab, and oysters. There’s also fresh Alaska cod, halibut, salmon, and anchovies along with a handful of seafood-free items like the Tony’s burger, or battered-veggies and local greens if you’re fish-averse.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the clam chowder. There’s no flour to thicken it and only fresh, shell-on clams from nearby Hog Island Oysters making it an interactive experience as well as a tasty one. This version is heavy on the good stuff with aromatic herbs, fresh cream, and bacon, and light on the fillers (potatoes and carrots). This is what chowder should always be and rarely ever achieves.

18863 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, 415-663-1107, tonysseafoodrestaurant.com.