Our Favorite ‘Guilty Pleasure Eats’ in Sonoma County

The things we eat when nobody's watching. Or eat without abandon and without shame. Because life is short and we're worth it.

At Sonoma Magazine, we don’t just write about food, we also talk about food. We love to find out about people’s favorite neighborhood spots and hidden gems, the places they return to again and again, and their latest food obsessions.

Last week, we asked our newsroom colleagues (including reporters, photographers, copy editors and editors at The Press Democrat, Sonoma Index-Tribune and Petaluma Argus-Courier) for their favorite “guilty pleasure eats.”

We defined guilty pleasure eats as “those not-so-cool foods we all secretly crave.” They are the items we tell ourselves we’re not going to get at the grocery store, but end up buying anyway. The restaurant dishes we don’t take photos of or post on social media. The weird food combinations we came up with in some distant past. They are the things we eat when nobody’s watching. Or eat without abandon and without shame. Because life is short and we’re worth it.

Without further ado, here is our newsroom’s favorite guilty pleasure eats. (We have allowed our colleagues to remain anonymous, so that they could share without fear of judgment. Want to share yours? Send us an email.)

Jack in the Box tacos: “Oh man, where do I start. The meat is a total mystery; no one can ID the animal. They fry the hell out of them, and somehow even the stale lettuce and garden-variety hot sauce are perfect. And they’re small, so you have to eat 2-4. I would NEVER bring them to a party, but if I show up to a party and someone else has brought a box, I’m so happy.” locations.jackinthebox.com

Mac & Cheese: “Sadly, it’s always a side dish so there’s never enough. We order four servings from Blue Ridge Kitchen and they always ask, ‘is that all?’ – ‘Yes, I’m just here to pick up my melty cheese pasta, thank you.'” Blue Ridge Kitchen, 6770 McKinley St., Suite 150, brkitchen.com

Mac & Cheese at Blue Ridge Kitchen in Sebastopol. (Blue Ridge Kitchen)
Mac & Cheese at Blue Ridge Kitchen in Sebastopol. (Blue Ridge Kitchen)

El Roy’s Burrito al Pastor in Petaluma: “It’s 3,000 calories packed into a tortilla — What more could you ask for?” El Roy’s Mexican Grill, 210 Edith St., Petaluma. Food trucks at 401 E. Washington St. and 175 Fairgrounds Drive.

Papa Murphy’s Cowboy Pizza: “I love artisan woodfired pizza as much as the next person, but when it comes to sitting on my couch in sweats—the way pizza was meant to be eaten, mind you—I have an unnatural affinity for Papa Murphy’s Cowboy Pizza. Take and bake pizza is a godsend, no doubt about it, and this is the best of them all. It has pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, olive and flecks of orange cheddar cheese, but it’s Papa Murphy’s special herb and cheese blend that seals the deal. This magic sprinkle, which they use on just a select few pizzas, tap dances on every taste receptor I have. I’m certain it has an addictive substance in it because, like the drug-addled lab rat that keeps pulling at a lever for one last hit, I don’t have an off button when eating this pizza.” papamurphys.com

Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar: “If you’re a parent of a child of a certain age, you no doubt know the wonders of Annie’s purple box. I was once a Kraft Blue Box aficionado, interrupted by a brief flirtation with Velveeta shells and cheese, but those can’t compare to Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar. When I make it, I even sing ‘Shells and White Cheddar’ to the tune of the Moody Blues ‘Nights in White Satin’ (I am not making this up). When my kid was little, I’d make it for her and would make sure that mama got her fair share in exchange for labor. Now that she’s old enough to make it herself, which she does any chance she gets, I lurk in the kitchen after she’s filled her bowl to scrape up any shells that are still stuck to the side of the pan, and eat them standing over the stove.” annies.com/products

Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar. (Annie’s Homegrown)

ForestVille wine at Safeway: “It’s cheap wine that’s mostly sugar.” safeway.com

Theater popcorn: “I LOVE expensive theater popcorn with (and this is key) the butter flavoring. I know, I know. But it tastes so good and it helps stick the salt to the popcorn when you tear open those tiny packets and sprinkle it into the tub. Plus, when I was 19-21, I worked at S. E Ryfoff, a food manufacturing company in L.A., and this was one of the products we made and (with my help on the ‘Oils, Dressings and Mayonnaise Line’) packaged for theaters. So I know what’s in the stuff. And I still like it.”

A cold vodka martini (with olives, natch) and a basket of French fries: “The delightful combination of cold and hot, medicinal and salty, tactile and aromatic, is simply to die for. And yes, given how unhealthy this pairing is, that’s a strong possibility. Until then: perfection!”

Costco Pepperoni Pizza: “I absolutely love the different pizza options we have here in Sonoma County but living by Costco means I ALWAYS have access to a wonderful slice of Costco pepperoni pizza. It’s only $2, I always get an amazing cheese pull with each bite and it hits the spot when I just need something to eat. Also walking around Costco is busy work so I need food after.” costco.com

Costco Kirkland Almond Butter: “This really hits the spot if eaten straight out of the jar standing by the kitchen counter — it’s good on a slice of bread or apple, too, but not quite as addictive. I sprinkle some cardamom on it — because cardamom makes everything taste better. It tastes sweeter than other almond butters I’ve tried. There’s supposedly no sugar in it — if there is, I don’t want to know. The only downside is that, after a few spoonfuls, the almond butter kind of sticks to the throat. But it’s still worth it.” costco.com

In Sweden, Swedish fish is simply called “fisk” (or fiskar) and is and is sold as pick-and-mix candy in grocery stores. You can find it at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma.  (newrevmedia.com)

Swedish Fish: “In Sweden, where I’m from, Swedish Fish is simply called ‘fish’ (or ‘fiskar’) and is sold as pick-and-mix candy in grocery stores. It comes in a variety of colors and flavors, including salty licorice, which is a completely normal thing to enjoy in Sweden but creates looks of horror and dramatic ‘bleh’ reactions among Americans. The red Swedish Fish version found in the US is made in Canada but that doesn’t make me love it any less. Eating it almost always gives me a tummy ache and I tell myself that, next time, I’ll eat less than half of the bag in five minutes. But I forget and then I do it all over again.” You can find real Swedish Fish candy at Stockhome restaurant, 220 Western Ave., Petaluma.

Swedish Pizza from Stockhome: “Having a Swedish restaurant in Sonoma County enables me to continue to indulge in some of my favorite guilty pleasures. We have fancy woodfired pizzas in Sweden but we also have ‘fulpizza’ (or ‘ugly pizza’), the kind of down-to-earth, greasy pie you devour after drinking too much schnapps or when it started snowing again in April or you’re feeling a bit burned out after returning to work after six weeks of paid vacation. Fulpizza flavors tend to be eclectic and include Kebab Pizza, Banana-Curry Pizza and, my absolute favorite, Steak and Béarnaise Pizza. It’s really the best of both worlds: Craving steak but also pizza? You’re all set. Stockhome restaurant’s Swedish pizza is an elevated version, with topnotch ingredients. Pair it with ‘pizzasallad,’ a tangy oil and vinegar based coleslaw with red pepper.” stockhomepetaluma.com

Banana curry pizza and Bianco pizza with Swedish pizzasallad at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma. (Courtesy of Stockhome)
Banana curry pizza and Bianco pizza with Swedish pizzasallad at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma. (Courtesy of Stockhome)
tater tots acme burger
How do you tot? Acme Burger has garlic tots, truffle tots, sweet potato tots, Cajun tots, chili cheese tots. And, of course, classic tots. (Acme Burger)

Acme Burger’s Sweet Potato Tater Tots “are just the perfect comfort food. The only problem is, when I order them, I eat them first, and then don’t have room for the tasty burger!” Acme Burger, 550 East Cotati Ave., Cotati; 1007 W. College Ave., Suite D, Santa Rosa; 330 Western Ave.,
Petaluma. acmeburgerco.com

Burger King’s Classic Chicken Sandwich, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and Lemon Cloud Pie from Betty’s Fish and Chips: “I love the Classic Chicken Sandwich at Burger King, because my grandmother always took us there as kids. I’m also a fan of Chicken McNuggets, because I would go through the drive-thru with my dad and he would order an ‘orange sandwich and a chicken drink,’ which was hilarious when I was 5. I’d have to say the Lemon Cloud pie at Betty’s Fish & Chips disappears remarkably fast whenever I order it.” Betty’s Fish N’ Chips, 4046 Sonoma Highway, Suite 4128, Santa Rosa. bettysfishandchips.com

The famous Lemon Cloud Pie and Apple Pie from Betty's Bakery and Fish and Chips in Santa Rosa. (Photo by John Burgess/Sonoma Magazine)
The famous Lemon Cloud Pie and Apple Pie from Betty’s Bakery and Fish and Chips in Santa Rosa. (Photo by John Burgess/Sonoma Magazine)

The Morning Bun from Quail & Condor: “My slice of food heaven is courtesy of Quail & Condor, specifically their morning bun which they describe as ‘a spiral of our croissant dough tossed in sugar and filled with a mousse…’  The mousse tastes of real pastry cream so you have the combination of flaky melt-in-your-mouth croissant dough combined with the just-right heaviness of the filling. I swear every time that I’ll only eat half. Every time I’m licking sugar off my chin and flicking croissant crumbs off my clothing. Mmmmmm.” Quail & Condor, 149 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, quailandcondor.com

Kozlowski’s Apple Turnovers: “Even though the store on Highway 116 is now closed down, they’re still available at Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol. Way more calories than I really need, but they’re so good!” Andy’s Produce, 1691 Gravenstein Highway N., Sebastopol.

dark chocolate orange sticks trader joes
Dark chocolate orange sticks from Trader Joe’s, a favorite spot for guilty pleasure shopping. (Trader Joe’s)

All the snacks from Trader Joe’s: “I’m the mom of two teenage boys, so there’s a lot of guilty pleasure eating in my house. Trader Joe’s is the place! Potato chips, pirate booty, chili-lime tortilla chips. And we can’t escape without at least four bags of their dark chocolate orange sticks—one for each person in the family.” traderjoes.com

Coke Slurpees at the 7-Eleven: “On the way home from track practice with the boys, we’re all-in on Coke Slurpees at the 7-11! It’s not so guilty for the boys, because it puts a bit of sugar back into their hard-charging bodies and cools their throats after their run. Definitely a guilty pleasure for me, because I haven’t worked out before having mine. But they’re my favorite thing ever!” 7-eleven.com

Trader Joe’s dark-chocolate-covered marshmallows: “Because they are little puffs of heaven.” traderjoes.com

Chocolate-covered gummy bears: “Delicious chocolately outside with mildly chewy center. So satisfying. An odd but delightful combination!” Available at specialty candy stores.

O Organics Grapefruit Soda: “Something about it is so hard to resist at the grocery store! I pour it in a wine glass, sometimes add a little fresh mint or basil, it’s bliss and extremely indulgent.” safeway.com

Special mentions:

The best fries: Coming up with a list of the best fries in Sonoma County goes beyond the scope of this article and requires more in-depth research, but there seems to be some consensus in the newsroom that Five Guys fries are among the best — “with the caveat,” as one person pointed out, “that McDonald’s fries are in a class by themselves, so, out of fairness, shouldn’t be able to compete with other fries.” An insider tip: “The best french fries in Sonoma County are at Seared (in Petaluma), where you can get them at happy hour in a basket, though they are not on the menu. You have to ask for them.”

The most eclectic food combo: “Pork rinds and Red Vines.” We can’t wait to try this one.

And for those who love everything pickle: Get the “In a Pickle” seasoning from Trader Joe’s. “I always buy a few because it’s only around during the summer,” said one reporter.