There’s always a great new restaurant opening somewhere in Sonoma County, and this year was no exception. 2015’s lineup includes Michelin-worthy restaurants, fast-casual pizzerias, a vegetarian drive-thru, barbecue spots galore and even a neo-Jewish/Korean spot. All of these 2015 restaurant openings, however, share one thing in common: Awesomeness.
Here are our favorites of the year.
The “healthy” fast food alternative created by Andy and Rachel Berliner of Amy’s Kitchen is focused on an all-vegetarian (and vegan/gluten-free friendly) menu that includes double stack veggie burgers, chili cheese fries, milkshakes, burritos, pizza and salads that are good for the planet and a whole lot better for you than traditional fast food. The most popular item, not surprisingly, is the flagship Amy Burger ($4.29 with cheese), with freshly made buns, onions, lettuce, cheddar cheese, pickles, meatless patties and Fred Jr.’s secret sauce. (Insider info: Fred Jr. and Fred Sr. are the R+D team for Amy’s Kitchen that helped to develop the Amy’s Drive Thru menu.) “It’s fun to look at people’s faces. They’re so happy,” said Rachel Berliner. “This is food that even though it’s meatless, you don’t miss the meat,” she said. The (literally) million dollar question: Where and when will they expand? Judging by the still-lengthy lines at the drive-thru fans are coming back for more, and more, and more. More restaurants are in the works, but no word on exactly when. 58 Golf Course Dr. West, Rohnert Park. Open daily 10a.m. to 10p.m.
There’s a reason why people spend hundreds of dollars for a meal — to delight every sense, one at a time. Showcasing the best local products, well-studied technique and creative execution from pan to plate, Valette delivers on that promise. A gathering spot for the who’s who of Healdsburg, this upscale-yet-approachable restaurant is the namesake of Chef Dustin Valette, a longtime Charlie Palmer/Dry Creek Kitchen toque. Dishes are elaborate and carefully thought out to include a mix of textures, flavors, colors and culinary intrigue, so prepared for plenty of surprises. The best bet is to immerse yourself in the chef’s “Trust Me” tasting menu — a guided tour through four (or more) dishes on the menu. At $15 per course, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. 344 Center St., Healdsburg, (707) 473-0946, valettehealdsburg.com. Dinner service daily from 5:30p.m., lunch Friday and Saturday from 11:30a.m. to 2p.m.
For seafood in Sonoma County, it’s hard to beat this boat-to-table restaurant. An expansion of Santa Rosa Seafood’s retail shop, this casual cafe serves up destination-worthy fish tacos, fish and chips, and tuna ceviche along with more upscale classic seafood dishes like seafood cioppino, petrel sole piccata, grilled swordfish and North Beach style linguine with clams. This is the kind of fresh seafood you wish you could find at the Coast, but rarely do. Prepare to be hooked at first bite. 946 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, (707) 579-2085. Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday, santarosaseafood.com.
Popular Sonoma County restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark’s newest venture, Bird and The Bottle, is a marriage of East and West brought together by fire and schmaltz. Here, dishes like smoked black cod schmear and chicken skin cracklings fried in chicken fat (schmaltz) with Nashville hot sauce ($4) commingle with congee-style cheese grits, mac and cheese or buttermilk fried chicken. It’s a menu that not everyone gets, but the strange mash-up somehow works, with bold flavors, dishes that take a few risks, yet with the rib-sticking comfort qualities that the Starks’ restaurants have in spades. A great cocktail lineup and $1.5 million interior make it a favorite meet-up spot. 1055 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, (707) 568-4000. Open Sunday-Thursday, 11:30a.m. to 9:30p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30a.m. to 10p.m.
Two blisteringly hot wood-fired ovens are the muscle of Jim and Michele Wimborough’s Occidental restaurant, Hazel. Left by the previous owners of long-time French restaurant, Bistro des Copains, the ovens are being pressed into service for everything from house made sourdough loaves to whole braised branzino, perfectly-cooked pizzas, and every so often, pastry chef Michele’s chocolate chip cookies. Already being hailed as a new “West County classic”, the couple have quickly endeared themselves to the community with a mix of Mediterranean and California cuisines. Great weekend brunches as well. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5p.m. to 10p.m.; brunch 10a.m. to 2p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 3782 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, (707) 874-6003, restauranthazel.com.
Local, comfort classics with a French twist are the signature of this cozy Petaluma bistro. Here, everyone knows everyone or, if they don’t, the bistro tables lend themselves to casual conversation and knowing nods of approval as a lusty plate of short ribs arrives. Most of the food (and wine) is sourced from within 20 miles or less, giving diners a true taste of the bounty of the county. Best bets include mushroom and truffled bruschetta cream canapés and Sonoma County terrine, along with cabernet-braised short ribs. 140 2nd. Suite 100, Petaluma, (707) 981-8228. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch; happy hour 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m, bistro100petaluma.com.
This bespoke fast-casual pizzeria features a small wood-fired oven that cooks your pizza at 800 degrees in about 90 seconds. Created by World Pizza Champion Glenn Cybulski, the dough is hand-stretched to order, and uses “00” Caputo flour (what the pros use). Serious bases of marinara, pesto, “bianca”(olive oil and garlic), and Margherita can be topped with pepperoni, Sopressata, meatball, anchovies, prosciutto, bacon, seasonal local veggies, pine nuts, caramelized onions, arugula, blue cheese and three types of mozzarella. Go for the winner of the World Pizza Competition in Napoli, the Chipotle Chicken, loaded with mozzarella, roasted chicken, chipotle sauce and fresh pico, its a bit gimmicky, but ends up being seriously addictive. OMG burrata salad (that’s fresh mozzarella with creamy ricotta in the middle), beets, arugula and vinaigrette. 701 Fourth St., Santa Rosa.
Follow your nose to this funky Korean pop-up where kimchee and KFC (Korean Fried Crack) are served up along with Kobe beef hot dogs (with pickled daikon and kimchee aioli, natch) and short rib mac and cheese. The sign goes up at 5p.m., outside Don Taylor’s Omelette Express after the pancakes and burgers are put away for the day. There are plenty of kid-friendly dishes that make this an experience for the whole family, along with fried PB&J with pop rocks for late-night diners. 112 Fourth St., Santa Rosa,(707) 869-8006. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5p.m. to 10(ish)p.m., dickblomsters.com.
The new Sonoma aroma might just be wood-smoke and brisket. This year, barbecue restaurants popped up like gophers on a golf course. Turn around and another chef has spent a month in Austin, Texas learning the secrets of barbecue masters, and is now touting his secret sauce and philosophical approach to brisket. Call it an obsession.
With a “non-denominational” approach to regional barbecue, KINSmoke tops our list, featuring everything from St. Louis style pork ribs and Texas links to Alabama white sauce, Carolina mustard sauce and Texas brisket. With a serious approach to sides, they’re the all-around spot to get your ‘cue on, but be forewarned that when the brisket or ribs are gone for the day, they’re gone. 304 Center St., Healdsburg, 473-8440, kinsmoke.com, open daily for lunch and dinner.
The return of Terry’s Southern Barbecue (5979 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park) is cause for celebration among its many fans for fall-off-the-bone ribs, hush puppies, catfish and Momma’s Boss Sauce, and sweet peach cobbler. Sauced (151 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma, saucedbbqandsprits.com) has the unicorn of West Coast barbecue, burnt ends, along with a monster-sized sweet potato with pulled pork, bacon, sour cream, chives and pretty much the kitchen sink of other goodies. Glen Ellen Star Chef Ari Weisswasser spent nearly a month in Austin learning the fine art of barbecue and has brought that back to Sonoma’s Rossi’s 1906 with a brand new menu. Working with owner Max Young, they’re calling it “Texas barbecue in a California context,” featuring authentic Texas BBQ with a Cali twist, like brisket and oysters. But its the brisket that Weisswasser has really put his heart and soul into. (401 Grove St., Sonoma, 343-0044, rossis1906.com). Juicy Pig: Recently-opened in Guerneville, with lots of promise from Chef Ruben Gomez. 16440 Fourth St., Guerneville, 604-7120. Newest to the lineup is Texas-style BBQ spot Cochon Volant, where Chef Rob Larman serves up ribs, brisket and pork shoulder sliced by the pound. 18350 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, 509-5480, cochonvolantbbq.com.
Basilico Cucina Italiana, $$
Just-opened in Santa Rosa, this trattoria is the second from the owners of the critically-acclaimed Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma. Fresh pastas and real-deal Northern Italian entrees that go well beyond the usual spaghetti and meatballs fare. 4776 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, (707) 539-0260.