From plant-based dishes to crave-worthy Mexican eats to the most perfect burger in Sonoma County, here’s what to eat this summer. Click through the above gallery for a peek inside the restaurants and best bets.
As chef de cuisine of the much-anticipated Little Saint cafe and restaurant, Bryan Oliver has spent the last seven months studying the subtleties of plant-based emulsifiers.
He’s been on a mission to make sure aquafaba (chickpea water) doesn’t taste like beans and tackled the challenges of creating a satisfying buttercream without butter or cream.
When building a plant-based menu to a Michelin-starred restaurant’s exacting standards, sometimes it’s as much about chemistry as it is about cuisine. “In the first few months, we were not trying to figure out a menu, but exploring the world of plant-based foods,” Oliver says. “There was a lot of playing around.”
More than a food hall, the 10,000-square-foot building that once housed SHED Modern Grange has been transformed into multi-use art, music, and performance space with a 72-seat restaurant, bar, and market selling wine and produce.
A collaboration between Kyle and Katina Connaughton of Healdsburg’s Single Thread; designer Ken Fulk; philanthropist Jeff Ubben and his wife, animal activist Laurie Ubben; and program director Jenny Hess; Little Saint aims to forge a new vision for vegan dining and sustainable living.
25 North St., Healdsburg. 707-433-8207, littlesainthealdsburg.com
The grab-and-go Larder section, with prepared salads (beet with coconut yogurt, potato with soy-milk aioli, farro with fresh asparagus). Plus Quail and Condor bread and housemade dips like red lentil hummus and creamy cultured cashew. Available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the larder is a good toe-dip into the flavors of Little Saint.
Cauliflower Biryani for two ($39): Basmati rice, curried cauliflower and pickled golden raisins are finished in a woodfired oven and topped with crispy onions and dried rose petals. Easily enough for three or four people, it’s a hearty Indianinspired rice dish that lets the aromas of cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, and nutmeg do all the talking. Sweet-pickled kohlrabi and citrus hot sauce ramp up the flavors even more.
Cocktails: Matthew Seigel’s bar program helps the restaurant form a sustainable “closed loop,” using the cooking water from beets and purple carrots to add rich color and earthy bass notes to cocktails, for example.
Kina’s Kitchen & Bar
When Picazo Kitchen & Bar opened in Sonoma in April 2019, owners Sal and Kina Chavez had high hopes.With community support for their other businesses, it seemed a natural extension. Then came two years of fires and the pandemic.
Needing a fresh start, the couple have rechristened the space as Kina’s Kitchen & Bar, with a menu that better reflects Kina’s journey as a Mexican American raised on her mother’s pozole, and her passion for modern American cuisine.
The new menu includes more dishes from her childhood and a fresh cocktail menu with tequila and mezcal from Mexico. Try fried brussels sprouts with pepper jam and bacon, birria nachos, beef noodle pho, fried chicken with Mexican gravy, or lemon cottage cheese pancakes.
19101 Highway 12, Sonoma. 707-935-3287, kinaskitchenbar.com
Though the outpost of this popular Marin Puerto Rican restaurant opened in March, it took nearly two months to get the kitchen staffed enough to open its doors for indoor seating and a full menu.
The sprawling space that once housed Sauced BBQ in Petaluma’s Theater District now features Sol Food’s famous pink frijoles and craveworthy dishes like pollo al horno (chicken thighs); camarones empanizados (breaded fried prawns and plantains); and a much-loved Cubano sandwich with roast pork, ham, pickles and Swiss.
Now that they’re fully open, larger dishes like coconut milk french toast, arroz con picadillo (ground beef with seasoned rice), coconut stew with shrimp, and mofongo (Creole prawns with garlic and tomato) are welcome additions. Don’t forget a bottle of pique (spicy vinegar sauce) to pour on … everything.
151 Petaluma Blvd. S. 707-347-5998, solfoodrestaurant.com
La Fondita and Cantina
There is nothing understated about a bucket-sized margarita or an 80-ounce beer tap at your table, but that’s what makes this downtown Santa Rosa restaurant and late-night bar the hottest fiesta in Sonoma County.
Though a quiet cantina by day with nine pages of regional Mexican and California classics, things get a little wild after 8 p.m. On weekends, mariachi bands fill the space with music, and staff parade through the restaurant with flashing lights and whistles to announce the arrival of mega-margaritas and wacky drinks like la Pitufina (the Smurfette), with vodka, ice cream, and bright blue Curaçao. Fortunately, the kitchen is open late to soak up all the booze.
The Third Street location is the second for the local Reyes family, who opened the Roseland location of La Fondita in 1996. Known for their massive platters of food, sweet and creamy elote, and family atmosphere, owner Ivy Reyes says the new downtown spot is all about vamos con todo, meaning “We’re all in!” After a drink or two, you will be too.
630 Third St., Santa Rosa. 707-843-7595
Is Machado’s bacon cheeseburger the most perfect burger in Sonoma County? Quite possibly.
This Larkfield walk-up counter offers jaw-busting creations that check all of our “perfect burger” boxes. Chewy (but not too soft) Franco American buns easily hold up to a meaty grilled beef patty, oozing cheese, shredded lettuce (please stop putting entire leaves on burgers, people!), salty pickles, onions, tomato and a just-right mustard sauce. Also, Piggy Tots: tater tots topped with homemade chili, pulled pork and more.
We’re in hog heaven.
406 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa. 707-546-6835
A La Heart
This longtime events catering company has moved to Forestville and now offers picnic-ready prepared salads, sandwiches and baked goods along with espresso drinks and dinner kits. We love stopping by to see what new surprises (fried chicken sliders, giant cinnamon rolls) land on the menu each week.
6490 Mirabel Road, Forestville. 707-527-7555, alaheart.com