This Secret Roadhouse in Sonoma Serves Some of the Best Comfort Food Around

The inconspicuous roadhouse just west of downtown Sonoma flies so far under the radar that most locals don’t even know about it.

Hidden well off the Sonoma Square, Delicious Dish is an inconspicuous roadhouse that flies so far under the radar that most locals don’t even know about it. And if you’re from out of town, you’d likely only find this offbeat restaurant and outdoor patio by chance.

But with some of the best comfort food around, it’s time for their close-up.

Delicious Dish’s chef/owner Lauren Cotner describes the spot as west Sonoma’s “punk rock little sister.”

Cotner loves to surprise and delight visitors with the unexpected: Snort-worthy Barbie dioramas peek from corners; in a hand-drawn sketch near the front door, SNL actor Chris Farley sports a crown. And in-the-know diners frequent the monthly Delicious Dish movie nights in costume.

You can’t not have fun here.

While sitting on the shady patio filled with blue metal chairs and wooden tables, you’ll find Delicious Dish is one of the few casual, affordable and family-friendly dining spots in the town of Sonoma. The menu isn’t a laundry list of dishes but a curated selection of Cotner’s greatest hits. Going hungry here is not an option.

With food that’s tasty and universally appealing, she and her husband, Charles, focus on nosh-worthy fried chicken sandwiches, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salads and an often-changing lineup of sandwiches, bowls and weekly specials instead of ego-based menu showpieces.

Chef Lauren Cotner at Delicious Dish in Sonoma (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)
California Fried Chicken at Delicious Dish in Sonoma (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

So why hasn’t the restaurant blown up on social media?

In recent years, the roadhouse has suffered some confusion over its mission. To meet business demands, Cotner has offered weekday to-go lunches, catering, weeknight dinners for pickup and delivery and the monthly movie night on the roadhouse’s expansive covered porch. The newly renovated outdoor dining area has a fire pit, movie screen and plenty of space for kids to roam.

The restaurant has been closed on weekends, which means missing out on visitors to Sonoma. But weekend outdoor patio service will begin July 30 (check for updates).

Cotner also plans to give the roadhouse a funky graffiti art makeover and will expand hours when she can find more help, a current challenge for restaurants everywhere.

Pivoting again and again has been a common response for restaurateurs facing ongoing challenges in the face of the pandemic. Sonoma County’s lack of progress in rebounding from the pandemic worries her. She’s vocal about wanting to attract new visitors with more dynamic businesses in Sonoma.

“I sometimes see parts of the downtown Plaza tumble-weeding. It can be a ghost town. Times are changing, and people need something fresh to keep them coming back,” she said.

Strawberry and blueberry milkshakes at Delicious Dish in Sonoma (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

But Cotner remains optimistic about her adopted hometown. During the pandemic, she donated hundreds of meals to neighbors in need and she pays her staff living wages. She continues to find opportunities to share Delicious Dish food with a larger audience, such as with the dinner boxes she makes for Gold season ticket holders at Transcendence Theater’s summer shows.

Delicious Dish is ready to meet you with warmth and tasty goodness. Just look for the quiet little roadhouse a few blocks down the road from Expected and down the hill from Dullsville.

Best Bets

Fried Chicken Sandwiches, $16: These are the Goldilocks fried chicken sandwiches I’ve been searching for. The chicken breast isn’t too thick or too thin. The buns are soft but not wimpy. The toppings are an absolutely perfect complement, with fresh produce and flavor-packed condiments; and the breading stays crispy-crunchy long enough to eat the whole sandwich. The California is a Lizzo-thick ’wich with avocado, pickled red onion, ranch dressing, roasted poblano peppers and thick heirloom tomatoes. My favorite, however, had to be the Nashville, dripping with pimento cheese, sweet pickled jalapeños, ranch dressing and shredded lettuce. So naughty, but so nice.

Hot Dungeness Crab Melt, $24: Another “where have you been all my life” sandwich loaded with warm Old Bay-spiced crab salad on a buttery brioche bun. A slice of cheddar, thick tomato slices and Meyer lemon mayonnaise elevate this work of food art into Louvre material. It’s worth the price, unlike so many other anemic crab sandos that are just a whisper of seafood on a raft of a bun.

Crab sandwich melt at Delicious Dish in Sonoma (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

Fresh Catch Burger, as quoted: Fresh whole fish (usually local halibut) is broken down daily at the shop, and it shows in the clean flavor and moistness of this generously sized burger. A big chunk is sandwiched between potato buns, melted American cheese, fresh dill tartar sauce and pickled cabbage. I’m a serious seafood snob, and this easily satisfied me.

Banh Mi Ahi Poke Bowl Salad, $18: It’s no exaggeration to say I could eat this rainbow of black rice, pickled daikon, cucumber, watermelon radish, cilantro, mint and ruby red chunks of tuna every day. Each bite reveals something new — sweet, crunchy, sour, bitter, herby, umami — presented in a giant bowl that’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Cotner understands the sauce game — she puts both sriracha aioli and a creamy miso dressing on the side.

Homemade shakes, $7: Just yum. No fillers or artificial gunk, just creamy frozen goodness with fresh ingredients and a swirl of whipped cream.