Where to Eat Right Now in Sonoma County

From delicious baked good to fresh handmade pasta, here are some of our dining editor's top picks.

Dining editor Heather Irwin picks three top spots for dining out in Sonoma County as spring arrives. Click through the above gallery for a peek at a few favorite dishes at each restaurant.

Golden Bear Station

Chef Joshua Smookler tested nearly 100 pizza doughs for his new restaurant, and he’s still tweaking the recipe. The moisture, the flour, the “secret ingredient” he declines to share, the temperature of the wood-fired oven, and even the weather are all critical to the final result—a crust dotted with leopard spots, neither too burnt nor too raw, but just right.

Golden Bear Station, which Smookler owns with his wife, Heidy He, is a departure for the couple, who opened the critically acclaimed Animo in downtown Sonoma in 2022. While that now-shuttered dining experience focused on livefire cooking with luxe ingredients and Mediterranean and Korean influences, Golden Bear Station pays homage to Italy. Mostly.

Smookler and He shrug off being pigeon-holed into specific categories, and the new menu, which leans heavily on gourmet pizzas and pasta, also includes a hamburger, a tuna crudo starter, and a $155 whole lamb saddle, which must be ordered ahead of time. The scallops tiradito starter riffs on Peruvian-style crudo, with raw scallops thinly sliced into disks and stacked in basil oil, green tomato, and finger limes—a flavor bomb of sweet mollusk, tart citrus, and aromatic vegetal notes. The couple have also reprised the Asian-inspired pork chop in umami-laden dashi broth and lobster in XO sauce with lemongrass tea previously on the Animo menu. (Animo is slated to reopen in 2024 with a new concept.)

A Burger Named Harlan from the Golden Bear Station Thursday, January 11, 2023 on Hwy 12 in Kenwood. (Photo John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
A Burger Named Harlan from the Golden Bear Station in Kenwood. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Lobster XO with a table side pour of shiitake lemongrass tea over sushi rice from the Golden Bear Station Thursday, January 11, 2023 on Hwy 12 in Kenwood. (Photo John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Lobster XO with a table side pour of shiitake lemongrass tea over sushi rice from the Golden Bear Station in Kenwood. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

What brings this diverse set of offerings together is just how extraordinary everything is. Take the classic cacio e pepe , a classic bucatini pasta. Here, the dish is elevated with seven different kinds of pepper, giving it a spicy punch that lingers on the tongue. There’s an option to add fresh uni, which lends a creamy, briny, sweet accent, further elevating the dish. Pasta Bolognese is equally impressive, with a meat and tomato sauce that sticks to every centimeter of the fresh, housemade paccheri pasta (a larger, wider sibling of rigatoni).

Pizzas are a highlight, perfectly cooked without any bitter notes of char. The soft, chewy dough has a puffed crust and a thin but sturdy middle that holds on to ingredients rather than letting them all slide off. The best bet is the Boscaiola pie, topped with fresh mushrooms, sharp fontina cheese, and truffles, though the classic Margherita also shines.

Smookler and He’s shared passion for exhaustive research, even on the simplest of dishes, sets Golden Bear Station apart. As the menu continues to evolve, the amount of time and passion the couple invest in their practice is sure to lead to many more equally revelatory dishes.

8445 Hwy. 12, Kenwood. goldenbearstation.com

Monday Bakery

There is no tidy way to eat kouign-amann, the sweet but complicated cousin of the croissant. This crisp, buttery, caramelized French pastry explodes into a million tiny pieces of sugar and dough at the mere suggestion that you might eat it; napkins are useless against its many layers; and it laughs at your attempts to wipe the buttery crumbs from your face and hands.

And somehow, that is my warped rationale for eating one while driving away from Sonoma’s Monday Bakery. No matter what, it’s making a mess. Why not enjoy the ride?

The downtown bakery, owned by Sally Geftakys, crafts super-sized versions of kouign-amann (pronounced “queen-uh-man”), roughly translated from French as “you will be wearing these pastry crumbs for several days.” With crunchy petals of laminated dough and an airy honeycomb interior, they’re worth every bit of mess, hassle, and calorie (your hands will smell like a pat of butter for several hours).

Cheerful spring vibes at downtown Sonoma's new Monday Bakery. (Sakhon Nhek/Courtesy of Monday Bakery)
Cheerful spring vibes at downtown Sonoma’s new Monday Bakery. (Sakhon Nhek/Courtesy of Monday Bakery)

Geftakys, a CIA Greystone graduate and passionate baker, launched Monday Bakery at local farmers markets and pop-ups in 2017. But after finding a ravenous audience for her seasonally inspired sweet and savory pastries, she opened a storefront in downtown Napa in 2019, followed by this new Sonoma location in late 2023.

Seasonal ingredients like pears, apples, and berries fill scones and turnovers; ham, cheese, or chocolate are hidden inside fat croissants; and muffins, cookies, and quiche beckon from the glass display case. Premade sandwiches on fluffy baguettes are ready to grab and go. Nutella-frosted banana bread is a revelation—and the only way I’ll ever enjoy it again.

I’ll be cleaning the crumbs from my car upholstery for weeks, but life is too short not to dive into a messy bag of pastries immediately and without regret.

117 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 707-699-2960mondaybakery.com

de Havilland

For nearly 13 years, chef Mark Malicki spent his Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights cooking in a closet-sized kitchen at the Casino Bar & Grill in Bodega. Inside that kitchen was a two-burner stove, a flat-top grill, and a refrigerator drawer—not exactly a dream setup for a chef.

But somehow, Malicki made it work, serving up decidedly un-barlike dishes like short rib goulash with mushroom gratin, Dungeness crab from nearby Bodega Bay, buttermilk fried rabbit with rémoulade sauce, or Wagyu beef with foraged chanterelle mushrooms. Without the financial pressures of a brick-and-mortar space, Malicki thrived in the remote west county town as a culinary curiosity— an off-the-beaten-path food destination beloved by insiders, but mostly ignored by the Michelin-star obsessed.

Chef Mark Malicki operates his de Havilland pop-up at Tea Room Cafe in Petaluma. Photo taken in Petaluma on Friday, January 12, 2024. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)
Chef Mark Malicki operates his de Havilland pop-up at Tea Room Cafe in Petaluma. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

Now 64, Malicki says he was ready for a change, something closer to home, with a more expansive kitchen. After leaving the Casino last year, he created de Havilland, which takes over Petaluma’s Tea Room Cafe three nights a week, Thursday through Saturday. It’s a through line for Malicki’s deep-rooted passion for, well, whatever he’s passionate about at the moment—whether that’s frying latkes in Chinese scallion oil, feeding crab boat workers facing a deferred season, cooking for a fundraiser, or sharing a produce haul from his favorite farmer.

What you’ll experience will likely be a surprise, unless you follow Malicki’s Instagram (@malle.mal), where he posts the evening’s dishes along with observations and insights. There’s often a theme, but sometimes there isn’t, and it’s better not to go with any expectations. Just put yourselves into Malicki’s hands, and enjoy being treated to de Havilland’s wild, wonderful, heartfelt, idealistic, perfectly imperfect world.

316 Western Ave., Petaluma. 707-623-5141, cafedehavilland.com