You don’t have to be wealthy to eat well in Sonoma County. Sure, there are high-end restaurants with deep wine lists, $15 cocktails and menu items that include exotic and expensive ingredients. But beyond the gustatory glitz is a smorgasbord of good, honest and affordable eateries and dishes across the region. There are myriad options for delicious indulgence, but only if you know where to go. And we do.
Dierk's Midtown Café: This is the second location for Mark Dierkhising and Karen Brodsky (their first is Dierk’s Parkside Café). Their smoked salmon hash ($14.25) commands attention, accompanied by oven-dried tomatoes, green onions and hash browns. The perfectly cooked salmon is topped with two eggs and a chive-lemon-horseradish sauce that brings all the flavors together. And guess what? It’s the most expensive item on the menu, delivering great bang for the buck. 1422 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-2233.
Worth Our Weight: With weekends-only brunches prepared and served by enrollees in Evelyn Cheatham’s culinary apprenticeship program, Worth Our Weight provides big wows at very fair prices. Her team prepares savory staples such as extraordinary spaghetti carbonara, lamb hash with poached eggs and sautéed greens, and brandade (puree of salt cod) cakes topped with poached eggs and a kale salad alongside, each for $9.95. Ethereal scones with butter and preserves are complimentary. 1021 Hahman Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-544-1200.
Ricardo's Bar & Grill: Miss Caffe Portofino? You’ll find some of the staff members now at Ricardo’s. Sit at the long bar or grab a booth and check out the grilled cheese and tomato soup with Parmesan-crusted bread ($12) or the four-piece fried chicken plate with mashed potatoes and gravy ($17.50). Happy hour is 2-6 p.m. daily, with $4 cocktails, $5 wine, $2.50-$5 beer and $4-$8 appetizers. 2700 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-545-7696.
Quickly: It’s a chain, true, but Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, are the only homes of Quickly in the county, where tasty fried seafood on sticks, bubble milk teas and other Asian snacks draw a Santa Rosa High and Santa Rosa Junior College crowd. At $3-$4 for most items, thrifty eaters can munch on fried baby octopus, squid balls, calamari rings and shrimp trigon, washed down with a mango milk tea. 1880 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-303-7412.
Mi Tierra: Watch fresh tortillas being made on-site and savor an enormous, regional Mexican specialty molcajete: steak, prawns, chicken, mushrooms, grilled cactus, roasted chiles, a huge slab of queso fresco, onion, tomato and spicy broth, all served in a stone molcajete bowl ($20). It’s enough for two, and comes with rice, refried beans, avocado and those luscious tortillas, great for dunking into the broth. 3262 Airway Dr, Santa Rosa, 707-546-1777.
LoCoco's Cucina Rustica: LoCoco’s does cannoli proud, turning out classic versions as good as any found in New York or New Jersey. House-made, tube-shaped fried pastry shells are filled with sweetened ricotta, pistachios and orange zest, then dusted with powdered sugar. The first-bite crunch leads to a heavenly, creamy center. They’re well worth the $8.95 price for two cannoli. 117 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-2227.
Willie Bird's Restaurant: With weeknight dinner deals that include an entree plus soup or salad for $13.95, it’s hard to go wrong at Willie Bird’s. Craving Thanksgiving flavors out of season? There are multiple options, including the open-faced hot turkey sandwich, which comes with mashed potatoes, stuffing, giblet gravy and cranberry sauce ($12.95). Show up early for happy hour, Monday through Friday, 4:30-6:30 p.m., for free appetizers along with your favorite libation. 1150 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-542-0861.
Thai Time Asian Bistro: With a menu featuring dishes priced $5-$22 (most less than $14), choices abound, and every beautifully presented item tastes as good as it looks. Fans of tom-kha coconut soup will be hooked instantly on the flavorful, rich broth packed with vegetables and a choice of chicken or tofu ($7); add $2 for prawns. The soup has just the right amount of spice and can be a meal in itself. 402 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-545-5204.
Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room: Usually, the tacos at this hip joint are three for $10. But on Taco Tuesday, they’re only $1 all day and night, with a choice of ground beef, chorizo, pulled pork or veggie street tacos (why choose, at that price? Get one of each). You’ll save on suds from 2 p.m. on, too. 523 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-526-5787.
The Villa Restaurant: Others may try, but no one can beat The Villa’s old-school happy hour, 3-7:30 p.m. daily. Beer and wine are $3, well drinks $4, and there is a wide assortment of appetizers ($3-$8). Check out the fried calamari, soft polenta with meat sauce, and tortellini pesto. Those who don’t fill up on apps can order a half-portion of most entrees for less than $20. 3901 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-528-7755.
Stark's Steak & Seafood: Its lunch and dinner menus are not cheap-eats material, but there is no arguing the popularity and pricing of Stark’s happy hour, offered Monday through Saturday – yes, Saturday – from 3-6 p.m. A lively crowd enjoys drinks specials, including $2.50 Beefeater martinis on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and several small-plates noshes. Raw oysters, tuna tartare tacos and truffle fries are $1.75, Moroccan chicken meatballs and prime rib banh mi sandwiches are $3.75, and mini burgers with Cheddar and bacon are $5. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100.
John Ash & Co. The Front Room Bar + Lounge: You can get a beef filet in the main restaurant for $43, or you can relax in the lounge and indulge in Tips And Toast — beef filet tips, mushroom cream sauce and grilled ciabatta for $14. Set with a fireplace, the elegant space sparkles with other deals, such as roasted lamb ribs in pomegranate Pinot Noir barbecue sauce ($14) and oversized grilled fish tacos with slaw, cilantro cream and salsa ($11). 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687.
Bistro 29: It seems like it has to be a typo: $29 for a four-course French meal Tuesday through Thursday, with just $11 more for wine pairings from the lengthy list of French and California labels. But it’s true, with the bistro’s changing prix-fixe menu offering lineups such as asparagus cream soup with bacon and buckwheat crumbs; Baby Gem lettuce salad with toasted hazelnuts, grapes and blue cheese; hanger steak with potatoes Lyonnaise, Dijon mustard and grilled spring onion, and dark chocolate mousse. 620 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-2929.
Ting Hau: Look no further than this small, unassuming eatery for high-quality, fresh and inexpensive Chinese food. It might not have the flash of the pricier choices around, yet this is the real deal. For a perfect spin on a classic dish, go for the honey walnut crispy prawns lunch special ($11), which comes with steamed or fried rice, crispy wontons and hot and sour soup. 714 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-5204.
Mac's Deli and Cafe: What’s not to love about ginormous, really good sandwiches flanked by a pickle? How about when they’re just $6.50-$8.50 for stacked-high kosher specialties such as hot corned beef layered with coleslaw? Best ever deal: hot corned beef on rye with choice of salad and a glass of tap beer, all for $8.75. Breakfast is a winner, too, for two eggs with pastrami, home fries or hash browns, and a bagel for $8.95. 630 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-3785.
Croques & Toques: This Cotati-based truck specializes in croquettes – meat, fish and vegetable rolls that are coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Good-value eats include chicken Parmesan croquettes with mozzarella and marinara sauce ($8), and croque monsieur croquettes with ham and Gruyère and Emmentaler cheeses ($8). The truck appears regularly throughout Sonoma; check the website for details. 415-830-9046.
Tony's of North Beach: It’s in the Graton Resort & Casino, but don’t let that stop you from having high expectations for Tony’s Prime Rib Mondays. Juicy rosemary- and garlic-encrusted beef is slathered in pan drippings and horseradish cream, and served with a salad of baby greens with creamy Gorgonzola dressing, all for a bargain price of $15.99. The larger Flintstone cut is $18.99. Make it a real waddle-out feast with $4 sides, among them roasted-garlic mashed potatoes and creamed Parmesan spinach with pancetta. 30 Park Court, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0777.