50 Best Restaurants in Sonoma County 2018

Small But Mighty: Café la Haye, Sonoma (Beth Schlanker)

There’s certainly no shortage of “best” restaurants in Sonoma County, a region known as much for culinary excellence as it is for the quality of its wines and the beauty of its landscape. So in a way, the task was simple as we selected local chefs and restaurants that continually offer up dishes beyond compare.

Yet even as we wrote why a specific restaurant deserved special praise (drooling a little along the way), it was hard to keep our minds off that little corner bistro that serves a great Reuben, the popular cafe with that perfect little salad, or an always-full restaurant that somehow fell off the radar. That’s part of what makes Sonoma so special — there are surprising food finds to discover around every corner.

We present 50 of our favorite restaurants for everyday eats, special occasions, family outings, and quick bites.

All-You-Can Eat Sushi: Paradise, Santa Rosa
All-You-Can Eat Sushi: Paradise, Santa Rosa (Heather Irwin)

All-You-Can Eat Sushi: Paradise, Santa Rosa: Sometime you just need more California rolls than any human should really consume. All-youcan- eat sushi and rolls for lunch and dinner may not have the panache of pricier raw fish, but sometimes utility sushi does the job. Solidly done, with pennypincher pricing. 119 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-542-4582, paradisesushi.net

Bar to See Winemakers: El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma
Bar to See Winemakers: El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Bar to See Winemakers: El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma: The seven chairs at the marble bar are a favorite hangout for the many winemakers in the Sonoma and Sonoma Valley area — particularly so during harvest. Talent from Sebastiani, Buena Vista, and other nearby wineries converge here in the afternoons, usually drinking, what else, beer. 405 1st St. W., Sonoma, 707996-3030, eldoradosonoma.com

Belly Up to the Bar: Geyserville Gun Club
Belly Up to the Bar: Geyserville Gun Club (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Belly Up to the Bar: Geyserville Gun Club: The best-kept secret in Wine Country is this unassuming Geyserville bar that once served as an Odd Fellows Hall. It’s been transformed into an eclectic catch-all hangout for the post-winery set, winemakers, local chefs, and in-the-know gastronomes who sidle up to the historic bar for wildly creative cocktails or Olympia beer from a can. Chef Dino Bugica (Diavola) is behind the menu of low-brow hot dog creations (try the Tijuana with bacon, jalapeno, fried onions, and pickled pineapple), fresh oysters, pork belly ramen, and Korean tacos. 21025 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-8140036, geyservillegunclub.com

Bread Basket: Trading Post, Cloverdale
Bread Basket: Trading Post, Cloverdale (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Bread Basket: Trading Post, Cloverdale: Rather than a tummy-filling distraction, the bread service at this charming raw-wood-trimmed cafe is a star of the meal. That’s because partner-chef Aaron Arabian has his very own bakery, viewed through a glass wall off the dining room. He bakes daily and constantly changes his breadboard lineup, sending out such a generous array of slices and rolls that it’s a bargain for $6. One evening, we might score superb brandied onion rolls, potato-arugula focaccia, pumpkin rye, and rosemary pain d’epi for spreading with silky cultured butter; on another, we might salivate over French baguette, artisanal sourdough country loaf, seeded rye, and sweet fruit-nut bread. 102 S. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-8946483, thepostcloverdale.com

Channeling Julia: Brass Rabbit, Healdsburg
Channeling Julia: Brass Rabbit, Healdsburg (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Channeling Julia: Brass Rabbit, Healdsburg: Julia Child’s claim to fame was bringing French cuisine to a Jello mold nation in the early 1960s. We’ve come a long way in 50 years, but classic dishes like her boeuf Bourguignon and lobster Thermidor deserve a revival, and chef Shane McAnelly is doing just that. With a restaurant that’s part Wine Country and part La Grenouille, diners sup on daily specials like bouillabaise, shrimp with cocktail sauce, rabbit pot pie, Dungeness Crab Louie, and bavette steak with creamed Swiss chard. 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8580, thebrassrabbithealdsburg.com 

Cheese Fest: The Girl and the Fig, Sonoma
Cheese Fest: The Girl and the Fig, Sonoma (Rayna Greenberg - One Hungry Jew)

Cheese Fest: The Girl and the Fig, Sonoma: So many Sonoma County restaurants offer cheese plates these days, it’s become a Wine Country signature. But restaurateur Sondra Bernstein says she was the first to put together the platters 20 years ago, and now, she runs an entire Salon de Fromage as part of her menu, offering more than a dozen platters such as the Fromage Tower of six weekly changing cheese selections, seasonal fruit, spiced nuts, olives, Mano Formate cured meats and charcuterie, her own fig food condiments, and baguettes. 1206 E. Macarthur St., Ste. 3, Sonoma, 707-938-3634, thegirlandthefig.com

Date Night: Bird and Bottle, Santa Rosa
Date Night: Bird and Bottle, Santa Rosa (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Date Night: Bird and Bottle, Santa Rosa: An ambitious mashup of Jewish, Southern, and Korean comfort classics may seem like a stretch for a romantic night out, but in the hands of chef Mark Stark, even schmaltz can be sexy. With a luxe interior in just the shade of light gray that makes any complexion glow, a list of cocktails to get each other giggling, plenty of raw oysters, and a ramen matzoh ball soup to cure any marital misgivings, we’ll pretty much guarantee a smile the morning after. Did we mention the chicken liver mousse with cracklings, thrice-fried potatoes, fried cheese curds, and pastrami steamed buns? Excellent consolation even if your date is a dud. If you’re missing your old date-night favorite, Willi’s Wine Bar, since its tragic loss in the fires, the restaurant’s famous Tunisian roasted carrots and arugula and Endive salad make appearances on the B&B menu. 1055 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-568-4000, birdandthebottle.com

Duck, Duck, Duck: Farmhouse Inn Restaurant, Forestville
Duck, Duck, Duck: Farmhouse Inn Restaurant, Forestville (Charlie Gesell)

Duck, Duck, Duck: Farmhouse Inn Restaurant, Forestville: Duck is a Sonoma County staple — ubiquitous, actually — but we can never, ever get tired of how the local poultry is presented at this classy, Michelin-starred destination. That’s because chef Steve Litke changes his recipes often for his expertly toothtender, richly flavored bird. One evening, it may be smoked duck breast with silky foie gras on brioche sweetened with poached quince, while another evening may bring duck breast moistened in spicy red wine mole sauce atop polenta and collards. Recently, we were wooed by crispy-skin Peking-style duck, glazed in ginger plum sauce and perched on farro verde and spiced greens dotted with soy braised Alba mushrooms. As you may deduce, this is truly dynamite duck. 7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com

Eating Out for the Holidays: John Ash & Co, Santa Rosa
Eating Out for the Holidays: John Ash & Co, Santa Rosa (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Eating Out for the Holidays: John Ash & Co, Santa Rosa: Why bother fussing over a holiday meal when chef Tom Schmidt can do it so much better? Personally, we’d far rather be sipping a Negroni and eating pan-seared Liberty Duck confit hash with fresh duck eggs and pan-seared foie gras than wrestling to get an overly salted ham and boxed mashed potatoes on the table before the kids melt down. John Ash & Co., the birthplace of Wine Country dining, gets it so right with their inspired brunch, lunch, and dinner menus for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s, featuring seasonal produce and locally sourced meats in a calm, stress-free environment (we love the vineyard views). Holidays are stressful enough without figuring out how to make bananas Foster French toast on your own. So don’t. 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687, vintnersinn.com/dining

Fancy Pants: Single Thread, Healdsburg
Fancy Pants: Single Thread, Healdsburg (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Fancy Pants: Single Thread, Healdsburg: A restaurant experience that costs as much as a flat-screen television isn’t for everyone, but for those once-in-a-lifetime occasions, there’s pretty much no better pick in Sonoma County. Chef Kyle Connaughton spent years dreaming of a bespoke dining experience that embraces Japanese micro-seasonality, an artist’s attention to color and texture, and the unique terroir of the farm he runs with wife Katina. The quiet, minimalist interior lets the food do all the talking. Entering a world so perfectly ordered and eating food so perfectly executed is an experience that you won’t soon forget — if ever. 131 North St., Healdsburg, 707-723-4646, singlethreadfarms.com

Fish Tacos: Handline, Sebastopol
Fish Tacos: Handline, Sebastopol (Heather Irwin)

Fish Tacos: Handline, Sebastopol: This classic Baja dish is part of the fabric of California, and a bellwether for any restaurant that serves them. It’s a simple beach shack snack that can go so terribly wrong. Fortunately, Handline does everything right, from the locally sourced rockfish to a light beer battering, crispy shaved cabbage, chipotle aioli, lime, and avocado. What sets these tacos apart from most others are the corn tortillas made from scratch right at the restaurant, not from pre-made masa, but from stone-ground corn. 935 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol, 707-827-3744, handline.com 

Fix You Right Up: Pharmacy, Santa Rosa
Fix You Right Up: Pharmacy, Santa Rosa (Heather Irwin)

Fix You Right Up: Pharmacy, Santa Rosa: Thoughtfully crafted foods that nourish and enrich, rather than deplete, is the mission of this former pharmacy-turned-cafe. Sunny egg salad sandwiches with artisan bread, luxurious chop salads with roasted chicken, and an insanely delicious almond milk lassi with turmeric and ginger are favorites. It’s a perfect quick pitstop that won’t leave you with an afternoon of regret. 990 Sonoma Ave., #1, Santa Rosa, 707-978-2801, thepharmacysonomacounty.com (Photo by Heather Irwin)

Food with a Hole: City Garden Doughnuts, Santa Rosa
Food with a Hole: City Garden Doughnuts, Santa Rosa (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Food with a Hole: City Garden Doughnuts, Santa Rosa: These aren’t workaday donuts or wacky cereal-coated marshmallow-dipped curiosities that are more fun to look at than eat. Instead, City Garden takes a more subtle approach. Using intensely flavored glazes made with fresh fruit (pucker-worthy lemons, huckleberries, and strawberries top the list), dark chocolate, sprinkles, and even a bit of bacon atop pillowy brioche, “donut” hardly seems a worthy enough moniker. Regardless, there’s always a new flavor for the season, and cake donuts are new to the lineup. Just make sure to get in line early, or you’ll go home empty handed. And no one wants that. 1200 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-595-1932, facebook.com/CityGardenDoughnuts

For a Crowd: Franchetti's Wood Fire Kitchen, Santa Rosa
For a Crowd: Franchetti's Wood Fire Kitchen, Santa Rosa (Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

For a Crowd: Franchetti's Wood Fire Kitchen, Santa Rosa: As a combo fast-casual restaurant and catering kitchen, this industrial-chic spot is perfect for impromptu groups or planned private events. Just push together some tables, order a slew of spectacular thin crust wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas, then amuse your crew playing Ping-Pong, watching a game, or conquering the little putting green. The Cal-cuisine is superb, as shareable plates like succulent slow-braised roasted pork shoulder, juicy fried chicken, and pasta pomodoro with organic quinoa spaghetti in chunky, garlicky tomato sauce. There’s a pizza and pasta kids’ menu, too, and extra fun for adults: the topnotch wine list and vermouth cocktails. 1229 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-526-1229, franchettis.com

For the Brunch Bunch: Wishbone, Petaluma
For the Brunch Bunch: Wishbone, Petaluma (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

For the Brunch Bunch: Wishbone, Petaluma: Everyday is brunch day at this soulful Petaluma eatery run by husband and wife ranchers Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt. Sublime farm-to-table eggs Benny, biscuits, and gravy are all served daily from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. A full bar includes generous mimosas, Bloody Marys with house pickles, and a whiskeyspiked coffee makes the morning all the more enjoyable. 841 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-763-2663, wishbonepetaluma.com

Fresh Catch: Reel Fish Shop & Grill, Sonoma
Fresh Catch: Reel Fish Shop & Grill, Sonoma (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Fresh Catch: Reel Fish Shop & Grill, Sonoma: You wouldn’t expect such premium food — especially fresh fish — in this rather beat-up- looking stone, corrugated metal, and clapboard building dating back to 1906. Yet chef Aiki Terashima trained at Morimoto, so amid the live music that blasts through the joint most nights, you can nibble excellent ahi poke, macadamia-crusted halibut slathered in creamy kung pao sauce, and a Japanese salmon curry that takes two days to come together. And though you dine at plank wood tables on metal chairs inside, and on picnic tables outside, the kitchen lovingly prepares luxuries like excellent seared scallop risotto in spicy poblano sauce. 401 Grove St., Sonoma, 707-343-0044, thereelfishshop.com (Photo by John Burgess)

Kitchen Cachet: El Molino Central, Sonoma
Kitchen Cachet: El Molino Central, Sonoma (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Kitchen Cachet: El Molino Central, Sonoma: Everything is handcrafted at this teeny Mexican café, from homemade masa for tortillas, to the beef, pork, and apple picadillo stuffed in a chile relleno slathered in walnut sour cream sauce and pomegranate. We mean teeny, too — you watch the cooks at work just steps away as you order at the counter, and then stroll through the kitchen itself to get to the only seating, on a parking lot patio. 11 Central Ave., Sonoma, 707-939-1010, elmolinocentral.com

Mindful Fast Food: Amy's Drive Thru, Rohnert Park
Mindful Fast Food: Amy's Drive Thru, Rohnert Park (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Mindful Fast Food: Amy's Drive Thru, Rohnert Park: Drive-thru doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Amy’s meatless burgers, crispy fries, and burritos are kid-friendly and the vegan milkshakes (made with coconut milk) are addictive. If you’re looking for something a little less carb-loaded, seasonal salads with beets, quinoa, and baked tofu are fresh as a daisy. Organic breakfast yogurt parfaits, cinnamon rolls, and veggie sausage sandwiches are a go-to. 58 Golf Course Dr., Rohnert Park, 707-755-3629, amysdrivethru.com 

Neighborhood Joint: Spinster Sisters, Santa Rosa
Neighborhood Joint: Spinster Sisters, Santa Rosa (Alvin Jornada)

Neighborhood Joint: Spinster Sisters, Santa Rosa: The cornerstone of the SOFA restaurant scene, chef Liza Hinman’s modern comfort food showcases the best of Sonoma County, inspired by world cuisine. Here, Hinman is able to gently tie flavors together with spice, texture, or theme in a loose bow, rather than an unmanageable knot of confused ideas. 401 South A St., Santa Rosa, 707-528-7100, thespinstersisters.com

Old-World Elegance: La Salette, Sonoma
Old-World Elegance: La Salette, Sonoma (John Burgess)

Old-World Elegance: La Salette, Sonoma: Chef-owner Manuel Azevedo has been crafting his sophisticated Portuguese cuisine here for 20 years, and it just keeps getting better, with signatures like succulent wood oven-seared day boat scallops in a dark gold crust of crumbled chouriço (chorizo) alongside sweet potato puree, leek confit, and molho cru (chimichurri). 452 First St. E., Suite H, Sonoma, 707-938-1927, lasaletterestaurant.com

Ooh-la-la: Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro, Santa Rosa
Ooh-la-la: Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro, Santa Rosa (Chris Hardy)

Ooh-la-la: Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro, Santa Rosa: Chef Saul Barragan is traditionally trained, and it shows in his masterful touch with classics like Pernod-kissed escargot à la Bourguignonne, brandyrich lobster bisque en croute, and sumptuous Coquilles St. Jacques, the scallops bathed in white wine truffle cream sauce and topped in Gruyère, poached baby leeks, and shiitakes. The signature salad is particularly magnifique, in a tumble of confit duck gizzards with frisée, lardons, sautéed wild mushrooms, bacon vinaigrette, and a coddled organic egg. Still, Barragan adds contemporary flair. Oyster ceviche arrives dressed in Peruvian aji amarillo cream, lime, chive, and Japanese tobiko, while pan-seared foie gras is decorated in African grains of paradise, compressed Fuyu persimmon, and pomegranate gastrique. 3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, 707-5466462, walterhanselbistro.com

Pig Out: Zazu, Sebastopol
Pig Out: Zazu, Sebastopol (Chris Hardy)

Pig Out: Zazu, Sebastopol: You don’t get to be the King and Queen of Pork by serving fish. Sebastopol restaurateurs John Stewart and Duskie Estes have devoted their lives and their restaurant to all things porka- licious, from their coveted Black Pig Bacon, featured a la carte or in the Black Pig Sour (bacon bourbon) cocktail to house-made salumi, Rodeo Jax (caramel popcorn with bacon), pig sugo and roasted bone marrow with hog-jaw bacon jam. The couple also raise their own pigs and were named the  2011 winners of the Cochon 555 pig-centric culinary competition, gaining them a lifetime reign over the pork kingdom. 6770 McKinley St., #150, Sebastopol, 707-523-4814, zazukitchen.com 

Place to Take Your Parents (So They Can Pay): Valette, Healdsburg
Place to Take Your Parents (So They Can Pay): Valette, Healdsburg (Chris Hardy)

Place to Take Your Parents (So They Can Pay): Valette, Healdsburg: Even though we all pretend to reach for our wallets when the bill comes, Dad will always be the fastest draw in the Visa showdown. Valette is our “impress the parents” destination — it’s all about the swanky but not stuffy vibe. Foie gras and kaffir lime snow? Check. A medium-rare Wagyu steak? Of course. Scallops en croute served with beurre blanc caviar sauce? Why, yes. Coat and tie required? Not a chance. We recommend the chef’s tasting menu to really show your newfound sophistication, but you can also go à la carte, or sit at the bar and nibble on mushroom fondue while pondering the epic wine list. 344 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-0946, valettehealdsburg.com 

Private Dining Room: Chicken Pharm, Petaluma
Private Dining Room: Chicken Pharm, Petaluma (John Burgess)

Private Dining Room: Chicken Pharm, Petaluma: Cutely called The Coop, the PDR at this chicken-centric eatery sits behind sliding wood barn doors next to the main dining room, and welcomes in a farmhouse chic vibe with wood tables, lounge seating, plush couches, three big-screen TVs, and hanging barn lamps. May we suggest ordering party platters of juicy fried buttermilk chicken for your group of up to 45 guests? 132 Keller St., Petaluma, 707-543-1278, chickenpharm.com 

Radical Rustic: Diavola Pizzeria, Geyserville
Radical Rustic: Diavola Pizzeria, Geyserville (Christopher Chung)

Radical Rustic: Diavola Pizzeria, Geyserville: At first glance, this Italian jewel housed in an historic 1900s brick building offers a traditional farmstyle Italian menu. Chef-owner Dino Bugica spent more than 10 years in Italy, after all, learning the art of butchery and cucina povera (comfort food). Yet study his ingredients, and you’ll discover some wow, in surprising recipes such as potato gnocchi with fennel, peas, green garlic, asparagus, fava tips, ricotta di bufala, and — wait for it — smoked salmon and kumquat. Neapolitan-style pizzas are a specialty, pulled out of a wood-fire oven, but how’s this for oomph: the Dictator pie is topped in marinated rib-eye, garlic, mozzarella, scallions, Serrano chiles, kimchi, Kewpie mayo, and shichimi pepper. 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0111, diavolapizzeria.com 

Ramen Addicted: Ramen Gaijin, Sebastopol
Ramen Addicted: Ramen Gaijin, Sebastopol (John Burgess)

Ramen Addicted: Ramen Gaijin, Sebastopol: With dashi in their veins and ramen on their minds, chefs Matthew Williams and Moishe Hahn-Schuman bring together authentic Japanese ramen recipes and techniques with of-the-moment produce for a distinctly Sonoma County izakaya experience. Gaijin’s ramen bowls are filled with homemade miso, chicken and pork broth, house-made noodles, crispy pork belly, perfectly cooked hardboiled and pickled eggs, exotic mushrooms, and bits of pickled kimchi. This seemingly simple concoction is anything but, with days dedicated to preparing its labor-intensive ingredients. Slurp all you want as a sign of appreciation, just this once. The fragrant smell of meat grilling on charcoal is almost hypnotizing, so we suggest sitting at the kitchen bar if possible to enjoy some yakitori, or grilled skewers of meat and veggies. 6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 707-827-3609, ramengaijin.com (Photo by John Burgess)

Reason to Get Up in the Morning: Pascaline, Sebastopol
Reason to Get Up in the Morning: Pascaline, Sebastopol (Reason to Get Up in the Morning: Pascaline, Sebastopol)

Reason to Get Up in the Morning: Pascaline, Sebastopol: Real-deal French pastries by French patissieres who aren’t afraid of butter. The croissants are a must-order, but don’t stop there. Faves include Kouign-Amann so flakey you’ll be wearing as much as you’ve eaten, breakfast brioche, and canneles. Lunch salads, sandwiches, and bowls are heartier fare. 4552 Gravenstein Highway N., Sebastopol, 707-823-3122, pascalinepatisserieandcafe.com.

Retro Roadhouse: Stormy's Spirits & Supper, Petaluma
Retro Roadhouse: Stormy's Spirits & Supper, Petaluma (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Retro Roadhouse: Stormy's Spirits & Supper, Petaluma: This former hotel turned laid-back restaurant and lounge has been around since 1854, smack in the middle of nowhere dairy country. Owned by the Cramer family, the weathered redwood and stone-clad oasis attracts savvy diners who know they can get a mouthwatering meal for a nearly ridiculous bargain, featuring local produce and premium beef. Imagine a beautiful, 22-ounce slab of prime rib for $38, complete with salad, potato, vegetables, French bread, and homemade clam chowder stocked with lots of seafood, and vegetables in tomato-kissed broth. Weary travelers, be thee well fed, indeed. 6650 Bloomfield Road, Petaluma, 707-7950127, stormysrestaurant.com 

Scene to be Seen: Perch and Plow, Santa Rosa
Scene to be Seen: Perch and Plow, Santa Rosa (Courtesy of Sonoma Magazine)

Scene to be Seen: Perch and Plow, Santa Rosa: Downtown Santa Rosa’s newest restaurant is also one of the most Instagram-worthy. Soft, natural light makes selfies glow; sleek, modern design creates a stunning backdrop; and Bud Snow murals are on trend — as are whimsical cocktails featuring the likes of dill foam and strawberry balsamic shrub. And then there’s the food. Chef Mike Mullins creates small-bite plates with big flavors and a kaleidoscope of colors, despite a postage-stamp-sized kitchen. Cozy tables in the side dining rooms make for quiet canoodling. 900 Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa, 707-541-6896, perchandplow.com 

Small But Mighty: Café la Haye, Sonoma
Small But Mighty: Café la Haye, Sonoma (Beth Schlanker)

Small But Mighty: Café la Haye, Sonoma: With just 30 seats and a tiny bar, this iconic Sonoma Plaza bistro also operates out of a closet-size kitchen. But oh, what wonders emerge under owner Saul Gropman’s watch. Chef Jeffrey Lloyd previously worked at Michael Mina, and his deft touch results in divine Cal-Med bites like filet mignon dolloped in roasted shallot-balsamic jus and anchovy butter, or crusted pork chop finished in mustard cream and chorizo butter alongside ricotta dumplings. Brilliant classic cooking at affordable prices in a contemporary, art gallery-style setting — that earns this gem a big place in our hearts. 140 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-935-5994, cafelahaye.com (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

Taco Tuesday: El Roy's, Petaluma
Taco Tuesday: El Roy's, Petaluma (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Taco Tuesday: El Roy's, Petaluma: More than a simple taqueria or a food truck, this family’s Mexican cooking is from the heart. Carnitas burritos are a must-try, but tasty sopes, tortas, and tacos are equally impressive. 210 Edith St., Petaluma, 707-774-3738, visit on Facebook.

To See Stars: Glen Ellen Star
Woodoven Baby Carrots served at Glen Ellen Star in To See Stars: Glen Ellen Star (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

To See Stars: Glen Ellen Star: Hollywood types love Sonoma County for its natural beauty, world-class wine, and incredible food. That, and the fact that they mostly get left alone. Mostly. A favorite retreat seems to be Ari Weisswasser’s Glen Ellen Star, where the recognizable can sit and sup without a parade of paparazzi. Not to say that the food isn’t red carpet-worthy. Weisswasser’s wood-fired oven takes center stage, with freshfrom- the-garden roasted vegetable (we especially love the Brussels sprouts with brown sugar bacon marmalade), pizza, Tunisian brick chicken, and their own house-baked bread. 13648 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen, 707-3431384, glenellenstar.com

Way Better than the Colonel: Backyard, Forestville
Way Better than the Colonel: Backyard, Forestville (Alvin Jornada)

Way Better than the Colonel: Backyard, Forestville: Everyone does fried chicken these days. Not everyone does it well. The secret to this Forestville outpost’s bird is a special brine, buttermilk, and secretly seasoned flour. There may also be unicorn dust involved. We love the moist inside and crispy exterior, and the fact that you can get some sort of fried chicken for brunch, lunch, and dinner — from a chop salad or sandwich to fried chicken and waffles with all the fixings. There are even to-go boxes with five or nine pieces, a seasonal side, biscuits, and honey butter. 6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-8208445, backyardforestville.com

Who’d Have Thought: Seaside Metal, Guerneville
Who’d Have Thought: Seaside Metal, Guerneville (Alvin Jornada)

Who’d Have Thought: Seaside Metal, Guerneville: You could schlep all the way to San Francisco, and stand in line hoping to get a seat at the very popular Bar Crudo. Or, you could scamper to our very own river town, and luxuriate in an easy feast at this ultra-stylish satellite salon from Crudo owners Mike Selvera and his partner/ twin brother Tim Selvera. Really. It’s right there amid the souvenir shops and friendly dive bars of Main Street. The SF-Guerneville menus are very similar, too, showcasing briny fresh oysters of all kinds, elegant chowder brimming with fish, shrimp, mussels, squid, bacon, and potato, and fancy plates like Arctic char glittering with wasabi tobiko and horseradish crème fraîche. 16222 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7250, seasidemetal.com (Photo by Alvin Jornada)

Wine Country Terroir: Russian River Vineyards, Forestville
Wine Country Terroir: Russian River Vineyards, Forestville (John Burgess)

Wine Country Terroir: Russian River Vineyards, Forestville: At the crossroads between sea and pasture, river and hillsides, farm and forest, the two-light burg of Forestville has a unique Sonoma County terroir, and Russian River Vineyards’ recently revamped restaurant luxuriously showcases that special sense of place. Chef Ben Davies’ on-site farm is a staple for seasonal produce, but the menu pulls from throughout the region for fresh seafood, meat, and of-the-moment ingredients. His Friday and Saturday menus are four courses of surprises, or you can do a chef’s tasting of eight. The daily “estate” menu is simplified, with more casual but equally impressive warm or chilled items. 5700 Highway 116 N., Forestville, 707-887-3344, russianrivervineyards.com (Photo by John Burgess)

Wine List: Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg
Wine List: Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Wine List: Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg: More than 500 selections, including bottles from the private libraries and cellars of local winemakers, help earn this spot a perennial place on the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. An insider secret: The Sonoma Neighbor menu is served Monday through Thursday, a $36, three-course prix fixe with wine pairing for an additional $18 – a steal in tony Healdsburg. 317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-431-0330, drycreekkitchen.com

With Kids: HBG, Healdsburg
With Kids: HBG, Healdsburg (Courtesy of Sonoma Magazine)

With Kids: HBG, Healdsburg: Great burgers and fries, a large fenced-in patio, top-notch Bloody Marys. Need we say more? Owned by one of Wine Country’s top chefs, Douglas Keane, this is everyday fare with a toque’s special touch. Grown up mac and cheese is worth the cost of admission alone. 245 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-3333, healdsburgbarandgrill.com

Worth a U-Turn: Fremont Diner, Sonoma
Worth a U-Turn: Fremont Diner, Sonoma (John Burgess)

Worth a U-Turn: Fremont Diner, Sonoma: If you didn’t realize this tiny shack was there, on the edge of Hwy 12/121 vineyards and dairy fields, you’d zoom right by. But since you know this is where you get owner Chad Harris’ magical ranch cuisine, you hit the brakes, and zoom in for Nashville-style spicy fried chicken atop white bread, buttermilk biscuits ‘n’ gravy, or house smoked brisket. 2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, 707-938-7370, thefremontdiner.com 

Worth the Drive: Terrapin Creek, Bodega Bay
Worth the Drive: Terrapin Creek, Bodega Bay (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Worth the Drive: Terrapin Creek, Bodega Bay: As if we needed any excuse to visit the beautiful waterfront burg that is Bodega Bay, this Michelin Star jewel beckons with extraordinary Cal-Asian cuisine that would wow even in a big city. To enjoy it in a serene, artsy hideaway makes it even more special. Chef-owners and husband-wife team Andrew Truong and Liya Lin impress with innovative fare like a salad of charred octopus, roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and toasted almonds zinged with fiery chili pepper aioli. Seafood is a signature, in fact, such as meaty sea bass paired with savoy cabbage, mushrooms, Delicata squash, and red rice in a splash of delicate fish fumet. 1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2700, terrapincreekcafe.com

Making a return after the fire: Sweet T's, Windsor
Making a return after the fire: Sweet T's, Windsor (Courtesy Sonoma Magazine)

Making a return after the fire: Sweet T's, Windsor: Six months ago, Dennis Tussey was sifting through the ashes of his Fountaingrove restaurant Sweet T’s’ in search of whatever he and his wife Anne could salvage — a few dishes, some patio furniture, and a $25,000 barbecue smoker they recently purchased. Down but not out, the couple immediately began looking for a new space to call home. Now they’ve found it — in Windsor, where they will open the new Sweet T's in May. Their beloved pitmaster, George Ah Chin, will continue to work alongside them in the new location. The Tusseys have worked with the kitchen staff to rewrite the many recipes for Sweet T’s signature Southern dishes — from grits to ribs — and have had a staff of 12 working on the reopening. “We have such a faithful following,” says Tussey, misting up a bit, “We didn’t realize until after the fire, but we can go anywhere and people want to talk to us about the restaurant.” It never entered their minds, he adds, that Sweet T’s was done. “Our only thought was that we needed to come back. We want to put our employees back to work.” 9098 Brooks Road S., Windsor

Crowd Pleasers

The New Yorker Pizza at Tony’s of North Beach at the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park.
The New Yorker Pizza at Tony’s of North Beach at the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Best burgers, best pizza…them’s fighting words, considering how many top-notch restaurants we have in Sonoma County, and how fiercely loyal food fans are to their regular hangouts.

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Still, there are spots where the staples truly shine, and if you haven’t yet tried these mouthwatering marvels, you owe it to yourself to skedaddle in right away. See if you don’t find some new favorites, too.

Burgers: Mike’s at the Crossroads, Cotati: Boasting 17 kinds of burgers, these big, beautiful, near half-pound monsters promise bliss for any appetite. Maybe you crave a Krush, topped in sautéed mushrooms, Swiss, onion, garlic, and Zinfandel glaze. Or you might want to fire up with the 987, sizzling with diced green chiles, jalapenos, black olives, onions, roasted red peppers, and pepper jack. Or you may dig in a bit daintier, with the Belle, topped in sautéed red onions, fresh basil, rosemary, and crumbled Nauvoo blue cheese. Whatever you choose, plan for crowds in the 10-table eatery with a dozen bar stools beneath an enormous mural of a bull’s head snorting, “One Mean Burger.” 7665 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, 707-665-9999, mikesatthecrossroads.com

Pizza: Tony’s of North Beach, Rohnert Park: Tony Gemignani became an international star for his San Francisco restaurants, and five years ago, he shared his magic with a new Tony’s at the Graton Resort & Casino. Featuring eight styles of pizzas made in four different ovens (wood-fired brick, gas brick, electric brick, and electric stone), the lengthy menu tempts with delicate, charred Napoletana, classic Italian/Americana, thin-chewy New York, thick and rectangular Sicilian, California thin-crust-style, and glutenfree pies. Portions are huge, flavors are rich and bold, and ingredients are premium, such as handcrafted mozzarella and burrata, San Marzano DOP tomatoes, and housemade sausage. A bonus: while you have to wait in line at the SF locations, the casino spot is still somewhat of a locals’ secret, with tables at the ready. 630 Park Court, Rohnert Park, 707-588-7741, gratonresortcasino.com

Japanese: Hana, Rohnert Park: It’s set in an unassuming strip mall, but open the heavy wood front door and you’ll discover chef-owner Ken Tominaga’s spectacular sushi, traditional wafu (pure, clean) cooking, and a truly impressive sake selection. Authentic cuisine shines in seasonal specialty fish like house-cured saba mackerel and kamatoro (succulent, fatty tuna), chawanmushi custard with shrimp and scallops, and prime steak sent out sizzling on a Mount Fuji stone. The raw wood décor and sommelier service adds to the elegance. 101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270,hanajapanese.com

Mexican: Barrio Fresca Cocina Mexican, Sebastopol: This new spot in the Barlow blends casual, order-at-the-counter service with high-end regional dishes crafted from organic seasonal ingredients. That means owner Carlos Rosas features homemade GMO-free California corn tortillas and produce from local farms, resulting in captivating bites like red corn tortillas topped in potatoes, handmade chorizo, scrambled eggs, pumpkin seed, melted cheese curds, arugula, and salsa de chile Morita; or a pork belly torta smothered in chipotle aioli, pico de gallo, and peppery arugula. What’s not to love about such fancy food in such friendly surroundings, and extra warm touches like free homemade chips, salsa, and fiery hot sauce? 6760 McKinley St., #120, Sebastopol, 707-329-6538, barriobayarea.com

Wine Country Cuisine: Barndiva, Healdsburg: The sophisticated spot looks Sonoma Wine Country with its luxurious mahogany barn setting and lush garden patio. Chef Ryan Fancher sources Sonoma, too, with partner farms like Bellwether Farms, Early Bird’s Place, Mix Garden, and Preston Farm & Winery. California cuisine is creative and clean, shimmering in bites like crispy duck leg confit with marble potatoes, poached quail egg, olive tapenade, fennel, and haricots verts. 231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100, barndiva.com

Deli: Mac’s Deli & Cafe, Santa Rosa: There’s good reason this 1952 institution is the oldest continuing breakfast and sandwich café in Sonoma County. The mere thought of the sumptuous overstuff ed omelets and sandwiches get folks salivating, and anyone who can polish off an entire plate well deserves the happy food coma they’re guaranteed. Start the day with a lox, cream cheese, and onion omelet with crispy hash browns and pumpernickel toast, then segue into a hearty lunch of pastrami and egg salad on rye. It’s hard to beat the cheerful combo of a hot corned beef Sammy including a choice of salad and glass of tap beer, either. 630 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-3785, macsdeliandcafe.com

Pub Fare: Woodfour Brewery, Sebastopol: Yes, beer is a food group in Sonoma County, with its proliferation of craft breweries, many of which offer good eats, too. At this hip, lively place, brewmaster Seth Wood rotates beer styles and provide guest taps for other local producers. The kitchen takes the same jaunt, hosting pop-ups that lately have featured Mexican food. Really delicious Mexican food, like pork al pastor laced with chiles, sea bass tacos, bass ceviche, gooey cheese enchiladas, and fluffy chicken-green salsa tamales handmade by chef Maria. Just the thing to go with the brewery’s saison, farmhouse, and sour beers. 6780 Depot St., Sebastopol, 707-823-3144, woodfourbrewing.com

Vegetarian/Vegan: The Drawing Board, Petaluma: Eating plant-based foods is such a “thing” these days that chefs treat meatless cuisine as an art. Even kids and hardcore carnivores love it, when it’s done as masterfully as it is at this chic Petaluma bistro. Owner Rosie Wiggins artfully mixes in vegetarian/ vegan among other animal- protein dishes, sometimes crossing into hybrids like the signature carrot lox. The result is wow, bringing carrots smoked, rolled in nori and smoked sea salt (like salmon, see?), then baked and sliced atop veggie cashew cream cheese on toast with baby greens. 190 Kentucky St., Petaluma, 707-774-6689, tdbpetaluma.com

Best Butcher – It’s a Tie!

Charcuterie platter at Thistle Meats in Petaluma.
Charcuterie platter at Thistle Meats in Petaluma. (Heather Irwin)

Thistle Meats, Petaluma: With years of study as a salumist and butcher, chef Travis Day of Thistle Meats is a chef’s chef — working his way up the kitchen ladder with the kind of intense focus and passion that results in 25 journals filled with business plans and recipes, traveling to 20 countries with his chef’s knives and developing a resume that includes some of the best restaurants in the world. To say he’s obsessive about meat is an understatement. “I used to cure duck prosciutto in the rafters and stay up until 3 a.m. translating old French cookbooks,” Day says. With whole animal butchery, salumi, and the county’s best ham and roast beef sandwiches (which we don’t say lightly), Thistle is my choice for top butchery. 160 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, 707-772-5442, thistlemeats.com  —Heather Irwin

Journeyman Meat Co., Healdsburg: Peter Seghesio of Journeyman Meat Co. looked to his Italian heritage, and studied whole-animal butchery and salumi-making in Italy before opening this gorgeous shrine to meat last summer. And certainly prime meats star at the combination butcher shop, salumi counter, and wine bar just off the Healdsburg Plaza. Still, I adore the fresh sausages the most, crafted from Seghesio’s family recipes and sizzled in the wood-fired oven behind the display counter. The pork beauties include lavish flavors like Sicilian-style Terrona imbued with Parmesan or Il Bustino, studded with bacon, all offered as sandwiches — or my favorite, in a trio selection on a wood board laden with mustards, arugula, and pickles. Hog heaven. 404 Center St, Healdsburg, 707-395-6328, journeymanmeat.com — Carey Sweet

Journeyman Meat Co. owner Peter Seghesio chats with a customer.
Journeyman Meat Co. owner Peter Seghesio chats with a customer. (Chris Hardy)

Metholodogy

Sonoma Magazine dining editor Heather Irwin, restaurant reviewer Carey Sweet, and senior food writer Diane Peterson – in collaboration with our team of editors – selected the 50 best restaurants in Sonoma County based on a year’s worth of restaurant visits, reviews, and chef interviews. We also sought opinions from some of the county’s notables to get a sense for their go-to local haunts.

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This guide originally was published on Sonoma Magazine.

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