Beets and greens salad with walnuts, pickled onions, black pepper buttermilk dressing from Zoftig. (Heather Irwin)
Sonoma County has its fair share of blockbuster restaurants and Michelin stars but, like everywhere else, the best way to dine out (at least for those of us with average bank accounts) is to eat like a local. While the hotspot du jour might be appealing, the neighborhood restaurant is where you really get a sense of the local culture and cuisine. The food may not be buzzworthy, but you can count on getting a decent meal.
To help hungry travelers and food enthusiasts navigate to the best hidden gems in Sonoma Wine Country, we asked readers, chefs, friends, and people in the know to share their most-trusted haunts.
The Big Salad: Zoftig Eatery
57 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa
There’s a lot to love about this farm-to-table noshery, but their DIY giant salads are perhaps our favorite workday lunch. For $9.95, you can pick from mixed greens, chicories, arugula and kale, along with roasted chicken or tuna poke, nine kinds of dressing (we love the soy ginger or black pepper buttermilk), and five additional toppings that include paprika roasted cauliflower, mango, lentils, grilled mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, Pt. Reyes blue cheese or goat Gouda along with the usual suspects like carrots, onions and cucumbers. If you want a chef-ier salad, the Hanna ($11) includes argula, kale, quinoa, cucumbers, chick peas and tahini dressing. Online ordering and delivery available for busy afternoons.
We’ve always loved owner Jason and Dalia’s impeccably curated menus, filled with “urban foraged” flowers, fruits and veggies from throughout the nearby neighborhoods. The Eggs Benni ($15) with Meyer lemon Hollandaise, potatoes and salad are hyper-local, and a naturally fermented sparkling wine with a tart, cidery flavor is a fascinating experience.
Succulent Ceviche: Sazon Peruvian Cuisine
1129 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa
You’ll have to keep a sharp eye out for Sazon Peruvian Cuisine, a cocina secreted away on Sebastopol Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa. The beef-heart skewers, lomo saltado (Peruvian steak frites) and aji de gallina (pulled-chicken stew) are fantastic, but it’s the ceviche we crave. Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) is the tart, briny, magical citrus marinade that “cooks” the raw seafood in ceviche. Packed with eye-popping flavor, it’s considered by Peruvians to be both aphrodisiac and hangover cure.
Sweet and Savory Buns: East Wind Bakery
3851 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa
Pastry worlds collide at East Wind Bakery, an off-the-beaten-path patisserie in west Santa Rosa, resulting in kimchee- and Chinese sausage-stuffed croissants, garam-masala-spiced sweet buns, Thai chicken pot pies and Japanese milk bread studded with Earl Grey tea. This beautiful little bakery owned by Doug Quick and Tony Tam is an East-meets-West labor of love. Go with a sense of adventure and a hungry belly, and don’t miss the “Sea Foam” coffee, made with a sweet, salty whipped cream and Asian spices.
Fish and Cut Bait: Hana Japanese Restaurant
101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park
One of the best restaurants in Sonoma County is tucked into an unlikely spot in the DoubleTree Plaza shopping mall in Rohnert Park. For the past 25 years, Hana Japanese Restaurant owner Ken Tominaga has sourced the best and freshest raw fish in the world to create mouthwatering nigiri, sushi, and makimono rolls. The menu also includes a wide range of traditional Japanese dishes. Wash it all down with sake chosen by one of the few sake sommeliers around.
Drivers typically zip a thousand times past Angelo’s Meats, a workmanlike compound on pastoral Adobe Road east of Petaluma, before finally obeying the impulse to pull up to Angelo Ibleto’s shop. So many opportunities lost! Angelo’s is an unadorned gastronomical paradise of sausage, bacon and other smoked meats. Accept a taste of one of Ibleto’s jerkies, made with flank steak, and see how long you can go before stopping by again.
Wiener Wonderland: Roy's Chicago Dogs at the Yard
84 Corona Road, Petaluma
It’s a tiny, sit-at-the-counter joint remotely located on the grounds of the Petaluma Livestock Auction Yard, but Roy’s Chicago Doggery & Italian Beef offers more than 1,000 variations of Vienna Beef franks for aficionados of the meat form. Consider the traditional all-beef wiener, a half-pound “Home Wrecker,” a spicy fire dog or a Polish dog. Then load up with the 50 topping options, such as homemade pineapple mustard, Hell Fire sauce, shaved pastrami, chili, onion rings and blue cheese. Also worth howling about: homemade pies and deep-fried Oreos.
Offbeat Cantina: Juanita Juanita
19114 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
There’s no shortage of great taco trucks and taquerias around the town of Sonoma but we can’t help but love the locals-only vibe at this offbeat cantina where you can grab a cold one and stuff you face al pastor and carne asada tacos. Going solo tonight? Feel free to try their Garlic Garlic Burrito with a pungent garlic-walnut paste and all the other fixings. If you need a late-night gordita or burrito, hit up La Bamba Taco Truck at the Larbre Automotive Lot in Boyes Hot Springs-but expect a wait.
Mangia, Mangia: Mamma Tanino's Ristorante
500 W. Napa St., Suite 512, Sonoma
Good old spaghetti and meatballs from Gaetano and Kim Patrinostro await in an unlikely location, Mamma Tanino’s Ristorante in the Valley Mart Shopping Center in Sonoma. Chef Gaetano brings his Sicilian flavors to the strip mall, presented in a simple, cozy trattoria with a straightforward menu of classics such as chicken Marsala and linguine in clam sauce. The cheerful spot oozes charm and honest good flavors, and the $15 dinner offered from 5 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, is an early bird's dream bargain. Choices might include prawns, chicken, and stuffed pasta, served with salad and homemade bread.
Man can live on bread, water and cheese, if that bread is the organic, sourdough-based loaves Jed Wallach fires in tiny Wild Flour Bread’s wood-burning brick oven. The water is pumped from the fresh spring wells surrounding the charming bakery’s gardens, and the cheese comes from Freestone Artisan Cheese next door. Cheesemonger Omar Mueller specializes in hyper-local, small-batch cheeses made from milk from local creameries. They’re divine with Wallach’s baguettes, goat-cheese flatbread and the Bohemian loaf studded with apricot, orange, and pecan.
Blink and you might miss Canneti Roadhouse, a tiny eatery in tiny Forestville. If you did, it would be a loss. At the heart of this Italian eatery is a pasta-making machine, which Italian-born chef Francesco Torre masters for handmade ravioli stuffed with hand-pulled mozzarella in clam sauce, and fresh-made pennette pasta with slow-braised rabbit ragout and porcini mushrooms. There’s even gluten-free pasta made from chickpeas or eggplant. Don’t believe there’s much difference between lovingly made noodles and store-bought? One bite of this al dente bliss will set you straight.
Fine Feast with Fido: Howard's Station Cafe
3611 Bohemian Highway, Occidental
Ask four-legged Fifi where she wants to go for breakfast and she’ll likely bark out, “Howard’s Station Café.” Sure, many Sonoma restaurants are dog-friendly, but how many offer a by-request, canine-only menu? Pups will drool over the doggie delights served on the restaurant’s porch, wagging as they scarf the bow-wow burger ($2.95), kibbles and sausage gravy ($2.25), a frozen Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter ($5.95) or an organic brown rice bowl with carrots and zucchini ($2.50) for vegetarian dogs. Hit the ATM first: Howard’s is cash only.
A Taste of History: Pick's Drive In
117 S Cloverdale Blvd, Cloverdale
Open since 1923, Pick's Drive In is a Cloverdale culinary institution. Pick’s is now owned by David Alioto of Healdsburger, who promises that the charms and secret red relish of the historic restaurant will remain, despite updates to the menu. Michael Morrissey, manager of the Cloverdale Municipal Airport, says, “My best Cloverdale memory is of a group of four or five young kids on skateboards riding up to the window at Pick’s Drive In and pooling their change together to buy one milkshake to share. This was maybe ten years ago, but it’s still that way now. If you go to Pick’s right now, I bet that’s what you’ll see.” More things to do in Cloverdale here.