The Best Restaurants In Napa guide image

SFGuide

The Best Restaurants In Napa

Kettle chips smothered in blue cheese sauce, a '"modern tiki bar," fresh tagliatelle, and other things we love to eat.

Given how much the city has changed over the past decade, Downtown Napa probably could have starred in Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. What was once a place you drove through on your way to wineries has turned into a destination in its own right, with tasting rooms around every corner, along with bars, restaurants, and shops. It’s also one of the only areas in Napa Valley that has a nightlife scene and restaurants open past 9pm. 

If for some reason you need a break from eating and drinking, rent kayaks and paddle the Napa River or catch a concert at the historic Uptown Theatre in all its art deco glory. And when you’re ready to get back to restaurants, you’ll find our favorites in town right here.


DATES & SPECIAL OCCASIONS


Bistro Don Giovanni

$$$$

4110 Howard Ln, Napa
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This long-standing Italian restaurant is on the outskirts of town, and has one of the best outdoor settings around, with vineyard views and a dramatic fountain that sits at the center of it all. Beyond the scenery, the real reason we’ve been coming here for years is the food: every dish is a home run, especially the homemade pastas (get the rigatoni bolognese), gooey fig pizza, and caesar salad. This place is always packed, so it’s best to book ahead or plan on hanging out at the bar while you wait.


Starting out as a stall at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, C Casa opened this bright and airy standalone restaurant earlier this year, and it’s an ideal place for a tequila flight and tacos with a buzzy feel. The main events here are the towering plate-sized C Style, which comes filled with options like duck confit, heirloom potatoes, or (our favorite) wood-grilled mahi with pineapple. But trust us when we say, all you need is one, they are that big. Add the Nachorizos and bison chile relleno for the table, and one of those tequila flights we mentioned, and you’ve made yourself a night. The original taqueria is now located within the restaurant, and is a nice option for takeout or to eat in the public market space.


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photo credit: Auberge Resorts Collection

Bear at Stanly Ranch review image

Bear at Stanly Ranch

Bear at Stanly Ranch, which is the all-day restaurant inside the brand new Auberge hotel property, makes a great place to stop for a relaxing lunch if you’re headed to Carneros for Pinot and Chardonnay tasting, or looking for a fancier experience for dinner and cocktails. Like all Auberge properties, people come here for the setting, service, and outstanding views, and this spot delivers on all fronts. The dining room is beautiful with an inside/outside feel to it, massive windows, and a large terrace with bonfire seats that overlook the resort and pool. Three pieces of advice on the menu: make sure the homemade sourdough is on your table, the crispy rice appetizer is one of the main attractions, and you should always get the with ingredients that change daily.


GOOD FOR GROUPS


This Mexican spot on the waterfront can feel more like Miami than California Wine Country, with a big mural, flowers dropping from the ceiling, and a buzzing scene that’ll leave you wanting to hang out drinking margaritas all night. Order the braised beef quesabirrias, served with a delicious consomme, the flavorful ceviche verde mixto, and the grilled octopus salad with a mango-guajillo puree. If you’re on the run or find yourself at the Napa Premium Outlets, stop by the food truck that started it all, in the shopping center’s parking lot.


If you’ve had it with tasting menus and hoity-toity wine talk, head to Bounty Hunter for wine, whiskey, and mounds of flaming hot meat. If you want to start with a vegetable, order the kettle chips smothered in blue cheese sauce before moving on to the combo platter with ribs, brisket, and pork, which, in true Texas form, is big in taste and portion size. You’ll see a lot of beer can chicken, served as a full bird on top of a can, and for good reason. There’s usually a wait, but you can use that time to pour over the massive wine and whiskey list.


If you’ve been hanging out in nearby Yountville and need a break from the fine dining scene, come to this downtown Napa institution known for Italian food and an idyllic patio. The building used to be a bank, so the main dining room is big, with high ceilings, huge windows, and lots of groups celebrating, but if you’re looking for something more romantic, ask for one of the secluded seats upstairs. All meals start with bread served with a flavorful oniony, olive tapenade that’s an excellent start to a meal that should be focused on the pastas. Our picks include the tagliatelle bolognese, rigatoni con salsiccia, and the mushroom ravioli.


The patio at Tarla is a great place to relax after a day of wine tasting, and for Happy Hour, where you’ll find $7 glasses of wine and delicious bites like the spanakopita. There’s an open-air dining room with first-date potential written all over it, plus private dining rooms that feel like wine cellars if you’re with a larger group. Try the flaming saganaki and split the pan-roasted branzino—that way you’ll have room for the kebabs. They’re all delicious and served with a fantastic chimichurri sauce.


This Italian spot feels more like San Francisco than Napa, and is known for a daily-changing menu of perfectly charred pizzas, fresh pastas, and stuff from the garden. Oenotri is usually busy, so either grab a spot at the bar or head to the gallery next door while you wait for a table. The classic margherita is always a great choice, along with the pesto pappardelle or tortellini with black garlic, honey brown butter, walnuts, and ricotta—make sure you order both. The wine list is vast and pays equal weight to local and Italian wines.


CASUAL SPOTS


This place is a fixture at the end of restaurant row in downtown Napa, and was one of the first in town to nail thin crust pizzas, which are still some of the best around. We also come here for the manciatas (just baked dough with salad on top), homemade pastas, and the local craft beers on tap. Always go for the wedge salad (piled high with Point Reyes blue cheese and Hobbs bacon slabs), a seasonal pie (like the eggplant), and the baked rigatoni with sausage. Don’t leave without a cup of Strauss Family soft serve with an extra shot of caramel.


If eating is your sport, the Oxbow Public Market is the field, with more than 20 food stalls in one place. It’s loud and seating can be a problem, but buckle in and get ready to eat. Start your day with Rebel Coffee and a breakfast burrito from C Casa before packing a picnic with charcuterie from Fatted Calf and the reuben from Loveski Deli. Or, you can slurp down oysters with a view at Hog Island, eat an excellent pie at Live Fire Pizza, grab a fleur de sel cupcake from Kara’s, and have a glass of sparkling at Bar Lucia. Clearly, you can spend a whole day here, and if you’re tired of all the wine tasting there’s a brewery and distillery onsite, as well as a great indie bookstore, Napa Bookmine.


Grace’s serves brunch daily, and while weekends are busy, this French/Italian/Californian spot is a more relaxed option during the week. It’s especially wonderful here when they throw open the garage door-like walls and give the whole place an inside/outside feel. Get things started with the sake martini and the fantastic iron skillet cornbread with lavender honey butter. The gnocchi, shrimp and white cheddar grits, and pulled pork shoulder tamales are also standouts.


If a sports bar fell in love with a wine bar, their kid would be Norman Rose Tavern. It feels fancier than you’d expect from a place that has two TVs behind the bar, with cushy leather banquets and high ceilings lined with colorful bottles, and the food is way better than your usual sports bar, which makes sense given the people behind Azzurro also run this place. You’ll find game-day classics with a spin, like a three-meat loaf with coffee barbecue glaze and disco fries topped with sausage and gravy. End things right with the rootbeer float or grasshopper pie.


There’s a big Mexican community in Napa, so you’ll find plenty of quality tacos, including the incredible Mexico City-style ones from the Tacos El Muchacho truck, permanently parked behind an auto body shop off Soscol Avenue. There are a few chairs and tables in the driveway, but let’s face it, you’re probably just going to eat your tacos standing in the street or in your car. You really can’t go wrong with any of the tacos, filled with everything from chicken to tripa, topped with signature sauce and grilled onions by request—just know they’re small and if you’re hungry, it’s easy to eat four of them. If you’re looking for something bigger, ask for the very popular off-menu torta ahogada. You’ll be handed a tomato and chili sauce-drenched torta sandwich filled with the meat of your choice—we go for the birria or al pastor.


WHERE TO EAT BY THE WATER


Downtown Napa has absolutely exploded over the last few years, and Zuzu is one of our favorite restaurants in the area. Whether you dine indoors or out, this is one of the liveliest scenes along the waterfront, especially if you score one of the ledge seats out front. Tapas are the main event here, and it’s hard to leave without ordering a lot of them. Even if you’re not an anchovy fan, start with the boquerones, before adding honey-drizzled tempura eggplant, flounder ceviche, and a paella. There’s a long list of wines by the glass along with sangria, which makes up for the absence of cocktails.


The rooftop scene and prime waterfront location make Wilfred’s a win when you’re ready to wipe away those red wine teeth stains with tropical drinks. This Hawaiian spot calls itself a “modern tiki bar,” and serves strong cocktails and food that’s better than it needs to be. Try the Maximum Aloha, made with strawberry-infused rum and a coconut banana whip you’ll remember the next day, and order the kalua pork, spam sliders, and hula pie (if it’s on the menu) to share.


This place is from the same folks behind Zuzu, and is a great spot for people-watching, cocktails, and some excellent pintxos. Go for the crispy pork belly, pig ears and mushroom empanada, or try the smoked cod and the setas a la plancha, served on a sweet corn puree. You’ll definitely need a glass of albariño to go with everything, and don’t leave without trying the burnt Basque cheesecake.


Avow runs over three stories of a glamorous space right along the river. Each floor has something to see, but we most regularly end up at the rooftop bar, one of only a few in downtown Napa. The rooftop has a limited menu of small plates, like roasted bone marrow or tempura green beans with a delicious Thai chile ponzu dipping sauce. If you’re looking for a bigger dinner, head to the buzzy second-story bistro and oyster bar and make sure you order the truffle mac and cheese.


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