You did it. You finally booked your trip to Napa. The wine tastings are scheduled, the house rental is secured, and now all that’s left to figure out is where you’ll be eating. Turns out that’s a pretty big thing to figure out. Since there are so many excellent restaurants around Napa, Sonoma, and the surrounding small towns, you have some tough decisions to make.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide that covers the best restaurants and bars from Yountville to Calistoga, Sonoma to Healdsburg, and all the places in between. This list should get you well on your way to planning an ideal eating & wine-drinking trip.
Celadon is a downtown Napa staple that’s maintained its status by serving stellar food year after year - they’ve been around for decades. Hit Celadon for a meal at the bar after a long day of “tasting” wine, a.k.a. drinking two bottles. The menu changes frequently and always includes some Asian or Middle Eastern influence. Get the Moroccan lamb chop if it’s available.
Oentori is a Southern Italian restaurant that serves simple and excellent pastas, thin crust pizzas, and salads sourced from their own garden. We love it for brunch, but the comfortable spot is never a bad idea for dinner either.
If you’re looking to break out of the usual Napa dinner cycle (i.e. eat something other than farm-to-table food), Miminashi is the move. This newish izakaya is a beautiful spot, and always a good time. We like sitting at the bar, where you can order a la carte or do an $85 chef’s choice.
Oxbow Public Market is one of our favorite places to spend a few hours on an afternoon that isn’t occupied by wine tasting. This indoor extravaganza of consumables is home to many excellent vendors, our favorite being Hog Island Oyster Co. Pull up a seat and get to slurping, and while you’re there, also check out Fatted Calf for some picnic charcuterie or sandwiches. If you’re an early riser, C Casa does fantastic breakfast tacos, and Ritual Coffee is also worth a stop. You’ll probably need the caffeine after a low-key day of wine tasting turns into a HotelTonight situation.
There are two locations of Gott’s in the area: a roadside one in St. Helena, and one in Napa right next to Oxbow. Because the St. Helena one is directly on the side of the two-lane road into and out of wine paradise, the lines are preposterously long. The Gott’s in Napa tends to be less slammed (but still busy), and is very much worth a visit for a casual lunch. All the burgers are delicious, and they do pretty great salads and tuna tacos. We also like to hit this spot for an egg sandwich at breakfast from time to time (OK, all the time).
For all the drinking we do in Napa, not a lot of it happens at bars. Cadet is an exception. This sleek downtown Napa wine and beer bar is a nice change from glass-swirling tasting rooms. And while drinking is the focus here, they also have a small menu of simple and delicious bar snacks. Try the conserva plate (involving fancy Portuguese tinned seafood), or go ahead and have a fancy grilled cheese for dinner.
We like to make this our first stop when we get into town, just to set the tone for the rest of the trip. It’s a bit up the road from the actual town of Yountville, but it’s an absolute must-visit. Come here for lunch and eat the legendary Mongolian pork chop - an enormous chop with sweet and sour cabbage, mashed potatoes, and homemade mustard sauce.
Probably our overall favorite restaurant in the entire Napa Valley, because it’s Thomas Keller food without Thomas Keller restaurant pretense. Sure, you could eat down the street at The French Laundry, and you probably should someday (if you can get that reservation - good luck). But Ad Hoc is the kind of place you could go to multiple times a week. The family-style set menu changes daily, and includes a salad, some sort of meat entree, a cheese course, and dessert, all for $55 per person. It’s approachable and excellent, and we’ve never been disappointed.
For a while, people used to book a reservation at Ad Hoc and pray to the fried chicken gods that the famous Keller version would be on the menu the day they visited. But now you can get it without depending on luck or divine intervention. Just show up to this shack behind Ad Hoc from 11am - 2pm Thursday through Saturday and eat your chicken at a picnic table in peace.
Is the Thomas Keller mecca worth it? Absolutely, at least one time in your life. Maybe two, if you get rich on an ICO or make it on Jeopardy! or something. For your $310 (paid upfront) you’ll get perfect service, incredible farm-to-table French food, and insane attention to detail - like when you get six different salts from all over the world to sprinkle on your foie gras. This is the ultimate in bucket list eating.
Here’s how you do Bouchon, the Thomas Keller empire’s version of a French bistro: arrive for lunch and order a dozen oysters, a bottle of Viognier, and the croque madame. Repeat annually or daily, depending on how your triglyceride counts are looking.
Redd Wood is a cool, low-key restaurant that smells like a wood-burning oven and serves excellent pizzas and handmade pasta. The wine list also features bottles from some especially impressive (and off the tasting trail) wineries like Araujo.
If you need to take a break from endless glasses of cabernet, Ciccio has your back. It’s a little Italian restaurant right on the edge of town, in a building confusingly labelled “Market,” and the most important thing to know is that they serve seven different types of negronis. Have one (or three) alongside their solid wood-fired pizza.
On the St. Helena highway slightly north of downtown Yountville is Brix, a garden fantasyland where Bambi and his friends would live if they were also into wine. The menu is full of crowd-pleasers like pastas and burgers, and it’s all very well executed. Brix is an ideal place for groups because it has a ton of space, so plan your team offsite lunches and wine bus weekends here.
This cute little bistro is a great spot for a causal dinner, especially if you’re looking for something French but not fussy. Order the tomato soup, which comes with a puff pastry top, along with a bottle of Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir.
When you’re driving around wine country, the in-car snack situation is extremely important. This fancy bodega is the place to pick things up to keep you going between tastings. They also have an ice cream counter (power up with an affogato), and hot dogs if you need something more substantial. And yes, you can get gas here.
There are a few restaurants we would like to move all our possessions into and establish as a permanent residence. Farmstead is one of those places. Get a seat at the relaxed outdoor bar or in the comfortable indoor space for insanely good local meats and vegetables. They also have a chocolate chip cookie more people should know about. We don’t go to Napa without a meal here.
Press is one of the best restaurants in Napa, and it’s a serious place - the meats and produce in this steak-focused restaurant are all sourced locally, and the wine cellar is about as deep as they get in this town. But it’s not just about meat and cabernet. Press is essentially a farm-to-table restaurant that also happens to have a cowboy ribeye on the menu, and that’s why we love it.
A small Italian place located in the heart of St. Helena, Cook is exactly the kind of Napa restaurant you should keep in your back pocket. You don’t need a reservation and can blow in here for a bowl of homemade pasta on a whim. All of them are tremendous, and pasta is also a great complement to wine, in the sense that you can drink more when your belly is full of it.
This is one of the three most expensive, over-the-top meals you can have in Napa and Sonoma (the other two being The French Laundry and Single Thread). The price tag is $275 per guest, and it’s an incredible experience, assuming you won’t be sweating about the bill throughout dinner. It’s more modern and a bit more adventurous than The French Laundry, but every bit as impressive, with beautiful, California-inspired food. Save it for a very special occasion.
People think of The Charter Oak as the casual restaurant from the chef behind The Restaurant at Meadowood. And while it’s definitely not the multi-course tasting extravaganza that you get at Meadowood, it’s actually not very casual at all. The food is much simpler (charred avocado, beef rib, a burger you can order at the bar), and entirely delicious, but the dining room feels pretty fancy and the prices are steep. Still - it’s a great way to get some Meadowood-like food without having to spend an entire house payment on dinner.
All-day brunch five days a week is always appreciated, and when you’re in wine country, it’s even better. Archetype, in downtown St. Helena, does a great menu of American classics and cocktails. At brunch you need to order the donut holes, and at dinner the duck is our favorite dish.
Goose & Gander is one of the livelier spots to grab dinner in St. Helena. The cocktails and patio are the main attractions, but the upscale American food is better than it needs to be considering the very attractive surroundings.
This sandwich shop (pronounced “Junie’s”) is about as local as it gets around here. We like to put our order in the sandwich-makers hands, but it’s worth noting the pastrami is excellent. Whatever you do, get some extra Giugni Juice with your order - it’s a dressing/sauce/should-be-illegal drug that’s best poured all over your sandwich.
There is no English muffin so perfect as the English muffin from Model Bakery. We say so, the muffin man says so, Oprah says so. And we all know how much Oprah loves bread. This little local spot on Main Street uses their unreal English muffins as a base for amazing breakfast sandwiches, but they’re also great on their own. Besides sandwiches, there are other excellent pastries and some to-go salads and lunch sandwiches available here as well. There’s another small Model outpost next to Oxbow in Napa, but this one has the added bonus of seating..
Oakville is a tiny town between Yountville and St. Helena that you’ll likely drive through at least once during a Napa day. The best place to eat here is the Oakville Grocery, which is a side-of-the-road market/cafe with some picnic tables out back and a serious to-go operation. There’s also one in Healdsburg, but the roadside stop tends to be more convenient. Our favorites are the vegetable wrap and the turkey pesto sandwich, and if you’re there on the earlier side, they do breakfast sandwiches, too.
No trip to the valley is complete without a lunch stop up the hill at Auberge du Soleil, which has one of the most insane views in all of Napa. Get yourself a table on the balcony, order some light lunch dishes, and take a break from all the wine. Their Bloody Marys are what you want.
The Girl & The Fig opened in 1997, and as far as we can tell they haven’t updated their design since. But this place hasn’t been open for 20 years because of its cutting-edge aesthetic - it’s been open for 20 years because the classic French food is reliably great. The prices are also pretty reasonable, so if you’re looking for a comfortable spot to eat dinner without worrying how much this meal is going to cut into your rent funds, get a reservation here. (But do so in advance - it still books up.)
The food at El Molino Central isn’t just some of the best Mexican in Sonoma - it’s some of the best in the whole Bay Area. The setup is simple: arrive at the ridiculously good-looking store, order at the counter, and grab a seat on the covered patio. El Molino is known for their tamales, but we’re partial to the enchiladas. As for the salsa - if you can stop yourself from filling up on chips and this sweet, not-at-all-watery stuff before the rest of the food arrives, you are stronger than we are.
Calistoga Kitchen’s patio is just what you need after a long day of pretending to smell the chocolate, elf musk, and tarragon notes in a glass of cabernet. It’s a super laid-back place where you can stop trying to act like you know what you’re doing, unless what you’re doing is eating a lot of really good food. If you’re there at brunch, get the BLT and add the duck egg. For obvious reasons.
In an area that needs more good restaurants, Evangeline is a step in the right direction, especially for brunch. It’s a casual French-Creole place with an excellent patio - another one to put on your list for a nice day.
Welcome to Napa’s version of Denny’s. When you’ve had enough of fancy overdone brunches where they pressure you into ordering a bottle of wine, Sarafornia is here for you. Come here for coffee, eggs, and pancakes, and don’t miss the breakfast burrito.
Campo Fina is more than just an Italian restaurant. It’s an Italian restaurant with excellent wood-fired pizzas and a bocce court in the backyard. Hit it for a day of wine drinking, eating, and sport. And yes, we just called bocce a sport.
Chalkboard is located in a very fancy hotel that will make you feel like you’re an extra in a movie about Marie Antoinette, but you’re more likely to be eating pork belly biscuits here than frogs’ legs. Get a lot of small plates to share, or try tasting all their housemade pastas in a single meal. There’s also a nice patio out back.
Another contender for most irresponsibly expensive restaurant in California wine country: Single Thread. An 11-course meal here will set you back $295 per person (pre-paid, and including tip and service, which is a plus, we suppose), and while we haven’t made it for a visit yet, we’ve heard it’s one of the best restaurant experiences you can have. The Japanese-influenced food is largely sourced from the restaurant’s farm.
Barndiva is a popular spot for weddings, since it’s essentially a very fancy barn. But it’s also just a great place to have an excellent meal. The main dining area is a fairly formal farm-to-table experience, and you’ll need to book far in advance if that’s what you’re looking for. We’re partial to dropping in and grabbing seats at the bar, a few glasses of wine, and an order of goat cheese croquettes. You will be too.
The Farmhouse Inn is a small bed and breakfast in Forestville, and eating in its restaurant is a date night power move. If you’re looking for a true “Napa” fine dining experience and want something less stuffy and more intimate than The French Laundry or Meadowood, this is the place for you.
Glen Ellen is one of the smaller towns in Sonoma County, but it’s well worth a visit for this little restaurant alone. This place is very casual and often filled with locals who are here for everything that comes out of the wood-fired oven: simple pizzas, charred vegetables, and often whole fish. There are also a couple of pastas if you need a break from things cooked with fire. If you can, get a table in the small, house-like dining room - it’s more fun than the separate room they’ve added onto the side.
Geyserville is a town just north of Healdsburg, and it’s extremely charming - worth a visit if you’re looking to explore more of Sonoma County. While you’re there, hit this also-charming Italian restaurant for a meat and cheese plate and a glass or two of Brunello. And yes, it’s OK to drink wine that doesn’t come from California. Just this once.
Della Fattoria is a great spot for an easy breakfast or lunch if you’re passing through town. They have a bakery where you can pick up pastries, cookies, or some bread to go - or stop in at the cafe for one of their very good breakfast sandwiches.