The Best, Not-Wildly-Expensive Wine Country Restaurants

 May 26, 2017
Posted by jenn

The sun is out, the weather is nice – time to head to wine country and enjoy all the flavors. Champagne taste with beer money.

Wine Country, particularly the Napa Valley, is the lap of luxury of the Bay Area, and an adult playground for the wealthy from all over the US. If you’ve spent some time wine tasting up there, and in Sonoma, you’ve likely started to get the idea that there are a number of different tiers of tasting, eating, and lodging experiences up there, with Sonoma remaining a bit more quaint and down to earth — though the tourists and Bay Area winos have begun flocking to Sonoma in recent years in greater and greater numbers. So, setting aside the Meadowoods and SingleThreads and French Laundries, and a number of lesser acclaimed but no less expensive resort-y food experiences to be had up north, we bring you our definitive list of the best non-exorbitant, yet very delicious restaurants you’ll find up there on your holiday weekend wine-tasting travels. Some of them aren’t exactly cheap, but when you’re spending $60 or $100 on lunch or dinner, it might as well be really good, right? — Jay Barmann

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ad hoc in Yountville. (thomaskeller.com)

ad hoc
Bow down at the altar of Thomas Keller with a visit to ad hoc. The name uses all lower-case letters, which should indicate to you that ad hoc is significantly less expensive than Keller’s crown jewel, The French Laundry, which is up the street. Four-course dinners are served family style and the menu is changed daily. But the menu is less of a menu and more of a list of food you WILL be having for dinner. There are no choices at ad hoc, there’s just dinner or brunch — which makes the experience much more adventurous for diners wanting to experience the Keller culinary magic. You can’t just order a burger — you take what these geniuses give you. Add a rustic, farmhouse ambiance and a $55-ish price tag and ad hoc delivers wine country casual with a big name chef. Dinner is served Thursday through Monday and brunch is on Sundays. Alternately, swing by the connected addendum for a pre-wine tasting $16.50 boxed lunch of either fried chicken or pork ribs. — Beth Spotswood
ad hoc + addendum, 6476 Washington Street Yountville


Aventine
You’re likely familiar with Aventine’s San Francisco location, which sports a dark-wood-and-leather-upholstery vibe associated with gentlemen’s clubs or the board game Clue. Their Glen Ellen location is a different animal, a rustic and airy sawmill from 1839 that also offers delightful patio dining. The menus are similar, though, with wood-fired pizzas, a solid selection of pastas, and mains that include a raved-about half chicken, top-notch lasagna, and a pretty terrific sea bass. — Eve Batey
14301 Arnold Drive #32, Glen Ellen

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Photo: Facebook

Barndiva
Despite the unfortunate name — and many fans of this restaurant will tell you that they, too, hate the name — Barndiva remains a reliable lunch, dinner, and brunch destination in Healdsburg, just off the cute town square, in a converted barn that now looks like the picture of a rustic, high-end wine country restaurant as designed by HGTV. The place makes great cocktails, and the food is well prepared and highly seasonal, if not always wildly inventive — suffice it to say, it’s easy to like gets high marks for consistency. This place has also attracted a decent business for hip, smaller scale weddings in its gorgeous garden. — Jay Barmann
231 Center Street, Healdsburg

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Bar Terra (terrarestaurant.com)

Bar Terra
The bar adjoining Terra Restaurant in St. Helena is a wildly popular dining destination unto itself. The cozy, stone-walled upscale atmosphere is blissfully buffalo wing-free. The eclectic offerings include surprises like ramen (Bar Terra Ramen; Chashu Jowl, Pig Trotters, Jidori Egg, Tokyo Style Broth) and sundaes (Strawberry Sundae, Pavlova, Buttermilk Ice Cream, Basil Seeds.) Bar Terra has a gluten-free menu too. Maybe that’s a thing in Napa. Is that a thing in Napa? Celiac sufferers, rejoice!” Raves the Chronicle’s Michael Bauer as proudly quoted on the restaurant’s homepage, “I could close my eyes and point, and I would be equally happy with anything in that section. Even the simplest offerings, such as the radicchio salad, are spectacular.” I implore you to find another restaurant capable of making radicchio “spectacular.” — Beth Spotswood
Bar Terra, 1345 Railroad Avenue, St. Helena

Bottega
Napa Valley and Italy converge at Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. The kitchen at this Yountville spot whips up gluten-free menus for both lunch and dinner, so those people should rest easy. And despite a few controversies*, Bottega has managed to remain a hit with critics. In fact, the Chronicle’s Michael Bauer has kept Bottega on his coveted Top 100 list for the past eight years. So when it comes to Italian in Napa Valley, the food at Bottega is very nice and the service is usually lovely. As Andrew K. explained on Yelp, “We asked poignant questions to our server regarding specific details of the cooking process of some of our dishes as a few of us at the table love to attempt to recreate our favorite experiences at home. He was able to answer them with the knowledge of a line cook in the kitchen and that was a nice bonus to our evening.” Hooray! And now on to that *ASTERISK*: Chiarello was arrested in Napa for a DUI in November of last year after settling a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former employees. But yum! Pasta! — Beth Spotswood
Bottega, 6525 Washington Street, Yountville

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Photo: Calistoga Kitchen

Calistoga Kitchen
Calistoga Kitchen is one of the few wine country restaurants that seems as beloved by locals as it is by visitors, perhaps because chef-owner Rick Warkel began the place as a private supper club before opening it up the the masses. It’s a cozy, casual place with eccentric hours (call or check Facebook to confirm, but dinner’s typically Thurs-Sun, with brunch/lunch Fri-Sunday) and warm service that makes every guest feel like an insider. The menu’s simple and delicious: Game Hen with polenta, wild local salmon with risotto, and rabbit cacciatore are three evening standouts, and their brunch-hour lamb hash gets high marks from those who are feeling ambitious about their morning meal. — Eve Batey
1107 Cedar Street, Calistoga

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Photo: Yelp

Campo Fina
If you’re looking for a casual, fun, all-day restaurant in Healdsburg — the perfect place to take refuge and drink something besides wine on a sunny late afternoon — look no further than this spot on the town’s main drag, a sister restaurant to the also well loved Scopa around the corner. They’ve got a bocce court on the back patio, and a solid cocktail array, as well as great snack and dinner options including stellar meatballs and excellent wood-fired pizzas. — Jay Barmann
330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg

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Curtis Y. via Yelp

Chalkboard
This reporter makes no apologies for perpetuating the theory that “small plates” are a conspiracy by restaurant owners to lower their costs by providing less food. (Designed for “sharing”? People, you’re allowed to share regardless of a plate’s size!) But Healdburg’s Chalkboard genuinely does provide excellent fare upon their small plates, with legitimately filling bites of organic produce grown on their nearby dedicated three-acre farm in Sonoma. The warm pretzels are a longtime local favorite, the “vintage library” interior is impeccably designed, and their every day Happy Hour offers six-dollar small plates and cocktails. Six-dollar plates at a fancy Healdsburg restaurant is freaking unheard of, FYI.— Joe Kukura
29 North Street at Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg

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Patrick Q. via Yelp

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
This place’s name may sound like a rural roadside diner, but executive chef and owner Cindy Pawlcyn has two James Beard Awards (she’s been nominated seven times, and also founded Fog City Diner but is no longer affiliated with that restaurant.) This converted vintage house is just off the main drag of Main Street in St. Helena, and the menu is sort of a California cuisine-meets-comfort-food array with international influences that features inspired entrees like a duck burger and a rabbit tostada. The drawback is the lack of dedicated parking, but the walk lets you pile on some extra calories with their Oreo-marshmallow-y Campfire Pie that may be one of wine country’s most Instagrammed desserts. — Joe Kukura
1327 Railroad Avenue at Hunt Avenue, St. Helena

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Steph G. via Yelp

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
More colloquially known as the “Culinary Institute at Napa”, Greystone is literally a hundred-year-old castle that now serves as one of the Culinary Institute’s branch schools. But there is no shame in having your meals prepared and served by students here, as they deeply understand the complexity of flavor pairing. The single greatest meal I have ever enjoyed in my life was here, a roast duck with beets — and I hate beets — but their sweetness was so perfectly coupled with the inherent richness of the duck that my taste buds felt like they had Michelin stars on them. Outdoor seating is highly recommended (weather permitting), because the views of Mount St. Helena are incomparable. — Joe Kukura
2555 Main Street on State Route 128, St. Helena

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Photo: Ron Crain via Facebook

El Molino Central
One of the somewhat unsung bastions of great Mexican food in the Bay Area, El Molino Central is the home of chef Karen Taylor’s thoughtful and admittedly Californian take on regional Mexican cuisine. And I says “somewhat unsung” because despite not being too widely known among San Franciscans, Taylor’s tamales and tortillas, under the brand name Primavera, are big sellers at the Ferry Building farmers’ markets, she recently got named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: West, and the restaurant was glowingly profiled by Chris Ying in the Chronicle this month — with Ying writing that Taylor, a white woman who collaborates often with her Mexican-born cooks, is by those cooks’ own account “not like other gabachas dabbling in the Mexican hustle.” Ying also says El Molino Central serves “the best Mexican food in the Bay Area,” and I can’t say he’s wrong. You should be prepared for a counter-service deal, outdoor seating, and a potentially long and leisurely wait for your food to arrive, but this place is the real deal, and a steal when it comes to finding a good meal in these parts. — Jay Barmann
11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs (Sonoma)

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The Girl & The Fig: Andy L/Yelp

The Girl & The Fig
It is, perhaps, counter-intuitive to go to wine country to drink cocktails, but one look at The Girl & The Fig’s gorgeous antique bar and I go full Hemingway (that means hard booze, not beards and hats). Fortunately their country-style French food is there to soak up the excess, with an all-day menu that includes a mussels and frites starter that’s sexy as hell, a comparatively virtuous trout salad, and a bacony gnocchi main that you’ll keep thinking about after the fact. — Eve Batey
110 West Spain Street, Sonoma

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Photo: Facebook

Glen Ellen Star
Possibly as close as you’re going to come to some of SF’s own Cal-Med neighborhood restaurant gems in Wine Country, Glen Ellen Star opened five years ago under the helm of Ari Weiswasser, who had previously worked at the French Laundry, and his wife Erinn Benziger Weiswasser, of the Benziger wine family. It’s a cozy and imaginative bistro with a tightly curated menu, much of it coming from the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, including roasted cauliflower dressed in Middle Eastern spices and labne (yogurt); brick chicken with vadouvan; and a white-sauce pizza with guanciale and arugula. As should be expected from the heart of Sonoma, the wine list is deep and thoughtfully curated, and this place feels as appropriate for a celebration as for a weeknight meal. — Jay Barmann
13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen

Oenotri
As you can tell from this list, Napa and Sonoma are not hurting for great, wood-fired pizzas. Oenotri, in downtown Napa, takes things a step further with an acclaimed salumi program by chef Tyler Rodde, as well as great house-made pastas, a great cocktail bar, and seasonally changing antipasti and entrees using ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden. Seven years in, Oenotri remains a wildly popular spot where reservations are highly recommended, and bar fills up fast on weekend nights. — Jay Barmann
1425 First Street, Napa

Redd Wood
The sister restaurant and pizzeria of the more luxe Redd down the street, Redd Wood service arguably Yountville’s best pizza — though Ciccio has plenty in its camp as well. Chef Richard Reddington knows from Napa style and cuisine, and this casual lunch and dinner spot serves reliably great, blistered, crispy wood-oven pies, as well as a selection of pastas, salumi, and a great ribeye steak at dinner. — Jay Barmann
6755 Washington Street, Yountville

Taken from SFist – written by Jay Barmann

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