When someone asks you where to eat in your hometown, you know. Best cheap lunch? You know. Big bucks but worth it? You know. From best burgers to steaks, it's your town, you know!
You don't have to dine at random. Take the insider's advice and eat where the Sonoma locals go and I guarantee that every bite will be vacation worthy, foodie friendly, and good enough to turn even the toughest Yelp'r into a Local Wally believer. Let's go, I'm hungry.
the girl & the fig, 110 W Spain St, Sonoma, CA 95476 (707) 938-3634 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Modern California mixed with updated French.
AT A GLANCE: Adorable casual eatery with prime courtyard seating in back. Without a doubt the most famous Sonoma restaurant, the food lives up to its reputation. If you only have one meal in Sonoma, make it the girl & the fig.
WHAT'S GOOD: A prix fixe 3 course dinner for $32, changes every Thursday.
BEST FOR: Foodies and sophisticated diners, those looking for creative food in a comfortable setting. Locals know to grab a seat on a couch in the bar area.
COST: Surprisingly reasonable, easy to find good stuff for under $20 for dinner, the most expensive entrees are less than $23. Wally's Full Review Here!
Cafe La Haye, 140 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476 (707) 935-5994 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: New American, an eclectic menu with everything from chicken to quail, seafood to steaks. Modern cooking, not your Mom's recipes.
AT A GLANCE: Tiny bistro setting with a dozen or so tables, the atmosphere is pure Northern California understated elegance. Expect spot-on food preparation made with the freshest seasonal local ingredients from Cafe La Haye.
WHAT'S GOOD: The glazed pork chop is a standout and the butterscotch pudding with whipped cream and hot fudge will have you forgetting your manners and licking the bowl.
BEST FOR: Those looking for gourmet food in a lively bistro setting. Tables are close, noise level high, but that's all part of the bistro experience.
COST: Moderately expensive, figure $10 for a salad, $14 for appetizers, $25 for an entree.
Harvest Moon Cafe, 487 1st St W, Sonoma, CA 95476 (707) 933-8160 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: California Cuisine with a Mediterranean twist.
AT A GLANCE: Owned and operated by a husband a wife team with impressive credentials from Chez Panisse and La Toque, it's like eating in the backyard of your cool friends house. Expect impressive food in a relaxed garden setting at Harvest Moon Cafe, sit outside for the best experience. Want More? Read my full review of Harvest Moon Cafe from my recent visit.
WHAT'S GOOD: With the menu changing nightly, just go with the flow. There's a reason why locals call this one of their favorite restaurants.
BEST FOR: Low key dining with friends, a perfect casual dinner spot.
COST: Moderately expensive, figure $10 for a salad, $25 for an entree.
LaSalatte, 452 1st St E, Suite H, Sonoma, CA 95476 (707) 938-1927 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Modern Portuguese
AT A GLANCE: Down an alley off the main square is a beautifully rustic eatery serving up contemporary takes on traditional Portuguese food. Seafood, braised meats, lots of garlic, it's all so good. A locals favorite and hidden gem.
WHAT'S GOOD: Try the tasca tasting plates, a Portuguese version of tapas. $34 gets you seven plates of deliciously different contrasts to share, add some wine and wow, what a nice way to start the meal.
BEST FOR: Romantic dining and casual lunches. LaSalatte is a locals favorite.
COST: Cheaper than you would think for food of this caliber, $24 is the top entree.
Della Santina's Trattoria, 133 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476 (707) 935-0576 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Italian
AT A GLANCE: Romantic dining, a beautiful outdoor patio, this is the place on a great Summer evening when you want authentic Italian dining under the stars.
WHAT'S GOOD: The Cena for two or more people, you get an antipasta plate, a pasta, roasted meats, and then dessert. Don't miss the gnocchi, delightful puffs of potato lightness, and anytime they have the wild boar that's your decision.
BEST FOR: Slow romantic dining, service can be slow at Della Santina's but who cares? You in a rush?
COST: Reasonable, pastas top out at $16 and meat entrees at $17.
Red Grape Pizzeria, 529 1st St W, Sonoma, CA 95476 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Thin crust gourmet pizzas, East Coast New Haven style.
AT A GLANCE: Ultra casual yet modern setting (sort of like a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant) serving up thin crust pizzas with unusual toppings. This isn't your basic pizza joint, this is wine country pizza! Salads, burgers, pastas and steak as well.
WHAT'S GOOD: The Margarita pizza is a local favorite and the $10 corkage means you can open up that good bottle.
BEST FOR: When all you want is good food in a non-fussy setting. Not fancy at all, but not a pizza joint dive, either.
COST: Inexpensive, $13 for a pizza, $8 for a salad, split it and you're dining out for about $25 for two!
Saddle's Steakhouse, 29 E MacArthur St, Sonoma, CA 95476 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Traditional steakhouse, vegetarians stay away!
AT A GLANCE: A high end steakhouse in a high end hotel featuring top cuts of meats and a large selection of martinis. Great ambiance for a fancy dinner, if you like Ruth's Chris, you'll like Saddles.
WHAT'S GOOD: Steaks are a la carte but you can turn it into a complete meal with potatoes, veggies, mushrooms and sauce for just $7 more.
BEST FOR: Fancy dining, meat lovers who know what a good steak is.
COST: Expensive, but actually not bad for a high end steakhouse. Steaks are around $28, a complete dinner around $35.
Hot Box Grill, 18350 Sonoma Hwy, Sonoma, CA 95476 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Modern American/French
AT A GLANCE: Off the tourist track, locals are buzzing over the eclectic menu and inventive cooking. If you ever wished you could try some of those crazy creative dishes you see on FoodTV or Cooking Channel, this is the place for you. Don't let the understated exterior scare you off - the food is outstanding.
WHAT'S GOOD: Duck fat fries, deep fried Cornish Game Hen.
BEST FOR: Serious food lovers, those looking for a memorable meal away from the plaza (and the tourists).
COST: Very reasonable, entrees from $16 to $23, large portions.
TYPE OF FOOD: Upscale Mexican fast food
AT A GLANCE: Not your basic taco shop, El Molino Centro is upscale all the way, the same owner as oh-so-trendy Primavera selling tamales and homemade tortillas at the San Francisco Farmers Market. Seating so limited that it's best to assume you're eating in your car, though there is a small patio out back.
WHAT'S GOOD: The tamales made them famous so why fight it?
BEST FOR: Breakfast (the Chilaquiles "El Cardenal" are legend) and casual dining.
COST: Inexpensive for Sonoma, moderate for Mexican - around $10 per plate.
El Dorado Kitchen, 405 1st St W, Sonoma, CA 95476 (map)
TYPE OF FOOD: Upscale American
AT A GLANCE: Creative food in a sophisticated urban setting, El Dorado Kitchen pleases both tourists and locals. Sit under the fig tree in back or next to the fireplace in the lobby seating area.
WHAT'S GOOD: Truffle fries at the bar sound good to me.
BEST FOR: Fancy dining, special occasions, slow and romantic dining experience. Portions are standard fancy restaurant sized, get an appetizer and dessert if you want to Super Size your meal. Private dining room for large parties popular with wedding and corporate groups.
COST: Expensive, but you're on vacation so go splurge.
TYPE OF FOOD: Updated Southern cooking, downhome yet trendy.
AT A GLANCE: Breakfast and lunch only but worth seeking out. It might look like a dump on the outside but inside it's charming and the picnic tables with vineyard views are enchanting.
WHAT'S GOOD: Salted Caramel Milkshake. Spicy fried chicken. Smoked pastrami Reuben. Handformed burgers from grass fed beef. Really, it's all good here. This is serious food for people who don't take food seriously.
BEST FOR: Casual dining. Plenty of locals, this isn't some theme restaurant but a real local joint that has to be on your Sonoma Dining bucket list.
COST: Around $12 a plate. Get a bunch of things and share.
GLEN ELLEN INN:
13670 Arnold Dr,
Glen Ellen, CA 95442, (707) 996-6409
California cuisine, tons of martini options, fresh oysters, and a delightful back patio. A bit out of the way but worth the drive. TripAdvisor reviews (map / web)
DEPOT RESTAURANT: 241 1st St W
Sonoma, CA 95476, (707) 938-2980
Mediterranean inspired food, dine in the Italian gardens or head to the bar for small bites, perfect for an afternoon snack. TripAdvisor Reviews (map / web)
400 West Spain St,
Sonoma, CA 95476, (707) 933-3663
Owned by the same person behind top rated the girl & the fig, Estate is fine dining in a beautiful Sonoma residence. TripAdvisor reviews (map / web)
HAPPY DOG: 18962 Sonoma Hwy,
Sonoma, CA 95476, (707) 935-6211
Loyally defended by locals as having the best burgers, fries and other fast food delights, a long standing favorite despite sometimes slow service. TripAdvisor Reviews (map)
WHERE TO NEXT?
WHAT'S A PLATYPUS HAVE TO DO WITH SONOMA?
WINTER 2013: As the harvest winds down and the vines rest, don't make the mistake of thinking that it's not a good time to visit Sonoma. Fewer crowds, more one on one attention, it's actually one of the best times for winetasting.
Big News! We launched Napa Valley Home and Garden, an online store that brings Napa and Sonoma farmhouse living to your house. No junk, my interior decorator wife spent tons of time finding cool stuff. Check it out!
Want even more Sonoma info? Search out hotel and restaurant reviews via my TripAdvisor links, compare rates, even book the best deal there. Nice, very nice.