Restaurants

Tim Fish

Most visitors to Napa Valley spend as much time planning their next meal as they do selecting the next winery to visit. If you like good wine, you also like good food. As you might expect, California's No. 1 wine destination also stands as a top food destination.

There is a bounty of restaurant options available to the valley's 5 million annual visitors, offering a variety of cuisines and more great meals than anyone could hope to sample in a few days.

In general, the restaurants we liked best have chef-driven kitchens and upscale dining, or are casual bistros that offer serious comfort food at good value.

Around ten years ago, Napa's best restaurants were in St. Helena and Calistoga, and tourists rarely lingered in Yountville or the city of Napa. Today, the southern end of the valley is booming with restaurants, while high-profile dining rooms are closing at the northern end.

Why the shift? For one, the city of Napa has the valley's largest population, and since most of the new hotel development is taking place in the valley's southern end, tourists are increasingly using the city and its immediate environs as a base. As a result, chefs and other entrepreneurs are transforming the once sleepy downtown Napa into a happening food community.

Wine is something all these fine-dining restaurants have in common, whether it's a list deep in high-end California cult wines and classic French bottlings (Auberge du Soleil, La Toque) or a page or two focused largely on local favorites. What's more, nearly all chefs' menus are offered with glasses of wine, at an additional charge, to match each course.

If you plan to eat at one of the more casual restaurants and want to drink a special bottle of wine, take advantage of their generally liberal corkage policies by bringing your own. Most places charge a modest $10 to $15 to open a bottle brought in by a customer, and typically will waive even that fee if you buy another bottle from the list. Be sure to call ahead to inquire about the restaurant's policy.

The casual attitude extends to the dress code. Only a handful of restaurants "suggest" that men wear jackets, and jeans are acceptable at most restaurants. Again, call ahead.

Casual Eats & Food to Go

It's hard to get a bad meal in Napa—whether you're indulging in truffles, lingering over foie gras or simply hankering for a burger or craving pizza. If you need a place to regroup or recharge, consider Taylor's Refresher, Buster's Barbecue or Pizzeria Tra Vigne. For gourmet picnic provisions, hit Dean & Deluca, Sunshine Foods, Oakville Grocery or Palisades Market. If you want to hang out with the locals, head over to Gordon's Café, where every customer is greeted with a "What'll you have, love?"

Before You Go

Please note that owners, chefs, menu items, prices and other details can often change, and we recommend that you call ahead before you go.

All of these restaurants accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard unless otherwise noted.

For more restaurants worldwide that hold Wine Spectator awards for their wine lists, see our Restaurant Search database.

CASUAL EATS & FOOD TO GO

Buster's Barbecue
1207 Foothill Blvd.
Calistoga, CA 94515
Telephone (707) 942-5605
Open Sunday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The mouthwatering aromas will lead you to Buster's. Disguised as a shack off the side of the road, this is a serious shrine to juicy and perfectly smoked meats. Buster himself will prepare your tri-tip, ribs or chicken, and you can join other patrons at picnic tables where paper towels are the linen of choice. Two warnings: Buster's does not accept credit cards and the hot sauce is fiery.

Dean & DeLuca
607 S. St. Helena Highway
St. Helena, CA 94574
Telephone (707) 967-9980
Web site www.deandeluca.com
Open Daily, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dean & Deluca is a temple for epicureans, with a vast collection of California wine, cookware and high-end condiments and spices. There are some prepared foods in back, and you can't beat their selection for the ultimate picnic. Consider imported delicacies such as serrano ham or bresaola, local cheeses, blue cheese-stuffed olives, fresh bread and truffled pâtés. The fresh pastries and espresso drinks are excellent.

Oakville Grocery
7856 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
Telephone (707) 944-8802
Web site www.oakvillegrocery.com
Open Daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; espresso bar opens at 7 a.m.
It's always crowded at the Oakville Grocery, so try to avoid it at lunchtime, when the aisles are the most jammed. Mustards, olive oils and condiments are on display (and often available for sampling), and there's an impressive collection of wine in the back. The deli counter offers ideal picnic food—crab cakes, pecan-crusted chicken, various salads, cheeses and olives galore, and a large selection of sandwiches. The cookies and pastries are terrific. If there's room, grab a spot on one of the benches out front and watch Napa Valley go by.

Pizzeria Tra Vigne
1016 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574
Telephone (707) 967-9999
Web site www.pizzeriatravigne.com
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
If pizza is what you're craving, look for the big red tomato by the entrance of Pizzeria Tra Vigne in downtown St. Helena. Thin, crunchy, wood fired-oven crusts, quality toppings and tasty combinations make the pizzas first-rate. Pastas and salads and a good selection of beer and wine round out the menu. Leather booths inside and patio seating outside add a touch of style to this otherwise casual joint.

Sunshine Foods
1115 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574
Telephone (707) 963-7070
Open Daily, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
You'll wish you had this kind of sunshine in your own neighborhood. This specialty market features a dazzling selection of cheeses and an amazing assortment of seafood, marinated meats and produce. It's a delight to browse the countless gourmet products on the shelves. Prepared foods such as soups, sushi, roasted and fried chicken and even cheeseburgers made to order make this another great option for picnic provisions.

Taylor's Refresher
933 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574
Web site www.taylorsrefresher.com
Open Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (winter); 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (summer)
Popular with the locals, Taylor's looks like a '50s diner but is actually a roadside stand in downtown St. Helena where you order from a window, sit at a picnic table and wait to hear your name on the loudspeaker. The fare is standard American, with some surprises—juicy burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches, as well as tasty fish tacos, ahi burgers, beer-battered onion rings and the most amazing milk shakes. There is also a small selection of beer and wine.

NAPA'S TOP RESTAURANTS

Angèle Restaurant & Bar
540 Main St.
Napa, CA 94559
Telephone (707) 252-8115
Web site www.angelerestaurant.com
Corkage $15
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $19–$28
This French-style bistro may be little known outside Napa Valley, but it won't be so for long. Not only does it have owners with impressive track records, its kitchen delivers quality at a fair price. The owners are Claude Rouas, who built Auberge du Soleil, and his daughters Claudia and Bettina Roua Beck, the latter former manager of the French Laundry. A former boathouse on the river in revitalized downtown Napa, Angèle has a casual atmosphere, with concrete floors and walls and rough-hewn wooden rafters, but there's plenty of warmth and richness in the classic French food on the table.

Auberge du Soleil Restaurant
Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
Telephone (707) 963-1211
Web site www.aubergedusoleil.com
Corkage 30
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $29–$37
Best of Award of Excellence
The country-chic dining room is perched at the top of the Auberge du Soleil resort, which spills down the slope of a small canyon facing the town of Rutherford. The hefty wine list, always good, has become deeper as the resort's investment in earlier vintages pays off. The cellar book bulges with deep verticals of first-growth Bordeaux, some dating to the 1960s, and high-end Napa Cabernets, mainly from the early 1990s, but plenty of good choices in other categories can be had for less than $40. Though fewer in number, wines from Oregon, Washington, Italy and Spain serve as savvy alternatives.

Bistro Don Giovanni
4110 Howard Lane
Napa, CA 94558
Telephone (707) 224-3300
Web site www.bistrodongiovanni.com
Corkage $15
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $12–$28
A favorite of vintners and local chefs, this bistro is busy and vibrant yet utterly unfussy and comfortable. There is a brightly colored dining room and open kitchen and, on warm days, porch seating, which offers views of vineyards and mountains. There's a hint of France on the menu, but it's largely devoted to that classic Italian fare that's rustic yet sophisticated, like a hearty penne Bolognese with duck ragu. Pizzas, thin and crisp from the wood-burning oven, are perfection. The wine list of nearly 300 selections focuses on Italy and California and ranges from hearty, good value reds and whites to collectibles such as Araujo and Screaming Eagle.

Bouchon
6534 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
Telephone (707) 944-8037
Web site www.frenchlaundry.com/bouchon/bouchon.htm
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15–$28
It may be set in diminutive Yountville, but this is a French bistro with a big city feel. The dining room, a stylish den done in velvet and burgundy, mosaics and antique light fixtures, seems constantly abuzz and would be at home on any street corner in Paris. So too the menu, which serves classic bistro cuisine such as steak frites and steamed mussels. There's a modest but well-focused wine list, with a slightly higher than typical markup, devoted largely to France and Napa. The zinc-top bar is a favorite late-night hangout. The Bouchon formula has been so successful that chef Thomas Keller, who also owns the French Laundry up the street, has opened a second Bouchon in Las Vegas. Keller also owns Per Se, a version of the French Laundry in New York.

Brix Restaurant
7377 St. Helena Hwy.
Napa, CA 94558
Telephone (707) 944-2749
Web site www.brix.com
Corkage 15
Open Lunch and dinner, daily; Brunch, Sunday
Cost Entrées $23–$36
Best of Award of Excellence
With some of the best sunset views around and an impressive selection of top Napa wines, Brix is a reliable stop along the wine road. Although the kitchen's take on California cuisine is a little too predictable at times, it's not without satisfaction. The atmosphere is certainly welcoming. Step inside and browse the restaurant's retail wine shop. The dining room, with its polished wood highlights and peaked ceiling, recalls an elegant ski lodge.

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Ave.
St. Helena, CA 94574
Telephone (707) 963-1200
Web site www.cindysbackstreetkitchen.com
Corkage $12
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $16–$26
Cindy Pawlcyn revolutionized Napa Valley dining back in the 1980s with Mustards Grill, which brought serious intent to a casual menu. Her new place in St. Helena plays on her strengths, such as birds and meats roasted with smoky wood or braised to soulful depths. Latin American dishes and a popular meat loaf are among the items that distinguish this menu from the one at Mustards. Here the bright, cheerful dining room is a perfect setting for meltingly tender wood-oven duck or the platonic ideal of a roasted artichoke with roasted lemon, not to mention the best mixed fry in the valley. Reflecting the sharp eye of a Napa insider, the wine list comprises 125 mostly California choices and aims for diversity and value. Desserts, cocktails and ales are also tempting.

Cole's Chop House
1122 Main St.
Napa, CA 94559
Telephone (707) 224-6328
Web site www.coleschophouse.com
Corkage 15
Open Dinner, nightly
Cost Entrées $15–$47
Award of Excellence
Because Napa is Cabernet country, this steak house is a natural, and with its rough-hewn stone walls, bustling bar, loft and tall ceilings creating a distinctly urban feel, Cole's also offers a change of pace from the ubiquitous, cozy wine country bistro. The menu is as traditional as can be, but sometimes a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing is just what you need. The restaurant serves both Angus beef and Prime steak, the latter dry-aged for 21 days. Except for a little salt and pepper, they arrive unadorned straight from the grill. The moderately priced wine list of more than 300 selections includes a solid collection of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a handful of reds and whites from around the world.

French Laundry
6640 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
Telephone (707) 944.2380; (800) 944-1224 (voicemail)
Web site www.frenchlaundry.com
Corkage $50
Open Lunch, Friday to Sunday; dinner, nightly
Cost $210 (service charge included), choice of 9-course Chef's Tasting Menu or 9-course Vegetarian Tasting Menu
The French Laundry offers spectacular food, ultrasmooth service and ambience as refined and cosseting as that of any great restaurant in America. A hallmark of Chef Thomas Keller’s food is that luxury ingredients and earthy opposites coexist happily. There are two menus available for both lunch and dinner: a 9-course Vegetarian Tasting Menu and the Chef’s Tasting Menu (each are $210, service charge included). The menus change daily and Keller likes to experiment with new ideas. His genius lies in combining mind-bogglingly complex elements into dishes that look and feel simple and natural. (Keller is not in the kitchen every day; he now divides his time between the French Laundry and Per Se in New York. When he’s here it gets as close to perfection as anything, anywhere.) What distinguishes the French Laundry is the cumulative effect of so many great bites of food coming one upon the other. Like a great play, the momentum builds. But this parade of small plates hitting so many different flavor and texture buttons presents a challenge for wine. One option is the generous list of half-bottles, which at least doubles the number of wines you can apportion to your menu. Wine is available by the glass and while there is no wine pairing set, the sommelier can suggest different glasses to accompany that day’s menu. Or you can forget about the matching, just damn the torpedoes and spend the big bucks on a great bottle. With 16 tables on two floors, plus a private dining room, the French Laundry almost feels more like a gracious home than a restaurant. The serving staff seems to glide, quietly executing all the niceties of fine service and functioning as a buffer between the kitchen and the table.

La Toque
Rancho Caymus Inn, 1140 Rutherford Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
Telephone (707) 963-9770
Web site www.latoque.com
Corkage 20
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Menu $98
Best of Award of Excellence
Even among chefs cooking in wine country, Ken Frank has an extraordinary interest in wine, and it shows in his food. No odd spices or tricky Asian flavors for him. Frank's flavor and texture palette relies on classically French techniques, which he varies with an American sense of freedom and whimsy. The results take to wine as seamlessly as Frank's light, fragile hollandaise sauce melds to white asparagus in one of the chef's perfectly rendered dishes. Frank's menu changes often, but it always follows the same pattern: two options for each of the five courses, plus an option for a cheese course as small or as extensive as you like. The extra charge depends on how many of the beautifully kept French and American farmstead cheeses you order. The rustic dining room may not be the most elegant in Napa Valley—it's in the otherwise middlebrow Rancho Caymus Inn on Rutherford Cross Road—but for a complete food and wine experience, no restaurant in Napa Valley can match La Toque. Frank's food is impeccable, and the servers handle the complex menu options with aplomb.

Mustards Grill
7399 St. Helena Hwy.
Yountville, CA 94558
Telephone (707) 944-2424
Web site www.mustardsgrill.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $16–$25
Mustards set the tone for the casual wine country restaurant when it opened its doors over 20 years ago, and it's still the best of the breed today. Relying heavily on spanking-fresh local ingredients and the aromatic tang of the smoke oven and grill, chef-owner Cindy Pawlcyn delivers smoky, juicy pork chops, rabbit and lamb shanks. The mountain of ultrathin onion rings still earns huzzahs, while desserts such as a warm, oozing, hazelnut truffle tart reward anyone with sufficient appetite. From the early days, it was a badge of honor for a Napa Valley winery to make it onto Mustards' list. It's titled "Way Too Many Wines," but it's actually a tightly plotted tour of the hot and new and the tried and true, chosen with care. It's broad rather than deep, and the prices are fair. A wine and food lover's visit to Napa Valley is incomplete without lunch or dinner here.

Redd
6480 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
Telephone (707) 944-2222
Web site www.reddnapavalley.com
Open Lunch, Monday to Thursday; dinner, nightly; brunch, Sunday
Cost Entrées $22–29; tasting menus $70 & $105 ($100 & $160 with wine pairing)
Opened in November 2005, Redd occupies the old Piatti space in Yountville, but it's hardly recognizable as the same building. Where Piatti was casual, Redd is sleek and modern, with slanted ceilings revealing hidden skylights, polished wood accents and clean, sharp lines. The chairs are comfortable and the tables widely spaced to ensure private conversation. The sun sets over the Mayacamas Range outside the windows, which look out onto Washington Street. There's even an open patio around a rectangular pool for dining alfresco. Chef and owner Richard Reddington's ability to achieve an uncanny equilibrium of flavors and textures on every plate makes for seductive food that should place Redd among Napa Valley's elite restaurants. Reddington never overloads a plate with too many ideas or ingredients, but he doesn't shy away from using everything he needs in order to find a distinctive balance. This natural harmony makes Redd's food a cinch to match with wine. The list has 160 options and centers on recent California vintages, with a few nods to top Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Restaurant Pearl
1339 Pearl St.
Napa, CA 94559
Telephone (707) 224-9161
Web site www.therestaurantpearl.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $7.50–$27
Every neighborhood should have a friendly, unpretentious bistro as good as this one, located in an airy, art-filled corner of a small Mission-style office building on a busy side street on Napa's east side. Chicken thighs simmered with mild green chiles make a wonderful taco with hot, fresh tortillas and a spoonful of polenta. A short, 50-wine list delves into some of the niftier corners of Napa Valley.

Restaurant at Domaine Chandon
1 California Dr.
Yountville, CA 94599
Telephone (707) 944-2892; (800) 736-2892
Web site www.chandon.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Thursday to Monday; closed January
Cost Entrées $26–$36; tasting menu $90
Best of Award of Excellence
One of the first serious restaurants in Napa Valley, the Restaurant at Domaine Chandon still rates for its elegant, modern dining room overlooking the tree-lined winery grounds adorned with witty artworks. The French-inspired cuisine complements Chandon's wines as well as the list's pretty good batch of other California bottlings, which includes some venerable Napa Valley names. Most of what comes out of the kitchen is well-executed. Service misses the small details but it is mostly fine. It all adds up to a pleasurable experience, especially with a flute of Étoile in hand.

Terra
1345 Railroad Ave.
St. Helena, CA 94574
Telephone (707) 963-8931
Web site www.terrarestaurant.com
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entrées $19–$29
Chef-owner Hiro Sone is equally at home with French, Italian and his native Japanese cuisines. He cooks the best risotto in Napa Valley and coaxes intense flavors out of a long-simmered daube of lamb. He also dresses pristine hamachi slices with yuzu, pepper, hijiki and ponzu sauce in a dish that would make any sushi chef proud. And Napa Valley's most discriminating diners love to plunder a wine list deep in big name wines from Napa Valley, Burgundy and the Rhône. Unlike many chefs who straddle the culinary dividing line between Asia and Europe, Sone keeps the cuisines compartmentalized. No shiso in the spaghetti for him. The Japanese dishes are Japanese. The Italian dishes sing with an operatic lilt, and his variations on French classics would have Escoffier nodding in recognition. Sone and his wife, Lissa Doumani, whose father founded Stags' Leap Winery, opened Terra in 1988. Lissa is responsible for the desserts, including as light, airy and evocative a tiramisu as you are likely to find and a lovely brandy snap filled with orange rice. She is also the friendly figure greeting guests.

Tra Vigne
1050 Charter Oak Ave.
St. Helena, CA 94574
Telephone (707) 963-4444
Web site www.travignerestaurant.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $16–$27
For many visitors to wine country, Tra Vigne is the quintessential Napa Valley restaurant, from its shady courtyard and Tuscany-meets-Hollywood interior to a menu that fuses Italy with the best of California. While the food and the wine list are short on excitement, they are long on comfort. The menu ranges from house-made pastas to the restaurant's signature smoked and braised short ribs on creamy polenta. The wine list delivers a sound yet eclectic selection from California and Italy, with a carafe program that focuses on easy-sipping wines. In the summer, when the courtyard is open for outdoor dining, there are more than 40 wines poured by the glass. (Accepts most credit cards, but not American Express.)

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