Located on a bend on the Russian River about 70 miles north of San Francisco, Healdsburg lies at the crossroads of three Sonoma County winegrowing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley; nearly 40,000 acres of vines surround this village of 12,000 residents. Thirty years ago, the town was a quiet backwater with more than its fair share of abandoned storefronts around the main plaza. Today, downtown is not the sleepy place it used to be, its sidewalks bustling every weekend year-round and all week throughout summer and fall, and the region overall has blossomed into one of the most popular travel destinations in California.
Healdsburg and Alexander Valley make a distinctive combination: an increasingly posh and prosperous small town in a wine region that retains all of Sonoma County's old-time charm. Below we detail many of the best places to eat and drink wine.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
109 Plaza St., Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 473-8580
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Upscale comfort food continues to be the rage, and this new addition to the Healdsburg Plaza embraces the idea with gusto. Chef Shane McAnelly, who also runs the nearby Chalkboard restaurant, took over the former Bistro Ralph a year ago. The slender dining room is a dapper space with an open kitchen, long bar, tin ceiling and brick walls.
The menu is strong on old-school hedonism: deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, osso buco and duck confit. Rabbit of course is a menu regular, including an indulgent rabbit potpie with truffled gravy. Frequent dishes include bouillabaisse and pork schnitzel. Wine offerings are limited to about 40 bottles, but it's an eclectic list, with Benovia Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Martaella at $90 and Roth Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2016 for $40.
330 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 395-4640
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
This trattoria draws in crowds of locals and tourists alike. Owners Ari and Dawnelise Rosen are passionate about Italian country food and showcase it in a warm and spirited atmosphere. The main dining room is a narrow space with exposed brick walls and a clubby vibe, but everyone gathers on the large patio when weather permits.
The wood-fired pizzas, crusty and delicate, are great to share, though you might be tempted to hoard one on your own. Good starters include grilled calamari and housemade burrata with prosciutto and aged balsamic. One section of the menu is devoted to Nonna's Kitchen, where you'll find hearty fare an Italian grandmother would make, such as Tomasso's Sugo Calabrese (spaghettini with tomato-braised beef and pork rib sugo), and tomato-braised chicken with soft polenta and sautéed Swiss chard.
The wine list holds about 70 offerings, divided equally between Italy and Sonoma County. Prices are reasonable, with a gem like Quintodecimo Greco di Tufo Jaune d'Arles 2015 for $95.
21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville
Telephone (707) 814-0111
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Italian for "devil," Diavola earns its name with authentic, full-flavored food that often has a touch of heat. Chef-owner Dino Bugica is all about la cucina povera, or "peasant cooking." Working from his wood-fired oven, Bugica produces crusty pizzas with toppings such as house sausage with red onions and pecorino, or prosciutto with mushrooms. Chicken under a brick comes with polenta, braised chard and smoked ham hock. Impressive starters include the house-made salumi and cheese plate, and oven-roasted sardines with red and green onions, potatoes, beans and olives.
Located in a historic storefront in the quirky village of Geyserville, the dining room has high tin ceilings, wood floors and brick walls. The wine list is compact, but suits the menu. It's split between California and Italy, with Sbragia Zinfandel Italo's Vineyard 2014 going for a reasonable $45.
6706 Highway 128, Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 433-1212
Open Breakfast and lunch; days and hours change seasonally
Carrie Brown and her late husband, John Werner, captured the essence of what makes Sonoma County distinctive when they revitalized the historic Jimtown Store in 1991. What seemed like hip retro kitsch at the time is now an Alexander Valley institution. It stays true to the general stores of yore with old-school kitchenware, candies, toys and other Americana, but Brown maintains a menu of artisan food fit for a gourmet picnic. There's buttermilk slaw, regional cheeses, Mom's potato salad, spicy pickles and sandwiches ranging from Brie and black olives on a baguette to bánh mì. There's a short list of wines and plenty of tables to congregate around.
Journeyman Meat Co.
404 Center St., Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 395-6328
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Pete Seghesio grew up in his family's wine business, but food was always on his mind, especially salumi. When the family sold the winery in 2011, Seghesio and his wife, Cathy, began the long, exacting journey of bringing Journeyman Meat to fruition. The animals are born and raised in Sonoma County, under Seghesio's supervision, and the meat is processed at his nearby facility. The marbling on the steaks is like artwork, and the bacon, sausages and various salumi have few rivals.
The shop multitasks, offering a butcher counter, a tasting salon for Seghesio's Journeyman and San Lorenzo wine labels, and a small counter with a limited menu. A wood-fired oven produces pizzas, steaks on order and sandwiches such as the "estate burger" with ground bacon. Salumi boards with veggies and cheeses are a favorite.
SingleThread Farm, Restaurant & Inn
131 North St., Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 723-4646
Open Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Best of Award of Excellence
Sonoma County was a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, and SingleThread elevates the concept to an almost immersive level. Each of the tasting menu's 11 courses is meticulously created, and the kitchen finds extraordinary ways to highlight the purity and freshness of flavors.
Kyle and Katina Connaughton are the duo behind the restaurant. She focuses on the nearby farm, which grows much of the kitchen's produce, and he runs the kitchen. Decorated with dark wood and tile, the dining room strikes a handsome and soothing tone. The menu takes influence from the season as well as Japan and around the world, with dishes that delicately highlight the ingredients. Summer squash blossoms are stuffed with scallops and served with zucchini cream, while black cod is paired with shimeji mushrooms, broth and green tea.
SingleThread will not suit every taste. Dinner goes at a leisurely pace and the presentation could be called precious, but for many it will be a wonderful experience.
Head sommelier Evan Hufford oversees more than 900 selections, and while there is a commitment to Northern California, white and red Burgundy are well-represented. There are more than a dozen wines by the glass, but the nightly wine pairing ($185-$355) is worth experiencing.
219 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 433-7222
Open Dinner, daily
Corkage First bottle free, $20 thereafter
This restaurant opened in 2010 but took on new life two years ago when chef couple Casey and Patrick Van Voorhis took over the kitchen. The menu is all about freshness and regional ingredients prepared with Italian influences. Tender and crisp smoked octopus arrived on a mini-grill with smoke still rising over it, and roast local chicken was as flavorful as it was unfussy, served with roasted baby carrots and truffle spaetzle.
Sonoma is the focus of the 175-bottle wine list—a solid selection with modest markups. Rochioli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2015 is priced at $95. The dining room is airy, and with its concrete and wood highlights, it sets an eco-friendly industrial tone. There's a popular bar with innovative cocktails, and on warm nights, the glass walls slide open onto the sidewalk.
Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar
403 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg
Telephone (707) 433-9191
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark were hit hard by the wildfires. Their Santa Rosa flagship, Willi's Wine Bar, was left in ashes. So the savvy couple made this Healdsburg outlet the keeper of best dishes from that late, great kitchen. The small-plates menu creates full flavors that never go over the top, like pork belly pot stickers with five-spice and shiitakes, or flash-fried calamari with orange chile gremolata. There are also oysters on the half shell, steamed clams and mussels, ceviches, and local Dungeness crab when in season.
The wine list comprises just 50 bottles, but it's a winning selection of mostly local wines, available by the glass, bottle and half-bottle. The markup is modest, with Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2014 for $95, for example. The interior is cozy and clublike, with a long bar and semi-private booths. A courtyard terrace is open when weather permits.