It’s not all about the wine: Napa Valley is also a serious food destination. It may be best known for super spendy restaurants like The French Laundry, but there is a lot of great food available at much more reasonable price points. When I lived in the bay area, I regularly went up there for a day or weekend of eating. Here are a few of the places I went back to again or again (or would have, if the budget had allowed).
You can’t visit Napa Valley and not eat at a French bistro. My two favorites are the neighboring Bistro Jeanty and Bouchon. Bistro Jeanty is famous for their tomato soup covered in puff pastry, which is as amazing as it sounds and ranks up there with the best things I’ve ever eaten. The steak frites and soul meuniere are great too, and the prices are very reasonable.
Bouchon is my favorite of Thomas Keller’s three restaurants in the area (the others being The French Laundry and Ad Hoc). It’s more expensive than Bistro Jeanty, but the food, ambiance and service are all fantastic. You can’t miss the crispy Parisian gnocchi.
Michael Chiarello’s Bottega is an absolutely excellent Italian spot. They’re known for their homemade pastas, and although I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them, I’m partial to the gnocchi.
If you’re looking to experience a Michelin-starred restaurant without blowing your budget, head to Redd for lunch. At dinner, Chef Richard Reddington’s restaurant is expensive and formal, but lunchtime brings affordable entrees and a casual atmosphere, including a super dog-friendly outdoor patio. The caramelized diver scallops over cauliflower puree, almonds, raisins and balsamic reduction are another strong contender for “best thing I’ve ever eaten” (I know, I sound like a broken record, but there’s a reason Napa is one of my very favorite food destinations). I hear the short rib sandwich is fantastic too.
Those with an adventurous palate will enjoy Ad Hoc, where, as the name suggests, the menu is different every day. The one thing that remains consistent is that every other Monday they serve Thomas Keller’s fried chicken. This is probably no surprise, since I’m a bit of a TK fangirl, but his famous fried chicken is perfection. If you can hit the chicken night I recommend it very strongly; otherwise it’s more of a mixed bag.
For brunch, I’m fond of Boon Fly Cafe, tucked in a somewhat out of the way location on Highway 12 (the highway that connects Napa and Sonoma) at the fancy Carneros Inn. It’s overpriced, even by Napa standards, but the food is really excellent, especially the Texas Toast egg-in-hole and the mini cinnamon sugar donuts.
Another good brunch option is Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. Their cheddar biscuits (which are currently free if you check-in on Yelp) put Red Lobster to shame (and I really like Red Lobster’s biscuits, so that’s saying something). The ambiance, in a renovated barn with high ceilings, is classic wine country.
For burgers and sandwiches, head to Gott’s Roadside (formerly, and still known to many locals as, Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) in St. Helena. Their burgers and sandwiches are great, and they’re also known for their shakes. They have other locations in the Bay Area, but none of them hold up to the Napa one and I suspect that’s due to the ambiance more than anything else. Sitting at the picnic tables on their (dog-friendly!) lawn is one of my favorite things to do on a sunny day in wine country. Be warned though, despite the casual food, this place is crowded and on a nice day you’ll have to wait a while for your food.
If you have a sweet tooth, especially one that prefers chocolate, you can’t miss Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. The macarons are average, but the T.K.O. (his version of an oreo), the brownie-like bouchons and the chocolate ganache tart are all out of this world. I can’t recall a trip to Napa where I didn’t stop here for some treats to take home, and I’ve visited the Vegas and NYC outposts as well. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan.
Another bonus of eating in Napa? You don’t have to travel far. Most of these places (Redd, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bottega, Bistro Jeanty and the French Laundry) are within a few blocks of each other in Yountville.