Delicious Food Flows Like Wine Throughout Napa Valley
By Brooke Lewy
Napa Valley Local Expert
With so much good food and such strong opinions, it's difficult to choose the ten best restaurants in Napa Valley. In a place where food is taken so seriously (although not all the food is so serious) each establishment has something unique to offer and feels like a find amidst the grape vines and rolling hills. This list is curated carefully, so that each restaurant provides an experience that is not only delicious, but also memorable. 10Best hopes that you leave Napa Valley talking as enthusiastically and authoritatively about the food as the local residents.
Napa Valley's towns are laid out along Route 29, starting with the town of Napa in the south, stretching up to Calistoga, about twenty-five miles north, with Yountville and St. Helena in between. Most of the notable restaurants are in the towns, perched along a main street, within walking distance of one another. A few of them are tucked away in the area's hotels, little oases of comfortable rooms and decadent food. It's useful to plan your days so everything is relatively close together. it's more fun to go to a couple of vineyards or wineries that are close together, followed by lunch or dinner also nearby, than to spend the day driving the span of Route 29. There are excellent eating experiences in each town, and where you are should help determine what you eat, or where you want to eat should help inform the rest of your day.
9 Carpe Diem Wine Bar
It's rare that true quality and value coincide to create a wholly satisfying experience. Scott, Stephanie and Steve, the owners of Carpe Diem manage to do it quite well, especially during the hours of 4 and 6pm. Their daily happy hour is not only a great deal, with high quality $6 reds and whites of the week and $3.50 draft beers, but their happy hour bar snacks are truly delicious. It's not so rare that a quick nibble of their truffle popped corn (!) and fantastic cheese and charcuterie plate has lured people in. Often, before you know it, what started as an innocent snack became a gateway to the other delicious small plates on the wine bar's menu. The staff is knowledgeable about wine, friendly and attentive. (707-224-0800)
8 FARM at The Carneros Inn
The staff at FARM (and at the Carneros Inn) feel all casual and laid back, but it's a perfectly executed kind of calm, with a strong sense of conscientiousness and professionalism below the surface. The food at FARM is like that, too. Everything that chef Andrew Budnyj plates up, from the risotto with lobster and preserved meyer lemon to the duck breast with Ritual coffee and cardamom, is quietly, perfectly executed to be utterly satisfying. Arrive early and kick off your meal with a cocktail by the outdoor fireplace. (707-299-4880)
7 Gott's Roadside
Selling hearty burgers, crisp fries, and creamy milkshakes for over half a century, Taylor's has continuously pleased patrons by clinging fiercely to the basics. Though the menu has expanded in recent years to include upscale eats like fried calamari and mahi mahi fish-and-chips, the simple hamburger on a toasted egg bun remains the most frequently ordered item. A secret special sauce adds zing to the affair. Brightly painted picnic tables, each topped with an enormous white umbrella, offer customers the opportunity for alfresco communal dining. (707-963-3486)
Regarded by many as one of Napa's best-kept secrets, Celadon goes the extra mile to combine Europe-by-way-of-California style with the best the Wine Country has to offer. A rough, weathered exterior hardly anticipates the contemporary scene inside, which features a wine bar, intimate tables, seductive lighting, and a covered garden terrace. An ideal meal may include a starter of grilled quail followed by leg of duck confit with wild rice dressing or a grilled polenta napoleon with garden veggies and fresh mozzarella. Reservations recommended for both lunch and dinner. (707-254-9690)
Minimalist and cool on the inside, chef Richard Reddington lets the flavors on the plates that come out of his kitchen bloom and dazzle at Redd. Committed not only to the food, but also to the wine, friendly servers will help guests choose the right wines to go with their meal--hamachi with sticky rice, edamame and soy ginger sauce, lettuce cups with stir-fried chicken, or the glazed pork belly--or the right food to go with the wine they fancy trying. It's one of Yountville's slicker spots and it hits the right slightly more urban notes, rather than playing up farm to table charm. (707-944-2222)
4 Morimoto - Napa
There's something so luxurious about exquisite sushi. Maybe it's because the fish looks so jewel-like, there's a kind of ritual about Japanese food, or that the flavors are so clean and pure. Either way, Masaharu Morimoto is one of the most acclaimed--and televised--masters. For an entirely special experience in the bright, demure restaurant in downtown Napa, put yourself in the house's hands and order the Morimoto Omakase, the chef's multi-course tasting menu. While their fish is always impeccable and they have more standard Japanese fare along with rolls and pieces, the omakase allows for something a bit more memorable. (7072521600)
3 The Boon Fly Cafe - The Carneros Inn
The Boon Fly Cafe at the Carneros Inn is toward the southern end of Napa Valley, and one of the best places to start your Napa day if you're driving up from San Francisco. From the outside, the cafe looks like a faintly glowing barn, red and welcoming. On the inside, it looks more like a Nancy Meyers movie set, with just the right mix of rustic wood tables, sleek lines and delicious looking croissants. Start off with a breakfast martini (who knew there was such a thing?) or a bacon bloody mary (!!). Share a basket of their world famous donuts before tucking into their breakfast flatbread. No matter what's coming next in your day, you will be well fueled. (707-299-4870)
2 French Laundry
This culinary institution is a dazzling, whimsical, and playfully serious bastion of California country French cuisine. Tucked unassumingly into a small stone building in Yountville, Thomas Keller creates an otherworldly culinary experience-honoring each ingredient while maintaining a sense of humor. He wants you to finish each course of the nine course tasting menu surprised, delighted, and wanting one more bite. Your meal might start out with "Oysters and Pearls," move on to "PB&J" with foie gras and concord grape gelée, crescendo with suckling pig, and finish with "Coffee and Donuts," the most perfect beignets served with a cool espresso semifreddo. The tasting menu changes daily. Plan ahead, reservations are accepted two months in advance and space fills up quickly. (707-944-2380)
1 Cole's Chop House
A traditional Windy City-style chophouse in the heart of Napa, Cole's is housed in the historic Williams building, which dates from 1886. The rustic, masculine interior is punctuated by weathered stonewalls, a grainy hardwood floor, and a wood-beamed ceiling. The menu meets all expectations, featuring the likes of a 21-day Chicago dry-aged, 16-oz New York strip or 20-oz porterhouse. Those with something other than red meat on their minds will find Cole's Atlantic salmon filet or 12-oz. veal chop to their liking. (707-224-6328)
About Brooke Lewy
Brooke moved to California for the food. After spending the last two years getting her masters in international affairs, she realized that there’s nothing she loves better than bringing people together around food, and there’s no place more delicious than Napa Valley. Prior to grad school, Brooke spent a year in Brazil studying Portuguese, urban agriculture, and remote beaches. She was a travel editor at Cookie magazine, has worked for a few nonprofits, and lived in Hanoi for a year, editing at Vietnam's English-language newspaper. Her writing assignments have led her to some unexpected places including hidden snake restaurants and Mike Tyson’s pigeon coop in Jersey City.
Read more about Brooke Lewy here.