Sonoma County enjoys a rich Italian heritage, with immigrants moving into the region in the 1800s to dotimber and railroad work. As they settled, they also built wineries and restaurants, and shared their excellent Italian food with the world.
Here is a selection of popular eateries where the Italian tradition continues. Find more restaurants here.
Ca’Bianca Italian Restaurant, Santa Rosa
The grand old mansion in old town Santa Rosa is home to excellent Italian cuisine, showcasing various regions, crafted by owners and husband-and-wife Marco Diana and Karin Hoehne.
Recipes draw from Milano in the north to Sicily in the south, for dishes like seared ahi with home-made ravioli in almond sauce; Sardinian semolina gnocchi with porcini and slowly braised beef; or roasted breast of duck served with sautéed spinach and fingerling potatoes.
Dressing up isn’t necessary, but makes the meal more fun, as you’ll feel extra glamorous in the old-school sophisticated setting with chandeliers, white tablecloths, antique furniture, and gracious gardens.
Ca’Bianca Italian Restaurant 835 2nd St., Santa Rosa, 707-542-5800
Oh, the joy of Neapolitan style pizzas, baked in in a Stefano Ferrara wood-burning oven imported from Naples. Chef Mark Hopper does things the authentic way, even serving the pies unsliced — you just grab a bit of the bubbly, chewy edge crust and pull — the inner crust is slightly wet in the middle and gives easily.
Set in an industrial-modern barn building, the chic pizza salon goes for a hip crowd, tempting with a wine list focusing on mostly Italian labels, and nibbles like a daily marinated, fire roasted vegetable.
All ingredients are sourced from California farmers, and also Italy, for lovely pizza combinations like the meatball parm with Corbari tomatoes, little house-made meatballs, Parmigiano Reggiano, mozzarella and garlic, or the Manhattan, a clam chowder-inspired pie topped with San Marzano tomatoes, chopped clams, garlic, mozzarella di bufala, oregano, and chili oil.
Vignette 6750 McKinley St. (in The Barlow), Sebastopol, 707-861-3897
Ari Rosen can be credited with causing a crush in Healdsburg, of the non-wine kind. Instead, it’s crowds hoping to get into his tiny trattoria where he crafts rustic Italian specialties like house-made ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese in brown butter-trumpet mushroom sauce; or melt-in-your-mouth sugo Calabrese of tomato-braised beef and pork rib gravy served with spaghettini and smoked mozzarella in tomato sauce. The housemade cannelloni is a must, stuffed with creamy ricotta and baked in deeply savory Bolognese.
As graceful as the food is, don’t worry about dressing up. The ambience is casual chic, where wine is served in juice glasses, and thin-crust pizzas are best eaten with your fingers.
Scopa 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-433-5282
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
At the entry, a bar with a large flat-screen TV shows European soccer, and the loud music ranges from “Super Freak” to Rat Pack oldies. You'll also find a selection of high-style magazines plus crayons for the kids. To say that “everyone” goes here is accurate, and the long waits for a table will prove it.
Think rustic Italian food, for stellar salumi, antipasti, salads, piadine (salad-topped flatbread), and nightly specials like oven-roasted Dungeness crab or risotto. Another showstopper comes in the mozzarella made with real Italian water buffalo milk, which makes a lovely snack paired with an excellent chopped Caesar decorated in mild Gorgonzola, fresh anchovy, and thick lemony dressing spiked with hot Calabrian chile paste.
But what everyone really comes for is the pizza, in crisp crust baked in the wood-burning oven to a puffy-edged finish, with toppings such as McEvoy Ranch EVOO, and Sonoma-grown greens and eggs.
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar 53 Montgomery Drive (in Creekside Center), Santa Rosa, 707-544-3221
Also Rosso Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar 151 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma, 707-722-5177
Mamma Tanino's Ristorante, Sonoma
It’s a must for any great Italian restaurant: a chef who was born in Italy. So it is with chef Gaetano Patrinostro, who sources Sonoma County products plus imports from his homeland to prepare authentic Italian cuisine in this cozy trattoria just west of Sonoma Plaza. White tablecloths and dark wood lend an old-world charm in the no-fuss, casual dining room, where servers are quick to keep everyone’s wine glasses filled. The menu is straightforward and pleasing, with favorites such as spicy bucatini amatriciana tossed with pancetta, onion, chili flake, and tomato sauce; chicken marsala; and a daily special like Friday’s spaghetti and meatballs.
Mamma Tanino's Ristorante 500 W. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-933-8826
Canneti Roadhouse Italiana, Forestville
Chef Francesco Torre hails from Italy, and brought his authentic recipes with him, for bold, rustic flavors like the gooey, salty joy that is the local crispy anchovy melt with house-pulled mozzarella and capers.
At the heart of his eatery is a pasta-making machine, imported from his homeland, and used for cozy comforts like maccheroni ladled in Tuscan meat sauce, or a more refined petite Alaskan halibut crepe brightened with carrots, pea leaves and crispy guanciale.
The setting is so simple it’s almost industrial, with rough brick walls, farmhouse wood tables and chairs, while the patio out back beckons for a relaxed meal nestled beneath towering trees.
But the food can compete with the best in big cities, such as a dramatic, mouthwatering beet linguine tumbled with Manila clams, red chard and garlic tops. For a full review, visit A Taste of Tuscany with Forestville’s Canneti.
Canneti Roadhouse Italiana 6675 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-2232
Diavalo Pizzeria & Salumeria, Geyserville
You know chef Dino Bugica is serious, as he hand-pulls pizza dough, scatters on artisanal toppings, then feeds the pies into a wood-burning oven topped with a growling, tusked pig sculpture.
The pizzas emerge charred and golden, crisp and pillowy, and generously decorated with housemade sausage chunks, red onion and flurries of white pecorino cheese shavings, or juicy Lingurian clams, broccoli raab, parsley, tomato, pecorino, herbs, and garlic.
Other delights include red beet antipasti sweetened with sheep’s milk ricotta, a big bowl of seafood alla Diavola brimming with citrus-kissed squid, shrimp, black eyed peas, mushy-mild anchovies alla povera, and buttery cannellini; and dessert of basil panna cotta.
Diavalo Pizzeria & Salumeria 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0111
Catelli’s is Geyserville’s newest and oldest restaurant. Although it opened under that name in early 2010, it actually debuted as Catelli’s the Rex restaurant in 1936.The menu is a nod to the good-old-days, too. Nonnie’s minestrone is just like it might have been when Grandma Catelli served it to the young Domenica, now chef, slow-simmering her own hearty stock of vegetables and cannellini, navy and garbanzo beans. The meat ravioli is Grandmother’s recipe, too, bringing a big plate of a dozen delicate pasta pockets smothered in Domenica’s sauce of tomato, fresh herbs and plenty of garlic. Read more at A Taste of History at Catelli's in Geyserville.
Catelli’s 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-847-3471
Cucina Paradiso Ristorante Italiano, Petaluma
Chef-owner Dennis Hernandez worked at top San Francisco restaurants before setting out to establish his dream of an Italian kitchen in Wine Country.
Now, his dining room, dressed in warm gold tones and rich wood, sets the romantic mood for classics like homemade soft polenta topped with scattered mushrooms and Italian cheeses; an authentic Caesar with anchovies; and pork tenderloin sautéed with porcini, prosciutto, brandy, and mustard.
Delicate pastas are a particular highlight, such as the homemade ravioli stuffed with roast duck in sundried tomato, pine nut, and basil sauce; or gnocchi in creamy gorgonzola walnut sauce. Even the most simple angel hair is heavenly, perfectly al dente and moistened with fresh tomato, basil, garlic, and olive oil.
Cucina Paradiso Ristorante Italiano 114 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-782-1130
Owner Marco Palmieri’s Sonoma-style Italian cuisine takes a delightful twist with signatures like grilled asparagus paired with duck egg, Calabrian chili-pancetta vinaigrette and crispy shallot, or seared duck breast in a mélange of carrot fregola, braised radish, roasted baby carrot, and cardamom-duck sauce.
The mood is comfortable trattoria, cocooned within brick walls, warm wood, a big, welcoming bar, and a clientele of lots of regulars who know to ask about the pasta of the day.
The every day menu brims with excellent pastas, as well, like a sumptuous strozzapreti tumbled with braised pork shoulder, peperos, house-made mustard, spinach, and a surprise punch of fresh horseradish root; or house-made gnocchi smothered in braised wild boar ragu, and shaved Parmigiano. The chef also prepares gluten-free pastas, with remarkable flavor.
Risibisi 154 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-766-7600
Union Hotel Restaurants
And last but not least on this least, try one or all of the Union Hotel Restaurants in Santa Rosa (East), Santa Rosa (West), or Occidental. The Gonnella family has called the Italian restaurant in Occidental their own for five generations.
Union Hotel Restaurant 3731 Main St., Occidental, 707-874-3555
Union Hotel Restaurant East Santa Rosa 280 Mission Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-538-6000
Union Hotel Restaurant West Santa Rosa 1007 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-544-3444
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet