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Italian Cuisine in Occidental

Built in 1879, the Union Hotel in Occidental was originally a railroad saloon and boarding house.

Think Occidental, and many people think “Italian,” for the long-standing restaurants that serve generously portioned family friendly dinners here. Yet more culinary surprises await in this tiny burg, including a sumptuous breakfast and lunch café, and a world-class French bistro.

Perhaps Occidental's best-known Italian eatery is the Union Hotel (3703 Main St.,  Occidental, 707-874-3555). Founded as a railroad saloon and boarding house in 1879, it's now home to a lovely Italian café, bakery, and pizzeria, which has been run by the property’s owners since 1925.

The charm is palpable, from the red-checkered tablecloth tables set with candles dripping over Chianti bottles, to portraits of the original owners on the walls, and retro touches like a jukebox.

Menu favorites include chicken piccata, grilled rib-eye steak with mushrooms, "margarita" pizza, and mouthwatering minestrone. For those who can’t choose, the spaghetti/ravioli combo smothered in Bolognese tastes like it came straight from Nonni’s kitchen.

For more Italian, Negri's Original Italian Restaurant (3700 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-823-5301) has been a local institution since 1943, when Joe Negri Sr. traveled from Venice to America, and on to this railroad town in the redwoods.

Family members still run things today, serving satisfying classics such as chicken Marsala, gnocchi in pesto sauce, angel-haired pasta with shrimp, and eggplant parmesan. All this in a vintage trattoria ambience, complete with checkered tablecloths.

But perhaps you’re craving tofu rancheros with soy cheese, or a hearty platter of corned beef hash and homemade biscuits. At Howard Station Café (3611 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-2838), this lovely Victorian home-turned-restaurant boasts delicious banana-walnut pancakes, chocolate chip waffles, smoked salmon Florentine omelets, crab Benedict, and traditional huevos rancheros, too. Organic, vegetarian, and gluten-free options can be found throughout the menu.

The cozy, wood trimmed farm-style dining room fills up fast for breakfast. Lunch is popular as well, with big burgers topped in goodies like green chile and Jalapeno jack, Baja tacos, a home roasted turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce, and homemade soups. Just make sure you bring cash – no credit cards are accepted.