Delicious Italian Restaurants in Sonoma County
Sonoma County enjoys a rich Italian heritage, which began when immigrants moved into the region in the 1800s to do timber and railroad work. As they settled, they also built wineries and restaurants, and shared their excellent Italian food with the world.
Below is a selection of popular Sonoma County eateries where the Italian tradition continues. For other options, find more Sonoma County 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.
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 Rick James 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: stellar salumi, antipasti, salads, piadine (salad-topped flatbread), and nightly specials like oven-roasted Dungeness crab or risotto. Another showstopper is the bufala 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, its crisp crust baked to a puffy-edged finish in the wood-burning oven, with toppings such as McEvoy Ranch EVOO, and Sonoma-grown greens and eggs.
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.
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.
Canneti Roadhouse Italiana, Forestville
Chef Francesco Torre hails from the coast of Tuscany, and brought his authentic recipes with him, creating 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, and 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.
Diavola 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.
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.
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 everyday menu brims with excellent pastas, as well, like a sumptuous strozzapreti tumbled with braised pork shoulder, 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.
Union Hotel Restaurants
And last but not least on this list, try one or both of the Union Hotel Restaurants. The local Gonnella family has called the Union Hotel Restaurant in Occidental their own for five generations, while the newer Union Hotel Restaurant East Santa Rosa, which has a sprawling patio, is a popular spot with couples and families.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet