Stark’s full bar features signature and well cocktails and over sixty whiskeys

With so many top restaurants in Sonoma County, it’s a tough question to ask a restaurant writer — what is your favorite place to eat?

The answer depends on what type of food I’m in the mood for, if I feel like kicking back or keeping my elbows off the table, and how much I want to spend.

Just in Santa Rosa alone, we have endless terrific choices, ranging from classic California to Latin American, Asian, and beyond. Here are selected favorites, sure to satisfy any mood and craving. (For even more options, check our listings of Sonoma County Restaurants and click on Santa Rosa.)

Spinster Sisters

The exterior of the building with a mural of ladies spinning at Spinster Sisters, Santa Rosa
Spinster Sisters

Chef Liza Hinman came to Sonoma County diners’ attention at the former Santi in Santa Rosa, and here, in her very own restaurant, her skills soar in salute to Cal-Mediterranean with broad strokes of Italian cuisine.

The big, boxy building on South A Street in Santa Rosa’s SOFA arts district is stylish inside, with a large square redwood bar (this is where the cool kids hang out), a large communal table, and some intimate two tops around the perimeter.

But it’s the food that commands attention, in mouthwatering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch dishes like ricotta and nettle gnocchi with hedgehog and black trumpet mushrooms, prosciutto, green garlic, pine nuts, and parmigiano; breadcrumb fried duck egg with black rice, Calabrian chili, and green garlic aioli; and grilled bavette steak with sweet potato-coconut gratin, chimichurri sauce, and crispy spring onions.

Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar

At the entry, there is a bar with a large flat-screen TV showing European soccer, and loud music ranging from ‘Super Freak’ to Rat Pack oldies. There is 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, with 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, on 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.

Stark’s Steak & Seafood

A bone-in steak at Stark's Steak & Seafood, Santa Rosa
Stark’s Steak & Seafood

Part of the charm of Mark and Teri Stark’s restaurant is that it looks so Mad Men retro, down to the neon sign above the old stucco building. Rich red leather chairs, fireplaces, heavy wood accents, and a huge bar all lend to the beefy mood.

Don’t go cutting edge when ordering, either – classics are so good we care not what year it is, as long as the kitchen keeps sending out crisp-chilled iceberg salad slathered in creamy blue cheese, gooey four-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese spiked with Dijon, and Maine lobster dunked in garlic butter.

Steaks absolutely must be on your table, whether they’re choice, prime, or special cuts aged in-house for 28 days. Besides the top-quality meat, the secret is the crust that seals in the deep flavor, so that juices spill out with a slash of your sharp steak knife.

Dierk’s Parkside CafĂ©

Chef-owner Mark Dierkhising juggles a lot with two locations for his enormously popular breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch hangouts – the original Dierk’s Parkside CafĂ© on Santa Rosa Avenue at Wheeler Street, and Dierk’s Midtown CafĂ© on 4th Street and Talbot Avenue.

Whichever spot you choose, it means insanely good fried cinnamon-sugar pull-apart bread; Sonoma duck confit with potato hash, scrambled eggs, toast, and warm apples; crispy chicken-fried steak partnered with golden hash browns, eggs and rich gravy; and smoked salmon egg tart smothered in mushrooms, tomatoes, and herbs in a flaky, buttery puff pastry shell … oh, it’s all so good.

Sazon Peruvian Cuisine

Sazon brings authentic Peruvian cuisine to an unexpected part of south Santa Rosa, where taco trucks are more at home.

But this restaurant is a true jewel, offering an upscale bistro ambience set around an open kitchen, with the chefs sending out masterful dishes such as ceviche marinated in leche de tigre (spicy fish juice) and tossed with cancha (toasted Peruvian corn).

Some ingredients are imported from South America, including yucca, plantains, and Inca Kola soda. And don’t miss the mouthwatering aji Amarillo-lime infused potato terrine studded with Dungeness crab, avocado, egg, and tangy botija olive slathered in rocoto pepper-cilantro aioli.

SEA Thai Bistro

Chef-owner Tony Ounpamornchai’s philosophy of modern Thai cooking is to showcase pristine ingredients, letting each shine while bringing them all together to a brilliant whole. (SEA stands for South East Asia, focusing on Thai cuisine and that of neighboring countries.)

The dark, somewhat stark setting belies the beauty of the plates, accented with Japanese, Chinese, and California-influenced fusion. Spicy baby squid salad in peanut vinaigrette dressing shares the table with wild mushroom potstickers, fried squash blossoms with Thai chile sauce, and a rainbow array of curries.

Ca’Bianca Italian Restaurant

The grand mansion of Ca'Bianca Italian Restaurant, Santa Rosa
Ca’Bianca Italian Restaurant

The grand old mansion in old town is home to excellent Italian cuisine, showcasing various regions, crafted by owners and husband-and-wife team 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.

John Ash & Co.

Salmon on top of risotto served at John Ash & Co., Santa Rosa
John Ash & Co.

Legendary chef John Ash is no longer affiliated with this restaurant, but his statement as the ‘godfather of Wine Country cooking’ is still felt through the recipes, supplemented by ingredients plucked from the culinary gardens next to 92 acres of vineyards.

The setting is special occasion, with white tablecloths, ornate fabrics, and romantic lighting, but the food is approachable, such as Mary’s brick chicken with creamed garden greens and rosemary-infused smashed potatoes, or sweet potato-Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with garden kale, and shaved Achadinha Capricious cheese.

Craving even more delicious food? Take a look at the Best Restaurants in Sonoma County and check our listings of all Sonoma County Restaurants.

Find more info about things to do, restaurants and hotels in Sonoma County.

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet

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