Of the hundreds of amazing restaurants in Sonoma County, a handful stand out as the best-of-the-best destinations for newcomers. Some are fancy, some are decidedly not, but they all share a focus on local ingredients, friendly service and sense-of-place dining that define what it is to eat in this mecca of taste.
Smack dab in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley, this historic general store surrounded by vineyards is pure Sonoma County.
Head in for upscale picnic provisions, ridiculously good sandwiches, fresh-from-the-garden fruit and take-home treats. 3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-4171
This multi-concept eatery from stellar chef Dustin Valette is Healdsburg in a nutshell. Downstairs, head to the wine wall, where you can serve yourself some of the best juice in Wine Country.
The upscale Matheson features creative California cuisine, while the casual Roof 106 offers a terrific indoor-outdoor patio, views of the downtown Plaza and excellent pizza. 106 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707-723-1106
This Italian trattoria has served up swoon-worthy lasagna, ravioli and spaghetti for generations. Chef Domenica Catelli has kicked up the classic recipes with fresh flavors, farm-to-table ingredients and a whole lot of love.
The outdoor patio is stunning, and you won't go home hungry. 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-857-3471
A favorite among off-duty chefs and in-the-know locals, this former gun club is actually a full-service bar with ridiculously good food. It is a sister to the critically acclaimed Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria (also in Geyserville). The menu is snacky and delicious and the drinks are no joke. Don't miss the pink bathroom. 21025 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0036
Homemade tortillas — not just from prepared masa, but from their own soaked and milled corn — showcase the passion for authenticity at this Sonoma-adjacent taqueria. Best bets include beer-battered fish tacos and take-home salsas. 11 Central Ave., Sonoma, 707-939-1010
This Sonoma Plaza bistro has been a required stop for travelers for more than 30 years. French with a California twist, it's never stuffy and always a treat. We're fans of the signature fig and arugula salad, steak frites and steamed mussels.
A full bar includes "sorbet sippers" like the In Ernest with lemon-lime and orange sorbet, rum, Luxardo and brandied cherries. Plus a stunning wine list. 110 West Spain St., Sonoma
A wood-fired oven is the beating heart of this Sonoma Valley restaurant that's a favorite among locals and savvy visitors, who make their way to the tiny hamlet. Whole roasted fish, wood-roasted seasonal vegetables, pizzas and brick chicken are classics. 13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-343-1384
Farm-to-table breakfasts from the owners of Valley Ford's Estero Cafe (which you should also check out). Favorites include fried chicken with country gravy, omelets, a lovely breakfast sandwich with Estero Gold cheese on a fresh ciabatta, yogurt parfait and pancakes with tasty fresh strawberry mimosas. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, americanasr.com
This newly opened food park in the heart of Roseland showcases best-in-class taco trucks along with churros and a full bar. Celebrating Latino heritage and culture, it's a delicious way to experience an oft-overlooked but vibrant part of Sonoma County. 665 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa
Perhaps the most Wine Country restaurant of them all, this international small-plates wine bar is a required pilgrimage. One of seven Sonoma County restaurants owned by Chef Mark Stark and his wife, Terri, you can't go wrong with anything on the menu, but the curried crab tacos are a favorite. 1415 Town and Country Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-526-3096
The Lalicker sisters, aka the Oyster Girls, are the brains (and brawn) behind this Petaluma seafood restaurant. You're here for the oysters (raw, Rockefeller, BBQ, Bingo or chef’s special) or tender clams with grilled Della Fattoria bread to sop up the sauce. 100 Washington St., Petaluma, 707-981-7891
This couple-owned cafe focuses on Swedish comfort foods like pickled herring and meatballs with gravy an lingonberry jam.
You'll also find kebab plates, a popular late night snack in Sweden, and small meze plates (fried Halloumi cheese is amazing). 220 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-981-8511 (New Rev Media)
This outdoor marketplace is a hub for Sonoma County makers, wineries, restaurants, craft brewers and taste innovators. From pizza, tacos and grilled cheese to upscale Southern dining and a distillery, it's an eater's paradise.
Region wine bar offers more than 50 small-production wines from self-serve vending machines and you can order food from nearby restaurants to eat on their patio. 6770 McKinley St., Sebastopol (Courtesy of Region)
Pairing sustainably sourced seafood with locally grown produce (much of it from the restaurant’s own backyard), Handline is a locals' favorite. The large patio is perfect for chowing down on rockfish tacos, best-of-class burgers, and soft-serve ice cream. Make sure to try any of their vegetarian plates because they're always unbelievably good. 935 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol, 707-827-3744
This casual izakaya, from chefs Matthew Williams and Moishe Hahn-Schuman, grew from a tiny pop-up restaurant to one of the most celebrated ramen shops in Sonoma County. Handmade noodles are top notch. 6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 707-827-3609
Far West Sonoma County isn't always on the itinerary. But the drive through vineyards, redwood groves and along the Russian River offers a whole other side of Wine Country.
Downtown Guerneville has plenty to offer, too, but Chef Crista Luedke's casual bistro gets directly to the heart of Sonoma County's farm-to-table ethos with local vegetables, fresh cheeses, braised pork shoulder and the best beet salad ever. 16248 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-0780
Southern comfort food meets California coastal cuisine means next-level, Cajun-seasoned Dungeness crab cakes with a remoulade sauce, beer-battered rock cod fish tacos and barbecued Tomales Bay oysters (get the Louisiana hot oysters for a tantalizing taste of southern heat) and plenty of strong cocktails. 14415 Highway 1, Valley Ford, 707-876-1983
You may have to wait in line, but it's worth it for the piled-high crab sandwich with their signature sauce and the garlicky clam chowder is second-to-none. Throw in an order of crab cakes with roasted red pepper sauce before they sell out (only available on weekends). 1910 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-9472
When a seafood shack doubles as a bait and tackle shop, you know the restaurant means business with its locally sourced seafood dishes. Go for the grilled oysters with garlic butter and wasabi cocktail sauce, and crab sandwich with loads of fresh Dungeness crab on toasted ciabatta bread. 1850 Bay Flat Road, Bodega Bay, 707-377-4238
Written by Heather Irwin