In Sonoma County, there are the restaurants tourists flock to. And then there are the restaurants where locals enjoy equally amazing food, without the hype.
A junior college neighborhood classic that’s been around since, well, as long as anyone can remember (the deli was recently renovated). Tri-tip BBQ sandwich, meatball sub and homemade raviolis are on the menu, plus … where else can you get a good gabagool?
695 Lewis Road, Santa Rosa
This former Kenwood restaurant is now a mostly takeout operation in Santa Rosa (the restaurant also offers delivery) with some of the best pasta and sauces in Sonoma County. We love their polenta with creamy porcini mushroom sauce and the classic tuna egg salad sandwich on focaccia.
2792 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-2690
A real-deal Middle Eastern and Turkish stunner that’s stood the test of time. We’re especially fond of the doner wraps — long rolls of lavash bread with sliced meat or kebab snuggled inside — and the Pink Sultan, a roasted beet and yogurt dip. The hummus gets a five-star rating.
307 F St., Petaluma
Though this restaurant started as exclusively Korean, the menu has expanded significantly to include Japanese-style rolls, nigiri and bento. Soft tofu soup with a raw egg added into the boiling mixture is absolutely delightful. We love the sizzling bibimbap, spicy pork bulgogi, clay pot soup and recently added KFC (or Korean fried chicken) with pickled radish and soy garlic sauce.
1169 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-566-9469
A handful of dishes are standouts and unique locally, including taro empanadas, kee mao (also known as drunken noodles) and chicken larb. Taro, a mildly sweet purple cousin of the potato, is an Asian staple; here, it’s stuffed into fried pockets of dough and comes with a peanut-vinegar dipping sauce.
1710 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, 707-242-3016
You don’t stumble on this out-of-the-way deli unless you spend a lot of time cruising quiet office parks looking for hole-in-the-wall lunch spots. Thankfully, locals do, and this charming little place is a Middle Eastern gem. The panini-style chicken shawarma wraps are a delicious entry point, with gently spiced meat and melted cheese. Comes with garlic and hot sauces and a Greek salad. Hummus gets a four-star rating.
613 Martin Ave., Suite 111, Rohnert Park
Chef-driven lunch dishes include salads, bowls, soups, pizza slices and seasonal specials. The best-selling Farro Chicken Salad features apples, shallots, herbs, candied almonds, harissa-roasted chicken breast, goat cheese, pickled onions and mustard vinaigrette. But our heart has always been with the Smoked Trout Salad.
25 Fourth St., Petaluma, 707-241-7443
Routinely recognized as the best "true" Korean cuisine in Sonoma County, Soban serves up an array of hard-to-find dishes like savory pancakes with kimchi, Japchae (glass noodles), Tteokbokki (chewy rice cake that's a popular street food), spicy pork Bulgogi, sizzling rice bibimbap and soft tofu soup.
255 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707-769-3112
Honest Italian classics from a former Stark Realty Restaurants chef is why this charming cafe has become a neighborhood favorite. Don't miss the ricotta gnudi.
186 Windsor River Road, Windsor, 707-620-0508
You'll find plenty of Healdsburg locals who say this is a favorite spot often overlooked by tourists. Elevated Italian dishes are the specialty of chef/owner Shari Sarabi. Bolognese sauce is made with Kobe beef, veal and pork ribs for an extra luscious dish.
336 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-8111
Named one of the best restaurants in America by Open Table, this tiny cafe mixes Latin and Caribbean flavors with panache — way off the beaten path of the usual Healdsburg suspects.
117 North St., Healdsburg
Healdsburg gets plenty of play for its chef-driven cuisine, but locals like the homey Japanese comfort food of this tea shop. The curry ramen, bento box and rice bowls pair perfectly with the extensive list of imported teas.
109 North St., Healdsburg
At this family-run brewpub in Geyserville, one brother brews while the other operates the kitchen. More than just fried pub grub, chef Tom Adamian’s menu includes lots of comforting dishes like meatball sliders, pulled lamb on focaccia with preserved lemons, and a perfect pickled veggie sando on thick slices of bread (a favorite). They also sell beers from other brewers.
21079 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707-814-0110
Regional Mexican cuisine that runs the gamut, from pumpkin seed mole and guisado (slow-braised stew) to simple flautas and tacos. Everything is made from scratch, following authentic family recipes.
485 S. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-894-6334
A quick stop for sausage sandwiches and draft beer from a local family. Don't miss the Crown Sausage Flight (a selection of five gourmet sausages paired with organic pickles and mustards) and the heritage pork Scotch egg with fries.
31 E. Napa St., Sonoma
Chef Cristina Topham (best known for her catering and farm market offerings) has opened a humble Lebanese-style cafe with fresh pita with hummus, beef and chicken shawarma, chickpea and black bean falafel and beef and lamb kofta.
18375 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, 707-934-7559
Hidden away in Glen Ellen, this little wine bar is always packed with locals looking for a quick burger and a glass of wine from owner Sondra Bernstein's Rhone-focused wine menu.
13690 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen
French pastries with a crisp lacquered crackle and Parisian authenticity. Expanded lunch offerings are perfect for bringing on winery visits. Though the address is Sebastopol, you're in the midst of vineyards on the way to Forestville.
4552 Gravenstein Highway N. Sebastopol, 707-823-3122
A passion for regional Italian cuisine is at the heart of this family-friendly roadhouse that's as close to Italy as you'll get in Sonoma County. Specials change up almost daily, but are always as delicious as they sound.
6675 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-2232
A cozy bistro focused on wood-fired dishes, must-orders include roasted chicken with smashed Yukon potatoes, spring onions, lemon vinaigrette and arugula; and Pt. Reyes blue cheese pizza with caramelized onions, Marcona almonds, mozzarella and arugula. Save room for homemade desserts that will astound.
3782 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-6003
Located by the Creekside Skatepark in Monte Rio, this curious little cafe is a mix of smoothies, bagels, pies and Middle Eastern cuisine. The desserts are outrageously decadent.
9725 Main St., Monte Rio
Written by Heather Irwin