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Best Sonoma County Restaurants Under $40, According to Michelin

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After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic and last year’s wildfires, The California Michelin Guide returned last month with the announcement of Bib Gourmand restaurants on Sept. 22 and stars on Sept. 28.

New Sonoma County additions to the guide this year include Barndiva in Healdsburg, which earned its first star, and Sebastopol’s Khom Loi and Sonoma’s Folktable and Valley Bar + Bottle, which were named Bib Gourmands. Single Thread restaurant in Healdsburg retained its three stars—the only restaurant in Sonoma County to have received the highest Michelin award.

Colorful salad from Barndiva in Healdsburg
Barndiva's artful presentation of a simple salad

While most people are familiar with the Michelin stars, the Bib Gourmand award is lesser known. The Michelin guide, launched by French tire company Michelin in 1900, began awarding stars to fine dining establishments in 1926. In 1955, it introduced a second designation for restaurants deemed a good value by Michelin inspectors. It became known as Bib Gourmand in 1997 and was indicated in the guide book with an image of the tire company’s mascot “Bibendum,” also known as the Michelin Man.

Today, the Michelin Guide comprises a series of guide books and announces awards annually across countries, regions and cities — there’s a Michelin Guide for France, but also one for Paris; in the United States, awards are announced in cities like New York or Washington, D.C. and statewide, in the case of California. Restaurants now need to serve two courses, a glass of wine or dessert for around $40 or less to be considered for the Bib Gourmand category.

Michelin Guide 2021 California logoWhile the stars remain the restaurant world’s most coveted awards, being selected a Bib Gourmand by Michelin inspectors is also an honor and can put a restaurant on the map of foodie destinations. This year, the California Michelin Guide lists seven Bib Gourmand restaurants in Sonoma County (and one just across the border in Marin). A great meal under $40 isn’t easily found in California—so check out these Sonoma County spots for some excellent deals, courtesy of Michelin.

New addition — Valley Bar + Bottle, Sonoma

A table laden with colorful dishes and wine glasses at Valley Bar + Bottle in SonomaThis downtown Sonoma restaurant and bottle shop soft-opened last July with fanfare about the young owners’ cool vibe, carefully crafted food and thoughtful wine selections, but gained traction when it was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire Magazine in June. The understated menu gives little insight into the lovely dishes made by Chef Emma Lipp. 487 1st St W, Sonoma, 707-934-8403, valleybarandbottle.com

New addition —Folktable, Sonoma

Top Chef finalist and restaurateur Casey Thompson opened Folktable at Cornerstone Sonoma in early 2021 with a limited takeout menu that only hinted what the restaurant would later become. A sprawling indoor cafe and an expansive patio amid the magnificent gardens of the Sonoma marketplace came to life in late spring with the arrival of chef de cuisine Melanie Wilkerson, who delivered a signature menu that ranges from nibbly starters like tomato and peach salad to Japanese-inspired tater tots, Sonoma hot fried chicken and spicy poke. 23584 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, 707-356-3567, folktable.com

New addition — Khom Loi, Sebastopol

This passion project from chefs Matthew Williams and Moishe Hahn-Schuman is an homage to Thai cuisine. The duo spent years traveling and studying Southeast Asian ingredients and cookery, and then melded it with their obsession for hyperlocal sourcing for an unparalleled fusion of flavors in the North Bay. 7385 Healdsburg Ave #101, Sebastopol, 707-329-6917, khomloisonoma.com

Ramen Gaijin, Sebastopol

Bowl of ramen at Ramen Gaijin in SebastopolThis casual izakaya, also 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, ramengaijin.com

El Molino Central, Sonoma

Pozole at El Molino Central in Sonoma 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, elmolinocentral.com.

Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen

Oven baked Margherita pizza from Glen Ellen Star A wood-fired oven is the beating heart of this Sonoma Valley restaurant that's a favorite of 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 Dr, Glen Ellen, 707-343-1384, glenellenstar.com

Stockhome, Petaluma

This couple-owned cafe focuses on Swedish comfort foods like pickled herring and meatballs with gravy an lingonberry jam, along with 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, stockhomepetaluma.com. 

Chalkboard, Healdsburg

Seafood appetizer with dots of sauce on a white plate at Chalkboard HealdsburgThis hotel restaurant (inside Les Mars in Healdsburg) has always been a solid choice, especially for upscale diners who want recognizable, hearty dishes without the fussiness. The crudo of the day is a must-try, along with fun twists like fried Brussels sprouts with mulled wine cranberries, bacon and cayenne aioli or pork belly biscuits. 29 North St, Healdsburg, 707-473-8030, chalkboardhealdsburg.com.

Written by Heather Irwin