Photo by Rachel Weill
Photo by Rachel Weill
Kenzo, a Japanese kaiseki restaurant in Napa, is the most recent Napa Valley eatery to earn a Michelin star.
Want to dine at some of the best restaurants around? Here are the ins and outs for making reservations at wine country’s Michelin Guide dining darlings ahead of your next trip.
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Napa Valley may be renowned for its wines, but along with those magical rolling hills of vineyards also come some of the country’s best dining experiences. With a vibrant culinary culture made even more delicious by California’s easy access to fresh produce (some restaurants even have their own vegetable gardens), you have plenty of tasty options to choose from for a meal in Napa Valley.
One of the ways travelers have been measuring regional restaurant quality is by checking the Michelin Guide. The French tire company’s guidebooks, originally published to encourage motorists to travel, have been awarding stars for restaurants since 1926. One star means “high-quality cooking worth a stop.” Two stars means “excellent food worth a detour.” Three stars, its highest rating, means “exceptional cuisine worth a special journey.” More recently, it has added other nonstar designations such as the Bib Gourmand (recognizing good food at moderate prices) and L’assiette, or “plate” (offering good food). Napa Valley is home to two three-starred and four one-starred restaurants, as well as 26 establishments otherwise recognized with a Bib or L’assiette (fun fact: the entire country of England only has three three-starred restaurants).
For travelers going to the Napa Valley, your options are exceptional, but getting a table can take some strategizing. Here’s how to make reservations at all six of Napa Valley’s Michelin-starred restaurants.
1 Michelin star
What’s the deal? Though Kenzo is a relative newcomer, having opened in 2016, owners Kenzo and Natsuko Tsujimoto are experienced restaurateurs, with multiple restaurants and tasting rooms in their native Japan. Better yet, to open the restaurant they brought on chef Hiroyuki Kanda, whose Tokyo restaurant Kanda has been a three-starred Michelin restaurant for 12 years; Kenji Miyaishi is the current head chef. The traditional Japanese kaiseki dinner service at Kenzo highlights seasonal ingredients flown in daily from Japan and the menu changes about six times a year; guests can have sake and wine pairings, too (including pours from Napa-based Kenzo Estate wines, also owned by the Tsujimotos).
How do I make a reservation? The multicourse prix fixe dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday after 6 p.m. Reservations open up two months out; to book, call the restaurant at 707-294-2049, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or reserve online with OpenTable.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the easiest days to land a table, and, in general, try to book two weeks in advance for weekday tables and four weeks in advance for weekend tables.
Anything else to consider? There are three different seating arrangement options at Kenzo, all with different vantage points. The 10-seat counter allows diners to watch the chef prepare the dishes, while the quintet of tables for two offers full table service with a bit more intimacy. For the most private option (or if you’re dining with a group), there’s a seven-seat counter in a smaller room where you’ll have your own sushi chef.
Kenzo does not have a deposit for reservations, but your credit card information is required in the event of a cancellation occurring within 24 hours of your reservation, at which point a fee of $187.50 (plus tax) per guest will be applied for parties of up to four people. If you have a party of five or more, a 72-hour notice cancellation is required.
Kenzo; 1339 Pearl St., Napa; 707-294-2049
1 Michelin star
What’s the deal? La Toque, helmed by chef Ken Frank, is a French- and American-inspired fine dining establishment in the city of Napa. The restaurant is especially known for its annual January all-truffle menus and exceptional attention to wine. Guests can choose from three nightly menus: the nine-course Chef’s Table Menu; the five-course Vegetable Tasting Menu; or the Core Menu, which allows you to create your own four- or five-course menu.
How do I make a reservation? There are two ways to reserve your table at La Toque. The first is by using an online system called Tock, which requires you to build a profile to complete an online reservation. You can also call its reservationist after 2 p.m. daily at 707-257-5157. A $40 deposit per person is required when booking, which is applied toward your bill at the end of the meal. The deposit is nonrefundable if you cancel within 72 hours of your reservation time. La Toque’s website also has a robust reservations FAQ.
According to Ken Frank, executive chef and owner of La Toque, it’s always best to make reservations as soon as you know your travel plans in order to secure a table for your preferred time and date. Otherwise, a couple of weeks in advance is typically fine. Weekday reservations are even easier, usually only requiring a four- or five-day lead time.
Anything else to consider? Popular tables are number 4 (a corner booth for two people) and tables 7–10, which are close to the kitchen. But chef Frank’s favorite table is number 5—it’s U-shaped and has an excellent view of the dining room.
Walk-ins are accepted (you never know when there will be a last-minute cancellation), but don’t rely on those if you definitely want to dine there.
La Toque; 1314 McKinstry St., Napa; 707-257-5157
1 Michelin star
What’s the deal? The view at Auberge du Soleil resort’s restaurant is so good that people would eat there even if the food were mediocre. Happily, it’s not. Since 1981, Auberge has been wowing diners with its classy new American fare and jaw-dropping vistas overlooking wine country. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as weekend brunch. Meals are à la carte or diners can try a six-course tasting menu.
How do I make a reservation? Reservations are available online at OpenTable or by calling 800-348-5406. The books open the first of each month for reservations starting two months afterwards. So on July 1, the restaurant will begin taking reservations for September. As with the other restaurants here, call as soon as you know what your plans are to secure a table at your preferred time and date.
Anything else to consider? The restaurant does take walk-ins. Also, the more casual bistro, which has the same incredible view, is first-come, first-serve, so if you can’t get a reservation at the main restaurant, head to the bistro instead.
Seating-wise, ask for a table on the deck; even if it’s a little chilly, heat lamps will keep you comfortable. Or, if you really prefer to stay inside, Sharon Wyatt, director of guest services, suggests a seat by the fireplaces or near a window. “There isn’t a table that has a bad view, though,” she says.
The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil; 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford; 800-348-5406
1 Michelin star
What’s the deal? In 1998, four years after Thomas Keller opened The French Laundry (see below), he established the more casual bistro Bouchon, which serves up seasonal and homey French dishes such as roast chicken and steak frites, as well as a raw bar and late-night bites. Bouchon is open daily for lunch and dinner, along with brunch on weekends.
How do I make a reservation? Bouchon takes reservations up to two months out from the calendar date. You can book online at OpenTable, or call 707-944-8037 to speak with the reservationist. As with the rest of the pack, weekends fill up more quickly and it recommends reserving as soon as possible.
Anything else to consider? While you’re there, stop next door for some takeaway treats at Bouchon Bakery. Originally conceived to source exceptional bread for The French Laundry and Bouchon, it has taken on a life of its own, with other locations now in New York City and Las Vegas.
Bouchon; 6534 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-8037
3 Michelin stars
What’s the deal? Thomas Keller’s legendary French Laundry put Yountville—and Napa Valley—on the culinary map when it opened in 1994. The fine dining restaurant, located in an unassuming building on Washington Street, specializes in French cuisine, and it serves a nine-course Chef’s Tasting Menu and Vegetarian Tasting Menu daily for dinner; lunch is available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Not only has it earned a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide since 2007 (when the Bay Area was added to the guide listings) but it also earned the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in both 2003 and 2004.
How do I make a reservation? Given its stature in the culinary world, reservations at The French Laundry can be hard to get, but they are by no means impossible to land. The restaurant only accepts reservations on Tock. On the first day of every odd-numbered month, reservations are released at 10 a.m. PST for seatings two months in advance. So, July 1 means it is accepting reservations for September and October. Reservations fill up quickly, so the key is to be as ready as possible when the portal opens. The more flexible you are with seating times and dates, the better your chances of finding a table.
When you make a reservation, you also prepay for your meal (starting at $325 per person). You cannot cancel a reservation but you may transfer it. For reminders about the reservation release times, follow @_tfl_ on Instagram. The French Laundry does not accept walk-ins.
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Anything else to consider? This year, TFL is celebrating its 25th anniversary, so there’s an additional menu option inspired by the classic dishes of its founding year ($525/person for parties of two or more). If you have a group between six and 14 people, check Tock beforehand to familiarize yourself with the larger party dining options (board room, private dining room, or courtyard) so that you’ll be ready to reserve when the time comes.
Another note about seating: There is an upstairs and downstairs for the main dining room. If you’d prefer to sit on one floor or the other (especially if there are accessibility considerations), be sure to make a note of it when filling out the form in Tock. Otherwise, where you sit in the restaurant doesn’t really matter—you’re not going there for the view of downtown Yountville anyway.
The French Laundry; 6640 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2380
3 Michelin stars
What’s the deal? The Restaurant at Meadowood resort has kept its three-star status for the past nine years under the leadership of chef Christopher Kostow, who still helms the ship. Fare is modern American, and many ingredients come fresh from the garden it shares with Kostow’s more recently opened eatery, The Charter Oak. At the restaurant, open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, diners can select between two menu options, including the tasting menu in the dining room and a “Chef’s Kitchen Counter Menu” with seating in the kitchen to catch all the culinary action.
How do I make a reservation? You can make reservations up to three months in advance on Tock. The competition to get a table here is less intense than at The French Laundry, but note that weekends do sell out more quickly than weekdays. Booking three to four weeks in advance should be enough time to get a decent reservation, although also be aware of holidays.
If you need a reminder for reservations releases (and plenty of mouth-watering images of the garden produce), communications manager Marie Masyczek suggests following the restaurant’s Instagram account at @therestaurantmw for updates.
Anything else to consider? Although walk-ins can’t be accommodated at the Restaurant, they are welcome for drinks at The Bar, Rotunda, and (weather permitting) on The Terrace. And if you want to get a taste of Kostow’s cuisine for a lower price, you can also make reservations through Tock for a three-course menu at the bar, or for Fireside Snacks, a set menu of small bites meant for fireside relaxation in the Bar and Rotunda.
The Restaurant at Meadowood; 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena; 707-967-1205
While these are all applicable for Napa Valley, they’re also good tips to keep in mind when making fine dining reservations in general.
Book as soon as your plans firm up
Sharon Wyatt of Auberge du Soleil strongly encourages travelers to make their plans as soon as they know they’re coming: “Remember, with almost any restaurant you can always call and cancel if it’s not going to work out, but always err on the side of caution and have reservations.” Prioritize making reservations for the most exclusive places and go from there.
Take note of holidays and high season
Chef Frank of La Toque suggests diners always make a reservation for holidays. “We sell tickets for New Year’s Eve a couple months in advance, and two-thirds of those can go up in a day or so,” Frank says. Valentine’s Day is another big one for restaurants.
Another thing to consider is tourist season. In Napa Valley, August, September, and October are harvest months so those are prime time for travelers; consider booking instead during the spring months (you’ll get to see the blooming mustard flowers among the vines) or even winter (trust us, the wine tastes just as good).
Ask your hotel concierge for help
Wyatt reminds travelers to use the expertise and connections of their hotel concierge: “Once you book your hotel and airfare, start thinking about where you want to eat, even if you’re just talking to the concierge and getting ideas.”
Check your credit card for concierge options, too
Some credit cards include concierge services that help cardholders with things like travel planning. For example, diners have had success using their American Express Platinum Concierge to get French Laundry reservations. Check your credit card options to see if yours may be able to help you snag that table.
Make a Tock account in advance
High-end restaurants are increasingly using Tock for their reservation system. If you make your profile for Tock before you have to make actual reservations, you’ll save valuable time when booking opens for places like The French Laundry—when a minute might make a difference.
Flexibility is key
The most important part of getting a reservation you want is to be flexible. The more dates and times you are open to, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to secure your ultimate dining experience. That might mean eating at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday or visiting a destination in the off-season—small sacrifices to make for once-in-a-lifetime meals.
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