Eating and Drinking in Napa Valley

The region is a cornucopia of fresh, sustainable foods, and menus are based on locally sourced ingredients provided by the best farmers and vendors. From vegan treats to steak to bao buns, you’ll experience all of wine country’s gourmet traditions.

1915 Main St, St. Helena, CA 94574, USA
Celebrity chef Chris Cosentino made a name for himself in San Francisco cooking with various forms of offal, or organ meat. Acacia House is the on-site restaurant at the ultra-luxurious (and boutique) Las Alcobas Napa Valley, in St. Helena, and here, he moves in a different direction. Sure, options often include sweetbreads or pâté, but most of the food focuses instead on local and sustainable produce—a new age spin on classic California cuisine. Menu items might include lamb tartare with green harissa, mint, and chickpea crackers, and Cornish game hen with roasted grapes, turnips, and pancetta. Drinks at the modest but classy bar are just as appealing; go ahead and try to have just one house margarita with salt foam (which is a recipe that hails from the Las Alcobas flagship property, in Mexico City). On warm nights, reserve a table on the covered porch.
1050 Charter Oak Ave, St. Helena, CA 94574, USA
Simplicity rules the day at the Charter Oak, the latest restaurant from the Restaurant at Meadowood’s Christopher Kostow. The St. Helena eatery—in the building that once housed a Napa Valley favorite, Tra Vigne—specializes in relatively simple dishes done to perfection. Exhibit A: the crudité plate, which quite literally amounts to a bowl full of freshly picked vegetables. Exhibit B: beef ribs grilled over cabernet barrels and beets dried over the fire. This is elemental cuisine. One of the restaurant’s true flourishes is that every table has a hidden drawer in which guests can find silverware, napkins, and magic that’s rare on the Napa dining scene.
1207 Foothill Boulevard
The Louisiana-style, year-round barbecue at Buster’s is in a league of its own. Main-course options at this no-frills (read: It’s a glorified picnic shelter) Calistoga eatery include shoulder, pork ribs, tri-tip, chicken, pork loin, and pulled pork—all cooked medium rare unless otherwise specified. Most dishes come with sides such as baked beans, macaroni salad, and cole slaw. All portions are heaping, and every dish comes with signature garlic toast. Dessert options include house-made sweet potato pie and fresh-baked cookies. Because of Buster’s proximity to downtown Calistoga, the restaurant is a great stop after a morning hike on Mount St. Helena. On warm days, try to grab a table outside and watch the ‘cue masters work the outdoor grills, and on Sunday afternoons, stick around for live blues and jazz on the patio.
821 Coombs St
Downtown Napa’s Miminashi is an izakaya (like a gastropub that serves Japanese tapas). There are a number of dishes for everyone to share—a reality that makes the meal eclectic and forces everyone to try different things. Among the more delectable options are yakitori (meat on skewers), ramen or udon, sashimi, and soba pancakes. Chef Curtis Di Fede’s frozen soft-serve ice cream is one of the most sought-after sweet treats in town, with flavors such as Bing cherry and lemon verbena. The bar program is exceptional, with a sake sommelier and a huge selection of craft sakes from Yamaguchi and other prefectures in Japan. Sit at the bar for attentive service from bartenders and a bird’s-eye view of the kitchen.
1240 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, USA
Napastäk, inside the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, is a modern-day gourmet grocery store, complete with organic ketchup, handmade pasta, pasta sauces, and sake and wasabi mustard (to name a few best-selling products). The store also sells an eponymous line of flavored balsamic vinegars (try the prickly pear) and infused oils. Visit and you are likely to be offered free samples of these items and others. Owners Arthur and Lusine Hartunian (who also own the Napa Valley Distillery) believe sampling is a critical part of the shopping experience. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, napastäk means “the rabbit” in Armenian. The floppy-eared mascot appears on every single product.
1413 Lincoln Ave, Calistoga, CA 94515, USA
Hungry customers line up and down the block for a seat at Café Sarafornia, without question Calistoga’s most popular brunch and lunch spot. The restaurant offers a California spin on an old-school diner, turning out pancakes, corned beef hash, and cheese blintzes. Breakfast is available all day—at least until the restaurant closes (at 2:30 p.m. daily). Café Sarafornia is particularly fun for kids, who can order off special menus and receive crayons and activity mats when they sit down. Local historians say the restaurant dates back nearly 120 years to when Calistoga was known as a resort town.
1 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574, USA
The Harvest Table opened Harvest Inn in 2015, and it quickly became one of the go-to spots in St. Helena. One of the main reasons: unpretentious food at reasonable prices. The 110-seat restaurant has a large horseshoe-shaped bar that serves upscale pub food, California style. Burgers are thick and juicy, and the fish and chips are crispy and light. The rest of the dinner menu is filled with hearty fare such as braised short ribs and grilled pork chops. Since its debut, the restaurant has launched its own beer program and now bottles microbrews, too. If you go, be sure to scan the crowd around you. Harvest Table has become the backdrop for many a business deal, and you never know which winery owner might be sitting nearby.
1401 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, USA
Downtown Napa has no shortage of bars, but a stellar food menu makes the Norman Rose Tavern, located in an old bank building across the street from the Andaz Napa hotel, a step above. Items include steamed mussels, salads, pulled-pork nachos, burgers, and the fan favorite: a buttermilk fried-chicken sandwich, served with arugula, red onion, and peppercorn dressing. Larger plates feature steaks and half-chickens; these easily could be shared by two. Of course the bar menu at the Norman Rose is a big draw, too, and the bar regularly has at least a dozen wines by the glass and local microbrews on tap.
6498 WASHINGTON STREET YOUNTVILLE, CA 94599, USA
While most pizza in the Napa Valley is made with thin crusts and cooked in wood-fired ovens, Velo Pizzeria takes a different approach, featuring a yeast crust that’s doughy and chewy and using pizza ovens. The result is more like the stuff you might find in New York City. Options abound but the Nineteen Steps is by far the most creative, topped with rosemary fries, fennel sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and citrus zest. (There’s also a white pizza topped with wine grapes and gorgonzola.) The menu at Velo also offers pasta, subs, and salads. Inside, the pizzeria has a warehouse vibe, with exposed brick walls and steel railings that lead to a second-floor loft. The restaurant looks out onto the Napa River, providing great opportunities for people-watching on sunny days.
1001 2nd St, Napa, CA 94559, USA
Napkins Bar and Grill is a full-service restaurant serving solid fare such as queso fundido, baby back ribs, and Niman Ranch hamburgers. But on Friday and Saturday nights, the bar is the closest downtown Napa gets to a nightclub, with thumping music, boisterous twentysomethings, and packs of smokers out front. Napkins also has bottle service with VIP seating on the dance floor, but perhaps the most popular time is happy hour, when cocktails are $7 and under and food items are available for anywhere from 25 to 30 percent off regular price. Word to the wise: If you’re visiting from out of town and heading to Napkins from somewhere up valley, plan to take a rideshare home.
2770 Old Sonoma Rd, Napa, CA 94558, USA
Southside is a treat for just about anyone who ventures over to its flagship location, in Napa. The café occupies a stand-alone structure in the middle of a parking lot and has attracted quite a following since it opened in 2016. In particular, locals love the specialty coffee from Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, as well as the freshly made food—especially on Fridays, when chefs prepare fried-chicken buckets with a full complement of sides. Southside also does weekend brunch and boasts a comprehensive list of Napa and Sonoma wines. In 2017, Southside opened an outpost at Stewart Cellars in Yountville, and a third location in South Napa is promised soon.
829 Main St, Napa, CA 94559, USA
Tapas and paella are the big draws at Zuzu, a tiny Spanish-inspired restaurant in downtown Napa. Small-plate portions range in price from $6 to about $15, and feature a variety of local produce—some from Zuzu’s own garden. Fan-favorite tapas include pan-fried Manchego cheese with roasted poblano peppers, Monterey squid and morcilla sausage a la plancha, and bacalao, dried salt cod drizzled with white truffle oil. Paellas are larger, more expensive, and more involved; most take at least 20 minutes to prepare. Choose between the paella of the day with chorizo, shellfish, and sofrito, and the black paella with clams, shrimp, mussels, and calamari. Zuzu also offers an interesting wine and beer list, with a number of imports from Spain. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so be sure to go early.
1260 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, USA
Chef Charlie Palmer’s newest wine country restaurant occupies most of the lobby at the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa—a lively setting for food that’s fresh and fun. Most dishes represent innovative spins on classics. The pig-ear pad thai is prepared like the original, only instead of noodles, Palmer and his chefs slice chicharróns extra thin. The surf and turf features a petite filet mignon and stuffed Maine lobster. Of course, the real star of this steakhouse is the steak; Palmer specializes in what he calls “artisanal beef” and almost always features wagyu on his menu. Cuts vary in size and shape, but the Bone-on Tomahawk for Two is the most formidable opponent. In warmer months, try to grab a table on the open-air patio in the courtyard to the west of the main dining room; it’s both private and shaded, and provides a perfect perch to linger for hours.
1111 White Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574, USA
Yes, V. Sattui Winery, in St. Helena, makes great wines, but on bright and beautiful days, the secret attraction is its deli and marketplace, where visitors can purchase all sorts of items to furnish a picnic and set up to eat at any number of picnic tables out front. The 2.5-acre picnic area is open to the public, and tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis. As for the yummies, choose from a range of prepared sandwiches, salads, salumi, and 200 types of cheese, or piece together an antipasto with salami, cheese, olives, and fresh bread. On weekends, in summer, Italian chef Stefano Masanti takes up residence (his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Italian Alps is only open in winter) and turns out perfect wood-fired pizzas. Go early to avoid big crowds.
1357 Main St, St. Helena, CA 94574, USA
While many of Napa’s other bakeries are known for their sweets, this one, with locations in Yountville, Napa, and St. Helena, is known for something entirely different: bread. In particular, the Model Bakery’s English muffins have achieved nationwide fame and appeared on Oprah’s “Favorite Things” list. The breads are so popular that you have to arrive by 9 a.m. on weekend mornings if you want them fresh. Model bakes other types of bread as well, including levain, harvest wheat, and sourdough, as well as French baguettes and walnut bread. Even the bakery’s focaccia is off-the-charts good. In addition to all these carbs, the bakery also offers hot sandwiches, salads, and pastries.
3824 Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, CA 94558, USA
This fast-casual restaurant in the back corner of Bel Aire Plaza in Napa is all about natural and sustainable food and a mix of international flavors. As the name suggests, Heritage Eats sources all of the ingredients for its wraps, rice bowls, tacos, and sandwiches from purveyors within 50 miles of the restaurant. The result: food that’s both delicious and good for the planet. Portion sizes are generous, and Heritage uses its own hot sauces. When dine-in guests have finished their meals, they can spin a prize wheel to redeem different rewards, such as a free soda to a picnic for two. All the spinning and related hollering makes the environment festive year round.
4110 Howard Ln, Napa, CA 94558, USA
Bistro Don Giovanni opened more than 20 years ago and is still among the most popular Italian restaurants in Napa, meaning it can be downright impossible to get a table at the eatery unless you roll in late. Dishes include fritto misto, agnolotti with salmon and sweet pea cream sauce, and branzino poached in a tomato-garlic broth. Locals love Mamma Concetta’s meatballs, the beet and haricot vert salad, and, when it’s on the menu, lasagna. Don Giovanni also has a sophisticated bar program that includes a number of specialty cocktails, as well as wine imported from Italy, and the attentive, old-school service is appreciated by patrons. The generous back patio has a fountain and overlooks vineyards and a kitchen garden.
3111 St. Helena Hwy, St. Helena, CA 94574, USA
Brasswood Bar + Kitchen is part of Brasswood Estate, a sprawling complex at the north end of St. Helena, comprises a winery, tasting room, restaurant, café, art gallery, and bottle shop. The property was formerly known as Cairdean Estate but was rebranded in 2016. Like many eateries in Napa, this one features local bounty—produce and protein grown in Napa and surrounding counties. Executive chef David Nuno specializes in Italian cuisine, so everything has a bit of a Mediterranean flair. In the restaurant, the duck Bolognese, with duck from Sonoma, is rich and savory; the herb-crusted lamb chop is made with local lamb, as well. The artisan bakery serves food in a less-formal setting; here, pay for your white corn soup or mushroom salad at the counter, and enjoy it by the fountain on the plaza outside.
More From AFAR