Nibble+squeak Guide to Wine Country: Sonoma

Sonoma may be less famous (and less traveled) than its sister Napa Valley... but with a burgeoning food scene and up-and-coming vintners, all that's about to change.

Neighboring Napa is Sonoma Valley, the lesser-known and slightly less touristy (though this is changing) wine region in Northern California. It is a bit more spread out but famous for producing some of the world’s best chardonnays. The food alone makes it a worthy destination and one of our favorite places to visit for a relaxing family vacation.

Source: Photo by Karsten Würth

Where to Eat

Fremont Diner (currently closed)

Reimagined down-home comfort dishes draw crowds (and we mean crowds) to this cheerful diner with patio seating. We are super fans of this quaint roadside establishment and cannot stop raving about the food. Our must-try list is long; we highly recommend the bucket of biscuits, pimento cheese, fried chicken and waffles. Fried chicken sandwich, chicken fried steak (we are sensing a theme here), shrimp and grits, and seasonal homemade pies. The kids will love the fancy milkshakes and backyard chicken coop. They also offer a pared down to-go menu for those of you eager to hit the wineries.

Barndiva

Barndiva has a motto: “Wherever you are, eat the view.” While it may not make much sense at first, the minute you step into the back garden you’ll start to understand. This place is without question our favorite dining spot in Healdsburg. The inspiring menu is always fresh and inventive (do not pass on the goat cheese croquettes) and kids will enjoy exploring the spacious grounds and garden patio. The scrumptious dessert menu doesn’t hurt either. Can we all say “chocolate hazelnut macarooooooon”!?

Barndiva

Source: Barndiva

Catelli’s

California-inspired Italian cuisine in a charming space with a large patio. A longtime family-style (and family owned) restaurant, the food and wine are all sourced locally and everything is reasonably priced — making Catelli’s a landmark dining spot in the heart of Sonoma wine country.

Harvest Moon Cafe

Do not dismiss this small but mighty restaurant, owned and operated by a husband and wife team. The menus change daily to reflect Sonoma County’s bountiful, local harvests. The restaurant interior only has a few tables/ seats so ask to be seated in the outdoor garden when making your reservation if dining pipsqueaks in tow. What better way to enjoy a Sonoma evening than fresh air and the cafe’s decadent s’mores dessert!

Spoonbar

Imaginative, farm-fresh contemporary American fare that’s creatively crafted, yet unassumingly approachable. We are obsessed with their rich egg tagliatelle and honey walnut agnolotti. They also have a bar food menu that reads great for kids – score!

Source: Spoonbar

Source: Spoonbar

LaSalette

If you are looking for a break from California cuisine, check out LaSalette — where Chef Manuel Azevedo serves up flavorful Portugese food with a twist. We thoroughly enjoyed the classic fish stew, Feijoada and Pork & Clams on our last visit – all traditional dishes but adapted with local California produce. Try and get a table on the outside terrace if you can.

Ramen Gaijin

We never met a bowl of ramen we didn’t like… and this place is dishing up some of the best. This laid back authentic Japanese gastropub is a refreshing–and delicious–addition to the Sebastopol food scene. The kiddos will love their handmade noodles, yaktori meats and small plate izakaya dishes. Ramen Gaijin is hands down one of our favorite spots when traveling to/ from Sonoma.

Valette

Valette was born from two brothers’ lifelong dream of creating a unique dining experience in their hometown of Healdsburg. A dream they have undoubtedly achieved, serving inventive American cuisine with French influences to locals and visitors since 2015 when they opened shop. Order the the coriander crusted duck breast or – if hungry – try the Chef Valette’s ‘Trust me’ Tasting menu (5 courses).

Bird & the Bottle

What do you get when you combine Jewish comfort food with Southern fried chicken and throw in some Korean influence and seasonings? A modern tavern celebrating the American melting pot, James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalists Mark and Terri Stark’s Bird & the Bottle brings intriguing interpretations of street food to life. Order a couple of plates for the whole family to share and try snagging a seat at one of the two outdoor decks.

the girl and the fig

“Country food with a French passion” is how one might describe the food at the girl & the fig. This rustic bistro has become a Sonoma dining institution — and with a wonderful antique bar with French aperitifs, an award-winning Rhone-Alone wine list, a seasonal menu, cheese & charcuterie platters, and charming outdoor garden patio seating, it’s no wonder we keep coming back.

glen ellen star

Glen Ellen Star is a rising culinary establishment in Sonoma County that provides a personable yet refined dining experience for those who love food. Chef Ari Weiswasser spent two years at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville before opening Glen Ellen Star across the street from his wife’s family’s Benziger Family Winery. The restaurant specializes in a wood-fire cooking technique that brings out the best flavors of their California inspired dishes — and we definitely recommend getting the roasted sweet potatoes, roasted corn and a pizza to share. You might have a hard time fighting off the kids for the last bite!

glen ellen star

Source: glen ellen star

The Spinster Sisters

Chef Liza Hinman uses the bounty of expertly grown and crafted ingredients found in Sonoma County to create an evolving menu of original dishes inspired by flavors and traditions from around the world. Spinster Sisters is a local favorite, a hidden gem that they would probably keep to themselves if they could. Bonus for kids who love art: the restaurant is located in Santa Rosa’s Arts District (the SOFA neighborhood) and features works from local artists in the dining room, rotating every 8 weeks.

For when you have a baby-sitter

SingleThread 

The restaurant offers an eleven-course tasting menu customized to guests’ dietary preferences and restrictions. SingleThread is the first restaurant to ever receive a flawless 4 stars on arrival from SF food critic Michael Bauer, has already been awarded 2 Michelin stars (it only opened in 2016) and was nominated as the Miele One to Watch in 2018. If given the opportunity, don’t hesitate to enjoy this food and wine experience.

SingleThread

Source: SingleThread Farm – Restaurant – Inn

Kid-friendly wineries

Perhaps due to its less well-known status and more casual atmosphere, Sonoma has a wonderful reputation for its kid-friendly wineries. We’ve compiled some of our favorites here:

There is never a wrong time to visit Northern California wine country. The food, wine and weather are gorgeous year round and we always leave feeling well rested and well fed. And don’t be intimidated by the fancy wineries and at times indulgent atmosphere. The Valley has always represented “causal cool” and increasingly the Napa/ Sonoma experience can be best enjoyed with pipsqueaks-in-tow! Check out our Guide to Napa Valley.