These spectacular Napa restaurants range from Thomas Keller’s pilgrimage-worthy flagship, The French Laundry, to a beloved roadside burger joint that defies expectations by maintaining its own organic garden. » F&W’s Full Napa Travel Guide
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Napa Restaurants: Insider Picks
Oenotri has deep roots in the Bay Area. Both of the chef-owners, Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde, are Napa natives and trained under salumi genius Paul Bertolli at Oakland’s legendary Oliveto. Bertolli’s influence explains the sensational house-made charcuterie (there are more than 20 types) and wood-fired Neapolitan pizza with toppings like local lamb sausage and fresh burrata cheese. oenotri.comPhoto courtesy of Redd.
Although chef Richard Reddington shies away from labels like “fusion food” and “global cuisine,” his impeccable wine-friendly recipes at this minimalist, modern Yountville spot have a strong Asian bent. Some menu highlights include hamachi sashimi on sticky rice and glazed pork belly with apple purée, burdock and soy caramel. With Christian Moueix at Napa Valley’s Dominus Estate, Reddington developed the house wine, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet and Merlot, appropriately named Redd Wine. reddnapavalley.com
Napa Restaurants: Splurge
This luxurious Napa hotel and restaurant was a wine country pioneer when it opened three decades ago, bringing world-class food to a region previously known only for wine. The restaurant is both rustic and refined, with exposed wooden beams, abstract paintings and a gorgeous terrace that offers unmatched vistas of the valley. In the kitchen, chef Robert Curry prepares seasonal, regionally sourced dishes like meyer lemon glazed duck served with farro and artichokes. aubergedusoleil.comPhoto © Deborah Jones.
The French Laundry has been a restaurant since 1974, but it wasn’t until chef Thomas Keller took over the stone building two decades later that it became what it is today: one of America’s best, if not its best, restaurant, and a pilgrimage destination for food lovers from around the globe. Keller mixes French training and military-like precision with whimsy and humor—his signature Oysters and Pearls, for instance, features oysters and white sturgeon caviar laid on a bed of tapioca pearls. Currently the 60-seat restaurant offers only nine-course tasting menus (with a vegetarian option) per night, each $270. frenchlaundry.com
Talented young chef Chris Kostow arrived at this famous wine country resort in 2008 and has since transformed its food. His superlative modern Californian menu owes as much to his garden as to his mastery of avant-garde cooking techniques, seen in dishes like thinly sliced breasts of squab topped with cocoa nibs and grated frozen foie gras. meadowood.com/dining/the-restaurant/ Photo © Joe Fletcher.
The formerly neglected downtown in the city of Napa is now one of the valley’s most vibrant areas: In 2007 the Oxbow Public Market opened, and in 2008 Ken Frank relocated his outstanding Rutherford-area restaurant La Toque across the street from the market, in the Westin Verasa Napa. The swank restaurant is renowned for wine director Scott Tracy’s excellent pairings (like quail with chestnut gnocchi and premier cru Pommard) chosen from an over 900-bottle wine list. Frank is also a wine collector’s best friend: He creates tasting menus to go with bottles from customers’ cellars—“As long as I get a taste,” he says. latoque.com
Napa Restaurants: Classic
Down the street from mega chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is his ode to traditional French bistro cooking, which offers immaculately executed comfort dishes like a croque madame, fragrant roast chickens, and sublime steak frites. Bouchon looks the part, too: The Adam Tihany–designed space features a red awning, curved bar and tiled flooring that recalls an idealized Parisian brasserie. bouchonbistro.com
This weeknight standby by Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill, Brassica) is popular for its eclectic comfort food, like the Oysters Bingo (a supergarlicky twist on Oysters Rockefeller) and the Mighty Meatloaf, served with horseradish barbecue sauce. For a break from wine-tasting, the caipirinhas with whole chopped limes and sugarcane syrup can be had at the zinc-top bar. cindysbackstreetkitchen.com Photo courtesy of Terra.
Husband-and-wife duo Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani are Napa royalty both by blood (she’s the daughter of master vintner Carl Doumani) and by distinction: Their outstanding Terra restaurant has mesmerized the Bay Area since it opened in 1988 in a beautiful century-old fieldstone building. He takes care of the French cuisine, with Asian influences like sake-marinated cod and shrimp dumplings in shiso broth; she handles updated classic desserts, like bête noir chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream. In early 2011, Sone and Doumani opened Bar Terra next to their dining room, serving seasonally inspired drinks prepared with fruit from the couple’s orchard. terrarestaurant.com
This nearly 25-year-old St. Helena standby is beloved for its shade-covered courtyard and rustic Italian dishes that range from antipasti like the mozzarella al minuto (handmade as soon as it’s ordered, served with grilled bruschetta) to a wide assortment of house-made pastas like sage-infused pappardelle with braised rabbit ragu. The nearby Pizzeria Tra Vigne doesn’t charge a corkage fee—perfect for a post-winery-hopping evening. travignerestaurant.com
Napa Restaurants: Best Value
Photo courtesy of Ad Hoc.
Just a few blocks away from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, but vastly different, Ad Hoc is the high-end chef’s version of a homey American bistro. Every night for $52, Ad Hoc offers a different four-course menu (including a cheese tray) focusing on simple, hearty American food like pork chops, iceberg wedge salads and the runaway favorite, the unbelievably juicy buttermilk-brined fried chicken. adhocrestaurant.com
Brothers Joel and Duncan Gott’s witty, reimagined ’50s diner changed its name from Taylor’s Refresher, but it’s still the undisputed Napa favorite for simple burgers and fries. Because it’s in Napa, this burger joint has its own organic garden, uses Niman Ranch beef and has a great wine list of half-bottles. A nonbeef option: the seared Ahi tuna burger topped with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise and Asian slaw, served in a toasted egg bun. gotts.com
Downtown Napa’s best and largest draw is the 40,000-square-foot Oxbow Public Market, founded by Steve Carlin, the visionary behind the market at San Francisco’s Ferry Building. In a light-filled building near the Napa River, some of the area’s top food purveyors have set up shop, including Hog Island Oysters, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Three Twins Organic Ice Cream and Fatted Calf charcuterie. For sit-down dining, the market has an outpost of Gott’s Roadside, amazing arepas and Venezualan street food at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, and wood-fired pizzas at Ca’Momi. oxbowpublicmarket.com
Superstar chef Thomas Keller originally built Bouchon Bakery to provide bread for his nearby restaurants, including Bouchon next door. Now it’s a Napa Valley institution in its own right, not only for its extraordinary breads—traditional baguettes, classic brioches—but also pastries, quiches and stellar salads and sandwiches, including Keller’s take on the PB&J, made with cashew nut butter and apricot jam. Says Jamey Whetstone of Whetstone Cellars, “A chocolate éclair and coffee at Thomas Keller’s bakery is tough to beat.” bouchonbakery.com