16 Essential Napa Valley Restaurants

From elaborate tasting menus to standout izakayas
November 20, 2017
by Trevor Felch

After the tragic fires earlier this year, Napa Valley needs your support — and restaurants and wineries are eager to welcome locals and tourists alike to boost the local economy. There are so many destination-worthy dining spots, and all appreciate visitors in this tough recovery period. Contribute your tourist dollars and enjoy everything from tasting menus to yakitori skewers to stinging nettles pizza. Here are our 16 favorites in the Napa Valley.

The French Laundry. Photo by City Foodsters/Flickr

The French Laundry
It's essential, alright. Thomas Keller’s flagship might be the most important restaurant in the country. Its Cali-French tasting menu and carefully choreographed service is every bit the all-encompassing experience diners hope for. Chef de cuisine David Breeden's creations are sourced from across the street at TFL’s gardens, which might supply nasturtiums and celtuce for a salad with coconut "pudding," or shallots for a garden shallot confit to accompany an applewood-smoked lamb dish. Recent updates include a sparkling $10 million kitchen designed by the same firm as the new SFMOMA, and a new online ticketing system that's slightly easier to book (try for lunch Friday through Sunday). Don't worry, the signature oyster and pearls, salmon tartare cones and "coffee and doughnuts" are still there — and hopefully always will be.

6640 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2380

Harvest Table. Courtesy of Paige Green Photography

Harvest Table
Don’t call Harvest Table a hotel restaurant (though, yes, it's in St. Helena's gorgeous Harvest Inn, serving as the de facto lobby). And don’t label it a celebrity chef restaurant (though, yes, Charlie Palmer is the owner). This is chef Spencer Wolff and bar manager Joel Pfeifle's show. The two are serving captivating seasonal California creations to rival San Francisco's edgiest dishes, like housemade falernum for tiki drinks, crispy pig ear–topped deviled eggs and a version of the Impossible Burger with kale pesto. There's also the popular truffle chicken for two, rightfully considered the Wine Country rival to Zuni Cafe's roast chicken.

1 Main St., St. Helena; 707-967-4695

Torc. Photo by Trevor Felch

Napa Valley dining is known for its headliner restaurants, but there are very few of the comfortable, mid-scale "neighborhood bistros" found in larger cities. Luckily, downtown Napa has Torc. Come for happy hour and you'll find a packed bar. Seasonal ingredients are everywhere on Sean O'Toole's menu, and the value is impressive (especially the $46 three-course Taste of Torc). The spacious, two-level restaurant boasts a big city vibe, possibly Napa’s best cocktails and a menu with a bit of everything, from deviled eggs and housemade pasta to seasonal asparagus or a regal dry-aged New York strip for two.

1140 Main St., Napa; 707-252-3292

Courtesy of Ad Hoc & Addendum/Facebook

Ad Hoc
The concept of Thomas Keller’s family-style restaurant is simple: $55 prix fixe for four courses (with an optional fifth course supplement). What arrives at the table often sounds like humble comfort food but always packs far more flavor than your typical "steak and eggs" or "shrimp and grits." A recent fall menu started with a crispy Brussels sprouts salad, followed by a smoked rib-eye with fried potatoes and creamed spinach, an optional fried green tomatoes and burrata dish, an optional roasted bone marrow course, Marin French Cheese Co.'s Petite Crème and elaborate ice cream sundaes. Brunch is a highlight, as is the ultra #MondayMotivation where Keller's famous sous-vide buttermilk fried chicken is offered every other Monday night. Pro tip: Addendum, Ad Hoc's seasonal outdoor patio, offers barbecue and that fried chicken during the daytime Thursday through Saturday. 

6476 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2487

Photo by Victor M. Samuel

The Restaurant at CIA Copia and Oxbow Public Market
The newly unveiled CIA at Copia, just across the river from downtown Napa, is already a Napa Valley food scene fixture after just a few weeks. Take a cooking class in the morning, then pop into a wine seminar or stock up on kitchenware in the CIA's store. You can bookend your culinary education at the restaurant where the kitchen is now under the direction of executive chef Polly Lappetito (formerly executive chef at Ciccio in Yountville). Her seasonal menus might include chickpea pancakes with Copia-grown olives, housemade pappardelle with mushrooms and pancetta-wrapped ling cod with white bean relish. When it's dessert time, make sure to summon the plastic cow cheese cart named Bessie.

Across the parking lot, the Napa Valley’s marquee food hall, Oxbow Market, has a dizzying array of vendors (think mini Ferry Building). Standouts include C Casa's tacos, Napa Valley Distillery for spirit tastings, Fatted Calf's charcuterie and the full-service Kitchen Door restaurant. So, on which side of the lot do you start? You can't go wrong.  

500 1st St., Napa; 707-967-2500 
644 1st St., Napa; 707-226-6529

Courtesy of Auberge du Soleil/Facebook

Auberge du Soleil
This Napa Valley destination, just off the Silverado Trail, is a local culinary star that deserves more national attention. Panoramic views are breathtaking from the dining room high atop Rutherford Hill, equally matched by the two prix fixe menus (three or four courses, with choices in each category) and the six-course tasting menu (no choice). Following in the footsteps of the kitchen's famous alumni — including the late Masataka Kobayashi of Masa's and Richard Reddington of Redd (see below) — executive chef Robert Curry continues a strong tradition with rustic yet sophisticated plates like veal sweetbreads with corn, chanterelle mushrooms and caramelized onion jus. Though the prix fixe gives you an option, don't skip dessert.

180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford; 707-967-3111

Courtesy of Gott's Roadside

Gott’s Roadside
Napa Valley isn't all about wine and upscale dining. Since its first five decades as Taylor’s Automatic Refresher and now a decade as Gott’s Roadside, this St. Helena roadside burger shack is truly a valley landmark — and it’s the only local restaurant to earn the title of James Beard Regional American Classic. The thin-patty burgers dripping with Thousand Island–like "secret sauce" always satisfy, especially a wine and beer selection that's way above average for counter service. Beyond burgers, you'll find ahi poke tacos and bountiful salads.

933 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-3486

Trevor Felch

Cook St. Helena
So much of Napa Valley’s food and wine culture revolves around iconic names (Mondavi! Keller!) which unfortunately distracts starry-eyed visitors from less flashy local favorites — like Cook, which has been around for 13 years on St. Helena's charming Main Street. This homey, narrow spot has a pitch-perfect Cali-Northern Italian menu by chef-owner Jude Wilmoth, and rustic homemade cavatelli all’arrabbiata is as much of a draw as seasonal salads or a more ambitious duck breast entree with Brussels sprouts, pomegranate and celery root purée. If you’re in the mood for pizza, Cook’s adjacent younger sibling, Cook Tavern & Pizzeria, is one of the valley's most delicious spots to watch a sports game.

1310 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-7088

Courtesy of Acacia House

Acacia House
Chris Cosentino is known for cooking with bizarre animal parts — hence his Twitter handle, @OffalChris ​— and that impossible-to-miss whole pig’s head from Cockscomb. But at his Napa Valley debut in the luxurious Las Alcobas Hotel, it's all about high-end, seasonal California cooking. Here the menu is elegant but not fussy, with twists like a beet tarte tatin with mascarpone cheese or an oversized pork schnitzel topped with caviar dressing. Also, grab a spot on the veranda for pre-dinner cocktails, like the outstanding salt foam–topped house margarita (the same served at the Las Alcobas' sibling in Mexico City).

1915 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-9004

Redd. Photo by Jun Seita/Flickr​

It’s hard to believe Redd is now 12 years old. The restaurant is Yountville’s non–Thomas Keller dining anchor for good reason. White tablecloths and a sleek contemporary space set the scene for Richard Reddington’s upscale eclectic Californian cooking, which might include skate wing sautéed with the power duo of crispy bacon and smoked lobster butter for a distinct French preparation. Or you could find couscous with lamb and mergeuz meatballs (a nod to North Africa) or a bizarre yet sensational huckleberry cassis-gel cheesecake with waffle cone ice cream. Redd feels as fresh as it did when it opened and Reddington made a splash with glazed pork belly and hamachi sashimi — these became nationwide trends that have already come and gone. Up next: tomorrow's trends?

6480 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2222

Miminashi. Photo by Bob McClenahan​

The hottest cuisine in the Bay Area right now? Japanese cuisine. Possibly the best of the 2016–2017 crop of Japanese restaurants is this downtown Napa izakaya from Curtis Di Fede, a co-founder of Downtown's Italian restaurant, Oenotri. The biggest problem here is what to order: The menu is long, and everything is stellar. The ramen is a knockout. Cocktails are by far the best and most creative in downtown Napa. The same can be said for gyoza, yakitori skewers and all the way to the soft cream for dessert. Adding to the experience, the Shinto and Buddhist pagoda-design manages to be both hip and tranquil.

821 Coombs St., Napa; 707-254-9464

Kelly Puleio

The Charter Oak
Live-fire cooking is possibly the trend of 2017. This St. Helena newcomer from chef Chris Kostow and partner Nathaniel Dorn of The Restaurant at Meadowood (see below) might be the trend's poster child, with a rustic hearth at the heart of the restaurant's space and menu. Don’t think this is Meadowood Part II — same key players, but different ownership and an entirely distinct, casual experience. Diners can enjoy a $65 per person Family Dinner menu ($30 at lunch) or à la carte items led by beef rib grilled over Cabernet barrels. Be sure to add time for a pre- or post-meal cocktail or digestif under the stars in Wine Country’s most breathtaking courtyard.

1050 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena; 707-302-6996

Prior to Ciccio’s 2012 opening, Yountville's dining options were fairly weak north of The French Laundry. Now, the north part of this quaint restaurant-heavy town seems to see a new tasting room or restaurant every few weeks — but Ciccio remains the micro-neighborhood's gold standard. Pizza and Negronis are the rustic Italian spot's headliners and they are indeed stellar — for the former, try anything with a pesto base, and for the latter, there's a menu of six Negroni variations. And don't miss the nightly changing pastas, secondi and a knockout bruschetta with boquerones. No reservations accepted, but the wait is almost never longer than the span of one Negroni.

6770 Washington St., Yountville; 707-945-1000

Courtesy of The Restaurant at Meadowood

The Restaurant at Meadowood
Surrounded by redwood forests and olive trees, Meadowood is the Napa Valley luxury icon and a Bay Area bucket list cliché. It feels like the pinnacle of Wine Country rustic elegance from the moment you turn off the Silverado Trail and wind your way to the resort. The Restaurant is Meadowood's crown jewel. Chef Christopher Kostow’s tasting menus are a tour de force; sometimes innovative, sometimes pastoral and always sublime. The service is seamless; the atmosphere is grand and free of stuffiness (you can wear jeans here and not feel awkward). Pro tip: The Restaurant Rotunda and Bar Lounge is a far more approachable entry point. A $90 three-course prix fixe is offered at the bar, while a series of eight to 10 small bites is available in the lounge for $90 per person.

900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena; 707-967-1205

Two Birds/One Stone. Photo by Michael Woolsey​

Two Birds/One Stone
The northern part of the valley’s marquee 2016 restaurant opening hasn’t lost any luster. Unique spins on Japanese dishes include a blissful savory pancake with green onion and sambal mayo (essentially an okonomiyaki), yakitori skewers and spicy shrimp fried rice with kimchi, drawing eager diners to this restaurant arm of St. Helena's recently renovated Freemark Abbey Winery. It's a collaborative effort from a pair of well-known California chefs (Douglas Keane, formerly of the much-missed Cyrus in Healdsburg and Sang Yoon of Father’s Office in LA).

3020 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena; 707-302-3777

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