The 12 Essential Napa Restaurants

By Virginia Miller  |  May 12, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

Narrowing down the essential restaurants of Napa County is no easy task. Our Wine Country neighbor to the north has not only shaped the entire wine world, its restaurants and chefs - we're looking at you, Mr. Keller - have impacted dining across the nation and beyond. Here, we define "essential Napa" as restaurants with a unique, only-in-Napa setting, outstanding food and a compelling drink program. And because 12 is a tough call, check out the honorable mention winners at the end of our slide show.

  • Credit: Deborah Jones

    The French Laundry

    Thomas Keller's original restaurant is still his shining star. In a charming, circa-1900 stone farmhouse surrounded by organic gardens, a balletic waitstaff serves Keller's exquisite, standard-setting French-American tasting menus, paired with incredible wines. Since Keller took over in 1994, The Laundry has inspired countless imitators, attracted devotees and trained some of the country's greatest chefs. No visit is complete without a taste of the iconic oysters and pearls: tapioca pearls, lightly poached oysters and briny caviar in a creamy "sabayon" (pictured).

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

  • The Restaurant at Meadowood

    One of Napa Valley's - and America's - most lauded and awarded restaurants, and the only three-Michelin-star restaurant on the West Coast besides The French Laundry, The Restaurant at Meadowood is where chef Christopher Kostow breaks ground with his inspired tasting menus - globally inspired dishes like a pea and pistachio salad in white-chocolate olive oil - paired with local wines, all enjoyed while gazing out over lush, green lawns and croquet fields. The bar lounge serves cocktails and a more affordable three-course menu.

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

  • Bistro Jeanty

    Since it opened to a James Beard nomination back in 1998, Bistro Jeanty has been the ultimate rustic-French-meets-Napa restaurant. With golden warm walls and an equally warm vibe, Chef Philippe Jeanty has helmed this relaxed bistro where one can dine on glorified French countryside dishes, like the long-beloved tomato soup in a puff pastry, partnered with an array of predominantly California and France wines, savored on an outdoor patio.

    6510 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-0103

  • Credit: Virginia Miller


    Chic Redd brings a sleek, East-meets-West alternative to the more rustic-feeling fine-dining settings around Yountville. For a more relaxed vibe, do as off-duty chefs and winemakers do: sit at the bar, order from the dense wine list and make a meal from chef Richard Reddington's appetizers like risotto with lobster, lemon and truffle oil, Asian-inspired sticky fried chicken thighs and hamachi sashimi over sticky rice and edamame.

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


  • Credit: Goose & Gander Facebook Page

    Goose & Gander

    Though longtime locals may always reminisce about the Martini House, its successor, Goose & Gander, continues to play up the beauty of this St. Helena Craftsman-style house. Upstairs, it's the main dining room with red walls, warm woods and booths. Outside, it's a sprawling patio under massive trees. Downstairs, the charming, intimate bar area showcases bar masters Scott Beattie and Michael Pazdon's stunning cocktails, among the best anywhere in Wine Country. On the food front, expect glorified bar food. You can't go wrong with the grass-fed, Gruyère-topped burger or smoked corn croquettes. 

    1245 Spring St., St. Helena; 707-967-8779

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    La Toque

    The creative, New French cuisine served at La Toque, inside the Westin Verasa, is among one of the more underrated fine-dining options in Napa Valley, including the next-door Bank Bar, where you can order a lower-priced menu during the day. The mellow, elegant dining room shows off Chef Ken Frank's seasonal cooking, with a wine list just under 2,000 bottles. Winemakers and local diners have long waxed eloquent about Frank's cooking, including seasonal dishes like Maine lobster and butternut squash in fall-spiced crème fraîche and toasted pumpkin seeds (pictured).

    1314 McKinstry St., Napa; 707-257-5157

  • Credit: Virginia Miller


    Since 2002, Zuzu has been a local's favorite in Downtown Napa: a cozy, Spanish restaurant where the tapas are done to perfection and Spanish wines flow. They don't take reservations, but once you're granted a seat, the convivial flow of its ever-packed dining room creates the kind of setting where it feels almost easy to make friends. You'll want to return again and again.

    829 Main St., Napa; 707-224-8555

  • Credit: The Thomas/Facebook

    The Thomas

    It feels a little bit Napa, a little bit New York - where its parent company and sister restaurants, The Public and Saxon+Parole, are based. The multilevel, historic building once housed historic Fagiani's Bar and the original neon signs still beckons outside. The decor is a modern twist on pre-Prohibition-era decor, while the open-air rooftop deck - under a string of white lights with the Napa River running by below - is the magic spot. The refined rustic American food charms with dishes like BLAT (their popular bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich cut with a steak knife) for brunch and airy ricotta gnudi come dinnertime. Cocktails like the Sesame Sazerac and an excellent Bloody Mary are expertly executed without feeling pretentious.

    813 Main St., Napa; 707-226-7821

  • Solbar

    Though it's easy to be distracted by the sophisticated crowd flocking to the outdoor patio, pool and spacious, modern dining room at the Solage Resort, you wouldn't want to miss out on some of the more exciting dishes at this end of the Valley. Executive chef Brandon Sharp's Californian menu might feature dishes like organic boneless quail partnered with Chiang Mai sausage, sticky rice and broccoli-stem salad in a lemongrass chile sauce. Enjoy with house cocktails or local, small-production wines.

    755 Silverado Trail N., Calistoga; 707-226-0850

  • Credit: Farmstead/LMR Facebook Page

    Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch

    The open, airy, modern barn setting is inviting, and executive chef Stephen Barber's gratifying cheeseburgers, BBQ meats, and Cal-Southern dishes offer something for everyone. Besides producing their own wines, Long Meadow Ranch (around the restaurant and beyond) has its own cattle ranch from which their grass-fed beef comes, and they raise their own chickens to source their sustainably produced eggs. They grow their own herbs, fruits and vegetables, and produce their olive oil, vinegar and honey at the ranch. All these elements are used in the restaurant, making it not only a farm-to-table meal in the most literal way, but a true Napa experience of and about its surroundings.

    738 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-9181

  • Gott's Roadside

    Opened in St. Helena in 1949, this original Gott's Roadside is the heart and soul of the family-run Bay Area chain. Regulars and tourists alike for decades have walked up to the historic burger "hut" to order juicy burgers, ahi poke tacos and milkshakes, then headed to the outdoor picnic area surrounding the structure. The green lawn is overrun with families and locals. Festive and familial, it's genuine California roadside charm, delicious burgers and a true slice of Napa history.

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

  • Credit: Virginia Miller


    Southern Italian cuisine (from Sicily to Puglia) takes center stage at Downtown Napa's beloved Italian gem, where salumi, Neapolitan pizzas, and creative pastas are cooked in an open kitchen and in a wood-fueled Acino oven. Wines are predominantly from southern Italy, and cocktails flow as the bustling, perpetually packed restaurant wins over locals and travelers alike. Ever-changing favorites include pizzas like the salsiccia (pork sausage) or pastas such as braised-pigeon ravioli.

    1425 First St., Napa; 707-252-1022

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    There are certainly countless other restaurants and eateries to love all over the county. Here are a few honorable-mention winners that were just too painful to leave behind. 

    The biggest draw at Bottega is celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, but gratifying pastas and a perpetual summer-night vibe on the wraparound patio feel like a proper Napa party.

    Run by chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who has made an important mark on Napa County for over 30 years, Mustards is a classic, but we love the airy, homey charm of her newer Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen tucked away just off St. Helena's main street. 

    In Calistoga, we adore JoLe's innovative New American dishes, cocktails featuring local spirits, small-production wines and boisterous, neighborhood welcome.

    Though there are other Morimoto restaurants in the world, legendary Masaharu Morimoto has reinterpreted his classic dishes in a Napa riverfront setting that's spacious and dramatic with food and well-shaken cocktails to match. The space vibrates with well-heeled tourists and locals on the regular - a living example of Napa's next chapter. 

    Owner Greg Cole's Celadon is a longtime Napa favorite in a romantic, historic building. There's a spacious patio marked by a fire pit, and Asian influences pervade crowd-pleasing dishes like juicy, soy-braised pork belly marked by watermelon, daikon and herbs.

    Since 1988, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani have run Terra, an enchanting St. Helena classic in an old stone farmhouse with soulful, upscale East-meets-West cooking and a wine list to match. The new, adjacent Bar Terra is the place to drop in for some tartare, cod croquettes and stiff drink just off the main drag.