Deciding to where to eat in Napa Valley is almost as challenging as deciding where to taste wine. The valley enjoys an almost excessive amount of access to delicious food –a trend driven in large part by the local talent. In a region where most of the local population earns a living in both the wine and culinary worlds, it is not surprising that the bar for eating out is extremely high.
Indeed, many a guide exists on where to eat in Napa, but for this one the recommendations come from local palates, a selection of winemakers, sommeliers, and importers, to divulge their favorite places for everything from a cup of coffee to a Michelin-quality meal.
ZuZu Napa is located in downtown Napa’s historic district and has enjoyed a loyal following since its opening twelve years ago. They are known for authentic tapas dishes inspired by both Spanish and South American ingredients. Rombauer’s director of viticulture and winemaking, Richie Allen, refers to Zuzu as his ‘go to restaurant -every single time. The Queso Frito, Bacalao and daily fresh Ceviche are always top on my list.’
Dishes are made with produce from the ZuZu gardens as well as with the best from Northern California’s deep bench of local purveyors.
La Luna Market and Taqueria in Rutherford has no formal seating but the winemakers and their crews don’t come for ambiance, they come for tacos. The combination market and taqueria (which is in the back of the market) opened in 1968 and prepares a daily line-up of authentic Mexican fare.
Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker and general manager at Chimney Rock Winery, says when she’s famished nothing beats a ‘carne asada quesadilla at La Luna. It is also my crew’s favorite lunch hands down.’
Angèle Restaurant & Bar dishes up a romantic slice of farm-to-table French cuisine in cosy environs right along the riverside in downtown Napa. Assistant winemaker at Stags’ Leap, Jane Valentin, recommends the steak tartare, ‘it’s scrumptious and the croque monsieur paired with one of their bergamot martinis is the perfect way to enjoy our summer weather on a Friday.’
Vianna adds that she visits Angèle when she’s feeling ‘sophisticated and slightly naughty! I love their moules frites accompanied by some Champagne.’
This St. Helena restaurant offers refined Northern Italian cuisine in an intimate setting with an all-day menu of expertly executed fare.
‘The go-to lunch for me is always Cook’s. Their food is incredible, hospitality warm and each dish is full of flavor and soul,’ says Alan Viader, director of operations and winemaking at VIADER Vineyards & Winery. ‘I love their pasta carbonara special when I’m looking for a full meal. Their sausage and mussels starter is a great option when I need to spice things up.’
Longtime Napa residents Angus Cleland and his wife Anna Marie Longo, who own and operate a meat importing business, describe this unassuming little spot as home to ‘simply the best Nepali/Indian food this side of Mt. Everest. The tikka and tandoori are second to none and owners, Chirring and Shova, will treat you like family.’
Cleland and his wife also like to pop into The Goose & Gander, where, says Cleland, ‘Chef Nic Jones works his magic creating delicious American dishes and the craft cocktails at the speakeasy style basement bar are a must.’
Master Sommelier and Author Andrea Robinson makes her home in Napa Valley and when she isn’t cooking with her family they head to Auberge Bistro for their ‘amazing lunch or early dinner with unmatched valley views and Relais Chateau service,’ said Robinson.
‘We think it’s the best burger in Napa, and their Bloomsdale spinach side dish is something you won’t have many other places (if any) and takes sauteed spinach to a new level. The menu is fresh, clean, lots of greatest hits and some unique specialties – something for everyone.’
This humble but hard-core bakery (read: established in 1908) serves ‘the Best breakfast in Napa,’ says Vianna. Locals come for their artisan breads made with organic stone ground flours, cinnamon rolls and scones, but the humble english muffin is their signature achievement.
Robinson agrees, adding, ‘their avocado toast is also awesome, and their coffee is the best in the county.’ Don’t forget this place for lunch either—flatbread pizzas and fresh baguette sandwiches cannot be beat.
Robinson describes this restaurant as a ‘local’s favorite,’ and loves their no corkage fee for Napa wines in addition to their rotisserie chicken, wood-grilled artichoke, and kale caesar salad. Julie Lumgair, winemaker for J Moss Wines, loves Rutherford’s farm-chic ambiance and their French Dip.
‘Layers of thinly sliced slow roasted prime rib on a homemade French roll with au jus and creamy horseradish make for the perfect hearty winemaker’s refueling lunch,’ she says, adding, ‘their wine list is sensationally deep with numerous by-the-glass and bottle choices of local gems.’
No guide to Napa would be complete with a wine shop suggestion. For this, Robinson is unequivocal, ‘Don’t miss Margaux Singleton’s Enoteca Wine Shop. It is one of the most creatively-curated wine selections in the country–yes, the country not the county. We really don’t need to buy wine because we have a lot, but we frequently buy from her.’