Humboldt County, CA - a local's guide to really good food; take notes.
We operate a tiny one-room B&B during the Summer months, but we're now closed for the season, and are happy to inform fellow Chowhounds about what is really good in our community.
FYI, "chowhound-wise" the only REAL Killer entry is Al's Diner, a remarkable place we wrote about in a recent issue of "Simple Cooking." The rest are the best of what's available, which can be very good indeed.
Do not, repeat NOT, ask the locals where to eat. First, their idea of "fine dining" is not anything you will find even faintly attractive. They have abominable taste, standards honed by decades of truly bad food; they will direct you to expensive frozen-portion-controlled "maison de la casa house" places (The Eureka Inn or The Sea Grill) or "all-you-can-eat" places like the truly dismal Samoa Cookhouse (which, to be fair, is probably better food than what the lumberjacks ever got. But do you really want to dine on processed frozen cheap stuff served in a huge room, on big tables?). Let me be frank: the tourist restaurants in this county are shit. Be warned: if it isn't listed here, it's one of those.
Now what is good:
$$$$ (figure a minimum of $120 with wine for 2, plus tip)
301 L Street, Eureka, 444-8062
This is a small hotel + B&B owned by a very rich local developer, who not coincidentally has a dot.com wine business (and a huge inventory of wine, which see below). He has a lot to gain by the success of this restaurant.
A potentially brilliant young chef, still finding his niche, prepares a constantly changing menu with Southern American and Pacific Rim influences. If there is inconsistency (and there certainly is), it is at a pretty high level. The wine cellar is among the best in the state, with many outstanding varietals at reasonable prices. The country-inn setting is comfortable yet refined. Good live but quiet) jazz serves as background music on weekends. Full bar.
$$$ (figure a bit less than $80 for 2 plus tip)
1551 G Street, Arcata, 822-1042
A menu of wonderfully conceived entrees and wood-fired pizzas has been honed to perfection by one of the stellar chefs in the County. Mediterranean colors and a professional, friendly staff combine to create a warm atmosphere for intimate dining in a rather small space.
figure a maximum of $50, regardless of what you order; there is no wine, so you bring your own - or beer - and the waitress serves from the back room; BTW this is illegal, so please be circumspect)
116 Wildwood Avenue (Main Street)
Rio Dell, 764-3445
Extraordinary food at the lowest prices in the County, possibly in the state. The setting is totally rural funky, but Al and Andrea have created a gem in the midst of the County's most depressed community. The menu is simple, but Al's specials, which change from day to day, are food for the gods. This place is so good we've included it even though it's in South Humboldt. BYOB.
320 F Street, Eureka, 443-7777
A very serious couple owns this tiny sushi/Japanese restaurant, and the chef's personal involvement in all aspects (she is at the docks every morning) means that some very special items can appear on the "specials" menu. There are many remarkable items. In a larger community, this would be a cult favorite.
511 Second Street, Eureka, 444-1405
A large bistro with a wildly eclectic menu, and Kate is a vivid executive chef. The hard-edge of tech is moderated by large, colorful abstract paintings. A full bar, with a sizeable wine list, all available by the glass, are among reasons why this new restaurant has become immediately popular. Weekends it can get Very Loud.
3rd and G Street, Eureka, 445-0500
With an upscale menu that features seasonal and local food, this restaurant was only a year or so ago our "flagship." A huge room that is elegant without pretension, and the County's most professional service can combine to make dining an event. Unhappily, the ill health of the national-class executive chef means food preparation can be inconsistent, and we've had to lower our expectations. Most recently, the menu has been pared of all but the more popular items, and there are no longer daily specials. Full bar. Often live music.
30 Sunny Brae Centre, Arcata, 822-6101
This marvelous restaurant is a newcomer, serving - despite the "bistro" name - family regional Italian food. Its rather small menu (about 15 dishes, including fresh pastas, appetizers, and entrees) can be combined for an unusually delightful meal, particularly in family-style dining. The small, boxy room is a minor flaw.
915 H Street, Arcata, 822-4766
Another bistro-style approach, with a full bar, and an interesting and varying menu. The large dining room and high-tech decor combine for a contemporary ambience. Since their initial "splash," a dip in consistency and quality has demoted them a bit.
Rita's Café & Taqueria
427 West Harris, Eureka, 476-8565
The best Mexican tapas on the North Coast, with large variety of tacos and the best salsa. The once wonderful frijoles are vegetarian now, and the sopa de arroz (rice) is generic, but Rita is a capable cook, and makes serious comfort food at a fair price. Taco fillings include the usual, plus carnitas, barbacoa, tinga (shredded chicken with chilpotle), carne adobado, tofu, and spinach. Excellent fish tacos (grilled, not the breaded). Mexican Coke. The absence of ambience in the design of the room does not make for gracious dining.