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Aug 16, 2006 07:28 AM

New resident of Napa Valley

I'm a new resident of Napa Valley. Interested in finding out great hole in the wall places Mexican, Japanesse, Indian, Chinese...basically anything ethnic. From Napa to Calistoga.

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  1. Well, hopefully you won’t be horribly disappointed to discover that the Napa Valley is not packed with great holes-in-the-wall. We mostly drive to Vallejo for those places. There are lots of other wonderful things about living here, though, the weather, the wine (especially home winemaking), the gardening, the fact that everyone knows everyone.

    There are some notable exceptions, especially the taco trucks. There are discussions on Chowhound from time to time about “the best,” my favorite is La Playita, their al pastor tacos are the stuff of dreams, my dreams anyway. The truck is parked from sometime around noon to 6 pm on McKinstry St across from the Wine Train. They also have a sit-down restaurant on Old Sonoma Road, in the shopping center at Jefferson. Check out the produce store a few doors down for great bananas, dried chiles and cheap limes. Joey’s bakery (on Jefferson across from Napa High) is our favorite for pan dulce. Lucy’s, just south of Joey’s, is also good.

    Another favorite for burritos is La Luna Market in Rutherford (across from La Toque).

    Sushi Mambo (on First downtown) is probably your best bet for Japanese. Our friends the sushi fiends love it. There is another place in the outlet mall, but neither is exceptional.

    The two Thai restaurants in Napa I believe are owned by the same family (could be wrong about that) and are passable if you are desperate.

    The Napa General Store has some excellent Vietnamese food (on a weird menu with salads, pizzas, etc) which is not too expensive. More high-end is Annalien on Main St. We enjoyed our one meal there soon after it opened. Here’s a link to Non Cognomina’s more recent, less favorable report:

    The Chinese restaurants in Napa make me cry. I can’t recommend any of them.

    There are many devotees of malfatti (basically nude ravioli) from the Depot (off Soscol) and Lawler’s Liquors (which also sells take out food – on Jefferson at Lincoln). I personally find it disgusting but it is a real Napa tradition.

    A few other honorable mentions: Buttercream Bakery (Jefferson at Lincoln, you can’t miss the pink and white stripes) is a classic for doughnuts, the Champagne Cake, lunch at the counter, the OLD Napa. Pizza Azzurro on Second has good, thin-crust pizzas, Uva Trattoria on Clinton (reasonable prices, almost exclusively locals), Big D Burgers on Silverado Trail.

    My suggestions are Napa-centric, since I live there. Hopefully others will post recommendations for Up Valley.

    Welcome to the neighborhood!

    1. Welcome to the Napa Valley! It is a wonderful place to live, but sadly we lack a wealth of ethnic cuisines. We have too many average Italian restaurants and except for pizza, no delivery options, but enough of my personal ranting. If you search the board for "Napa" you will come up with many, many posts. The good news is we are close to Vallejo, which has more ethnic diversity, so you'll want to do searchs for Vallejo too.

      There are many Mexican tacqerias, markets & taco trucks in the valley that have not been adequately explored. For my preferences, I stick to the taco trucks, which are still largely on Soscol north of downtown between 1st & Lincoln, with my personal favorite being south of 3rd on the railroad tracks. I keep forgetting to try it but Lord Griffin raves about the burritos at Carmelita's Market, which is in the Riverpark shopping center on Imola between Jefferson & Coombs. Upvalley in Rutherford, La Luna market does an enormous and delicious burrito. They're on Rutherford Crossroad, across from La Toque & Rancho Caymus.

      We've got only two Japanese spots in Napa, Sushi Mambo on 1st & Fujiya at the outlets. I find the service at Sushi Mambo infuriating, and have heard only moderate praise for Fujiya. There's supposed to be a new sushi spot in St. Helena, I've heard it's good but haven't been by yet.

      I make no claims to be an expert on Chinese, and generally I don't think we have any really good Chinese here. I do have a crazy and probably illogical soft spot in my heart for Asia Cafe downtown on Main St., which is all about the noodles. The ingredients are fresh, the food is cooked to order, the prices are very cheap, the servings generous and the atmosphere is so devoid of charm that it almost becomes charming as a result. But slurping a bowl of noodles there does good things for me.

      Small World which is on Coombs (I think) between 1st & 2nd has very good falafel and salads. I don't eat there enough.

      We don't have Indian anymore, but we do have two Thai places in town. Personally, I lean toward the Thai place (the name escapes me) on Lincoln at Jefferson. The other place is on Trancas at Jefferson across from Lyons.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruby Louise

        Thanks for the reminder about Asia Cafe. I have never been there and will have to check out the noodles. Yes, it definitely has hole-in-the-wall ambiance!

        Another place with bizarre ambiance is El Guadalajara on Silverado Trail just north of first street. You have to love the velvet paintings and plants in empty lightbulbs.

        And, I can't believe I forgot to mention Soscol Cafe (on the east side of Soscol a bit south of 3rd), a real dive with fantastic huevos rancheros.

      2. Ambiance-wise at Asia Cafe, I get a huge kick of the owner greeting everyone like an old friend. I'm also rather charmed by her little sassy, spirited little girl running up the street to play with the kids from the Chinese restaurant on the corner. As an important note, they do not take plastic, so it's cash or local checks only!

        What do you like at El Guadalajara? I've never been - the bars on the windows were a bit off-putting - but a chef friend of mine was recently raving about their shredded beef tacos. I just don't get out enough, obviously.

        I'd also like to know what you like at Big D. Personally, I was underwhelmed by their burgers the last time I was there. I'd rather eat at Nations if I'm going low-end or Red Rock if I'm going less low-end, though I'm not quite convinced that Red Rock is truly as great at burgers as locals say they are.

        I complain all the time about the lack of diverse ethnic offerings in the Napa Valley, but then a post like this comes along to remind to complain less until I've explored and exhausted all the options.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ruby Louise

          My standard at El Guadalajara is the shredded beef tostada. The guacamole is good too.

          I like the burgers at Big D, and the curly fries. And I can walk there from my house - that always helps! Never been to Nations, will have to go, but I agree with your assessment of Red Rock's burgers.

        2. Thanks everyone. I'm looking to getting settled in, then venturing out and about.

          1. how do. Welcome. Im somewhat new-ish here...lived in Sonoma for the last year or so, moved to Napa this year. Ill add a few places Ive found. I really like the mexican at Taquiza in the Redwood center on Redwood and "neuvo" sort of mexican, but super fresh, great burritos, nice cilantro rice and great salsas. Someone already mentioned the General Store downtown, which I personally really really like...never had a not good meal there, and its pretty reasonable. Nationsl hamburgers is, well, an experience. More divey diner sans table service...their pies dont look bad but I dont think there many natural ingredients in them! I also love Sweetie Pies in the same building where Genreal Store is. Im dying to hit the La Luna up in Rutherford, as ive never heard of it until this week, and ive seen it mentioned time and time again recently. But sounds like you, I find myself cooking at home nearly always, and just this eve am craving thai...and really, even bad thai food is good!

            2 Replies
            1. re: naparover

              I live in Berkeley and work in Napa. I'm Chinese-American and have been eating Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian and all that my whole life, before the Slanted Door and fusion came on the scene. I've always had access to affordable, delicious ethnic foods wherever I've lived or worked, except sadly, for Napa. I can't believe that there isn't even a decent Chinese or Japanese restaurant there. I'm on the verge of begging some of the many ethnic restaurant owners in the East Bay to relocate up to Napa. They need a Pho 83 or something. Nothing fancy, just good, affordable, homestyle Asian cooking. That said, now that I've seen these posts, I will definitely try Asia Cafe!

              1. re: winewwine

                A couple of thoughts:

                * agree with comments on La Luna in Rutherford. Order your food in the back, pick up your drink in the market, pay for all up front and then dine on the picnic tables in the back overlooking the vineyards.

                * La Playita on Old Sonoma Rd in Napa is also fine. I get the pulpo and camerones cocktail with one carnitas taco. Enjoy.

                * The Boon Fly Cafe (at the Carneros Inn) remains a favorite for breakfast and dinner. Anything on the menu features top quality ingredients in a fun atmosphere. At dinner, the full bar plus magnificent wine list (featuring wines of the Carneros) are hard to pass up.