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Inexpensive Sonoma

I'm going to be in the Sonoma area for two weeks and am looking for some restaurant recommendations. My only criteria is that it is not crowded, expensive or pretentious.

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  1. Will you be mostly around the town of Sonoma or will you be traveling around Sonoma County, which is fairly large?

    1. El Molino Central (Sonoma the town) is not that crowded or pretentious. It's seating is semi-outdoors. It's expensive compared to a taqueria but is cheaper than almost all quality sit-down restaurants in the Sonoma area.

      3 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        If El Molino is full or the wait's too long, the sit-down Mexican place across the street is good and inexpensive.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          If El Molino were too crowded, I'd head to the La Bamba taco truck set up across from the post office. Super affordable and very good.

          The Mexican place across from EM offers decent food, but its more like the smothered plate variety of Mexican food, where everything is flat and covered with cheese on your plate. Not bad, but not exciting. The la Bamba tacos are excellent, as are the burritos and tortas.

          1. re: rabaja

            sonomajom said the place across from El Molino changed hands and went downhill, so my recommendation's out of date.

      2. When I think of crowded, expensive and pretentious, nothing in Sonoma comes to mind at all - but I live in Napa and deliberately drive to Sonoma to avoid expensive, pretentious and crowded.

        Seems I can always find a table at a downtown restaurant and I frequent La Salette mostly for their Portuguese.

        Since you are going to be in the town for two weeks, you might want to consider Murphy's Irish Pub and the neighboring Taste of Himalayas (they are in a back alley, behind the Sebastiani Theater).

        Rin's Thai is healthy and good as well and Shiso can provide inexpensive Japanese.

        1 Reply
        1. El Molino definitely
          If you are in town on TUe evening in Oct then head to the plaza where farmers market is on and there are tons of great take out options. You can usually sit on the grass and enjoy hte music while you eat.
          La Hacienda - opposite El Molino changed hands about a year ago and isnt as great any more
          Hot Box Grill near Sonoma Mission Inn is little pricier but good
          The Italian restaurant in the little strip mall where Sonoma Market is located is supposed to be good and not too pricy - I havent tried it personally, can't remember the name
          Cafe Citti in Kenwood is always reliable and not too pricey
          Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen is good and pretty reasonable
          La Bamba taco truck is one of hte best taco truck options. They usually park after 7pm along Sonoma Highway about 1/4 mile closer to town than El Molino
          If Ithink of any others I'll post

          16 Replies
          1. re: sonomajom

            Still focused on the region around town of Sonoma. You must tell us whether you'll be there or elsewhere in the county.

            Hot Box Grill serves lunch on weekends - more reasonably priced.

            Vineyards Inn in Kenwood for lunch, the blue plate special, but call ahead to find out what's being served. Their greens with mussels and beets salad is amazing - two meals worth - http://www.vineyardsinn.com/vimenu.pdf

            Take out from Glen Ellen Village Market - walk into the Regional Park or the reservoir (or farm) at Developmental Center for a picnic.

            Taco trucks at Dunbar & 12 or Madrone & Arnold in Glen Ellen are adequate, not great - ditto on picnic places.

            A melon from Oak Hill Farm.

            Other farmers markets: Friday morning in Sonoma, Saturday morning in Oakmont, Sunday morning in Glen Ellen

            Fresh by Lisa Hemenway in E. Santa Rosa has some great food for eating in or out.

            1. re: Columba

              Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. This is exactly what I'm looking for.

              I'm going to be house sitting in the city of Sonoma so will probably spend most of the time nearby with occasional trips to the surrounding towns (but not Napa).

              1. re: FrankZ

                Hi Frank,

                Do you want more daytime ideas?

                The Fremont Diner is worth checking out.

                And Sonoma Market is my food shopping fav in Sonoma, though there's Whole Foods right down the street.

                Sonoma Garden Park is open on Saturday mornings and has some great food -

                Be sure to check out the Sonoma purveyors thread too.


                1. re: Columba

                  >The Fremont Diner is worth checking out.<

                  It's way more than worth checking out. It's "diner" food like it never was back in the days of diners. My only problem with it is the long lines at popular times.

                  1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                    I SO agree! We used to go to Schellville (?sp) Grill til we discovered Fremont Diner and there was no turning back :)

                2. re: FrankZ

                  You might not want to discount Napa. Tuesday is Locals Night at Oxbow and there are a lot of cheap eats to be had (50% off cheeseburgers at Gott's). Every vendor has something on special or deeply discounted - you just have to ask...

                  Especially worth it for Hog Island Oysters!

                  1. re: FrankZ

                    Frank....Just park your car and walk around the Sonoma Plaza.There is delicious affordable food everywhere. The thing about Sonoma is the outlying scenery and the ambiance so if I were you ( I grew up just over the mountain in Petaluma and lived in Sonoma for 6 years and have done this many times) grab some local wine and maybe some picnic foods from the Sonoma Cheese Factory and go roam around. Or just sit at The Plaza with your snack and take in the luscious environment.Many many places for breakfast lunch and dinners in Sonoma! And if you can drive west on Hi-way 12 and hang a left onto Madrone Road to see the jaw dropping sunrise there I guarantee you will feel some joy. For sheer kitsch we LOVE Happy Dog on Hi-Way 12 @ El Verano. Head west to Glen Ellen too some good places to enjoy a meal and go to Jack London State Park.Back in Sonoma taking a picnic and touring General Vallejo's home is great. ( My daughter had her wedding there at the huge fountain) That entire area is geared for tourism and it is one of my favorite spots on Earth. If I were you I would try to drive up to Calistoga.....Yountville and St.Helena.You won't be sorry.I hope you have a wonderful time.

                    1. re: Lillipop

                      Agree with the above EXCEPT definitely skip Sonoma Cheese Company (touristy, nothing special available) and venture just off the square to Vella Cheese Company. Oak Hill Farm is excellent, fun, and very reasonable for shopping. I agree with all the recommendations for El Molino Central.

                        1. re: Kathleen M

                          Kathleen M...I have not been up to Sonomafor a bit. Last time was fall of 2010. I do not think I have ever been to Vella Cheese Company. Where is it in proximity to the theatre and the Basque bakery which is on the east side of the plaza. I am home sick talking about Sonoma County:(

                          1. re: Lillipop

                            From the North-East corner of the square, go one block East (on E Spain) and one block North (on 2nd St E) and you'll find Vella on the left side of the street. It's the real thing in contrast to Sonoma Cheese with its tasteless Jack flavored with stuff.

                            1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                              Thank you Malcolm:) Got my sea legs back and a pretty good idea of where it is:) BTW I have had Vella cheeses they are scrumptious.I also want to try the Sunflower Caffe. I used to stop at Coffee Garden whenever I came up from the Lodi area to visit home NOT for their coffee or food ( mediocre) but for that back patio with the century old lush foliage and classical music playing. Heaven On Earth on a warm day:) I have read that Sunflower Caffe replaced it and it looks really nice to me. OK sorry....I am getting crazed and nostalgic. Thank you again for the response.

                              1. re: Lillipop

                                Sunflower Caffe has been there with quite good food for several years. It still has the great back patio and the food is "better than it was to be" considering their touristy location.

                                1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                  Planning a trip...will hit Sonoma......Petaluma Sebastopol Russian River and Bodega Bay! I am soo homesick:)

                                  1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                    I meant "better than it has to be" about the food at Sunflower.

                      1. re: Columba

                        Fresh by Lisa Hemenway is closed.

                    2. I like the weekend cafe menu/brunch http://www.downtownbakery.net/docs/me... and the baked goods at Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

                      If you visit St. Helena (realize it's in Napa County), there's a location of Gott's Roadside on Main Street. http://gottsroadside.com/locations/in...

                      1. We really like Juanita Juanita on the west sounds of town. Also Sonoma Market has great burritos. Have them make it for you rather than the ones already made up. You get bigger that way. It's enough for two people or two meals for one person.

                        1. The taco trucks are cheap and operate at night only. La Bamba is good and legendary. It's just good cheap food. Always enjoyable and 10$ will get you stuffed.

                          Hot Box is good for lunches...that's the best prices. Dinner is okay. Taste of the Himalayas offers good curries for not too much dough....again go for lunch.

                          If you are house sitting I'd recommend going to farmers market and load up on produce. 20-30$ of produce will get you cooking high class meals for cheap. Farmers market operates on Friday at Depot Park till a little past noon. Farmers market also sets up on Tuesday nights...

                          There are lots of food vendors but once again I'd recommend buying produce and cooking at your place of residence. Good luck.

                          I didn't hear of El Molino changing hands. There is also the Tortillera Jalisco. They are tortilla factory that has cheap tacos and food. My recommendation is to buy some cheap flank steak from the mexican markets and then buy Jalisco chips and salso. The salso is spicey hot and good...lot's of pureed chiles, and not loaded with vinegar or tomato.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: DillMuncher

                            I don't think El Molino has changed hands its the restaurant across the street that's changed hands.

                            1. re: goldangl95

                              No...La Hacienda has the same people working. It's pretty much the same food. They are good and filling and inexpensive. But they like to prepare lots of things in bulk and sometimes freshness is a factor.

                              1. re: DillMuncher

                                El Molino Central and La Hacienda are entirely different worlds. El Molino is about the very best ingredients (example: they grind their own corn to make the masa that goes into many items) used in skillfully hand-prepared items. La Hacienda is pretty standard commercial Mexican fare, albeit large and tasty. The worlds are light years apart.

                                1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                  On the other hand, the restaurants are just a few steps apart, and the wait at El Molino can be intolerably long, especially when you have to wait amid such appetizing aromas. Anyway that's how I happened to eat across the street, and the food was considerably better than I expected, though that was before it reportedly changed hands.

                                  1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                    I can't remember the name of a Mexican place where we ate this summer. It's on the northeast corner across from the square. You can enter from the 'alley' or from the street. We thought it was quite good.

                              2. re: DillMuncher

                                Taco truck at Hiway 12 and Dunbar outside Glen Ellen serves workers, locals and tourists during the day.

                              3. Th e Italian place whose name I couldnt remember is Mamma Tannino - beside Sonoma Market in that little strip mall
                                Fig cafe in Glen Ellen was doing a $25 prix fixe menu during hte summer which was excellent value - might want to check that out too

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sonomajom

                                  Fig Cafe in Glen Ellen also charges no corkage on wine you bring in.

                                  1. re: sonomajom

                                    The first course of the prix fixe always seems to be a rather small and uninspiring salad. For $5 (or less) more per person, we prefer to split an appetizer, and each get an entree and dessert.

                                  2. "Not crowded, expensive or pretentious" suggests Red Grape (just off the plaza) or Mary's Pizza Shack (on Hwy 12, not the plaza). Not foodie type places, but OK for everyday food. Also, Rancho Viejo on Hwy 12.

                                    1. I'm sure you've already traveled to Sonoma and gone, but for those who are searching this board for other tasty inexpensive NOT pretentious dining in Sonoma, we enjoyed Taste of the Himalayas (as CarrieWas218 said). We were surprised to learn that there is a large community of former sherpas from Nepal who are now living in Sonoma. No wonder the food was so tasty!

                                      And Sonoma Market had wonderful cheese, sausage, wine and bread (ok, we got there too late for the REALLY good bread). Perfect for a picnic on the plaza downtown.

                                      1. I'll add to the revival of this thread. We spent a full week eating our way around Sonoma Cty (Sebastopol to Healdsburg) and Mendocino last month. We are not price-conscious, but the two bargains we love are:

                                        - Yanni's Sausage Grill, Penngrove (halfway between Petaluma and SRosa, 5 min. from 101). John's grilled sausage paninis and burgers are great! Most folks get take-out, the shop is very very very tiny and there's only 2 little tables outside.

                                        - Hole In The Wall, Sebastopol. Thanks to Chowhounders for pointing us here! Yes, it is crowded at peak times, but get there by 11:30a on weekdays and almost every table is empty. And the food was TO DIE FOR – my spouse said the lamb burger was the finest version we have had in 40 yrs of dining out. We ate well and generously for just over three sawbucks with tip. The quality and execution were terrific – HiW far outshone Café Beaujolais, Bistro 29, Café Lucia etc. Only Bravas/Healdsburg equaled HiW, and it was three times the price.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: jaiko

                                          Thank you for the whole in the wall rec. Im going to look it up right now. Can you please talk a little about your Mendocino experience? Oh, I guess this is the wrong board for that. Would much appreciate a short report on the California board!!