Eating out in Healdsburg
We'll be visiting California from London in September. I've got my San Francisco eating agenda sorted (Nopa, State Bird, Zuni Cafe, etc), but we'll then be moving on to Healdsburg for a couple of nights. Looks like there's a lot of places to eat in the area, but are there any must-do's? As you can see from our SF list, we like informal places where a buzzy atmosphere and good food are priorities. Not particularly fussed about ethnicity of the food - Asian is as welcome as Mediterranean, American or anywhere else. A good wine list is a bonus (particularly as I hope to be celebrating my graduation as a Master of Wine while in Sonoma). Don't want anywhere really formal or pretentious.
Looking forward to reading your suggestions.
Neither of my suggestions are in Healdsburg proper, but maybe they'll appeal to you anyway...
I know you said wine, but if you are at all interested in beer, you have to check out Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. Totally unique beers and a really fun casual atmosphere.
Our favorite fancier meal in the area was at Applewood in Guerneville. If you're planning on going to Louis Armstrong Park to see the redwoods, this would be convenient for you. There are posts on this board about Applewood if you do a search.
Mateo's does have an interesting menu, a departure from what you might usually think of as Mexican food.
Tapas Bravas has the usual things you might expect on a tapas menu. They have a great outdoor patio and also great happy hour deals (if you want a light snack/early dinner).
Barndiva is a more upscale and refined experience, but completely representative of the local, seasonal Northern California.
If you don't mind driving a little bit north of downtown Healdsburg, in the tiny town of Geyerserville there is a pizza restaurant, they also make their own charcuterie and have other items on the menu. It is called Diavola.
There are very few places in Sonoma County that are formal or pretentious. But the service is friendly and professional and you will find great food. Most restaurants also have good wine lists (although not necessarily extensive) featuring local producers. Some are also very liberal about corkage, if you find something while you are out tasting that you would like to drink with dinner. Congratulations and Enjoy!
My recommendation for a must do? The "Food and Wine Pairing" at Arista Winery. Several course lunch, each paired to an Arista wine plus a tour of the garden. We really enjoyed our visit last fall.
Another rec is Scopa, especially if you can hit Winemaker Wednesday.
Spoonbar/Healdsburg, in the H2 Hotel. We've eaten at 51 different restaurants in Sonoma Cty over the last four years in our travels there, and Louis Maldonado's food has been the best of all so far. Spoonbar just won inclusion into Wine Enthusiast's list of 2014 Best 100 Wine Restaurants, as well.
Fingers crossed for good news from IMW in September!
To answer your question about Mexican food in San Francisco,
I'll redirect you to Healdsburg and Sonoma County.
Agave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar
Casa del Mole y Rufina's Kitchen
Mateo's Cocina Latina
In Boyes Hot Springs (Sonoma Valley):
El Molino Central
(If you're calling on Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine (who may be at the same stage of waiting to hear about the dissertation), this would be nearby.)
I would do SPQR over either Nopa or Zuni, personally (sit at the bar if you want to talk/sample wine with the somm, who is also working on his Master of Wine) . It's neither formal nor pretentious and the food is a cut above the other places on your list in my opinion.
if you decide on Mateo's Cocina in Healdsburg, his creativity in combining Iberian (trained w. f.adria ), Yucutan (his personal heritage), and calif cooking with immaculately sourced local foods really comes forth in his chef's specialties, though you'd probably find the more conventional items very good representatives of those dishes as well.
we quite enjoyed our lunch at Cafe Lucia in Healdsburg, Portuguese-calif foods with offal and seafood prominent, good selection of Portuguese wines that don't usually make wine lists.
congrats on your degree.
We've been to Healdsburg many times and love the town. Recently, our first visit to Tapas Bravas was very good. No one has mentioned Zin which is more of a comfort food type of place but worth a stop if the menu appeals to you. I agree that Barndiva and Spoonbar are also good though we prefer Barndiva.
Scopa is our favorite place in Healdsburg by far and we've never been disappointed in Dry Creek Kitchen. In Santa Rose we like Rosso. All of these places (IIRC) allow corkage so you can always take something in if you don't like the list.
Campo Fina is Scopa's sister restaurant and we've only been once but weren't that impressed but it was relatively new when we were there. I'd give it a second chance. We used to like Bistro Ralph for lunch but have given it up due to our last lunch there. Some people swear by the burger at the Ravenous but we haven't been in a few years.
I'm not sure there is anything formal or pretentious in Healdsburg...or even Sonoma County.
I think it's a matter of style. We've been to Barndiva twice and dinner the second time was a disaster. First time we've ever been disappointed in sweetbreads. And the leeks - ugh. Drowned in way too much butter. We go through a ton of butter and cream in our kitchen but this was just gag-worthy.
Spoonbar, OTOH, was fresh, light, and beautifully balanced food. Reminded us of Aubergine in L'Auberge Carmel.
We liked Bravas a lot more when they first opened than now. The food is still good, but like all the Stark restaurants, it has slipped after the first year. Quality of ingredients is very high, but dishes are noticeably "wetter", probably in response to what Americans expect. Loved the sherry flights, though!
I'd like to give Cafe Lucia, mentioned by Moto on another thread a bump up. We had a great meal there last visit and as mentioned a nice selection of Portuguese wines. About a block south of the park, kind of hidden down a corridor, nice patio as well.
If you're into more casual and Mexican, Casa del Mole y Rufina's Kitchen is a must, the posole was outstanding.
One thing to note about Cafe Lucia, however - if you've been to La Salette on Sonoma Square, CL is virtually identical in menu. We had just been to La Salette a month earlier so were disappointed to see 90% of the same dishes on CL's menu. The decor is contemporary, but that seemed really the only difference.