25 Iconic Sonoma County Dishes

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Any true traveler will tell you that the best way to learn about a culture is to eat with (and like) the locals. But what are the dishes that define Sonoma County? Some might suggest “Wine Country” cuisine — Cal-Ital dishes with tweezer perfection. Maybe its seafood (true on the Coast). Or what about Mexican?

When you really ask around, it’s none of these. Instead, it’s an eclectic group of familiar dishes that snap to mind when a friendly visitor asks for a recommendation. The answers are part history, part geography and part nostalgia. Mix that all together and you get an icon — a dish that may not be the fanciest, the trendiest or even the most perfectly crafted, but notable for its own merits.

We’ve come up with 10 of the best, though the number of times we’ve changed up the participants speaks to its subjectivity. You’ll find more online (because ten hardly seems fair) as well as plenty of your comments online at BiteClubEats.com.

1. Catelli’s Ravioli: Tissue-paper thin sheets of pasta dough are rolled daily, stuffed with a secret combination of sausage, beef, chicken, chard, sourdough crumbs, herbs and spices. “Our family never wrote down a recipe, so we recreated these from sensory memories,” said Domenica Catelli. Topped with her eponymous DC sauce (a new family secret made with organic tomatoes and local olive oil), they’re old world comfort with a new school freshness. Family friend Guy Fieri calls them some of the best he’s ever had. But don’t ask for them to-go, because these delicate beauties apparently self-destruct within a few minutes and don’t travel well. 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 857-3471. Closed Monday, open daily for lunch and dinner

2. Chicken Livers at Bistro Ralph: Fried up with onions is the only way to eat these little nuggets of iron-packed offal. You either love ’em or you don’t, but Bistro Ralph is the only place to find them consistently and consistently good. Can’t bear the thought of poultry innards? Chicken Paillard, a pounded breast with lemon and capers, is a great alternative. 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 433-1380.

3. Reuben at Mac’s Kosher Style Deli: This Fourth Street cafe is about as close as you’ll get to the Big Apple, when it comes to deli food in Sonoma County. This version is unfussy, with tart sauerkraut, toasted rye bread, thousand island dressing, corned beef and Swiss. With fries, naturally. 630 4th St., Santa Rosa, 545-3785.

4. Harissa fries at Underwood: Garlic fries are fine, but West County’s favorite bar puts a spicy North African spin on their frites. Rolled in harissa, a spicy (but not hot) paste peppers and spices, they’re an iconic late-night eat. 9113 Graton Rd., Graton, 823-7023. We can’t mention fries, however, without a nod to the truffle fries at Willi’s Wine Bar, a dressed-up side dish that goes super model with the addition of truffled aioli. (4404 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa, 526-3096).

5. Meatballs at Mary’s Pizza Shack: It’s our homegrown, hometown pizzeria where the sauces are still made from scratch and plenty of folks still remember the original Mary. But its the giant meatballs smothered in meat sauce and melted mozzarella that folks have a fondness for. Various locations, including 614 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 571-1959.

6. Fresh mozzarella at Rosso: Chef John Franchetti has many talents, but the one that keeps him busiest is his cheese making. The master of curds has a special way with creamy, fresh mozzarella. Stuffed with ricotta, melted on a wood-fired pizza or just drizzled with olive oil, it will make you swear off chewy, dry mozzarellas forever. New mozzarella bar at 151 Petaluma Blvd S., Petaluma; 53 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 544-3221.

7. Martini Prawns at Gary Chu’s: Even if Gary didn’t invent these devilishly crispy shrimps awash in a sweet-savory mayonnaise sauce, Sonoma County is happy to give him full credit. Served up in a martini glass, these prawns put cocktail shrimp to shame. 611 5th St., Santa Rosa, 526-5840.

8. Sticky Bun at Downtown Bakery and Creamery: If you haven’t stopped in lately for a sticky bun, there’s no doubt in my mind that the flaky, crispy, spicy buns of goodness are the best in Sonoma County. If not the planet. Not surprisingly the bakery was started by Chez Panisse alums in 1987, and since then the original recipes have only aged to perfection. 308 Center Street Healdsburg, 431-2719.

9. Turkey dinner at Willie Bird’s: There’s nothing snooty or modern about Willie Bird’s Restaurant. In fact, that’s exactly the appeal: Year-round Thanksgiving dinners of turkey (white or dark), scoops of mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce all slathered with a sturdy brown gravy. And while the sides aren’t anything to write home about, the turkey is always impeccable — fresh Willie Bird turkey, raised in Sonoma County by the Benedetti family. 1150 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 542-0861.

10. Fig salad at the Girl and the Fig: Chef Sondra Bernstein is legendary for her goat cheese, arugula and fig salad, and with good reason. It combines spicy greens, sweet figs, creamy cheese and a tart vinaigrette in soul-satisfying harmony. 110 West Spain Street, Sonoma, 938-3634.

11. Porky goodness at Zazu:Black Pig Meat is the bacon business of John Stewart and Duskie Estes, who have proven again and again that they’re the undisputed King and Queen of Pork. Anything they cook up with venerable pig parts is worth checking out. Now with a pork-centric spot on the Russian River, you’ve got no excuse not to indulge.

12. Caesar Salad at Cafe Citti. Though my grandma would argue that it’s the tuna-egg-mayo.

13. Sweetbreads at La Gare.

14. Apple Pie at Mom’s Apple Pie.

15. Fried Green Beans at Zin Restaurant. Liberty Duck at Petite Syrah.

16. Donuts and the Farmer Benedict at Dierk’s Parkside Cafe. Pancakes at Hank’s Creekside.

17. French onion soup and sourdough at Costeaux Bakery.

18. Gnocchi at Graziano’s.

19. Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit at the Farmhouse Inn.

20. A burger at Mike’s at the Crossroads.

21. Wild boar at Cafe Europe or Lococo’s.

22. Foccaccia at Wild Flour Bakery.

23. Mateo’s Tamales.

I’m leaving two openings for your best suggestions below…

24. ??

25.  ??



Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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  1. I’ll second that

  2. No longer around, but I sure do miss Ingram’s chili!!! Chili spuds! Chili spaghetti! Wish I had the recipe.

  3. Wow, this all brings me back! I agree with many of the above and can remember those meals well. 😉 I can second the Willow Wood Open faced Egg Pesto Pancetta sandwich in Graton. Also, the Freestone Wild Flour Bakery – Sticky Bun or Lavender Bread .. Everything there is good! Also, Grateful Bagel in Sebastopol! Mombo’s Pizza in Sebastool. Back in the day, loved Papa’s and Pollo … They had an incredible blackened chicken and artichoke and potatoe burrito. Wow, thank god for SoCo food! Oh yeah, Zazu’s Beef Cheek!!

  4. Bacon wrapped figs at Zazu!

  5. Biscuits and gravy at The Cookhouse on South A st!

  6. Just occured to me as I read this list, the cinnamon buns at the bakery in Freestone. They are gigantic, more than enough for two people, delicious, and you need to visit the restroom afterwards as the wonderful sticky stuff does not wipe off your face and hands and needs to be washed off.

  7. Do you realize how difficult this is? We live in a place for good food and restaurants. I know after I list some favorites I’ll be able to make another list in 10 minutes. Here goes in no particular order:

    Ceviche Misto at Sazon
    baguette from Basque Boulangerie
    Starks Steaks for tartare and the Wagyu beef burger
    Chowder and a crab sandwich from Spud Point Crab Company
    Salmon from Cafe Europe with a plate of spaetzle on the side
    Joe’s Special from Mac’s
    Cesear salad from Citti (the dressing is the best)
    Chicken Fried Steak and Cheese Blintzes at Jeffery’s Hillside
    Fresh Pasta from Pasta Etc.
    My grilled Rocky Jr. Chicken

    The last thing on my list is not available anymore, and I miss it.
    Bruce Campbell’s CK Lamb.

  8. Any of the lunch specials at California Thai, and any pie from Mom’s.

  9. Mom’s apple pie and the free ice cream cones at the Sonoma County Fair.

  10. Calamari at Hopmonk
    Classic potato salad and turkey sammies at Giovanni’s in Sebastopol
    Meatballs at Mary’s
    Open-faced egg salad sandwich at Willow Wood
    Carnitas at Martha’s
    Pork burger with fried green tomatoes at Zazu
    Basque sourdough

  11. Also any peach from Dry Creek Peach and Produce, a chopped chicken liver sandwich at Mac’s and any of the Bun at Simply Vietnam.

  12. The Loukaniko sausage from Yanni’s in Penngrove. Or any of their other sausages. Outstanding.

  13. Bistro Des Copian’s – Salade à la Betterave (beets, micro greens, almonds and feta cheese) and Bœuf en Daube à la Provençal (short ribs and mashed potatoes) and don’t forget the mac & cheese. mmmmmmmmm

  14. Sausage Polenta at Roberto’s on Hwy 12! Delizioso :)

  15. The Monti’s Cristo at Monti’s!
    The lobster roll at Will’s Seafood!
    A bacon milkshake (with rum) at Flipside!
    Anything BBQ from the BBQ Spot (sauce is killer!)
    The bahn mi from Noodle Bowl!
    And totally, absolutely, any sausage sandwich from Yanni’s in Penngrove (and they are such nice people!)

  16. The sweet breads at La Gare. Absolutely perfect! And good thing, almost noone else is doing them….probably gave up trying to compete. Smart move!

  17. The best home made corned beef hash and eggs around!!! organic blueberry pancakes, and eggs benedict at the HIstoric Owl Cafe in Cloverdale.

  18. The Market Plate at Willow Wood Market
    The Reuben at Jackson’s
    Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake at Willi’s Wine Bar
    Cheese Sticks from The Basque Boulangerie
    Sweet Chili Glazed Calamari from Willi’s Seafood
    ….. just a short list mind you. So much more here to love!

  19. I moved to Sonoma county 15 years ago and one of the first places I ate was Cafe Citti in kenwood. Having moved from the Midwest I had no idea pasta could be so good. The fusilli AOP nearly brought me to tears, so simple and so so good.

  20. A “tuna-egg mayo” on foccacia at Cafe Citti on a warm sunny day.

  21. You have convinced me. I will try Parkside Deli soon.

  22. Catelli’s ravioli

  23. Anything that doesn’t mention “SoCo” (Such a lame word lol)

  24. Rosso’s Breakfast Piadini and Caprese Salad Pizza at the Farmer’s Market and their lemonade with cucumber and mint, refreshing!

    Los Hermanos’ Huaraches Al Pastor [100 Burt St., off of Santa Rosa Ave].
    Tipp Thai’s Mee Yok Gati Noodles.

    Muffin Street Breakfast Sandwiches.

  25. Caesar Salad – Cafe Citti
    Seasonal Grilled Peach Salad – Zin
    Fresh Turkey Sandwich – Mac’s
    Tartare – any of the Stark’s restaurants
    So much good food, so many restaurants, so little time…..

  26. the free vanilla ice cream cone from Clover at the Sonoma County Fair

  27. morning buns at Costeaux bakery
    Como Loaf and the Polenta, poached eggs & greens breakfast at Healdsburg bakery
    Any burger PLUS the tater tots at Superburger
    beignets at Jackson’s Bar & Oven
    Fish & Chips at the Toad in the Hole
    Eggs Florentine at Macs
    Country Benedict at Parkside Cafe
    Egg salad sandwich at Parkside Cafe
    truffle fries at Willie’s Wine Bar
    Bahn mi sandwich at Noodle Bowl (Stark’s Happy Hour also has an awesome one)
    Foccacia bread sandwiches at Pearson & Co
    and so, so many more I could keep going forever….

  28. Duck curry at California Thai.

  29. Burgers from Super Burger and Sequoia Burger.

    Mom’s Apple Pie

    Homegrown Bagels

  30. Fried Green Beans with Mango Salsa at Zin in Healdsburg
    Steak Frites at Monti’s in Santa Rosa

  31. Ahi Ceviche at Sazon Restaurant. Simply Amazing!!! Anything that Mark Maliki makes at the Casino Bar and Grill.

  32. Willie Bird’s turkey legs at the Downtown Market!

  33. Addresses would be helpful.

  34. Sticky buns from Downtown Bakery~
    Enchilada’s from Juanita Juanita~
    Bagels from Homegrown Baking Company, bially with lox~

  35. Nut crusted baked brie with garlic at Healdsburg Charcuterie
    Banana pancakes at Singletree
    Chicken wings at Russian River Pub
    Chicken paillard at Bistro Ralph
    Corned beef sammy at Mac’s
    Pesto chicken pizza at La Vera
    Pliny at Russian River Brewery
    Lola’s bowl at Howard’s Station
    Harissa fries at Underwood
    Foie gras at Madrona Manor
    Pork belly pizza at Diavola
    Ribs at the Hamburger Ranch

    All places that I drive out of my way to eat at…..

  36. This is post is separated from my other choice as it fills in a different category of food. The other Iconic Sonoma County food that gives me the greatest of pleasure is the Garlic Caesar Salad at Cafe Citti! The garlic flavor permeates the very good Ceasar dressing they make. The lettuce is always crisp and the portion is more than enough. Beware, though, as its appeal is limited to garlic lovers who are not dating someone who pays attention to how your breath smells after you’ve eaten.

  37. Everything everyone else has listed sounds Iconic and Wonderful, but the greatest Sonoma County dish in my life is the Ahi Tuna Tartar at K&L Bistro in Sebastopol. It features fresh cubes of raw Ahi Tuna that practically melt on your tastebuds leaving both flavor and texture you’ll long remember. Served with a base of Avocado and siracha, you find a zesty taste to add to your delight. It is served with crispy sesame crackers that serve as the perfect edible plate to enjoy this iconic Sonoma County treat.

  38. Pull-apart Sourdough round from Basque is THE BEST!
    Cape Cod in Cotati
    Would say a Tri-tip sandwhich from Porter Street, but it’s closed now.

  39. Fusilli AOP at Cafe Citti. I ordered it the first time I went there over 20 years ago and have had it every time since then. Also love their salad dressing.

  40. Pizza at Mary’s Pizza shack, Mom’s Apple Pie, (She makes flavors, but I never seem to order any but apple.) Almost anything at the Girl and the Fig, and the old fashioned Italian dishes at the Villa.

  41. I 2nd the Scramin’ Mimi’s and the Wildflower; very SoCO!

    Filet Mignon Sliders from Willi’s Wine Bar; so delicious!!!!! and very, very rich…

    spinach, goat cheese and pear salad from flavor; perfect SoCo salad!

  42. Lasagna at Flavor. More Neapolitain than swimming in tomato sauce, you can taste the ragu of beef and vegetables (and a hint of wine?), the layers of pasta and ricotta. A true delight. Very light although one order (they don’t offer the half size on this one) is enough for two meals, if you can stop yourself midway!

  43. The Japanese food at Sake-O in Healdsburg tucked away in the lot with Kragan Auto Parts and CVS Pharmacy. I start with the Martini shrimp, have then the Poke salad (ahi fresh tuna), and split the Utah Roll with a friend which is the HUGEST sushi roll I’ve ever seen. Have no idea why it’s called the Utah Roll. It has tempura shrimp in it for some crunch, crab, avocado, rice, and it’s rolled with fresh ahi tuna (maguro), comes with a tasty sauce. Unbeatable this lunch.

  44. cheeseburger at Mike’s Burgers with blue cheese crumbles (best burger in SoCo!)
    cheese enchiladas & refried beans (& anything!) at El Charro (either location)
    clam chowder @ Spud Point Marina
    calamari @ Lucas Warf

  45. In and out burger with fries……..simple but fresh and tasty

  46. A double dip cone at Frozen Art, namely Pine Nut and Kahlua for starters…

  47. The Moroccan carrots at Willis Wine Bar, absolutely delicious. Also, the Ahi Tartare, gotta have both.

  48. ANY bread fro Wildflour. Racer 5 and a burger from Bear Republic! Calm chowder from Spud Point!

  49. Okay, the Jalapeño poppers and the Grand Canyon Roll at Boat House Sushi!

    Pollo A la Crema at Puerto Vallarta Restaurant

    You can’t go wrong with some Tacos at Delicias Elenita’s Taco Truck on Sebastopol Road, but for sure an Elote with everything!

    A Pupusa Revuelta at the Pupuseria Salvadoreña by the Fairgrounds.

    And for dessert, just hit up Fruta and get a Mango with the works!

  50. Filet Mignon Stroganoff at Cafe Europe
    Red Snapper or Filet of Sole at Dinucci’s
    Antipasti Della Casa at Cucina Paradiso (then any of their meat dishes)

  51. Yet another vote for the amazing Fougasse at Wild Flour Bread. How can you get more SoCo? All local ingredients, mostly organic, and 100% delicious. It’s very hard not to eat the entire thing in the car before I get home!

  52. Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Cheeseburger from SuperBurger, Oysters from Hog Island, Sticky Buns from Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg, Black Pig Bacon from Zazu, Raviolis from Catelli’s,
    Flying Goat Coffee Drinks, Turkey from WilliBirds Restaurant, Potato Salad from Mac’s Kosher Deli, Fish & Chips from Betty’s, Meatballs from Mary’s, and Pesto from the Pasta King!! I better stop….I’m getting hungry!!

  53. Josh’s crab cakes – Syrah Restaurant (now Petite Syrah)

  54. Apple Fritters at Negri’s!

  55. Sounds like the word “iconic” is being made to work overtime here….

  56. A plate of 50/50 spaghetti with garlic bread from The Pasta King (how is this not up there already??)
    A scoop of Mimi’s Mud from Screaming Mimi’s
    A loaf of Fougasse from Wild Flour Bread
    A Pull-Apart Sourdough from Basque Bakery

  57. Chinese Chicken Salad at Checkers, downtown Santa Rosa. Best salad hands down in the County

  58. Candied Bacon BLT at the Gypsy Cafe in Sebastopol – off the hook!

  59. Gnocchi from Flavor! Delicious!!

  60. Bone marrow at Wllis Wine Bar

  61. Tri-Tip Sandwich at Lombardi’s in Petaluma

  62. Oh Yea…The Meatballs at Mary’s are the best on the planet…bar none!! I heard they baste them in the pizza over with beer. I would give just about anything for that recipe!!

    Any of the sandwiches at Joey’s Pizza on Mendocino, not to mention the pizza.

    Garlic Fries at Sam’s For Play…no one and I mean no one does them better.

    And one of my sons (4 years old) faves’, the Shrimp Salad a Chelino;s Mexican Restaurant on 4th at College Ave. Also, one of the best Mexican Restaurant in Santa Rosa.

  63. Johnny Garlic’s food truck at the Fair. Not *so* interesting, Captain, but oh so SoCo.

  64. Martini Prawns is a definite must on this list
    Duck Breast from Syrah
    Raviolis from the Union Hotel
    Carnitas Burrito from the Guerneville taco truck
    Mt. Tam cheese from cowgirl creamery
    Loaf of Fugasi bread from wild flour bakery
    Filet Hitchcock from Bayview in Bodega
    And just because of its notability: The Jackass roll from Tex Wasabi

  65. Burrata at Rosso (or any cheese shop)!

  66. Lobster Roll @ Willi’s Seafood in Healdsburg —–> Yum

  67. gravenstein apple pie from Mom’s on Hyw 116

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