Sonoma / Russian River Valley Recs

Hurrah!! P and I are going to California Cheese festival! This is the first year back and I hope that the vibe is as good as it sounds. Before the pandemic we went to the Vermont Cheese festival and had a wonderful time! Looking forward to comparing the two.

We are doing a Cheese Crawl on Saturday and then the Festival on Sunday. We are staying in Cotati and with plenty of times to do things in between Thursday and Monday.

We prefer casual no reservations types of places. I love Noodles and Pie. He loves Dumplings and Bagels. We may make a detour to the East Bay on the way home. And meet family who lives in Delores park.

Recs including specific dishes totally recommended. Will report back!!!


Animo in Sonoma
Piala in Sebastopol
Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa
Boon Eat & Drink in Guerneville
Terrapin Creek Cafe in Bodega Bay
Tony’s Seafood in Marshall
Cafe Reyes in Point Reyes Station
Saltwater Oyster Depot in Inverness

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FYI we enjoy Spinster Sisters and Terrapin Creek but if you are going at ‘prime time’ on weekends you may have difficulty getting a table.

I always love Robert’s lists, and I’d add:
If you feel like a fun (and very good) Peruvian restaurant, try:
Ayawaska Restobar
101 2nd St #190, Petaluma, CA (downtown)
Menu: Our menu | Ayawaska Restobar

Warike Restobar
527 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, CA (downtown)
Menu: Our Menu | Warike RestoBar

Ayawaska opened Warike a short time before the pandemic hit, but it has survived and we enjoyed it very much, although the menu is a bit smaller than its Petaluma original.

If you want a quick pick-up of deli food, check out the bakeries like Quail & Condor in Healdsburg, or the marvelous co-op supermarket, Oliver’s:

Oliver’s Market
546 E Cotati Ave, Cotati, CA
There are 4 Oliver’s Markets, each a little different, but the Cotati one has a small but very choice selection of Brie-type cheeses, including the fabulous Cremeux de Bourgogne. We love Oliver’s, which kind of like Trader Joe’s merged with Whole Food and came out even better, LOL.

I have never managed to make it to Nightingale Bakery at 6665 Front St, Forestville, CA but they are highly regarded for their breads.

Also one of our personal favorites, Pascaline Patisserie & Cafe, 4552 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol, CA on the way RRiver. Excellent, truly French croissants and light cafe fare. Right next to “Mom’s Apple Pie” (you can’t miss their sign, they share the parking area and Pascaline is just past Mom’s).

VERY popular and hard to get in even with a reservation:
Ramen Gaijin, Sebastopol
Khom Loi, Sebastopol.
Both are Bib Gourmand picks and well worth it. Heartier portions at Khom Loi but it is a limited menu of authentic Thai street food; this is NOT your usual Thai food. This food reminded us of what Thai restaurants were back in the '70’s and '80’s when the chefs first came over from Asia. It is not sweetened up with tons of sugar and it’s not super-spicy altho they have a great sai oua sausage. Sit in the outdoor patio room (enclosed in winter/rain); gorgeous compared to the unfortunately plain dining room.

I have to go make dinner, so sorry I can’t supply the addresses off-hand!

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Thank you so much for your generous post! It’s more than enough to set me on a good path. The Cheese Crawl is in Sabastopol so we are certainly going to check out the two there. Good idea to mention the Bib Gourmand designation! I didn’t even think to look at the latest list!

Hope your dinner turned out well!


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If you want to try Pascaline maybe go on the early side. I wenr by on a Saturday after lunch a few weeks ago and they were sold out of almost everything.

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Robert’s on-point about Pascaline. Sorry I didn’t think about the idea of going early; we’re retired so we always hit these places on weekdays. FYI we like Pascaline for its croissants - the plain is a true Parisian-style croissant; tender, delicate and airy - and the cafe food is good, as well as anything with fruit. **edited: be careful with the cake slices: some look like they have cream fillings but actually do not.

There is also Village Bakery/SRosa and Patisserie Angelica/Sebastopol for pastries. Angelica is one of the rare places that used to do an afternoon tea, altho they did close it down during the pandemic. You’d need to call to see if they are still doing it; it was quite delightful. They don’t mention anything on their website and formerly you had to reserve space ahead of time.

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More thoughts:

A friend who is a pro chef and reliable resource recently recommended a Petaluma eatery: “…heartily recommend Tortilla Real. It’s more than a taqueria. A nice but casual restaurant w indoor and outdoor dining, great ambience and a lot of atypical Mexican dishes.”

Also a NOT recommended:
Vinoma Empanadas/Rohnert Park. Yes, I know the Yelpers voted it “the best restaurant in Sonoma County” and SFGATE emblazoned it to the world. We tried it, and although the flowers are a charming touch, the empanadas are IOHO well below average. We love meat pies and have tried them all over the East Bay, from Spanish to Peruvian et. al. Vinoma’s are teeny-tiny, cheap dough, with very dry and miniscule fillings. We tried 6 different kinds of the meat pies, and they were all “meh”.

If you want a really SERIOUSLY good, filling meat pie - visit BurtoNZ Bakery, a New Zealand bakery. Their meat pies are so good, we stop in when we first arrive in Sonoma County, order up a couple of dozen in advance (they freeze and MW reheat beautifully, plus we’ve addicted several of our friends so we order for them as well) partially baked/chilled; and pick them up just before we head home, storing them in our cooler.

BurtoNZ Bakery
9076 Brooks Road, South, Windsor (Safeway shopping center, not the Raley’s end)
Monday-Friday from 6am to 5pm · Saturdays from 7am to 2pm · Closed Sundays

They make 7 or 8 flavors, I think, but the best is the chicken. It tastes like chicken pot pie but without any filler, just meat and enough gravy to keep it moist but not dripping. Their pastry dough is all butter (and lots of it!).

A few tables inside (they’ll reheat a pie by request), a few more outside; but outside of the meat pies they only have some breads and a lot of too-sweet pastries/cakes (think fluffy cheap Asian bakery chains, but British/Kiwi choices). They do have coffee but I honestly can’t remember if they have sodas; they may not stock them because there’s a giant Safeway right next door.

The meat pies are almost the size of my full hand and solid meat. One pie will serve two normal people or one greedy one, LOL.


Thank you again! We had BurtoNZ on our list since our last trip in the fall when we were up in Guerneville. We sadly were not able to fit in it. Not sure if we may get up there on this trip, but we have saved it to our collection. :slight_smile:

With this post, some recs from our previous trip and some research… this is what our current collection for the region looks like. Wonder if there are any true misses as you noted with the Empanadas (Which ordinarily we love. We got the ones from El Sur via Locale and LOVED)

My foodie hairdresser says Palette Tea House has more and better things on the weekends.

North Light is an excellent, convivial, and justly popular neighborhood bar, but I wouldn’t eat there. Unless I was too drunk to care. Way too much excellent food within a couple of blocks.

Della Fattoria’s a great bakery and the food at the cafe is very good though the menu’s a bit safe.

Of the places I know on your list, Zachary’s is the only one I’d avoid. Little Star, Capo’s, Blue Line, The Star, and Patxi’s all make better Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

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We’ve enjoyed delicious meals at this Swedish restaurant in Petaluma:

To second, we also enjoy Khoi Loi and Ramen Gaijin in Sebastopol. Animo in Sonoma is the place to be, but is a bit of a hike and traffic getting there can be challenging on the weekends.

Also, from SingleThread vets, Troubadour Sando in Healdsburg, an offshoot of Quail and Condor, is doing a set Le Dîner menu that’s quite delicious.

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Check out the following:
Little Saint (Market and Veg Spot by Single Thread)
Troubadour Bread & Bistro (Sandwiches)
Quail and Condor (Pastry’s/Quiche)

Valley Bottle and Bar (reminds me of Bell’s)
Amino (but you’'ll need a reservation)
Gott’s (Still really good)
El Molino (Taco’s)

Santa Rosa:
Grossmans (Informal New York-style deli offering traditional Jewish dishes, cocktails & outdoor picnic tables)


The Bagel Mill in Petaluma is great

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Oh wow! Thanks @SeanP813 @chewchow and @butteredwaffles!

I did a review of the Cheese Festival in another post so finally getting down to talk about the places we visited outside of it. As I mentioned, we went to go visit family and a lot of the choice we ended up making were based on where they were and their own selections. We managed to have some really good bites…

On the way up, P was craving hot dogs after he heard there was a Sonora Hotdog guy in Fresno. Sadly it was a hot dog stand and he was only open at night! So we went searching for other dogs in the area and came across Rocket Dog which touted gourmet and inventive hot dogs.

We got the Bahn Mi dog and it was pretty good. The bread was fresh and the pickled worked well. Still it was not as statisfying as a real bahn mi. So we likely won’t order it again.

Starving from the road, I did not take a pic of the Mac and Cheese dog with a side of their fresh cut potato chips… but man. Both were EXCELLENT. They used a really nice housemade mac and cheese with great cheese flavors. They used a Pretzel bun that as super toasty and buttery, The Brat that comes with it just worked bringing in the spice. Would totally order this again.

We got Cotati late and with a lunch like that, we crashed and woke up bright and early. Fam wanted to take us to a bakery that was walking distance from the community and we ended up at Redbird bakery.

Everything looked so good! Fresh baked in house. They had sandwiches in mini baguettes ready to go and I opted for the Biscuits and Gravy (Added an Egg). P ordered the breakfast burrito.

To our horror, upon ordering they turned around and gave him a pre-made burrito that had been sitting in this kinda popcorn machine type heating cabinet. Ugh. He was too nice to reject it, so he just kinda scarfed it down as we waited for my Biscuits and Gravy…

The Gravy was really good! The Biscuit was excellent! Everyone had bites of it, so it perked P. up and our usually cronchy cousin even enjoyed it! I had recently watched a video where some English High Schoolers tried Biscuits and Gravy for the first time… He had that look on his face… lol.

With that to fuel us, we went to into the city, arriving at the Ferry Building. We had been to Gotts on a previous trip, but we still could not resist their soft serve. We bypassed our usual dippy cone and just went for the straight chocolate vanilla swirl. The chocolate was okay, but the vanilla had a lovely deep flavor. We recently had the dippy cones at Heavy Handed which flavor of the soft serve was meh. This was so good and creamy. Nevertime, I’m doing a dippy cone for sure.

We also had a shrimp empanada at El Porteno which was so good. We recently ordered the Empanadas from El Sur which were only marginally better on the crust department… but this crust was also super yummy.

We wandered the city quite a bit and grabbed some Dim Sum to go at Dim Sum Bistro. We had been here before, it’s not a super quick service, bit the Dim Sum here always makes us happy.

Chicken Shu Mai

Ham Sui Gok


Super fresh and very generous filling. They were the perfect thing to eat on the little parklet on top of the new Chinatown station (Which is lovely).

We ended up near Dandelion and had to check out Baklava story! Turns out I’ve been eating Baklava wrong my entire life (it should be flipped with the honey side up) and we picked up a tray of his fresh out the oven Baklava. This was precious cargo through most of our trip as we had a few more errands to run…

Finally we met up with another family member close to their work in the Tenderlion. I had read some good things about Out of Sight Pizza. However it was Friday and they were slammed with to go orders. The owner apologized and said it would take forever to get a whole pie made, that he recommended we do the slices. Luckily they had slices of pretty much everything ready to go…

We pretty much ordered OOE. Even though I know a whole pie would have been better, the slices heated up well and tasted awesome. It’s a true blend of neopolitan (so no real crunch) and new york style (They were quite sturdy). They do specials and the winner of that list was their Elote Salad…

Absolutely phenomenal. It was crunchy, creamy, loved the use of the fresh dill (Not a huge fan). It did taste like the best elote ever. Overall, happy.

The following morning we had a lovely brunch at home and then off to the cheese crawl. The best bite was the pizza from Acre made with Bellweather farms ricotta. Everyone we raved about it too said they have really good pies on the regular.


The shopping center where we had the crawl also had a Red Bird Bakery and I went in and got a Jalapeno Cheese Biscuit since I was so happy with my regular biscuit. OH BOY! They don’t mess around with the Jalapeno. It was nice and spicy… made with Fresh Jalapenos too.

After the crawl we still felt like we could manage one more meal, so we went to Khoi Loi and they were able to accommodate us at the bar. It was great, we had a nice sight on their bincho grill.


From the grill we got the Issan Sausage. Lovely portion. Delicious loose pack with fresh herb flavors just popping through.

We got the Pad See Yew, it’s a standard order for us. It was delicious.

I had come with hopes of Khao Soi. Sadly they only serve it at lunch. :sob: So instead we opted for Veggie Green Curry which came just studded with Sweet Potatoes. It played off so well with the creamy spicy herbaceous curry. Now I was able to see why this place was so special.

Our final day was mostly at the Cheese Festival. We had lovely bites including some excellent Macaroni and Cheese from High Schoolers in a Culinary Program at Casa Grande H.S. in Petaluma. They had their own catering company and they brought tastes of Hibiscus Lemonade, the Mac and Cheese and Butterscotch Bundino which rivaled Nancys. They were a huge hit.

Afterwards and since we were in the area, we had to stop by one of my favorite places on earth… the Schultz Museum. The Happy Puppy Cafe there does fancy hot chocolates and we got a white chocolate which P really likes and I’m kinda Meh about… but this one was really nice.


Our last dinner with family was at Tumeric Indian Restaurant near the Sonoma State campus. It recently opened up and it’s your standard Lunch Buffet, Indian Dinner restaurant. It was not bad. The butter chicken was especially good and they have goat curries. Hope they do well.

Still feeling shafted from the soggy breakfast burrito, we hit Eggspresso Cafe in Petaluma. It’s a not so subtley inspired by Eggslut.


It was good. The real winner were their Potato Coins. Super good. Chips seems to be theme for this trip.

On the way home, we had perhaps our best bites of the trip. We stopped over Duc Huong Gio Cha Bahn Mi in San Jose. We had heard raves and saw that there was a huge line still even a little after noon. Turns out they take the order quick… but it’s the wait for the Bahn Mi which they make fresh. We ate them on the road so no pics. But we got the BBQ Pork, which was stuffed with meat we didn’t think we would finish the Veggie. But the Veggie was the winner with wonderful tofu skin and mushrooms, if you love Maggi… you’ll love the Veggie.

All in all, a tasty trip! Next time we’ll dedicate more time for an eating tour, but for the time we had and the amazing company we got to see, this was a very worthwhile trip.



SingleThread and Little Saint owners have separated. The Connaughton’s are no longer involved.


That’s kind of an ambiguous summary. There’s no change at SingleThread. The only separation was the two restaurants, which no longer have common ownership or management.

SingleThread is no longer involved in Little Saint.

NY Times - Eric Asimov article with 6 restaurant suggestions in Sonoma/Napa. For those without a subscription.

I look for an intriguing list with good values, terrific food and a welcoming, relaxed ambience. These sorts of places are there, but not as easy to find.

I’ve been traveling to Northern California as wine critic for nearly 20 years and have developed a collection of favorite restaurants. Not all of them are wine-centric, though.

Here are six of my favorite places to find an excellent glass with your meal, places I’ve visited multiple times and have always left happy.
Glen Ellen Star
The Matheson
The Charter Oak