Number 54 - January 2017
Happy New Year and welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

Best Wine Country Restaurants

In the November 2016 issue of "Rick's Tips" we compared the lists of the best restaurants in San Francisco as compiled by the professional reviewers at the Michelin Guide and San Francisco Chronicle and the public at Zagat, TripAdvisor, and Yelp. In this issue, we'll compare the wine country listings. For the purposes of this article, I'll focus on restaurants in Napa and Sonoma Counties as well as restaurants near the Anderson Valley wine region in Mendocino County, the Shenandoah Valley of California region in Amador County, and Paso Robles region in San Luis Obispo County, all areas where Blue Heron offers tours.

Best Napa Valley Restaurants

The Napa Valley is approximately thirty miles/fifty kilometers long. The largest city in the county, Napa, lies at the southern end of the valley and is home to many excellent restaurants. The small town of Yountville, about 9 miles/15 kilometers north of Napa has great spots for lunch and dinner, all within walking distance of each other and many hotels. At the northern end of the valley, you'll find a good number of restaurants in charming St. Helena as well as in Calistoga, which is famous for its spas and mud baths.

The Michelin Guide 2017 was released in October. Michelin awards one, two, or three stars to the top restaurants in the region. Just to get a star is an honor. Michelin rates restaurants in Napa and Sonoma Counties but not in the other wine country counties included in this newsletter. This year, Michelin awarded three stars to The French Laundry (Yountville) and The Restaurant at Meadowood (outside of St. Helena). One star was awarded to Auburge du Soleil (outside of Rutherford), Bouchon (Yountville), La Toque (Napa), Solbar (Calistoga), and Terra (St. Helena).

The San Francisco Chronicle, our local newspaper, reviews restaurants regularly including some in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The paper does not rate restaurants in the other wine country counties listed below but does mention good restaurants in its periodic travel sections for these regions. Ratings range between one and four stars. In addition, an annual list of the "Top 100 Restaurants" is released. In wine country, The French Laundry (Yountville) and The Restaurant at Meadowood (outside of St. Helena) were awarded four stars by the paper. Bar Terra (St. Helena), Bistro Don Giovanni (outside of Napa city), Redd (Yountville), and Terra (St. Helena) have 3.5 stars.

Zagat rates on a 1 to 5 scale for food, decor, and service. Its top restaurants in Napa with the ratings in each category are as follows: The French Laundry (4.9/4.7/4.8, Yountville); Auberge du Soleil (4.7/4.8/4.7, outside of Rutherford); Bistro Jeanty (4.7/4.3/4.5, Yountville); Bouchon (4.7/4.4/4.5, Yountville); Press (4.7/4.6/4.6, St. Helena); Redd (4.7/4.3/4.5, Yountville); Ad Hoc (4.6/4.2/4.5, Yountville); Bottega Napa Valley (4.6/4.6/4.5, Yountville); Celadon (4.6/4.4/4.5, Napa); Cole's Chop House (4.6/4.4/4.4, Napa); Cook (4.6/3.8/4.3, St. Helena); Farm at Carneros Inn (4.6/4.5/4.4, outside of Napa city); Fatted Calf (4.6/3.7/4.4, Napa); The Grill at Meadowood (4.6/4.4/4.5, outside of St. Helena); Hog Island Oyster Bar (4.6/4.0/4.2, Napa); La Toque (4.6/4.4/4.6, Napa); Market (4.6/4.3/4.5, St. Helena); Morimoto Napa (4.6/4.5/4.3, Napa); Mustard's Grill (4.6/4.1/4.4, outside of Yountville); The Restaurant at Meadowood (4.6/4.8/4.7, outside of St. Helena); and Terra (4.6/4.6/4.6, St. Helena).

TripAdvisor's rating system is different from Michelin, the Chronicle, and Zagat. Ratings can be between one and five stars. Rankings are based on the number of reviews, how recently and frequently the restaurant has been reviewed, and the number of stars. Rankings change frequently. When you check TripAdvisor, you may find different restaurants included in the top ten. As of this writing, TripAdvisor's top ten restaurants in the Napa Valley were Rutherford Grill (Rutherford), Hog Island Oyster Company (Napa), Farmstead (St. Helena), Auberge du Soleil (outside of Rutherford), Solbar (Calistoga), Market (St. Helena), Cole's Chop House (Napa), Bistro Don Giovanni (outside of Napa), Zuzu (Napa), and Gott's Roadside (St. Helena).

Like TripAdvisor, Yelp's rankings frequently change. When I checked Yelp, the top ten restaurants were Farmstead (St. Helena), Galpao Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse (Napa), Auberge du Soleil (outside of Rutherford), Rutherford Grill (Rutherford), The French Laundry (Yountville), Heritage Eats (Napa), La Luna Market & Taqueria (Rutherford), Cordeiro's Steakhouse (Napa), Protea Restaurant (Yountville), and Archetype (St. Helena.) With a taqueria, sandwich shop, and fine dining establishments included in the restaurant category, you'll probably need to set additional filters to get a list that best meets your needs. You may also find that the list has changed by the time you check out Yelp.

Best Sonoma County Wine Country Restaurants

If you are visiting the Alexander, Dry Creek, and/or Russian River Valleys in Northern Sonoma County, you'll find many superb restaurants in the pretty town of Healdsburg. Other good restaurants can be found in Geyserville, Forestville, Windsor, Sebastopol, and Graton. The largest city in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, lies at the northern end of the Sonoma Valley and just south of the Russian River Valley, and is home to a wide variety of restaurants. The historic town of Sonoma lies at the southern end of the Sonoma Valley and just north of the Carneros wine region. Its historic town plaza is surrounded by many very good restaurants. If you are visiting Sonoma Valley, you also can find restaurants in the small towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood.

The Michelin Guide 2017 did not award two or three stars to any restaurant in Sonoma County. One star was given to Farmhouse (Forestville), Madrona Manor (outside Healdsburg), and Terrapin Creek (Bodega Bay on the Sonoma Coast).

The following Sonoma County restaurants received three stars from the Chronicle, the highest rating awarded in the county: Barndiva (Healdsburg), Cafe La Haye (Sonoma city), Chalkboard (Healdsburg), Farmhouse (Forestville), Hana Japanese Restaurant (Rohnert Park, 10 minutes south of Santa Rosa), Jhanthong Banbua (Santa Rosa), K & L Bistro (Sebastopol, 15 minutes southwest of Santa Rosa), Madrona Manor (outside of Healdsburg), New Campo Fino (Healdsburg), Osake (Santa Rosa), Oso (Sonoma), Rosso Pizzeria (Santa Rosa), Scopa (Healdsburg), and Spoonbar (Healdsburg).

Zagat's top restaurants in Sonoma County are Terrapin Creek (4.7/4.1/4.7, Bodega Bay); Cucina Paradiso (4.7/4.3/4.5, Petaluma, 15 minutes south of Santa Rosa); Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria (4,7/4.0/4.3, Geyserville); Osake (4.6/4.3/4.4, Santa Rosa); Boon Eat + Drink (4.6/3.7/4.3, Guerneville, along the Russian River, 20 minutes west of Santa Rosa); Cafe La Haye (4.6/4.1/4.4, Sonoma); Scopa (4.6/3.9/4.3, Healdsburg); and Valette (4.6/4.3/4.6, Healdsburg).

TripAdvisor's top restaurants in Sonoma County are Scopa (Healdsburg), Dierk's Parkside Cafe (Santa Rosa), Willi's Wine Bar (Santa Rosa), Valette (Healdsburg), Baci Cafe (Healdsburg), Terrapin Creek (Bodega Bay), Spud Point Crab Company (Bodega Bay), Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma), Boon Eat + Drink (Guerneville, Russian River Valley), and Cafe Lucia (Healdsburg)

Yelp doesn't compile a list of the best restaurants for the entire county. Therefore, I will share Yelp's lists for the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg. The top rated restaurants in Sonoma are The Girl and The Fig, Tasca Tasca, Harvest Moon, New Haven Apizza, Mamma Tanino's Ristorante, and La Salette. In Healdsburg, the best restaurants are Scopa, Guiso's Latino Fusion, Bravas, Chalkboard, Valette, and Willi's Seafood.

Best Anderson Valley and Mendocino Coast Restaurants

The Anderson Valley runs northwest from near the town of Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County to the Mendocino County coast. Some lodging and restaurants can be found in the small towns of Booneville and Philo in the valley proper. However, I prefer to stay along the scenic coast. The closest towns are Elk, Albion, Little River, and Mendocino.

Zagat's top rated restaurants are all along the coast: Ledford House (4.6/4.3/4.4, Albion); Cafe Beaujolais (4.4/4.2/4.3, Mendocino); 955 Ukiah Street Restaurant (4.4/4.2/4.4, Mendocino); and Little River Inn (4.1/4.1/4.1, Little River).

TripAdvisor's top rated restaurants in Mendocino County are Good Life Cafe and Bakery (Mendocino), Cafe Beaujolais (Mendocino), Trillium Cafe (Mendocino), Eggheads Restaurant (Fort Bragg, 15 minutes north of Mendocino), Mayan Fusion (Fort Bragg), Wild Fish (Little River), Patterson's Pub (Mendocino), Little River Inn Dining Room (Little River), Mendocino Cafe (Mendocino), and Albion River Inn (Albion).

Most of Yelp's top rated restaurants in Mendocino County are small cafes in Willits and Ukiah, which are inland from the Anderson Valley. The top rated restaurants in the valley or along the coast are Circa 62 (Little River), Bewildered Pig (Philo), Luna Trattoria (Fort Bragg, David's Restaurant and Delicatessen (Fort Bragg), Mayan Fusion (Fort Bragg), Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe (Elk), Lauren's (Boonville), Trillium Cafe (Mendocino), and Wild Fish (Little River). David's and Queenie's are breakfast and lunch places.

Best Amador County Wine Country Restaurants

The Sierra Foothills are home to some of the oldest vineyards in California. Wineries can be found in all of the counties from Nevada County in the north to Mariposa County in the south. Some of the best wines are coming out of Amador County. The principal wine region is called the Shenandoah Valley of California and is located north and slightly east of the towns of Jackson, Sutter Creek, Amador City, and Plymouth. The small town of Fiddletown is just east of the wine country region.

TripAdvisor's doesn't rank restaurants for the entire county. It's top restaurants in Jackson are Rosebud's Cafe and Stanley's Steakhouse. In Sutter Creek, the top rated restaurants are Gold Dust Pizza and Element. Taste and Marlene & Glen's Diner are the best restaurants in Plymouth. The only listed restaurant in Amador City is the Imperial Hotel & Restaurant.

Yelp's top restaurants in the area are Taste (Plymouth), Rosebud's Cafe (Jackson), Gold Dust Pizza (Sutter Creek), and Element (Sutter Creek). More top rated restaurants can be found slightly further away in Pioneer, Volcano, and Placerville.

Best Paso Robles and Cambria Restaurants

The town of Paso Robles lies along U.S. 101 about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It's also about 45 minutes inland from the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The Paso Robles wine region is informally divided between wineries located east and west of town. The west side is the more popular region to visit, but we have found good wines and fun wineries on both sides. If you are visiting wineries west of town, you can base your visit in the city of Paso Robles or along the coast at Moonstone Beach in Cambria. If you want to visit wineries on both sides of town, I recommend staying at a bed and breakfast near the vineyards or in the city of Paso Robles. I think better food can be found in Paso Robles than in Cambria, but you'll find good restaurants in both towns.

TripAdvisor's top ranked restaurants in Paso Robles are Il Cortile, Buona Tavola, Thomas Hill Organics, Artisan, La Cosecha, and Fish Gaucho. It's top restaurants in Cambria are Madeline's Restaurant, Indigo Moon, Robin's Restaurant, Sea Chest Restaurant, Moonstone Bar and Grill, and The Cafe.

Yelp's best restaurants in Paso Robles are Next Door Bistro, The Hatch, Andrea's on Pine, Golden Oak Grill, Joe's One Niner Diner, Orale Taqueria, Il Cortile Ristorante, Mistura, and Artisan. The top restaurants in Cambria are Cafe, Black Cat Bistro, Boni's Tacos, Madeline's Restaurant, Robin's Restaurant, Medusa's, Indigo Moon, Linn's Restaurant, Sandy's Deli, and Redwood Cafe.

So there you have it - the best restaurants in Northern California wine country. Of course, there are many more delicious restaurants for you to check out. Regardless of how you go about selecting the restaurants you eat at during your visit to wine country, you are sure to find some great food.

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See you on the road,

Rick Spear
Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel
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