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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Santa Rosa Restaurants

The biggest city in Sonoma County is Santa Rosa, pop. 150,000.  In fact, as you're going up the West Coast it's the biggest city between San Francisco and Portland, OR.    Being the biggest in the North Coast wine region means there are lots and lots of places to eat.
The old Western Hotel building
in Railroad Square

The town layout:

Santa Rosa is divided in two by the US101 freeway.  To the east is the modern downtown with businesses by day and lots of eating and drinking by night.  To the west of the freeway is the older downtown area called Railroad Square.  This are is more about antiques and, of course, eating and drinking.  Street parking is free at night; parking garages charge most of the time. 

Many of the restaurants listed here are in or near the downtown area.  There are many other places to eat in downtown Santa Rosa besides the few I've listed.

What to expect:
  • Dress is casual compared to most other places, even in the "fancier" restaurants.
  • Prices are probably higher than you are used to unless you already live in CA or in AK or HI.
  • If you are going out during the busy season or a holiday weekend when visitors are around you should make a reservation.
  • This list is a combination of personal favorites and those that get high marks from others.
Less expensive

Burger joints:  Phyllis Burger and Superburger, but if you want the best go to Mike's in Cotati.

Taquerias (Mexican diners):  There are too many to mention, but most are good value.

China Room - My favorite Chinese.

Hank's Creekside - breakfast

Omelette Express - big breakfast


Gary Chu's - I call it gourmet Chinese.

LoCoco's - Comfortable and authentic Italian.

Roberto's - Another good Italian restaurant.  Love their Bolognese sauce.

Rosso - Thin-crust pizzas from an wood-fired oven and other specials plus an interesting wine list.  Always crowded on the weekends.

Russian River Brewery - Good pizzas and salads, but it's the beer people from all over the county come for.

Union Hotel - Italian the way mama makes it. Great pizza.

Willie's Wine Bar - Interesting small plates and wine list.

More expensive

Ca Bianca - Great Italian in a cool historical, old house.

Equus - For a hotel restaurant the food is first rate.

Le Gare - A locals favorite since they opened in the '70s.  They call it Swiss French cooking.  I say, if you're hungry and want a great meal this is the place.

Santi - Fancy Italian with an excellent reputation.

Stark's Steakhouse - The building previously housed a hundred year old Italian restaurant so it doesn't look like a fancy steak joint from the outside.

Zazu - Just a bit outside of town but the food is worth a little drive.


John Ash - Fine dining wine country style.  Over the years this restaurant has had ups-and-downs, but seems to have their act together now.

Syrah - They call it "sophisticated cuisine."  The plates are inventive, I find it just okay for the price, but many rave about it.

The Chains

Everyone knows Denny's and to stay away, but there are several more local chains you may not be aware of if you're from outside California.  It doesn't mean the food is bad at these place, it just means it's corporate eating.

Carrows, Chevys, Coco's, IHOP, Marie Callendar's, and Sizzler have mediocre food, but at reasonable prices.

A few local chain restaurants that I can recommend are Cattlemans, In-N-Out Burger and Mary's Pizza Shack.   If you're not from California you'll want to go to In-N-Out just to get one of their cool t-shirts!


Newer restaurants I haven't tried yet, but are getting some good reviews, are:  El Coqui (Puerto Rican), Jackson's Bar and Oven, plus Jack and Tony's.