Finding a bad restaurant in Napa Valley is like spotting a set of real breasts on Baywatch -- it ain't easy. Great food abounds like phylloxera. Wait. Bad analogy. Anyway, finding a good restaurant (large or small) isn't hard; finding one without an attitude can be a bit more difficult. These are recommendations from personal experiences over the past year. A few are word-of-mouth from friends in the industry whom I respect (and owe money).
Alexis Baking Company
Take it out. The frenetic environment will frazzle even the best of you. But the coffee and fresh baked goods are killer.
Bistro Don Giovanni
Been there several times and have never been disappointed. Scrumptious food, impeccable service and a good winelist. Can't go wrong with anything on the menu.
Cole's Chop House
Pricy, but worth it if you crave flesh. Here's the plan: split an entree (between two), order up a couple of sides, and get a nice bottle of red. You'll escape for under $100. (If Cole's is too busy, try Celedon right around the corner. Same ownership. Same quality. Different menu.)
Downtown Joe's Brewery
Great pub-style food along with better-than-average microbrews. Personal favorite: Pulled Pig sandwich, fries and pale ale.
Don't let the setting (Napa Outlet Mall) fool you. This is consistently the best sushi in the Valley. Personal recommendations: Nekko Chan roll, fresh salmon and albacore.
Smack downtown and consistently good. Experience the great pastry case (eat-in or to go) and the best restaurant coffee (if there is such a thing) in town.
Napa Valley Roasting Company
COFFEE! (Need I say more?)
Get some of the best Mexican food in the Valley and salsa that's more addicting than morphine (not that I'd know about morphine) here. Can't go wrong on the menu.
Set back off Trancas next to the bowling alley, this place has an eclectic menu of Pacific Rim cuisine with some (limited) sushi items. Killer Chinese chicken salad, black and blue tuna and some kind of Asian noodle dish with peanut sauce that I can't remember the exact name of due to a little too much unfiltered sake.
Haven't been there, but I've heard great things.
Gordon's Cafe & Wine Bar
Kind of a self-serve place with an emphasis on healthy, flavorful food. Great breakfast menu and inviting community atmosphere make you want to check out their wine dinners. Very reasonably priced.
Dis be da place for a Valley breakfast. Good coffee, service and food. Personal favorite: vegan scramble -- potatoes, peppers, onions and salsa. Hot hot hot!
Touristy, yes. Crowded, usually. Good food, always. I haven't had a bad meal here yet. Fresh ingredients and a good, fairly inexpensive winelist. What's more, you can't go wrong with anything on the menu.
(just ain't much dining here)
Just look for the mob of cars and people just northeast of the Oakville Cross Road. Great deli selection means you can build your own sandwiches. Olives, cheeses, breads... You want it, they probably got it.
Screw the French place in Yountville with the rude 'tude. Dine here. Attached to the Rancho Camus Inn, this is probably the finest restaurant in Napa Valley. The five-course Prix Fixe meal (around $75/person) comes with a wine-pairing option (about $35). Take it! Yeah, baby.
La Lune Market
This one's directly across the street from La Toque. Good, fast Mexican take out. Call in orders at least 20 minutes prior to pick up.
One word: ribs. The best. (Yes, even if you're from Texas you'll be impressed.) Reasonable wine list, flavorful food, attentive servers... What more could you want? How 'bout a nice patio and a sizeable bar area to dine in a hurry. But why would you wanna do that?
New spot to hang at the end of the day. Very cool space and well-stocked shelf. Nibbles if you need 'em.
(see Gillwoods Café in Napa above)
Napa Valley Roasting Company
(see Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company in Napa above)
Dean and Deluca
Fab selection of everything you'd want, or not, but'll buy anyway 'cause it looks so good. D & D has a great selection of raw (unpasteurized) cheeses for those, like me, who have troublesome tummies.
Sushi. Yes, take-out fresh sushi from a grocery store. God bless California.
If you're looking for great food and a romantic setting, this is the place. Cozy, warm and fuzzy room(s) with innovative cuisine and a good wine list.
Pizza's king here. Other nice selections also abound for those who don't do the 'za thing. Nothing fancy, but then again, you ain't paying for the overhead.
Everyone dines here. Why? 'Cause they just do. It's the place to be seen. The nice, big open room makes you feel a part of... well, something. Great wine list. Or try Cantinetta at Tra Vigne (currently only open 'til 6 p.m.). An array of high-end deli-like items and a good wine selection are available to drink there or to go. You can even buy a bottle there and take it into Tra Vigne. What a deal!
All Seasons Cafe & Wine Shop
Great food, great winelist, great wine-by-the-glass program. Any questions?
Calistoga Inn & Brewery
Find casual dining and good beer here. (You really need a good beer after a day of tasting wine!) Entertainment five nights a week.
Here's a creative menu and a fun place to fill your face. Catahoula offers a nice wine list and is located just close enough to hit the spa afterward.
Wappo Bar & Bistro
A place to hang and drink with the locals.
Post Note: As I mentioned, it's hard to eat bad food in Napa Valley. If something strikes you and it's not mentioned above, go for it. I can only try so many places and eat so many meals.
Well that's it, kids. Remember: the best time to visit Napa Valley is during the off-peak season, which is February 7th @ 2:39 p.m. Seriously, if you don't want to battle traffic and tasting room crowds, visit between November and April. The weather might not be quite as delightful, but you'll be able to do and taste and see a lot more because fewer people will be standing in your way.