Healdsburg, California

PLEASE NOTE SOME OF THESE PLACES HAVE CLOSED SINCE THE ARTICLE WAS FIRST POSTED IN 2008.

I fell in love with ~HEALDSBURG~ my first time there--give me a town square, some killer wineries, delish restaurants, a mellow small town atmosphere, stunning scenery, and, well, where's my ring? The area is a glorious triangulation of the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley--seriously dreamy. Springtime is the time to go before it gets really hot and busy with vacationing tourists (the fields were bursting with mustard and so many trees were blossoming in March), although I also really enjoyed the peace and calm of being there on one trip during grey November, too. Just make sure you have reservations for any of the restaurants you want to visit at least a few weeks in advance if possible--things get booked up. Please note the hours below can change, so call first! And lots of places are closed on Tuesday, FYI.

I know some folks are lamenting the "yuppification" or "Napa-fication" of Healdsburg, but I still think there's a balanced range of things to do there, from taquerias and local beer to a high-end posh experience (yes, Cyrus, I am talking about you). Either way, the wines in the area are fantastic, with low to nonexistent tasting room fees, nice winery folks everywhere, and thankfully I haven't seen any tour buses on the back roads of Dry Creek.

I actually visited Healdsburg for this jetsetter piece five times over the past couple years, so we're going to have to do this in two parts--it's a beast. The next installment will be about the wineries to visit, where to stay, and various activities.

For this installment, let's start with everyone's favorite:

~ Where to Eat ~




Mmmm, burgers. One of the most delicious, juicy, messy, and zin-worthy monsters I've ever had the pure pleasure of scarfing down was over lunch at ~RAVENOUS CAFÉ~. It also came with a monster pickle, and spicy seasoned potato spears--not my favorite kind of fries, but no matter. (My mom loved her Mediterranean plate). Big portions, heartfelt comfy food that isn't perfect but definitely enjoyable, with everything listed on a handwritten menu. It's located in a sweet house a few blocks off the plaza that has been converted into an intimate restaurant with a color scheme like a 50/50 bar (orange sherbet and vanilla). Thoughtful details like flowers in old perfume bottles, mismatched chairs, and even the carafe of water came with a slice of blood orange and lime. Fun and funky locals' scene at the tiny bar. There's a patio too--great in the summer with its little bar back there. Me: totally charmed.

Ravenous Café
420 Center St.
Cross: North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-431-1302

Lunch:
Wed-Sun 11:30-2:30pm
Dinner:
Wed-Sun at 5pm
Closed Mon-Tue





~ZIN RESTAURANT & WINE BAR~ has a cool industrial look (concrete floors, sealed cork tables, exposed beams) for wine country, and you can tell by the name what the food is geared for. ZIN is famous for its beer-battered green beans that come with mango salsa, fresh salads, and they do a nice pork chop. Definitely "big eater" portions. The food didn't totally bowl me over (some dishes we tried had little missteps here and there, from seasoning to preparation), but the ingredients were super-fresh (many from the restaurant's organic garden), and the people who work there are darned nice. Would be a fun place to come by for some vino and a casual bite, or a full meal after a day of wine tasting. Would make folks looking for a simple, low-key meal happy--others might be left wanting a little more precision.

ZIN Restaurant & Wine Bar
344 Center St.
Cross: North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-473-0946
website





Out for a good time? ~WILLI'S SEAFOOD & RAW BAR~ definitely has a party vibe, with a busy bar, and fills up with groups of folks out for a drink and some bites off the long list of appetizing small plates that are meant to be shared. (This would be a perfect spot for ladies doing a wine country/gal pal weekend.) Some highlights on the menu include baked oysters, barely-fried calamari with a kicky gremolata, a spicy clam and garlic flatbread with bacon and green onions, plus there are some meaty dishes too, like lamb skewers, and the salt and pepper baby back riblets. The food can be a little messy and big on flavor, which actually makes it perfect drinking food. Don't pass up the buttery lobster roll. The dog-friendly outdoor patio is great for lunch (get the spinach salad) or even better, on a balmy night.

Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar
403 Healdsburg Ave.
Cross: North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-433-9191
website

Sun-Thu 11:30am-9:30pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm
Closed Tue





Of course, no trip to Healdsburg is complete without a visit to the crown jewel, ~CYRUS~. I had my longest meal ever here (hello, five hours) and I savored every glorious minute of it. From the caviar and Champagne cart (swoon) to the choose-your-own-adventure tasting menu of Douglas Keane's elegant and engaging cuisine, this refined restaurant deserves every accolade it has earned. A definite "must do" for any gourmand who lives in the Bay Area, or someone visiting wine country and wants an experience that is enchanting, but without the least bit of pretension. The dining room had a comfortable buzz to it, not a hallowed hush. (But hey, dress nicely, okay?) A cocktail (or two) in the bar under the direction of famed barman Scott Beattie is also an ideal way to start the evening, or wind it down. Bring the plastic: $$$$.

Cyrus
(in the Hotel Les Mars)
29 North St.
Cross: Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-433-3311
website

Dinner nightly 5:30pm-9:30pm





I was so sorry to hear Plaza Farms didn't work out (it was a perfect way to pick up DaVero olive oil and rose wine and yummy Bellwether cheese all at once), but fortunately things at ~BOVOLO~ remain intact. This magical combo of a salumeria, pizzeria, and gelateria rocks my world. Hard. Owners Duskie Estes and John Stewart of Zazu in Santa Rosa are complete Slow Foodies (bovolo means snail in Italian), and do probably some of the best bacon I've ever eaten (mmmm, black pig bacon!). The place is super casual, with 24 seats inside, and 20 seats outside on the cute little enclosed patio.

Start with some COO-COO frites (fried dough with mozzarella and salumi), but order the off-the-menu version with bacon inside instead. Heh. (See how I love you?) Pizzas are great--be sure to throw a farm-fresh egg on top (they actually do a breakfast pizza too). This would be THE place to order their variation of pasta carbonara (that bacon, you know), and another can't-miss dish for lunch is the pork cheek sandwich with roasted peppers and salsa verde--sooooooo good. You can also get a black pig bacon, egg, and Bellwether Carmody cheese sandwich, for breakfast or lunch. Heck, I could practically eat all my Healdsburg meals here. Dessert too.

Bovolo
106 Matheson St.
Cross: Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-433-2345
website

Summer:
Fri-Tue 9am-9pm
Thu 9am-6pm
Winter:
Mon, Tue, Thu 9am-6pm
Fri-Sun 9am-9pm





Hmmm, am I getting hard to please? Maybe it was just an off night, but I wasn't very smitten with my experience at Charlie Palmer's ~DRY CREEK KITCHEN~. A few highlights: the complimentary gougères to start, the wine pairings were good, and most dishes exhibited pleasing flavor combos (like the pickled cucumbers with the tartare), but overall I thought for the price ($74; $119 with wine pairings), things needed to be a bit tighter. During the six-course tasting menu, there were too many dishes that were under-seasoned, ingredients reappeared (rapini was featured in two dishes), and service was not dialed enough to match the modern finer-dining ambiance. But, I hear they are working on these things...

One deal that is hard to beat is the three-course Sonoma Neighbor Menu available Mon-Thu for $34, $49 with wines. At that price, I'd have less to quibble with. This summer, there is also a family-style BBQ three-course meal served alfresco around the grill in Hotel Healdsburg's awesome courtyard and screened porch. It's every Wednesday night from May-September, $32 per guest.

Dry Creek Kitchen
317 Healdsburg Ave.
Cross: Plaza St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-431-0330
website

Lunch:
Fri-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner:
Sun-Thu 5:30pm-9:30pm
Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10pm





I'm downright leery of places loaded with pig paraphernalia and peach walls, kind of like a scary B&B-meets-restaurant aesthetic, but I've been told that ~HEALDSBURG CHARCUTERIE & CAFÉ~ has recently toned down the peach and pigs. It was a chilly wintery night when I ate here, and the escargot with whipped butter blended with garlic and pastis hit the spot. The Sonoma salad with Brie, bacon, grapes, and almonds was also scrumptious. Mains were not so stellar--a bit forgettable/kind of 1980s in style (e.g. fusilli pasta with chicken and sun dried tomatoes is on the menu). I wouldn't make this a dinner destination if it was my sole night in Healdsburg, but sometimes a cozy café atmosphere is just what you need. It's also one of the few places open daily.

Healdsburg Charcuterie & Café
335 Healdsburg Ave.
Cross: Plaza St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

707-431-7213

Lunch:
Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm
Sat-Sun 12pm-3:30pm
Dinner:
Sun-Thu 5pm-9pm
(until 9:30 Fri-Sat)





I can't think of a better way to start the day than with a sublime cappuccino from the fine folks at ~FLYING GOAT COFFEE~ from their gleaming and red La Marzocco machine. Equally brilliant for a macchiato or one of their iced drinks in the afternoon when you hit a 4pm lull. Open daily 7am-6pm. 324 Center St. at Matheson, 707-433-3599.



You can head next door to the ~DOWNTOWN BAKERY & CREAMERY~ for their famed sticky buns, croissants, scones, and pure evil donut muffins (yes, you read that right). They also do a breakfast pizza, and cute little bread puddings. Maybe grab some treats and then sit in the plaza? 308 Center St. at Matheson, 707-431-2719.





The ~OAKVILLE GROCERY~ gets paaaaaacked with tourists getting their bougie gourmet picnic supplies and sandwiches for the day (yo, whip out that iPhone and order that sammy in advance!), or with folks who want to enjoy a pizza or one of their mezzalunas (try the one with the Greek salad inside!) on the patio overlooking the plaza. The real meal deal is on Tuesday nights in the summer: there's this cat named Gerard Nebesky who does a lovely paella outside--a serving is $12.95, and while munching away, you get to enjoy music on the plaza. Open 9am-7pm daily. 124 Matheson St. at Center, 707-433-3200.





If you're on your way to Alexander Valley, be sure to stop at ~JIMTOWN STORE~ for lunch (they also serve breakfast). It's totally "old tyme country store," with tasty sandwiches, like the famed Brie and olive, there's a grilled cheese sandwich of the week, a totally yummy turkey with chipotle, and oh yeah, their "hold the phone" chocolate pudding--as in "hold the phone, I gotta eat this right now." In warmer months, the back patio, complete with a canopy of vines, is totally where it's at. The shop itself has some cute Americana items, and you'll also want to have a little cooler in your car so you can bring home some of their fresh condiments, like the chopped olive, and my favorite, the artichoke, olive, and caper spread. Open Mon-Fri 7am-5pm, Sat-Sun 7:30am-5pm. 6706 Hwy. 128/Alexander Valley Road at Sausal Lane, 707-433-1212.



Time for a drink? Sadly Healdsburg shuts down pretty darned early, but you can kick it at the saloon-like ~JOHN AND ZEKE'S BAR & GRILL~--play pool with a mix of locals and tourists, drink some beer, have a shot. 111 Plaza St. at Healdsburg, 707-433-3735.

Folks complain about the ups and downs of the "experimental" food here (I can't vouch, it's just what I've heard) but ~BARNDIVA~ can be quite the spot if a cocktail is what you're craving. A bit "posh country," with soaring ceilings at this modern barn, plus a spacious outdoor patio, and funky art. And an impressive bar setup. 231 Center St. at Mill, 707-431-0100.

Get hopped up on the massive array of sweets, from oldies to new treats at ~POWELL'S SWEET SHOPPE~, 322 Center St. at Plaza, 707-431-2784.

Some restaurants and bars I didn't get a chance to personally visit:

~BISTRO RALPH~
is a classic and a longstanding local favorite for a Frenchie bistro lunch or dinner, right on the plaza. Think steak frites, chicken paillard. Full bar too. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm and dinner Mon-Thu 5:30pm-9pm (until 9:30 Fri-Sat). 109 Plaza St. at Center, 707-433-1380.

~MANZANITA RESTAURANT~ has had some changes over the years--not sure where things stand now, but if I ever make it there, I'll update this report! Heard their pizzas from the wood-fired oven are good. Lunch Tue-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm and dinner 5:30pm-9:30pm. 336 Healdsburg Ave. at North, 707-433-8111.

Craving sushi? Wine country isn't the first place I think of for fresh sushi, but some folks I know recommend ~SAKE 'O~. (It's a bit north of the plaza.) 505 Healdsburg Ave. at Piper, 707-433-2669.

Did you hurt yourself the day or night before? ~EL FAROLITO~ (or "the fart," as the locals refer to it) will save you with its huevos con chorizo for breakfast. Also loved for its chips and salsa. Yup, you're now ready for a margarita. 128 Plaza St. at Healdsburg, 707-433-2807.

There's also ~EL SOMBRERO~, (or as the locals say, "the hat"), just across from the Oakville Grocery--one friend digs their fish and shrimp cocktail in a tomato and avocado sauce, served up in an old fashioned-looking ice cream glass. Hmmm, the fart, or the hat, which to choose? I am sure there are strong arguments for either. 245 Center St. at Matheson, 707-433-3818.

Well, since we're discussing Mexican joints, ~TAQUERIA GUADALAJARA~ is the preferred local fave, according to a chap I met at John & Zeke's one night. He said the taco grande and veggie nachos are the bomb. Carnitas too. It's just a bit south of the plaza… 125 Healdsburg Ave. at Exchange, 707-433-1052.

Hot out? Well, a friend of mine went crazy for ~SNOWBUNNY YOGURT~, made with Straus Family Creamery yogurt (get the original tart flavor) and you can get local fruit on top, too. Plus they use eco-friendly/compostable cups and spoons. 312 Center St. at Matheson, 707-431-7669.

Maybe you need a break from all that wine. Head on over to ~BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING COMPANY~, the local brewpub (AKA "the Bear" or "B&B"), for some Racer 5, Hop Rod Rye, or Red Rocket for happy hour (Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm), and on Thursdays, they do BBQ oysters. The garlic fries and Black & Blue burger are also local classics. Outdoor patio, bonus. Summer hours: Sun-Thu 11am-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm; winter hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm. 345 Healdsburg Ave. at Plaza, 707-433-2337.

New places I gotta check out:

~SCOPA~ is a new rustic Italian café that has been thrilling folks left and right. Been hearing grrrrrreat reports. 109A Plaza St. at Healdsburg, 707-433-5282.

Cyrus owners Douglas Keane and Nick Peyton have taken over the ~HEALDSBURG BAR & GRILL~. Think burgers, fries, spacious patio, killer produce, good wines, done. 245 Healdsburg Ave. at Matheson, 707-433-3333.