Carlos Kitchen is right out of a Steinbeck novel--complete with all the local color, a wide range of economic levels in the patrons, and Carlos. He has the attitude of a five star matre de in the comfort of a small business man. Great portions and a good price.
Favorite Dish: Absolutely - the corned beef hash. They make it from scratch, and it is known through out the area.
Willy Bird's looks okay from the outside and fairly homey on the inside. The staff was pretty friendly although the girl busing the tables spoke almost no English. They specialize in all types of Turkey; but I had a very good Grilled Seafood Platter. I would return again just for the food. Hours are 7 AM to 9 PM Monday through Saturday and 7 AM to 8 PM on Sunday.
Favorite Dish: Great Grilled Seafood Platter.
Checkers has some great Sonoma County/Wine Country/California cuisine in the heartof downtown Santa Rosa.
Favorite Dish: Paneed chicken on bed of chard, butternut squash ravioli with smoked chicken, and Sonoma Salad.
El Patio is another great, simple Mexican taqueria. It's on the eastern edge of downtown and is one of our favourite Mexican places in the downtown vicinity, so it's convenient if one's in that area.
Favorite Dish: They have amazingly great chimichangas which are, in fact, just about the best we've had. Chimichangas are often not very good, but theirs are excellent. They also have great chicken tacos. Other dishes are not necessarily great, but everything is atleast consistently very good.
Their salsa is very tasty but is usually on the spicy side. I love it, but it's too hot for many people I know.
This has long been one of the best Chinese places in the whole North Bay area, and at least many people from the region consider it to be (it was voted such in the San Francisco Chronicle, as well). There used to be a better place just a few blocks away, but it unfortunately was not as established and closed a little while ago. While one can clearly find better, and more authentic, Chinese food down in San Francisco and Oakland, the fact remains that this place is excellent and very nice. In an area with dozens of Chinese restaurants, it stands well out over most of them.
It is, unusually, a rather classy place. The decor and atmosphere are unusually stylish and attractive, rather than gaudy or bare-bones. The service is good and attentive.
The key, of course, is that the food is worth it. It is consistently excellently prepared with strong, complex flavours, and there are some fairly unusual and interesting dishes.
Favorite Dish: Crispy Ginger chicken, mango chicken, sauteeed green beans, and sauteed pea leaves.
This is a great little funky place just south of downtown that serves breakfast and lunch. It has a cozy, slightly funky, very friendly and fun atmosphere. There's a small counter around the kitchen area, practically to the front door, and none of the mugs match, giving a great homey feel. The food is essentially a different and fresh, imaginitive take on standard diner-type American food. Breakfast consists of pancakes, omelettes & other egg dishes, biscuits and gravy, etc., but it is all utterly excellent, different & more imaginitive than what normally finds, made with great care, subtlety, & fresh, local ingredients. Examples of the different dishes are duck confit; warm poached egg salad with bacon, potato, etc., on baby greens and romaine with a light vinaigrette; wondeful hash with sharp cheddar, sauteed cherry tomatoes, spinach, and basil, and topped with egg. The service is also fast and very friendly.
Notably, everything is homemade, too, and they use fresh, seasonal ingredients. As a result, the menu changes seasonally.
On top of the quality, it is not at all expensive, either. It's comparable to Mac's (another great place downtown) and if anything less expensive than inferior chain places like IHOP.
Favorite Dish: The biscuits and gravy are simply the best we've ever had anywhere. The warm poached-egg salad is also wonderful and the pancakes, while essentially basic buttermilk pancakes, are excellent, made the way one always wants but rarely finds. The breakfast sandwich is also great.
Excellent specials sometimes available include wonderful gazpacho & a salad of greens with fresh mango, freshly-fried chicken pieces, and a light vinaigrette.
The Country Benedict is a wondeful variation on Eggs Benedict, with hash browns, dried tomatoes, mushrooms & spniach with the eggs, bacon, and Hollandiase on a toasted baguette.
The pull-aparts, freshly made fried leavened dough covered in sugar & cinnamon, are excellent as well.
This is an excellent local coffee house and our favorite in Sonoma County. It's a pretty hip place that draws a lot of college students from Sonoma State and SRJC but also appeals to all ranges of society, including families, punks, down-and-outs, yuppies, artsy types, etc. The coffee is great, they make great pastries, cakes, etc., and great burritos and similar light fare. They also have cream sodas with cream and a great, warm decor. It's lively, stays open late, and sometimes has mellow live guitar music, but nothing really loud aside from the buzz of the patrons themselves.
It's also in a neat, old, rough-hewn stone Railway Express building built in 1915 and located in the heart of the charming, historic Railroad Square area of downtown Santa Rosa. It's very popular and sometimes can be really busy, though!
Favorite Dish: Any coffee, especially cafe au lait, as well as rice crispy peanut bars, blueberry cobbler, pumpkin pie, orange cake, burritos, cream soda, mighty aphrodite salad with goddess dressing, and short bread. Our kid loves their steamers, which are steamed milk or soy milk with syrup. Their breakfast burritos are great.
We especially love some of their dark and medium roasts: Sumatra, Mocha Java, and Amanda's Brew. We even love their organic French Roast, which is unusual, because we normally do not like French Roast at all.
This is also a great place to get a good cup or pot of tea, which is unusual. They have a wide selection of plain and flavoured black teas as well as herbal teas. They are all of very good quality. Their Irish Breakfast is wonderful: flavourful, robust and smooth and takes milk very well, something which I find unusual for American teas, even those claiming to be English or Irish Breakfast teas designed for milk. Rarely do Americans make a proper milk-friendly tea of those styles. Many may be wonderful black but are easily overpowered by milk; not so the Irish Breakfast here.
This is a neat microbrewery/restaurant place with semi-industrial decor. It's centrally located in downtown Santa Rosa near parking garages and two cinemas. While not all the beer and dishes are of the same quality, it has quite a lot of very good, filling food that goes well with beer and most of the food is very good. Many beers have won quite a few awards, too.
It has a very wide number and variety of beers home-brewed beers on tap, ranging from very light-flavored and to heavy stouts and porters. Some of the beers I don't like much at all, but it has a lot of beers that are very good and some which are simply outstanding.
Another great thing about it is that it is one of the few places that serves food and drink late: the kitchen stays open until 11:30pm/23:30 Wed-Sat and until 10pm/22:00 the rest of the time while the pub/bar is open untill 1 am Friday and Saturday and until 12 am/midnight the rest of the time.
It used to be the Good Earth when I was a kid.
Favorite Dish: Several outstanding beers: Blarney Sister's Dry Irish Stout, Stepchild Red Ale, Blackcat Porter, and Barleywine. The Best Bitter is really good, too.
They have some good lighter ales, too, and I think one of these is the American Wheat, but I can't really remember since I almost never drink anything less dark than red or brown ale.
I do not care for the flagship Annadel Pale Ale, which I find ok, but quite bland.
Notably, it has a barleywine, too, which I highly recommend, not least of all since barleywine is uncommon even at microbreweries. It is slightly sweet, which contrasts nicely with its very strong and rich hoppy beer flavor and it has a wonderful, dense, frothy texture. It is, of course, also high in alcohol.
They also have a home-brewed root beer called Ol'Pappy's that is very, very good. It's a little heavy on the anise, so it takes some people a while to get used to, but it's great!
Best food includes the pulled pork sandwich, brewhouse salad, and the southwest chili, which is excellent. Their fries and burgers are also really good normally, but the burgers can be inconsistent, since sometimes they are overcooked and dry. They have great garlic fries with lots of diced garlic. The tostaditos are also great. Overall, the salads are good and I love the mustard-ale vinaigrette made with their own beer, but for those with crumbled blue cheese, I recommend getting the blue cheese on the side unless you REALLY love blue cheese, because they sure pile it on.
We're ambivalent about the fish & chips: the fish itself is bland and nothing special, but it has good texture and the tartar sauce is wonderful. Even though the fish is bland, we still get it because the tartar sauce is so good it tends to make up for it. However, this is certainly not the best place to go if you want REALLY good fish and chips.
Finally, a few dishes like the fish tacos are a little on the bland side and only mediocre.
Santa Rosa, and indeed all of Sonoma County, are blessed with innumerable Mexican restaurants, many of which are really good. These include numerous hole-in-the-wall taquerias often frequented by Mexican locals and which serve simple but often excellent food in simple surroundings. Taqueria Los Hermanos is among the best in the county. The only drawback is that it is in southern Santa Rosa along the southern Santa Rosa Ave. corridor, which is a rather ugly, soulless area of shopping centers, big box stores, muffler or tire shops, and the like. The plus side is that the restaurant fills a niche because without it there wouldn't be many places to eat in this part of town other than fast food joints.
Favorite Dish: Sopes al pastor. I'm just glad that at least some place in Sonoma County serves sopes, and the ones here are great. Their al pastor is also really good, as is their pollo/shredded chicken.
This is a new, but great little Puerto Rican restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa. The place is often really busy, but the wait has not been as long as we have been told aupon arriving. The service seems a bit frazzled and disorganized to some degree, but energectic and efficient in the ultimate result. Despite huge crowds, they took our order quickly and we got our food, piping hot, quickly as well.
Favorite Dish: Everything we've had is great. In particular, we like the sweet plaintains, bistec, red beans, etc. The coconut soda and malt soda are good and different.
Great news -- authentic dim sum has come to the wine country! Those of us in Sonoma County are used to driving an hour to San Francisco for good dim sum, but now we can satisfy our appetites in half the driving time.
The folks who run the Hang Ah Tea Room, our favorite dim sum place in Chinatown, have opened a branch in Santa Rosa in an old A&W drive-in. On the day we ate there, the place was packed with mostly Chinese families. I didn't know there were that many Chinese around here, and I'm one of them! Cheerful and lively atmosphere, attentive service. We all ate more than we should have because the food was so good, and the bill came to less than $10 per person.
Note: ordering beer and non-dim sum items may bump the cost into the next category.
Even the fast food architecture seems to work -- y'know, pointy orange roof...pagoda. We plan to go back again to stuff our faces.
Favorite Dish: Everything is delicious. My family's favorites are the char siu bau (barbecued pork buns), garlic green beans, foil-wrapped chicken, vegetable lo mein (wide, flat noodles), potstickers, shrimp shiu mai (steamed dumplings), and custard buns. Their char siu is wonderful, as is a steamed green vegetable (see photo) that's like a combination of broccoli and spinach.
Despite the name, taken from its start at Korbel Winery on the Russian River to the NW of Santa Rosa, this microbrewey and pub is located in downtown Santa Rosa. The menu is limited, but good. It has a number of fresh, tasty salads, with or without meat, and a range of thin but very tasty pizzas, as well as some other things. It produces a number of beers, mostly hoppy ales, IPAs, so-called double IPAs, and a range of Belgian-style beers. The latter receive strong emphasis here, taking up always 1/2 of the beer choices and this place is prmarily known as for the Belgians. There are some non-hoppy ales, too like the Dead Leaf Green pale ale, a very nice, light English-style bitter, and the golden ale, and a pretty good dry stout.
Favorite Dish: Pizza, salad, and beer. My favourite beers are Damnation, a strong golden Belgian ale, and Dead Leaf Green, a light pale ale with great sweet-bitter balance.
Sea Thai could be considered both a seafood restaurant and a Thai restaurant, so it should please aficionados of both types of cuisine.
I knew it must be something special when my friend, who doesn't usually like Thai food, suggested that we have lunch there. I had the filet of salmon in red curry sauce, with vegetables, and it was delicious. She savored every bit of her pad thai.
The decor is elegant, and the wait staff are attentive and helpful. The only downside is that the restaurant is so popular that it can get noisy, and conversation for soft-voiced people like me can be difficult.
The total tab, with tip, came to $16.50 each -- a bit more than I'm used to paying for lunch, but worth it. I will definitely go back.
This small, busy cafe is especially popular with local residents for weekend breakfasts. The waitresses are friendly, and service is prompt.
Favorite Dish: I had a cheese and avocado omelette with homemade hash brown potatoes. It was very good and more than I could finish at one sitting.
This is a wonderful, chic little place jthat serves vegetarian food, mostly if not entirely vegan, with an emphasis on raw foods.
A note: it used to be just south of downtown in the Julliard Park neighbourhood, but for some reason closed that location in 2010 and is going to reopen elsewhere. I heard that they will reopen it in the JC Neighborhood (near the Junior College), but I am not sure. Check the website below. It currently states an undisclosed new location will reopen in February 2011. I hope it does, because it is great, and I am not someone who cares if my food is raw or cooked, as long as it's good.
Contrary to typical popular expectations, this isn't a bunch of seeds or sprouted bread with whole kernels and nuts or bland vegetables. Instead, it serves a range of highly crafted, very flavourful foods bursting with character and with no item tasting like any other one.
I should note that, especially for the price, one does not get a lot of food. Portions tend to be on the small side, but they are surprisingly filling, especially since they are pretty much all vegetable and the like. Even so, if one is starving for a huge meal, this is probably not the place to go. Here, the real purpose is to enjoy something different, a meal of fresh vegetables and the like, and to savour the wonderful range of flavours.
This is in the South A Street area on the southern edge of downtown between Santa Rosa Ave. and Hwy 101. A formerly derelict area, it has recently been rejuvenated. See my tip on that neighbourhood.
As a note, this is the spot that used to be Cafe Saint Rose, on which I had written a tip. That place, however, moved to a spot in the coutnryside near Sebastopol.
Favorite Dish: Everything I have had is delicious and extremely flavourful. I recommend the combination tasting platter, which comes with small samples of several wonderful items.