One of the great charms of Healdsburg in Sonoma is that it manages to successfully maintain a small-town feel while constantly growing, adding new restaurants and tasting rooms. While the town boasts a number of notable favorites, some of the top picks are worth a second look, thanks to new chefs and new concepts.
In a town with no shortage of places that focus on seasonal, local, farm to table dining, Kinsmoke is the only true barbecue spot and the latest addition to the downtown dining scene. You order at the counter and are served on butcher paper-lined trays. On the menu you’ll find grilled options like burgers, steak, and a pork chop as well as smoky meat from “the pit.” Choose from ribs, brisket, St. Louis–style pork ribs or shoulder, homemade sausage, or chicken—all served by the rack or the pound, or in sandwiches. On the side you’ll find the typical offerings including potato salad, baked beans, slaw, mac and cheese, and cornbread. To drink there’s local wine, beer, and apple and pear ciders from Sonoma Cider, headquartered in Healdsburg and slated to open a tasting room later this year.
Healdsburg is a prime location for wine, and the town boasts no fewer than 25 tasting rooms within the city limits. But the latest tasting room isn’t for wine or even beer or cider—it’s all about tea. Taste of Tea offers the relaxation of tea along with an opportunity for discovery and perhaps some pampering. It’s part tea lounge, part cafe, and part spa, making it the perfect place to take a little break from wine tasting or touring. The shop boasts more than 50 different kinds of Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese teas, plus artisanal tea blends with and without caffeine. As far as food goes, the menu is limited and light; enjoy miso ramen or an indulgent green tea cheesecake before heading to the relaxation room for a Japanese green tea foot soak or facial.
After 23 years, Bistro Ralph has fully transitioned into Ralph’s Martini House. What was an intimate restaurant is now a bustling bar that stays open until 10 pm every night and midnight on Saturdays. The vibe is casual and lively, and the menu offers small bites to complement drinks. The martini-focused menu offers about 10 kinds of both gin and vodka as well as classic house cocktails such as the Sazerac, Vieux Carré, Mai Tai, and a spicy version of the Moscow Mule made with their housemade ginger syrup. It’s a good spot for starting or ending an evening or grabbing a bite around 3 or 4 in the afternoon when everything else seems to have just closed or hasn’t yet opened.
Housed in a James Beard award–winning building, Shed, described as a “modern grange,” is an ambitious emporium of sorts with housewares, pantry staples, a larder, farm and garden store, a coffee bar, fermentation bar, and at the center, Shed Cafe. The restaurant has an open prep kitchen and wood-burning oven that turns out delicious pizzas and platters of oysters. Since culinary director Perry Hoffman came on board, the restaurant has expanded its service and now offers dinner service for true all-day dining. Hoffman, who earned a Michelin star at Étoile in Napa, brings an earthy elegance to a menu driven largely by the availability of produce from within 10 miles. True to his fine-dining roots, he has just added a nightly prix-fixe menu with an amuse bouche, light starter, vegetable-based first course, meat or fish for second course, sweet or savory dish for the meal's end, and a surprise from HomeFarm or the garden for the guest to take home. The food here sparkles with creativity and freshness in dishes like Preston farm carrot salad with yogurt, medjool dates, bee pollen, and young lettuce or Catalina yellowtail and sea urchin with brown rice cracker, mandarinquat, ponzu, and ginger.
Spoonbar has brought on husband-and-wife team Patrick and Casey Van Voorhis as co-executive chefs, each of whom have worked at Michelin-starred Italian restaurants in San Francisco. Don’t be surprised to see Italian ingredients or accents working their way into the menu. Some recent dishes include Meyer lemon gnudi with rainbow chard, confit truffle, and chicken cracklings as well as roasted cauliflower ravioli with kohlrabi, preserved lemon, fried shallots, and truffle perlage. The bar program continues to be a focus, with several cocktails on tap, as well as classic cocktails made with many fresh local ingredients and local spirits. The chef team have also revamped the menu at nearly Pizzando, adding dishes such as burrata with roasted apple, prosciutto, aceto balsamico, and grilled focaccia and pizza with charred broccoli, ricotta, green garlic, and a farm egg.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco–based food and travel writer and cookbook author. She has written for Shermans Travel, Frommer’s, Recipe.com, and Epicurious, as well as 7×7, Cheers, and Gastronomica magazines. Follow her @cookingwithamy.