The Parish Cafe

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Fancy an authentic po’ boy but can’t make it to Louisiana? How about Healdsburg instead? Seriously, some of the best New Orleans cuisine I’ve had this side of the Mississippi is in none other but Sonoma County. Go figure.

Blackened catfish po' boy

The Parish Cafe is only a couple of years old but it’s already garnered a following. Wanting to stay on the healthier side, I ordered a blackened catfish po’ boy and it did not disappoint. Fresh-tasting and full of spicy flavor, I could have easily been eating this in NOLA. The Parish Cafe’s lunch menu is primarily po’ boys but next time, I’m also going for the specials, like the gumbo and muffaletta.


Any airs I had about being healthy went out the window when our group ordered a plate of beignets to share. Now, this might be blasphemy, but these beignets were actually better than any I’ve tasted in New Orleans. It took every ounce of self-control to not order another plate of these.

The Parish Cafe is open only for breakfast and lunch, so go early. And while the menu isn’t all Creole or Cajun, their Louisianian transplant chef has made sure it’s all New Orleans and all delicious.

Ledson Winery and Vineyards

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Growing up, Ledson Winery was “the castle winery.” As children, we had no interest in wine, and only cared that driving past Ledson at night along rural Highway 12 was especially spooky.

Ledson Winery

These days, my tastes have matured and I like to visit Ledson for the (non-scary and actually very welcoming) ambiance and breathtaking vineyard views. I was last there during harvest season with Nishan and my sister, Melody. And yes, we still call it the castle winery.

Ledson Winery

The castle has has only been around since the 1990s but the Ledson family has been making wine and farming since the 1800s. The French Normandy-style structure is easy to spot in Kenwood if you’re wine tasting along Highway 12. The vines immediately surrounding the castle are Merlot, but the winery makes a range of reds and whites.

If you’re in the area and thinking of picking up a bottle, better do so while you’re there: Ledson only sells at their winery and at their hotel in neighboring Sonoma.

La Fondita

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When it comes to taquerias, us Californians are a proud lot. We each have our favorite and nearly every city lays claim to the best tacos around. I grew up in Santa Rosa, and well, we have the best taquerias. Even better than San Francisco’s Mission District, dare I say it.

Carne asada tacos

Case in point: La Fondita is a nondescript taqueria in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, an area dotted with no shortage of solid Mexican restaurants. La Fondita often has a taco truck adjacent to its brick and mortar establishment, and it’s here where I had some of the best tacos I’ve eaten in years. Four carne asada tacos, two chicken tamales, and a tamarindo Jarritos later and I was a happy eater. The tacos were the star but there’s lots more on their menu if you’re so inclined: chilaquiles and mole, for starters.

La Fondita standard is as far as taqueria service and ambiance goes, and if you happen to be there on a nice day, take advantage of the outdoor patio and enjoy your tacos in the sun. I can’t think of anything more Californian than that.

Bravas Bar de Tapas

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Sonoma County is my home turf, and every time I go home to visit, I’m impressed by how rapidly the restaurant scene is changing. Healdsburg’s Bravas Bar de Tapas is one of the latest offerings: a chic tapas restaurant downtown, with an adorable outdoor dining patio to boot. I ate there with my sister and Nishan one day, and we were instantly transported to Spain.

Marinated olives, pickled garlic, Idiazabal cheese

We started with the marinated olives, pickled garlic, and Idiazabal cheese to whet our appetites as we perused the menu. This was small but solid.

Fried duck egg, chorizo cracklings, toast

Next came a huge fried duck egg served with chorizo cracklings and toast. The gooey-richly flavored duck egg was made even richer but the chorizo, and the toast was a perfect vessel by which to soak it all up. A+, would eat again.

Dungeness crab fideua

In between bites of patatas bravas and nibbles of cheese, we also ordered the Dungeness crab fideua. The crab and thin toasted noodles were a tasty marriage of North Bay-meets-Mediterranean and it came served with a generous dollop of garlicy aioli. Perhaps too generous. The aioli was heavy but the fideua was smoky, tomatoey, and super satisfying.

There’s so much more at Bravas Bar de Tapas that I didn’t have the opportunity to try during my first visit that I can’t wait to go back. Sonoma County may be home, it may be the familiar, but it never ceases to amaze me. And these days, there’s always something new.

The Girl and the Fig

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The sleepy little town of Sonoma doesn’t have a ton of restaurants but what it lacks in quantity it makes up in quality. At the top of the list lies the The Girl and the Fig: French cuisine in a wine country setting. Located in Sonoma’s charming downtown, Nishan and I visited after a long day of wine tasting. We were famished (and hey, wine tasting is serious business).

Steak tartare

We started with the steak tartare — my first steak tartare, mind you. Served with caperberries and sprinkled with lavender sea salt, this was far tastier than I imagined it would be. Who knew steak could be light and yet decadent? The caperberries provided a hit of piquantness while crusty bread served as a perfect canvas with which to eat our tartare.

Butternut squash arancini

For my entree, I had a plate of butternut squash arancini served with oyster mushroom and frisee salad. This was delicious but the plate was quite small as a main dish. Better suited as an appetizer, I polished off my entire plate. Warm, gooey arancini, velvety mushrooms, and peppery greens — more please.

The Girl and the Fig is among Sonoma’s most popular restaurants, so make reservations ahead of time. Despite being nearly always busy, service is good and the dishes are presented with detail. It’s a little bit country, a little bit California, and a little bit French. In other words, entirely wine country.