We all have our favorite restaurants, those enduring and endearing haunts that feel a little bit like home. But it would be a mistake to forget that we live in a culinary dreamland; new gems are popping up in every corner, just waiting to be tried, from the down-home hot dog to the paradisiacal pad Thai.
Challenge: eat in Healdsburg without rubbing elbows with wine tourists! Drawing a blank? Head to Frank and Ernie's Steak House, a locally owned, locally loved restaurant that serves up all the classics for good, clean food, plain and simple—oh, and they still have the wines. 9 Mitchell Lane, Healdsburg. 707.433.2147. . . .
Casual yet classy, traditional yet fresh—there is no better way to describe Thai Time Asian Bistro, where good service, great food and slices of cucumber and strawberry in your water glass make you forget you're on busy Mendocino Avenue—and even make you forget about its predecessor, the Golden Dragon, a favorite for Chinese food. 402 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa. 707.526.7777. . . .
If you're one of those folks who likes a heartwarming history served up with your comfort food, you'll find just that at Catelli's. Originally opened in 1936 by Santi and Virginia Catelli, the restaurant became a Sonoma County staple. Santi and Virginia's grandchildren have taken up the mantle 25 years after its closure, serving up perfect Italian food as well as a sumptuous burger—and the old favorite, Virginia's ravioli. 21047 Geyserville Road, Geyserville. 707.857.3471. . . .
Smoky sauce slathered over steaming steak seems to be a theme this year, but don't expect anything pretentious from BubbaQue's. The restaurant, hidden in the back of a food mart, is unabashedly traditional, with a fiery menu lusciously limited to tri-tip, pulled pork, burgers and chicken. Bubba himself mans the kitchen, where you can get exactly the barbecue you're craving. 1105 Bodega Ave., Petaluma. 707.763.4401. . . .
Put down that Safeway sandwich. Woodruff's Artisan Foods and Cafe Marcella is here to save you from the perils of another ordinary deli day, offering gourmet sandwiches, cheeses and groceries and serving up lunch and dinner in their restaurant. Sealing the deal are owner David Woodruff's hand-crafted beers. 966 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. 707.829.2141. . . .
It's got the four B's: barbecue, burgers, bacon and beer—and it couldn't be further from owners Matthew and Bryan Bousquet's last culinary endeavor, Mirepoix. Despite their hard-earned Michelin star, the couple closed Mirepoix earlier this year in favor of this more family-friendly restaurant, Mamma Pig's. 275 Windsor Road, Windsor. 707.838.PIGS. . . .
With a menu overflowing with local ingredients, Space XXV aims its focus on the Sonoma County lifestyle, not just Sonoma County food. The restaurant features art and music as well as all the usual favorite dishes. 25 Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa, 415.816.9084. . . .
The Wurst has come, but don't panic! The new sausage spot has been buzzing since day one. Adding variety to Healdsburg's restaurant scene, the Wurst serves up brats and beers, with a burger and chicken sausages for the less-brave customers. Find the German in you at 22 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.694.0770. . . .
Everyone knew the Cantina in downtown Santa Rosa desperately needed an update, and the owners of La Rosa, who took over the space in April, have done us one better. The menu is similar, with fresh burritos, enchiladas and tacos paired with savory meats, but with one major difference: the food is actually tasty. With the added bonus of over 160 tequilas, La Rosa has fashioned itself a buzzworthy downtown spot, whether for after-work margaritas or a family dinner. 500 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.579.3200. . . .
Continuing this year's streak of restaurants that look like they should be for truckers but taste like they cook for gods (OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration), Five Guys Burgers bring their East Coast formula out West to do battle with In-N-Out. 2280 Mendocino Ave. #B5, Santa Rosa. 707.528.2507. . . .
A family-friendly restaurant that actually lives up to Mom's home cooking? Burgers, pizzas and beer-braised ribs abound at Kin, where adults can enjoy Grandma's special pot roast and kids can order off a menu in the form of a cootie-catcher. There's something for everyone at 740 McClelland Drive, Windsor. 707.837.7546.