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If you’re planning a trip to Napa Valley in 2019, it’s easy to spend hours debating which of the hundreds of wineries to visit for tastings or tours. But grapes are only half the story in this vast, beautiful region of California’s famed wine country. You’d be remiss not to book at least one special meal at one of the best restaurants in Napa, and for those drives between destinations, lunch spots and specialty grocers are key. From white tablecloths to picnic tables, here are some of the best restaurants in in Napa Valley.

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Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley

Auberge du Soleil | Flickr CC by Patou Uhlmann

Auberge du Soleil

At the top of our Napa Valley dining list is Auberge du Soleil, located in one of the most beautiful settings in the valley. Opened nearly 40 years ago by a French restaurateur named Claude Rouas, this is the self-proclaimed premiere fine-dining restaurant in the region, serving Michelin-starred food complemented by a wine cellar 15,000 bottles strong. Reservations in the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil are a must, while the Bistro & Bar accommodates drop-ins.

Victor's almonds avocado caviar at restaurant at meadowood napa valley

Victor’s almonds avocado caviar | Photo courtesy of Kelly Puleio

The Restaurant at Meadowood

Another bucket-list reservation: The Restaurant at Meadowood, where $285 tasting menus are booked months in advance. The hyper-local menu draws from partnerships with farmers, foragers and artisans from the valley, dreamed into seasonal delicacies at the whim of heralded chef Christopher Kostow. For those not ready to commit to dinner, the Restaurant Bar on the property serves a three-course menu, as well as “Fireside Snacks,” along with an impressive wine and cocktail menu.

French Laundry in Napa Valley

French Laundry | Flickr photo by City Foodsters

The French Laundry

For many visitors to the valley, booking dinner at The French Laundry is a must. Thomas Keller’s famous restaurant refreshes its tasting menus (full and vegetarian) daily, serving classic French fare with the finest ingredients around. Located in an historic saloon built from river rock and timber in 1900, the restaurant is celebrating its 25th anniversary under Keller’s direction—a far cry from its fledgling years as a family restaurant in the late 1970s.

The Restaurant at CIA Copia

For a fresh take on regional California cooking, stop into The Restaurant at CIA Copia. Unlike most restaurants affiliated with the Culinary Institute of America, Copia’s restaurant is run by professionals from the area. Opened in early 2017 as part of a new, downtown Napa campus, it features a comfortable, contemporary dining room and one especially memorable “staff” member: Bessie the cheese-cart cow.

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ

You wouldn’t expect to find legit BBQ this far north, but Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ is the real deal. It’s possibly the only restaurant where you’ll find a $300 bottle of wine poured with beer-can chicken under the watch of a taxidermy moose. A favorite of both locals and tourists, Bounty Hunter serves lunch and dinner seven days a week.

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Bouchon Bakery

If a sit-down meal at one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants isn’t in the cards, console yourself with an authentic French pastry at his long-standing Bouchon Bakery. From viennoiserie to macaroons, this is sweet, flaky patisserie heaven, which naturally draws a long line. Order a quiche or a salad along with your sweets, then soak in the sun on the patio. 

Boon Fly Cafe

For hearty, down-home favorites like morning doughnuts and fried-chicken dinners, the Boon Fly Cafe is a highly recommended stop along the highway just west of downtown Napa. The vibrant red roadhouse is a mecca for fun, lively meals any time of day, and offers reservations come nightfall.

Gott's Food in Napa Valley

Photo courtesy of Gott’s

Gott’s Roadside

Sometimes, you just want a burger. Gott’s Roadside is the place to get it. Longtime locals know this spot as the old Taylor’s Refresher, St. Helena’s roadside burger shack since mid-century. Gott’s was born in 1999 when brothers Joel and Duncan Gott took over, and has since spawned satellite locations all over the Bay Area. Stop by the original for upgraded greasy-spoon grub washed down with a glass of wine—or a milkshake.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Photo courtesy of Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

For a lesser known but nonetheless incredible dining experience, book a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Built in the 1860s to shuttle San Francisco tourists to and from Calistoga, the railroad launched gourmet dining service 30 years ago and features four on-board kitchens stocked with produce, meats, seafood and, of course, wines from the region. Check out the Vista Dome experience: Lunch or dinner in a special observatory dining car perfect for taking in valley views. 

Oysters at Oxbow Public Market Napa Valley

Photo courtesy of  Oxbow Public Market

Oxbow Public Market

Whether you’re planning a picnic or stocking up for a laid-back night back at your lodging, Oxbow Public Market is a must-visit for sampling local staples and snacks. There’s an outpost of Gott’s here, as well as Model Bakery (a St. Helena institution dating to 1908), Hog Island Oyster Co. (serving the entire Bay Area) and a dozen more, plus a book store and shops selling local provisions.

Tagged: California

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Lauren Viera

Lauren Viera

Lauren Viera

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