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Where The Chefs Eat in Napa Valley

When I first moved to Napa Valley I wanted to know one thing: Where do the locals eat? But I wasn't talking about the group of longtimers in my Napa neighborhood that regularly headed to the nearby classic chain restaurants for the early-bird specials. I meant the top toques. They were the serious foodies who on their nights off would travel half way across the valley for the best sashimi or a perfect batch of French fries. I knew if I followed them to the nooks and crannies between the destination restaurants I'd find the best everyday eats with prices to match. It was this tactic that led me to Napa's hidden restaurant Villa Corona (3614Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, 707-257-8685) —and a serious hard-shell chicken taco addiction. Never one to tire of seeking out the next great meal, I recently asked some of the region's famed culinary talents where they go to grub. As always, they served up spectacularly tasty advice. Follow it and you may end up savoring Napa Valley's secret eats while seated next to them—or me.

When chef Hiro Sone and his wife pastry chef Lissa Doumani of Terra restaurant in St. Helena have a hankering for breakfast, they head to Miguel's Restaurant (1437 LincolnAve., Calistoga, 707-942-6868). The draw is their chilaquiles (a Mexican dish of scrambled eggs, fried tortilla strips, cheese, and other savory ingredients), which they say is good enough to counterbalance less-than-savory service.

Napa resident David Gingrass, who is also proprietor of San Francisco's Two Restaurant(previously of Hawthorne Lane), says his favorite back-road meal can be found at Calistoga's Vallarta Market (1009 Foothill Boulevard, Calistoga, 707-942-8664). "It's a real taqueria with a total lack of pretense. It's not gussied up, made for Hollywood, or made for tourists. I get a plate full of tacos and eat them in my car," he professes. Another of his favorites is Red Rock Cafe (1010 Lincoln Ave.,Napa, 707-252-9250, www.backdoorbbq.com), which he swears has the best cheeseburgers in the valley. I'll second the notion. The casual Napa diner that serves bottomless sodas, pulled pork, and big pieces of pie is where I regularly lunch when not downing the aforementioned tacos.

Robert Curry of Auberge du Soleil says he looks for places that are not fussy and have are plenty of choices. His prime pick is downtown Napa's relaxed-chic no-reservations Vietnamese restaurant Annalien (1142 MainSt., Napa, 707-224-8319). "I go there and get a bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) or green papaya salad, summer rolls, and the eggplant dish they make. It's easy, quick, and I like the food," he divulges.

Thomas Keller doesn't have to stray far to find his favorite food when he's not creating culinary masterpieces at The French Laundry. He heads straight down the road to his sister restaurant Bouchon (6534 Washington Street, Yountville, 707-944-8037,www.frenchlaundry.com) and orders roasted chicken, which also happens to be one of his—and my—very favorite foods.

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