Where to Lunch in the City of Napa

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By Deirdre Bourdet

For many, fall means back to school, back to work, and a brutal reality check to the hedonism and decadence of summertime.  In wine country, though, autumn ushers in harvest party season and every excuse you need to keep on keeping on with that summertime spirit--even if only for a day.  

The City of Napa's location at the southernmost portion of the valley makes it an ideal destination for busy folks on a shorter leash.  With about 20 tasting rooms and one working winery (Twenty Rows) within city limits, visitors no longer need to rely solely on Carneros wineries for their wine tasting needs.  And with a slew of excellent restaurants serving lunch on the weekends, Napa is fully equipped for an afternoon of deliciousness.
First, the casual joints.  Bounty Hunter Wine Bar is arguably the most-written about restaurant in Napa city, due to its killer barbecue, beer can chicken, long hours, and eclectic selection of wines by the taste, glass, and bottle.  Their artichoke spinach dip, pulled chicken sandwich made from the beer can chicken, and the pulled pork sandwich are some of my favorites, but the barbecue sampler platter is also a great way to go for a group of diners (though my brother and I once polished the whole thing off ourselves).  975 First Street.

Zinsvalley moved to downtown First Street last year from its former location in the sleepy Browns Valley neighborhood of Napa.  The menu ranges all over the globe, with an emphasis on bold flavors and crowd-pleasers, like hoisin grilled pork chops, smoked salmon pizza with fried capers and goat cheese, blackened shrimp quesadillas with mango-jicama salad, and country-fried rabbit with cheddar grits and redeye gravy.  With floor to ceiling windows looking out at downtown's courtyard plaza, the space is bright and comfortable. 1106 First Street.

azzurro arugula manciata w egg 1.jpgLocally beloved Azzurro Pizzeria serves up delicious pies, salads, and pastas every day of the week across from the Vintners' Collective tasting room on Main Street.  I'm partial to their manciatas--pizza crust baked with a sprinkle of cheese, then topped with a cool dressed salad--as well as the seasonal antipasti, but the baked rigatoni with spicy fennel sausage and mushrooms also has a cult following for good reason. Interesting, mostly local wines and beers make this place a sure bet for visitors and residents alike.  1260 Main Street.

Newcomers Mini Mango Thai Bistro, Bistro Sabor and Bui Bistro also serve up fabulous lunches on Saturday, the same day Pearl Restaurant hosts their Oyster Extravaganza from 11:30am to 2pm.

2010-09-13 15.29.43_Napa_California_US.jpgIf you're in the mood for a more upscale kind of scene, Napa can do that too.  Angèle Restaurant serves French-inspired lunches every day of the week in a cozy, classy bistro setting by the Napa River.  The menu changes seasonally, but always includes salade lyonnaise, oysters on the half shell, croques monsieur and madame, and a stupendous burger.  My most recent visit involved the annihilation of their seasonal tartine, a thick slice of toasted levain spread with luscious duck pâté and topped with shredded duck confit, yellow peaches, and arugula... truly as spectacular as it sounds.  Excellent house wines are poured by the glass or carafe, but there's also a healthy selection of local and French offerings, and a creative full bar as well.  Dining out on the terrace is a fantastic option for sunny days.  540 Main Street.

Vegetarian Ubuntu Restaurant rocked the national food scene when it opened three years ago, and again when it earned its first Michelin star for 2010.  Under the stewardship of Chef Aaron London, the restaurant transforms organic, biodynamically grown produce into culinary works of art that push boundaries and amaze herbivores and carnivores alike.  The menu changes frequently and defies description, but consider this September offering by way of example: a savory lemon financier cake with almond, Estrella Family "unnamed cow" cheese, Rossa Bianca eggplant mosaic, succulents, blackberries, and ras el hanout.  Lunch is served Friday through Sunday, inside the modern industrial building (which also houses a yoga studio) or on the secret garden patio out back, weather permitting.  This place should be on the bucket list of everyone who has ever eaten a vegetable.  1140 Main Street.

Bistro Don Giovanni has been a Napa mainstay since it opened in 1993, thanks to the warm and professional management of founders Donna and Giovanni Scala.  A full menu of homey Italian pastas, pizzas, salads and secondi, coupled with a full bar ready to mix a martini on a moment's notice, draw crowds from all over the valley at lunch and dinner every day of the week.  Beef carpaccio, prosciutto e melone, pappardelle Bolognese, margherita pizza, and zuppa di pesce are all here for your lunching delight.  Whether you opt for fireside seating inside, or garden seating outside in the "parco," the people-watching is just as satisfying as the food.   4110 Howard Lane, off Highway 29.

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