Hungry for Healdsburg

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drycreekkitchen2.jpgBy Robert P. Farmer

It's difficult to not eat well in Wine Country. Even the holes-in-the-wall joints along the road tend to be well above average - indeed some are included among the best bets when it comes to dining. Each of the many and varied towns in the Napa and Sonoma valleys have their distinct characteristics. And, each has their destination-dining spots. But few have the abundance of options as Healdsburg. From coffee shop and bakery to casual takeaway diner to multi-star restaurant, Healdsburg's collection of dining options is among the best anywhere in Napa, Sonoma, or anyplace for that matter.

Situated far in the northern reaches of Sonoma County, Healdsburg is, like most of Sonoma's small town, centered on a square. The Town Square is the hub of activity for Healdsburg, where the spokes of good wine, good food, and social spirit emanate in all directions.
While the Square remains its vital center, Healdsburg has more recently undergone an expansion. The recent influx of luxury boutique hotels and top-end restaurants with Big Name chefs have helped pull the town into the Wine Country spotlight. The town is hemmed in by some of the best appellations in California, including Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Chalk Hill. Some 100 wineries exist in the immediate surroundings, making Healdsburg a perfect spot to set up camp for a long weekend of wine tasting. Thanks to the great wine that surrounds and influences nearly all aspects of Healdsburg life, it's not surprising that dining is among the most popular pastimes. From sidewalk takeaway gourmet to four-star luxury, the full menu can be found in Healdsburg.  

Willies Seafood & Raw Bar
One of the earnestly guarded local favorites, Willies Seafood restaurant is a little taste of big city fish restaurant moderated to a wine country temperament. Willies is usually buzzing with activity, and the fresh seafood and raw bar are the main reason for the excitement. The menu is inventive, fresh and full of surprises like sushi-inspired uni and bay scallop "macaroni" or PEI mussels steamed and served with coconut. The dishes are designed for grazing - small portions meant to be shared and which encourage sampling from among the many selections. As expected, the wine list is excellent, but the signature cocktails are a better bet for keeping up with the edible sensory overload. Also worth venturing out for in this group of family-operated restaurants is Willies Wine Bar in Santa Rosa.
Open Sun-Thurs 11:30am-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-10om
403 Healdsburg Ave.,
Healdsburg
(707) 433-9191

http://www.starkrestaurants.com/willis_seafood.html

zin_large.jpgZin Restaurant and Wine Bar
Another local hotspot, but also beloved by visitors, Zin's unassuming and not-very-cozy dining room belies a kitchen that turns out extraordinary seasonal American fare. With an emphasis on fresh seafood and pasta, many dishes are prepared with Italian influences and benefit from herbs and spices grown in the restaurant's own garden. Specialties like housemade raviolis and applewood-smoked pork chops have garnered a passionate following. But the dish that always starts conversations is the beer-batter-fried green beans. The wine list is chock-full of varietals from the neighborhood. The brisk, friendly service and great prices are the perfect compliment to the no-fuss dining experience.
Open for lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; dinner nightly from 5:30pm
344 Center Street
(707) 473-0946
www.zinrestaurant.com


Dry Creek Kitchen
The argument can be made that the opening of this attractive, country-casual restaurant on the town square marked the official resurgence of Healdsburg as a "destination." The handiwork of critical darling Charlie Palmer, the lively and inviting eatery fires on all cylinders all the time. From the happening scene at the bar to the tableside conversations at the tables on the outdoor sidewalk patio, there is a prevailing sense here that everybody knows each other and everybody is always happy to see each other--like old time friends finally getting together for an evening out. And the kitchen lives up to that sort of expectation, with Palmer's seasonal menu always reflecting the best-available ingredients from the surrounding region. The dishes are straightforward American classics but dressed up for a contemporary palate and executed with leading-edge flair. It's an indulgent experience, but one that should not be missed.  
Open for lunch Fri-Sun noon-2:30pm; open for dinner Sun-Thurs, 5pm-9:30pm. Fri-Sat, 5pm-10pm.
317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg
(707) 431-0330
www.hotelhealdsburg.com


oakvillegrocery.jpegOakville Grocery
The wildly popular and ever-inviting marketplace--whose original location is in its namesake town in central Napa Valley--is a far cry from your typical grocery store. Instead this is an ideal spot for a leisurely repast along your town-square exploring route through downtown Healdsburg. While it is indeed a working grocery, where gourmet products are offered in mouthwatering array, it also features a working kitchen, where great freshmade pizzas, sandwiches, and salads are a popular order either to go for a picnic or to enjoy on the always-bustling patio. Also featured is a great selection wines both regional and from further afield. The atmosphere is relaxed and no-fuss; you'll find it difficult to walk past without venturing in for at least an espresso to go.
Open daily 9am-8pm
124 Matheson Street, Healdsburg
(707) 433-3200
www.oakvillegrocery.com  


Bear Republic Brewing Company
There's more than wine to Wine Country and the Bear Republic is living, singing proof of it. The popular craft brewery and restaurant produces a series of excellent handmade beers, which remain its most popular draw. But far from serving up typical "pub grub," the kitchen keeps in step by sending out an sturdy assortment of fare prepared with seasonally fresh ingredients. The requisite burgers and fries are present and accounted for (well above par), but so too are such surprises as housemade gumbo and a pulled-pork sandwich that perfectly compliments the beers. While most Bear Republic brews are bottled and available "to go," some are available only on tap in the pub.
Open Sun-Thurs 11:30am-9pm; Sat-Sun 11am-10pm
345 Healdsburg Ave.
(707) 433-3227
www.bearrepublic.com



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