Monday, August 08, 2011

Best Restaurants for Lunch in the Napa Valley

Recently, I finally got to lunch at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville.  I'd been wanting to dine there for many years as I had heard good things about the restaurant and had eaten many years ago at its now-closed, sister restaurant in San Francisco - Jeanty at Jack's.  If you enjoy classic French cuisine, you will love Bistro Jeanty.  While the menu was a little too meat focused for us, we found enough to keep us happy and had a nice meal on the patio.  Bistro Jeanty is a slice of France in California's wine country.

Having now lunched at Bistro Jeanty, I've eaten at nearly all of the major restaurants between Yountville and St. Helena.  I find Napa too far south and Calistoga too far north to stop for lunch when I am touring in the Napa Valley..  Here are my picks for the best lunch spots in the heart of the Napa Valley.

Auberge du Soleil continues to be my favorite restaurant for lunch in the Valley.  Lunching on Auberge's terrace is the quintessential Napa experience.  The combination of food, service, and view is unparalleled.  Enjoy California/French cuisine at this Michelin one-star restaurant.

For American food, my recommendations are Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena; Mustard's Grill in Yountville, and Farmstead in St. Helena.  The first two restaurants have the same chef/owner Cindy Pawlcyn.  Farmstead recently changed chefs. I have not had a chance to lunch there under the new regime so I hope it is still as good as it was.  Pick your spot depending on where you think you'll be at lunch time.  However, if you love onion rings, Mustard's are the best I have ever had.

For Italian, Bottega, in Yountville, has great, high-end, Italian cuisine.  Chef/Owner Michael Chiarello makes the best calamari I have ever eaten.  I've dined at Bottega a couple of times and every morsel has been delicious.  For more casual fare, including some pizzas, try Bistro Don Giovanni, between the city of Napa and Yountville.  The service is friendly and the food very good.

If you love traditional French food, then I recommend Bistro Jeanty.

For terrific burgers, fries, and shakes, you can't beat Gott's Roadside in St. Helena or at Oxbow Market in Napa.  If some of your party is more health conscious, Gott's has good salads, terrific fish tacos, and a yummy ahi tuna burger.  Being in Napa, Gott's also has a wine list.

Now here are my caveats:.  
  • Yes, the French Laundry is fantastic.  But, unless you are in Napa for a few days, do you really want to spend three hours lunching?   Plus at $290/person without wine, I'd rather split the money among a few of the above restaurants.  And, good luck getting a reservation.  You must call exactly 60 days in advance of the date you want to eat and then have very good karma.
  • Redd and Etoile in Yountville have very good California cuisine.  I recommend both highly but, given just one day in Napa, get equally good food plus a great view at Auberge du Soleil.
  • Bouchon in Yountville gets rave reviews everywhere.  But, for me, I think it's overpriced and can't recommend it, especially given the other terrific choices.
  • There are many other fabulous restaurants in the Valley, e.g. Restaurant at Meadowood and Terra, but they are not open for lunch.
I hope this list helps you pick the perfect place for lunch when you are in the Napa Valley.  Be sure to make a reservation as tables can be hard to come by especially on Saturdays and during the busy season of June through October.  If you would like to take a private Napa Valley tour that includes lunch at one of these restaurants, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at or (866) 326-4237.