Photograph by Suzanne Daly MAIN STREET: Yasheh Qawasmi and her brother Samir serve up the Middle East to West County.
Our highly subjective guide to the North Bay's must-have comestibles
Compiled by Suzanne Daly, Gretchen Giles, James Knight, Juliane Poirier Locke, Gabe Meline, P. Joseph Potocki, Lindsay Pyle and Hannah Smith
A lousy economy doesn't stop the stomach from its daily growl prowl. The pleasures of the public table are huge, and we always like to leave the chopping and washing to someone else. In considering this year's Resident Tourist Guide, we let our tummies do the talking as we brainstormed those places, both big and small, humble and grand, that are essential for area eats. Tuck in and enjoy!
Angèle Restaurant & Bar Missing Paris and can't get a flight to Europe? More often than I can get away to France, I settle for a flight of imagination and an elegant meal at Angèle's, where the food and the setting are trés, trés bien. This is the ideal place to be alone with someone special, because only French kissing can evoke a Seine-side fantasy as perfectly as the seductive food, azure shutters, rustic cafe architecture, soft lighting, small tables and, if you're lucky, seating right beside the Napa River. (Why not phone ahead to make sure you get lucky?)
The muted strains of Piaf float over your dreamy date, the river glitters just outside the window beside your small table, and the magnificent cuisine—duck confit cassoulet, French onion soup, glazed pork belly, hand-cut pasta with Catalonian meatballs—entices you as brilliantly as could any cafe in Paris. Perhaps a little more, as the menu offers fewer sauces and more imagination. The wine list is sophisticated. The night is young. Just do it. Joni Mitchell long ago observed, "In France, they kiss on Main Street." In Napa, they go to Angèle's. 540 Main St., Napa. 707.252.8115. —J.P.L.
Main Street Deli A smiling Samir Qawasmi and his sister, Yasheh, wrapped in a beautiful and traditional princess hajab (head scarf), busily dish up a Mediterranean feast for hungry errand runners. Flanked by the post office and a dry cleaner and steps away from a burrito shop and bagel store, it is easy to miss the Main Street Deli, a little oasis of Mediterranean delights in downtown Sebastopol. Although a Palestinian, Qawasmi serves traditional foods found throughout the Middle East, from Lebanese meatballs and pickled turnips to Greek dolmades and gyros. The menu boasts a wide variety of wraps, salads and sandwiches—half Mediterranean and half Californian—all for the bargain price of $5.99.
Those in line order some of the homemade favorites: a smoked turkey and pesto wrap with provolone, a pastrami and melted Swiss panini or the daily special, like Lebanese meatballs with hummus, tahini and shatta, a Jordanian hot pepper sauce. The deli is a wild conglomeration of East and West, illustrated by the products for sale in the store. Pomegranate molasses, rose water, wild pickled cucumbers, and Lebanese halawa (halvah) share shelf space with Moon Pies, Skittles, Jelly Bellies, boxed soy milk and canned Chicken of the Sea tuna.
A vast selection of cold drinks fills a wall-length fridge case, and tables and chairs welcome customers to stop and sit a spell in the clean dining area. Don't forget to check out the dozen-plus prints of old train stations in Marin and Sonoma counties that hang crookedly on the wall. From Point Reyes, through Petaluma, Marshall, Tomales, Sebastopol and out to the river communities, diners fill up on local history while filling their bellies.
After a delicious piece of melt-in-your-mouth Baklava for dessert before resuming the rigors of the day, it's surprising to step outside and realize that the Middle East is halfway around the world, because the Main Street Deli brings it into our own backyard. 280 S. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.824.0700. —S.D.
Simply Vietnam I'll never forget the first time I stepped into the curious little building on the corner of Dutton Avenue and Maxwell Court. It was a taqueria then, years ago, in an era when for some reason all the prevailing taquerias in Santa Rosa had been coaxed by heart specialist Dr. John McDougall into offering his "McDougall menu." I innocently ordered a vegetarian burrito. I was served a tortilla filled with cauliflower, baby corn, lettuce, sliced carrots, broccoli and red onions. I didn't finish the thing.
It took years for me to venture through those doors again, but it paid off. Simply Vietnam has all but erased the atrocities of yesteryear, offering inexpensive soups, noodle dishes and curries that burst with flavor. In particular, its magnificent pho has started an all-out locals' war over which pho is superior—Simply Vietnam or the long-running Pho Vietnam, over on Stony Point—and its ambiance is clean and uncluttered. The portions are huge, and for just $8, you can eat like royalty and still take home half the plate for a midnight snack.
Oh, and you know that perpetually single friend of yours? The one with the Asian-girl obsession? Don't let him come here or have any interaction with the waitresses. He'll never want to leave. 966 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.566.8910. —G.M.
Toast It doesn't get much more simple than toast—the best thing to happen to sliced bread since the plastic bag. Appropriately named after this basic breakfast accompaniment, Toast, in downtown Mill Valley, pays homage to the white, the wheat and the rye by offering the basics in American breakfast. And let it be said, the basics in American breakfast serve for some as the very stars and stripes of this country.
Just talk of scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, and a faint murmur of the American anthem can be heard in the distance. Toast plays to this formidable patriotic weak spot. From biscuits and gravy to Benedicts of all kinds, to omelettes and scrambles and pancakes of many flavors, Toast leaves nothing to be desired. It even offers Belgian waffles, fried French toast, huevos rancheros and breakfast pizzas, in case one's breakfast tastes are slightly international.
While it is, for lack of a better phrase, just a diner, Toast's overall success must be attributed to doing the basics, and doing them well. Black and chrome stools sit looking into an open kitchen, tables and booths line the windows, and classic American tunes sing quietly out of a jukebox. It is clean and retro and comfortable. Since the same space was home to the Sunnyside Cafe for almost 12 years, its retro-Americana theme is welcome, and a bit refreshing since surrounding Mill Valley hasn't much to offer in that department.
Tiny little Toast is tucked into that little passageway of shops on Sunnyside, seemingly aware that its glory is enjoyed without great attention. The fact that people from all over Marin go to Toast and willingly wait for hours to be seated in the pursuit of the American breakfast is all the tribute it needs. Perhaps it's that Toast has become, like its namesake, a sort of staple in the American breakfast psyche, or at least as far as Marin's concerned. Due to such success, Toast has opened a second location in Novato in order to accommodate all of its adoring fans. This chic version of the classic favorite promises to be the next "best" in basic breakfast, again. 31 Sunnyside Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.2500. 5800 Nave Drive, Unit G, Novato. 415.382.1144. —L.P.
Olive & Vine The old converted winery hugging the shady creek that we now call Jack London Village in Glen Ellen houses a cheesemonger, a chocolatier, a custom olive oil press and three good restaurants. Among the latter, Olive & Vine especially shines. This high-ceilinged, eclectically furnished space boasts an open kitchen, as well as a wine bar off to one side.
The eye wanders from place to thing to odd item, before meandering up to the daily menu board to order. The menu can change daily, but some items consistently show up. They offer a quiche of the day, housemade pizzas, Southwest chicken burgers, Thai fish burgers, a pulled barbecue pork sandwich, ahi tuna burgers with Asian slaw, and a slew of paninis, including a killer Black Forest ham with Brie and fig chutney. The rosemary chicken panini is served with red-pepper fennel relish. Each lunch item comes with a salad from a choice of 10 for $10 to $11.
The four-salad plate is a personal favorite; choosing just four is the hard part. The plate gets served with a healthy slice of grilled Della Fattoria bread. For dessert, Olive & Vine bakes all manner of open-faced fruit crustadas—pear and blueberry, rhubarb or whatever's in season—as well as assorted cakes, soufflés, tartlets and honey-dipped bran muffins.
Each Friday, the restaurant showcases top-notch North Bay musical artists from 7pm. A special menu accompanies the music and the house charges no cover. These are SRO nights, so get there early. 14301 Arnold Drive, Ste. 3, Glen Ellen. 707.996.9150. —P.J.P.
Sol Food There are two Sol Food locations just one block away from each other, but I'm pretty much all about the smaller Fourth Street Sol Food, especially in the waning late hours on Friday or Saturday nights. Cramped around the towering foliage in the corner lot next to the tattoo shop and the dry cleaner, there's always a good crowd of hungry nighttime denizens, and I'll answer right here and now the question they all ask: no, Sol Food does not sell beer (and no, you can't legally bring your own inside).
The Puerto Rican fare at Sol Food has sparked a bona fide Bay Area sensation. Friends of mine often drive 45 miles simply to dine on their pan-fried pork chops, their marinated chicken thighs and their chorizo and ham sandwiches. Bottles of explosive hot sauce homemade with 12 different peppers make zesty dishes even zestier, and vegan and vegetarian options abound with plenty of rice and plantains. Limeade and iced tea are made in-house, and the reasonably priced menu offers much for the curious. (Want just one plantain tostón? Have it. It's only $1.25.)
It must be also noted that the décor is lovely, with walls made from old recycled doors and shutters and salvaged metal chairs painted yellow and turquoise. A human touch comes via faded sepia photos of the owners' family back in Puerto Rico, tucked beneath the front counter glass, like little friends whose lives intersect with yours while you finish your Jíbaro sandwich. I've shamelessly fallen in love with the one near the register that bears a beautiful Puerto Rican resemblance to PJ Harvey. 732 Fourth St. and 901 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael. 415.451.4765. —G.M.
Angelo's Wine Country Deli Anyone whose email address begins with "moregarlic" is, by definition, a master of robust living. Just crack the door to Angelo's Wine Country Deli, and a manly blast of smoked meat and garlic hits the carnivore's nostrils with the subtlety of a sledgehammer pounding a thumbtack.
Plastic canisters chock-full of eight assorted thick, chewy and yet surprisingly soft and tender beef and turkey jerkies provide pilgrims a delicious workout one's jaw and taste buds won't soon forget. Angelo's justifiably renowned jerkies are each marinated before drying, injecting intense flavor into each and every bite.
Before deciding on a mile-high smoked-chicken salad sandwich with a side of seriously toothsome macaroni salad, or anything else from Angelo's range of extreme deli offerings, try a chip or two piled high with his sweet and garlic-spicy salsa, his garlic mustard, marinara or barbecue sauce, and definitely pop a few of his garlic-stuffed olives and signature pickled garlic cloves, all of which are abundantly laid out free of charge. Hell, you're full before you hit the register.
But we haven't yet broached the saliva-prompting topic of Angelo's exquisite smoked bacons, hams for two, smoked chops, whole hog and fowl products, or his 22 different smoked and fresh sausage offerings. Whew, buddy!
Angelo Ibleto came to the North Bay from Genova, Italy, 30 years ago. Locals drop by Angelo's smokehouse off Old Adobe Road on the outskirts of Petaluma to chat with the amiable man himself, but for an exceptional deli experience head to Angelo's Wine Country Deli. The humble outpost squats amid the splendor of Carneros wineries across from Gloria Ferrer's rather more elegant digs. While Gloria boasts the fancy gate, a long winding drive and palatial spread poking out from the hills, Angelo's Deli has his "Let's eat!" fiberglass cow standing out front as its warm and friendly greeting. Peruse the rogue's gallery of Angelo fans hanging on the wall as the cashier rings up your order. Question is, does Tippi Hedren exact her revenge by ravishing his smoked chicken sausage, turkey jerky or one of Angelo's plump and juicy little smoked game hens? Angelo's Wine Country Deli, 23400 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 707.938.3688. Angelo's Meats, 2700 Adobe Road, Petaluma. 707.763.9586. —P.J.P.
Fish Perched like a pelican over the backside of the Sausalito bay, Fish looks more like a bait and tackle shop than a sustainable seafood restaurant (for good reason; Fish actually shares a bathroom with the bait and tackle shop next door). It is a fish 'n' chips joint, so its exterior plays the part. The interior keeps character, too, with cement floors, large wooden tables where guests eat communally and a glass display case offering fresh fish to take home. Guests come into the little sea shack; wait in line to order the freshest fish and chips, ahi poke, clam chowder, fish tacos or catch of the day; take a number, maybe help themselves to some water from the tap near the large bay windows looking out onto the foggy, turbulent sea; and sit to await their feast.
Offering only seafood that is sustainably caught in California, Fish hasn't offered wild salmon for the last year and won't buy farmed salmon. On every table there is a flyer explaining why farmed salmon is entirely unworthy of eating. Why Fish makes the local favorite list is simple, though: Their food is just good, serving up perfect comfy meals for Sausalito days. Cash only. 350 Harbor Drive, Sausalito. 415.331.FISH. —L.P.
Cafe Citti I couldn't believe it when a friend suggested we go to lunch in Kenwood. Admittedly, all I'd known about the town was its annual Fourth of July pillow-fighting championships and a seriously cool old train depot that Van Morrison was rumored to have played at in the late '60s. But food in Kenwood? I'd guessed that it was all pretty froufrou. I was wrong.
Cafe Citti looks like a simple roadside stop on Highway 12, and once inside, you'll order at the front counter of a down-home style room complete with fireplace and stray newspapers. Then your food will arrive, and that's where things change. Everything about the place is no-nonsense and unpretentious, and the prices are incredibly modest, but the food is right up there with the upscale restaurants of the Sonoma Valley. That first visit, I got a leek frittata sandwich on focaccia with pesto mayo, and was soaring.
Rotisserie chicken and pasta salads highlight a menu on which no item is priced over $16.50, and ciabatta bread, in-house caesar dressing and homemade mozzarella is available to take home after desserts of tiramisu or chocolate mousse. The outdoor patio is lovely during the day, and wine from an extensive list is served in short little cups. Short little cups! You'll never look at Kenwood the same way again. 9047 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. 707.833.2690.—G.M.
Pupusas Salvadorenas For the last two-and-a-half years, the best-kept secret in Santa Rosa has been the excellent Pupusas Salvadorenas, where the food is delicious, the prices are dirt cheap and the experience unforgettable. The pupusa—a masa tortilla filled with pork, beans, cheese and sometimes lorocco, a vine flower bud—has been a staple in El Salvador for over 3,000 years. Topped with a coleslaw-like curtido and spiced tomato sauce, it is slowly making its way north.
At Pupusas Salvadorenas, pupusas are only $2 each, and you'll be full after eating just two. The inexpensive menu invites exploration, with great results. Take a random stab and try the pasteles (a plate of fried mash pies stuffed with chicken and potato) or, for dessert, the nuegados (fried mash yucca served with honey and hot sour sauce). Possibly the most delicious thing on the menu is also the simplest: the tamal de elote con crema, a subtly sweet corn tamale with cream for just $1.75. How can you lose?
Now with an expanded menu and hours, the unassuming little haven across from the fairgrounds is better than ever. Pupusas are individually handmade to order, so during busy spells they take a little longer, and it's helpful to know beforehand that your waitress doesn't bring a check. Just approach the register when you're ready to leave. You'll be back. 1403 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.544.3141. —G.M.
Tomales Bakery Nestled at the crossroads of Highway 1 and Dillon Beach Road, Tomales Bakery is the perfect stopping point on a backroads escapade through the coastal beauty of Marin County. Visitors flock to this little gem located across the street from the general store and kitty-corner from the Tomales Not a Bank Building. Some come solely for the Puff Daddies, flaky cinnamon popovers made with filo lightness, and a cup of freshly brewed Taylor Maid coffee.
Passing through the bakery's doorway painted with bright red opium poppies is like stumbling down the Easter Bunny's hole into a giant colored egg. Painted grass-green and pale, sunshine yellow, the counter top is tiled in pinks and purples, with a bright bouquet of spring tulips in an aqua mason jar. Glass cases flank the counter, filled with brownies, croissants, muffins and fragrantly delicious cinnamon, pesto or Gorgonzola twists hot out of the oven.
Pizette and calzone are available by 11am, just in time for the lunch crowd. Grab a seat at the one table inside or eat out on the patio in the burgundy or forest-green Adirondack chairs, with crumb-seeking birds and large potted plants for company. The friendly staff and sweet or savory treats will fend off hunger and brighten the pause before the next leg of the adventure. Keep in mind, the place closes when it sells out, and it always sells out. 27000 Hwy. 1, Tomales. 707.878.2429. —S.D.
Sukhothai Coming from a small town with the diversity of cardboard, I had never tasted Thai food until I came to Sonoma County four years ago. I soon became an addict, using any special occasion as an excuse to go out for coconut milk and curry powder. I hadn't been to Sukhothai since it was known as Bangkok Boulevard, but when a friend, as sadly sheltered as I used to be, revealed she had never tried Thailand's exotic tastes, I took her under my wing and out to try the restaurant.
Sukhothai's menu has all the essentials: pad Thai, drunken noodles and, of course, moderately priced spicy to mild curries. I opted for the classic pad Thai with chicken, while the mild yellow curry with potatoes and carrots tempted my friend. My pad Thai looked scrumptious with crushed peanuts on the side, bean sprouts on top of the spiced aromas of chicken and noodles, and a spiraled orange slice atop a tiny cabbage salad. I took a bite and immediately let out an "Oh, wow!" while my friend poured her fantastic-looking curry on a mound of brown rice and began to dig in.
We were so immersed in our food that we dined solely to the noises of furious eating until I found that my pad Thai did indeed have chicken, as well as at least 10 pieces of tofu. Had the cooks run out of chicken and decided to trick me, thinking that— with its disguise of no texture or taste—I wouldn't notice the tofu? Being from the world of burgers and fries, my friend and I were unaware of the rules of world food. We saved face by pretending we knew exactly what was going on.
A few days later when I again ordered the pad Thai (told you I was an addict), I found out that the tofu was actually a regular ingredient in the dish. I felt silly, but kept eating because the food was amazing and, really, a little tofu never hurt anybody. 6358 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. 707.584.5091. —H.S.
Grateful Bagel The ideal eatery for a high school student has to meet a few key requirements: it must be affordable and filling, and a student must be able to get there, order, eat and return to school in the half-hour length of a lunch period. Funnily enough, that's also the ideal eatery for most workers. Given such criteria, the Grateful Bagel is far and away the best option for those daring enough to slip past Analy High School's security and off the closed campus or those needing a quick snack in a busy office day. Upon entering the tiny and usually jam-packed bagel store, customers are amused by a mural of an angel-borne Jerry Garcia, in a representation of Michelangelo's God from the Sistine Chapel, reaching out to a tighty-whitey-clad Adam with a bagel in hand.
If the wallet is really thin, arrive a little before 4 in the afternoon, when you can get their day-old bagels for half-price or two-day-old bagels for free. The worker is served! My son's advice for the student caught returning to campus, bagel in hand? "Offer up the bagel to the narc. Chances are he'll let you off the hook for a few delicious bites." That's something to be grateful for. 300 S. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.829.5220. —S.D.
Himalayan Tandoor & Curry House Mention this place, and the fortunate diners who have eaten there immediately rave about the naan. The warm, Indian flatbread served with meals to sop up curry and other sauces is indeed delicious and slightly chewy, with choices of cilantro, cheese and garlic flavors. But naan is not the only menu item to salivate over. Meals typically start with a small but hearty cup of daal, a nourishing lentil soup flavored with bits of green onion. Starters include meat or vegetable momos with a delicious dipping sauce, the Nepalese version of pot stickers, or a plate of two hefty samosas, filled with peas and potatoes. This alone satisfies the vegetarian in the group, but the omnivores ought not to forgo the chicken tikka masala or spicy lamb vindaloo. The creamy masala sauce, rich over rice, balances well with cucumber raita and a bit of mango chutney.
Wearing broad smiles, the staff welcome customers, and the pleasant and relaxed atmosphere infuses itself into diners like tea leaves steeping in a ceramic cup of steaming water. The owners, transported from Nepal to Berkeley to Sonoma County, have now opened a second restaurant in Petaluma. And no wonder—with ethnic food this tasty, it's best to share the wealth. Bellies and pocketbooks will feel comfortably full after eating, and for that we say namaste. 969 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. 707.824.1800. Also, 220 Western Ave., Petaluma. 707.775.4717. —S.D.
Taqueria Las Palmas When Las Palmas opened five years or so ago, I was so awestruck that I very seriously entertained the idea of writing a glowing review, making 200 photocopies and distributing it to every house in the neighborhood to inform them that Santa Rosa had a new second-best taqueria. El Favorito on Sebastopol Road will always be first-best—don't even try to challenge it—but you know something's up when the indie hipsters and wine country foodies all agree: Las Palmas is a jewel among taquerias.
The key difference at Las Palmas is fresh, fresh, fresh. Whether grabbing their addictive chilaquiles in the morning, their alambres on particularly hungry nights or a quick torta for lunch, everything that comes from their long, narrow kitchen is prepared with top-shelf ingredients. If you've been eating at other taquerias for years, your taste buds will be amazed at what they've been missing.
At this point, I've had everything on Las Palmas' menu. In five years, I have never been let down. The chicken mole plate is to die for, the huevos rancheros are spot-on and the enchiladas are heaping. It's also hard not to love a place with two separate varieties of vegetarian burrito, and if you just want a hamburger with fries, it's even cheaper than a burrito. One word of warning: if you order the spicy shrimp el diablo tacos, and you foolishly accept the offer of "extra hot" in a one-upmanship game of ¿Quien es mas macho? with your friends, prepare to walk around in a psychedelic cloud of habañero haze for a good hour or so afterwards. No joke. 415 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.546.3091. —G.M.
The Boathouse Driving out to the beaches of Bodega Bay, the salt air hits my nose in a wave. Several upscale, tourist-clogged restaurants call out with promises of fresh fish, but we are lured farther out, hooked on a line tugging towards Salmon Creek. We eagerly clamber out of the car and onto the warm sand, wind blowing scudding clouds across the sun. And after a few hours of Frisbee—more chase than catch—or contemplative walking at the edge of the frigid water, we are ready to return to civilization for something warm, eaten in a sheltered atmospheric spot.
A few twists and turns down California Highway 1 toward town bring us to the tiny Boathouse, the perfect spot for sandy sandaled feet and windswept hair. This little hole in the wall offers the freshest of fish at rock bottom prices. The line is no surprise, considering the freshly battered fish and chips or the juicy barbecued oysters. Those enthusiastic about catching their own meals can charter fishing trips here, since the Boathouse bills itself as Bodega Bay's Sport Fishing Center. Others just revel in the collage of photos on the wall of the big one that didn't get away, because it just might be battered and fried on the plate in front of you. 1445 N. Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707.875.3495. —S.D.
Sal's Sal Radwan came to this country 27 years ago to study computer science at San Francisco State University. To pay for classes he worked in restaurants and for grocers. But with his studies completed, Radwan let the mainframes go and opted to buy Eezy Freezy, a classic West Portal neighborhood market, instead. Eventually, the friendly Radwan and wife, Azizeh, decided the North Bay would be just the place to raise their kids, opening Sal's Produce and Meat Market in Rohnert Park two years ago.
The spacious, squeaky-clean store is stocked with hundreds of exotic, reasonably priced foodstuffs ranging from green-grocer items that make Safeway prices look like Whole Food's, to a Halal-certified meat counter filled with fresh cuts of lamb, beef, Fulton chicken and goat.
Flatbreads line one wall. Four types of bulk bulgur, sandal syrup from Pakistan, round flat lupini snacking beans, roast-your-own coffee beans, saltani green raisins, fruit punch from Saudi Arabia, feta cheese from four different countries, Greek tarragon soda, Indonesian spices, German sauerkraut, Syrian artichoke bottoms, Sudani roasted peanuts and items from North Africa, Malaysia, Lebanon, China, Armenia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Canada, Central America, and even the exotic United States, are colorfully dispersed throughout the store.
Try sweet sesame and pistachio mixed nut bars from Palestine, dried barberries from Iran, rose leaf preserves from Croatia, Lebanese fig paste or Greek whole bergamot preserves. Save room for Sal's deli. Mideastern favorites like falafel, hummus, dolmas and baba ghanoush are to be expected, but there are also two-buck chicken pies and marinated Persian eggplant in olive oil, stuffed with hot pepper and walnuts.
Imported sun-cured black and cracked house-spiced green olives are a steal at $3.99 a pound, while Greek salad and an eggplant salad tossed with parsley, garlic, red pepper and EVOO compete for space in the deli case. Best of all the Radwans really do listen to their clientele. They continually change, improve and add to their product line. 6590 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. 707.206.9853. —P.J.P.
Abyssinia Restaurant The North Bay's Eritrean community is going on 20 years, but good eats from the Horn of Africa were elusive until this restaurant opened in downtown Santa Rosa, tucked in between a taqueria and a pizza joint. The simple space, decorated but with a few colorful baskets, is a real hometown discovery.
Tea urns dispense spiced tea similar to chai that adds a fragrant, palate-cleansing dimension. The short list of beer is better than most: extra smooth Ethiopian Harar, and creamy Hakim stout. There's an equal place at the table for vegetarians and fanciers of steak tartar. Intros are served with salad on a plate of injera, a spongy, sour flatbread like a thick crêpe. Utensils are optional; one digs in with scraps of the injera. What appear to be modest portions turn out to be quite filling; unexpected leftovers are to be expected. 913 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.568.6455. —J.K.
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