The Ten Absolute Best Napa Valley Restaurants

It was hard to pick the ten best Napa Valley restaurants, but we persevered! Over the past decade or two, dozens of new restaurants have sprung up in the valley, from Napa to Calistoga. Here are our top picks, places we would cross an ocean to visit (and have pretty much done that), restaurants that have stood the test of time.

Don't worry, not all of them are high-end dining. We try to represent the many moods of diners in Napa. After a long day of wine tasting, sometimes only a good burger and beer will fit the bill. From Mustards to Meadowood, we here offer the tried-and-true best restaurants of Napa Valley.

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1. Auberge du Soleil

Auberge du Soleil

For more than thirty-five years the visionary founders behind this tucked-away luxury resort have been serving up a full-day's worth of Euro-style dining. To our mind, there's no better way to spend an afternoon than on the resplendent patio, overlooking the hills, with the Napa Valley spread out before you, sipping their house-brand of bubbles (or perhaps a bottle of Bollinger), and nibbling on their perfectly-cooked Monterey Bay calamari or smoked salmon and fromage blanc tartine.

That's right, we like it a lot! While you're there, make time to have a couple's massage in the spa and then a soak in the infinity outdoor pool, exclusively for spa patrons. Heck, stay for lunch, then spend the night in one of the amazing cottages!

2. Bistro Don Giovanni

Bistro Don Giovanni

Spend an evening here and you'll feel like you're in the most happening restaurant in the universe. Right on the border of the city of Napa, ti's the real gateway to Wine Country. You haven't lived until you've had their fritto misto — calamari, rock shrimp, fennel, green beans all deep-fried to crispy perfection with a dash of spicy aioli on the side.

The classic Italian menu hits all the high notes with antipasti, insalate, pizze, primi, secondi and contorni. We love the slow braised lamb shank with Tuscan bean ragu or the pan roasted Petrale sole with zingy lemon caper butter. The pastas are handmade, try the linguine and clams, or the mandilli — silk handkerchief pasta with Genovese pesto. And, of course, there's a great wine list.

3. Mustards Grill

Mustards Grill

Want to know where the casual, flavor-fusion American bistro began? Travel to Mustards to get an understanding on how the whole culinary world was turned upside down by Cindy Pawlcyn and her reinvention of the roadhouse grill. We'll never forget our first time to Mustards and the culinary revelation when the garlic mashed potatoes were served (a flavor sensation at the time).

Diners flock here for amazing flavors like the Mongolian pork chop with sweet & sour cabbage, and the smoked duck, and the BBQ baby back ribs from the grill. Calamari may seem common these days but 30 years ago it was like speaking Cantonese. Very exotic.

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4. Terra Restaurant

Terra Restaurant

Sure, there are flashier restaurants, more "themed" restaurants but there isn't a more romantic, thoughtful restaurant in all of California than Terra. Started by legendary couple Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone, the dynamic duo opened the doors in 1988. They brought with them Hiro's Japanese cooking techniques and Lissa's dessert expertise and married them to northern California foods and flavors.

The broiled sake marinated black cod and shrimp dumpling in shiso broth could have its own fan club and has been on the menu since the beginning. And such a bargain! A four-course menu (choosing fron the menu) is a delightfully low $85. They've recently added a 40-seat bar for more casual dining options. Bottom line — Terra remains our favourite and it's a place you don't want to miss.

PS. Lissa and Hiro also produced what we think is the best restaurant cookbook ever written

5. Bistro Jeanty

Bistro Jeanty

Imagine you've traveled to an authentic French bistro (where they speak your language) where all your traditional French cooking dreams have come true. Chef Philippe Jeanty, a native of the Champagne region, trained at the best restaurants in France, then brought his talent to Napa Valley to open Chandon Restaurant at Moet Chandon in Yountville.

He eventually decided to leave high-end dining behind and opened his casual bistro in 1998. Come here for his signature creme de tomate en croute (tomato soup with a puff pastry topping), escargots, daube de boeuf (beef stew with mash potatoes), tarte au citron, or creme caramel. Another one you don't want to miss.

6. The Restaurant at Meadowood

Restaurant at Meadowood

While this is not the place for a casual lunch or dinner, The Restaurant at Meadowood with its 3-Michelin stars is the place to go when you're craving extra special attention and a culinary experience akin to climbing Mount Everest.

Young super-star chef Christopher Kostow is known for his meticulous ways in the kitchen. It might start with an impeccably prepared salty-sweet black olive meringue with whipped olive oil, white balsamic vinegar and micro-cress flowers. Perhaps followed with day lilies that have been grilled and filled with prawns and topped with sturgeon caviar. By the way, the Meadowood Resort is the luxury place to stay in Napa Valley.

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7. Greystone Restaurant at the CIA

Greystone Restaurant

When in Napa you must visit the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), located in the fabulous, historic Greystone mansion near St Helena. Built by wealthy tycoons in 1889, the site was home to many wine-related businesses until, in 1991, the CIA paid a paltry $1.68 million for the estate.

Today it's a school for full-time students and home to an inventive restaurant that's open for lunch or dinner. We love the old world charm combined with the modern menu. The offerings change frequently and with the season but here's a taste of what to expect — pan-roasted flat-iron steak, wild halibut with pearl pasta, green garlic soup, or the very popular pork and clams with squid ink pasta and crispy pork belly.

8. Brix Restaurant and Gardens

Brix

Opened in 1996, Brix was one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in Napa Valley and today it flourishes with fresh food that is harvested from two acres of their own gardens and orchards.

Traditionalist? Try the Brix B.L.A.T. with herbed focaccia, maple bacon, heirloom tomatoes, and charred tomato-bacon aioli. Trendsetter? The Angus steak tartare is made with quail eggs, anchovy, and whole-grain mustard for spreading on a grilled baguette crostini. Other favorites are the Dungeness crab fondue and the roast chicken carbonara.

9. Rutherford Grill

Rutherford Grill

One million happy customers can't be all wrong! This all-American roadside grill represents everything that visitors from overseas seek when they come to the USA — bold flavors, grilled meats, large salads, patio dining, classic cocktails, and a certain red, white & blue. This is the place to come for burgers, roast chicken, rib-eye steaks, chopped salads, a side of iron skillet cornbread, and generous wine pours. Nothing fancy, just what you're craving.

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10. The French Laundry

The French Laundry

Well, it must be a pretty darn big boulder you've been hiding under if you haven't heard about Thomas Keller's homage to fine dining in Napa Valley. Caution: only go here if you are serious foodie, with a serious budget. We've added this restaurant to our list with a caveat — we're not one for restaurants that are in old houses. We never liked the feeling of dining in an upstairs bedroom or a corner of the laundry room.

The multi-course tasting menu is filled with lovely things like Royal Kaluga Caviar, wild Scottish langoustine, local lamb with glazed pearl onions, toasted walnuts, Belgian endive and Pinot Noir sauce. Today's menu list the prix fixe menu at $310 USD. Per each.

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