It may be possible to subsist on wine alone during a trip to Napa, bouncing from one vineyard to the next and using vino as a meal replacement. But with a certain Thomas Keller providing the region with some of the nation's best restaurants, you'd be missing out on an incredible culinary experience here. It's not just the Michelin-starred chef that should have you excited, though: Napa is rife with great burger joints, steakhouses and tapas spots, along with craft cocktail bars and beer bars that offer a momentary respite from all that wine. For a truly savory visit to wine country, check out our guide to the best Napa restaurants and bars.
Best Napa restaurants and bars
Since 1994, the French Laundry has stood among the holiest of holy grails—not only for destination diners, but for aspiring industry pros around the world. Thomas Keller’s influence is inestimable; without him, there’d be no Noma, Alinea, Benu or Frasca Food and Wine, to name just a few whose elaborate prix-fixe tasting menus bear testament to his mentorship. His dishes celebrate the rarified and earthy alike—be it grilled veal tongue with peaches and cornichon relish or earshell clam tartare in finger-lime aigre-doux, many ingredients coming from the expansive garden that sits right across the street. Yes, you'll be astutely aware of what you paid for the privilege, right down to the last cigar-paired glass of rare Cognac. But it’s a rare grouch who doesn’t walk away feeling like every penny went to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When your waiter offers you an iPad stocked with hundreds of wine descriptions, you know it's going to be a good night. The unusual amenity at PRESS, a charming, elegant restaurant along Napa's St. Helena Highway, allows diners to explore its massive red wine collection through region, varietals and price points—a swipe here, a swipe there, and suddenly your ideal wine is staring back at you. When it comes to food, PRESS offers both a chef's tasting menu and an à la carte menu, with both highlighting some of the excellent dry-aged beef that this Napa gem is known for: hanger, filet mignon, rib eye, flat iron and more. Cups of little gem lettuce hold chopped anchovies and parmesan cheese, fried oysters sit atop steak tartare, and a poached egg with porchetta gently placed on top wobbles over a disc of rissotto. Yes, this is a white tablecloth affair, but the experience at PRESS is still one of comfort, friendliness and indulgence. Case in point: a decadent truffle mac and cheese that had us rolling our eyes with content.
Gott's is known far and wide as Napa Valley's famed slow food/fast food burger stand. The picture-perfect red-and-white building, just off the main drag through the Napa Valley, offers ten different burger variations made from a hefty 1/3 pound of Niman Ranch Angus beef cooked to juicy pink perfection, as well as veggie, Diestel Ranch turkey and ahi tuna burgers. Try the classic cheeseburger or go rogue with a Western Bacon Blue Ring, topped with blue cheese, bacon, pickles, barbecue sauce and an onion ring; or the green chile cheeseburger with grilled Anaheim chiles. There's also a respectable wine list on offer, of course. Take a seat at one of the bright red picnic tables out back for a summer picnic feel, even in December. Definitely round out the meal with an organic Three Twins ice-cream shake or float—followed by a nap.
Named simply the Restaurant at Meadowood, this three Michelin-starred dining mecca can be found at Meadowood Napa Valley Resort—a destination in its own right. Is it affordable? Not really. The tasting menu is more than $300 per person, the counter menu in the kitchen is $500, or you can sit at the bar for a $90, three-course meal. But is it worth it? Undoubtedly. Chef Christopher Kostow transforms pure, clean ingredients into tiny works of art, all the while focusing on drawing out the best flavors from each mustard flower, spring pea, filet of salmon or sliver of duck. Menus are personalized and change frequently. It's the perfect space for a special occasion—or if you want to treat yourself to a $300+ dinner.
Located on Napa's quaint, downtown Main Street, Torc is a modern, lively restaurant with high ceilings and a focus on locally grown ingredients. Chef Sean O'Toole translates the flavors of Napa into beautiful plates with a unique twist: avocado deviled eggs, perhaps, or English pea risotto (garnished with edible flowers topping the green risotto, it's a dish that almost looks like a garden). Heavier items might include Akaushi beef short rib and heritage porchetta. Just looking for a drink? Torc's bar is stunning on its own, and a great spot to settle in for happy hour (Wed-Mon 5-6:30pm), when wine and cocktails are only $6 and those heavenly deviled eggs are only $5.
When considering the best BBQ in the country, most people don’t imagine a restaurant deep in California’s wine country. Those people are missing out, however: The ribs at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ might be the best you’ll find outside of Memphis. The Napa Valley joint’s "slow and low" cooking process and juicy cut make for delectable bites that slide right off the bone. Their sides are stellar too, from juicy half-sour pickles to decadent, gooey mac & cheese and steaming cornbread. The wine list is sizeable, but we suggest beer here—the options are impressive and there's really no better way to wash down a heaping plate of smoked meat.
La Taberna is a place where you can sit quietly if you'd like, where you can watch people sampling different types of sherry and vermouth while considering your own drink for the evening. And when it comes to drinks, there's plenty to choose from here: wine by the glass or bottle, beer, cider and cocktails, all curated by beverage director Mike Lee. If it's food you're after, look to a couple chalkboards hanging around the space that list dishes like crispy patatas bravas, smoked trout and pea salad, when in season. The vibe is super laidback, the lighting is on point and everyone is incredibly friendly—a key factor if you're suffering from a wine hangover.
Oh, so is this where all the 20- and 30-somethings go in Napa? A young, fashionable crowd populates this wine and beer bar downtown, where Tinder dates are aplenty and classy birthday parties fill the space. Snag a tabletop or sidle up to the bar while perusing the menu: an extensive list of wines by the glass and bottle (primarily from France or the Napa Valley), international beers and ciders, and small bites that range from olives to a charcuterie board. The record selection is tops, too. Purchase a bottle of wine and you'll be rewarded with the chance to pick the next tunes.
Yountville is peppered with Thomas Keller restaurants (The French Laundry, Ad Hoc), and Bouchon is yet another one of his Napa Valley triumphs. The bistro is a French affair, with things like oysters and steak frites and salad Lyonnaise peppering the menu. While not as upscale as The French Laundry, there are white tablecloths nonetheless, and an impressive wine list to boot. On weekends, a brunch menu offers chicken and waffles, a Bouchon pastry basket (swoon) and a fine herb omelet cooked to perfection. Don't want to commit to a full meal at Bouchon? Head next door to the bakery, where you can watch pastry chefs roll out sheets of dough for cookies, cinnamon rolls and monkey bread; pair with an expertly made cappuccino to start the morning off right.
This St. Helena gastropub offers rustic, American fare and bar bites, as well as a long and tasty list of inventive cocktails. If you're here to eat, grab a table in the dining room or out on the patio, and be sure to order the duck fat fries (and a burger, though the fries are the main attraction here). If you'd rather drink, head to the downstairs bar area. Yes, there's a wine list, but chances are you've been wine tasting all day, and the mixed drinks here are beautifully crafted and garnished, and definitely worth the price (and wait, if it's a busy evening).
Ninebark features local California fare prepared by 2-Michelin starred chef Matthew Lightner in a beautifully-designed setting featuring sculptural arrangements of fresh herbs, branches and leaves adorning the walls and tables. Your dinner may come smoked with local hardwood and shrubs, charcoal grilled or marinated in herbal, fruit and floral broths—the dishes are always inventive here without being overly complicated. The venue is three stories, and each has a different feel: Relax on the ground floor with a cocktail or small bites menu, choose from a fill dunner menu upstairs in the dining room while enjoying a view of the open kitchen, or head up to the rooftop garden for a drink, a snack and an incredible view. Bonus: Ninebark takes brunch reservations, which can be hard to come by, and also reserve a few tables on the ground floor for walk-ins, which means you'll have a chance even during a busy weekend.
Dining at R+D Kitchen is akin to enjoying a meal on a friend's outdoor patio—the indoor/outdoor space flows seamlessly together, opening up the restaurant so that you can take advantage of a beautiful day in Yountville. Sandwiches, massive salads, seafood and well-executed cuts of meat populate the comfort food-driven menu, while a bevy of cocktails, beer and, of course, wine fuel the rest of your visit. Grab a drink to go and sit outside by one of R+D's firepits for an evening of slow sipping.