Sonoma's weekend favorite delivers big on west coast flavors.
With a respectful glass raised to the more celebrated Napa Valley, Sonoma County’s wine country – roughly an hour north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge – invites wine and food lovers to opt out of oenophile clichés in the easygoing town of Healdsburg.
Valette’s day-boat scallops en croûte | The Matheson’s En Honoré cocktail | Hazel Hill's lobster tartine
Photo credit: Korena Bolding Sinnett
Set on the banks of the Russian River at the nexus of three fertile valleys flush with more than 400 wineries, the agricultural town of about 11,000 has long lured in-the-know day-trippers looking for more chill than frill. At the heart of Healdsburg is its strollable, tree-shaded plaza, where late-1800s buildings house dozens of tasting rooms and homey restaurants. When chef Kyle Connaughton and his horticulturist wife, Katina, planted a five-acre farm nearby and opened their now three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Single Thread, in 2016, Healdsburg became synonymous with haute cuisine, enticing gourmet pilgrims everywhere to pin it on their maps. The recent opening of the Montage Healdsburg resort, just a few miles north of the plaza, makes it even more enjoyable to soak in the idyllic setting. Yet despite its steadily rising culinary mercury, Healdsburg’s authenticity remains its hottest commodity.
Picnicking in Healdsburg’s plaza
Photo Credit: Korena Bolding Sinnett
“We came here 22 years ago, and there’s still the same small-town pleasantness,” Katina says. “Healdsburg has become a little more refined, but it’s still a town where people actually live and work and enjoy an agricultural lifestyle. I don’t think that will change.”
The past few years haven’t been easy on residents, with record-setting heat waves propelled by climate change putting the region in the crosshairs of devastating wildfires. Last summer’s rare lightning siege sparked hundreds of fires that would eventually burn more than 360,000 acres across five counties, all while the pandemic slogged on.
But if there’s one thing you can count on here, it’s glass-half-full optimism. Paired with a perpetually unfurled welcome mat and a casual wine-country lifestyle, Healdsburg’s get-up-and-go spirit greets this summer with a corkscrew at the ready and farm-fed heritage at these favorite spots.
Quail & Condor co-owner Melissa Yanc
Photo Credit: Korena Bolding Sinnett
Stroll around town and inevitably you’ll hear Single Thread mentioned in conversations around the plaza. Kyle and Katina Connaughton’s new 24-acre Dry Creek Valley farm supplies their 55-seat restaurant, which made the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2018 and earned its third Michelin star in 2019. The 11-course, Japanese-leaning menu changes daily, but what stitches it all together is Sonoma County’s bounty. “We fell in love with the diversity of small-scale winemakers and farmers,” says Kyle. “There’s a genuine collaborative spirit here, supported by agriculture and shared between newcomers and long-standing families.”
Quail & Condor
Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship winner Melissa Yanc arrived in town five years ago when her husband, chef Sean McGaughey, joined Single Thread’s team. The duo now kneads together full-time at their bakery, which opened in January. Yanc’s naturally leavened sourdough loaves originally proved a hit at the weekly farmers’ market; now customers line up at Quail & Condor for her breads and baked goods – onion biscuits, raspberry-cream-cheese danishes, plum pies, strawberry-rhubarb scones, and more, depending on what local produce is peaking.
Six years ago chef Dustin Valette dreamed of creating a fine-dining restaurant in his hometown. Now his corner spot is a go-to for gathering around dishes such as day-boat scallops en croûte, a perfectly puffed pastry dome hiding the delicate seafood. He also cures his own charcuterie, a skill he learned as a kid from his great-grandfather. “It means everything to us that people return,” says Valette. “We have some of the best ranchers and farmers close by, and we support them by cooking and eating what they grow.”
Prepped for the grill in Single Thread’s open kitchen. Photo Credit: Korena Bolding Sinnett
Valette’s new restaurant, The Matheson, stands as an ode to the region’s viticultural roots, with a ceiling resembling wine-barrel staves and a wall dedicated to 88 mostly local wines on tap. “I wanted The Matheson to be about the surrounding community,” Valette says. “But my family DNA is here too.” (His great-grandfather once ran a bakery in the space.) Reserve tables downstairs for Hawaiian ahi poke, spring lamb loin, local line-caught halibut, and more fine-dining fare, or head upstairs to Roof 106 cocktail lounge’s outdoor terrace, overlooking the plaza, for drinks, wood-fired small plates, and cozy firepits. A recommendation: the En Honoré, a brandy-based cocktail named for Valette’s great-grandfather.
Mateo's Cocina Latina
Chef Mateo Granados opened his downtown restaurant ten years ago this September. When he’s not harvesting produce from his Dry Creek Valley farm or browsing Healdsburg’s farmers’ market, Granados gathers goods from around Sonoma County to infuse dishes with the flavors of his Yucatán homeland, such as in his signature cochinita pibil – a suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves and slowly braised. Cool off on hot afternoons with his seasonal aguas frescas or kick off happy hour with the bar’s selection of Mexican and locally distilled spirits, such as Sipsong Indira gin.
Garden-grown crudités at Jordan Winery’s “Paris on the Terrace.” Photo Credit: Korena Bolding Sinnett
For scenic vistas and French bistro flair, Jordan Winery’s four-course “Paris on the Terrace” lunch is hard to top. Chef Todd Knoll leans on the estate’s vegetable and flower gardens as well as nearby producers for his California take on bistro fare. A sampling: herbed fougasse, ahi tuna poached in Jordan Estate olive oil, house-garden crudités, and charcuterie from Healdsburg’s Journeyman Meat Co., served next to the ivy-covered château overlooking the 1,200-acre estate.
Hazel Hill’s glass dining room and terrace sets the stage at the new 285-acre Montage Healdsburg, with its 15 acres of vineyards on view from the terrace. Herbs, veggies, and edible flowers pulled from the chef’s garden enhance dishes, while locally sourced products make an appearance too, such as Pacific Ocean oysters, Bellwether Farms cheese, and Liberty Farms duck. “Hazel Hill honors the wine-country landscape that’s literally right outside our doors,” says chef de cuisine Jason Pringle. “It’s a truly immersive experience.”
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