Under-the-Radar Diners in Napa and Sonoma

Photo by Emma K. Morris

Though known for its fine-dining scene, but Napa Valley and Sonoma County aren’t all The Restaurant at Meadowood and French Laundry. These eight long-standing mom-and-pop-style eateries are beloved by wine country locals on both sides of the Mayacamas Mountain range.

Butter Cream Bakery & Diner


With its eye-catching pink-and-white-candy-stripe siding, this ever-busy eatery can’t be missed. A combination bakery and sit-down diner, it celebrated its 70th anniversary last year and still opens daily at 5:30 am for doughnuts, pies and pastries. The menu boasts greasy-spoon classics, from tuna melts to chili, while the Bobbi Burger, a specialty created for the bakery’s founder, consists of two patties topped with mustard and grilled onions, served on grilled muffin bread.

Cafe Sarafornia


A northern Calistoga institution that serves breakfast from open to close, Sarafornia has been in business for more than four decades. It’s run by the Dierkhising family and offers a slim menu of diner standards like chicken-fried steak, corned beef hash, burgers and BLTs. The café’s name is said to have come from Saratoga spa developer Sam Brannan, who bumbled a combination of Saratoga and California after drinking too much wine.

Gillwoods Café

St. Helena

This favored breakfast-and-lunch haunt is free of pretension and high prices, and it’s often full of local winemakers. Mother-daughter duo Debbie and Jennifer Fradelizio purchased the business six years ago from founders Ed Gill and Gary Woods, who opened the Main Street establishment in 1991. Though they’ve maintained a menu packed with classic-comfort dishes served in hearty portions, items are now prepared with more premium ingredients like grass-fed meats and local, cage-free eggs.

Jax White Mule Diner


This is a new, old-school diner found in the heart of downtown Napa that’s renowned for its beignets, egg scrambles and Benedicts. Beyond all-day breakfast, favorite sandwiches like grilled cheese and Cheddar-topped burgers, served with fries, tater tots or salad, also emerge from the kitchen. Sharon Li, the executive chef, owns the nighttime lounge next door, The Mule, which offers a full bar alongside playful snacks and plates.

White wooden exterior of Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits
Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma

Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits


A reimagined iteration of the beloved Fremont Diner in Carneros, Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits is run by the same owners, who wanted to slim down the menu to focus on chicken and biscuits. Chicken and waffles, fried chicken sandwiches and even a half-chicken are hard to resist. Sit in the tiny restaurant or out on the patio, but order at the window. Hush puppies, pimento cheese, milkshakes, soft-serve ice cream and pies are staples, but the menu changes daily.

Flaky Cream Do-Nuts & Coffee


Open for breakfast and lunch, this is the locals’ place for doughnuts in addition to scrambles, egg sandwiches, salads and burgers. Grab a seat at the counter and order signature dishes like the No. 4, Big Bird: a waffle, two sausage links, two bacon strips or ham, with two eggs any style. Bottomless coffee goes for less than $2 a cup, and many of the doughnuts are priced less than $1.

Garden Court Café & Bakery

Glen Ellen

This popular neighborhood hangout is the place for hearty breakfast meals and lunch, as well as baked goods. The banana bread is a favorite. From the menu, eggs Benedict and blueberry pancakes are among the standbys, as are plenty of classic sandwiches on housemade sourdough.

Singletree Cafe


The Singletree risked closure over the last couple of years, but it survived in large part to locals who refused to let this throwback die. Portions are substantial, the menu lengthy and the food exactly what you’d hope. Early-bird breakfast weekdays from 8–9 am is two eggs, home fries and toast for less than $5, but the rest of the breakfast menu is served all day long.

Published on June 26, 2019
Topics: Travel