Fueled by genteel indulgences, the Napa Valley has long boasted more fine-dining restaurants than seems even remotely sane for a county of less than 150,000 residents. A few of those restaurants, like Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, have become international destinations in and of themselves. But neither tourist nor local can live off of Thomas Keller’s food and the local cabernet alone. Just as the world’s wine desires have become more diverse, so have the valley’s dining options, most vibrantly in the once-sleepy, now-buzzy city of Napa. From truck tacos with handmade tortillas to whole wine list pages devoted to riesling, the geek-out options continue to climb.
Napa has no shortage of great taco trucks, but if there’s time for only one stop, make it Taco Addiction. Typically stationed outside the movie theater in South Napa, with guest appearances at hot spots like Cadet, owner Enya Barraza draws crowds with her jubilant spirit and handmade tortillas. Each. Tortilla. Made. To. Order. Highlights include the Negro Modelo-battered fish taco and the home-style barbacoa.
Chef Curtis di Fede, previously known for his seasonal Italian menu at Oenotri, takes inspiration from Japanese izakaya cuisine at Miminashi in downtown Napa. Ad Hoc alum Jessica Pinzon finds partners for ginger-sausage fried rice, Shoyu ramen and yakitori in umami-friendly wines like the vibrant Château de Brézé Clos de Midi Saumur Blanc; she also stocks plenty of sake.
June 2017 Update: Ask many local winemakers where they eat and Miminashi invariably tops the list. Opened in May 2016, the restaurant is wine-nerd heaven: Of the hundred-or-so bottles Jessica Pinzon DiFede lists, nearly 30 are riesling or Champagne. She finds that they pair particularly well with the food her husband and partner, Curtis DiFede, puts out: precise and inventive izakaya dishes honed through ongoing studies in Japan. Pro tip: The shaved cabbage salad with umeboshi dressing, seasonal fried rice and yakitori are musts—as is the soft-serve ice cream available to-go from the walk-up window.
Less than a year old, The Corner came out with a cellar to compete against the valley’s three-star Michelins. Trevor Sheehan runs the wine list, indulging deeply in his obsessions with Burgundy, Champagne, old California and whiskey; Dustin Falcon is in the kitchen, turning out the sort of precise, seasonally driven food you’d expect from a Thomas Keller protégé. Stop in for a drink at the boisterous bar, or move into the more subdued dining room for a full-blown meal; either way, don’t miss the pork pastrami toast. Like blow-your-mind Burgundy, it transcends imagination. Speaking of… it would likely pair very well with the 2003 DRC Echezeaux on the list—also available by the ounce via Coravin. With all 1,000 selections on the list available to go, The Corner is also raising the wine retail bar in Napa.
Inspired by the late-night dance-and-drink parties at winemaker Abe Schoener’s place, Colleen Fleming and Aubrey Bailey opened Cadet on an alley off First Street in the summer of 2014. It’s since transformed Napa nightlife. Or perhaps more accurately, created one. Industry locals flock to Cadet for the wines (a mix of classic and eclectic bottles, from California fringe varieties to grand cru Burgundy) and the socializing—which gets particularly boisterous on Winemaker Wednesdays, when a rotating array of local vintners man the bar. There’s just enough food on offer—cheese, charcuterie and grilled cheese sandwiches—to keep the party responsible. The house rule is: Buy a bottle, pick out a record and dance.
At Torc, husband and wife duo Sean and Cynthia O’Toole offer the truffles and blue-chip wines of a fine-dining destination without the pomp and hush. Come for handmade pastas, locally raised heritage meats, and vegetable sides featuring produce grown at neighboring farms or foraged by Sean himself. Then settle in to take advantage of Cynthia’s wine list, deep in library vintages of seminal Napa wines like Dominus, and in Old World wine-trade favorites like Allemand Cornas. With a rock n’ roll playlist and a sweeping brick-and-wood room, the space is as welcoming for a quick glass of Vouvray and a bite of crudo at the bar as it is for a full-fledged feast.
For a grab-and-go picnic-in-a-vineyard perfection, stop by the Italian-influenced retail store and take-away shop Foodshed in North Napa. Napa native Giovanni Guerrera opened it in July 2013 after a stint in Italy working for Alice Water’s Rome Sustainable Food Project. Looking to combine great food, community and social responsibility, he partnered with On the Move, a local non-profit, to create an internship program for low-income and immigrant youth. Today, the place turns out some of the valley’s best pizzas, contorni and sandwiches, and funnels the profits back into the internship program. What’s more, beverage director Maddie DeWitt’s all Cal-Ital and Italian wine program has the shelves filled with rare gems like Arbe Garbe’s Friulian-influenced white and Motta’s ciliegiolo from Tuscany.