Insider Insights: Five Great Downtown Napa Restaurants

Chef Sean O’Toole has spent more than 15 years cooking at some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the U.S. and Europe, including Bardessono, the Mina Group, Alain Ducasse’s Mix, Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud and, most recently, Hopper Creek Kitchen. Now he’s soloing as chef/owner at Napa’s TORC, working with locally farmed, foraged, and fished ingredients to create a fresh new dining experience. Who better to ask about the town’s most exciting yet reliable restaurants?

Miminashi: Great aesthetic and small plates.  “Walk into this Izakaya-style restaurant and you feel like you’re in a modern version of old Japan. The use of wood on the tables, chairs, and angled ceiling is minimalist and sophisticated. And the menu offers a wide range of robayataki, yakitori, noodles, and other authentic Japanese dishes. I love that you can try lots of different dishes and small bites here.”

Oenotri: Pizza and cocktails. “This Southern Italian restaurant has a modern vibe with an open kitchen. It features a great cocktail bar and extensive menu. But if you get no further than the wood-fired pizza, you’ll still do fine. You can customize your own, or go with one of Oenotri’s specialties like the Panna, with cream, Parmigiana-Reggiano, gorgonzola dolcelatte, Swiss chard, rapini, green garlic, and chives.”

Kitchen Door: A quiet eye in the storm. “I love the high energy of the Oxbow Public Market, with all its food vendors. But when you walk through the doors of this casual restaurant, it’s relaxed and serene. They offer an eclectic menu featuring American, Asian, Italian, and Mexican – my hands-down favorite is the Duck Banh Mi Sandwich – pickled vegetables, spicy mayo, jalapeño cucumber, and duck liver mousse on a toasted roll, with sweet-potato fries on the side.”

Cole’s Chop House: A classic steak joint. “This is a classic Napa restaurant that combines white tablecloths and vintage photos with exposed stone walls and industrial piping. The open kitchen gives it a more casual vibe, but the menu is full of classic cocktails and chops. I always head straight to the steaks, including a natural filet mignon from Creekstone Farms.”

Angèle: Southern France on the Napa River. “With its blue shutters and exposed beams, this restaurant feels like authentic Provence. It offers a seasonal menu of classic French dishes like cassoulet, steamed mussels, and steak au poivre – my favorites are the steak tartare and the French onion soup. When the weather’s nice, I really enjoy sitting out on the terrace overlooking the river.”

Kirsten Mickelwait is a St. Helena-based writer who has lived and raised her family in the Napa Valley for nearly 20 years.

Be first to comment