Today, modern chefs honor meatless recipes as a delicious challenge to their talents, showcasing the natural flavors, textures, and visual appeal of the finest garden ingredients. And few get it fresher than West Sonoma County restaurants, celebrating the beautiful farms, ranches, and orchards in their own backyards. For unusual menus and distinctive style, try these near-secret treasures.
Forget that this rural town is home to just 200 souls, and look past the scruffy clapboard exterior of the building (that is not a casino), there’s top notch cooking coming from this little kitchen, courtesy of uber-chef Mark Malicki and other guest talents. The menu changes daily, but gorgeous global plates might include pumpkin curry with tofu and Thai basil; fried kale, rainbow chard, and crimini pastitsio; a pretty platter of Green String Farms asparagus, poached egg, and Eli's bread; or comforting potato cake topped in roasted beets and raisins with a touch of grain mustard and Tzudick’s horseradish.
Dick Blomster's Korean Diner, Guerneville
A circa-50s American diner formerly known as Pat’s, this crunchy, funky spot cooks up wild but successful recipes like braised chrysanthemum leaves tossed with hot chile peppers, maitake mushrooms, and pungent black garlic. Sit at the counter in front of the tiny kitchen window or in the wood paneled back room, order a stiff drink from the dive bar next door (they deliver), and nibble on hand-cut Seoul fries sprinkled with garlic, Korean chiles, green onions, seaweed, and sesame seeds. For a bigger meal, a hearty soup hits the spot, brimming with kale and shiitake mushrooms over soba, udon, or rice noodles studded with market vegetables and tofu.
Barley & Hops, Occidental
Artisan brewed beer with vegetarian food? Indeed, your server can direct you among the line-up of handcrafted brews made by owner Noah Bolmer, for the best pairing with a Vegan Bohemian Burger smothered in beer-sautéed mushrooms; or the mac-n-cheese gooey in béchamel, beer, Gruyère, cheddar, and Parmesan. No one will ever miss the meat with oh-so-flavorful dirty rice balls stuffed with cider braised apricot and fried for dunking in roasted red pepper aioli; or crisp-edged, pan-fried, black bean cakes dolloped in smoked pico de gallo alongside coriander rice pilaf, and lettuce-jicama salad in lime dressing.
Forchetta Bastoni, Sebastopol
Owner Jamilah Nixon put together a stylish loft lounge with seating on low sectionals made of repurposed shipping palettes topped with pillows covered in colorful Thai sarongs. And she sets a stylish table of Southeast Asian street food, offering bar nibbles and full plates like shoyu ramen with mustard greens, and tofu; Vietnamese dry noodles dotted in tart pickled vegetables and roasted peanuts; sweet-fiery green papaya-chile salad; and a spicy vegetable-tofu curry swimming in creamy coconut sauce dressed with basil, kaffir lime, and ginger.
Peter Lowell’s, Sebastopol
The ingredients are so fresh here that they’re called “hyperlocal,” as in sourced primarily from Sebastopol. The sleek, chic, Italian café looks pretty fancy, but tempts with simple pleasures like a bagel sandwich stuffed with BBQ tempeh and caramelized onion (fried egg optional); or wood fire pizza topped in artisan cheeses including soy-based, and finished with goodies like marinara, wild arugula, exotic mushrooms, Calabrian chiles, escarole, tofu, and seitan. Chalk the explosive flavors up to those amazing ingredients: panna cotta, for example, is made of Rainbow’s End goat milk, pure vanilla, and fresh-picked cherries from nearby trees.
Chefs Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire love their local orchards, farms, creameries, and foragers, so they visit them frequently, to see what’s best for their extensive, mouthwatering, veggie/vegan menu. The roadhouse set up is a shrine to pure flavor, bringing gluten-free, purple potato gnocchi with king trumpet mushrooms, young onions, Cinderella squash, and fava-hemp seed pesto; or spiced tempeh with saffron rice, roasted young onions, hedgehog mushrooms, and piquillo pepper.
Sunflower Center, Petaluma
Call it rawsome. The combo theater/community gathering spot and café from health food goddess Lydia Kindheart focuses on uncooked foods in remarkably tasty success stories like the burger made from quinoa, carrots, beets, celery, kale, parsley, basil, and sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds (it tastes kind of like meaty peanut butter). The raw green soup is probably healthy even if you just absorb the aromas, of kale, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, ginger, celery, herbs, lemon, and seaweed flakes, while Lydia’s Favorite Crepe seems like cheating, in a rainbow-flavorful gluten-free buckwheat round stuffed with purple cabbage, carrots, beets, seaweed, kale, avocado, herbs, and kalamata olives in a bright dressing of olive and sunflower oils, pumpkin seeds, herbs, and lemon.