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Calistoga has a Wild-West look, with roofs overhanging much of the sidewalk, but it's best known for its many modest and fancy spas and mud baths. It's less fancy and formal than St. Helena, and friendlier, the part of the Valley that most appeals to visitors who want a lot to do. There are even some activities in the evening. It has an impressive collection of fine and innovative restaurants as well as some more modest but comfortable places. Brannan's, Wappo Grill and All Seasons are the most interesting, while Flatrion Grill and Hydro are local favorites and Bosko's and Checkers are inexpensive delights. Virtually all are on Lincoln, the short main street, with Wappo one block off, so you easily check them all out, including those you'll need to call ahead on your next visit.
All Seasons Cafe
Interesting, eclectic and innovative menu with superb list of wines you won't see at many places. The featured wines, which are also offered by the glass, are good buys as well. There's even a wine store on premises where you can buy the wines you like.
The food, which is well prepared and reasonable, is well-prepared American comfort food with a few Mediterranean touches thrown in.
1400 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942.9111
A wine bar that serves small portions, it's become a favorite hangout in Calistoga.
1457 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-9900. www.bar-vino.com
Bosko's is a rustic, brick-lined Italian restaurant that sends mixed messages. You order at the register and the floor is littered with sawdust, suggesting a family-style pizza parlor, and the prices are moderate. But the food is excellent, often close to what you might find in Naples or Sicily. Besides thin-crust pizzas, Bosko's features pasta cooked to order, soup and sandwiches. The excellent wines are moderately priced. Bosko's is a gem easy to overlook in a small town with lots of food choices. It's perfect when you've been overwhelmed by too many fancy, expensive, pretentious meals, or when you have the bambini along.
1364 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942.9088.
Brannan's is a big, active and attractive roadhouse, seemingly transplanted from San Francisco. Though quite large, it's broken up by partial partitions and different levels so it doesn't seem cavernous. Its bar has already become a real hangout for locals (and visitors), and it's often a challenge to find a place to belly up. You can order appetizers or full meals there.
1374 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-2235
Funky barely enclosed classic barbecue joint serving great food. Very informal.
1207 Foothill Blvd., Calistoga, 942-5605
Informal family restaurant and deli, almost a coffee shop, but with better-than average breakfasts.
1413 Lincoln Ave., 942-0555
Calistoga Inn & Napa Valley Brewing Co.
The Calistoga Inn is one of the most pleasant places in Calistoga. It combines a micro-brewery, a funky bar full of locals, a nice restaurant inside, and casual seating outside next to the Napa River in season. And don't forget the hotel. It has a number of inexpensive rooms upstairs - none of them are fancy - but the Calistoga Inn often has rooms when no one else in the Valley does. And at its low prices, you might be willing to don a bathrobe for the walk to the bathrooms down the hall.
Let's start with the micro-brewery and bar. Like most micro-breweries, the Napa Valley Brewing Co. makes a variety of beers. They vary at different times of the year. Some are quite dark and flavorful, and even the lightest is a long way from Coors. They don't serve any other beers. Why should they? Their products are excellent. You can get the beer in the restaurant or in the bar.
The bar is a narrow room with the actual seating bar along the side of the room. It's not very big, and is typically full of locals. They tolerate the tourists, but not with much enthusiasm (although unattached women seem welcome!) The Calistoga Inn often has music on weekends, including folk music on Friday nights but check to make sure. For those who don't want beer the Calistoga Inn also has a variety of wines including interesting local wines by the glass, some difficult to find elsewhere. A few times, the bartender has warned me about wines offered that are atypical of their type, and he's always been right.
The partly covered outside seating area lies next to the Napa River, though in nice weather (Napa Valley has just two seasons, wet and tourist!), the river doesn't have much water in it. The food at the Calistoga Inn is the American comfort cuisine served in so many places in the Valley. It's heavy on steaks, barbecue, grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and other standards. The portions are huge. Two people can easily share one portion unless they're high-school football players.
1250 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942.4101 www.calistogainn.com
The local coffee hangout, with patio seating in nice weather. It's been featured in the New York Times! Definitely the place for a light breakfast or even lunch as well as coffee.
1613 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-5747
Checkers is a moderately priced Italian restaurant featuring pizza, pastas and salads in a friendly atmosphere. Nothing too challenging here, just good casual food and service.
1414 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942.9300 www.checkers.com
Flat Iron Grill
1440 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga. 942-1720. www.flatirongrill.com
Hydro Bar & Grill
The Hydro Bar is a warm restaurant and full bar featuring moderately priced American comfort food, sometimes with interesting twists. If you're interested in ribs, chicken, burgers and steaks, you're in the right place. The desserts are scrumptious, and like the other courses, large. It has the best fried calamari anywhere. There's so much I try to get a half portion -- which they don't serve -- but I end up eating it all in spite of myself.
The biggest attraction at the Hydro, however, is the friendly bar and music. The U-shaped bar dominates the room, and is always filled with locals enjoying 20 draft beers - mostly from microbreweries including the excellent Mt. St. Helena Palisades Pale Ale from Middletown over the mountain in Lake County. Some lucky tourists even happen in as well. The draft choices include pear cider (perry).
The bar is a good place for single diners to eat and meet people. You're likely to meet a wine maker at the bar - but he won't necessarily be drinking his own wine. There's a lot of tasting around and trading glasses among the regulars at the tables and bar.
The wines, as should be expected in Napa Valley, include some interesting choices, not the same old suspects. Sometimes the help has to run across the street for special wines from All Season's which has the same owners.
On Sunday, the bar features live jazz including Dixieland and traditional straight-ahead sounds. The schedule is a bit confusing, so it's worth calling for information. There's sometimes more current music on weekends.
1403 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942.9777
Highly recommended for authentic Mexican food.
1437 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-6868.
Nicola's Deli & Pizzeria
Nicola's Deli & Pizzeria features huge breakfasts at prices that are reasonable for the Valley. It also serves dinners, pizzas, burgers, PB&J's, home-made soups and even has 10 beers on tap. It's a find for tourists, but a standby for locals.
1359 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-6272
Pacifico Restaurante Mexicano
Pacifico's menu sounds very tasty, with many authentic-sounding Mexican choices, and a chef from Jalisco, but service can be uneven and the food often seems like that served in other Gringo "Mexican" restaurants from Maine to San Diego. If you like Chevy's or Carlos O'Briens, you'll love Pacifico. The food prices are on the high side for the food, however, much less the overall experience.
The bar is big, however, and a good place for Margaritas and beer. Try namesake Pacifico, the Mexican Coors Light, on a hot day. And Mexicans in Mexico eat limes only with Tecate, not every beer.
1237 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942.4400
Puerto Vallarta Restaurante
Modest and unpretentious Mexican cantina with some outside seating and reasonable prices.
1473 Lincoln Ave., 942-6563
Solbar at Solage
New at the
new Solage Resort is the Solbar featuring everything from light small
plates to steaks in a casual setting.755 Silverado Trail
Soo Yuan Restaurant
Locals swear by Soo Yuan, Calistoga's only Asian restaurant. It has a good portion of hot dishes with all the old favorites. So it's not San Francisco; it's the only Chinese food in town!
1354 Lincoln Ave., 942.9404
Triple 'S' Ranch
A real find just outside Calistoga off Petrified Forest Road. It's a real ranch with modest family cabins, plus an old-fashioned cowboy steakhouse and bar that serves excellent steaks and other traditional western favorites at reasonable prices. Some of the patrons have been coming here for years, and some at the bar look like they've never left. Closed during the winter.
4600 Mountain Home Ranch Rd., 942.6730 www.triplesranch.com
Wappo Bar & Grill
A casual but serious restaurant with interesting, sometimes superb food. It would be difficult to pigeonhole the food, which ranges all over the coast of the Mediterranean, to Latin America with excursions to Asia. The management calls it "global," and that's probably descriptive. A special-occasion place, it attracts customers who called ahead from San Francisco two weeks ago and probably aren't disappointed in the innovative cuisine. It's also popular with cosmopolitan residents who tire of Italian and hearty Americanfood. The wine list is extensive and far-reaching, a nightmare for those who can't make up their minds. Pretty expensive overall and not a place to take the kids, but it has a bar at which singles can be comfortable eating. Outside seating in season, plus two smallish dining rooms so it always seems cozy.
1226-B Washington St., 942.4712. www.wappobar.com
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