Some of Sonoma’s best kept secrets lie just outside the city limits in the unincorporated towns known as, “the Springs.” These vibrant, residential neighborhoods include Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, and Agua Caliente. All originally celebrated by the native peoples for their thermal springs, this corner of Sonoma is now beloved for its lively streets, colorful buildings, and delicious, approachable, and affordable dining experiences. Below are some of the best places to go while you’re here, right on Highway 12 just north of Sonoma proper. These are chefs who know how to impress without killing your budget.
Kina’s Kitchen & Bar is a Latin American-inspired restaurant that infuses classic dishes with new life, as well as inventive recipes that make you crave them long after you've left. It's got all the quality, attention and style of a serious restaurant, with diner-like approachability and consistency. Imagine freshly squeezed juices, pozole verde, fried chicken, salmon al horno, and street corn—and that’s in addition to predictable favorites like huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and eggs benedict. Ranging between sky high burgers sure to get Guy Fieri’s attention and healthy salads that manage to leave you feeling full and satisfied, the menu defies all convention. This delightful, LatinX, woman-owned restaurant has great heart and soul, wrapped in a well decorated room with comfortable seating, a bar equipped with memorable homemade cocktails (many of them using their own private label of mezcals), and a warm and friendly staff to welcome you. Check out their calendar of events for evening mezcal tastings, Wisdom Wednesdays for diners over 55 years of age, Paint & Sip events, and more! Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
BAKER & COOK
Jen (the baker) and Nick (the cook) Demarest have long been staples in the Sonoma restaurant scene, having met at the famous Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. They closed their last restaurant, Harvest Moon Café, just before the pandemic, to open Baker & Cook. Offering up divine pastries and savory entrées, Baker & Cook delivers a consistent, exceptional breakfast, brunch and lunch, accompanied by well-done coffee drinks, teas, and an assortment of kombuchas and natural sodas. While purchasing your meal, you can shop for some specialty items like top-notch baking flour, local jam, and diverse olive oils. Simple and comfortable in design, their outside patio is filled with as much sun or shade as you need, depending on where you sit.
P.S.: they also have some exciting options for those who have dietary restrictions, especially those who are gluten-free.
MARY’S PIZZA SHACK
Mary’s Pizza Shack has been a Sonoma institution since 1959 when matriarch Mary Fazio opened the first of her restaurants in Boyes Hot Springs using her father’s pots and pans. Priding themselves on classic Italian-American dishes like pasta, pizza, and meatballs, Mary’s Pizza Shack makes everything from scratch and with huge portions to boot. Their Boyes location on Highway 12 is particularly memorable, not only because it’s their original restaurant, but because of its lovely outdoor patio beneath a giant oak tree, casting plenty of shade from the warm, Sonoma sun. With friendly service, great classic dishes, and great values, there’s something yummy for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Chef and owner Cristina Topham launched Spread Kitchen in 2022 as an extension of her successful catering company. In a short amount of time, this intimate, Lebanese-inspired restaurant has quickly created a buzz—and no wonder, Topham’s culinary prowess hails from some of the most notable restaurants in Paris, New York, and Napa. With an ever-changing menu, she creates bowls, salads and wraps with a rotation of fresh and inspired proteins, from her swoonworthy smoked jack fruit shwarma to her melt-in-your-mouth turmeric chicken shwarma. Up the ante on your selection by choosing one of her traditional dips like hummus, baba ganoush, lebneh and muhammara or order a side of her hopelessly addictive dirty fries. Then grab an easy-to-love Lebanese wine or a local kombucha to sip alongside it, while relaxing on an idyllic patio surrounded by night lights, interesting sculptures and shaded by mature trees—you’ll wake up and think you’ve died and gone to culinary nirvana. Not only does she cater to folks with a variety of dietary restrictions, but the value her meals offer makes you want to come back for more. Healthy never tasted so good!
After moving to the United States in 2007, Chef Efrain Balmes started Sonoma Eats initially as a food truck. Once the word got out about his passion for cooking such tasty dishes from fresh ingredients, his growing fanbase eventually inspired him to open the concept as a brick-and-mortar Mexican restaurant. Cooking traditional, Oaxacan cuisine, he makes everything from scratch, from his black moles and tamales to birra tacos and sopes. And his starters should not be considered after-thoughts—his pumpkin seed dip, queso fundido and empanadas are as memorable as his entrées: bursting with flavor and great textures. Complement your meal with a glass of fresh acqua fresca or homemade sangria, his tres leches cake for dessert, and relax on the patio. These are classic Mexican dishes served with the execution of a well-seasoned chef.
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When it comes to restaurants, Sonoma Valley is full of great values. But in the Springs, value is king and the food is divine. Explore the best of the Springs and discover new flavors as well as new spins on old classics!