Because I’m a journalist, not a millionaire, a trip to Napa means finding the best places to eat without putting a dent in my wallet. This means no French Laundry, no Morimoto Restaurant, and definitely no Restaurant in Meadowood. One cocktail there could probably pay for my water bill.
But, hey, no big deal. Napa Valley is, surprisingly, not all about Michelin star restaurants. There are cheap eats, too. Good ones. It’s possible to visit Napa Valley even if you aren’t the richest cat in the litter.
Last week, I was able to spend four days in Wine Country without spending more than $23.22 on a single meal. Classy. After eating my way through Napa, Yountville, and St. Helena, I’ve come up with this list of affordable dishes that will fill you up just fine. Here’s how you can do a trip to Napa Valley on the cheap.
1. Addendum at Ad Hoc (Yountville)
6476 Washington Street; Yountville, CA. 707-944-1565.
If you want a taste of Thomas Keller’s magic (minus the taste of that huge bill waiting for you at the French Laundry), go to Addendum at Ad Hoc. It’s this tiny little backyard building behind Ad Hoc, surrounded by picnic tables and an outdoor scenic garden. You can get three pieces of fried chicken, buttery cornbread, a side of potato salad, and another side of cole slaw for $16.50. The chicken has this super thick, crunchy skin that makes it the only thing you’ll prefer to eat, and I definitely had leftover chicken that I ate for breakfast one morning. It’s easy to split this up into two meals.
Addendum closes for the winter, but it’ll be up and running when the weather gets warmer. Be sure to check the times before you go. It’s only open for lunch.
Total cost: $23.22 (This includes the lemonade that I bought.)
2. Pica Pica at Oxbow Market (Napa)
644 1st St, Napa, CA. 707-226-6529.
People who love to grocery/gourmet shop will want to eat, sleep, and maybe even spend their last days inside Oxbow Market. It’s a lot like Chelsea Market in New York, except smaller. Still, it’s great. It sells cheeses, fruits, expensive olive oils, dishes, and tea. There are a ton of restaurants to choose from, but Pica Pica is your cheapest bet. The manager here is named Angel, and he will tell you that the arepas are really, really flavorful. Listen to him. I had the shredded beef pabellon with black beans and queso fresco. A thick, sweet, yellow corn pocket—a little charred on the outside for extra crunch—managed to hold everything inside it. With a dash of Pica Pica’s signature Pica Pica sauce (a sweet house-made habanero-mustard concoction), this arepa is an unbeatable and filling lunch option.
Total cost: $12.91 (This includes the cost of a coconut-lime juice.)
3. Napa Valley Biscuits (Napa)
1502 Main Street; Napa, CA. 707-265-8209.
Coming up on its third anniversary, Napa Valley Biscuits is where Napa locals go for their Southern food cravings. The interior isn’t much to look at; this cozy restaurant tries to be farmhouse chic on the inside, but it’s a half-hearted attempt. Yet I can’t say that about the biscuits. They’re spot-on. Fluffy, layered, and dense, these biscuits are perfect simply with butter and jam. But Napa Valley Biscuits makes them into sandwiches. The Wilbur, a tall gargantuan monument, arrived on a white plate like the Tower of Babel. There’s no way you can fit the whole thing in your mouth, unless you belong in the circus. Use your fork and knife. There’s arugula, sweet pear mostarda, and pork loin.
Total cost: $9.45
4. Butter Cream Bakery (Napa)
2297 Jefferson Street; Napa, CA. 707-255-6700.
One of the bake sale queens that I met at Flavor! Napa Valley told me I absolutely must try the glazed donut at Butter Cream Bakery, this pink-and-white striped building that serves top diner-quality food. The locals in Napa go here for the donuts, though. Each one is hefty in size, portly, and definitely worth a mere 85 cents. These donuts don’t smush easily like Krispy Kreme ones do; they’re more bread-like on the inside. The glaze isn’t overpowering, and just one was enough to fill me up in the morning. (And this is coming from a person who can shove two Krispy Kremes within 30 seconds down her throat.) Butter Cream Bakery’s donuts take a longer time to savor.
Total cost: $0.85
5. The Fatted Calf at Oxbow Market (Napa)
644 1st St, Napa, CA. 707-256-3684.
The Fatted Calf is a charcuterie shop that looks straight out of a meat fairytale book. If that even exists. But that’s not all they sell. There’s also this light, vinegary kale salad that costs only $5.50. It’s a steal. It comes with toasted breadcrumbs, bacon lardons, fire cider vinaigrette, and pecorino. All of that goodness, together, is the best antidote to gorging on gelato and Three Twins’ ice cream in Napa Valley. If you want to keep it vegetarian, just tell them no bacon.
I also saw a copy of Tim Byres’ Smoke inside its little side shop. Pretty cool to see something Texan make it out to Napa.
Total cost: $5.50
6. Bouchon Bakery (Yountville)
6528 Washington Street; Yountville, CA. 707-944-2253.
Thomas Keller’s French bakery, Bouchon, is only a few-minutes-of-walking away from Addendum at Ad Hoc. I suggest you go to both. Even though it’s a pricey pastry shop—and not everybody can afford a $6 pumpkin tart the size of your palm—the macarons here are worth it. They’re $3.50 each, but they’re about 50% larger than the macarons you get at Ladurée. So I guess it kinda evens out. The raspberry one has a jam filling that squishes out when you bite into the middle. It’s absolutely perfect.
Total cost: $6.50 for one café au lait and two macarons. (They gave me an extra one, just because.)