NAPA VALLEY DINING
Dining on a Dime
hen you read about dining in Napa Valley, it's almost always about
fine food, an intimate or dramatic ambiance, a tome-like wine list,
and service that meets your every need. These enviable qualities usually
come with a hefty price tag, however, and even less-than-great meals
can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Fortunately, the valley is also home to fun places to get a delicious
bite to eat at a reasonable price. You just have to know where they
are. The city of Napa is the most populous town in the county, so it's
not surprising that it also has the most places to dine on a few dollars.
Below are a few personal favorites -- along with caveats.
Chef/owner Javier Cejas took over Jack's Galley a number of years back
and renamed the small diner "the Soscol Cafe." It's open
only for breakfast and early lunch, closing around 1:30 in the afternoon.
Javier's skills on the grill are top-notch, and the food is tasty,
substantial, and reasonably priced. A huge plate of huevos rancheros
-- two eggs laden with black beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and
guacamole atop a crisp tortilla -- and a large glass of whole milk
(no 2% here) costs under $10. Along with biscuit and gravy favorites,
Cejas springs surprise specials such as crab cakes made in a light,
spicy, non-greasy style.
The caveat for eating here is that the building is old and small.
Expect to leave with the smell of grill grease clinging to your clothes.
If you like Chinese food, China Light is a great place to drop in.
Shirley (her American name) usually has some interesting specials
in addition to dishes prepared with whatever vegetable is fresh and
in season -- think green beans, asparagus, and bok choy. Check out
the Salty Pepper Pork Chop ($7) and the Whole Crispy Fish with Black
Bean Sauce ($13).
I don't believe China Light has raised its prices since 2002. That's
when they stopped offering an egg roll with the daily lunch specials
($5.50), although you still get soup, tea and rice along with your
selection. There are 35 lunch specials on the daily menu.
The food here is served speedily, so it's perfect for a quick meal
before enjoying a performance at the Opera House across the street.
If you stay out late, there's also a great hangover cure: a huge, steaming
bowl of War Won Ton soup. The caveat: China Light has stopped serving
sake, which I found to be a great accompaniment to the food. Don't
forget to ask Shirley to read your fortune-cookie fortune to you in
Small World Restaurant:
Small World offers traditional lamb gyros, Shwarm (tri-tip) in pita,
falafels, hummus, and baba ghanoush with real Middle-Eastern flair.
Various grilled vegetables served in pita bread are also available,
and there is a nice selection of Greek and Arabic salads. Lunch for
two with smoothies is usually around $20.
A favorite downtown taqueria is 3 Hermanos, where the cuisine is flavorful
and authentic. The salsa is fresh and the variety of meats served
is impressive: grilled beef, barbecued goat, fried pork, beef head,
sausage, beef tongue, barbecued pork, and chicken. Caveat: the beans
and rice are just average.
A fresh taco is $1.80, and two of those with a Pepsi make a great
lunch for less than $5. Chips and two salsas are served with every
meal, including take-out. You can get an amazing prawn plate for $9.90,
served a la diabla (hot and spicy), rancheros (cooked with veggies),
al mojo de ajo (scampy-style), or empanizados (battered and deep-fried).
Your choice, same price.
603 Soscol Ave.
Napa, Calif. (707) 258.8707
1012 First Street
Napa, Calif. (707) 226.2809
Small World Restaurant
928 Coombs St.
Napa, CA (707) 224.7743
1122-A First St.
Napa, CA (707) 224-1214