When people make plans to visit Napa Valley, they add cities like St. Helena, Oakville, Rutherford, Yountville, and Calistoga to the list. That's where the big name restaurants (think French Laundry or Auberge du Soleil or Mustard Grill) and popular joints (think Bouchon Bakery or Oakville Grocery or even the V. Sattui deli) are located, with all the wineries sprinkled in between.
The one city that doesn't seem to get mentioned as often is the region's namesake, Napa. A quick drive through downtown Napa might give you a clue: it's shabby, forlorn and half-empty, in need of a makeover. Sure, there are good eateries and pretty galleries, but it lacks the vibrance that makes drivers-by want to stop and hang around.
Don't make the mistake of overlooking Napa, though. The revival might already be happening, just not in downtown Napa. For good food and a good atmosphere, look to the Napa River Promenade, and just beyond it, my favorite place in Napa: the Oxbow Public Market.
The Oxbow Public Market reminds me of San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace. It's bright and airy. It's filled with gourmet food stalls and stores. It has all the little indulgences and treats that make life worth living.
If you don't have the money to blow on a fancy restaurant but still want to indulge in good food, this is the perfect place to go. You'll find tacos, pizza, burgers, crepes, and other yummies, served up with a glass of wine, if you want. And don't worry, even though I've listed some of the junkiest food known to man, the Oxbow Market doesn't do fast food Fresh food is more like it!
If you want to eat somewhere slightly nicer, you don't even need to leave the building. Just head for the bright red doors of Kitchen Door restaurant. It's located away from the main market area, just to one side, so you're shielded from the general din and hubbub. The place is informal, but upscale; with the bright, airy atmosphere and the copper pots and shelves lined with colorful crockery and the wood-fired oven, it's what I imagine Martha Stewart's kitchen might look like.
Everything I've had at this place has been delicious! They use local and seasonal ingredients, so everything from the salads to their flatbreads to their burgers and fries to the out-of-this-world Beef Carpaccio (pictured below -- it's served with Himalayan truffles, lemon aioli and arugula, oh my mouth is watering again) lives up to Napa Valley's reputation of good food.
The Oxbow Market is not just a gourmet food court; it's also a place to buy gourmet food and products: olive oil, tea, cheese, groceries, fish, seasonings, meat, chocolate, ice cream, and of course, wine.
The Olive Press
Whole Spice Company
Ca' Momi Enoteca
A delicious, buttery baking smell permeates the whole building, which could only come from the delicate Italian pastries from Ca’ Momi Enoteca. Or maybe it's the french crepes from La Crepe. Or the cupcakes at Kara's Cupcakes.
I can't believe that I didn't snap a photo of my favorite merchant in the whole place, Anette's Chocolates! I first discovered them 7 or 8 years ago when they were featured on the tv show Food Finds (who says watching the Food Network isn't useful!), and fell in love with their port and wine truffles. We used to visit their downtown Napa factory store, but it's so nice to be able to visit their storefront at the Oxbow Market for a nice dessert chocolate. The only drawback to their Oxbow store is that they don't offer truffle samples, or sell their cosmetic rejects at deep discounts like they do at the factory store!
With so many goodies at every turn, it's no wonder that the Oxbow Public Market has become Alfie's and my gateway to the Napa Valley. It's a non-negotiable stop whenever we visit!