Who remembers when being vegetarian meant no fun dining out? Remember the bland, steamed vegetable plates, slimy tofu burgers or tasteless mock meatloaves that restaurants said was the price we had to pay for going meatless?
In Sonoma County, however, vegetarian dining is a way of life, since so much magical produce grows here. Just add a bit of seasoning and style, and voila, it’s art on a plate. Here are just a few of the many top-notch restaurant options, all conveniently located in West Sonoma County.
Big Bottom Market
West County chef legend Crista Luedtke doesn't hold back on flavor, as one bite of her signature biscuits proves. Dense yet flaky, they’re even better smothered in rich creamery butter and jam. We also love the veggie breakfast “sanny,” layered with hard-boiled egg, garden-fresh spinach, crispy grilled peppers and onions, havarti, homemade pesto and aioli on a crunchy toasted ciabatta. Be sure to reward yourself with a mimosa, too, made with organic orange juice and local sparking wine.
16228 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295, bigbottommarket.com.
boon eat + drink
This is another chef Luedtke enterprise, highlighting organic ingredients, home grown vegetables and herbs, and a Cal-Ital menu that will please even the most hardcore carnivore. Start with a green plate like a sweet-peppery salad of arugula, cress, red flame grapes, Redwood Hill goat cheese and Marcona almonds in sherry vinaigrette. Then, dive into polenta lasagna, piled high with spicy seasonal veggies, ricotta salata and spicy marinara served over a bed of sautéed garlicky greens. And save room for the excellent flash fried brussels sprouts doctored with chili flakes, fresh squeezed lemon, garlic and olive oil.
16248 Main St., 707-869-0780, Guerneville, eatatboon.com.
Dick Blomster's Korean Diner
Ok, the ambience is a little confusing, as funky little eatery that used to be a circa-50s American diner and shares liquor service with an adjacent dive bar. But it’s easy to wrap your head around the magnificent menu, starting with fried pickles dunked in kimchee aioli, or a bowl of hand-cut Seoul fries sprinkled with garlic, Korean chiles, green onions, seaweed and sesame seeds. For larger plates, inventive choices feature silky braised chrysanthemum leaves tossed with hot chile peppers, maitake mushrooms and black garlic, or a big, steaming bowl of kale and shiitake mushrooms over soba, udon or rice noodles – you can add in market vegetables and/or tofu, too.
16236 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-8006.
Wondering where this little gem is? Take a peek inside the Antique Society Building on an obscure road on the south edge of downtown. Owner Tracy Walls makes mouthwatering blackberry and Gravenstein apple turnovers, and who says breakfast can’t be a spinach, garlic, mushroom, Gorgonzola and macadamia nut pizza? Grab a cupcake, too, in seasonal flavors like Meyer lemon, strawberry and raspberry, and then when you’re done, you can wander the warren of antique-filled booths in the store next door.
2661 Gravenstein Hwy S/State 116, Sebastopol, 707-823-0144.
Owner Jamilah Nixon sends out delicious southeast Asian street food, served in a loft lounge with seating on low sectionals made of repurposed shipping palettes topped with pillows covered in colorful Thai sarongs. You can also sit at the downstairs bar, or a few tables indoors and on the patio. Guests are encouraged to sample and share, with plates like shoyu ramen with mustard greens and tofu, Vietnamese dry noodles dotted in pickled vegetables and roasted peanuts, green papaya-chile salad, and a daily vegetable-tofu curry.
6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-9500, forchettabastoni.com.
Nearly all ingredients here are sourced from Sonoma, and many are so fresh they come from Sebastopol-based boutique farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers and foragers. Dishes change often, but look for delights like Laguna Farms mixed greens tossed with shaved radishes and sweet carrots in Nana Mae’s Organics apple cider vinegar; and Rainbow’s End goat milk vanilla panna cotta topped in cherries. The fun begins at breakfast, with a simple bagel sandwich stuffed with BBQ tempeh and caramelized onion (fried egg optional), then on to lunch with a beautiful “gemischter salat” of Bohemian Farm Collective winter greens, root vegetables, toasted pepitas and goat cheese in balsamic vinaigrette. The pizzas are some of the best around, fired to a crisp-chewy bubbled edge crust on an 800-degree fire deck pizza hearth, topped with a choice of artisan cheeses including soy-based, and finished with green goodies like marinara, wild arugula, exotic mushrooms, Calabrian chiles, escarole, tofu and seitan. Stay for dinner, too, with loveliness like smoked tofu cassoulet stocked with flageolet beans, rainbow carrots and cilantro almond gremolata.
7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-1077, peterlowells.com.
East West Café
This friendly, family-owned Mediterranean spot is perhaps the area’s most famous, beloved for its generous portions of honest, satisfying veggie and vegan options. The menu goes on for several pages, and all is good, but regulars swear by the Organic Macro Plate of braised tofu or grilled tempeh with vegetables, arame seaweed, black beans, brown rice, hummus and tahini; the Thai tofu stir fry in spicy Thai peanut sauce; and the veggie Benedict, bringing a toasted English muffin topped with avocado, tomato, sautéed shiitake mushrooms, poached eggs and homemade hollandaise alongside country potatoes and salsa. Toast your healthy eating with a glass of organic wine, and certainly don’t miss the delicious chocolate-beet cake.
128 N. Main St., 707-829-2822, Sebastopol, eastwestcafesebastopol.com.
Tip: Make your driving green, too. Pure Luxury Transportation is a leader in environmental responsibility. As members of Green Ride Global™, Pure Luxury has committed to GHG emissions reductions from all areas of the company’s business operations of 20 percent over the next 5 years.