We don’t often talk about the more casual dining spots in Napa as guests typically like to enjoy a more formal dining experience while on vacation. Occasionally, though, a burrito is a must, or a taco, or some chips and guacamole. There are a number of Mexican cuisine options in downtown historic Napa, but the only one I would currently recommend is Rosita’s, at Main and Pearl streets. They are fast on the service and you don’t wait long for the food. The food is very Mexican, not an Americanized version of Mexican that we find in so many taquerias. Although it is not the BEST taqueria in Napa, it is the best one that is within walking distance of the inn. The carnitas (pork) is tasty and rich, the sopitos with chicken (corn cakes smothered in shredded chicken, greens, cheese, and guacamole) are delightful, and the tostadas are just the perfect size for one person to enjoy (not those massive monster bowls you’ll find in many Mexican restaurants). The wine selection is simple (Sutter Home), the beer selection a bit better (Bohemia, Corona, Indian Pale Ale), but when things are this casual you are not going for the wine or beer. You want quick and easy food, ready to be consumed so that your belly will stop aching. Also, they aren’t stingy with the chips: they’ll keep refilling your bowl, which is more than I can say for many other taquerias in the area that charge you extra for the chips. They close at 9 p.m., even on weekends, so don’t go looking there for your midnight snack.
Pizza Azzuro is one of those very casual places in Napa where you can get a great wood-fired, thin-crust pizza or a nice pasta with lots of sausage and great red sauce; and, if you really wanted, a simple salad (caesar, iceberg with bleu, or house greens). It’s not elaborate decor, or a long menu, but always a great place to get quick and easy comfort food. The Pollo Pizza there has arugula on it with sherry-roasted onions (love the balance of sweet and bitter), and it is pretty much the only arugula I eat (I’m not a fan of bitter greens), along with chicken sausage. With the iceberg salad with bleu cheese to start, it is the perfect casual and easy meal to enjoy in Napa without a lot of fuss.
Jamie ordered the mixed greens with almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette, and then finished with the rigatoni with sausage and red sauce. As he stated: “I love the simplicity of this place and the clean flavors of the food.” For guests arriving on a Friday night who don’t want a formal dinner, but something nice and easy, then Pizza Azzuro is the place to go.
If I only had one day and night to spend in Napa, what would I do? Day 1: Arrive in Napa by 10:00 a.m. Buy coffee from the Napa Valley Roasting Company at First and Main Street. Be on the road by 10:00 a.m. either for a winery tour at Mondavi (many public tours all day) or Beringer (fewer tour times but an excellent tour of the cave, winery, etc.). If I was smart I made a reservation at Schramsberg for the best cave tour of all in the Valley. Then I make decisions based upon my preferences: broad selection of whites/reds (Jessup, Goosecross, Peju, Arger-Martucci, Flora Springs, Cosentino, Mondavi’s Folio), varietal selection (a TINY few of my faves- Baldacci Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sinskey Carneros Pinot, St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon, Peju Cab Franc, Arroyo Petite Syrah, August Briggs Zinfandel, Rombauer Chardonnay), unique tasting experiences with food and wine pairing (Swanson, Sinskey, Paraduxx, Quintessa, Peju), cave experiences (Schramsberg, Beringer, Vine Cliff, Jarvis), high-end wines (Opus One, Quintessa, Revanna, Phelps, Sherwin), hillside wineries that take you out of the Valley (Kuleto, Nichellini, Pride, Artesa, Reverie, Hess, Long Meadow Ranch), popular wineries (Nickel and Nickel, Silver Oak, Stag’s Leap, Duckhorn, Cakebread, Paraduxx, Quintessa, Rubicon, Frank Family, Miner Family, Phelps), unique wines (Prager/Port, Peju/Provence), unique architecture (Artesa, Darioush, Rubicon, Beringer, Quixote), unique tours (by horseback or covered wagon: Larsen, by all road vehicle: Long Meadow Ranch, Olive Oil mill: Round Pond). If time allowed, I would consider cycling in St. Helena or Yountville, doing a volcanic ash bath in Calistoga at the Lavender Hill Spa or soaking in the mud bath/mineral pools at Indian Springs, hiking at the Bale Grist Mill or up to Mt. Helena. Back at The Inn On First I would consider an in-room massage, a power nap, and then an 8:00 p.m. dinner reservation. Hmm. One day? I think more like a few days, if not a week…and that is when I would call the innkeepers and ask for an extension of more time at the inn!