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Restaurants in Napa Valley: What opened and what closed in 2023 and what might be coming in 2024

It has been a busy year for restaurant openings and closings in Napa Valley – as every year is.

Darryl Bell, who will open Stateline Road Smokehouse in Napa early in 2024 can be found during December, Thursday through Sunday, at the Oxbow Public Market. Submitted Photo.

It has been a busy year for restaurant openings and closings in Napa Valley – as every year is. Restaurants are among the most fragile of all small businesses, and most don’t have a long life. We are blessed with many that have been reliable favorites for decades. Maybe some of the new ones will be, too.

But let’s start with the bad news.

Closed

In Napa, Charlie Wagner’s Avow closed and is apparently becoming a tasting room for Quilt and Company (now next door), while that space will become a cocktail lounge.,

Also closed is Hal Yamashita, which opened as COVID-19 hit, then closed, then reopened and is now operating out of the Spork commercial kitchen and at pop-ups while it seeks more modest restaurant space.

The Dickie’s BBQ franchise in the River Park became Doug’s Smoked Meats, then closed. Now comes word that Clement’s take-out has bought the space.

La Tequiza Taqueria, known for its authentic Baja fish tacos, closed and the owners retreated to Paso Robles.

Mary’s Pizza Shack on Jefferson closed and then reopened with different owners, some from the same family.

Milestone Provisions, once 5 Dot Ranch, in the Oxbow Public Market closed, but has temporarily been replaced by Stateline Road Smokehouse barbecue, due to open its Napa restaurant in early 2024. The Oxbow plans to continue presenting a variety of temporary restaurants in the space.

Southside Carneros on Old Sonoma Road closed and was replaced by Journey Coffee. Southside continues to serve its excellent food at its location at the Century Plaza.

Upvalley

In St. Helena, the venerable Golden Harvest Chinese restaurant shut. C 29 from the owner of Cal in Santa Monica plans an ambitious upscale to replace it.

Gary’s Wine and Marketplace, which had supplanted Dean & DeLuca in St. Helena, closed and retreated to New Jersey, where it has sister stores.

And a little mysteriously, Boisset Collection closed Calistoga Depot Provisions, saying it needs to finish its renovation there and plans to reopen in the spring. They continue to hold some events there and welcome private parties.

Openings

Most of the news is in Napa, although American Canyon is collecting many diverse small eateries, including the newly opened Bonito Poke.

Napa

The big news includes Bistro Don Giovanni’s sister restaurant Scala Osteria, which opened in downtown Napa at the start of 2023, as well as the long-awaited Slanted Door, from famed chef Charles Phan, which opened in Napa in November.

Also in Napa, Armistice Brewing replaced another brewpub, Napa Barrel Project, and El Garage is moving in for now with its renowned quesabirrias and other Mexican food.

Croccante pizzeria replaced Bui Bistro with popular Detroit pizzas on thick focaccia bread.

The Lincoln now serves where the Deck at card club Ace & Vine was offering reasonable prices on family and bar favorites.

The Q lost its lease at Bel Aire Plaza, but then fortuitously replaced Gran Eléctrica on north Main Street in Napa. The Aussie owner of Gran Eléctrica slunk back to New York after failing to convince locals that he knew how to make better Mexican food than locals.[BT1]  Bay Area chain Super Duper Burgers replaced The Q with innovative burgers.

They’re not restaurants, but Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company moved to the Riverfront and Bookmine added a café for coffee and pastries.

Surprising many people in wine country, four cocktail lounges also popped up in Napa: Chispa in the West End specializes in tequila and seafood. Folklore sells vinyl records as well as cocktails and food. Judd Finkelstein’s The Fink in the Napa Mill has a nautical décor plus music and light food, while the Haven at Copia will return in the spring as a hidden speakeasy that you access via the kitchen elevator to a deck upstairs.

These cocktail lounges join Napa Valley Distillery, which earlier opened ArBaretum and the Hollywood Room, an out-of-the-way nightclub by the freeway with music and comedy – and no cover charge (yet).

Indian Taj Grill replaced the Pizza Hut at Lincoln and Soscol, and Rutherford Pizza offers giant New York-style pizzas and more conventional styles in Food City Shopping Center, which is undergoing a rebirth.

The Garden has opened in the former Exertec/Woolworth’s building in Napa. The creation of Oenotri and Tannery Bend Brewing, it is an event space with an intriguing retractable ceiling and is as much restaurant as bar. It even serves coffee in the morning.

Mother’s Taco’s in the GrapeVine Shopping Center serves Mexico City-style tacos; it’s from the folks at Heritage Eats. Sushi Haku in the same center has been sold but apparently the new owner will continue with similar food.

Cocina Milonga opened on Yajome Street, serving popular empanadas and coffee across from New Tech High School.

Contimo takeout in downtown Napa added inside seating and a beer and wine license, backing into qualifying as a restaurant.

It’s not in Napa, but the Soda Canyon Store reopened, restoring the only place to grab a bite between Napa and Calistoga on the Silverado Trail, other than elegant resorts.

Yountville

In Yountville, Ciccio reopened with chef Christopher Kostow in charge.

North Block restaurant also reopened across the street, Madeleine’s Macarons replaced Southside and The Kitchen at Priest Ranch is a rare affordable place to eat in this tony town.

As a bonus, Pancha’s famed dive bar has been saved. It will not be gentrifying but they will fix the collapsing roof and broken refrigerator.

St. Helena and Calistoga

The biggest food news in St. Helena is Charlie’s restaurant from French Laundry alum – and volunteer firefighter– Elliott Bell. It is in the building left by Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and before that, Miramonte.

French Laundry alum and volunteer firefighter Elliott Bell opened Charlie’s in St. Helena. Photo by Emma K. Morris.

NoMa is a new café and craft store on North Main in the two-block-long downtown.

Roman Holiday Gelato is the latest purveyor of frozen treats in its space on Adams, and Station Pizza opened behind The Station

Bricco Osteria is a new Italian restaurant in Calistoga.

Coming up in the new year

Speculating and awaiting new places is a big sport here in Napa Valley, for it often takes restaurants and other business a very long time to open. This is due to the cities’ and county’s infamous preciseness about regulations, but also COVID, fires, rising costs and labor shortages.

Since the Slanted Door opened, perhaps the next big anticipation in Napa is Moro Napa, coming soon (they keep saying) to the Oxbow from famed Moroccan chef Mourad Lahlou.

Moulin Bakery and Coffee is coming to the Outer Space-Cadet alley, and Napa Valley Fretworks Music Café to First Street Napa. The Warren is scheduled to open in the Andaz building and Oke Poke is coming to California Boulevard at Permanente Way in north Napa.

We also hear rumors that Lencho’s, the popular Mexican restaurant at Napa Premium Outlets, will come to North Main Street and Clemente’s will open in the Outlets next to Lencho’s.

In St. Helena, Houtskool Dumplings is coming, as is Ray Rays Taco, both presently pop-ups that also offer pick-up and delivery service.

Plans in Calistoga are a little less sure, as two projects there have languished for years and changed a few times. They’re next door to each other: Theorem Winery plans a restaurant in the old Bosko’s space and Betsy Lawer, who owns Lawer Estates winery in Knights Valley, bought Brannan’s Grill, which has also been vacant since 2018, two years ago and plans to open a tasting room, bar and dining room there.

What does it all mean?

This seems like a dizzying number of changes, and there’s a good reason for that. The last few years have been tumultuous for restaurants as well as almost every aspect of our lives.

The pandemic closed many restaurants temporarily and even parklets and take-out were not enough to sustain them. Many never recovered. In COVID’s aftermath, staff shortages and rising costs have challenged restaurants, and as they have raised prices, customers push back. Some people remain hesitant to go out or have adjusted to delivery or eating at home.

The situation is even worse in pricey Napa Valley, where housing for staff is largely unaffordable and some restaurateurs seem to think that only wealthy residents and visitors count. I am constantly asked, “Where are the affordable meals?” yet I receive more and more notices of $350, even $2,000 meals (at least that one was canceled.)

I personally resolve to focus more on places that most of us can afford in my writings, including in NapaLife and Napa Life Extra.

Contact Paul Franson at paul@paulfranson.com.

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