Singapore may have its hawker fare, LA its food trucks but here in Downtown Napa, we have our own little “pod” of street food, wine country style! These humble eateries have a strong POV with food that is quick, inexpensive and always packed with flavor.
Taste of Iberia at La Taberna
This is as close to the Spanish tapas experience as I’ve encountered locally. The dishes are simply prepared showcasing the purity of ingredients, and the deft touch of the chef. Since it opened in November, I haven’t had a single dish that wasn’t perfectly seasoned. The space has an authentic feel to it, no formal tables, just counter-height seating. Get here early, the place is usually packed after 6 p.m. Fortunately, they open at 2 p.m.
Did you know that some of the best seafood in Spain comes in can? Here, the owners make a playful nod to the fact with this delicate house-made smoked black cod. This was terrific with a glass of super-dry Manzanilla Sherry.
Another winner was this perfectly seared skate topped with meyer lemon chermoula. So simple, so delicious. La Taberna does seafood best when they keep it pure and simple like this. Other dishes I’ve had there, like a recent yellowtail prepared a la puttanesca, crudo with “foam” and a bocadillo (finger sandwich) that was more a tuna “salad” than a more classic piece of oil-packed tuna with roasted piquillo pepper, were delicious but not all that unique.
Each of these street food joints have authentic reference points, but they’re inventive with locally available ingredients. I was piqued to try the lamb tartare since I’d never had it, and it was great.
La Taberna offers a wide range of wines-by-the-glass from Spain and Portugal, from sparkling wines, to sherries to still white and red wines. To my palate, the small plates pair best with the Sherries. All the wines are well-priced, allowing diners to experiment.
They had me on swine! Their fried pig ears and pork belly plates are such perfect mates with drinks but one can definitely make a meal here since you’ll want to try everything.
La Taberna is open seven days a week from 2-11 p.m. 815 Main Street, Downtown Napa
A couple of years ago, Paolo Lucchesi of the Chron did a quick survey of local chefs of what kind of food they’d like to see in Napa. Two-thirds of them said Asian, like noodles. Being an umami addict, I was excited to hear about the opening of Eight Noodle Shop. Great Asian noodles are always about just two things: the quality of noodles and the broth.
I savored this umami bomb of melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, unctuous bone marrow and glistening poached egg in a big bowl of deeply flavored, rich broth and generous portion of chewy, house-made noodles. I also liked the addition of bamboo shoots, which they season in-house.
For something a little lighter but big on flavor, try this pork belly bo ssam.
These Korean style chicken wings were were more savory than sweet and served perfectly crisp and hot.
Eight Noodle Shop is open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. 1408 Clay Street, Downtown Napa
Grilled cheese joint Melted Napa Valley occupies a tiny space but that’s what makes its food street food. In addition to purist grilled cheese sandwiched between airy-crisp waffled bread, they have lots of meaty choices like the Reuben above. I had mine with the Swiss but without the Blue cheese.
They also offer vegan sandwiches that even a non-vegan would love like the Crawford’s Pantry made with vegan cheese and seasonal vegetables. It may look light but it was so filling I couldn’t finish it.
For something decadent, try their dessert sandwich with honey cream cheese, chocolate syrup and plantains!
Melted Napa Valley is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 966 Pearl Street, Downtown Napa
When I think of C Casa at Oxbow Public Market, I always think FRESH – in flavor and in seasonality. Their tacos, tostadas and enchiladas hit all the right spots with bright flavor, crunchy textures, spice and savoriness that is never heavy. They also offer a great variety of dishes. One day you might hanker for duck, buffalo, lamb or steak. Another day, grilled salmon or mahi mahi, even ceviche. In season now is crab taco.
They also serve up flavorful vegetarian options like this truffle and mushroom enchilada offered during the annual Napa Valley Truffle Festival, or the current corn edamame 4-cheese enchilada special. On a daily basis, they offer fresh salads and vegetarian tacos.
Bangkok-style Street Market
Mango on Main‘s street food is all about the diversity of Asian food stalls you’d find in Bangkok, such as Southeast Asian, Chinese and Japanese.
They serve a variety of street food, from potstickers, rolls and skewers, to noodle soups and stir-fries.
The daytime menu is Asian street food, at night, they convert to their traditional Thai cuisine.
Mango on Main is open daily for lunch except Sundays and daily for dinner except Mondays. 1142 Main Street, Downtown Napa.