Last Updated on July 7, 2023

Discovering Downtown Napa through a choice of restaurants might take you a week, but it’s well worth it! Over the past few years, Downtown Napa restaurants have upped their foodie credentials, stepping out of the wine shadow of the Valley to become a city with some culinary clout.

Visitors hungry after wine tasting in the city’s 55+ tasting rooms have created a demand for a diverse food culture. Whether you’re looking for breakfast or brunch, Mexican food, Italian cuisine, seafood, fine dining, or a riverside restaurant, Downtown Napa restaurants have it all.

Downtown Napa is the city’s original commercial district. That wasn’t always the case as the town is bisected by a tidal river. It wasn’t until the city gained control of its frequently flooding waterway that the riverfront could develop and thrive.

In the early 2000s there were only three restaurants in Downtown Napa. Then in 2007 the city agreed to develop the riverfront. The Andaz Hotel, a boutique property on First Street, was the first of many new businesses to be built. Next, world-renowned chef Masaharu Morimoto agreed to open a restaurant on the riverfront and everything changed.

Today, Downtown Napa and its inviting riverfront provides the city’s cultural hub on its pedestrian-friendly streets. Best of all, there are over 60 unique Downtown Napa restaurants offering delicious opportunities to savor local cuisine.

Downtown Napa Restaurants on the River

Downtown Napa riverfront
Downtown Napa’s riverfront. Courtesy of Augustine Agency.

After Napa passed flood control and took measures to protect its riparian commercial center, the riverfront changed into a viable and thriving district. Now the riverfront’s promenade is one of the city’s crown jewels. There are plenty of restaurants lining the riverfront, each offering its own unique dining experience.

Located in the Historic Napa Mill along the Napa River, Celadon offers “global comfort food.” Seated in the old-world, romantic courtyard, we started our exploration of the riverfront restaurants in this award-winning restaurant. An Asian pear salad, Moroccan braised lamb shank, and a dish of pan-fried gnocchi confirmed this restaurant’s promise to deliver international cuisine. Open for brunch or dinner, either way, the location is ideal.

Angele Restaurant and Bar, a French country brasserie and bar is perched above the Napa River. Housed in a turn-of-the-century ship chandlery, accented in French provincial blue and white colors, we were seated in a cozy dining room. The exposed wood beam ceiling enhances the country casual decor. Outdoor seating overlooking the river is also available. We enjoyed oysters on the half shell and a bottle of French wine. It was a “Bon Appetit” experience.

Unique for Napa, Wilfred’s Lounge features Hawaiian and Polynesian influenced cuisine. The island-inspired décor will make you feel as though you’re on vacation while on your vacation. From Huli Huli chicken wings to coconut shrimp to kalua pork, the menu offers mouthwatering choices. We couldn’t resist the Pupu Platter and the 1944 Mai Tai. It provided a great warm up, followed by a plate of the oh so delicious five spice ribs.

Downtown Joe’s Napa

A favorite among downtown Napa restaurants on the River, Downtown Joe’s Napa, an iconic brewery on Main Street, serves as a long-running, casual spot for house-brewed beers. With fresh food creations, delicious burgers, and classic American dishes this place is also one of Downtown Napa’s best restaurants. A Cobb salad, bowl of chili, and a cold beer on tap made for a satisfying lunch. If you go, request a second story seating inside at the window or on the balcony outside for a grand view of Napa River activity.

Downtown Napa Italian Restaurants

If Italian food is your favorite, Downtown Napa Italian restaurants offer plenty of choices. Start at Scala Osteria in the heart of Downtown Napa’s glitzy shopping area on First Street. Traditional Southern Italian seafood-centered dishes take center stage here. The restaurants painted brick interior and wood floors offer a warm, inviting atmosphere. The menu features both unique and traditional cocktails and wine by the glass. Pizza, pasta and seafood are available. The warm poached octopus salad followed by the Salt Spring mussels made a delightful seafood lunch!

You’ll find mouthwatering wood-fired pizza on the menu at Oenotri. The dining room features brick walls and wooden floors, so common in the city’s repurposed historic buildings. The Margharita with San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, basil, and an addition of sausage made a delightful meal to share.

For over 25 years, Pasta Prego has been one of Napa’s favorite restaurants with locals. Now owned by 3rd generation Napa resident Matthew Miersch, recent renovations include a stunning new bar wrapping around the kitchen like a traditional San Francisco style restaurant. Antipasti, Zuppe e insalata, classic pasta dishes, and secondi like chicken marsala – everything you would expect in a downtown Napa Italian restaurant – are on the menu. But we have a weakness for polenta and ordered the pan roasted polenta topped with a wild mushroom brandy sauce. That and a Caesar salad made a satisfying meal.

Downtown Napa breakfast

If you’re headed out to enjoy Downtown Napa’s walkable outdoor art collection, you’ll want to fuel up in the morning beforehand. On our first morning there, and acting on a recommendation, we headed to JAX White Mule Diner. Opened in 2014, this First Street restaurant is known for serving up breakfast classics done in the “JAX way.” They make old school new again with offerings like Benny Eggs or classic all-American bacon and eggs. They are also famous for their beignets. Although popular with both locals and visitors, they do their “downtown best” to seat you right away.

The Model Bakery has been operating for nearly 90 years in nearby Napa Valley. Its second location in the Oxbow Public Market makes it convenient for Downtown Napa breakfast eaters looking to enjoy the best artisan breads, pastries, cookies, and coffee. In fact, their English muffins are Oprah’s favorite! They also make a delightful breakfast sandwich. We love freshly baked quiche and dropped by for a couple of slices. We’re glad we did! You can also order for curbside pickup or stop in for a “late bake” of signature breads in the afternoon.

Le Paris Artisan and Gourmet Café, an adorable little downtown Napa breakfast spot on Brown Street near the river offers a wide variety of traditional pastries including croissants, muffins, coffee cake, and sticky buns. With the name “Le Paris,” of course there are macarons. On the savory side, the menu includes empanadas, quiche of the day (our favorite), ham, egg and cheese sandwiches, and the unique and spicy jalapeno cheese sticks.

Downtown Napa brunch

Maybe you just want to have a goof off morning eating brunch and drinking mimosas. So do we on occasion. Grace’s Table, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, serves international dishes during dinner from Chef Mauro’s extensive travels. Michelin’s Bib Gourmand acknowledgements are awarded to world-class restaurants with friendly prices.

From 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, the restaurant serves a decadent brunch. We couldn’t resist the temptation to spend a morning drinking bubbles and dining on hearty brunch classics. We split a starter of Graces’ table cinnamon rolls followed by Andouille sausage with sweet peppers, the house made quiche with organic greens, and shrimp and grits. Blissfully satiated, we ended the morning with a stroll along the riverfront promenade to digest a divine meal.

Downtown Napa Mexican Restaurants

Pam has a serious weakness for Mexican food. In fact, she says she could eat it every day and never tire of it. Fortunately, Downtown Napa Mexican restaurants offer plenty to choose from.

The Oxbow Public Market, a 40,000 square foot marketplace, lies along the Napa River. A food mecca, it houses local vendors, artisan cafés, and local organic produce. In the marketplace, C Casa, winner of the Michelin Bib Gourmand, came highly recommended, so we decided to try it for lunch. This innovative taqueria features hand prepared white corn tortillas as the foundation for its tacos. Choose chili-rubbed rotisserie meats for your filling along with fresh salsas, salads, and interesting sides. The chefs at C Casa are trained at the famous California Institute of America in Napa.

Oh, if you’re still looking for downtown Napa brunch, C Casa offers a wide variety of Mexican breakfast items along with sparkling wine, Bloody Marys, and margaritas.

Oxbow Public Market.
Oxbow Public Market. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker.

Did we mention that Pam loves Mexican food? Because it is her favorite cuisine, naturally we dined at as many Mexican food spots in as we could squeeze in.

Los Agaves Napa, a new restaurant on the riverfront, was next on our list. Owner Ricky Gonzalez has been working at some of the best restaurants in Napa Valley for 20 years and his experience shines through. We highly recommend the quesabirrias – braised beef mini quesadillas with a side of beef broth as a dipping sauce. This menu item is something you don’t see often and the rich beef flavors leave you wanting more. Los Agaves also offers margarita flights, another tempting choice!

Taqueria Maria, a casual, colorful Mexican restaurant offers one of the best happy hours in town with 20% off all menu items. After touring the Rail Arts District’s two-mile stretch of large-scale outdoor murals we were ready for a small bite and a refreshing drink. Taqueria Maria hit the spot. The extensive menu made it hard to decide, but the carnitas street tacos and classic margarita helped tide us over until dinner that night. Taqueria Maria also serves breakfast, including chilaquiles, a favorite in our household.

Downtown Napa Dinner

Hash browns at Cole’s Chop House.
Hash browns at Cole’s Chop House. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker.

Housed in an historic two-story building with exposed stone walls and a mahogany bar, Cole’s Chop House is a classic American steakhouse and favorite for downtown Napa dinner. The restaurant serves up sophisticated steak, lamb chops and seafood in an elegantly refurbished setting. Talented bartenders mix classic cocktails based on a world-class whiskey selection.

When in a steakhouse, we believe you should order what they specialize in, so we dined on the perfectly seared Black Angus filet mignon. Here’s a new one, while this might seem like an odd side dish to order in a fine dining establishment, Cole’s Chop House is known for its Chop House hash browns. This mouthwatering, hard-to-stop-eating side dish is enough to feed four people. These spuds were so scrumptious that we took the remainders home. You can dine indoors or on the patio. Reservations are recommended.

If you’re looking to spoil yourself with a Japanese inspired meal, stop by Morimoto’s Napa, the restaurant that started the dining boom in Downtown Napa. From fresh sushi and sashimi to hot entrees, the extensive menu is sure to please everyone sitting at your dinner table. Feeling adventurous, we sampled a flight of four Chef Morimoto sakes, the Hamachi tacos, the soft-shell crab roll, and the ishiyaki buri bop – yellowtail on rice that was prepared at our tableside. Wine and beer are also available if sake is not your thing.

Additionally, Morimoto’s Asia opened in 2022. It serves traditional Chinese influenced dishes. The larger-than-life statues of Morimoto outside the restaurant are fun to see!

Charlie Palmer Steak at Archer Hotel Napa serves dishes inspired by the surrounding Napa Valley agricultural and viticultural region. Its stunning wood and stone interior provides an elegant setting for an evening of fine dining. Its warm, welcoming atmosphere invites you to take a seat and relax. While the menu is “meat centric” as you would expect in a steakhouse, there are plenty of seafood options too. We started with the lamb lollipop appetizer, followed by the surf and turf entrée – a petite filet mignon, butter braised lobster, and wilted spinach. We also ordered a side of pan roasted asparagus to experience more of the region’s produce. A bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, what the Valley is best known for, paired beautifully with the meal.

Enjoy a Gourmet Meal on the Napa Valley Wine Train

Leaving from the Downtown Napa Train Station, the Napa Valley Wine Train provides gourmet meals in addition to wine tasting. Housed in a museum-quality, antique train carriage, this gourmet restaurant offers multiple course meals during the trip through Napa Valley. You can choose from several entrees including Yellowfin tuna tartare, pan seared Pacific halibut or roasted tenderloin beef, all accompanied by exquisite, freshly made salads, and delightful, decadent desserts. We were seated in the opulent décor of an early 20th century dining car and had a culinary experience that transported us back in time.

That’s a lot of food, but we’re already looking forward to our next meal at another one of the wonderful downtown Napa restaurants.

Author

  • Pam and Gary Baker

    Pam and Gary Baker are freelance food, wine, and travel writers based in Northern California. They have been published in regional, national, and international publications including Porthole Cruise, Upscale Living, Food Wine Travel, Australia and New Zealand, International Living, Northwest Travel and Life, Washington Tasting Room, and Inspired Senior Living. Pam is the former editor for Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine and writes a monthly column for Food Wine Travel Magazine.