Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Frugal eats in Napa

Whether you live in the Napa Valley or are planning a visit, it is possible to enjoy some of the best eats that Napa has to offer on a budget. My fellow frugal-minded folk will know I'm not talking about stretching your dollar at The French Laundry (though read on for an affordable way that even a penny pincher like me can enjoy Thomas Keller's food). I'm talking about family and budget-friendly restaurants that will excite your tastebuds and your wallet.

In my recent post about how to spend $50 or less a month on restaurants, I write about how to make the most of your money while eating out. For locals and visitors, here I write about where. Below are some of our favorite spots to dine out in and around Napa.


Buttercream Bakery
(707) 255-6700
2297 Jefferson St  Napa, CA
Table Service
Corkage: N/A
From it's pink and white striped exterior to its tasty cakes and I-can-die-now-that-I've-inhaled-this chicken fried steak, it's not hard to see why this local favorite has stood the test of time. Buttercream Bakery opened in Napa in 1948 and has been whipping up baked goods and delicious classic diner breakfasts ever since. 
Model Bakery
(707) 259-1128
644 1st St, Napa, CA
Counter Service
Corkage: N/A
We're on a mission to steal the secrets of the Model Bakery bakers. While certainly not the cheapest place in town to buy your bread, there are two great deals at Model that make it deserving of a place on this list: 1) each day the bakery has a 'Bread of the Day' for 50% off and 2) you can buy day-old pizza, breads and croissants for 50% off while they last.

Fremont Diner 
(707) 938-7370
2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA
Table Service
Corkage: N/A
Though a little bit outside of town and the most pricey of these three breakfast options (you'll be in good shape if you spend about $40-$50 with tip on breakfast for two), Fremont Diner is on this list because it is just so darn good. Period. The chefs source most ingredients from the restaurant's farm and do cool things like make their own sausage.


Oxbow Public Market
644 1st St  Napa, CA
Corkage: Bring your own bottle and glasses - you can enjoy your own wine at any of the public tables.
'The Oxbow,' as locals call it, is hands-down our favorite place to go for dinner in Napa. Set up like a public market, it is kid and budget friendly. Local purveyors include the Cheese & Wine Merchant, Ca' Momi Pizzeria (which, while not cheap - pizzas are $15 and up - is delicious), Three Twins Ice Cream (try the Cardemon), Kara's Cupcakes and, my personal favorite, C Casa, a unique taqueria that offers kick-ass tacos, nachos, and sides unlike any Mexican food you've ever had before.
(707) 944-2487
6476 Washington Street, Yountville, CA
Counter Service
Corkage: None. Bring your own glasses and corkscrew.
You too can enjoy Thomas Keller's five-star food without mortgaging your house. Known primarily for his restaurant The French Laundry, Mr. Keller makes his crispy, juicy - dare I say perfect - buttermilk fried chicken available to all walks of life via Addendum, a small 'shack' in Yountville which offers fried chicken and BBQ lunches on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (which include three pieces of chicken or BBQ, cornbread and a side) for $16.50. While that may sound pricey, consider that dinner at The French Laundry for two, with wine and tip, will set you back nearly $1,000. Call ahead with your order. If it's a nice day, enjoy your tasty meal at the quiet picnic tables and garden.

Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet
(707) 224-6900
644 1st St  Napa, CA
Counter Service
Corkage: None
I have never been to Gott's (which is next to the Oxbow Public Market - they also have a location in St. Helena) and been disappointed. I have, however, been surprised by the bill (when did $8-$10 burgers become the norm?). When we go, it's almost always on Local's Night (Tuesdays) when cheeseburgers and pints are half price. For less than $20, you can get two burgers, two beers, and fries. That, in this town, is a steal.

Sushi Mambo
(707) 257-6604
1202 1st St  Napa, CA
Table Service
Corkage: No fee on the first bottle; $10 on each additional
Craving sushi? Sushi Mambo has an awesome happy hour - from 4-6pm sushi rolls (and beers) are buy one get one half off. Make sure you mention to your waiter that you're there for happy hour pricing. 

La Taquiza
(707) 224-2320
2007 Redwood Road, Napa, CA
Counter Service
Corkage: None
You haven't had fish tacos until you've been to LaTaquiza. My favorites are the shrimp tacos - the shrimp are plump and juicy and the sauce the perfect blend of spicy and sweet with a hint of lime. My husband loves the pulpo (octopus) tacos. It's the only place I've ever had pulpo and not only did I eat it, I liked it.

Heritage Eats
(707) 226-3287
3824 Bel Aire Plaza  Napa, CA
Counter Service
Corkage: None
Tucked away in the Bel Aire shopping center next to Whole Foods, Heritage Eats is one of those gems where meals are consistently good. Owned by locals, the restaurant offers Chipotle-style counter service with a wide array of ethic foods - from Vietnamese to Indian to Mexican and beyond. Try the Thai Boa, though you won't be disappointed with anything on the menu.

Small World Cafe
(707) 224-7743
932 Coombs Street, Napa, CA
Counter Service

We recently discovered this gem when we were in the mood for some budget-friendly vegetarian food (though rest assured that Small World Cafe offers plenty of carnivore-inspired dishes as well). After feasting on the Falafel & Baba Ganoush platters, with a little and Baklava for desert (how could we not at only $1.40 a piece?), we were back within the week to introduce a friend to some of the best, freshest fare that we've found in the Napa Valley.

Did I miss your favorite "cheap eat" in Napa? We are always looking for new spots to try - please share your recommendations!



Monday, April 1, 2013

How we spend $50 or less each month at restaurants

For our family, living a frugal life means stretching each dollar as far as it can go. What it doesn't mean is sacrificing our quality of life. When it comes to eating out, we, like any family, sometimes need a break from the kitchen. Whether it be for a change of pace or to fulfill a craving - or simply to avoid doing dishes - going out to eat is a treat that we enjoy a few times a month.

Napa Valley, the place we call home, is the Garden of Eden when it comes to restaurants. From The French Laundry to Meadowood to La Toque to Morimoto's to countless others, there is no lack of amazing places to find your next meal. What can be difficult is finding an affordable meal, especially on a monthly restaurant budget of $50.

I am here to tell you that, even in one of the most expensive places in the world to dine, it can be done. In fact, we're typically able to stretch $50 into two or more meals over the course of a month. Are we eating at one of the Napa Valley's many Michelin star restaurants? Obviously not if we're paying. But we are enjoying incredible, budget-friendly meals and having fun as a family. Here's how we make it happen:
  • Counter service: These days, plenty of non-fast food restaurants offer great menus without table service. Avoiding a 20% tip stretches your budget.
  • Tip properly: When you do have table service, tip well - as I waitressed during college, it's a rare occasion when I tip less than 20%. However, don't forget to calculate your tip on the bill before tax. Here in California - where restaurant tax is nearly 10% - that makes a big difference. (For fellow Californians, an easy tip trick is to double the tax on your bill to tip 20%. Voila!) Even when you don't have table service, put a dollar or two in the tip jar - you'll feel good about paying it forward.
  • Share your meal:  Portion sizes at restaurants are often so large that each person doesn't need their own meal. Sharing a dish with your partner or child will make the most of your night's budget.
  • Drink water: You'll shave at least $10 or more off your night's bill if you forgo fancy beverages for Plain Jane water. Drinking water obviously applies to more than just eating out  - it's also a good way to cut your grocery bill, not to mention great for your health. Miss a glass of wine with your meal? Enjoy it as a nightcap when you get home. 
  • BYOB: If you do want wine with dinner, bring your own. More and more restaurants these days have corkage fees, typically $10-$20 to open your bottle (there are quite a few in Napa that waive the fee completely). Before heading out for dinner, call the restaurant to find out if you can bring wine. At the end of the night, remember to tip your server as if you had purchased a bottle of wine off the menu - look at the wine list to find a bottle close to your budget and mentally add that amount to your bill (minus any corkage fees).
  • Happy Hour pricing: As anyone with little kids knows, it's all about the early dinner! What's good for your little ones is also great for your checkbook as an early dinner helps you take advantage of deals like happy hour pricing. It's not all about the booze anymore (although two beers for the price of one is sure to make Mom & Dad happy!). Many restaurants have deals on appetizers or nightly specials - call ahead to find out what they offer and until what time.
  • Nightly specials: To build up business local spots may offer specials on weeknights. Whether deals are on specific menu items or the entire meal, it pays to find out so you can get the most bang for your buck. Here in Napa one of our favorite places to eat, the Oxbow Public Market, has Local's Night on Tuesday. We rarely eat at the Oxbow on any other night as the Tuesday deals are too good to pass up. 
  • Join a club: Does your favorite sandwich place offer you a free sandwich once you've purchased ten? Lots of restaurants have loyalty clubs - ask the next time you're there.
  • Get on the email list/fan their Facebook page: Find out how your favorite places share deals with their customers and make sure you're in the know. For example, one of our favorite pizza spots in town, Firewood Cafe, offers two pizzas for the price of one a few times throughout the year. We get updates via email and plan a night out around the special.
  • Coupons: While it can be difficult to find coupons for local restaurants, it's nice to have a few for the big chains in your back pocket in case you need them. For instance, we always clip the Subway coupons so that when we want to go for a picnic and don't have the fixins' at home we can get two subs for the price of one. Our bill always comes to less than $6 for the whole family to eat. Not too shabby.
  • Go out for breakfast: One of my favorite discoveries since having a child is the joy of eating out for breakfast. I'm not sure why we never ventured out for breakfast before, but something tells me it's because we were, well, sleeping. Since there's not much of that going on anymore, we may as well get up and start the day with some delicious food! Besides scrumptious waffles and pancakes and sausage and bacon and chicken friend steak and biscuits and oh-so-many-wonderful treats, one of the best things about going out for breakfast is the price. Not to mention your child is running on a full tank of gas and on his/her best behavior. Ah yes, breakfast is the meal of champions. 
I've been surprised, and pleased, by how far we stretch $50 using these tips. Cheers to your next (frugal) meal out on the town and - do tell - how do you maximize your restaurant budget?