Yvonne Michie Horn’s Favorite Sonoma County Culinary Gems


Even though she was born in Sonoma County and has spent the last 25 years living there, longtime travel writer Yvonne Michie Horn loves nothing more than to see an upcoming trip on her calendar — but when the pandemic hit, her schedule was clear and she was stuck at home.

“During the pandemic I had no deadline, no trip to look forward to,” says Horn. So when the folks at Reedy Press asked her to do a book on the Sonoma County food scene from a local’s perspective she agreed, and Unique Eats and Eateries of Sonoma County: The People and Stories Behind the Food was born. Horn is quick to point out the operative word in the title is “unique.”

“This book isn’t about critiques or reviews — whatever page you turn to, it’s going to be good food,” she says. “My rule was that it had to be good and it had to be unique in some way. Is it unique in itself? Or is it uniquely Sonoma County? Is there a compelling story?”

As the breadbasket for San Francisco and beyond, the county also produces food that is special, she points out. From Gravenstein apples to Dungeness crab (Horn says it’s best when pulled from the Sonoma coast) to Crane melons, this region offers chefs a lot of inspiration. Sonoma County also has more than 63,000 acres of vineyards and some 425 wineries. Some of her favorite spots included a new discovery in Lightwave Cafe. “The vibe was so warm and great, the food was so good and the story was just so much fun.”

Also an old classic in Franco American Bakery — “it’s been on the same corner for well over 100 years and their bread s so dependably good. Their Dutch crunch is just fabulous and of course their sourdough.” And a spot featuring a name, Eye Candy Chocolatier, with a twist — “The thing I loved about this was the name; it was started by Dr. Sonja Schluter, who specializes in glaucoma, and their candy is just gorgeous.” As for Horn’s own history in the area: both her father and grandfather owned prune ranches. “That’s when prunes were king here and not the grapes,” she says, laughing.

You can find Unique Eats and Eateries of Sonoma County: The People and Stories Behind the Food at Reedy Press or at local shops and bookstores.

cover of unique eats and eateries
Book cover courtesy of Reedy Press

Cafe Frida Gallery

“A chunk of historic Santa Rosa was left behind in the late 1940s, when Highway 101 cut through the city. It is now known as the South of A Street Art District. The turnaround developed gradually as, one by one, artists found affordable space in forgotten commercial and industrial buildings. Cafe Frida Gallery, named for Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, is a recent addition. The co-owners are Mario Uribe and his son-in-law Mamadou Diouf. How did the cafe get its name? In 2018, Uribe ‘just for fun’ painted a large tableau picturing Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, with famed Sonoma County horticulturist Luther Burbank.”

The Swiss Hotel

“The Swiss Hotel has seen it all. Flags on the balcony display its history: the flags of California, the United States, Switzerland and Italy. Don Salvador Vallejo, brother of California general Mariano Vallejo, built the handsome adobe structure around 1840 to house his growing family. As the years passed, other families called it home. Why the Italian flag? Hank Marioni is the fourth generation of his family to own and operate the restaurant-hotel. His great-grandfather Mose Mastelotto bought it in 1923, passing it on through a succession of sons and daughters to Marioni’s ownership in 1991.”

Dry Creek Peach

“Vineyards carpet seemingly every inch of the Dry Creek Valley’s 16-mile length and two-mile width. The valley is best known for its zinfandel, and grape-growing has been going on in the area for nearly a century and a half. But tucked away among the valley’s sea of vines is a surprising treasure, Sonoma County’s only remaining peach orchard. San Franciscans Gayle Okumura Sullivan and her husband, Brian Sullivan, stumbled upon the orchard in 2000 while looking for a piece of land, a country home where they might grow ‘something.’ In vineyard-abundant Dry Creek, it was expected that the Sullivans would tear out the orchard in favor of grapes. Instead, they planted 100 more peach trees and dedicated themselves to the more than 60 years of organic farming practiced by the orchard’s previous owner.”