Here’s the thing about Napa. It’s pretty freaking expensive everywhere. Between the wineries and their extra pricey tastings and the extremely high-end eateries, it’s pretty easy to burn through a lot of cash quickly in Napa. Even if you actually want a meal on the cheaper side, it’s not so easy to find anything that’s actually good so it takes a bit more digging and information than most places and you’re still likely to end up disappointed. But, I do actually know of some great meals that can be had in Napa for less than an arm and a leg and I’m happy to share this info with you.
Only a five minute walk from the main stretch of Downtown Napa, there’s a massive marketplace called the Oxbow Market filled with a variety of upscale vendors selling meat, cheese, produce, artisanal bitters, coffee, and any other bougie food related item you can think of along side a few full-blown restaurants. By normal standards, these are still not cheap places, but for Napa, they are beyond reasonable. If you’ve ever been to Chelsea Market in NYC or the Ferry Building in San Francisco, then you’ve got a pretty good sense of the place.
One such eatery at the Oxbow Market is an almost hidden restaurant accessed by a pair of doors at one side of the market called Kitchen Door. It’s the kind of place that might not even notice or realize is an extension of the building unless you were specifically searching it. But, it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s a nicely decorated space that was constructed a sort of barn-like extension of the Oxbow Market. It’s styled sort of like rustic barnyard crossed with modern yuppie’s kitchen. And there are massive lofty ceilings accented by a wood beam framework supporting a variety of pots, pans, and other kitchen implements that dangle from them. It’s a spacious room with tables spread out wide and if you’re lucky enough to be there when the weather is nice, they even have pretty extensive outdoor seating on a patio.
Believe it or not, despite this place’s Southern look, it actually specializes homey American dishes that take influences from all around the world though I noticed a particularly heavy lean on Vietnamese cuisine. It’s a perfectly civilized place to have meal even though the space is attached directly to a high-energy and ultra-high-trafficked marketplace next door – yet somehow it all just feels right. And even our visit during peak weekend brunch hours, Amy, my parents, and I entered the restaurant, approached the front desk, and were able to be seated immediately. That’s way better than I could have ever hoped for – especially in Napa without a reservation.
Since this trip to Napa was in fact a mini-vacation, I decided to kick off this lunchtime meal with something special. I splurged on an usual brew made in conjunction two food and drink places I hold dear to my heart – the Mikkeller ‘Mission Chinese’ Sichuan Peppercorn Pilsner brewed by Mikkeller in partnership with Danny Bowien of the amazing Mission Chinese.
As a fan of Mikkeller’s quality beer and an even bigger lover of Bowien’s famed explosive use of Chinese chiles, peppercorns, and other bold flavors, I was surprised to find how mild the flavors in this beer actually were. Knowing Mission Chinese’s tendency towards over-the-top excess, I was certainly taken aback by the restraint shown in this beer. It was blonde in color, had a light level of carbonation, a pleasant wheaty flavor, and only a slight black-pepper bite – nothing nearly as vicious as the tingly Sichuan kick I had anticipated. Still, it was enjoyable enough with the rest of my meal.
And so we began our brunch time meal. As we usually do, we each selected a desired dish and ending up splitting and sharing around the table.
I chose the irresistible Breakfast Carpaccio as my dish because I absolutely love thin-cut raw beef and I couldn’t resist the allure of the menu’s description which included a Vietnamese herb salad, chili peanuts, tamarind, wasabi peas, pickled Fresno peppers, lime aioli, and of course two sunny side eggs.
The dish took advantage of the excellent, fresh, high-quality raw beef which paired with all of the additional bold and spicy Vietnamese flavors quite well. I thought the dish was especially awesome after popping the egg yolks and letting them run all over the plate. It was this simple act that propelled the anti-brunch dish into definite brunch territory. And to be honest, this is the exact kind of unique and interesting fusion dish I love to indulge in during brunch. I don’t want basic boring pancakes or omelettes, take me to crazy town instead. And at $15, it wasn’t so hard on the wallet either.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, my mom selected a Duck Banh Mi Sandwich as her brunch dish (if there’s duck on a menu, 9 times out of 10 she’ll order it). Though at $14.25 it was definitely pricier than the $4 or $5 hole-in-the-wall banh mi sandwiches you can find all around the Bay Area, this one was also about a million times better.
The quality of duck meat was beyond obvious and all of the flavors were bold and interesting. But, most notably, the whole the sandwich was surprisingly very spicy. The heat must have come from the large jalapeño rings and spicy aioli generously slathered on. The sandwich’s kick was quite nice, but certainly came as a surprise.
The crackly French bread was also outstanding and the dish’s portion was indeed large enough to crush a massive appetite like mine – this thing was just so satisfying. And as if this massive sandwich wasn’t awesome enough as presented, they even included a cup of duck jus to dip and soak the entire thing. That amped the savory level up, boosted the intensity of flavors, and further transformed an already awesome banh mi into something so much more. This was a truly killer, fancy banh mi worthy the cost.
And then there was the Breakfast Kobe Burger. This brunch-only burger was topped with Hobbs smoked bacon, wine stewed onions, Swiss cheese, a secret sauce, and of course a fried egg. How good does that sound? So, we of course had to order one and requested it prepared medium rare, but were then informed by our waiter that the breakfast burger came as an 8 oz patty that couldn’t be cooked to a specific temperature.
Fortunately for us, our waiter had a truly brilliant (and thoughtful) idea – he allowed us upgrade our breakfast burger to the half pound burger patty used in their normal burger in the brunch preparation. We successfully received the dish cooked to a perfect medium-rare and with all of those glorious breakfast burger toppings. This thing was so over-the-top – it was messy, greasy, absolutely incredible with every bite. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. And that yolk just ran absolutely everywhere. If you’re at all shy about looking like an utter mess while eating, then this dish isn’t for you. It was definitely for me though – I don’t care if I look like a fool with meat juice and egg yolk streaming down my face.
So, I’m really excited to actually have a reliable and reasonably priced go-to restaurant in Napa. It’s so easy to spend a lot of money and get not-a-whole-lot in Napa, but at Kitchen Door in the Oxbow Market, everything was truly interesting, delicious, exciting, and tasted so excellent. I think we’ve got a winner.
Got another great and reasonably priced spot in Napa that I should check out? Let me know in the comments below.
610 1st St. #24 Napa, CA 94559