EAT + EAT Feature
Napa’s BEST Appetizers
Whet Your Palate with These Delicious Starters


Published On: March 30, 2023
Photo above: Charter Oak Raw Vegetables by Kelly Puleio

As the first taste of what’s to come, appetizers set the tone for the entire meal. Especially in Napa Valley, a region celebrated for its cuisine, appetizers must impress at first bite. Whether it’s a tried-and-true favorite like Pizzeria Travigne’s cult-famous Mozzarella Al Minuto, both aesthetically and palatally pleasing, or crispy and creamy coquettes at Napa Palisades Saloon, these appetizers are exquisite examples of what a starter should offer.



At this Napa institution, seasonal, Californian fare is front and center. The restaurant’s rustic interior, with brick-lined walls and wood with leather upholstered furnishings, makes it feel like it should be located in the middle of a ranch instead of just off Main Street. Even though the menu rotates with the season, the Raw Vegetables—from The Charter Oak Farm (located a half mile from the restaurant) accompanied by fermented soy dip remains a permanent starter that embodies the family-style dining they encourage. //


Deviled Eggs // Photo courtesy of Angele Restaurant & Bar



At this waterfront restaurant along the Napa River, expect to find a menu that combines a taste of Northern California with the flavors of French country cuisine. The Franco-Californian dishes are both comforting but contemporary, which is exactly what is found in the “Pour Commencer” serving of Deviled Eggs. What may sound simple is immediately elevated with a hefty topping of Regiis Ova caviar (Yountville’s Chef Thomas Keller’s line of caviar) and the eggs carefully sitting on the perfectly whipped mousse of their yolk. There are four halves to an order, and highly addictive, so plan to order a double. //


Wood Grilled Artichokes // Photo courtesy of Rutherford Grill


Artichokes have become synonymous with this favorite regional restaurant serving up elevated American comfort food. The Grilled Artichokes live under appetizers and are heirloom varieties that, when in season, are sourced exclusively from Castroville, California. “They are grown from rootstock passed down by Italian immigrants, known for their superior flavor and meatiness,” explained Allison Gottwalt, general manager at Rutherford Grill. “We steam them and then grill them to order and serve with our homemade remoulade sauce.” //



Though this St. Helena restaurant considers itself a “casual spot” featuring Northern Italian favorites, their Mozzarella Al Minuto is a serious affair one needs to experience. Reflecting its name, the Mozzarella Al Minuto is served tableside, so it can be eaten right away, as that’s when executive chef and co-owner Anthony “Nash” Cognetti said it tastes best, something he learned during his time working and living in Italy. “When I first started making it, I realized that mozzarella that was 30 seconds old was one of the greatest things to come out of my kitchen, and I’m the only guy that gets to eat it 30 seconds after it’s made,” explained Cognetti of the warm cheese that’s perfectly “seepy” in the middle. “That’s when we decided to make mozzarella cheese to order and serve it tableside to our guests.” The antipasti is served as a hand-pulled fresh mozzarella ball with garlic and olive oil and grilled crostini on the side. //

Mozzarella al Minuto // Photo courtesy of Pizzeria Tra Vigne



Located in a Historic Landmark building from 1916, this elevated Northern Italian hotspot and beloved local restaurant offers an impressive ambiance to match its fusion of California-Italian cuisine. The West Coast influence takes center stage in Allegria’s Napa Cabbage Salad, listed under Zuppa e Insalata, or Soups and Salads. The crunchy cabbage is tossed with crispy pepper bacon, crumbled blue cheese, sweet mushrooms, garlic croutons, and a warm red wine vinaigrette. Make it a complete meal by adding grilled free-range chicken or succulent prawns. //



Located off of Rt. 29 in St. Helena, Farmstead embraces its environs by focusing on farm-to-table New American fare, all served in a renovated barn for added rustic appeal. It seems only natural, then, to place an order of steamy warm Cheddar Biscuits to start any meal, even though they’re technically listed under sides, diners will notice how these tend to come out first. And for good reason—smother one with honey butter and say no more. //


Frito Misto // Photo Courtesy of Bistro Don Giovanni


From dining al fresco in summer to fireside in the winter, this authentic Italian eatery, consistently rated as Napa’s best Italian Restaurant, is charming year-round. Though the baked-fresh-daily focaccia and ciabatta bread are always tempting with which to start a meal, the Fritto Misto has quickly become a fan favorite. The traditional antipasti is a fried mix of calamari, shrimp, fennel onions, and green beans served with spicy aioli, perfect for dipping and sharing with the whole table. //



Unlike many of its Yountville neighbors, R+D offers a more laid-back atmosphere for dining with large parties or family fun. This makes their Dip Duo appetizer of jalapeño queso and guacamole plated with hand-cut tortilla chips a great entry to their casual, American fare. Dig into the dips with a cocktail at the lively bar while watching the game or, when weather permits, sitting in Adirondack chairs around the outdoor fire pits. //



“The Rueben Croquettes are a dish that exemplifies who we are and what we strive to offer at Napa Palisades Saloon—we are not stuffy or formal, but we take our food and drinks seriously,” explained Michael Olson, general manager at Napa Palisades about their most popular appetizer. Made with corned beef, shredded Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and a touch of cream cheese for binding, the Rueben balls are rolled by hand in panko, fried crispy, and served with a homemade Thousand Island dressing for dipping. “We like to pair this dish with our Napa Palisades Amber Lager—this smooth yet deeply flavorful malty brew pairs perfectly with the savory, crunchy croquettes,” shared Olson. //

Reuben Croquettes // Photo courtesy of Napa Palisades


Tuna Tartar // Photo courtesy of TORC


At the heart of downtown Napa, TORC is always buzzing. Celebrated for their approach to global farm-to-table cuisine, diners at this contemporary restaurant on Napa’s downtown Main Street revel in the amount of white truffle available to be shaved atop any dish at any given time, along with far-flung flavors from the East like yuzu and poha (flattened rice originating from India). The latter two ingredients can be found in their San Diego Big Eye Tuna Tartare, also spiced up with chile-miso, negi, and savory herbs. Diners who enjoy a little extra can supplement with a topping of 10 grams of Caspian sea osetra caviar. //