Italy is close to the heart of Wine Country. Similarities in climate, wine culture and love of food make for inevitable comparisons. In kitchens throughout Sonoma County, Italians' laid back, ingredient-driven approach to food is ubiquitous. Ask any chef to show you their phone, and chances are you'll find dozens of pictures of their recent trips to Tuscany, Venice, Sicily or Puglia.
With the lazy days of summer upon us, it's a good time to kick back and enjoy local takes on this Mother Cuisine. From offerings of pasta and wood-fired pizzas to burrata and osso bucco, there are almost too many Italian eateries to count.
Here are a baker's dozen cut from a broad swath -- spaghetti-and-meatballs American Italian spots to by-the-book authentic regional classics. Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list (because we'd have to include Cal-Ital heavy hitters like Zazu and myriad pizzerias including Diavola, Rosso and PizzaVino 707), but a snapshot of a some local trattoria-style favorites.
CaBianca: Though sometimes overlooked, this Santa Rosa Victorian delivers regional Italian classics that are consistently good. Burrata is a can't-miss, along with any of the fresh pastas -- notably ravioli and gnocchi. Oft-cited as one of the area's most romantic eateries, you'll have plenty of excuses to twirl your fork suggestively or maybe even have your own Lady and the Tramp moment. (835 Second St., Santa Rosa, 542-5800)
Oenitri: There's a reason this Napa newcomer has been showered with critical praise. It's just that good. Despite humble beginnings (Cheesecake Factory), Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde (co-exec chefs) have serious chops (Oliveto, Fat Duck) and are among the top salumists in the Bay Area (no small feat). The chefs cast a light on under-represented Italian regions including Sicily, Campania and Puglia. The pizzas are unparalleled, using Italian 00 flour and a wood-fueled Acino oven from Naples. Homemade pastas are outstanding. Leave room for weep-worthy seasonal panna cotta. (1425 First St., Napa, 252-1022)
Riviera: Bicyclist Levi Leipheimer counts this Santa Rosa trattoria among his favorites, and frequently rides with owner Gianpaolo Pesce. With dozens of bicycle jerseys lining the walls and a spaghetti dish named for Levi and his Gran Fondo, the restaurant has gained a strong following within the local biking community -- meaning lots of clientele with toned bods and muscular calves. (75 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 579-2682)
Lococo's: Hearty, rustic Italian dishes that appeal to the mama-mia spaghetti crowd as well as those looking for a more authentic interpretation. Calamari fritti are tops, along with daily specials, lasagna and robust meat dishes (seasonal wild boar is a must). The cozy cucina atmosphere and Italian waiters make it a great spot for romance or family. (117 4th St., Santa Rosa, 523-2227)
Scopa: Referring to an ancient Italian card game that, like poker, requires plenty of bluffing, banter, booze and snacks to be properly played, Chef Ari Rosen's is one restaurant you'll want to be dealt into. Despite the casual vibe, the caliber of the food is extremely serious -- with dishes like chile-braised tripe, homemade orrechiette, fresh ravioli and some of the best burrata in Wine Country. The menu changes with the changing seasons and produce, so don't expect the same dish twice. But that's half the fun. (109A Plaza St., Healdsburg, 433-5282)
Baci Cafe & Wine Bar: Pizzas and straightforward Italian faves quickly made this a local hangout. Arugula salad, veal saltimbocco and tiramisu are top picks. (336 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 433-8111)
Rustic: Francis Ford Coppola's winery restaurant is inspired by family recipes and his travels around the world, and the views are breathtaking. Don't miss french fried zucchini, the popular chicken mattone, New York strip steak, pizza Sofia and the dreamy chocolate mousse al "Francis Francis." (300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 857-1485)
Catelli's: This longtime Italian restaurant recently took up residence in Geyserville in the former Santi space. The wide-ranging menu includes updated recipes from three generations, including their famous meatballs, paper-thin ravioli and spaghetti with Domenica Catelli's secret tomato sauce. (21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 857-3471)
Trattoria Lupo: Black-clad waiters snap around the room under the watchful eye of the restaurant's affable Don, Roberto Catiania. The menu is a manageable list of classics -- Veal Saltimbocca, polenta with sausage, unparalleled gnocchi, lamb shanks and Calamari Steak Dorado among the favorites. This isn't a fussy, 'whatever's in season' menu. Chances are if you loved the ravioli last month it will still be on the menu next month -- and consistency, predictability and comfort always attract a crowd. (4776 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, 539-0260)
Graziano's: Old World Italian that's a Petaluma institution. Owner Graziano Perozzi still makes his pillow-like gnocchi by hand, based on his mother's recipe. (170 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma, 762-5997)
Cucina Paradiso: Cucina stands out in a town nearly overrun with Italian restaurants. The charming service and emphasis on simple, housemade pastas and desserts keep regulars coming back. (114 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma, 782-1130)
Estate: With a heavy emphasis on California cuisine, Sondra Bernstein's family-style trattoria has an ever-changing menu that includes award-winning house made salumi, lively salads, carefully braised meats (like rabbit) and fresh pastas. The artisanal grappa bar, with some 20 different types, is worth the trip alone. (400 West Spain St., Sonoma, 933-3663)
The Villa: Overlooking Bennett Valley, The Villa is a Santa Rosa tradition. The Early Bird-set come for old school favorites such as Chicken Cacciatore, but a younger crowd is rediscovering the restaurant during happy hour, when $2 appetizers, wine and beer make for a thrifty post-work nosh. The menu stretches for several pages, ranging from ravioli and meatballs and pizza to veal piccata and lobster tails. (3901 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 528-7755)
Want to add your favorites? Continue the discussion at BiteClubEats.com.