PETALUMA, Calif. - If you’ve driven past Petaluma without stopping to eat, you may be missing a town with a lot to offer.
The history of Petaluma is in farming and some of those farm to table practices are making a comeback in this town of 60-thousand.
The town has always featured traditional diners, delis, and cafés with traditional stick-to-your ribs food.
Christian Caiazzo and his wife, Katrina Fried, own Stellina Pronto, a popular café on Kentucky Street that has quickly become a local favorite.
Caiazzo says the food scene has expanded with more offerings in the last few years.
"I feel like it's gone from having a little more meat and potatoes to having a lot more diversification," Caiazzo said.
Stellina Pronto offers takeout only. You can get sandwiches made or house baked bread, salads, pastries, craft coffees and Italian sodas.
Customers rave about the fresh cut flowers and the quality of the food.
"People realize that we’re going to pay our staff well, buy good ingredients, buy organics, all the sorts of things that you need to do if you’re going to do it the right way," Caiazzo said.
Caiazzo worked in Michelin star restaurants for decades. During the pandemic he had to close his popular eatery called Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes.
After closing his restaurant he says he pivoted to a new business model that he says gives him more flexibility.
If it’s a good-old fashioned diner you crave, Sax’s Joint has you covered.
The diner on Petaluma Boulevard features 1950s décor with motorcycles, old Coca-Cola bottles, and other Americana.
The food is also a throwback to when people offered big portions of things like pancakes, eggs, and huge hamburgers.
The restaurant is a family business run by two sisters Kimberly and Tiffany Saxelby with help from their mother Julie and other family members.
Kimberly Saxelby says this place will treat you like it’s your home away from home and you won’t leave hungry.
"We have a little joke is if you’re hungry when you leave there’s a McDonald's down the road, everybody laughed, you won’t leave hungry," says Saxelby.
Just down the street, the Italian restaurant Cucina Paradiso has developed a legion of faithful fans for its traditional Italian dishes.
Although you’ll see white table cloths, the atmosphere is still relaxed. The restaurant is located on the Petaluma Riverwalk among other downtown eateries.
The restaurant features house-made pasta in a variety of rich traditional sauces, chicken, veal, and lamb main courses.
If Mexican food is what you desire, Petaluma has plenty of options.
I tried the food trucks run by El Roy’s Mexican Grill. El Roy’s has a traditional brick and mortar taqueria but it also sends food trucks to many locations in the city. People line up at the orange food trucks to taste the tacos, burritos, and tortas.
Petaluma also has a robust craft beer scene.
Perhaps the most famous player is the Lagunitas Brewery which started in Petaluma in 1993 and has become one of the most well-known brands in the world.
The brewery has a large tasting room that made me feel as if I was in a beer Disneyland of sorts.
There’s a gift shop, indoor bar, and outdoor tasting area.
Brewmaster Jeremy Marshall says people like coming to see a place that is one of the pillars of the craft brew community.
"We’re a global destination probably because you can find our beer all over the globe and we’re definitely national so all 50 states so people see that dog they see the beer they try the beer and there’s just something about going to the source that’s special," says Marshall.
You can also get some good food here to accompany that beer.
My favorites were the burger and the wings which made a perfect companion for the hearty beers.