It has now been almost 8 months since I made the big move from Vashon Island, Washington to Petaluma. So I've had almost 8 months to get my bearings, and figure out what's to eat around the local area. I was aided by many excellent Chowhound reports, most of them from Melanie Wong, who has kept track of what's good in the area.
So far, here's what I've found that's Chowhound-worthy:
One big change in moving to the area is that there's actual, good Mexican food here. In Seattle, a "good" Mexican restaurant, relatively speaking, has bland rice, pasty, flavorless refried beans, and a bunch of dishes so ho hum that you have to go with the mole sauce to get anything like an intense flavor. It was one of those things you do when you're in the mood for a certain, different, type of thing, like the bad Chinese take-out of my youth. Not that I didn't know what good Mexican food could be. That could be found in Wenatchee, WA, a couple hours away over the mountains, where the apple-pickers live. There was even a taco truck.
Having this sort of food in my neighborhood has been a real blessing, especially after spending 5 years on an island devoid of good restaurants. Some of the highlights:
Lolita's. This is the best Mexican place I've found around here. Great chicken in mole sauce, yes, but they also have great tacos, flavorful "wet Burritos," tortillas that are made in front of your eyes on the weekend, and many other well-executed dishes. On the weekend, they turn out tasty, spicy menudo, and an intensely flavorful Birra (goat soup). I noticed recently that they offer whole fried fish, and I think that's what I'm going to try next time.
Taco truck. In the parking lot of a Shell station on the north side of E. Washington Street, a few blocks west of 101, from about 6PM on, most but not all nights, is a terrific taco truck turning out delicious $1.50 tacos, including tripa and lengua. Liza recommends the Quesadilla, too. There's another further west on E. Washington, in a big vacant lot, that I have not yet tried.
Playa Azul. I think I've got the name right -- it's on Petaluma Blvd N, in the block extending North from the intersection with E. Washington. They specialize in seafood, and that's what I'd suggest ordering here, including some delicious ceviche offerings.
Thai Issan, at the intersection of E. Washington and Petaluma Blvd, is a worthwhile stop. Unfortunately they do not have some of the exotica that characterizes Issan cuisine, like sour sausage and various innards. If you want that, go to Las Vegas and have a meal at Lotus of Siam, likely the best Thai restaurant on the continent. What they do have is a bunch of tasty standards, and some things I haven't seen elsewhere. The fried rice balls with dipping sauce are a crunchy treat that I would definitely recommend, and the Dungeness crab in yellow curry, a sometime special, is delicious. This is a more "royal" style of Thai food, gentle and savory. No intense hotness here, though sometime I may try asking for it and seeing what happens. Very friendly service. The complementary opener of rice dipped in a spicy sweet sauce, that actually has tomato in it, is pretty special.
Haven't wandered widely yet, but I keep returning to Mary's, on E. Washington. Yes, it's a chain, albeit a smallish local one. But they do a great job of turning out well-designed Italian-American comfort food, and extra points for a delicious frequent special of tripe in spicy tomato sauce. The gnocchi, spaghetti with meatball, lasagna, and ravioli are all worthwhile here. The pizza is sufficiently OK that we do get it sometimes when the craving strikes, though it does not approach the rewards of driving an extra 20 minutes north to New York Pie in Santa Rosa. Good Lemon Ice and (according to Liza) hot fudge sundae desserts. A bustling, busy place that seems to have about 20 employees busily running around. Family-friendly.
Hiro's. Now, here's a surprise. Petaluma is blessed with a city-quality sushi restaurant, with an engaging (when he's not overwhelmed with business) and creative sushi-master. They also have an impressive sake selection (try the Katana). They do some deep-fried rolls, an innovation I haven't yet been able to bring myself to try yet. On several visits, they have passed my "is the uni fresh?" test with flying colors, the rolls are interesting (there's a Marilyn Monroll that fancifully looks sort of like a skirt blowing up), and some of the stuff I've had has been mindblowing (the himachi, the albacore on one occasion; less so on another). Great place.
Mike's at the Yard. Haven't tried the other location, but this one is a hole in the wall turning out the best burgers I've had. No fries, no shakes. I've written separately about this place. Definitely worthwhile, but mind the limited hours (12 noon-3 pm).
Barbecue and deli
Lombardi's, Petaluma Blvd N and Skillman Ln. Ok, if you're from New York, it's not a deli. They offer sandwiches, nothing special; barbecued chickens and ribs, which are excellent and fully of smoky flavor, though the on-the-side rib sauce is merely OK. Get your ribs here, and use some mailorder Arthur Bryant sauce on them when you get home. Worth visiting just to smell the barbecue drums emitting their fragrant smoke. And they offer the famous, delicate Pedroni's Potato Salad.
Angelo's, on Adobe Road (101 to E. Washington exit, turn East, take it to the end, right on Adobe, and it's on your right). Best beef jerky I've tasted, and Melanie says there's some worthwhile sausage here, too.
Sure, I have to drive south when I want Chinese food, or Indian food, or Vietnamese food (by which I mostly mean Pho). But I'm very pleased with the food resources I've found right here in Petaluma, with the help of Chowhound.