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Where to Eat in Napa, According to Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto

Originally published in USA Today 10 Best

If we could harness the seemingly everlasting energy of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, it might be quite possible to light up a small city – with extra power to spare.

The famed Iron Chef is the proprietor of 17 restaurants across the globe, including three new restaurants: Morimoto Asia Waikiki, an upscale fusion eatery combining Western and traditional Asian cuisine accompanied by ocean views; Momosan Ramen and Sake Waikiki, a casual outpost just steps from the beach, serving up a variety of noodle dishes, small plates and local beer offerings at an adjacent beer garden; and Morimoto Dubai, his first restaurant in the UAE.

In July 2018, the chef also did some restaurant renovations and menu updates at his Northern California establishment, Morimoto Napa. Some of the new dishes include lobster tempura maki roll with asparagus; tobiko with eel sauce, mango puree and spicy mayo sauce; Wagyu short rib; and chicken ramen with noodles and Tokyo scallions.

Where to eat in Napa, according to Iron Chef Masaharu MorimotoPhoto courtesy of Masaharu Morimoto

According to Morimoto, he spends several weeks each year in Napa and enjoys exploring the area, dining at nearby restaurants and meeting up with chefs and colleagues in the neighborhood. When he’s not busy preparing sushi and other specialties at Morimoto Napa, he may be found at some of his favorite Napa, California eateries:


A downtown hotspot, ZuZu is located in Napa’s Old Town district and serves a variety of Spanish-inspired tapas. Owned by Mick Salyer, this no-reservations restaurant is a convenient stop for chef Morimoto, as it is located only one block from his own restaurant. ZuZu features a robust selection of hot and cold tapas, such as flounder ceviche, chili pepper rockfish and chilled avocado and cucumber gazpacho. Morimoto is a fan of the paella del dia, which is served with rice, shellfish, sofrito and a daily meat special. He says, “I’m a beer guy and they always have a huge selection here with a lot of craft and international options.”

La Taberna

Situated next door to ZuZu and owned by the same proprietor, this smaller, less formal Spanish restaurant on Main Street features a Basque-inspired menu that serves up pintxos (the Basque equivalent of tapas). La Taberna attracts locals and visitors with small bites, tasty beers and an extensive Spanish wine list. It features high-top tables, live music and a chalkboard menu that changes daily. Morimoto says he adores snacking on the restaurant’s variety of “party food,” such as jambon, braised pig ear and lamb, along with cheese and honey empanadas. He also insisted that everyone must experience drinking wine from the porron wine pitcher: “It’s a signature wine pitcher directly from Spain. You put wine in it, lift it above your head, tilt it, and there is a big stream of wine that pours directly into your mouth…And if you are not good at it, you spill it all over your shirt!” He added: “La Taberna stays open a little later than ZuZu, and serves dinner later, so there’s always a festive, lively crowd.”


Where to eat in Napa, according to Iron Chef Masaharu MorimotoPhoto courtesy of Photo via Napa Sport

NapaSport’s owner, Michael Galyen – formerly the general manager of Morimoto Napa – created an innovative, dual-personality restaurant concept in the South Century Napa Center. One side is a sleek, modern sports bar where guests can munch on lighter fare while cheering on their favorite teams on TV. Beyond the bar is a stylish dining room serving up great steaks and wine. Entrée favorites include prime rib, filet mignon and ribeye, along with burgers, roasted chicken and seasonal fish. “Michael makes his restaurant a family affair,” Morimoto says. “His two other chefs are alumni of Morimoto, too. His wife, Krista is also involved in the business and his mother is the baker. She makes some delicious and impressive pies – so don’t skip dessert here.”

Napa Palisades Saloon

Where to eat in Napa, according to Iron Chef Masaharu MorimotoPhoto courtesy of Photo via Napa Palisades

With a massive craft beer selection, Napa Palisades Saloon is known for is extensive menu of more than 30 brews on tap. Located downtown, it offers a laid-back ambiance with a seasonal menu of specialties that include lamb burgers, chicken wings, chorizo dishes and generously sized Caesar salads. Chef Morimoto often stops by after working at his restaurant to unwind with a glass of house-brewed beer.


Where to eat in Napa, according to Iron Chef Masaharu MorimotoPhoto courtesy of Kali Marie Kirschman

Featuring an authentic Southern Italian menu with many fresh ingredients sourced from its own nearby garden, Oenotri offers classic and modern favorites for dinner and brunch, including a selection of pizzas and pastas, such as succoso pizza (with San Marzano tomatoes, caramelized red onion, opal basil and stracciatella); and the torchio pasta (with basil pesto, Meyer lemon, parmigiano Reggiano and pine nuts). Menu items change regularly and include seafood and meat dishes, such as salmon, stuffed quail and lamb.

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