2 fabulous Sonoma Valley restaurants

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Sonoma County is a food lover’s paradise, especially now, as several new eateries have popped up celebrating the valley’s abundant biodiversity. So, what are the hottest new dining destinations? Here’s a duo we can’t stop talking about, including a re-imagined roadside favorite in Sonoma and a bar-focused, fine dining restaurant inside The Barlow, Sebastopol’s 12-acre outdoor market district featuring local food, wine, beer and spirits.

Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits

Formerly the Fremont Diner, this Southern-inspired roadside diner reopened last September with a new name and a tighter menu that focuses on what they do best: Crunchy, super-flavorful fried chicken and those sweet, buttery warm biscuits.

Gone are the burgers and barbecue, but you’ll still find beloved starters — like pimento cheese with crackers and pickled onions ($7) — and sides, including thick, hand-cut onion rings ($5). But it’s the heaping fried chicken sandwiches and platters that keep this charming, tiny fast-casual eatery super-packed, especially on weekends.

Go for a touch of heat with the Chicken Biscuit ($9.50), with a slab of that ridiculously juicy fried chicken with pepper jelly and crisp coleslaw, or take it up a notch with the Nashville Hot Platter ($12.45 for leg and thigh) with zesty house pickles, coleslaw, white bread and cheesy grits. The chicken is coated in chili oil before frying, but don’t sweat it: There’s plenty of beer, wine and Straus Organic soft-serve milkshakes ($5.55) in distinctive flavors like malt and horchata to cool you down.

Details: Open from 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday at 2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma; https://boxcar-friedchicken.com 

Fern Bar

True to its name, this chic, bar-focused restaurant, which opened in December, is filled from floor to ceiling with greenery, from the green onyx in the marble-topped bar to the floor-to-ceiling plants and handsome wraparound olive banquettes. It feels like a you’re dining in a conservatory. Add in live jazz and relatively affordable prices and Fern Bar is a not-to-be-missed stop.

That garden vibe starts at the bar, where Sam Levy, former bar director of the Restaurant at Meadowood, heads up a team crafting some pretty innovative farm-to-table cocktails ($13 each), such as an Armagnac-based Naughty Toddy made with roasted kabocha squash, and the ethereal, spirit-free Blue Dream featuring kava root, passion flower, blue spirulina and ginger.

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