Vallejo, California, is named after General Vallejo, and its sister city, Benicia, after his wife. They both have storied pasts, from Benicia’s infamous law-skirting bare-knuckle fights on river barges in the 1800s to Vallejo’s Mare Island nuclear submarine production.
Vallejo was twice California’s capital. Mare Island Naval Shipyard, the oldest naval base on the west coast, was founded in 1853. After U.S. military base closures in the 1990s, including the Naval Air Station in Alameda along with Mare Island, the town was hit hard, but Vallejo held on, and today is growing steadily and on the precipice of change with Vallejo restaurants being a great indicator of this change.
With a strong ferry service for San Francisco, commuters have a relaxing travel experience on the SF Bay.
Vallejo is the gateway to wine country, with Napa Valley and Sonoma just up the road, 25 minutes away.
During the (non-pandemic) summer, Vallejo’s waterfront park is filled nearly every weekend with community festivals celebrating all kinds of fun things, from Filipino Heritage to the Pirate Festival, traditionally held on Father’s Day. On Saturdays, downtown fills up with a popular Farmers Market.
Proud of its labor roots, as well as its music luminaries like rapper E-40 and pop star H.E.R., visitors and locals alike find that the changing and growing foodie scene offers a terrific variety of high-quality, delicious Vallejo restaurants and eateries at affordable prices.
We didn’t make it to every deserving place—we will try Michael Warring, which has been hit hard by the pandemic but is (at the time of writing) doing creative meal kits for take-out, with instructional videos.
In this piece, we bring you everything from killer donuts to old-style soul food, Filipino-Hawai’ian, Vietnamese, and, an excellent Italian restaurant on the water that offers an old-school 1970s Brooklyn-style menu.
Please enjoy a journey to eleven must-try restaurants in Vallejo, organized into breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Visiting other destinations in California? Check out our foodie guides to the following cities:
- Where to eat in Tustin, CA
- The 8 Best Restaurants in Ft. Bragg
- Must-Try Restaurants in Oceanside, CA
- The 21 Best Restaurants in Costa Mesa
- 7 Must-Try Restaurants in Cambria, CA
- Where to Eat in Dana Point, CA
Eleven Must-Try Vallejo Restaurants
630 Tennessee Street // +1-707-553-9786
If you are in the mood for some good, unapologetic American breakfast food for a great price, don’t miss Vallejo Great Donuts and Cafe. Making their pastries fresh on-site every morning, this unassuming spot, favored by locals, serves up light, fluffy donuts (a sure sign of cooking with the oil changed regularly) that makes you want to buy a dozen or so on your way out.
You can see the freshness of the berries in their Danishes, and the apple turnover is temptingly plump.
Tellingly, the homemade donuts aren’t perfectly round, with slight imperfections in shape, and boy, are they a delight.
Open for the past 22 years, Vallejo Great Donuts and Cafe is family-run and inter-generational.
It also serves the only authentic Australian meat pies, veggie pasties, and sausage rolls in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mary Chan, co-owner and baker, brought the recipes with her when she immigrated from Australia. Her pies are so renowned that she is consistently busy with orders from around the Bay for Australia Day and local rugby matches.
I had to have one. Ok, maybe two. The mushroom meat pie has a flaky crust, and is savory, with minced steak, mushrooms, onions, and gravy, ending with a tinge of Vegemite, direct from Australia. Not too salty. I turned to the sausage roll, which was a bit salty, as it should be, packed into a tender pastry sheath.
With all this variety from donuts to pasties and sausage rolls, this is one of the best places to eat in Vallejo.
314 Georgia Street // +1-707-557-4745
Good Day Cafe in downtown Vallejo is always a great start to your day. Walking up, you’ll find a welcoming parklet with outdoor seating under umbrellas. It’s a local favorite and an excellent choice for a casual breakfast or lunch.
At this family-friendly spot, breakfast options are wide-ranging, with something to please everyone, vegetarians included.
Sweet-tooths love the pancakes, French toast, and waffles. The Peanutty Waffle, with peanut butter, bananas, and whipped cream is a popular dish.
The updated diner menu offers all manner of eggs, from the classic Corned Beef Hash & Eggs to poached.
Their omelets always come out lovely, and there are twelve to choose from. On a recent visit, I had the “Lola & Papa Gamulo’s Garden Omelet,” a flavorful mix of fresh spinach, tomato, mushrooms, and zucchini with home fries.
Good Day Cafe has a great lunch menu. I was tempted to munch my way through their entire list of 16 grilled sandwiches (Noah’s Crab with jack cheese and avocado!).
The Angus burgers come out juicy and cooked-to-order on toasted buns. The sweet potato fries are delicious, thick-cut, and served with a big container of Thai sweet & spicy dipping sauce.
For a classic burger or breakfast, this is where to eat in Vallejo.
38 Admiral Callaghan Lane // +1-707-654-8220
Kehaulani’s Cafe is the love child of owner and chef Arnold Pulido. After retiring from 30 years in the restaurant business and deciding it wasn’t for him, he opened this Hawaiian-Filipino fusion restaurant in 2018.
Tucked away on a corner on Admiral Callaghan Drive off of Tennessee Street, this local gem is not to be missed. Open for all-day brunch and dinner.
The Cafe is warm and casual, with big mustard and maroon-colored booths and a “surf’s up” vibe. Reggae and Hawaiian sounds play in the background. All ingredients are fresh and locally-sourced, while dishes are from-scratch by Chef Pulido—everything delicious and plated beautifully.
To start, Chef Pulido brought out a huge plate of Chicharrones, house-made, wonderfully crisp and fluffy, accompanied by their version of the ubiquitous Filipino dipping sauce, Sawsawan, which is refreshingly perfect with pork.
And then there were the Steamed Baos. Stuffed with Kehaulani Fried Chicken, pickled papaya, and cilantro, the super crispy, tender-on-the-inside chicken was such a great texture against the spongy bao bun. The fragrance of the cilantro provided a note of green, and a sweet/salty peanut sauce finished it off.
Next, we went for the Sizzling Sisig, and it arrived on a cute small, sizzling cast-iron skillet. The mix of pork snouts, fried egg, green chilis, and rice was super flavorful and not strong. It paired nicely with a Guava Mimosa.
Short rib lovers will find the Slow Roast Sticky BBQ Pork Ribs just to die for. Our knives cut right through like butter. They’re covered in a house-made barbeque sauce, topped with peanuts and scallions, after being simmered in adobo and then cooked on high heat. The flavor of the seasoned meat was deep and rich, and it fell straight off the bone, served with savory rice and a side of spicy house-made kimchi.
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Chef Pulido uses old family recipes from northern Luzon, gleaned from years watching his mother prepare Sunday dinner. He said that he wants people to have a “home away from home” experience, and to know that the restaurant is there for the community—he volunteers with the Vallejo School District’s Special Education program.
We had arrived early, and by the time we left, Kehaulani’s Cafe was packed with a multi-generational crowd. This creative Vallejo restaurant has a fun menu and a lot of heart, serving up delicious fusion food at generously affordable prices. They also do prepared holiday meals for take-out. But be sure to order yours early!
Make sure you experience the flavors of the Pacific islands at one of the best Vallejo restaurants.
630 Broadway Street // +1-707- 554-9681
As their website says, “Even if you’ve had Mexican food four times this week, tonight you should go to Los Arquitos.” For a serious chow-down on down-home, authentic Mexican food—some of the best I’ve had outside of Mexico—you won’t want to miss Los Arquitos Restaurant.
Tip: Skip lunch if you’re going for dinner, and leave yourself plenty of room.
This no-frills restaurant featured on the local PBS show “Check, Please,” is a tiny bit out of the way on Broadway Street and doesn’t have parking, so beware.
Opened by a Mexican family thirteen years ago, you walk into a cozy atmosphere. Their daughter explained how her parents blended the Jalisco and Nayarit regional styles of Mexican cooking into their mouthwatering creations. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; everything is under $20.
Los Arquitos has a wide menu, and you can get either an American or Mexican breakfast here. Treat yourself to Chilaquiles, Nopales con Huevos, or a traditional Machaca—a popular item made with beef that’s been marinated, pounded, dried, and finally shredded served with eggs, onions, and bell peppers. South of the border food right in Vallejo!
Perfect for game day take-out, the Appetizer Sampler comes with Quesadillas, Jalapeño Poppers, Nachos, Flautas, Chicken Wings, with sides of guacamole, Jalapeños, and sour cream. You’re all set!
The burritos are enormous. The “Regular Famoso” comes with rice, beans, pico de gallo, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, and your choice of meat, slathered with red or green enchilada sauce and topped with cheese.
Seafood items include whole fish, shrimp, or fillets of fish, some of the popular preparations being a la plancha or en salsa chipotle.
Portions are generous, so you can get a half-order of any of the dinners, which come with sides of beans and Mexican rice. Los Arquitos also serves a killer Fajita and Cazuela, with your choice of meat.
Their Mole Chicken Enchilada dinner is excellent. The sauce is rich and chocolatey, with a hint of spice and cinnamon.
For delicious, high-quality Mexican food in Vallejo, Los Arquitos is the place to go.
1526 Solano Avenue // +1-707-644-3792
House of Soul is a Vallejo institution. Born in 1968, Mama Soul was moved to create this soul food eatery during the Civil Rights era, giving Black students, who were being treated poorly at lunch counters in downtown Vallejo, a better option to take their business.
Still true to its roots as a community restaurant, owner Ruben Parker and his family serve up authentic Southern food in a no-frills environment that reminds you of Grandma and Grandpa’s place back in a small Southern town—or in my case, a North Dakota town. This is a place that serves real food for real people. Open for lunch and dinner, and note that it’s cash-only.
My partner-in-crime and photographer had the catfish, which came out in nice-sized filets with a cornbread breading that kept it light and crunchy. In old-style fashion, it was served with house-made red Kool-Aid.
The short ribs were fall-apart tender, in a flavorful gravy that had a great texture. Generous sides of hearty Mac ‘n Cheese and collard greens flavored with pork fat filled my belly. It reminded me of my grandfather’s meals as a child.
House of Soul serves a rotating $13 lunch special featuring Chicken Fried Steak, Meatloaf, Turkey Wings, Baked Chicken, and more, with a choice of Southern sides like Black-Eyed Peas and Yams. For dinner, a few great suggestions are made-from-scratch classics like Chitterlings, crispy Fried Chicken with gravy, and Alabama-style BBQ Beef & Links.
For authentic Southern food in Vallejo, get yourself some Soul.
295 Mare Island Way // +1-707-648-1966
Vik’s Wheelhouse, open for dinner and weekend breakfast, is a classic dive establishment that sits next to the ferry terminal on the Napa River. It’s a great place for a drink and an old-time waterfront ambiance. Vik’s opened in 2009 on the site of the original Mare Island Ferry Company, dating back to 1862.
The views of the Napa River and Mare Island are terrific. You walk into a room filled with windows and a rustic maritime charm and vibe. It’s full of kitsch and historical pictures. Out back there’s a pontoon float seating area, to toss back a cold one on a hot summer afternoon.
The evening specialty is a Seafood Boil that feeds two-three people and comes with a gorgeous presentation in a steel pot. It’s the most popular dish on the menu. The Combo comes with corn, potatoes, four lobster tails, and two pounds of everything else.
Vik’s has a full-bar, and draft local beers—their bartenders are great but can get slammed as they double up with waitress duties—at those times, give them a hand and grab your items at the bar, especially if you’re sitting out on the pontoon. Remember, it’s a classic dive!
For a great waterfront dining experience in Vallejo, check out Vik’s.
1801 Sonoma Boulevard // +1-707-552-2254
Gracie’s BBQ is a great place for barbeque. A neighborhood establishment with a loyal following, it’s named after owner Ken Ingersoll’s daughter. This restaurant got its start in a trailer in 1999. Today, this popular spot is where families go after baptisms, funerals, and school football games. It’s open for lunch and dinner.
Gracie’s has a nice selection of hearty and generously sized salads on their menu. The Bacon & Blues is a tasty choice with oak-smoked bacon, crumbled blue, and avocadoes.
We tried a Sampler Platter of baby-back ribs, smoked chicken, and a Louisiana hot link—they generously accommodated us with a helping of pulled pork.
My favorite was the pulled pork. Made with cushion meat and little muscle, in a smoky, savory sauce, I couldn’t get enough of it.
The ribs were beautifully tender, pulling easily off the bone, and with that nice, slightly pink smoke ring.
The chicken was split-roasted, juicy and tender, full of flavor, while the Louisiana hot link had a good kick.
Grab a seat on the open-air backyard patio and treat yourself to a good Southern BBQ meal in Vallejo. Well-located on the corner of Virginia Street and Sonoma Boulevard downtown, come grab a seat on the open-air backyard patio and treat yourself to a good Southern BBQ meal in Vallejo.
3636 Sonoma Boulevard // +1-707-654-8969
With wall-sized pictures that bring a bit of Bangkok to you, Maya Thai is a hidden gem located in a strip mall on Vallejo’s Sonoma Boulevard. It’s a lovely little space for tasty, authentic Thai food made from the freshest ingredients.
The sheer depth of the menu will entice you to make several visits. Note, the Golden Fried Tofu appetizer is lightly fried and velvety on the inside, delicious with peanut dipping sauce, and the crispy Crab Rangoon comes stuffed with tender bits of goodness.
One can choose from several different types of coconut curry, from the traditional red and green to the creative flavors of avocado, mango, pineapple, and pumpkin.
The Panang curry is nice and rich, thick with coconut cream and red curry paste with a Jalapeño kick. Tip: add ribeye steak and you’re in for a delightful meal. Basil duck is another popular item.
Adding more to the pot, the fried section of the menu moves on to fried noodle and rice favorites, along with beautiful fish dishes.
Maya Thai House is open for lunch and dinner, and they are almost always hopping busy. This is real, authentic Thai, once again, at a terrific price point.
For authentic Asian food in the American West, this is where to eat in Vallejo.
124 Tennessee Street // +1-707-644-0981
Since 1968, Napoli Pizzeria and Italian Food specializes in small-batch, made-to-order deliciousness, prepared in the old way. Using family recipes, Napoli is simply the best pizza in Vallejo, possibly the North Bay, and we are regulars. It’s a true pizzeria, with the kitchen spilling into the lobby where you watch them work the dough, put on the toppings, and whisk the pizzas into hot brick deck ovens.
Napoli’s pizza dough is hand-made and tossed. As we spoke with owner and chef Anthony Guerrera, Jr., it became clear that Napoli’s is family crafted pizza, from the crust to the final product, each a piece of unique artisanship.
We dug in, starting with an order of the fresh cheese bread with super-melty Mozzarella and savory marinara sauce with fresh tomato chunks.
The Caesar salad came tossed in a classic Caesar dressing that wanted for no detail. Chef Anthony insisted on finding the perfect recipe for the house-made dressing, tailor-made for Napoli’s.
All of the pasta is made in-house, with the ravioli shaped in Anthony’s father’s mold from 1950s Italy. I had to try the Meat Ravioli—scrumptious plump little pockets of ground beef in a pork sauce made into a Bolognese combo.
It came in a complex marinara sauce, peppery and seasoned with lots of oregano, with a sofrito base which gave it a slight sweetness. Everything is made with care and intention.
The Margherita Pizza, a classic style with olive oil, basil, garlic, mozzarella, tomato, and parmesan, was heavenly.
As Chef Guerrera had explained, hand-tossing the crust ensures that small bubbles remain in the dough, allowing it to marry with the sauce and toppings as it cooks in their brick deck ovens, becoming perfectly crisp on the bottom.
There’s a reason why Napoli’s is consistently busy. Chef Guerrera maintains close ties to his heritage, traveling regularly to Italy and Naples to immerse himself in the cooking methods.
At Napoli’s, you get authentic Italian-style small-batch pizza and pasta, made with passion and integrity. They’re open for lunch and dinner. If you want some of the best pizza and Italian food in Vallejo, this is the restaurant to try.
908 Admiral Callahan Lane // +1-707-557-5427
Pho Noodle House Vallejo is simply delicious all-around. From the starters to the pho to the entrees, everything is well-cooked with fresh ingredients and delightful flavor.
Their outside patio has a living garden wall that creates a lovely ambiance and sets the tone for all of the deliciousness to come. Open for lunch and dinner.
Vietnamese food is a welcome change of pace with its light sauces and rich, clear broths. You know it’s a local favorite when 50-70% of customers return regularly. The service is excellent, friendly, and competent.
We started with the shrimp spring rolls, which were excellent. In their fine clear wrappers replete with crispy lettuce, plump shrimp, and vermicelli, and a side of peanut dipping sauce these rolls were an immediate hit. From the beginning, each dish was prepared with care and elegantly presented.
I opted for the Beef Noodle Pho with thin-sliced steak and tripe with rice noodles, and it hit my nose and taste buds with notes of full beef flavor. The bones in this broth are slow-cooked each day for eight or nine (or ten!) hours in a Central Vietnamese style. The broth is clear and rich, full-bodied like a fine tea.
Served with an accompaniment of fresh basil, jalapeño, and bean sprouts that contrasted beautifully with the meat and noodles and rounded out the flavor profile. I can’t say the dish converted me into a tripe fan, but if you are one, you’ll love it! The Chicken and Pork Pho with Egg Noodles was just as tasty.
The BBQ Chicken with a Sunny Side Up Egg, Fried Shrimp Cake, and steamed rice was another winner. The chicken came on the bone, tender and juicy, in a sweet and savory fish sauce. And who doesn’t love a fried egg on rice?
The fried shrimp cakes were mouthwatering—the light batter balances the plump shrimp meat inside. Served with fresh cucumbers and clear Vietnamese dipping sauces, I loved this plate.
The non-soup items come with bowls of chicken or veggie broth (made with a mushroom base). Cilantro, lime, and jalapeño bring a fresh flavor contrast with the warm broth—what can I say other than your mouth will heartily thank you?
We thoroughly enjoyed Pho Noodle House Vallejo; it’s one of the best places to eat in Vallejo. Sister restaurant Pho#1 Noodle House is blocks away on Sonoma Boulevard.
23 Harbor Way // +1-707-642-8984
For a lovely Italian experience, go to Zio Fraedo’s on the Water, a family-owned and operated restaurant set on the Vallejo Marina.
With an inviting deck terrace, a sports bar, daily happy hour specials, main dining rooms, and a banquet room overlooking the Napa River, you can have a casual, relaxing evening, while experiencing some of the best food in Vallejo.
Owners Tony LaForte, Jr. and Sherry LaForte told us that they based Zio Fraedo’s menu on Tony’s father’s menu at the original Zio Fraedo’s in Pleasant Hill. It’s a classic 1970s Brooklyn Italian menu that his father brought when he moved to the west coast, and it’s delicious.
It’s affordable too. Much of the menu is under $20, and seafood is under $30. Service is friendly and competent, and you’ll enjoy Sherry’s collection of old pictures of Mare Island that adorn the tavern walls.
They offer a pleasantly wide mix of appetizers, salads, and traditional Italian pastas and meats.
A few great appetizer suggestions include Coconut Shrimp, Calamari Fritti, and Bleu Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms.
Don’t miss the Lumpia Shanghai, an ode to Sherry’s Filipina heritage. They’re lightly fried and delicious, as are the Arancini de Riso (deep-fried Sicilian rice balls). Of note too is the tasty New England Clam Chowder.
Zio’s plentiful salad menu presents American classics like a Cranberry Spinach Salad, Cobb Salad, and the Shrimp Louie. I ordered a Caesar and it came with house-made Caesar dressing, creamy with the right note of anchovies, croutons, and parmesan.
My partner-in-crime chose the Citrus Scallops Linguini for his entrée and it was lovely. The flavors of the cream sauce melded nicely with the tender scallops and noodles—the secret ingredient turned out to be Peach Schnapps!
I had the Beef Tournedos, medium-rare, juicy, and tender, with mashed potatoes and vegetables sautéed al dente. The Bearnaise sauce was beautiful: creamy, lightly-herbed, and decoratively poured over the tournedos onto the plate in the most delicate pattern. This dish was deliciously sumptuous and decadent.
For dessert, a slice of velvety New York Cheesecake that was just enough to add a soft touch to the end of a terrific meal. The white chocolate and chocolate sauces that covered it were sinfully good.
Zio Fraedo’s has a nice cocktails, wine, and after-dinner drinks list too. They offer a selection of highly-regarded vineyards around California, complemented by wines from Europe, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia. For one of the best old-style Italian meals in Vallejo, don’t miss the wonderful Zio Fraedo’s on the Water.
Which of these Vallejo restaurants do you most want to try? Let us know in the comments section below!
Tonya Hennessey is a freelance writer and non-profit professional who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she took off for a year of travel throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, a trip that awakened her awe of the world’s varied cultures, landscapes, and, of course, foods! Since then, she has traveled extensively in Europe, East and Southeast Asia, and the United States. Along with travel, she loves to cook, garden, and get that exercise.
Select Photos by Bruce Williams.