What's better than stumbling upon a hidden gem? Let us help the serendipity along and point you to a couple of our favorite tucked-away bistros.
Humboldt Bay Bistro
1436 Second St., Eureka
Wednesday - Monday | 5 - 9 pm
Past the shop-lined streets of Old Town and the looming silhouette of the Carson Mansion, the window-lined Humboldt Bay Bistro is building a devoted following. Some of that may be owing to the pleasure of eating somewhere out of the way, a restaurant that feels like your own secret. Some of the appeal of this sweet house on the water is the view. But mostly it's the fine execution of beloved French-American dishes that has locals returning for celebrations and weeknight dinners alike.
There are plenty of window seats but it you're dining as a pair, you might ask for a table in one of the restaurant's little nooks. The bar features some half dozen house-infused sakes of which you should take advantage. The playful Love Potion features vanilla sake, Nigori and lime shaken with peach and raspberry nectars, and pineapple juice, then finished with a little chocolate on the rim. For something a little simpler, the Osaka Mule mixes ginger sake, soju, ginger beer and a squeeze of lime.
The escargot is a tender and faithful iteration of the classic, with garlic, herb compound butter, wine and shallots. (Don't be shy — ask for extra bread to dredge in the sauce and your gently smiling server will deliver it without judgment.) Follow it up with the Caesar salad, made tableside from a genuinely pretty spread of ingredients. You'd do well to order the pan-seared duck, too. The blush-pink slices arrive with a Bing cherry Port wine reduction that is intense and not overly sweet. Be prepared to defend your plate from the swipes of your companions.
Cecil's New Orleans Bistro
773 Redwood Drive, Garberville
Tuesday - Saturday | 5 - 9 pm
Walking the main drag through Garberville, flanked by backpacking travelers and dusty trucks, one might not expect that right upstairs brass fans are turning lazy circles over painted scenes of New Orleans, amber Sazeracs and seared tuna with blue crab and Crystal butter sauce. But Cecil Stanfill, raised in the Big Easy, has been firing up dishes with Creole roots at Cecil's New Orleans Bistro for 13 years. →
Once that cocktail has warmed you up, move to the surf-and-turf take on nachos, a pile of house-made chips piled with peppery smoked pork (brined and smoked over four days) and blue crab guacamole. The game hen, served with a dollop of garlic mashed potatoes, takes a Southern route, too, brined with brown sugar and deep fried whole to yield tender, sweet meat and savory, crinkled skin.
The generous Jambalaya pasta — spinach fettuccine with Andouille sausage, shrimp, crawfish and Tasso ham — has all the kick and body of the original rice dish in its sauce. You may need to split the vertiginous Bistro Salad, a wedge of iceberg (would glacier be more fitting?) under an avalanche of shrimp, blue crab, bacon and tomatoes, with a mustard-flecked dressing. Only pace yourself so you don't miss the pecan pie topped with bananas Foster.