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Where the locals love to dine

  • Riccardo Cattaneo, left, tastes Barbed Oak Vineyard wine with vineyard owner Ed Pascoe at Trattoria Cattaneo. (ALVIN JORNADA / PD)

In every town, there are little restaurants on side streets or in strip malls that don't even try to aim for the high-end, out-of-towner clientele.

These local favorites often appeal to people who live or work nearby, offering a comfortable living room away from home, a place to stop and meet with friends after work.

All customers are welcome, of course, and lucky tourists who happen to find their way into one of these slightly out-of-the-way favorites will be glad they did.

But these gems — informal, unpretentious, inexpensive and always friendly — are primarily an extra perk for those of us who live here. And each of them has an ardent following.

Here's a closer look at four local favorites: Trattoria Cattaneo in Santa Rosa, Frank & Ernie's Tavern in Healdsburg, Pete's Henny Penny in Petaluma and the Breakaway Café in Sonoma.

At Trattoria Cattaneo in Bennett Valley's Annadel Shopping Center, you're always treated like a regular, even if you're eating there for the first time.

And when you leave, owner Riccardo Cattaneo may follow you out to the sidewalk and thank you for your business.

“I have a couple hundred regular customers,” said Cattaneo, whose Italian father was in the wine business. “That's how I made it for the first few years.”

With parents hailing from all over Italy — Genoa, Piedmont, Sicily and Verona — Riccardo comes by his hospitality naturally.

But he also honed his skills as a server and bartender at such landmark eateries as the Washington Square Bar & Grill and Moose's in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood.

Back in Trattoria Cattaneo's kitchen, his wife, Julie, cooks up a wide range of home-style Italian dishes, from her signature Linguine Carbonaro to Gnocchi with Creamy Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce.

The chef is also known for her hearty soups and salads, along with delicious desserts like tiramisu, often served with a glass of dessert wine.

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