We eat out almost every meal, usually at a First Street restaurant. Since Paris the pup came into our lives last year, the choices have been limited to outdoor venues. Eating alfresco in Benicia is glorious on a warm summer night. Depending on the location, dining outside might come with a magical sunset over the Carquinez Strait, or watching families and couples as they stroll along the ten blocks of charming buildings and historic landmarks.

There are over twenty independently owned restaurants downtown offering diverse menus, some of which have been in Benicia for decades. Deanne, Randy and Danny Sandoval have all owned and operated different establishments since 1986. Sandoval’s, Randy’s and Nine Zero Seven are memorable because of the personalities behind the great food.

Jeff Cromer has owned Pacifica Pizza since the mid1980s, and has not only fulfilled the pizza fix in the community, but has employed many Benicia teenagers through the decades. First Street Cafe husband and wife team Mark and Terry Krull have been at it since the early 90s, consistently offering breakfast, lunch and dinner nearly every day of the year. Their scones are incredible.

The Camellia Tea Room, owned by mother-daughter duo Maryellen Hayes and Casey Garcia, is known throughout the Bay Area as the place where ladies, and men, like to lunch. The restaurant bakes on site and has an exotic list of teas, with a backdrop of Benicia-based Bradbury and Bradbury hand-screened wallpaper on the walls and ceiling.

These business owners also give back to our schools and nonprofits with donations and people power. Hosting fundraisers has also been a way to contribute to the community with use of their restaurants as event venues.

Many other entrepreneurs have joined those mentioned above, becoming the number one draw for visitors and residents in the town’s tourism efforts. Restaurants remain the top sales tax generator for First Street and are the anchor for Downtown Benicia nightlife.

With the time change and winter season approaching, the outside tables have been put away, and it seems like midnight at 5pm. Thankfully, the twinkle lights on the trees remind us of the investment made by merchants and restaurateurs, who have the vision for a charming and welcoming downtown core.

For the Strawbridge family, dining out turns to dining in. Do I hear carry out?