The California Monterey Peninsula is on the northern part of California’s Central Coast. about 2 hours south of San Francisco and about 6 hours north of Los Angeles. It consists of Carmel (Carmel-By-The-Sea and Carmel Valley), Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Pebble Beach. The area is well known for its beautiful rugged shores, steep slopes, and beaches.
When we are in the area, we return to some of our favorite Monterey Peninsula restaurants time and time again. Are you a first-time visitor or just looking for something new? Here is an updated 2023 summary of places we have eaten listed alphabetically within each geography. As a reminder, menus and chefs frequently change. What you get may not be the same as our experience.
Oh, and while it is not a dining establishment, we enjoy after dining entertainment too. We are generally conditioned to expect live music at Sly McFly’s on Monterey’s Cannery Row. While the bar was empty and music free during our 2023 visit, we happened to stumble across another, very pleasant, more intimate music venue a few blocks away. This spot, Pearl Hour, offers nightly entertainment of ever-changing styles. The night we visited, the quite good three-person group played a range of nice renditions of songs ranging from soft jazz to stylized show tunes. The music and the level at which it was played served as a nice background to (rather than an impediment to) conversation.
The C Restaurant has great bay views and an extensive seafood selection. Unfortunately, a large table of 14 overwhelmed the kitchen and staff during our visit resulting in slow service. However, once it came, we enjoyed our grilled swordfish and arctic char. While we were primarily there for the dinner, we could not help but be intrigued by the courtyard where we retreated for a drink. We warmed ourselves next to one of the fire pits and were seduced by the flickering lights surrounding the bay and the sound of the gentle waves reaching the shore.
We had two good, but less than memorable dishes at this Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant. The lightly-breaded grilled sand dabs came with white wine butter sauce. The broiled swordfish with Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers came on mashed potatoes in a clam broth which, in our minds, diminished an otherwise nice dish. The accompanied french fries were very good.
We had a passable but uninspired lunch here of sustainable food. But while we were less than thrilled by the food, the setting just about made up for it. We were given a window table, in a bit of an alcove, surrounded on three sides by windows over the bay. The table came with its own set of binoculars and a wildlife identification chart that kept us occupied through much of the meal.
Although we seldom visit or eat at any city’s “Fisherman’s Wharf,” we decided to make an exception on this trip to Monterey for lunch to get some abalone. And since every other restaurant on the wharf had the mollusk on the menu as well as tempting you to come in by offering a free appetizer, we decided to have lunch here. The small abalone steak satisfied our taste for the delicacy, and Fina’s champagne butter sauce complimented it nicely. We combined this with a free fried calamari appetizer for a satisfying lunch.
Fisherman’s Wharf in General
And speaking of Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, we always enjoy walking down the wharf, sampling clam chowder that restaurants serve outside their building to temp you to enter. Just save room for dinner.
We had two relatively straightforward, but well-executed dishes: swordfish with sun-dried tomato tapenade with sautéed spinach and Chesapeake crab cake with tarragon crème fraiche. We also took advantage of the restaurant’s extensive wine list, where we scored a wonderful Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
OK, this is not a restaurant. But it is a place to buy fresh abalone to take home to make our own meal. It is located at the very tip of Monterey’s working wharf (unlike the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf). We picked up enough red abalone for dinner and got a lesson on how to clean the delicacy as well as recipes as to how to prepare it.
Carmel By The Sea
Anton & Michel is where you can dine on a lovely paseo with a swimming pool. We enjoyed our dinner of three small dishes: shrimp spring roll with slaw and orange-ginger sauce; sand dabs with romesco sauce, rice, and mixed vegetables; and lamb chops with fingerling potatoes and salad. Our wine was a Santa Lucia Highlands Lucienne “Doctors Vineyard” Pinot Noir.
A recent addition (2022) to the Carmel dining scene has become our new favorite Monterey Peninsula restaurant (taking over from Pocket). We split five dishes, all of which were wonderful. Monterey Bay Abalone skewers with liver butter and Meyer lemon were a small but wonderful start followed by the sinfully rich rock crab gratin. Our main course of Baja grouper with clams, marble potatoes, pearl onions, spinach, beurre blanc-based chowder jus, and swordfish bacon (small, smoked slices of swordfish) was the star.
Two desserts, a persimmon, vanilla bean and salted caramel mille-feuille and beeswax-covered, crème-filled canneles de Bordeaux served as wonderful codas to a delicious meal. We were also impressed by the service and by the sommelier who highly recommended one of the least expensive wines on the nice list—a 2021 Joyce Arroyo Seco Albarino that nicely complemented our meal.
The menu looked interesting and the restaurant was recommended to us. Unfortunately, we were not very happy with the food. While every place can have an off day, we prefer to go elsewhere the next time.
In 2023, we made our first stop at the restaurant formerly owned by Clint Eastwood (former actor and Carmel-by-the-Sea mayor). Its walls are lined with his movie posters, photos, and other memorabilia. Our lunch consisted of a half rack of braised ribs with barbeque sauce, sweet potato fries, and a side of onion rings. The onion rings were good, the ribs satisfactory, and the fries were soggy and tasteless. While it is interesting to see the memorabilia, we have no plans to rush back for the food.
We found the lightly-fried, pan-seared sand dabs with lemongrass-caper butter sauce here to be the second-best of the trip (after Portobella). But we were less than impressed by the crab cake with lemongrass cream sauce.
Some of the best sand dabs that we found in the area at this cute restaurant. Definitely on the list to return on our next trip.
The tiny (26 people max) Tuscan restaurant provided an excellent dinner to us. The orange braised osso bucolic with fennel polenta and gremolata was absolutely superb. The pappardelle with beef bolognese was good. The spiciness was intriguing, although the pasta was slightly overlooked. Our Branchia Chianti Classico Riserva complemented both dishes nicely.
We’ve mostly been happy here. For main dishes we enjoyed the grilled Spanish octopus with yaki sauce and steamed potatoes; day boat seared scallops with chipotle aioli, blini, and crème fraiche; and delicately fried frito misto with calamari, shrimp, lemon, zucchini and carrot; and a medium rare roasted veal chop with balsamic reduction, whipped potatoes, and asparagus. We were disappointed in the grilled Spanish octopus with Japanese Yaki sauce and potatoes which was too slimy. But as the server never returned to find out how the dish was, we reluctantly ate it. For desserts, we liked the ricotta pistachio crème sponge cake with crushed pistachio and powdered sugar but were less enthused with the Torta Nocciola (layers of hazelnut cake, hazelnut cream, chocolate cream, and praline hazelnuts.
We especially enjoyed the lightly pan-fried sand dabs with lemongrass butter sauce in this restaurant which had nice ocean views.
Our lunch was disappointing. Although the pumpkin seed-crusted salmon was pretty good, the baby back ribs were undercooked and tough and the bread did not come to the table until we requested it—twice. Perhaps it is worth a try, but certainly is not memorable.
Edgars is an upscale restaurant located at the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley. Although the menu was somewhat limited and less than inspiring, we fully enjoyed our food (flat iron steak, pan-seared salmon, and onion rings), appreciated the reasonable wine list, and liked our server. Overall, it was a very pleasant meal.
We each 2 nice salads for lunch at this restaurant located in Bernardus Lodge: an heirloom pear and avocado salad with navel oranges, walnuts, spinach, and local olive oil; and a roasted beet salad with greens, naval orange, sherry walnut vinaigrette, feta cheese, and marcona almonds.
Passionfish is one of our long-time favorite restaurants in the area. Both of our seafood entrees were nicely cooked and tasty but were compromised (at least to our palates) by their preparation. The delicate rainbow trout was nicely complemented by sweet potatoes and wild rice but was overpowered by cardamom syrup. The grilled shrimp was nicely paired with cassoulet beans and lemon vinaigrette but was overly spiced for our tastes. Nor was the service up to the pre-pandemic standard with which we had been familiar. We selected a pleasant 2021 Jeremy Arnaud Vau Chablis Premier Cru from the extensive, very well-designed, very attractively priced wine list that specializes in lesser-known producers
On previous trips, we enjoyed sea scallops with tomato-truffle butter and savory rice custard; lemongrass shrimp with jicama-mint salad, spicy nuoc cham sauce (a Vietnamese sweet and sour sauce), rice chips, and cashews; fried oysters with an interesting kimchi salad; and Alaskan halibut.
This very popular seafood restaurant has a basic menu. Both our fried calamari and sautéed sand dabs were fine, although not about to hit our Top Ten list. It has a very limited wine list.
We had high hopes for this local and organic restaurant that focused on fish. Unfortunately, our meal did not meet our expectations.
Stillwater is a perennial favorite place for us for lunch. It overlooks Stillwater Cove and the 18th fairway and green of the famed Pebble Beach golf course. Ask for a table on the deck if the weather is nice. We generally go here for lunch. Some of the dishes we have enjoyed include:
- Sweet corn buttermilk soup with Dungeness crab;
- Swordfish club sandwich with bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado crema, and remoulade on a brioche roll;
- Pacific tartar of yellowfin tuna, amberjack, Fuji apples, Asian pear, cucumber, and cilantro;
- A dynamic open-faced lobster salad sandwich on garlic toast with egg aioli, capers, cornichons. cress, greens, and avocado cream;
- A fascinating Dungeness crab cake atop a mixture of quinoa, corn, and avocado, with a cucumber-jicama slaw; and
- Lightly tempura fried calamari with baby artichoke hearts, Meyer lemon, and haricot vert.
If you are lucky, you will see a huge owl, who we learned, was in charge of keeping messy seabirds away from the Lodge and its golfers and diners. And as a bonus, if you are eating at the restaurant, the fee for the 17-Mile Drive is deducted from the check.
We were very pleased with our casual counter-ordered lunch (shrimp ceviche, huge BLT with double bacon sandwich, and half-pound burger) that we picked up and brought to a deck table overlooking the Big Sur River. Then after finishing our food, we retired with our drinks to a couple of the Adirondack chairs that were perched in the river and accessible by rocks.
To learn more about the Monterey Peninsula, check out our other blogs to find out things to see and do on the Monterey Peninsula.